Part 2: The De Novo Creation of Adam
Generations of Christians have firmly believed that the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 is an elaboration of the brief account of human origins on the sixth creation day in Genesis 1. This traditional literal interpretation asserts that human history begins with the events in the garden of Eden. According to young earth creationists and progressive creationists, these passages offer indisputable biblical evidence against human evolution. However, the de novo creation of living organisms (see my “Part I: The De Novo Creation of Life”) was the science-of-the-day in the ancient Near East, and this calls into question historicity the creation of humans as stated in the Bible.
Like every account of origins, Genesis 2 is etiological. It offers an explanation for the existence of things and beings known to the Holy Spirit-inspired writer and his readers—vegetation, land animals, birds, and humans. And typical of ancient accounts of origins, the Lord God created these de novo; that is, they were made quickly and completely formed. But Genesis 2 focuses mainly on the origin of humanity. Adam is made “from the dust of the ground” (v. 7). Notably, the use of earth to rapidly form mature human beings appears in other ancient Near Eastern creation stories. For example, the Atrahasis creation account tells of a goddess who mixes clay with the blood of a slain god to fashion seven males and seven females. In Enki and Ninmah, a drunken divine being uses earth to make imperfect human beings. And a pinch of clay is used to create a man in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The gods in many of these pagan accounts create humanity in order to free themselves from work. The message is that men and women are basically slaves of the gods. In sharp contrast, Genesis 2 features the Message of Faith that the Lord cares for humanity. He meets their physical and psychological needs by offering food and companionship. The God of Love is being revealed at this early stage of biblical revelation.
So what exactly am I saying about Adam? Yes, the forming of a man from the dust of the ground in Genesis 2:7 is an ancient understanding of origins. Adam’s existence is based ultimately on ancient science, and his quick and complete creation from earth made perfect sense from an ancient phenomenological perspective. The ancients saw that humans never change into other kinds of creatures, and that humans give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, who give birth to humans, etc. It was reasonable for them to retroject (Latin retro: backward; jacere: to throw) these day-to-day experiences back to the beginning of creation and conclude that the Creator had made an original human or pair of humans. In addition, ancient peoples saw that after an organism died, it decomposed and became dust. This observation, coupled with their own activity in shaping clay into pottery, provided a conceptual framework for the fashioning of humans and other living organisms from earth. In fact, Genesis 2 uses the Hebrew word y??ar to describe the forming of a man, animals, and birds from the ground (v. 7, 8, 19). This is the same word that is used for the term potter, and it even appears in other passages where God is the Potter who forms man in His hands (Isaiah 16:29, 45:9, 64:8; cf. Jeremiah 18:1–6).
The de novo creation of Adam is example of the Holy Spirit accommodating, that is, descending, to the level of the ancient Hebrews in the biblical revelatory process. He takes their view of human origins, which is the best science-of-the-day, and employs it as a vessel to reveal that He is their Creator. And just like His use of ancient astronomy, when He separates the waters above from the waters below with the firmament in Genesis 1, His forming of Adam from the dust of ground never happened either. No doubt about it, this idea is shocking to most Christians. But the Message-Incident Principle offers perspective on this situation. How God made humans is incidental to the message that He made us. Adam is simply an ancient vessel that delivers inerrant, life-changing, spiritual Truths.
The central purpose of Genesis 2 is to reveal infallible Messages of Faith about the human spiritual condition. Radically different from the pagan beliefs of the nations surrounding the Hebrews, this chapter complements the Holy Spirit-inspired theology of Genesis 1, which reveals humans are created in the Image of God (v. 26-27). Genesis 2 underlines our special and privilege status in the world, because we are the only creatures in a personal relationship with the Lord. The second creation account in Scripture also discloses that men and women were made to enjoy the mystery of marriage. So beautifully stated, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (v. 24). And most importantly, Genesis 2 reveals that the Creator sets limits on human freedom. He commands Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you shall surely die” (v. 17). In other words, we are accountable before God, and failure to respect His commands has serious consequences.