Another Try at a Sequential Reading of Genesis

I’ll take another stab at the case for a “sequential reading” here.

The first two chapters of Genesis have often been pitted against one another by skeptics, as if they are hopelessly contradictory different creation accounts.

The vestige of this controversy persists in the labeling of any attempt to present them as different as a “two creations” view.

This label fails to note that the Hebrew verb ('bara) for “create” is virtually absent in the second account, and so it should not be labeled as a “creation” account at all. It is, instead, an account of forming and preparing. More on that later.

That the author/editor/compiler of the Genesis accounts meant for his readers to see these first two pericopes as complimentary and mutually illuminating, is made clear by the literary device of using a poetic chiasmus to link them together in verse 4 of chapter two. This forces the reader not to try to pit one account against the other, force a comparative analysis, or to conceive of the need to choose one over the other.

Their provocatively different details, instead, signal something else. What could that be?

Literarily, it is simply true that the material in chapter one (through to 2:3) is grandiose and sweeping in its scope, presenting potentially vast millenia of history in sparse and evocative Hebrew prose --what one good scholar (@jack.collins --who does not yet concur with what follows) calls “exalted prose.” It is beautifully crafted and quite suitable for easy memorization.
Since this chapter comes first, it is foundational for everything that follows, including the story of Adam and Eve, which begins in chapter 2, verse 5.

The toledot divisions in the accounts further emphasize their complementary, yet distinct, nature.
The rub comes in trying to understand a chronology of events with regards to these two different stories.

Taken on their own, literarily, we have to accede that chapter 1 through 2:3 is meant for the reader to understand as an idiomatically-informed notion of a divine work week. We are also informed that God decides to take a sabbath rest. We are informed that, by the end of “day six,” God’s assessment is that all is “very good.”

There is no hint of mankind’s rebellion, nor of the dangers of any cosmic evil, nor of anything but God’s satisfaction, present in the text, at this point. We are only left to wonder about these things by virtue of later canonical information.

Then, the second story begins..

Many see this second story as going back and fleshing out the details left off the “sweeping overview” approach of the first chapter, especially with regards to “day six.” This is called the “recapitulatory” view.

But one may wonder whether this is the only interpretive option. Are we meant to understand any time as having passed between these two stories? The toledot divisions at 2:4 may certainly be read as allowing for that.

Is it possible that, following the narrative flow and demonstrable divisions within the literature, that the story of God “creating male and female in His image” is meant to be understood as having already taken place before the second story, the story of Adam and Eve, begins?

That there may have well been fully human “imago Dei” men and women populating the planet, and carrying out God’s mandate to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it” long before the very special and distinctive story of Adam and Eve even comes into the narrative? They certainly are given a very different mandate, for example, to “keep the garden and to tend it” rather than to migrate across the face of the earth.

Literarily, in context, this must be admitted as an interpretive possibility, regardless of whether one conceives of Adam and Eve as being “specially created” in chapter two, or not. This is called the "sequential " view.

Walton is only one scholar who makes interesting, but not definitive, arguments in this area. Averbeck is, apparently, developing arguments along these lines of his own. Many other scholars favor this view.

If we are to attribute a shorthand label, this is the imago Dei humanity created before the Adam and Eve story begins interpretive view., which several of us here share, with various other differing nuances.

To be clear, this is a view which @swamidass is officially agnostic towards.

This is not, however, a rejection of orthodoxy, but it is for those of us who so advocate, a provisional improvement on the more common “traditional” reading. It explains how Cain got a wife, after being exiled from his family, and who he built his cities with. It comports better with the scientific evidence of early human worldwide migration and prehistoric civilization building, for example. It further explains God’s desire for people of “all nations” to be included in His redemptive plan, and explains how “eternity is written in all our hearts,” not just those of Adam’s inceptive ethnicity.

That Adam and his lineage have, since that time, become universal geneaological forebears to every human being on the planet today, which @swamidass shows is scientifically feasible within even the last six thousand years, is welcome news for creationists of all types, and this satisfies the requirements for New Testament hamartiology and soteriology.

