What is the “firmament” of Gen 1:6?

The firmament is the sky, i.e., the space between the land and sea below, and the clouds and stars above. To understand the notion at work here, remember that we are to imagine a world utterly beclouded, with vague light glimmering through, but lighting nothing in particular. Then, once the dust settles enough, on Day 2—although there might still be massive, impenetrable clouds of water vapor—water oceans might well become visible and distinguishable from the clouds.

Did God not create heaven in Gen 1:1? Then why is this newly-created firmament called “Heaven” in 1:8? And what of the spiritual place where God dwells?

As I said above, in Gen 1:1, “the heaven and the earth” was probably meant as a compound phrase with a singular meaning, a hendiadys, standing for something like “the universe” or “the world.” Moreover, the “heaven” that was created in 1:1 was simply the vaguely-conceived upper regions, perhaps the unseen cloudtops above the proto-earth. As to “Heaven” in the sense of God’s spiritual dwelling-place—that is, assuming that we should assume that God’s dwelling-“place” is indeed spiritual and not located in any physical/spatial relation to the earth—clearly it must already have existed before 1:1. Of Jesus, Paul said, “by him were all things created” (Col. 1:16), and “he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Hence, if it must be said that the Godhead dwelt “somewhere” and “before” the creation—though perhaps this makes dubious sense—then that place existed before God created “the heaven and the earth.” So we are really dealing with two, or perhaps three, concepts of “heaven” in Gen 1.

In reference perhaps especially to Gen 1:6, do any other ancient cosmogonies (creation myths) sufficiently resemble that of Genesis 1 as to be a plausible inspiration of it?

Or might they have a common source, anyway? The short answer is that other contemporaneous ancient cosmogonies—Egyptian, Sumerian, and Assyrian—all have enough and striking elements in common with the Genesis account that it is unlikely that they are utterly independent and unrelated. Just for example, one pagan god is said to plan and then speak certain things into existence. In another, the “Enuma Elish” myth of the ancient Babylonians, following a long and complicated back-story, it is a created god, Marduk, who becomes king of the universe and leader of the divine assembly, by defeating the goddess of salt water, Tiamat, which he divides (as some would say God does in 1:6). And the Egyptian god Atun is said to be the original and supreme god, and to have gotten the creation started. But he is by no means the only god, and there are many very important differences. Probably, there was one original tradition, which the Hebrew account gets most correct, being most sensible and being connected with a tradition deeply imbued with other qualities that compel belief.

Do the limited points of similarity of ancient cosmogonies (and theological elements, such as the “divine council” and speaking things into existence) make that of the Hebrews less credible? Why or why not?

It seems not. No other cosmogony has significant enough similarities to be plausible as a sole or even main origin of the Hebrew cosmogony. All of these texts are hard to date precisely. Finally, we have independent theological reasons to find Genesis 1 plausible, and if God shared that story during some antediluvian or patriarchal ages (not with Moses himself, which is another possible original source), then we might well expect to find multiple pagan versions of the original story, i.e., versions of the Hebrew (Yahwist) narrative twisted by pagan cults, handed down from days gone by. In that case, the similarity with pagan accounts means only that the pagans misrepresented the truth, and that Genesis 1 is adequately reflects the original, faithful source.

What are the “lights in the firmament” of 1:15?

These are, of course, the Sun, Moon, and stars. One commentator speculated that these are not named as such in order to convey that they are mere “lights,” created objects, not gods—since these items in the “host of heaven” were often the objects of worship. Not naming them was a way to reduce these mere objects in dignity.

Isn’t it a problem that Sun and Moon are said to be created (Gen 1:14-17) after the earth (1:1)?

Again, if the narrator of Gen 1 is occupying a position close to the surface of a proto-earth, then at some point, enough of the primordial dust cloud would have settled or burned off that there would be clear periods in which the Sun and Moon became visible, perhaps for the first time. One potential problem here is that the text actually states, “Then God made two great lights” and “God set them in the firmament” (1:16-17); but current theory about the formation of the solar system has it that the Sun ignited before the Earth formed. What is very likely the case, however, if that is so, is that the early Sun and Moon were for a long time invisible from the surface of the proto-Earth, as it was still forming. If so, then the events described as taking place on days 2 and 3 followed the creation of the Sun and Moon, but the Sun and Moon became visible after them.

As to “heaven” in 1:14-17, shouldn’t we say, as the illustrators sometimes show, that God dwells in the clouds or among the stars? Is that not a sufficient sense of “heaven”?

Perhaps early theologians thought so, but we now know they would have been mistaken, because the regions above the clouds—outer space, with its planets and stars—are every bit as “fleshly” as the rest of the material creation. It seems to have been thought that the loftier regions were not like “here below,” so it was possible to think of a spiritual heaven as being simply, “up there.” But Copernicus and even more modern astronomy and space exploration have shown that space is material and not particularly holy. Yet we are specifically told that God is “a spirit” (John 4:24). Visions of God on his throne, and surrounded by adoring angels (e.g., Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, and Revelation 4), are distinctly otherworldly visions and typically interpreted as somewhat clumsy, metaphorical attempts to describe wholly spiritual visions. So any divine dwelling place cannot reside “at” any particular place “in” this material world.

What does it mean to say the Sun and Moon “rule over the day and over the night” (Gen 1:18)?

This does not suggest the author indulged in a pagan sort of personalization of these objects, or that he was tipping his hat toward Egyptian and other mythology. Of course the author of Genesis 1 did not mean to avow Sun and Moon gods (which, again, is perhaps one reason they were not named as such). The language of Genesis is poetic, though not poetry. Doubtless, the pagan traditions ultimately suggested the metaphor of the Sun “ruling” the day, just in the sense that it was the most prominent universal presence in daytime; but this hardly meant that the author of Genesis 1 took the metaphor to be understood literal. That language even as early in the Bible as this first chapter could be metaphorical is obvious. This is said to be “divided” by God from that; there are six “days” which are probably metaphorical; Sun and Moon are “great lights”; animals are enjoined to be “fruitful”; man is said to have “dominion,” as if royalty; etc.

How can we best reconcile the notion that birds (Gen 1:20) were created before land animals (1:24)?

“Cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth” (Gen 1:24) come only after birds (1:20), which evolutionary history says is wrong. One way to approach this problem is to point out that reptile or amphibian would be an instance of a “living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly.” This is, after all, true, according to evolutionary theory. In other words, in the Mesozoic (dinosaur) era, even as fish and birds were evolving, so were the earliest, creeping land animals, and even if indeed they spent millions of years on land, it was in that earlier era that they came out of the sea. It was only in a later era, the Cenozoic, when mammals appeared, i.e., the sorts of animals the author doubtless had in mind when listing “cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth.” And it is rather strikingly apropos, I think, that the last living creature to appear was man. Besides all that, this is not a scientific treatise but a brief, suggestive account of the orderly way in which God created things; it is probably not a requirement that such an account match perfectly to the order in which things were actually created, particularly if the “days” are used as conceptual markers used for exposition rather than six consecutive 24-hour periods.

Why are various categories of animals, and then man, encouraged to “be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen 1:22, and in the case of man, at 1:28)?

What is the significance of this injunction? Reproducing and flourishing as a group seems to be both specially valued by God and is presented as a blessing (“God blessed them, saying”; 1:22). Othernatural processes are not similarly blessed; probably, there is some special meaning behind an emphasis on reproduction, particularly because it is repeated several times as a blessing, promise, or injunction (especially at Genesis 9:7, after the Flood: “be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein”). In short, life as such is specially prized by God: sacrificing the life of the most valuable animals atoned for sin; the most serious sins concerned unjust killing as well as improper reproduction; and the very most horrible pagan heresies involved sacrificing human life, especially a child’s life. Accordingly, the greatest reward of the Hebrews was to “multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.” (Gen 22:17) Moreover, one of the saddest and desperate conditions of a young woman in the Bible was the inability to bear children. Life, in the Bible, is repeatedly shown to be among the greatest of blessings and holiest of things we can value.

What does Gen 1:26 mean with the claim that man is made “in the image of God”?

This doctrine is theologically deep and consequential, and is made the basis of all sorts of important concepts regarding the nature of man, theological ethics, the relationship between man and God, etc.—as well as the basis of heresies. But, I will keep this answer brief. The Hebrew words suggest we are made in God’s “image” or form, “after our likeness” or similitude or model. We are in God’s likeness—the imago dei—but how? John (4:24) writes that “God is a Spirit” or, as more recent translations have it, “God is spirit.” The Spirit of God is mentioned as early as Gen 1:2 in the Bible, and in many other places thereafter. Hence it seems likely that the claim that we are made in the image or form of God is to say that our spirits, or souls, or minds, or characters were made in some fashion like God’s. It is not hard to find ways in which this might be true: God is represented as having a free will, with the ability to make plans and form purposes, as we do; of having a mind, thoughts, and reasons, as we do; and of having assorted emotions, including love and anger, as we do. Moreover, in the same sentence, God says he would give man dominion over other living beings; so a common suggestion is that we resemble God in that we have this “dominion,” although in a much narrower domain. Finally, we are also supposed to be like God in that we are can be evaluated morally, as righteous or sinful. Of course, since God is perfectly righteous, it follows that in Adam’s fall, man’s nature became less like God’s, insofar as man became sinful; so also, in our ultimate redemption and rebirth, according to the New Testament, the imago dei in us will be more fully restored.

Could the Gen 1:26 “image of God” be a physical, rather than spiritual, image?

In other words, could God have a physical body which ours resembles? Perhaps, perhaps not, although this might have been the first thing that the mere words would have brought to mind to the original reader. After all, God is portrayed in the Pentateuch as having an appearance, e.g., a face, which it is deadly for a man to see, and which Moses was forbidden to see, though he could see God’s back. Moreover, we are told over and over that God appeared in various theophanies, i.e., bodily or physical forms, such as Abraham’s visitor, Jacob’s wrestling partner, the burning bush, and the shekhina, i.e., the physically appearing “glory” or presence of God in and about the tabernacle. Most importantly, there is God’s appearance in the form of Jesus. But as God is primarily spirit, the way in which we are in his image is likely also spiritual. It is possible that our “new creation” bodies will be like the perfect, glorified body of the risen Christ, but that is not how we are, now, in the image of God. But one thing we can certainly infer from the variety of theophanies: God does not have any one physical manifestation, hence cannot be identified with any of them. Hence our bodies could at best resemble one of his theophanies, not all of them.

Is original man (Gen 1:29) said to be vegetarian?

It might seem so, but the matter is not altogether clear. Although the God does not specifically forbid the eating of meat, plants and their fruit are the only food that is clearly mentioned before Abel sacrificed the firstlings of his flock (Gen 4:4). As Abel seemed to be a meat-eater; he raised sheep and set aside the fat for God. But this is puzzling, because if eating meat became acceptable immediately after the Fall, God would have said so in Gen 1:29, and a bit later when he describes “the herb of the field” (Gen 3:18) that he would henceforth eat. Cain’s descendant Jabal is called father of “such as have cattle.” (Gen 4:20) Noah is said to taken seven (probably, seven pair) of the various animals described as “clean” (Gen 7:2); the food laws (later articulated in Leviticus) clarify that clean animals were those acceptable to eat. Still, God first explicitly describes the eating of meat to Noah, generations later, when he says, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you” (Gen 9:3). See below for discussion of that. Finally, consider carefully that God mentions man’s “dominion over” the animal world twice (1:26, 1:28), and that would have been thought to include eating animals; animal meat would have been a blessing. So it is hard to say and I am inclined to think early man did eat animals, at least after the Fall.

