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The Genesis of Everything, Part 4: The Place of Men and Women in Genesis 1

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June 30, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation
The Genesis of Everything, Part 4: The Place of Men and Women in Genesis 1

Today's entry was written by John P. Dickson. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: Today's post is the last of a four-part series by theologian, historian and Christian apologist Dr. John P. Dickson, dealing with the history and interpretation of Genesis 1. Dickson's paper first appeared in 2009 as "The Genesis of Everything: An historical account of the Bible’s opening chapter," at Christians in Science and Technology (ISCAST), an Australian organisation dedicated to exploring the interface between science and the Christian faith. As that title suggests, it urges us to treat the early chapters of Genesis as a literary and historical statement, and listen carefully to it on those terms.

This post features Dickson's argument that "the subversive intention of Genesis 1 reaches its climax in its description of the place given to men and women in the world by the Creator."

Man in Enuma elish

As I said earlier, Enuma elish essentially recounts a primeval war of the gods. The eventual victor is a young deity named Marduk. He and his armies destroy the patriarch and matriarch of the gods and out of the bloody remains create the various items of the universe. The gods who had supported these vanquished foes were sentenced to an eternity of servitude, collecting and preparing food for the victors.

Here is where human beings come in. The defeated gods begin to complain about the sheer indignity of being used merely to fetch food for other gods. They petition Marduk to create some other creature better suited to a life of slavery. The idea pleases Marduk and so, out of the goodness of his heart and the pools of blood left over from the battle, he fashions a man, a being whose central task in life is to serve the gods with food offerings:

When Marduk heard the complaints of the gods, he said: ‘I will establish a savage, 'man' shall be his name. He shall be charged with the service of the gods, that they might be at ease!’ Out of Kinju’s blood they fashioned mankind. Marduk imposed the service on mankind and let free the gods. (Enuma elish, Tablet 6)22

The clear ‘message’ of the story is that humans ought to know their place at the bottom of the divine scheme of things. Their role is to serve the needs and pleasures of the gods.23

It is against just such ancient views of humanity that our passage has something striking to say. According to Genesis 1, men and women lie at the centre of the Creator’s intentions and affections for the world. The theme is conveyed in a number of ways.

Interruption of the rhythm

First is the deliberate interruption to the rhythmic structure of the chapter. I mentioned earlier that each creative scene follows a careful four-fold pattern: a creative command followed by a report of the fulfilment of the command, an elaboration of creative detail, and a concluding day-formula. What I did not say is that in the final scene this pattern breaks down. Verse 26, which describes the creation of humankind, is introduced not with a creative command but with a divine deliberation, a pause in the rhythm of the text which tells us that something special is about to happen. God does not say ‘Let there be man’ as we should expect from the pattern set up throughout the chapter. Rather, the Creator declares to himself: ‘Let us make man in our image.’ The break in the rhythm is obvious and flags to readers that they have arrived at something special, a climax in the message of the chapter. The contrast with Enuma elish is striking. Humans were last in the list of creative acts in Enuma elish because they were an afterthought. They are last in the list of creative acts in Genesis because they are the highpoint of the account. The same point was highlighted by Philo two thousand years ago (Philo 77-82).

Men and women in the ‘image of God’

The contrast with paganism deepens in the elaboration of the act of human creation. In Enuma elish the first man, as we saw, was fashioned out of the blood of the vanquished god, Kinju. The man, in other words, was a product of the loser’s left-overs, to put it crudely. In Genesis 1, however, we are told that men and women were created in the very image of God. Verse 27 makes the point emphatically:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)

The phrase, ‘the image of a god’ was used in two related ways in antiquity.24 Firstly, it was used of the many statues of deities set up throughout pagan cities. These were regarded as representatives, ‘images’, of the divine presence. The second use of the epithet was in relation to kings. Ancient cultures, particularly Egyptian and Babylonian, described their kings as divine ‘images’. The idea was similar to that in connection with religious statues. Kings were considered divine representatives or ambassadors. They exercised the rule of the gods over the people. Genesis 1 appears to endorse this notion of the divine ambassador but it does so in a democratised fashion. According to the author, all people, not just kings, have been fashioned in the image of the one true God. Notice also that v.27 makes a point of including both male and female persons within the image of God.

Human beings are not the product of a defeated god’s blood; they are divine representatives, created to exercise God’s careful rule over the creation, to ensure that his interests are realized in the world.25

The service of God

There is another striking point made in these paragraphs. I noted earlier that the purpose of humanity according to Enuma elish (and other pagan myths) was to serve the gods with food offerings. In light of this, Genesis 1:29 may well have sounded very odd to ancient ears. Having urged men and women to exercise the divine rule over the earth, God then offers food to them:

Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth ... They will be yours for food.’ (Gen. 1:29)

God serves us. What a subversive thought this was in ancient times! It is a theme which reaches its climax in biblical tradition in the equally radical notion of Christ’s offering of himself for the sins of the world. What Genesis conveys metaphorically, Jesus would embody historically. But, of course, that goes beyond the scope of this paper.

