God’s innate love—the matrix of the Trinity—bursts forth like particulates in cosmic motion, infusing humanity with God’s image and attributes. Elohim kneels in the primordial dust of this new creation with purposeful intent, fashioning one in God’s image. Into the nostrils Elohim breathes an animating life force, naming the apex of creation “Adam.” This narrative of humanity’s genesis sets the stage for humanity’s fall and the subsequent messianic reversal while also illustrating three aspects of the divine—naming, dominion, and oneness—that God shares with the first couple, a sharing that I contend must be interpreted literally.
God names the light day and the darkness night, and then, after providing Adam with instructions regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God gives him the divine attribute of distinguishing creaturely names, of classifying and naming the beasts of the field and the birds of the air (Gen. 2:19–20). This naming reflects self-control, intentional reasoning, and an ability to distinguish classifications and act deliberately. It requires Adam to engage creatures on the earth on which they crawl, in the water in which they swim, and in the air through which they fly. In this way, Adam emulates God’s act of distinguishing and assigning purpose, calling each according to its nature. Naming, then, is a thoughtful process. According to the Mishnah, naming defines the character of the world.1
The power to name is a kind of authority or dominion. In the creation narrative, we see hints, as God wields dominion, that this authority depends upon justice and mercy, goodness and grace. Rabbinic theology regards justice and mercy as binary attributes, useful for discerning the sacred from the profane or for administering equitable restitution. According to midrashic interpretations, God ensured the survival of creation by making “patterns of the two measures, the measure of justice and the measure of mercy, and created the world, as is said, ‘In the day that the Lord God [mercy and justice, respectively] made heaven and earth’” (Gen. 2:4). And likewise, rabbis suggest that when God declares of Adam and Eve, “Let them have dominion” (Gen. 1:26), it is an invitation to seek both justice and mercy, for when mercy is withdrawn from the creative process, a reversal of the created order occurs, plunging it into chaos: “I look at earth, it is unformed and void; at the skies and their light is gone” (Jer. 4:23). Exodus 34:6 also shows the importance of mercy and justice as coexistent in the creative process: “The Lord, the Lord God” is a repetition that rabbis interpret as symbolic of God’s appraisal that the universe could not exist under the weight of justice, and so God added mercy. 2
In the beginning, Elohim created Adam alone, yet the interrelatedness of Father, Son, and Spirit as persons knit together in triune love—each fully God and each necessary for transacting the plan of salvation—means that any representation of the divine image demands plurality. To that end, Adam’s side provides the substance for a suitable companion. Adam and his helpmate’s creative substance is ex materia—from existing material or of the same substance—and God presents Adam’s bride like a father presenting his daughter:“Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23).3 Thus, Adam’s pronominal singularity becomes plural. Adam calls his bride Isha, for “from man she was taken” (v. 23). The image of God in Adam therefore encompasses woman.
Oneness as an attribute of the Trinity exists within a matrix of steadfast love and faithfulness that is manifested within humanity’s covenantal bond of marriage. As we read in Genesis 2:24, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Moreover, just as the divine oneness of the Trinity results in an outpouring of creation, so too the divine oneness that is reflected in marriage is paired with a directive to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen.1:22; 8:17). It is this reflection of the divine that is distorted in the fall.
Through the rebellion of the man and woman, humanity experiences a contraction of the divine attributes—Eve, “the mother of all living,” experiences a diminished capacity to facilitate her role in the wake of her defiance through increased pain in childbearing, suffering, and subordination (Gen. 3:16, 20). Adam, whose name originates from the Hebrew term adamah, signifying the red clay from which he emanated, finds that the soil becomes his curse (Gen. 3:17). The fall, then, is a lessening of our “true humanity,” a distortion of our very names, our relations to one another, and God’s intention for community building.4
Rebellion disrobes the first couple and, with them, all of humanity. Once covered by the protective kanaph (corners) of the divine prayer shawl, the couple’s exposed nakedness (arumim) is the direct result of engagement with the cunning (arum) serpent (Ps. 91:4; Gen. 3:7). Accordingly, the Hebrew language associates the adjectives naked and cunning through a wordplay on the ʿrm root(ערם). Only in Genesis 2:25 and 3:1 are these terms vowelized to reflect the effects of the fall on relationships and human character. Thereafter, every negation of fellowship and every impoverishment of the divine attributes wrought in the fall vitiates the Edenic reality that God desired for humanity.
According to the Mishnah, the Hebrew text reveals the mystery of humanity’s diminished attributes and God’s salvific response within the toledot formula (Gen. 4–11). That is, in every Old Testament use of the term toledot, meaning “generations,” the conjunctive vav (ו) is missing, except when Genesis 2:4 speaks of the generations of the heavens and earth or Ruth 4:18 lists the generations of Perez. This missing letter has the numeric value of six, which Rabbi Berekhya, in the name of Rabbi Sh’muel bar Nahman, interprets as six traits gifted by God to humanity, namely our splendor, immortality, stature before God, the fruit of the earth, the fruit of the tree, and the lights in the firmament. In generations where the vav is missing, the rabbis surmise the corruption of God’s attributes in humanity (Genesis Rabbah 12:6). The return of the vav in the lineage of Ruth, they add, marks the renewal of the attributes, suggesting a messianic reversal of the Adamic curse through the lineage of Perez (cf. Matt. 1:3).5
This messianic perspective is mirrored in the life of the Trinity. God is one, but in that oneness, there exists three persons whose different roles facilitate the promised plan of God: the divine reversal of the fall. This means that the Trinity’s messianic work forms the integrative motif that brings humanity into the oneness of God (John 17:21).6 Their unity, equality, and indivisible purposes clarify the role of the first couple and all subsequent humans, which is the establishment of the faith community to continue Christ’s mediating work.
