The Genesis Trajectory

Many Genesis scholars helpfully describe the majestic six-day creation account in Genesis one in terms of God bringing creation from chaos to cosmos.

“Chaos,” as you probably know, in Latin literally means “the disorder of formless matter” and, of course, we read in Genesis 1:2 that “the earth was without form and void,” or technically in a state of chaos. In contrast, “cosmos” is the Latin word for “order.” In Genesis 1, we have the epic six-day creation account that chronicles God bringing creation from chaos to cosmos and declaring the finished result to be “very good.”

With this we are all very familiar. The problem comes with Genesis 2. Those with a low view of scripture see Genesis 2 as simply another creation account with a different author who favored the use of Yahweh rather than Elohim as the name of God. And although it adds valuable additional content, they don’t believe Genesis 2 stands in continuity with what immediately precedes it in chapter one. But for those of us who believe that scripture is more than an assortment of ancient records cobbled together, and that there is an inner cohesion to canonical scripture, this simply will not do. And neither can we settle for the popular view that sees chapter two as simply the story of the garden (plus the naming of the animals and the climactic creation of Eve) that prepares us for the seminal material on the fall of Adam and Eve in chapter three.

No doubt this is important material, but as valuable as these details are, we still need to ask, “What is the unique contribution of chapter two to the worldview that is being presented in the opening chapters of Genesis?” We have the majestic six-day creation account in chapter one—to which we give a huge amount of attention—and the fall of man in chapter three, which we also rightly see as a pivotal chapter of scripture. But Genesis 2 is often seen as somewhat marginal to the seminal material in Genesis, and most of us use it primarily as our source material for marriage seminars and weddings.  However, I think this is a mistake and that, when properly understood, it is as crucial as chapters one and three in the overall Genesis narrative.

Personally, I have come to the conclusion that once one has shed the preconception that it is no more than an addendum to the creation story preparing us for the fall of man in chapter three, it clearly comes into focus as an account telling us how to respond to the incredible love gift of creation that was given to humankind in Genesis 1. Let me explain: Genesis 1 tells us who we are (those made in God’s image, both male and female), and it tells us where we are (in a creation that is an extravagant love gift), but it does elaborate on what exactly we are to do next.

Some things are obvious. In chapter one we are given dominion and told to be fruitful and multiply. We have a mandate to rule the created order and procreate along with the animals (and biological procreation was possible in chapter one, as woman was created on day six in Genesis 1. We read in 1:27, “. . . male and female he created them.”) But the mandate to rule and procreate leaves us like wanderers in a fairyland or children in a Disney theme park. It is a breathtaking place, but after exploring all the amazing wonders in the park we need to know the deeper reasons of why are we here.

Some hints are given in Genesis 1. However, if this were all we knew, our trajectory in developing the earth and responding to the love gift of creation would be uncertain. And this is why we have chapter two. And knowing our vocation and meaning is fundamental to being human. As those made in the image of God, we cannot live without knowing this. This is the gift of Genesis 2.

In Genesis 1 we have seen God do his work in bringing creation from chaos (“without form and void”) to cosmos (or “order”) through the six days of Genesis 1. The original planet was a lump of clay, but now we see places like Switzerland, and they are works of art. And this is what God is up to in chapter one.

Similarly, man is called to do his work and take creation from cosmos to cathedral in Genesis 2. Understanding this vocation is the unique contribution of chapter two. I use the word cathedral because, when it is not corrupted, the cathedral represents the uniting vehicle of every domain of society: worship, the arts, the sciences, athletics, social services, education, commerce, the guilds, care for the sick, and the courts of justice. The cathedral is the metaphor for all domains being under the umbrella of the Kingdom of Christ. Until the late modern age, the Western public square was not naked of this central unifying architectural symbol, and by it every domain came under the leavening of the gospel. What split the skyline was not the commercial skyscrapers owned by the captains of industry, but the cathedral, which claimed the city as sacred space. And with this background in mind, I use the word cathedral as a metaphor. We take creation from cosmos to cathedral in the sense of taking Eden to the ends of the earth.

With this in mind, let us go back to Genesis 2 and see it as an account giving Adam and Eve, and thereby us, a trajectory to respond to the love gift of creation. It has six dimensions, and I will deal with them briefly one by one.

  1. We discover we are to be the guardians of sacred space.

God is omnipresent, but for him to manifest his presence and enter into communion with humankind a certain environment had to be established, and this is what God achieves in the garden. The garden was not man’s natural habitat. It was a gift. The text says that the “the LORD God planted a garden . . . and there he placed the man that he had made.” (Genesis 2:8) Adam was “placed” there, he was not created there. The garden was a gift.