Conclusion: Genesis and the search for meaning

I have argued in this paper that the author of Genesis 1 would not have been aware of the assumptions that would be brought to his text years later by six-day creationists and scientific materialists. He was not concerned with how the universe originated. Rather, he sought to answer the more urgent questions of antiquity: (1) From whom did the creation originate?; (2) What is the nature of that creation?; and (3) What place do men and women occupy in the creation? I have frequently noted the exposition of Genesis 1 by the 1st-century Jewish intellectual Philo of Alexandria. In the conclusion to this work On Creation he lists the five things the author intended to teach us in the opening chapter of Scripture: (1) that God has existed eternally (against the atheists, Philo says); (2) that God is one (against the polytheists); (3) that the creation came into being and is not eternal; (4) that there is one created universe not many; (5) that God’s good Providence originally fashioned and currently sustains and cares for the creation. The one who embraces these five truths, says Philo:

will lead a life of bliss and blessedness, because he has a character moulded by the truths that piety and holiness enforce (Philo 172)

For Philo, in other words, Genesis 1 answers philosophical, existential and theological questions. It is not concerned with the physical mechanics of origins.

The French philosopher and Nobel Laureate, Albert Camus (1913-1960), once contrasted scientific truth with philosophical truth. The one was valuable, he said, but not worth dying for. The other was central and very much worth living and dying for: ‘I therefore conclude,’ he wrote, ‘that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions (Camus 1960). I have argued above that Genesis 1 must be understood in just this context. In its highly literary form and against the backdrop of competing pagan claims the Bible’s opening chapter declares not a scientific truth of moderate importance but a bold answer to this ‘most urgent of questions’.


21 In fact, in Egypt, Amon-Re, the Sun-god, was said to rule the entire Egyptian pantheon, a collection of no fewer than 2000 deities.
22 This same basic story, though in more detail, is narrated in Tablet 1 of the Babylonian Atra-Hasis Epic which dates about the middle of the second millennium BC. On this see Millard (Millard 1994 pp. 114-128).
23 The ancient practice of placating deities with food offerings derives from stories such as this.
24 There are all sorts of philosophical suggestions about what it means to be made in the ‘image of God’. Some take the phrase as a reference to our critical faculties, others to our moral perception; still others take it to mean we possess a spirit just as God is a spirit. The historical analysis above, however, offers a more cogent interpretation.
25 It’s precisely this logic that leads to the words added in v.26: ‘let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air’ and so on. The point is reiterated in v.28: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.’


Anderson, BW (ed.) 1984, Creation and the Old Testament (Issues in Religion and Theology 6), Fortress, Philadelphia. Aquinas, T 1967 (1224/6-1274), Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae, vol. 10, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London.
Augustine, A 2002 (354-430), ‘The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 1.1, 1.29’, in The Works of Saint Augustine: a translation for the 21st century, part I, vol. 13, New City Press, New York.
Binder, DD 1999, ‘Into the Temple Courts: The Place of the Synagogues in the Second Temple Period’, SBL Dissertation Series, vol. 169, The Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta.
Camus, A 1960 (1942) The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. J O’Brien, Vintage, New York.
Clark, AE 1988, ‘Heresy, Asceticism, Adam, and Eve: interpretations of Genesis 1-2 in the later Latin Fathers’ in Robbins, GA (ed.), Genesis 1-3 in the History of Exegesis: Intrigue in the Garden, The Edwin Mellen Press, New York.
Dalley, S (trans.) 1992, Myths from Mesopotamia: creation, the flood, Gilgamesh, and others, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Dawkins, R 2006, The God Delusion, Bantam Press, London.
Gunkel, H 1895, Schöpfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit: Eine religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung über Gen 1 und Ap Joh 12, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen.
Heine, RE (trans.) 1982, Origen: Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington.
Hess, RS 1994, ‘One hundred fifty years of comparative studies on Genesis 1-11: an overview’ in Hess, RS, Tsumura, DT (eds), I studied inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, literary, and linguistic approaches to Genesis 1-11, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana.
Kaiser, WC 1970 ‘The literary form of Genesis 1-11’, in Payne, JP (ed.) New Perspectives on the Old Testament, Word Books, Waco, Texas
Kapelrud, A 1974, ‘The mythological features of Genesis chapter 1 and the author’s intentions’, Vetus Testamentum vol. 24, (2), pp.178-186.
Millard, AR 1994, ‘A New Babylonian “Genesis” Story’ in Hess, RS, Tsumura, DT (eds), I studied inscriptions from before the flood”: Ancient Near Eastern, literary, and linguistic approaches to Genesis 1-11, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana.
Philo, On the Account of the World’s Creation Given by Moses, vol. 1 trans. FH Colson & GH Whitaker, Loeb Classical Library 226, Harvard University Press, Boston, 1991.
Robbins, GA (ed.) 1988, Genesis 1-3 in the history of exegesis: intrigue in the garden, The Edwin Mellen Press, New York.
Sarna, NM 1970, Understanding Genesis, Schocken Books, New York Tsumura, DT 1994 ‘Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern stories of creation and flood: an introduction’ in Hess, RS, Tsumura, DT (eds), I studied inscriptions from before the flood: Ancient Near Eastern, literary, and linguistic approaches to Genesis 1-11 Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana.
Wenham, GJ 1987, Genesis 1-15, Word Books, Waco.