Are animals originally said to be herbivorous (Gen 1:30)?

It seems so. The fact that animals are, of course, carnivorous, you would think it would bear specifically mentioning that the first animals were not so, if that were the point of saying they ate plants. But perhaps saying only that they ate plans was commonly understood, at the time, to mean that animals at only plants (this is a logical fallacy, but it could be an understood implication). Besides, key texts in Rom. 8:18-25 as well as Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25 suggest that on the recreated New Earth, animals will live in peace (as herbivores). So it seems creation at first was absolutely free of death and hence no animals were eaten, and that in the new creation, wiped clean of all sin, there will again be no death, not even of animals. If this were the case, then perhaps the original condition of the creation was equally idyllic. In any case, the difficulty here is that there is there is no scientific evidence that vicious carnivorous predators like lions and eagles ever ate plants; they have sharp teeth (or beaks) and claws (or talons) in order to capture and hold their prey. Why should animals be “punished” by changing their diet in this way as a response by God to man’s sin?

So were animals immortal, like man, before the Fall?

Perhaps, but this seems doubtful. For one thing, they did not eat of the Tree of Life, which seems to be the best explanation of why Adam was said to be offered to live forever. Death would come from Adam only after eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, promised at Gen 2:17: “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” But it does not say that animals did not die previous to this, and at no point does any Bible verse explicitly link Adam’s sin with the introduction of animal death. Some point to Rom. 5:12 as indicating that Adam’s sin introduced death to the animal world: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin”. But the same sentence concludes: “and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” It says nothing specifically about animals, and “death by sin” is too vague to hang a whole doctrine upon: obviously, it could mean only “death of man by sin,” since that is the context. The same problem afflicts 1 Cor. 15:22-23: the remark “in Adam all die” leaves “all” with a vague domain of application: I would be inclined to think it means “all men,” not “all living beings.” After all, later in that same chapter’s argument, the redemption for that original sin is said to make resurrection possible, and that certainly does not include the resurrection of animals.

If “everything” God had made was “very good” (Gen 1:31) was it perfect?

It depends on what you mean by “perfect.” After all, the serpent was in the Garden, ready to tempt Adam and Eve, and even if they had not yet sinned, they possessed both the freedom and the willfulness that enabled the Fall. More to the point, Adam and Eve were like innocent children, and innocent children, however morally pure and indeed holy they might be, are not fully formed and are hence complete in that (quite distinct) sense. In other words, there are at least two senses of the word “perfect”: (a) beyond moral reproach and (b) incapable of any sort of improvement. God’s initial creations were perfect in the sense of (a), but not (b); after all, each day of creation represents an improvement over the last. This is not to say that it was preferable that Adam and Eve lost their innocence and became more sophisticated. Indeed, God is often contemptuous and wrathful toward man’s pretensions to wisdom and power (as in God’s reaction to the Tower of Babel in Gen 11:1-9). But it is a matter for God himself, and perhaps for debate in philosophical theology, whether in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22) we will be in a “more perfect” state, being far more mature than Adam, but also having sinned and having had our sins wiped clean by Jesus.

Why mention (in Gen 2:1) “and all the host of them” in addition to “the heavens and the earth,” as the things created? The heavens and earth includes everything, no?

The word, צְבָאָֽם or tsaba, means literally “the host of them,” as the literal translations have it; the word means something like “armies.” But, obviously, since we are not talking about soldiers but merely every created thing, the word means something metaphorical. If it is to be contrasted with “heavens and earth” (וְהַשָּׁמַ֥יִם הָאָ֖רֶץ, hashsāmayim wuhā’āretz), then this “host” must mean the contents of (the items within) the creation; so then “heavens and earth” would mean the spaces and their structure. This is confirmed by a reference back to Gen 2 that occurs in the Ten Commandments at Ex 20:11: the Lord made “heaven and earth…and all that in them is.” This also precisely contrasts with Gen 1:2, which said the world was “without form, and void.”

God, being the source of all, is surely not in need of rest; being limitless, it seems he could do anything without effort. Why, then, does the text say in Gen 2:2 that he “rested”?

Indeed, it is very probably not because he needed a rest. Probably, the traditional explanation is correct: he was demonstrating to mankind what man should do: observe the sabbath, the weekly day off. The following sentence underscores this. The text anthropomorphizes God in this way, in a few different places, e.g., when it says “repents” and is “grieved” that he made man, on Gen 6:6. There are also physical anthropomorphisms; perhaps indeed God has no literal “face,” despite being said to have one (e.g., Lev 20:6).

What might be “holy” about resting (Gen 2:3)?

Perhaps nothing in itself. Certainly not every time a man rests is it a holy rest. But this demonstrated instance of resting was a holy example to man, who even before the Fall, here, is said to need one day in seven to rest. Insofar the day is set apart (the word for “holy,” קָדַשׁ or qadash, means something like “set apart”) from the other six unto God, and insofar as holy God himself “rested,” it makes sense that the Mosaic code, in the Ten Commandments itself, sets the sabbath as a holy requirement (Ex 20:8-11). Indeed, in the Decalogue, the text points back to God’s rest: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

What is the significance of the recurring phrase “These are the generations” (the first instance of it being at Gen 2:4)?

This phrase, the toledoth (“generations”) formula, precedes one of a series of connected accounts. Genesis 1 does not begin with this phrase, but from here until the end of the book, all the various accounts are included these sections, some rather short and others chapters long. The word תּוֹלְדָה or toledoth means “generations,” or, it seems, something like “an account of how something came about” and usually “an account of the generations following” some person such as Noah. Each family was said to have a “head” for his generation; so we might say that the sections recount the story of a family. We will be returning to this topic as new toledoths appear.

Since the heavens and the earth are not a family, and since the creation was already recounted in Gen 1, why is the toledoth formula here in 2:4, and why is there another creation account?

These two questions have the same answer, namely, this does tell the story of a sort of “family”: it is the family of “the dust of the ground,” from which Adam and Eve sprang, and this is their story. This is not, of course, an entire creation account—contrary to “critical” readers who fail to consider the whole context—but only mentions a few small details needed to contextualize the account of Adam and his activity. Indeed, if you do not recognize that the narratives, in the present chapter (beginning at Gen 1:4) as well as the following three chapters, concerns Adam and his immediate family, you will be confused about this redundant creation language. By the way, it is not about “the generations of Adam,” which actually begins at Gen 5:1, because the generations of a figure do not typically include the figure, but instead refer to those generated bythe figure. It is possible that “generations” should be rendered “offspring” or “descendants.”

So why is it “Lord God” now (at, e.g., Gen 2:4) and not just “God”?

It is a two-word phrase, יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים or yahweh elohim. Some critical purveyors of the Documentary Hypothesis make much of this, thinking it is the “Yahwist” who wrote these texts. This is more easily explained by saying that God, since he will presently have a man to rule over, can be called the sovereign lord—is a good gloss of the etymological and connotative meaning of the name “Yahweh”—in addition to “God.”

Of the many things that God created before Adam, why mention plants, ground, and rain, again, at Gen 2:5?

Because the present narrative is about the creation of Adam, whose primary function was to “till the ground”; it is surely no accident that the name Adam resembles adamah, ground. In the narrative, neither rain, which was necessary for growing things, nor grass and plants, which could be grown, were needed, because Adam was not yet on hand to farm them. Of course, we have already been told in Gen 1:11-12 that on the third day God created plants, and presumably some time before that he first caused the rain to fall. But those verses are in no tension with Gen 2:5, because the narrator is simply reminding the reader that there was a time before rain, ground, and plants—and Adam—but that they will all, presently, be working together. This is to be understood as an origin story, in short, not just of man, but more precisely of man-the-tiller-of-the-ground.

Does the mention of the “mist” that “watered” the ground in Gen 2:6 not entail that it rained only after, or just before, Adam was created?

This might seem to be the narrative’s implication, because why else mention such a trivial-seeming detail otherwise? Does that not in fact contradict Gen 1? There are probably a few different ways to make sense of this, but I believe the simplest is simply to point out that from a Biblical point of view the very purpose of the rain and plants is for use (and soon, cultivation) by man; so if there are a few eons that separate the sprouting of the first plants and the creation of man, it hardly matters for the narrative since we are not talking about a scientific explanation but about the origin of man, the tiller of the ground. Indeed, God is himself shortly both to plant and to water the Garden of Eden for Adam, which aptly explains this choice of detail—by contrast with the prior desolation, they relate what a blessing for Adam the Garden was.

Why is a second origin account given for man (Gen 2:6)? And are these accounts consistent?

There is nothing inconsistent about them, but there is a difference of emphasis. In Gen 1 we have an account of God’s creation, and man is brought up strictly in that connection. How he is made is not the focus. Gen 2, by contrast, is not primarily an account of God’s creation but instead concerning “the generations of”—that is, the family of—“the heavens and of the earth.” The focus, moreover, is on that offspring, namely, Adam and his immediate family. Gen 2 kicks off a string of “family stories,” beginning with the very first one. Gen 1, by contrast, is sui generis, because it is about the original creative activity of God, which happened once only and so is treated separately. That there is overlap makes sense, because the events are interrelated, just as there is overlap (and consequent repetition, as we will see) between the later family stories.

What is significant about how Adam was made in Gen 2:6?

Adam was made from the same matter as the soil, soil that was recently mentioned to be watered by a mist. This, however much the process might differ from evolution, is correct as to the components of Adam’s body, since our elements can indeed be found in the earth. Moreover, it is interesting that a rather naturalistic explanation is offered here: it was not magic but fashioning out of natural elements, which had already gone through a few phases of development. Obviously, the intelligent design of man’s body is much harder to explain in terms of merely natural development; but we are not told how long this process took, and there is no strong indication that this either is, or is not, metaphor or synecdoche. The other interesting thing to observe about the incident is that Adam is said to be made of a material part, whence he gets his name (again, Adam comes from the word for “ground,” or adamah), and what appears to be a spiritual part, which comes directly from the breath, נְשָׁמָה or neshamah, of God himself.

Has anything in the Bible through Gen 2:7 entailed that man has a spirit, as opposed to a living body like any animal’s body?

This depends on your theology on two different points: whether it is a soul that makes man alive, and whether saying that man was created in God’s image entails that man has a spirit (or soul). On the first question, we are told that God breathed the breath of life, and thus Adam became a living soul. Now, these particular English words, from the KJV, are not dispositive, because the original words are perhaps not as clear. “Breath” translates נְשָׁמָה or neshamah, which is most typically breath, but is closely connected to “spirit,” so for example Job 27:3 has “All the while my breath [neshamah] is in me, and the spirit [ruach] of God is in my nostrils”. Ruach (רוּחַ) means not just spirit but “wind”; the suggestion is both that God’s breath (neshamah) is like the wind (ruach), and also that the principle of life is something invisible, like (but obviously not literally the same as) the wind. The word ruach was also used in Gen 1:2, in the phrase “the Spirit of God.” This leads us to the second question: the image of God is some sort of similarity, and we are not precisely told how we are similar (see on Gen 1:26-27). The text might well be thought to suggest that man is like God, or represents God, by exercising dominion over the earth. God’s ultimate act of dominion, namely creation, was done through the creative Spirit. So it is reasonable to think that the original author and readers of Genesis would take the text to imply not just that Adam was a living being, but possessed an active, “ruling” spirit (one capable of “dominion”), akin to God’s, but acting in a much more restricted sphere.

The garden is supposed in Gen 2:8 to be “eastward in Eden”; what does that mean?