Again, this is not an unorthodox view, just a rather “surprisingly viable” interpretive option, in light of the perplexing scientific evidence for the antiquity of human behavior, vis-à-vis the implied chronological limitations of the Genesis 5 accounts of Adam’s geneaology.

Respectfully submitted, and Cheers!

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@Revealed_Cosmology , @jongarvey , @swamidass , @gbrooks9 , @jack.collins , etc. --your comments, questions, criticisms, suggestions? : )


Yeah, I’ll go along with all of this.

My aim in building from this kind of idea has been to try and show that it’s not only a possible option (helping to accommodate scientific knowledge to the account), but that it best fits the narrative framework of Genesis, Torah, Tanach and Christian Bible all.

For example, I’ve identified the “darkness” and the “deep” as the elements of tohu wabohu which are “tamed” rather than abolished in the creation account, but which remain signs of imperfection throughout Scripture, right up to the end of Revelation, in which they are both represented as abolished in the New Creation.

That leaves the creation in Genesis “very good” in its own terms as the unopposed work of God, but presages something that God means to change in some way. We’re expecting, at some stage, to hear of somethoing beyond the creation - and lo and behold, we’re at 2:4 when man is called into covenant fellowship.

Your point about the opposite human job specifications of Gen 1 and Gen 2 is well-taken, by the way. What sense to tell man to go forth and multiply and subdue the world, just before you confine him to a sacred garden in priestly service? That is a special calling distinct from the creation ordinance - though not incompatible with it if we presume Adam would have moved beyond the garden to bless the world when his training was complete - as indeed he did, fulfilling God’s purpose ultimately even though an abject failure.

On your scheme, that whole subtle element of “upgrade to come” is lost, if the Fall is implicit in the account of the sixth day. As you say, there is no hint whatsoever of that - just God content at the end of his working week (or in Walton’s terms, his temple-building programme).

So I agree the accounts are thematically different, different in scope (agree ch 2 is not acyually a creation account at all, but a post-creation drama), and stylistically poles apart. If we quietly park the documentary hypothesis, Gen 1 reads nicely as a prefacing creation account by the author of Genesis before he launches into his traditional sources of the Adamic line.

What do you do with Genesis 5:1-2 and Mark 10:6 where Adam is said to be created?

Isn’t Adam is a better “figure of Christ”, his true scriptural role, if he is both created and uncreated (but merely changed form)?

The arguments you give against a traditional “recapitulatory” reading are sound, but I assume you know they do not apply to what I call the “Christ-centered” view of the material which is neither purely recapitulatory nor purely sequential. Rather several things are going on in the first account, but the main thrust is the creation of humanity as a whole and Adam is barely referenced. Chapter two is “zooming in” on what was important but barely mentioned in chapter one- the start of God’s plan to reconcile mankind to Himself through the formation of Adam.

Okay, @Revealed_Cosmology, let’s start with your Mark 10 question.
"6 But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.7 For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, 8 and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” - Mark 10:6-9 NASB
Adam isn’t even mentioned by name in Mark 10; it references the chapter 1, “day six” story, then takes up with chapter 2: 24, because marriage isn’t even mentioned in the creation account, and Jesus is answering a question on marriage, not origins.
If I say, “America was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty for all, so for this reason you should be willing to take up arms to defend her from the foreign tyrrany that Nazism represents” have I conflated those two very different things as being from the same event?
As for Genesis 5, Adam is not named as the one having been created, either. His name is brought up as the toledot “source” of the ensuing account.
"This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. - Genesis 5:1-2 NASB
These prefatory remarks do, however, put him in continuity with “imago Dei” humanity. Proposing that they enable a strict chronology of the time of humanity’s “imago Dei” creation is not, to my way of thinking, a contemplated purpose of the text. Nowhere does the text simply add up the numbers the way Ussher and others have attempted.
An ancient reader would have known better than to take the chapter one “yoms” as 24 hour periods --I know you agree with that.
And so, we are left with a sequential reading informing us that the creating of “imago Dei” humanity preceeded the story of Adam, and also that they may have been around for quite some time before his story even begins. Hope that explains.