The creation was “good,” but the earth and other parts of the cosmos could still apparently be accessed by demonic forces. It is important to note that the Hebrew word used here for “garden” (or “park,” from which we get the word “paradise”) was usually a walled area in the ancient near east. The garden had an entrance that was later guarded by cherubim, indicating that it was a sanctuary that was walled or hedged (3:24.) Cosmos still needed to become cathedral and the garden was the beginning of the sacred space needed for God to manifest his glory in the earth. And we learn from chapter two that Adam and Eve were called to be the guardians of this sanctuary.

  1. We discover we are here to extend Eden to the ends of the earth.

They would not be given dominion over all the earth (Genesis 1:26) unless it was God’s intention that the garden should eventually expand and fill all the earth. God gave them a template (the garden) and said, “What you have here, physically and spiritually, now extend into all the earth as an act of love and worship.” And that this was so is hinted at by the four rivers that had their headwaters in the garden and then flowed out, north, south, east, and west, to water the whole earth (Genesis 2:10). What had its source in the garden was to flow out and bring life into the whole creation.

The Bible will conclude in Revelation 21 with a picture of a garden that extends to the ends of the earth.  It is called a city but has all the characteristics of a garden, with abundant fruit trees and a river flowing through its midst—and it has a great high wall to remind us of the walled gardens in the ancient world.  Its extension to the ends of the earth is signified by its dimensions being 1,500 miles in all directions. In the Hebrew worldview, such a distance brought one to what they envisioned as “the ends of the earth.” This can be verified in the prophets (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and the Psalms) who, when talking about specific nations at “the ends of the earth,” usually refer to nations in the region of about 1,500 miles from Israel. It would appear that John’s dimensions of the eternal city are meant to correspond with the “ends of the earth,” since the walls of the city are 1,500 miles high and 1,500 miles wide, and the depth of the city itself is 1,500 miles. If this is so, we are meant to understand that this garden city now extends to the ends of the earth. It is also sacred space, just as the garden in Eden was. It is shaped like a cube (to remind us of the holy of holies) and shines with the glory of God (Revelation 21:11 & 16).  So, John’s vision is of a garden city full of the glory of God as the consummation of human history. Cosmos has finally become cathedral and the trajectory given to man in Genesis 2 has finally been realized.

  1. We discover we are here to further develop into the image and likeness of God by feeding on the tree of life and avoiding the tree that produces death.

If cosmos it to become cathedral more than simple procreation is necessary. The earth must be populated, but the simple mandate to be procreate in chapter 1 is inadequate; it must be populated by people who are radiant with the image of God. In chapter two we discover that the “image and likeness” that is unique to man is not all “built in at the factory,” but has to be developed. God’s intention is for man to achieve this by feeding on the tree of life and repudiating the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Being a creature of day six means that man is given a choice. He can remain an “animal” simply functioning on the level of instinct, biology, genetics, and appetite. Or he can respond to God’s invitation to transcend the flesh and walk after the Spirit. However, exactly how he does this is not spelled out in Genesis 1. But in Genesis 2 we discover that this development is tied in to his moral choices, which (without going into the complex theology of the trees) revolved around choosing one tree and avoiding another.

Feeding on the tree of life is fundamental to developing in the image of God, and foreshadows feeding on the life of Christ in the new covenant age. But here in Genesis 2 the concept is introduced for the first time.

Let me review so that the flow is not lost. Genesis 2 appears to be giving Adam and Eve—and by implication, us—a trajectory to respond to the extravagant love gift of creation:

  1. We are to be the guardians of sacred space
  2. We are to extend Eden to the ends of the earth
  3. We are to develop the image of God by feeding on the tree of life and avoiding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

Then, moving on in the chapter:

  1. We discover we are to model in marriage the passion of the love relationship between God and man (and this is why we have the story of creation of Eve and the teaching on marriage in chapter two)

Unlike the animals, for mankind, sexual union is not simply a matter of biology. Marriage takes place in the garden (in sacred space) and is a model of God’s covenant love with humankind. And this is climaxed after the incarnation when marriage will model the relationship of Christ and the church. And becoming part of Christ and the church is the mechanism and the mystery whereby we are adopted into the Trinitarian family.

And having us as his sons and daughters was, according to Ephesians 1, the reason why God created the heavens and the earth in the first place. The cosmos is simply the stage, the platform, the superstructure, for God to carry out his astonishing plan to bring us into the Trinitarian family. And for this reason, and for this alone, the heavens and earth exist.

So, there is more than a good marriage sermon in Genesis 2. It introduces marriage, the model of Christ and the church, as the mysterious mechanism (through his death and resurrection) whereby humankind is grafted into the midst of the divine family. In Genesis 1 we simply have biological procreation, but in Genesis 2 we have marriage, which Paul describes as a great mystery, as it models the mechanism whereby we are adopted into the Trinitarian family.

Genesis 1 is magnificent, but it is only the platform God was building—the stage he was constructing—on which the astonishing drama of our being grafted into the heart of the divine family would take place. This is the message that Genesis 2 begins to unfold—the breathtaking drama of divine love foreshadowed in the union of male and female in the covenant of marriage.