As “eastward” is relative to something, and since the book is held to be written by Moses, presumably Eden is east of the Promised Land, although this is not altogether clear. “East” of the Promised Land would include, consistently with other uses of the word in the Bible, due north and northeast, along the Fertile Crescent; invasions “from the east” were actually, at least in their last hundred miles, from due north. As to where Eden was, the answer, as commentators say, can only be inferred from the proffered details. Mostly, we must look at the rivers, on which, see below.

What is the Tree of Life, first introduced in Gen 2:9, and why is there one? Is it symbolic?

It was the fruit of this tree that made Adam immortal when he was in the Garden; by being specifically cut off from the tree, he was made mortal. As Gen 3:22 has it, God evicted Adam “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”. The tree makes a reappearance in Revelation, which has the tree at the center of the New Jerusalem, “bearing twelve kinds of fruit…and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:2) The tree will straddle a new river, like that of Eden. Evidently the symbolism is very rich: Jesus is called the “true vine” (John 15:1) and “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Proverbs says that wisdom itself is metaphorically a tree of life (Prov. 3:18), as well as things that flow from wisdom, including desire fulfilled (Prov. 13:12), a healing tongue (Prov. 15:4), and the fruit of the righteous (Prov. 11:30). By placing this holy and life-sustaining tree in the Garden, God was specially blessing the innocent and sinless Adam; and it is only after being washed of their sins that man can again eat of this tree. Hence it seems to be a symbol for every sort of blessing one might have in a paradisiacal state in which one might dwell in God’s presence.

Based on Gen 2:10-14, what can we tell about the location of the land of Eden?

We know the Hiddekel, or Tigris, as well as the Euphrates. The headwaters of these two rivers came from a single river that went out of Eden—out of the surrounding land, not out of the garden—and then split into “four heads” at the garden, because “from thence it was parted” (this detail is not to be overlooked). There is no such headwater river in modern Turkey. The other rivers are unknown. Since the Gihon “compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia,” it is often guessed to be the Nile, but this is not geographically consistent with the other facts given, unless the land was somehow very different indeed at that time. The word is actually not Ethiopia but Cush, כּֽוּשׁ, and that might stand for some actually unknown land in ancient Anatolia—contrary to the Septuagint, which does render the word Αἰθιοπίας, Ethiopia. Similarly, the meaning of the river Pison or “the whole land of Havilah” is unknown. But perhaps the best guess is that Eden was in modern-day Turkey, near ancient Cappadocia. Going about naked there today would be a bit chilly, but God would no doubt have taken care of that issue. After all, beyond all this, we must bear in mind that all of this takes place, according to the text, before the Flood. If a worldwide flood actually took place, it would probably have changed the surface of the earth enormously. Not just river courses, but mountain ranges and entire continents might have changed.

Are there other interesting mentions of Eden in the rest of the Bible?

Perhaps the most interesting is at Ezek. 28:13, which says the wicked king of Tyre was at one time

…in Eden the garden of God;
every precious stone was thy covering,
the sardius [ruby], topaz, and the diamond…

And further, “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” (Ezek. 28:15) In this way, the story of the Fall was recapitulated but in connection to “the prince of Tyrus” who said, “I am a God, I sit in the seat of God” (Ezek. 28:2)—a passage often thought to have a second meaning referring to the tempter in the Garden, usually understood to mean Satan.

Is the command at Gen 2:16-17—not to eat of the tree—the first in the Bible?

It is the first command given to a named, individual man. God created in Gen 1 through words of command, and arguably, “Be fruitful, and multiply” at Gen 1:28 was a command, although it might also, or instead, be a blessing, and anyway it was given to animals as well as the whole race of man. In any event, this is the first instance in which a particular man is given a command that he might rebel against.

What is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, first introduced in Gen 2:9, and why is eating of it forbidden, even deadly (2:17)?

This is a profound and important question. One might go on.—Why is it not called the Tree of Death, since it is so closely contrasted with the Tree of Life? And what is wrong with knowledge, even knowledge of good and evil? Are we forbidden to study ethics? Does Proverbs not enjoin us to seek wisdom? Does Jesus not instruct us to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16)?—The way to deal with all such questions is to produce the right theory regarding the symbolic meaning of the tree. It was the only forbidden thing on earth at the time. By making it available, God was, it seems, testing man—here, to be carefully distinguished from tempting man—who failed the test. Thereby God acknowledged man’s free will. To come to the point, then, eating from the tree represented not merely breaking God’s first commandment; it represented our freely substituting our own judgment, and our pretensions to be able to judge what is good and evil for ourselves. So the tree brought death, true, but it brought it by respecting man’s free choice. Since Adam and Eve were initially sinless and innocent, like children, eating from the tree was very like the first act of childhood rebellion against authority. In response, God repaid the rebellion by removing his protection and caretaking. Fruit of this tree resulted in a kind of knowledge of good and evil in the intimate sense of directly experience of deciding what is good and evil, as well as being made to suffer the consequences of rebelliously taking him out from under God’s tutelage. Of course, knowledge and wisdom are good, studying ethics is fine, and we ought to seek wisdom in order the better to do God’s will. What was punished was not seeking after that sort of wisdom, but instead open rebellion against a loving God that, as a side-effect, led to direct experience, and so knowledge, of evil. Indeed, as we will see, Adam and Eve should not have listened to the serpent, and if they were as wise as him, they would not have been taken in. But more about this later.

But surely the events starting at Gen 2:16, in chapters 2 and 3—command, temptation, fall, and expulsion—are puzzling because God must have known that man would fall, no? So why test him?

God commands us to be righteous, but there is no significance to a command given to robots that lack the ability to refuse. It seems to me that God preferred beings capable of refusing to mere robots; that is, surely, part of being made in God’s image. But indeed he did know what would happen in advance (many other examples of God’s foreknowledge are in the Bible; we need not marshal examples). So it must have been his will, not precisely that man would fail the test, but that failing the test was a necessary step in the movement toward the ultimate creation he wished to make. In short, one must imagine that God will prefer things better in the New Jerusalem, with wiser sinners made pure through the blood of the Lamb, than with Adam in the Garden.

If it is true that God will prefer things better in the New Jerusalem—with wiser sinners made pure through the blood of the Lamb—then really, what sense does it make to say it was knowledge that was forbidden (in Gen 2:17)?

But it is not that holy wisdom that was forbidden. Moreover, eating of the tree hardly gave Adam and Eve that knowledge. It only made them lose their innocence; it made them aware of their self-chosen responsibility for themselves and rebellion from God. But more on that later.

What was a “help meet” (Gen 2:18)?

A suitable helper. “Helper” (עֵ֖זֶר, ezer) means what it says, but the word rendered variously “meet,” “suitable,” “just right,” and “fit” (כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, kenegdow) is troublesome, because the root word simply means “in front of” or “opposite to.” And this is important, because it is the first description in the Bible of women, and also goes to the whole important issue of the relationship between men and women. Young’s Literal drops its literality and resorts to a paraphrase: “as his counterpart.” That strikes me as right. As one commentator says, all the other marshaled animals had male and female counterparts, but Adam did not.

So then does Gen 2:18 suggest that women are merely helpers for men?

Not even the very verse in question, let alone the whole Bible, says anything so demeaning. God regretted that Adam was alone, so this person was to be good company for Adam—and then, since company is good only if it is reciprocal, that entails that he would have to be good company for her. More to the point, obviously, since woman is described as having many other functions, we must not assume that the Bible is suggesting that the whole Biblical role of women is exhausted by “companion helper,” which sounds something like a slave.

Why does Genesis 2:19 suddenly switch back to the creation story?

It does not. It spends a grand total of one verse describing God’s creative activity again. God is seeking a “help meet” for Adam, while killing two birds with one stone by inviting him to name the animals. Of course, none of the animals will do the job: “there was not found an help meet for him” (Gen 2:20) among the animals he named.

But does the text not entail at 2:19 that the animals were created just before Adam named them?

That would pose a problem insofar as the birds were made on a previous day, the fifth. But this is no problem; the situation is very similar to that noted above, regarding 1:4: these are just a few small details needed to contextualize the account of Adam and his activity. There is no need to insist rigidly that the birds and land animals were created just before Adam named them. The point, rather, is that in God’s natural economy, in his design, they were created for man, who by naming them, exercised dominion over them (cf. Gen 1:26-28).

What is the significance of naming? Why does God have Adam do it, and why is this activity described at all?

Because Adam, in addition to being a tiller of the land, is also a practicer of animal husbandry, and this naturally requires some notice in an origin account. As man was already said (Gen 1:26-28) to have dominion over animals of various kinds, here is the first instance of exercising that dominion. Throughout the Bible, naming is associated with authority. So, for example, Daniel and his friends are renamed by a chief official (Dan. 1:7); and Jesus renames Simon as Cephas (translated to Greek and then to English, Peter; e.g., John 1:42). In the same way, by naming animals, Adam (at God’s behest) claims authority over them.

What is the significance of the fact that Eve was created out of Adam’s own flesh?

She was not, first of all, made anew. As a child comes from his parents, so Eve was not a new creation. In this way, as with “helper” (Gen 2:18), the text signals that Eve was dependent upon and subordinate to Adam. The same point is underscored when Adam exults, “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Gen 2:23) This might be an offensive notion to today’s feminists, but it is clearly what the text means to show.

Is this not yet another example of a problematic pattern to be found in Genesis, in which an origin story contradicts known science?

Indeed, there is no scientific evidence that the female of the species was made this way. Probably, if the Bible is entirely true, we will not understand what precisely is meant by the text, or have compelling answers to skeptical scientific questions, until we meet our maker. It is entirely possible, but not falsifiable by science, that what happened is exactly what the text says. Ribs do contain DNA and some manner of genetic engineering is conceivable (although for this, a whole rib would not be needed). What is easier for modern science to conceive is that there were two homo sapiens who gave rise to the rest. In fact, statistical analysis of reproduction patterns show that just 2,000 to 5,000 years ago, there was some person who can be found in every human being’s family tree. Beyond that, some 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, everyone alive on earth today had exactly the same set of ancestors. The conclusion actually follows mathematically. That hardly means Eve was created from Adam’s rib, but it does make the whole “mankind from small number of ancestors” narrative of Genesis 1-11 more plausible.

In Adam’s little song of joy at Gen 1:23, is Adam naming Eve?

Yes, but as a woman, not as “Eve,” here (she is named later by Adam at Gen 3:20). In so doing, he is also, through the act of naming, demonstrating the sort of “dominion” he is said to have over animals. That is, he is naming a creation that God has brought before him, just as he had been naming animals God brought before him earlier. But this creature is received particularly joyously because she is a help meet, who came from his own flesh.

Why were they not ashamed by their nakedness (Gen 2:25)?

Their lack of shame at their nakedness shows how like children Adam and Eve were. The suggestion is that “knowledge of good and evil”—whatever this is, precisely (see below)—also brings a sense of shame at nakedness. Presumably, though in some sense perhaps it is no shame for the innocent, it becomes shameful for the sinful. Again, precisely what difference is discovered is not (as far as I can tell) actually explained in the text; the reader is left to fall back on his own adult sense of shame.

Why does the text note that they were not ashamed (Gen 2:25)? Why is this significant?

This is a slightly different issue. The narrative clearly wishes to draw a great contrast between their innocence and lack of shame (not to say exhibitionist “shamelessness”) before the Fall, in Gen 2, and their later, sinful state, “knowing good and evil,” so that they “knew that they were naked” (Gen 3:7) and in need of clothes. In short, the contrast dramatically underscores Adam’s and Eve’s innocence before the Fall, and the need for their resulting sinful state to be covered, literally as well as figuratively, by God (Gen 3:21). Note, Adam’s and Eve’s own fig leaf coverings are evidently not adequate, in God’s eyes.