Though Adam is not mentioned by name, Christ connects either the events in chapter one or Adam’s statement at the start of chapter five to the purpose of marriage in chapter two. It is still Adam who is being discussed. The pattern established by Adam and Eve of marriage is connected to the original creation of humanity male and female. I agree with you that this does not necessarily mean that the example (Adam and Eve) came first. It doesn’t show that at all. Mankind could have stumbled around for a long time until the progressive revelation of God showed just what marriage is supposed to be in Adam and Eve. This is so at least as long as you consider both the creation of adam the race and Adam and Eve the representatives of that race to be a part of “the beginning”.

But what it does do is connect Adam to the events of chapter one, specifically that he was created (as well as formed in chapter two). That does not mean that only Adam was created in chapter one, but it does indicate that he was among those created. Since this account spans perhaps a billion years in time it would not matter if Adam came along many tens of thousands of years after the first group of humans. On that scale such a time difference is inconsequential. So the sequential view does contain truth, but what I am questioning is the idea that it is the whole truth. Adam the race came before Adam the man, we agree on that.

But does the first account refer only to them, or to both them and Adam the man? That Christ ties the two together indicates to me that the second account is more of a “zoomed in” view of some aspect of the first account. It is not strictly recapitulatory because there is a larger story going on, but its not unconnected either. I think the example I have given is that the first is “the rise and fall of the Roman Empire” and the second “the life and times of Julius Caesar.”

Now this is the part where I get frustrated. Nowhere in that passage does it say that Adam was “imago Dei”, or that mankind was in the image of God. It only references the likeness of God. And there is a difference. Our differing views on the image of God should be separated from the question of whether 1:27 is referencing only the race adam before the man Adam, or if it is referencing both, or only Adam. You think the first, I think the second. The point is that Adam the man puts himself, as you say, in that continuity with adam the race. He puts himself among the creatures, the created ones.

So, apparently this analogy was lost on you?

If I say, “America was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty for all, so for this reason you should be willing to take up arms to defend her from the foreign tyrrany that Nazism represents” have I conflated those two very different things as being from the same event?

Adam the named individual is nowhere present in chapter 1. To put him there is an interpretation, not a necessity.

End of story on chapter 1 - 2:3.

Adam the named individual is nowhere present in the Mark 10 passage, either. He is not present as a named individual in even the Genesis 2:25 passage. He is only hinted at as the first of a pattern; there is no "discussion."

I just have a general question out of interest in your particular take on Jesus referring to “the beginning” when he addressed the marriage question in Mark 10. The ancient Hebrews used the first word of each book of the Tanach as a title for that book. As a result, what we call Genesis was known to them as BARASHITH. So I’ve long assumed that Jesus referring to “the beginning” was probably an Aramaic equivalent to BARASHITH. (I’ve not consulted the Peshitta to see what word was used in that translation and old age has weakened my fading memories of Aramac vocabulary and grammar, so I won’t make a guess on this one.)

So even though I have no objections to what you are saying about the famous Mark 10 passage referring back to Adam and Eve by way of implication, do you think that Jesus was basically saying (to paraphrase) “Looking back to the Book of Genesis…” (Of course, that distinction can be important in arguments [which I’m not trying to start a new conflict here] that the Mark 10 passage is some unbeatable “proof-text” which insists that Jesus taught a six 24 hour day creation.

I’m not trying to split hairs. I’ve just wondered if most people are aware of the OT book naming-convention and its implications for this passage.

There’s a lot of stuff I’ve forgotten since grad school (and many years after, for that matter) but I I don’t recall hearing much about this distinction between the Imago Dei and “in the likeness of God”. Has this become a major issue in OEC and/or YEC circles? Or the evangelical world in general? (Keep in mind, I’ve been retired from the academy for many years.) I don’t want to create unnecessary tangents here but if you have a good link to summarize your response, that would be quite sufficient.

Interesting. And I thank you.

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I guess the relevance of your analogy to the point you were trying to make is lost on me. I already agree that using their marriage as the example does not mean that it is the first or close in time.