John Dickson is founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. He has a degree in theology and a doctorate in ancient history, specializing in the birth of Christianity. An ordained Anglican minister he is also a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), where he teaches a course on Christian origins. He has hosted two nationally televised documentaries (The Christ Files and Life of Jesus), authored over a dozen books and is a busy public speaker.

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Nicholas Olsen - #70770

June 30th 2012

It seems that a couple of crucial points need to be considered because the YEC (young earth creationist) might argue that this type of context is completely valid. They also will attach that the ancient writers of Genesis had knowledge of cosmic/human/animal origins in chronological order.

So in this sense; Genesis is like a polemic + historical narrative of cosmic/human/animal origins.

John D. does a good job by citing a Jewish intellectual (Philo) for the intent Genesis 1, because it seems that early Jews didn’t express any concern for origins in chronological order. I would only go with what we know about Genesis in it’s ANE context and not add anything more to it, because citing an outside purpose (other than what is discussed here) for Genesis seems to be an argument beyond the original audience.

The only argument i can see that would make Genesis 1 for historical narrative is that for us Westerners…. it reads like a step by step manual. It’s like we unknowingly read chronology into texts, so we’re a product of our time and Genesis is a product of their time. WE must adjust to the original context of the ancient near east.

wesseldawn - #70778

July 1st 2012

“The clear ‘message’ of the story is that humans ought to know their place at the bottom of the divine scheme of things. Their role is to serve the needs and pleasures of the gods.”


Enuma elish (similar to Greek mythology) is not that far off from the Biblical account as Satan became “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) so enslaving humanity to his will.

The very reason why Jesus appeared was to liberate us from Satan’s bondage.

George Bernard Murphy - #70783

July 1st 2012

Also Genesis gives an ACCURATE step by step description of events that actually happened to create our universe. Whereas the events described in Enuma Elish are pure garbage.

In the beginning God DID create the heavens and the earth,......

The earth WAS dark and without form, [the planck epoch]....

There WAS sudden light,....[which still exists as mapped in the microwave background radiation by the Cobe satellite] and.

There was a time when the strength of fundamental forces such as gravity and elactromagnetism were set at a certain critical level to make the universe unfold exactly as it did.

God calculated and set the strength of each of these forces, AND no doubt,.“The spirit of God ghovered over the surface of the waters”, at that time.

 SOooo…....In other words Genesis 1 is an amaingly correct enumeration of events in creation processes,...and Enema Elish is,........well .......GARBAGE!

wesseldawn - #70792

July 2nd 2012

I believe that initially God created everything (which would have been perfect, immortal as God is). I’m asking “what happened to it” that everything became mortal?

At some time Satan became the ‘god of this world’ (2 Cor. 4: Eph. 6:12) and things changed as everything became imperfect.

God is an eternal being -  our universe (and especially the earth) is young in comparison to ‘forever’! Do you honestly think there was nothing before us?

Too, the Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh sound similar to me!

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70788

July 2nd 2012

Genesis, Philo, and all that has been written about them are good.  The problem is that they are not good enough.  They leave us just where we are, which is with Western dualism, which has served Western civilization well for a number of years, but we must move on.

The issue today is Modernism vs Postmodernism, which is a reflection of Creationism vs Evolutionism.  Western dualism helped create the problem, but it is not an answer to the problem.  We need to go beyond Western dualism to resolve the issue.  It is not a case of either/or.

The other problem with Genesis 1 and Western dualism is that they are not Christian, however this does point to the solution of the problem.  It would seem that Christians would understand that the NT Covenant of Jesus Christ is superior to the OT covenant, and thus base their understanding on the NT creation story found in John 1.  However as we can plainly see this is not the case.

When we base our understanding of the Creation on the Logos and a Trinitarian Image of God, then most of these issues that we have been so fiercely arguing about “forever” resolve themselves.      

wesseldawn - #70793

July 2nd 2012

Roger, if the NT is different from the OT, that would mean that God changed. However, Heb. 13:8 says that ‘he is the same forever” and James 1:7 “says no shadow of turning”, which means “no changing”. 