What was the serpent of Gen 3:1?

A critic might first insist on exploring the plausibility of a talking snake, but in fact before confronting the critic we must clarify what exactly is going on here. The real issue here is: considering that this apparent snake could speak and indeed tempt Eve so as to precipitate the disastrous Fall, how was that possible, considering that snakes cannot speak? Was it a real, then-ordinary snake, albeit one with legs or wings, since it was later cursed to go on its belly? Or was it, as a popular theory has it, Satan in the form of a snake? Josephus even suggests (groundlessly) that all animals before the Fall could talk, so that this was a then-ordinary snake. Now, we already know from much else in the Bible that God permits Satan to test us, as he tested Job and Jesus, and surely we would expect none less than Satan to be the cause of our downfall. Moreover, John identifies “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (Rev. 12:9); so we had better say the same, i.e., that the serpent in the Garden was Satan appearing in the body, or perhaps only the apparent form, of a snake.

But Satan was a fallen angel, so how did he come to take the form of a snake in Gen 3:1?

There are two ways to make sense of this theory. One is the common way: Satan is a spiritual being, like angels, which might at least sometime be spatio-temporally located, but which lack a body. Indeed, sometimes, perhaps they lack any spatio-temporal location (more on that further down). In the same way that demons could inhabit the bodies of pigs (see Matt. 8:30-33), presumably Satan could inhabit (or otherwise animate) the body of a snake, and even make it speak, or seem to speak. The other theory begins from the observation that the “seraphim” (a kind of angelic being, but probably not the sort of entity normally called an “angel”) were actually flying serpents, since the Hebrew word, seraphim, meant (at least in one sense) “serpents.” So the serpent might have simply been a seraph,and then maybe the suggestion, according to the theory, is that Satan was originally such a seraph. The three enormous problems with this are (a) when the heavenly seraphim are actually described in Isaiah 6:1-8, they are described as beings with six wings, human appendages, and voices, and certainly not flying snakes; (b) Satan and other deadly and evil things are called “serpents,” and it seems unlikely that the visual appearance of any holy thing in God’s presence would be associated with such a symbol of death; and to really clinch the matter, (c) Ezek 28:14 has a figure called “Lucifer,” often taken as referring to Satan, described not as a seraph but as a cherub, and nobody thinks cherubim were serpentine. So I suggest we stick with the common theory.

But the origin of seraphim, and thus Satan taking the form of the snake in Gen 3:1, might have been with some pagan flying snakes, no?

Serpents, indeed even flying serpents, were a feature of ancient pagan cults, but the mere fact that the word seraphim was used hardly means the angelic beings were took serpentine form. Indeed, as some like to point out, there are other uses of “flying fiery serpent” (שָׂרָ֥ף מְעוֹפֵֽף׃ or saraph me’owpeph; Isa. 14:29). But the origin of Isaiah 6’s concept of a seraph, if you actually believe the Bible, is with the creatures called the seraphim themselves; you look for another origin only if you believe that explanation lacks credibility. Never anywhere in the text of the Bible is there the slightest indication that any of the inhabitants of heaven take a serpentine form, apart from the mere name seraphim; and again, in the one place where those beings are described, they are not described as snaky at all. The point is that the Hebrews who wrote and read the Bible clearly did not conceive of seraphim as snakes, whatever role snakes might have played in their notions of other-worldly realms. Therefore, the correct explanation of the fact that Satan took the form of a snake is probably not that he was previous a (snake-like) seraph.

What exactly is the serpent up to here (Gen 3:1)?

Briefly stated, he is doing at least two things. First, he is falsely and maliciously suggesting that God’s rule is unreasonable. Second, by suggesting that the rule is unreasonable, he is setting Eve up to prefer her own judgment to God’s law.

Is Eve’s reply in Gen 3:2-3 correct? Is there anything to note in it?

Eve repeats back a version of the Lord’s rule, contradicting the snake; but she does not rebuke the snake for making this clearly false and malicious suggestion. But then, being new to the world, and being wholly unacquainted with evil and not having tasted of the tree thereof, she has the trusting nature of a child.

How did Eve learn the rule she repeats in Gen 3:3?

The rule is “God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (Gen 3:3) Interestingly, we do not know how she learned it. Eve was not yet made when God gave Adam the rule (2:16-17). So either Adam told her, or God himself told her. God never said “neither shall you touch it,” as Eve says at Gen 3:3, so where did she get that? Again, interestingly, we do not know. She could have been told this by Adam or God. In either case, one of them would perhaps have trusted her even less than Adam to avoid the temptation of the forbidden fruit, and perhaps felt it appropriate to strengthen the rule for her benefit. If so, then it would be ironic that the stronger version of the rule did not help her. It is worth noting that in another holy place of God, the Israelites at Mount Sinai are sternly instructed to “go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it” (Ex 19:12).

What is the meaning of the serpent’s claim that the woman would not “surely” or “certainly” die (Gen 3:4)?

Literally, the Hebrew says something like “Dying, you will not die,” which is an instance of the Hebrew use of repetition for the sake of emphasis. That being the case, there are two things the serpent might mean: first, that it is certain that they would not die (here the certainty attaches to the whole claim); second, that it is not certain whether or not they would die (here there is simply a denial that the consequence was certain). Naturally, the first is the much stronger claim, and amounts to a positive claim that Eve would remain immortal even after eating; both claims are lies, but the first is a much worse lie. Still, even if the second claim, “Maybe you won’t die after all,” is the one meant, the lie is terrible, because it invites Eve to take a risk for the forbidden fruit.

Eve does not reply after Gen 3:5. Is this significant?

Her silence bespeaks her assent. Although perhaps she did reply and we are not told, still, we are told her thoughts in the next verse, and considering that she says she was “beguiled” (Gen 3:13) by the serpent, she trusted what he said. Hence we have here not just the first lie, but also the first deception.

Why did Eve eat the forbidden fruit (Gen 3:6)?

First, she apparently believed (she was “beguiled” by; Gen 3:13) the serpent, who had told her that she would not die, not making her believe it was not God’s rule, but that God would not enforce the rule. Second, she merely considered that the fruit was food, after all. Third—and this is perhaps the most subtly telling—she found the tree was “pleasant to the eyes.” She was beguiled again, not by the serpent but by her own thought that nothing so pleasant could have evil consequences. Finally, and most significantly of course, she considered what the serpent said: the tree would “make one wise,” a thing much simpler than what the serpent says: “your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” In short, she was innocent of the ways of evil and thus easily fooled; she had never experienced deceptive appearances and so reasoned badly that harmless appearance meant actual harmlessness; and she was ambitious or prideful, which was perhaps the very worst part of the sin.

Did Adam know, when he ate it at Gen 3:6, that Eve had given him the forbidden fruit? In any event, what was Adam’s sin?

There is nothing in the Gen 3 text that settles the matter clearly. Adam is not mentioned in Gen 3 until this verse. It is possible that he was listening in while the serpent spoke to Eve; but it seems to me that such an important detail would be mentioned if true. It is also possible that he recognized the distinctive fruit, but perhaps not. And of course it is possible that Eve told him, before he ate the fruit, that it was the forbidden fruit and that she had eaten it. Elsewhere, however, Paul told Timothy, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1 Tim. 2:14) If Adam was not deceived, very well; but about what was he not deceived? Perhaps Paul means he was not deceived by the serpent. In that case, was it still possible that he could have been misled somehow, even if not deceived, by Eve’s encouragement and example? That seems to be what happened. If so, then he was influenced by her words and sinful example, and therefore indirectly manipulated (but not deceived) by the serpent. If Adam was not deceived at all, then it seems he ate trustingly and carelessly when Eve gave him the fruit. In that case, his error would not have been to willfully disobey, but to fail to ensure with due care that his wife had followed the one rule they had. It is indeed possible even in that case that God punished him as the head of the family and as the hapless, unwitting partaker of the sin. Regardless, it is interesting that Adam soon recognized his own role as sinful and shameful, whether willful or not, whether he knew the fruit he ate was the forbidden one, or not. I do not think the text makes it quite clear enough (or it is not clear to me, anyway), but my best guess for now is that Adam’s sin was carelessness and forgetfulness of God’s law. If that is correct, then when Eve offered the fruit, he simply did not care enough about the law to inquire about where it came from.

What does “the eyes of them both were opened” (Gen 3:7) actually mean?

The short answer is: they immediately became aware that they had violated God’s commandment, and that fact alone made them aware of the evil within themselves and the serpent who had misled Eve. More profoundly, their eyes were opened to the deceptive pleasures and unexpected pains of a fallen world in which they were left to their own devices. Let me explain. We can take some clues, at least, from the context. This knowledge is forbidden by a God who has their welfare at heart, but who also does not want them to become “like gods,” as was the ambition of the men of Babel whom God threw into confusion (Gen 11:1-9). The knowledge immediately lets them know that they are naked; but since God allowed them in his holy presence to go about naked, the knowledge seems at the same time to have made their nakedness shameful. Finally, we can say the knowledge gave them the ability to handle the harsh penalties imposed upon them by God. Given that it is called “the knowledge of good and evil,” one is tempted to say that it is the rational, adult ability to discern moral goodness from evil; after all, the naive, newly-created Eve certainly lacked such discernment in her encounter with the serpent, and ever after, there would be “enmity between [the serpent] and the woman” (Gen 3:15). But I am not sure sure about the latter suggestion; I think more likely is a suggestion I read in one commentary, that “good” and “evil” here are not meant in their moral senses but in the sense of blessing versus curse. To eat of the tree would give them knowledge of the cursedness of the world, and the natural consequence was that the world was cursed; it had to be, for them to have knowledge of the evils of such a world. And after all, previously, it was “very good.”

But if that (Gen 3:7) is the meaning of “knowledge of good and evil,” then why did God forbid it? Why does God not want them to have wisdom?

There seem to be two reasons. First, as a loving father, he knew and greatly feared that they were ill-prepared to face the vicissitudes of such a world. Surely he did not want them to suffer, and he knew they would. Second, he knew that any such efforts to make themselves more “godlike” would end in abject failure, because they were not, in fact, godlike; their attempts at greatness would only bring heightened grief upon all, which is what happens to whomever has like ambitions. The most eloquent commentary on such ambitions is the famous passage in which the Lord says of the “Day Star,” also translated “Lucifer,” “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isa. 14:13). Yet God rebukes him roundly: “Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isa. 14:15) Lest you think that God was anti-intellectual and forbidding an attempt to get wisdom, you must bear in mind that this was not theoretical knowledge, but rather direct experience of the dubious benefits and especially the deep, tragic costs they would bear without the blessings of his holy presence and guardianship.

Why should, or might, they have been ashamed of their nakedness (Gen 3:7)?

This is by contrast with Gen 2:25, which states that before eating the fruit, they “were not ashamed.” Here, after eating the forbidden fruit, they cover their nakedness with inadequate fig leaves. The reason nakedness should be shameful is not explained at either place, or later, although we can guess. The text suggests that sinful man is naturally ashamed of his nakedness, but sinless man is not. That man ought to be ashamed of “uncovered nakedness” is a point emphasized throughout the Bible. God makes Adam and Eve the first animal-skin clothes (Gen 3:21), implying that God agrees that, at least as long as they are in a state of sin or rebellion, their nakedness needs covering. A bit later in the narrative, Ham saw Noah naked in his tent, and told his brothers, who managed to cover their father with without gazing upon his shameful nakedness (Gen 9:20-25). For this Ham’s son Canaan is cursed to serve his brothers. Similarly, the priests must not use altars with steps, so that “thy nakedness be not discovered” (Ex 20:26), and they must wear “linen breeches to cover their nakedness” (Ex 28:42). Aholibah, one of two women against whom Ezekiel prophesied, will “play the harlot” with Egyptians, who “shall also strip thee out of thy clothes” (Ezek. 23:26)—a shameful condition indeed. A similar curse is prophesied by Hosea against his harlot wife, who is a symbol of the idolatrous Israel: “Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born” (Hos. 2:3). Finally, Isaiah (Isa. 20:2-4) and Micah (Mic. 1:8) themselves both go about naked to demonstrate the state the Israelites would be in if they did not repent. There are other messages that equate the exposure of nakedness with shame as well.