  1. We discover we are here as the high priests of creation.

As the recipients of the extravagant love gift of creation, man alone is uniquely able to reciprocate and offer creation back to God as a love gift (and this would appear to be why we have the information on the plants, animals, and precious metals in chapter two.) Everything in days one through six can contribute to bringing creation from cosmos to cathedral, but not without man. Creation by itself is mute, only man can give it a voice and offer it back to God in worship and praise.

Kalistos Ware [The Orthodox Way, 1995] writes that “[Man’s] vocation is to transfigure the raw material of creation and then offer it back as a gift to God. Through gardens, beautiful buildings, works of art and inventions we are the means by which the created order is beautified, reconstituted and offered back to God.” Stone becomes sculpture, land becomes wheat fields, pigment becomes paintings, wood becomes furniture, iron becomes bridges, and marble becomes architecture.

In addition, man, in offering himself to God is in that act also offering back the creation to God (Rom 12:1–2.) To live we have to take the creation into our bodies as air, food, plants, fruits, meat, and drink. If we then use our bodies to glorify God, then through them creation is glorifying God. Dumitru Staniloae writes, “Man gives material things a voice and renders the creation articulate in praise of God.” He alone is uniquely placed in the creatorial order of things to do this, and

Genesis 2 acquaints him with the raw material of creation in preparation for his priestly calling.

In summary, Genesis 1 gives us our unique identity as those in the image of God. Then Genesis 2 builds on this and gives us our unique vocation – God has brought creation from chaos to cosmos and now we are called to bring it from cosmos to cathedral. In chapter two this is accomplished as…

  1. We become the guardians of sacred space.
  2. We extend Eden to the ends of the earth.
  3. We develop into the image and likeness of God by avoiding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and feeding on the tree of life.
  4. We model in marriage the mysterious mechanism by which man is adopted into the Trinitarian family.
  5. We become the high priests of creation and offer it back to God as a love gift.

And finally (6), we discover we are to operate in these five dimensions as a response to a love gift even more extravagant than creation: redemption.

In late 1998, NASA sent up the Mars Climate Orbiter, which was a failure, as it missed its orbit around Mars in September 1999. It cost $125 million and traveled 416 million miles—and missed its orbit by 60 miles, which meant its trajectory was 99.99986 accurate. But 99.99986 was not good enough. It still missed. (pictured at right)

Genesis 2 is crucial in giving an accurate trajectory for life on planet earth. And this seems to be confirmed by the fact that everything that is initiated here is consummated in Revelation. While we know all this went wrong when Adam fell in chapter three, and things moved in the opposite direction (from cosmos back to chaos) the reason God raised up the unique nation of Israel, and through it, the church, was to fulfill the original mandate given to man in chapter two: to move creation forward again from chaos to cosmos and on to cathedral.  Although we know that this trajectory will not be fully reached until Jesus returns, our job is still to take Eden to the ends of the earth, to take creation from cosmos to cathedral – now by the power of the Spirit – in any area, big or small, whenever and wherever we have opportunity. We do this in the same five dimensions Genesis 2 communicates. It is not only our response to the love gift of creation, but now, because of the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection, it is a response to the even greater love gift of redemption.

Summary: The Genesis Trajectory: Where We are Going

  1. We are to become the guardians of sacred space, i.e., a certain environment that facilitates communion between the divine and humankind. The garden was a gift into which Man was placed.
  2. We are to extend Eden to the ends of the earth.
  3. We are to develop into the image and likeness of God by avoiding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and feed on the tree of life. We are invited to transcend the determinants of instinct, biology, genetics, and appetite. We are offered the choice of transcending the flesh and walking after the spirit through morally right choices.
  4. We are to model in marriage the mysterious mechanism by which humankind is adopted into the Trinitarian family.
  5. We are to become the high priests of creation and offer it back to God as a love gift converted from its original form into a higher form of goodness, beauty, and praise to the creator made possible only through us.
  6. We are to apply the five dimensions of the Genesis trajectory to our response to the even more extravagant love gift of redemption.

Post Script: Gordon Wenham’s two-volume commentary on Genesis is generally viewed by evangelical scholars as the best resource available in English on Genesis in print. I have been using Wenham and the Canadian scholar Bruce Waltkie as my primary sources in studying Genesis, and while the work in this article is my own, I am in debt to both of them for providing the general exegetical background. My focus is the role that chapter two plays in the overall Genesis narrative, which I have come to believe is crucial, but largely overlooked. In essence, Genesis 2 is an account telling us how to respond to the incredible love gift of creation that was given to humankind in Genesis chapter 1.


  • Authored by Ray Mayhew, raymayhewonline.com , and revised with the author’s permission by his friend Kurt Mahler
  • Photo of Mont Saint Michel, # 13945882 by Prig MORISSE

 


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