This reading of the creation account with midrashic insights, however, is debated by some in theological academia. For instance, Denis Lamoureux, an evolutionary creationist, emphasizes an “intelligent design-reflecting natural process” in which “Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” Moreover, he refutes the christological significance of the Adamic pericope, arguing that the Christian faith is based solely on the work of Jesus Christ and not the existence of Adam. Then, to deal with the Apostle Paul’s comparison of original sin in the first Adam with the divine reversal through the last Adam, Lamoureux addresses the limitations of first-century views of cosmology and biology. He contends that the New Testament demonstrates “accommodating language” according to ancient perspectives on human origins that are based on tradition and empirical evidence rather than actual science. Paul’s comparison in Romans 5:12–15 or Jesus’s marriage model in Matthew 19:4–6, therefore, employ an ancient understanding of human origins, and these texts, according to Lamoureux, deliver necessary spiritual truths utilizing first-century traditions. Similarly, he interprets the brevity of the first recorded genealogies in Genesis 4, 5, and 11 as an “ancient phenomenological perspective.” That is, he suggests that the oral transmission of early genealogical records, as understood by individual tribes and families, limits their reliability. Furthermore, Lamoureux suggests that “real” history begins with the story of Abraham, which he describes as a “unique literary genre” that is distinct from the rest of the Bible.7
In the context of this argument, Lamoureux discounts the unity of Scripture, assumes greater veracity in later genealogies, and negates the three integrated foundational blessings, namely that creation is fruitful and “good” (Gen. 1–2), that the “Good News” is from Eve’s “seed” (Gen. 3:15), and that God dwells with the Shemites (Gen. 9:27).8 Moreover, he seems to overlook the toledot structure that unites the early biblical narratives and contextualizes the foundational work of God establishing a salvific response to sin within the familial structure. Even the creation of Adam and Eve lies within the generations of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4). This framework is essential for scriptural integrity, and clearly an understanding of the toledot formula gives rise to the blessed messianic expectation. In short, if the opening chapters of Genesis were not historical, then the promised plan of God for a restored creation, the messianic expectation, and God’s presence among humanity would struggle to find normative scriptural precedence. Without Genesis 1–11, one must relegate the conception of these, and other topics, such as original sin, to the mysteries of God. Furthermore, the Pauline comparison of the two Adams, promoting Christian conformity in the last Adam, which is not in dispute here, supports God’s intent to restore the divine attributes in the faith community (see Rom. 5:12, 5:14, and 8:29). Likewise, the restoration of the material creation confirms that God’s original handiwork was, in fact, “very good” (Gen. 1:3; Acts 1:2–4).
A literal reading of the doctrine of creation thus sets the stage for the Abrahamic covenant, the birth of the Messiah, and God’s overarching plan of renewal and reconciliation. This is why the Lukan account takes pains to show that Jesus’s genealogy extends back to Adam, directly connecting the Savior to the creation account (Luke 3:38). Perhaps faith in Jesus Christ is not dependent on a literal understanding of the first couple, but the context for God’s salvific plan, viewed holistically throughout Scripture, requires it; and just as importantly, it provides Christianity with a historical context.
God’s plan to renew the divine attributes within humanity illustrates a desire to share the communal life of the Trinity. This same quality of sharedness in the cooperative relationship of the triune God manifests in the life and ministry of Jesus.9 His life enacts the renewed divine attributes in the faith community and reflects God’s eschatological intent that we live as true humans in the unity and wholeness of God, the oneness of the Trinity. True humanity as the relational paradigm for marriage, community, and oneness with Father God is exemplified in the Son. As the bridegroom, he betroths us in purity, disarming the cunning serpent (2 Cor. 11:2–3). He, who bore our shame—our nakedness—clothes us once again, giving us the right to cry, “Abba, Father,” as sons and daughters (Gal. 3:27; Romans 8:15).10 Modeling true humanity through the Son, the faith community demonstrates the shalom of God—God’s oneness in love and wholeness of purpose.
- See Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, The Human Will in Judaism: The Mishnah’s Philosophy of Intention (Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1986), 103.
- “Piska 40,” in Pesikta Rabbati: Discourses for Feasts, Fasts, and Special Sabbaths, trans. William G. Braude, Yale Judaica Series 18 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968), 2:703–4.
- For the triune plan for salvation, see Fred Sanders, “How the Trinity Changes Everything,” Grace Communion International, September 16, 2016, https://learn.gcs.edu/mod/page/view.php?id=4440; for plurality in God and humanity, see R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 58; and for God’s wedding-like presentation of the woman, see Hughes, Genesis, 60. All Torah (Genesis–Deuteronomy) Scriptures are from The Chumash: The Stone Edition, eds. Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah, 2000).
- Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 290–91.
- Jacob Neusner, Confronting Creation: How Judaism Reads Genesis (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991), 96, 95, and 96.
- For the relationship between the Trinity, first couple, and faith community, see Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 85; for becoming one with God through community, see Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 243.
- Denis O. Lamoureux, “No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View,” in Four Views on the Historical Adam, eds. Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 38, 59, and 44; also see 37.
- Walter C. Kaiser, “Three Foundational Blessings,” in The Christian and the “Old” Testament (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1998), 26, 30, and 32.
- Marty Folsom, “You Are not Alone,” in Face to Face: Sharing God’s Life (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 80.
- All New Testament Scriptures are from the NRSV.