Surely another explanation of this sense of shame (in Gen 3:7) is that “eating the forbidden fruit” was itself symbolic of another act associated with nakedness, namely, sex?

This suggestion has made its way into the vernacular; and the presence of “carnal knowledge” as a Biblical expression seems to clinch the notion. (That is, “knowledge” of “good and evil” is akin to “knowing” a woman.) The case can be strengthed in two ways. First, sex would result in childbirth, which combined with immortality would eventually result in overpopulation, so that death would have to result. Second, they immediately realized they were naked; doing so might well mean they came to realize, after they had sex, the potent sexual significance of their nakedness. There are three problems with this theory, though. One is that if indeed they had relations at that time—if the text meant to say so—then the text would have said so, because the text do say so in the very next chapter (“And Adam knew Eve his wife”; Gen 4:1). Why would a symbol be used in Gen 3 and more literal description in Gen 4? Besides, “be fruitful and multiply” bears such implications, as did the notion that Adam was married to Eve, whose body delighted him and to whom he clove. Second, this and many other texts throughout the Bible that refer to the forbidden fruit give absolutely no indications that the fruit stood for anything else than the “Knowledge of Good and Evil,” i.e., a loss of general moral innocence. Third, if the fruit were a metaphor for sex, then sex, like the fruit, would thereby have been forbidden, but sex was a perfectly natural thing, being the means of “multiplying,” and surely not forbidden. It was hardly forbidden by God to a man and his wife; quite the contrary, in fact. It was only forbidden outside of marriage.

Once they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the first thing they are said to have “known” is that they were naked (Gen 3:7), and they immediately remedy that situation. Does this imply that their nakedness was evil?

Well, so it seems. Again, it seemed to be shameful and symbolic of their deeper sin, namely, their willingness to rebel against God and put their own judgment before his. God’s protection was like a covering that made every other covering unnecessary. Without it, they were naked indeed, and that is an evil state indeed. But this is not “evil” in the sense of “wicked” but in the sense of “desperately unfortunate and shameful,” which is not really the same thing.

If Adam and Eve “heard the voice of the Lord God” in Gen 3:8, can we say what God was saying, or what sounds he was uttering?

We do not know, and this is not explicitly stated. With the charming scene of God strolling through paradise in the cool of the day, one might imagine God to be humming or singing. But there is some small reason to think otherwise, because Adam and Eve hid—implying that they thought God was looking for them—and in the next verse, the voice of God is reported as saying “Where art thou?”

Why did they hide in Gen 3:8? Surely they knew they could not hide from God.

Perhaps they thought they could. Again, we have many indications that they had been quite childlike. “Knowledge of good and evil” did not mean they understood all, of course. This was just the first of many fruitless attempts to hide from the face of God. It was also the first of many reiterations that no one can, in fact, hide from the face of God, who knows all of our sins.

If God was walking in Gen 3:8, this implies he had a body, which seems to contradict the notion of his spirituality, or at least supports the idea that he had a body. Correct?

It’s complicated; this suggestion is somewhat misleading. We have many other examples of God’s appearing in some sort of visible form—called a theophany—but that does not mean that is in some sense the form of God himself, as if God were limited by having a body. Moreover, God said, “there shall no man see me, and live” (Ex 33:20). Yet the human-appearance face of God, in theophanies, was shown to people, most famously that of Jesus, but also to Abraham in Gen 18, and here to Adam and Eve—and the people did not die. So we must conclude that there was some other more literal “face” of God that it was indeed deadly to see; it would be an encounter with God, directly before the presence of God, as he is in himself. Isaiah seems to have had such an encounter at the beginning of his prophetic career, and when he saw the Lord, he said, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips…for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” As if to underscore the truth of this, a seraph gives him special permission to stand in the Lord’s presence: “having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken…from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo…thy sin is purged.” (Isa 6:5-6) And, particularly because Adam and Eve were then in their sin, the walking, apparently bodily God had to have been a theophany that failed to reveal God’s true nature—or else Adam and Eve would have been destroyed. That is, they would have been destroyed unless, being sinless, they were able to look upon his face; but then, after they sinned, God confronted them in the Garden, and they were not instantly destroyed. So it is likely that it was, again, a theophany that they saw, one that did not reveal God’s true nature.

“Where art thou?” God asks (Gen 3:9). Did he not know?

He knew. He was entering into conversation with Adam, and not discovering the location of Adam, but rather discovering himself to Adam, and thereby forcing Adam to face his own sin before his judge. This has been called an arraignment—a formal accusation. In the next chapter, he will follow a very similar procedure with Cain (Gen 4:9); like father, like son.

The hiding described at (Gen 3:8, 10) is not the only instance of fleeing from the very sound of God, is it?

Indeed, the people kept well away from Mount Zion as they heard God uttering the Ten Commandments (see Ex 20:18), as they were told to do. Similarly, after so many had died directly at the hand of God, when he was revealing himself during the exodus and the wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites have come to associate hearing the mere “voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire” with the risk of death (Deut 5:26). In the same way we are enjoined to fear the Lord; if you actually hear his voice, tremble.

Why does God ask, “Has thou eaten of the tree?” (Gen 3:11)

Not because God does not know of Adam’s sin or because he needs evidence for a case against him. It is because, as with us, God expects both an instant admission of guilt as well as sincere repentance. From them, he receives neither—an offense perhaps worse, but certainly on a par with, the original sin itself. Adam and Eve might now be “wise” about the coming evils of life, but they are certainly not yet wise about the importance of redemption. Job does better, when he says he has not “covered my transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom” (Job 31:33).

Adam blames Eve at Gen 3:12. If he had admitted his guilt and repented, might God have forgiven him?

So it seems. Many other places in the Bible say God is greatly forgiving; also, however, in many places in both OT and NT, this requires admission of guilt and repentance. So Adam’s sin is greatly compounded by his lack of repentance. Even if he were not culpable for knowingly eating of the tree (see above), he is culpable for this grievous sin. This is even worse because his role is to care for and protect Eve, and to act as head of the family. Instead, he puts her in peril.

Does Adam really go so far as to try, in Gen 3:12, to put some blame on God, for giving him Eve?

Perhaps not explicitly, but he comes close; why else should it be relevant to point out that God gave him Eve, if doing so does not further removes blame from Adam himself? Notice that Adam is actually not incorrect when he implies that Eve did not perform her function, as his help meet, properly. Indeed, she did betray Adam. But she was the one responsible for her own failure, through the exercise of her free will, just as Adam was; God could not be saddled with their failures. To blame God for Adam’s own sin is something that one can imagine the serpent whispering to Adam.

If Adam is so wrong to blame Eve and God, why does God not say so immediately?

He will do so shortly, at sentencing: “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of they wife” (Gen 3:17). In short, Indeed; instead, he responds by asking Eve to speak on her own behalf, at Gen 3:12. He will do so shortly, at sentencing: “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of they wife” (Gen 3:17). In short, the blame rests squarely on Adam because he listened to Eve, which he should not have done. But the arraignment is ongoing and God sticks to that.

Is Eve not correct, at Gen 3:13, that the serpent beguiled her?

She certainly is. She was taken in by the serpent’s charming words, in her naivete. But this does not excuse her. She is the one who decided to set aside God’s law and to eat the forbidden fruit. She also placed her husband in danger, her husband whom she was supposed to help, not deal treacherously with.

What does the Garden story—particularly when Eve realizes the serpent has “beguiled” her (Gen 3:13)—say about how the serpent operates?

Not by force, but by deception; not by threats, but insincerity; not by commands, but by manipulation; not by leading into action, but by changing minds. The result is that, though he shares in the blame for his deception, we still bear our own guilt entirely. Not for nothing is he called the “Tempter” and “Adversary.” Similarly, as we will see later, his undermining machinations, that cause us to stumble, make it possible for him to accuse us for being corrupt—and he is right, because even if he plays a key hand in our corruption, we bear our own guilt.

In Gen 3:14, is God cursing a serpent or Satan—or what?

In understanding God’s curse of the serpent, it is a good place to focus the question on this: is the text literally about a serpent or figuratively about some powerful evil power, or perhaps both? The literal meaning of the text is that the snake slithers without feet because of the curse, but it seems both theologically nonsensical and pointless to leave it at that—although Josephus does leave it at that. But, again, John’s text is clear enough, even if it is prophesy: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev. 12:9) Besides, who but the chief of demons (about which more below) would be expected to play the role of the deceiver of the whole world, precipitating the great Fall? In any event, the figurative meaning of the events, applied to Satan, would make sense: he is cast down upon the earth; eating dust, in defeat; and he is man’s chief adversary, though his head will be crushed in time by the seed of the woman.

How is the serpent’s punishment, explained at Gen 3:14-15, appropriate?

We have just explained why the punishment is appropriate, figuratively. Taken literally, it also certainly makes sense. Though the serpent was just one among the beasts of the field, for causing this most consequential sin, he is “cursed above [them] all.” Going about on one’s belly and eating dust is the utmost state of defeat. And it was the woman who was was caused to sin; so she and her offspring would thereafter forever be at odds with the serpent and its offspring, because “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Roman 5:12). But there is a second possible kind of metaphor: the serpent might be taken to represent not specifically Satan but instead the sort of pagan god, a flying snake god such as Egypt’s Nehebkau. Such a god, if a Satanic sort of demonic tempter, might well be taken down a notch by losing his legs and wings. Besides, it is hardly as if the pagan gods are not often portrayed as actually existent, but demonic in nature. See, for example, Ps. 82:6-7, where the Lord threatens them with death; Ps. 106:34, where it is said that the people served “idols” such as the idols of snake gods, and “even sacricied their sons and their daughters to the demons”; Deut 32:16, where the people made the Lord jealous with “strange gods,” by sacrificing to “devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not”.

Why is Gen 3:15 called the protevangelium?

It is thought to contain the first mention of the gospel, of the promise of the final victory of Jesus over sin and Satan. Assuming that “bruise thy head” and “bruise his heel” are not just talking about poor snake-human relations (contra Josephus), the language is figurative; so what does it stand for? Since this serpent is responsible for bringing sin and disaster into the world, it represents the source of sin; and we must look for a descendant of Eve who is thought to defeat the very source of sin. That, of course, would be Jesus (traced precisely at Luke 3:38). And this is what at least one later Biblical writer, Paul, believed: he says in the last chapter of Romans, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20), and to the Corinthians, “O death, where is thy sting? … The sting of death is sin… But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:55-57)

Does the use of the singular form of the Hebrew word for “seed” (Gen 3:15) indicate that only a single man is meant?