Therefore, the OT and NT must be the same!

Nicholas Olsen - #70803

July 2nd 2012

Wesseldawn…. I’m not exactly following your definition of “change”.

My mom said i was allowed to watch R rated movies when i was 15, but my brother wasn’t allowed till 17. MY bro is 5 years older than me, so does this mean my mom ‘changed’ her mind when i was coming close to 17? No, her rule of thumb was about the maturity level of us both and i happened to be more mature at 15 than my brother.

I believe God works this way too. The cultures between the OT and NT had time to change, so God worked differently. The way He works is still subject to the same “rule of thumb”, but how this work is accomplished is different.

wesseldawn - #70815

July 3rd 2012

Roger, your story is quite amusing…but the issue of change is that ‘God does not change’ - ever.

People change and are inconsistent (case in point, your Mom) but God would never be inconsistent.

If there are changes ‘in any way’ that cannot be from God…and cutural changes would not affect Him - He would remain ‘exactly the same’ throughout the genenerations. If there are changes from the OT to the New, then you are really saying that God is not the author of the NT!

wesseldawn - #70816

July 3rd 2012

Oops sorry - I mean, Nicholas…

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70812

July 3rd 2012


God remains the same, but people change.  Therefore God communicates with people differently.  

wesseldawn - #70817

July 3rd 2012

God would not be affected by changes that happen to people. We change, He does not!

The circumstances that He uses to communicate to us will be as individual as we all are, but God Himself will remain the same.

The strength of infallibility is that change is not necessary.

If people say the NT is different from the OT, they are really saying that God changed - which is impossible given His unchanging nature.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70825

July 4th 2012


If the OT is the same as the NT, then Jesus did not have to die on the cross for the sins of the world. 

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, came into the world because the OT Covenant is not adequate to save humanity, only faith in Jesus Christ can do that.  That is NT and Chrsitainity 101.

God used the whole of the OT to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  This is God’s plan, not my opinion, so don’t blame me for how God reveals Godelf to humanity.

Humankind is still changing.  The way we see the world has changed drasticly.  This soes not mean that humans no longer need God as some people think.  What it does mean is we must adjest our thinking about God and our message of salvation to mean the current needs of God’s people, which includes everyone created in God’s Image.      

To claim that because God does not change in the way God cares about us the church does not have to change, can still worship and read the Bible in Latin, follow the Pope, etc. is a cop out.    

wesseldawn - #70836

July 5th 2012


By ‘the same’ I mean in this respect (that they repeat each other/in different ways but it’s the same thought):

At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death: but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” (Deuteronomy 17:6)

“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established .” (Deut.19:15b)

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone…But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Matthew 18:15-16)

”...In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established .” (NT 2 Corinthians 13:1)

established = set in stone

Of course there are more verses than this regarding this particular subject, but as you can see, the NT is not different from the OT.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70851

July 6th 2012


Where in the OT does it say that one must be born anew in the Spirit?

Where does it say that Jesus Christ is Lord?

wesseldawn - #70891

July 6th 2012


born of the Spirit:

“And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? ” (Gen. 41:38)

“And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom…” (Exodus 28:38) 

“And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,” (Exodus 31:3)

What spirit do you think this is referring to Roger? There is only ‘one’ Spirit!

Jesus Christ is Lord:

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

There is only one God!


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70927

July 7th 2012


Of course there is the Spirit in the OT, but sence there is teaching of forgiveness of sin through the death of the Messiah, there is no basis for being born again into eternal life.  The is the basis of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. 

The New Covenant is not the same as the Old Mosaic Covenant.  If it were then Jesus would not have has to be born, lived, suffered, died, and be raised from the dead. 

The Church would not have to separated from the Jewish faith.  All of God’s people would be wearing beards if they were men and worshiping in Jerusalem.  

wesseldawn - #70932

July 7th 2012


So then you believe that the God of the OT is not the God of the NT?

wesseldawn - #70951

July 8th 2012


“And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,” (Exodus 31:3)

There is only ‘one’ Spirit - God. He filled people in the OT the same way as the New (with wisdom) as the prophets received the promise though it was far off.

wesseldawn - #70895

July 6th 2012

“The man, in other words, was a product of the loser’s left-overs, to put it crudely. In Genesis 1, however, we are told that men and women were created in the very image of God. Verse 27 makes the point emphatically”

This fails to understand that initially man was only an animal/soul (leftovers). When it says that we were created in the image of God, it means that when man/ruddy entered the garden it got a spirit and passed that to Eve (who came from Adam’s body).

So it has been since that God’s image is automatically passed on down Adam’s line when and egg and sperm meet.

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