Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Some thoughts on the two creation stories in Genesis

It seems that many people hold that there are two creation stories in the book of Genesis, viz. Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. I've been thinking about theses a little over the past few weeks, in part because we discussed them in the RCIA class that I help to teach at my parish. For whatever they are worth, here are my reflections on the two stories.

The two stories, if we must in fact read them as two stories*, are not contradictory. Rather, they are complimentary. The first story of creation gives us an ontological understanding of the physical world, while the second story of creation gives us a teleological understanding of the physical world.

The first story of creation leads us up the great chain of beings insofar as it is discernible in the physical world. It begins with that which is formless, moves up through the elements and non-living things, to vegetative life, to animal life, and finally to man, who is the highest physical being because he is both body and spirit. Each of these things God pronounces as good, since each of them in some way shares in the divine essence through the limited participation that gives them existence. The whole together is very good because God has rendered it a properly ordered whole through the relationship of its diverse modes of being and its diverse number and types of species. Finally, God rests, showing us that He is whole and perfect in Himself, having no need for that which He has created. Yet He also blesses and sanctifies the seventh day, showing us that He loves that which He freely chose to create out of His gratuitous love.

The second story of creation shows us how the physical world is ordered towards its end. God first creates man, breathing into him the breath of His spirit. Man is thus a rational, spiritual and embodied soul who is ordered to God as his end. This being ordered to God is later reinforced by the fact that God lays down certain rules for the man.

God then creates the world for man, who is given authority over it and the duty to keep it, and creates animals which he brings to man. Man names these animals as another sign of his authority over creation. This creation of other things after man and placing them in his authority shows that they are ordered towards God through being ordered towards the use of man for his survival, licit enjoyment and use in the worship and praise of God.

Finally, God says that it is not good for man to be alone, showing us how friendship and community are necessary for properly living and ordering our lives towards God. Woman is created last for two reasons. First, to show us that the complementary relationship that exists between the sexes is special and unique from the relationship man has with any other created thing. Second, to show us that we can achieve our end of union with God either through a life that is chaste--viz. religious life, celibate priesthood &c.--or through a life of properly ordered sexual love--viz. permanent marriage. And man and woman were naked and unashamed because they still lived in innocence and possessed their original justice and grace.

So we an see that the second story shows us how creation is ordered towards God as its end. Man is ordered to God Himself, and it follows from this that we owe obedience to Him and His commands. In being ordered to God we are also ordered in our relationship to the physical world. With regard to our fellow men we are called to friendship and community. Insofar as we are sexual beings we are ordered towards complementarity union with the opposite sex, and insofar as this union may itself be sexual we are ordered towards permanency. The rest of creation is ordered towards God through being ordered towards the our use, and as such is put under our authority. But this authority must be used for stewardship, not for despotism.

* Because it seems perfectly possible to read what is called the second story of creation as simply a more detailed look at the creation of man, followed by forming the Paradise for him by God and followed by him being invested with his authority of stewardship over creation.

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