Perhaps: “seed” is singular at Gen 3:15 (זַרְעָ֑הּ, zarah), and (for reasons given above) does refer to one particular man. But the grammatically singular form of the word does not clinch the question, because there are other cases later on where it is used in prophecy in the singular and where it definitely serves as a collective noun (like “one herd” or “one people”). So e.g. at Gen 12:7 we have “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” The word in this place is nearly identical, singular ( לְזַ֨רְעֲךָ֔, zaraka), but here is widely understood to mean “Unto thy descendants (pl.),” i.e., the children of Israel. And this promise was fulfilled: Abram’s seed (descendants, the children of Israel) did come to dwell in the land. But this same later promise to Abram will also be fulfilled by Christ in the Millennium. That means the ambiguity of grammar (between a singular noun used in a singular sense and in a collective sense), both in Hebrew and in English (“seed” also serves as both a singular and a collective noun), permits a doubly-fulfilled prophecy. All that said, perhaps it is best to regard the protevangelium, too, as to be doubly-fulfilled, by God’s people indeed but most outstandingly by Jesus of Nazareth. The saints will crush the serpent’s head; but first and foremost Jesus crushed it in his resurrection and will finally crush it at the end of days.

What does Eve’s punishment—“your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen 3:16)—mean?

If not for this curse, or punishment, would Eve not desire her husband? Surely that cannot be the point. Eve’s subjection to Adam had not yet been made a matter of law. While this was implied, since Eve had been made from Adam’s rib and with Adam had named “woman,” still, it had not yet been settled clearly and definitively that Adam would be Eve’s “master” or “ruler.” That seems to be the point here. Thus Eve’s abuse of her initial prerogative serves as an origin story of the subjection of women.

Why is Eve’s punishment at Gen 3:16 appropriate?

As she abused her prerogatives as Adam’s “help meet,” she is punished in relation to her function in the family: her roles as wife and mother of children. Since she was treacherous to Adam, he would thereafter be her master, and not just a partner. The New Covenant, especially in several comments on marriage by Paul, has us restore a better state of affairs, of mutual service.

But of course, a critic might well say in response to Gen 3:16, is this not simply absurd in the 21st century? Why should women continue to suffer for Eve’s sin? Is this not simple chauvinism?

The answer would have to be that Eve’s sin is emblematic of the way free will is misused by women in general. They are easily deceived, the Bible suggests, placing their judgment ahead of the man’s, who would ask more questions and be less trusting; they would let their judgment even more easily lead them to rebel against God; therefore men should be at the head of the household. This would of course be regarded as simple bigoted chauvinism by many today, even beyond ideological feminists, because indeed many men today are easily deceived, too trusting, and ready to rebel against God. I will not get into this too deeply, but suffice it to say the Bible is ready to rest strictures about the sexes on generalizations that are often but certainly not universally true. Defending such generalizations against feminist sorts of criticism requires that we get into weeds I am not going prepared to wade through here.

Was Eve’s sentence at Gen 3:16 not unjust, if her main failing was naivete?

There are two things to say here. One is that Eve’s main failing was rebellion against God and rejection of his law, not naivete. The other is that naivete, as it turns out, is pointed out occasionally in the Bible as a significant failing, not just in the case of Eve. Jesus urges his disciplines to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) Proverbs is full of sayings about the dangers of being “simple,” and Paul warns sternly against falling prey to false teachers.

But if naivete was any part of the failing for which Eve was punished in Gen 3:16, did God himself not fail in making her less naive?

This goes straight to the root of the matter, because the tree they ate from was that of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. On the above exegesis, that knowledge was precisely familiarity with the blessings and curses of a life lived outside of the care of God. God could not have given Adam and Eve such sophistication without putting them into an adult frame of mind, giving them just that sort of knowledge conveyed by the tree of that name. God did not want to give them that knowledge, but made it possible, through the presence of the tree and by permitting a serpent to tempt them to take it. By taking it, they got precisely the sort of knowledge that might have made it possible to avoid that particular temptation.

But (further to Gen 3:16) if they were created with this Knowledge of Good and Evil, would they not be inclined to sin? More to the point, was the Original Sin inevitable?

Precisely—even more than children are. Children are led to sin through temptation, deception, and curiosity. Adults are led to sin through many more varied and sophisticated means that trade on their experience with the “good and evil” that the world offers. So adults are capable of far greater moral evil than innocent children. Now, whether this means the Original Sin was inevitable is a deep question for philosophy and theology—butit seems to me to be so. It is not even paradoxical to say God created man knowing he would sin, expected it, and prepared for it. Free will plus imperfection equals sin, I would argue. God gave man the opportunity to try to live without sinning, with the very simplest of rules; and he also prepared for redemption and a second creation with those who, despite their sin, could live in him as Adam and Eve once did.

Why, of all the rules one might make—the violation of which might result in the fall from grace and expulsion from the Garden—did God make his one forbidden thing the willful seeking of this Knowledge of Good and Evil?

After the sentencing of Gen 3:16-19, one might well be left with this question. The short answer is that, if man is to live in God’s presence, he must be holy; and, in a childlike state, he can remain holy only by following God’s will and thus utterly rejecting all acquaintance with the blessings and curses of a life that is independent of God. As soon as Adam sought such knowledge, God had to exclude him. But what that means, in other words, is that a minimal prerequisite of any sinning, in Adam’s original sinless state, is to reject God’s will; if he was never did that, then he could never sin. So, really, it did not matter what particular activity was forbidden; it could have been playing ping-pong, or working on the sabbath, or speaking too loudly. Adam’s mere daring to do the forbidden thing meant he was no longer willing to follow God’s will, and hence be utterly dependent on God. And that activity, whatever it might be, would thus be deemed “of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” because such knowledge would be the consequence of partaking in the forbidden thing (game, work, or speech).

The line at Gen 3:17, “Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife,” makes it sound as if Adam is being punished for listening to his wife. Is that really correct?

Yes, but not, or not only, because he should have exercised some authority over her. His first and most important sin was that he should not have trusted anyone else, but instead used his own judgment, when it came time to decide whether to eat some fruit. Whether she persuaded him to sin, or simply negligently accepted fruit he should have inquired critically about, he placed both himself and Eve in danger of sin by simply accepting her judgment. After all, if his individual judgment had turned out different, he would have had an opportunity to overrule Eve. In addition, probably the text does imply that he had the right and responsibility, of the elder and stronger, to rule over the younger and weaker; but (see above) this was not made explicit until Eve’s punishment.

Why is Adam’s punishment, explained at Gen 3:17-18, particularly appropriate for him?

First, recall that his name is Adam, taken directly from the Hebrew אֲדָמָה, adamah, or ground. He is introduced as the “generation” of the earth, or dust; and he is destined to be a tiller of the ground. If the text at Gen 2:15, even before the Fall his job was “to dress [the Garden] and to keep it.” And yet, he rebelled, asserting his independence of God, and worse, failed to take responsibility for his own sin, failing to seek forgiveness. Hence it was only natural that God would respect his decision, causing him to fall back on his own natural resources. Adam, it seems to me, probably did not understand the nature of the evil Tree, that it would give him knowledge in the sense of first-hand experience of the blessings and curses of life without God, a knowledge God did not wish on him. But he chose the tree that gave such knowledge. Since he is of the earth, his punishment is to wear himself out by tilling the earth, an earth that gives up its fruits only with toil and sweat, quite unlike the Garden.

How is God’s sentence for breaking his law—death—fulfilled by Gen 3:19 and 3:22-24?

This is not quite as obvious as it might seem at first. But, after all, God did not simply destroy Adam on the spot, as he might have; he does say, “in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17), and “the day” might very well mean the very day on which the sin was committed. But that is not what happens; we will explore why a bit farther down. Still, Adam will eventually grow old and die, and the assurance of death comes mainly from deprivation of the Tree of Life, which God achieves by expelling him from the Garden. Moreover, the manner of death—returning to the elements of which Adam was made, after which he was named—fits perfectly, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Why is there, seemingly, an interruption in the narrative at Gen 3:20 to say that Adam named Eve?

One clue can be found in the explanation of the name: she is “the mother of all living,” i.e., חַוָּה or Chavvah, which is very close to the verb חֲיָא or chaya, “to live.” Now, apart from “be fruitful and multiply,” there is no mention of reproduction or motherhood in the story of Eve making or before Gen:15-16. At was at that point that the notion that she would give birth at all—in pain or otherwise—was introduced. Once this is introduced, a name that befits her role is given. As with Adam, the Gen 2-3 narrative serves as an origin story explaining the role of women in the world. But this almost makes it sound as if the punishment is having children at all; one need not think so, because the pain of childbirth and the difficulty of raising children that adequate curses for motherhood. Similarly, tilling the earth was something it was implied Adam might have done if he had not fallen, but his particular curse was to do so in sweat and toil.

Why does God make garments of skin at Gen 3:21? Moreover, why is this said to be the first sacrifice?

The garments serve to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness, which symbolizes their sin. But why a “sacrifice”? First of all, it seems unlikely that God would have made “coats of skins” without having slaughtered some animals for those skins. Moreover, the garments were made for Adam and Eve, both for their benefit and to cover what it would (when more people are on earth) it would be a shame to be seen. Finally, as a commentator puts it, God is covering their sin, and saving them from immediate death, whether from exposure or through execution—and doing so by taking another life, so that there is a life for a life. This is not unlike the sacrifice of Jesus as a covering for our sins. The latter comparison seems even more apt when one considers that Adam and Eve had attempted to cover their “sins” with the fig leaves, and yet that covering, made through their own efforts, was deemed totally inadequate by God. Of course, there is no reason to think that there was anything like a sacrifice in the sense of ritual ceremony that was done in the making of the garments. But that does not undermine the suggestion that they did serve as sacrifices. The basic notion, found in Lev 17:11, arguably applies here: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”

Is it not true from Gen 3:7 and especially Gen 3:22 that the fruit did, in fact, make them “wise,” and “as gods, knowing good and evil”? If so, what, exactly, did they learn, so that they were indeed “as gods” even in God’s own opinion?

It certainly seems to be true, since God says, “the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” According to our earlier analysis, the “Knowledge of Good and Evil” conferred by eating the fruit is no less than acquaintance with the dubious blessings and many curses that stem from an attempt to flourish without the protection of God. In other words, it is simply the knowledge of the good and bad of normal, brutal, adult human life. In this way they had become as “one of us,” that is, beings acquainted with what a world of free and imperfect beings is like.

What exactly is God concerned to guard against in Gen 3:22?

The only thing the text is quite clear about is that God wants to prevent man from living forever. Such a notion doubtless seems offensive for the simple reason that man had become sinful, and an immortal man would make sin immortal as well. That would offend deeply against God’s holiness. Still, some look at the text of Gen 3:22-24 and think that God is concerned to keep man lowly, not too wise, not such as to pose a challenge to his authority. Such a notion, however, is utterly ridiculous. God had recently finished created everything; to a being so powerful and wise, there is no possible threat from a created being. There is a similar supposed puzzle about the Tower of Babel, as if God were actually threatened by uppity man, as if he wanted to keep man humble because man might be a threat. That is not the point, as we will see, although it is certainly true that God did not want man thinking that he was a god; again, see Ezek. 28 where he describes the “prince of Tyrus” as a Satanic would-be god. Even there, the reason God loathes the idea of such an overproud man is that such men become brutal sinners, when true righteousness simply humility before God. So keeping some sort of occult, or advanced, knowledge out of man’s hands makes up absolutely no part of what God is guarding against in 3:22. No, God simply wants to prevent fallen man from entering such a holy place. The right to the Tree of Life returns again at the very end of the Bible: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 22:14)

When God speaks of “one of us” in Gen 3:22, is he addressing himself, or other spiritual beings?