You know I thought about that one, but He did specify “beginning of creation”. Genesis is the book of “beginnings”. The beginning of the world, the beginning of the Hebrews (and thus the line of Messiah), beginning of the promise to Abraham, and the keeping of that promise through Moses. Its a book of various beginnings, but this was the beginning of creation, IE the first account, along with the second which is a subset (not a recapitulation) of it. In the book I take part of a chapter refuting the idea that this is a YEC silver bullet.

As for “Image” and “Likeness” I have a chapter in my book devoted to it, more really. Tell you what, I will make a thread on a condensed version here and tag you to it. It may save me trouble down the line.

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I forget which of the Synoptic parallels lacks the “of creation” part. And I don’t recall the textual variant situations on both. That would be fun to check out.

Of course, another interesting complication of that is the fact that Revelation 3:14 uses very similar Greek wording:

“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;” — KJV

Thanks for starting that additional thread on Imago Dei and “likeness of God.” Much appreciated.

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The whole gist of the Mark 10 “objection” hinges upon Jesus treating elements from the first two stories as though they were one “thing.”
If I say, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with one another… we the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do hereby ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” have I somehow intimated that there is no difference between the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution?
That’s precisely the kind of argument which the Mark 10 passage is being used to sustain, and it is wholly illogical. Hopefully that clarifies? Cheers!

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And we would all agree to this interpretation if there weren’t obvious problems with:

  1. Cain’s fears of being physically at risk by some unknown group;

  2. Cain’s spouse;

  3. How to explain Cain’s need to build a city.

In fact… your Tablet interpretation is quite consistent with the idea that one tablet referred to a large population of adam/humanity … while another tablet treats the special event of the forming of Adam and Eve.

Well hop onboard then because the Christ Centered model agrees with you on all that. The difference isn’t that there is no outside-the-garden population discussed in the first account, its the main human group addressed in the first account. The difference is that Adam and the Heavenly Man are also referenced briefly in the first account even though it is mostly directed at the population outside the garden. This deficit is addressed in chapter two, which focuses exclusively on Adam and the now anthropomorphic Yahweh-Elohim.

One tablet mostly referred to the large population and the second tablet expanded on what was barely mentioned in the first account- Adam and Eve.

There are certain peculiarities about the text of the first account which are going to make you wish this idea was on the table when this goes into discussion with real theologians. So just put it on the table is all I am saying…


And yet no text critical analysis supports that kind of granular distinction happening WITHIN Chapter 1.

Your only support for it is your claim to special revelation within the last 1 or 2 years. Chapter 1 plays by completely different rules than those used by Chapter 2.

It seems to be a deliberate attempt to retain granular distinctions (for those in the Know)…even if the official priestly “party line” was to eliminate the appearance of distinctions.

Conceiving of Adam as having been already created in chapter 1 forces him too far back in history to allow for either Genesis 5, or for the paleoanthropological record of the ancient evidence for humanity’s early advent to make any sense.
So, unless you’re saying that Adam was only being “prophesied about” in chapter one, you have major hurdles to overcome before I can even pull up alongside your ship. Truthfully, we’re still poles apart on those issues.

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But I think Adam came along at the same time you do! The first account goes from when the earth was formless and void to the Seventh Day which did not even dawn until Christ was resurrected. The second account takes a small but critical time slice and elaborates on it. If we are talking about 1 billion years of history then one verse covering 0.002 billion years is no stretch at all.

Yes, but you already know why I consider that eisegesis. That “day seven” didn’t begin until the resurrection is an interpretation you’ll be very lonely trying to get academic agreement with.

I have had an open call here for experts in the Hebrew to explain exactly why I am wrong about the text, if I am. Still waiting.

My support for it is in the text. The idea that 1:27 is only talking about humanity generally is refuted by the text. Get an expert in Hebrew in here and both of us will show you why. If you can’t or won’t, your appeals to let it go because some vague “consensus” wants me to are going to fall on ears of stone. I do agree with you that Chapter two is telling a very different story. I say that in the book. It’s primarily the story of those outside the garden and Adam is barely given a mention- until the second account which focuses on him and mentions those outside the garden only indirectly.

Take it away and my point still stands. The first account spanned an enormous amount of time which included the time of the second account in a snippet. If it covers a billion years it would not be surprising if humanity coming 100K years before Adam was mentioned in the same verse.