This is something of a mystery, and we already discussed this in relation to elohim in Gen 1:1, but there is another aspect that is worth exploring further: the phrase here, “one of us” (כְּאַחַ֣ד מִמֶּ֔נּוּ, ka’echad mimmenu), does explicitly suggest one individual among a number. The expression is harder to explain as an emphatic plural—but still, perhaps, possible, because perhaps in the context of the emphatic plural elohim, the Hebrew for “as me,” instead of “as one of us,” would sound awkward. Another possibility is that God is addressing what is called the divine council, including the angels, seraphim, and cherubim; the fact that the cherubim make an appearance in the very next sentence makes this plausible. What is absolutely not likely is that God is addressing other actual divinities, because the same author of this text strongly inveighs against the notion of any other spirits being called “gods” at all. And of course, it is entirely possible that, before the author was familiar with the three persons of the Trinity, he was nevertheless inspired by the Holy Spirit to use the plural, communicating primarily with those who would come after.

How does Adam’s expulsion from the garden in Gen 3:23 specifically “to cultivate the ground” satisfy the details of Gen 2-3?

Notice that God does not merely expel Adam; he expels him to till the ground, i.e., not merely from the Garden, but to begin a life of farming. This small detail neatly ties up Adam’s story in line with the introduction, of Gen 2:4-7. Those verses, as you might recall, spoke of the “generations,” or family history, of “the heavens and the earth” and in particular of the rain (of the heavens) and the ground (of the earth). Adam is created of the earth, as his name suggests, and as he is reminded by God at 3:19 and 23. Moreover, in explaining why rain had not yet fallen (at a certain point in prehistory), it was because “there was not a man to till the ground” (2:5) and make proper use of the rain. Even in the Garden, God specifies that Adam’s role is “to dress it and to keep it.” So the expulsion “to cultivate the ground” serves to conclude this origin story of Adam’s work as a tiller of the ground.

Why are the cherubim placed “east” of the Garden in Gen 3:24?

This is not clear. If the cherubim are placed eastward, it would follow that they were blocking Adam’s way, meaning that he had been expelled in that direction. Throughout the Bible, the east, or things “eastward,” are often associated with corruption and curse: this is where Assyria and Babylon were, and where the Israelites were exiled. Cain, too, was exiled east of Eden in “the land of Nod,” after killing Abel (Gen 4:15). This might serve to explain why some of the earliest, most ancient people came from the southeast of Mesopotamia.

What are cherubim, first introduced in Gen 3:24?

Not chubby flying babies. The are described in some detail in Ezek. 1 and 10, where they are described as having four faces, representing different creatures, with the legs and hands of men, but also wings and with the soles of their feet like hooves. There are other details, but I will save a fuller description for later.

Why cherubim guards (Gen 3:24)? Why the flaming sword?

Such details can only be worked out by making guesses based on the context where the creatures appear. They appear, first, guarding the Garden. Next, they appear atop the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. And then in Ezekiel, they seem to be something like attendants, guards, or even perhaps a kind of beast of burden for God’s throne in the sky. In all three instances, they stand as a kind of guardian of the holiness of God. Yet this is also the role of the seraphim in Isaiah 6. Moreover, the flaming sword also serves a guardian role. Both flame and sword are frequent symbols God’s wrath: “For by fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many.” (Isa. 66:16) Similarly, as Nahum’s prophesy against Nineveh has it, “There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off” (Nah. 3:15). Flame and sword are, of course, two of the most destructive killers in wartime. Thus God declares war on any sinful creature that would approach the Garden.

In light of Gen 4:2 and other verses, how does Cain resemble Adam?

Like father, like son: they are both tillers of the ground. They are both warned against sin by God, but nevertheless commit grave sins. After an arraignment, a punishment is announced—in both cases, concerning the difficulty of their work in farming the land—and in the end, they are sent eastward out of God’s immediate presence.

Why did Cain and Abel make an offering to God in Gen 4:3-4?

We are not told. It is possible that they were taught to do so by God; it is not likely that they would decide to begin this practice in precisely this way without some direction, at least not if the practice were God’s will from the Fall. Since (as we will shortly see) they still seem to live near the presence of God, they might well look upon God as a worshiped grandfather figure, so that these would serve as gifts; but the word for “offering” and not “gift” is used, yet there is no explicit indication that the offering here serve as substitutionary atonement.

Was this in Gen 4:3-4 the first sacrifice?

Abel’s was the first thing in the Bible called an offering, and perhaps Abel’s was the first sacrifice described. It seems possible that Adam might have made some earlier and taught his sons, but that would seem to contradict a very telling verse found at the end of the chapter: “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Gen 4:26) But as to the first sacrifice, it is possible that God’s preparation of skin garments in Gen 3 for Adam and Eve also count as a kind of blood sacrifice.

Does the text here (Gen 4:3, 6) imply that Cain and Abel lived in or near the presence of the Lord? How is this possible?

Yes. They do not offer on an altar; they brought their offerings “unto the Lord.” Moreover, when the Lord “had not respect” for Cain, he is immediately aware of it, meaning the Lord must have done, or failed to do, something to indicate his displeasure. Finally, we have the Lord in direct conversation with Cain, and the matter is definitively settled with “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen 4:16). They did not live in the Garden, although they might well have lived east of the Garden while still in the land of Eden. When Cain is sent away, he goes to a different land, Nod, and so presumably not in a visiting distance of God. What is interesting here is that the Garden thus might have resembled in function the Holy of Holies of a temple, which Cain and Abel might approach, and out of which they might hear the voice of the Lord. It is probably no accident that the future tabernacle, and even more the various temples were decorated in ways that resembled the Garden—even down to the cherubim protecting the Holy of Holies.

Why should it be that God did not approve of Cain’s offering, while he did approve of Abel’s (Gen 4:4-5)?

As so much else in the Bible, this is left seemingly unexplained and mysterious, but in fact the reason is made quite clear by the context, both immediate and broader. There seem to be two reasons. First, the Lord could see into the mens’ souls. He presumably could see that Cain was envious, vindictive, and violent. We are told that God wants “sacrifices of righteousness” (Ps. 4:5), and that sacrifices done by vicious, faithless souls are disgusting to him (Isa. 1:10-20). We are not told in advance that Cain was such a person, but his murderous rage and lack of contrition together show what sort of man he was. He was doubtless that way before the fateful offering. By contrast, Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable no doubt first and foremost because of the state of Abel’s soul. Hebrews 11:4 says as much: “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous”. Similarly, Abel was described as “righteous.” (Matt. 23:35) But perhaps Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable also because he offered a blood sacrifice. Cain could have traded Abel for sacrificial animal, but deemed mere grain to be sufficient. Later, Moses was told, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (Lev 17:11) To be sure, the same book also recounts the laws for making grain offerings—but as an accompaniment to the blood sacrifices.

The details of the offerings at Gen 4:3-4, and other details from the chapter, greatly resemble what is required under the Mosaic law. What are we to make of this?

Without giving a long list, it is worth observing that sacrifices were meant to be offered with faith and contrition; that “the fat” of the sacrifice was offered; that “first fruits” were offered; that Israelites were required by law to care for their brothers; that murder was severely punished; that blood revenge was prevented through the practices of sanctuary cities; etc. All these details seem to point up the fact that God used earlier events in Genesis as a kind of template on which the Mosaic law was based. It certainly seems as if the details would be viewed that way by students of the Mosaic law glancing back at Genesis. It is also possible that the author of Genesis, also having authored Deuteronomy, would expect the business about the city Cain escaped to (at Gen 4:17) to be read alongside the “sanctuary city” rules of Deut 19. Indeed, even the very word, or קוּם or qum, translated “rose up,” can also be found at Deut 19:11: “But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die… .” One must, of course, bear in mind that the author of Genesis was aware of God’s law, even it had not be handed down yet in the narrative. This does not, of course, mean that the antediluvian patriarchs were aware of or lived under the law—certainly not in detail.

Why was Cain angry and downcast in Gen 4:5?

This seems obvious on first glance: the creator of the universe preferred his younger brother over him. But on a second glance one must add: he felt entitled to approval, perhaps, for being both older and the first to make an offering; and it certainly seems that he was viciously proud. But (and on this see above) plainly, God’s approval is not to be won merely by offerings or sacrifices but by what the offerings are supposed to indicate and underscore: a righteous, contrite, and humble heart.

What is remarkable about God’s response to Cain in Gen 4:6-7?

It is one of the rare times when God gives feedback and advice to an individual’s emotional reaction. But Jonah receives a similar rebuke and question: “Doest thou well to be angry?” (Jon. 4:4) This indicates that from the earliest days, God expected not just right action but also a right attitude toward sin. Moreover, rather than issue another rule or commandment, he gives a rare instance of what might simply be called “advice”: sin lies at the door, waiting to pounce; it wants you, so you must master it. This intimate exchange also makes it seem as if God were a near relation or close family friend or neighbor, which it seems he was. One imagines that Adam’s family did not move out of sight of the Garden. Of course, they might have; God could appear anywhere at any time. But we know they were in the area because when expelled, Cain moves “east of Eden.” Finally, it is remarkable to consider that at this point in the narrative, God was, one might say, “micro-managing” human affairs and not merely relying on laws or representatives in the form of priests.

What is the meaning of “sin lieth at the door,” etc., at Gen 4:7?

Sin is portrayed as a ravenous beast, and so brings to mind Peter’s advice: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) You must assert control over it, master it. The tragedy is that in spite of this well-meant advice from God himself, Cain still immediately murders his brother out of envy.

What significance did the murder (Gen 4:8) hold for Jesus himself, as reported by Matthew and Luke?

Similar remarks from Jesus occur in both. On Matthew’s formulation, he warns his disciples that, as “prophets, and wise men, and scribes,” some of them should be killed and crucified, but that would be more of “the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias” (Matt. 23:34-35). The suggestion in both places is that a tradition of martyrdom for righteousness began with Abel. So in Abel, Jesus finds the first martyr—a personal sacrifice both bloody and painful, but also honorable and necessary.

How do the events of Cain’s discovery and punishment by God (Gen 4:9-16) unfold in a way similar to those of the Fall of Adam and Eve?

God begins with an arraignment—with a question to which he shows, almost immediately, he knows the answer. Then the same question: “What have you done?” He is sentenced in a way that makes his work even harder; he is exiled, sent even farther away from God’s presence; and then there is a reprieve from the worst of consequences, when he is marked in some way that will prevent him from being killed.

What does it mean to say “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen 4:10)?

While literally it suggests that the ghost of Abel was calling to God, its clear figurative, even poetic, meaning is that God is aware of the horror of a brother’s life blood covering the ground. The next verse continues the image, saying the earth “opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand”. It is eloquent that God chooses to describe the first murder in such poetic terms. It is interesting that there are many references to blood being shed upon the ground in the Bible. For example, “O earth, cover not thou my blood, and let my cry have no place.” (Job 16:18) Perhaps the most striking connection, however, is in the deliberate pouring out of blood on the earth next to the altar in a blood sacrifice (e.g., Lev 4:18). This hardly suggests that Abel is a sacrifice, but he is the first martyr, as Jesus intimates and as we have already seen.

Have all sins so far been “cursed,” as Cain was in Gen 4:11?

By my count, this would be God’s third named and documented curse in Genesis. The serpent (Gen 3:14) and Adam (Gen 3:17) are very specifically “cursed,” but Eve’s punishment was not described as a “curse,” although surely it was one. Anyway, here Cain is cursed in a way similar to Adam: the ground is cursed even more, and he is sent even farther away from God’s presence.

Why does God not execute Cain in Gen 4:11? That is the punishment required in the Mosaic code. Is exile not quite a lenient sentence?

Humanity did not yet live under the Mosaic code, which indeed states clearly: “And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.” (Lev 24:17) The next murder occurs just a bit further down in the same chapter, when Cain’s wicked descendant, Lamech, kills a man and no punishment, either from man or God, is recorded. It is not until after the Flood that Noachian code include a more severe punishment: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (Gen 9:6) Now, Cain’s murder of Abel is only the second documented sin, and the first documented act of violence. It seems God might well forbear shedding more blood, even for the sake of justice, when the horror of this first murder is so awful. We are not told of Adam’s and Eve’s reaction to the slaughter, but they were no doubt devastated. The combination of murder when there were probably not many people on earth at the time (possibly only four), together with exile, was probably horror enough to teach the lesson, to that generation, that murder is to be avoided.

Why is Cain “cursed from the earth” (Gen 4:11) by God?

In short, and in terms of the figure, it is because he shed blood on the ground: life is sacred, so the blood of life is sacred, and so the shedding of life blood is absolutely forbidden and brings a curse. Since Abel’s blood was spilled on the same ground from which Cain earns his living, the blood is cursed from that ground. Moreover, Cain’s offering was the first fruits of the ground, and so he was punished in respect of his work—that is, from the ground out of which his offering came. No future offering from that source would be acceptable, which is why the ground would no longer produce crops for Cain.

Is Cain not the first to be exiled (Gen 4:12)? And is it not significant that he was exiled to the east?

While Adam and Eve were the first to be exiled from the Garden and God’s immediate presence, they were still in his presence and care. Matters are much worse for Cain, who was exiled entirely out of both God’s presence and the company of his mother and father. His exile to the east was a foreshadow of exiles to come. Thus he is a “type” of cursed sinner and is used as such several times later in the Bible.

What does “punishment” mean at Gen 4:13 and why is it greater than Cain can bear?

The word translated here “punishment” is עָוֹן or avon, glossed as “iniquity” or “punishment for iniquity.” As the word his this double-meaning, Cain’s suggestive statement is not merely a lament for the woes to come; it means, essentially, that the severity of the sentence has revealed to Cain, only too late, just how enormous his crime was.

Do Cain’s remarks at Gen 4:13-14 show he was contrite after his sentencing?

The fact that two verses are given to Cain’s description of his punishment might be thought to show this, but it is not altogether clear, because he never actually expresses regret or asks for forgiveness. He does show that he recognizes the severity of the curse and punishment, and he shows well-justified fear. It is well that he might react this way, considering that this is the harshest punishment meted our to humanity yet, being left to literally wander the wilderness without any help from man or God. But it is perhaps God’s mercy on him—bestowing the mark that forbids vengeance, at Gen 4:15—that is best evidence that Cain was contrite and perhaps not wholly lost.

How is it a particular curse to be cast out of the presence of God (Gen 4:15)?

First Adam and Eve were cast out of the immediate presence and guardianship of God in the Garden, and then Cain was cast wholly out of his presence. This is just the first of many instances of God’s hiding his face from those who have sinned: “And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought” (Deut 31:18). The reason this is a curse, of course, is that God provides for and blesses man.

What does “sevenfold” mean at Gen 4:15?

The number seven is the number of completion or fulfillment; it is used in this way numerous times throughout the Bible. It means, essentially, that anyone (such as Adam, the only other male whom we know to be alive at the time) who sought revenge on Cain would be punished greatly and “perfectly.” I conjecture that the force is something like “utterly destroyed.”

Why would God threaten to avenge a murderer sevenfold (Gen 4:15)?

There are a few reasons. First, since God took justice into his own hands, man was not to interfere; that was, in that very early age, for God alone. The sentence has already been declared and executed. A further punishment—in the form of vengeance approved by God—would be unjust simply because it would be an additional punishment. God would have taken a life for a life if that had been his sentence. Since he did not, that was not his will. Any further bloodshed would, therefore, not only constitute a new and unjustified act of violence, it would usurp God’s own prerogative of doing justice.

Do we know where the land of Nod (Gen 4:16) was?

No, we have no clue. Nor do we have any notion where the city of Enosh might have been. It was east of Eden, and if Eden were in northern Mesopotamia, then perhaps it was in southeastern Mesopotamia, near where some of the oldest Sumerian cities were. But we must also bear in mind that this was before the Flood, and therefore all such geographical speculation becomes silly; the terrain itself might have changed immensely.

How many people were in the world when the city of Enoch was founded (Gen 4:17)? How did Cain get a wife?

Evidently there were more than the ones specifically named in the text so far. After all, Cain had a wife, who would evidently have to be a near relation (a sister or a niece). We are specifically told in Gen 5:4 that Adam “begat sons and daughters.” Moreover, one must bear in mind that Adam was 130 when Seth was born (5:3), and that he lived another 800 years. Assuming that people aged very slowly then (as opposed to living out 800 years in extreme decrepitude), then both Adam and Eve could have been parents of hundreds of children. If Adam and his antediluvian progeny were typical, then each of those children could also have many children, so that the world could have many thousands of people in it after just a few hundred years, and not all of them would be near relations, either. It is not even clear that Seth, who was born when Adam was still a young, virile 130, was born after the incident with Cain and Abel, although I expect that was what the narrator intended, since that is the order in which the narrative proceeds. But if indeed Seth and others were born before Cain killed Abel, which is possible, then Cain might have had any number of cousins to live with the town of Enoch in the land of Nod.

What is the significance of Cain’s progeny and how they are described (Gen 4:17-24)?

First of all, they founded the first named city; note that cities, particularly cities of the east such as Babylon and Nineveh, were often associated with sin. Lamech was a murderer, so the iniquity did not leave the family. Another detail worth noting is that, if Jabal had been the original tent-dwelling nomadic herdsman—thus taking Abel’s place—then his ancestors, going back generations to Cain, must have been hunter-gatherers.

Is it not odd that there were two Enochs (Gen 4:17 and 5:18) in early times?

This is only the first of many instances of names with many bearers in the Bible. There are two Lamechs in the two different lines as well. There seems little reason to find significance in this particular juxtaposition. There are two or four Enochs in the Bible, depending on whether one counts “Hanoch” as the same name (the Septuagint renders them the same). The name means something like “initiated, inaugurated, trained.” Both men called “Enoch” might well have been initiated in the ways of their fathers.

How can we draw an interesting comparison between Lamech (Gen 4:18-24) and Enoch, the descendant of Seth (Gen 5:18)?

Of some little interest is the fact that Enoch was the great-great-great grandson of Seth, just as Lamech of the same number of generations removed from Cain. So in the fifth generation after Cain, there is a murderer (Gen 4:23); while in the fifth generation of Seth, when “men began to call upon the name of the Lord”(4:26), there is a man who walked with God and is caught up into heaven without dying (5:24).

Was Lamech the first polygamist (Gen 4:19)?

Perhaps: he was the first one recorded. That this was frowned upon even in OT days is arguably shown in Gen 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Other texts show that the better way, at least, was to have only one wife: “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself” (Deut 17:17; one of the rules for the future kings of Israel). Similarly, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2). This meant that in those times, as with slavery, polygamy was tolerated by God, probably in a concession to the inevitable practices of primitive man.

Three sons of the murderer Lamech, himself a descendant of the killer Cain, are credited with founding various useful arts (Gen 4:20-22). What are we to make of this?

The irony is strange indeed. Cain’s descendant Lamech both begets children who give the world useful arts and himself commits the world’s second recorded murder. Jabal was (after Abel) the original nomadic herdsman; Jubal, the original musician; and Tubalcain, the original blacksmith. It is hardly as if such arts are frowned upon in themselves in the Bible; David was a shepherd and a musician, and as a general, a user of the blacksmith’s arts. So it is certainly striking that these origin stories are sandwiched between two murders. This is probably not accidental. Probably, in keeping with the theme of not seeking forbidden knowledge (Gen 3) or building towers to heaven (Gen 11), we are to infer that such practices, however fine they might be, pose a danger in the form of pride.

Is it true that Lamech is not only not punished by God, he is allowed to boast (Gen 4:23-24)? Why?

It is true. After “my wounding” which was “to my hurt,” he has slain a “young man.” From the sound of this, it is at best self-defense, but it looks like manslaughter. It is entirely possible that God permitted this because it was in self-defense (which is permitted in the Mosaic code). But I suspect that, especially due to his self-comparison to Cain, this was a murder; moreover, it was not “an eye for an eye,” but rather it was a life for a “hurt.” But if it was indeed a murder, then why did God allow the crime to go unpunished? It seems that he had washed his hands of Cain and his progeny: he had turned his face from Cain, and unlike Seth, that line did not seem to be calling upon the name of the Lord. It is worth noting that not many generations would succeed this one before God would destroy all of humanity in the Flood. Lamech’s violence and arrogance well exemplify the “wickedness of man” that doubtless even by that time had become “great in the earth” (Gen 6:5). If Lamech was long-lived, then probably he was killed in the Flood.

What does it mean to say that “men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26)?

There are two clear possibilities. One is that it was at that time that they began to use the name of the Lord, which in Hebrew is Yahweh (יְהוָֽה); the other is that they began to pray to and trust in the one true God. The latter is what is meant, but let us discuss the former suggestion. The Pentateuch narrative leaves open the possibility in Exodus 3, which many think is the case, that the name of God was not introduced to the Hebrews until the time of the Exodus. This verse seems to suggest it: “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” (Ex 3:13) But, as we will discuss when we get to that text, it is entirely possible that the name of God was known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that Moses was simply asking which god he was speaking to. In that case, “calling on the name of the Lord” might mean simply learning of his name. So perhaps God gave his name, Yahweh, to the generation of Seth and Enos. But as an exegesis of Gen 4:26, that does not sound quite right to me. The phrase, “call on the name of the Lord,” is used throughout the Bible in a fairly consistent way, to mean to pray (literally to invoke the name of the Lord in prayer), to worship (“Bless the Lord, o my soul!”: Ps. 104:1), to trust and ally oneself with (“And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord”: 1 Kings 18:24). Those who “call on the name of the Lord” are the faithful followers of God. If, as I think is fairly clear, that is what the text means here, that seems to imply that it was not until the generation of Enos, or possibly of Seth, that men took the notion of worshiping God seriously. This says something quite damning about Adam and Eve: apparently, they did not learn from their treatment at the hands of God to call upon the name of the Lord. But what about Abel? You might say that this does dishonor to the memory of the righteous Abel, but since he was killed, he was not made “the father” of the herdsmen, either; that honor is given to Jabal. In the same way, Seth, or perhaps Enos, is made the first man to introduce the worship of the Lord, i.e., to introduce the practice among men.

How do the “generations of Adam” here (starting at Gen 5:1) differ from those of the Heavens and Earth (starting at 2:4)?

Since the toledoth (again: something like a family history) sections of Gen 2-4 and of 5-6 both begin with Adam, essentially, one might wonder why they are different; if they start with the same person, they should have the same results, should they not? The answer, I propose, is that while the earlier toledoth began with the heavens and the earth, the latter one began with God. In the former toledoth, we have Adam being fashioned out of the dust, and we learn how his earthly sinfulness ultimately led, via Cain, to total extinction in the disaster of the Flood. In the latter toledoth, we have Adam being created in the image of God. Next comes Seth: he was the replacement for the godly Abel and called on the name of the Lord, and he was begotten in the (imperfect, but still somewhat God-like) image of Adam. The line continues on down through the upright Enoch to Noah, for whose sake man was not utterly destroyed. The comparison is drawn especially clearly in the comparison between the cursory glance at Cain’s line in Gen 4 and the lengthier and more respectful recounting of Seth’s line in Gen 5.

Is there not repetition and overlap in Gen 1:1-6?

Yes, on six points: (1) God created man (2) in God’s likeness and (3) male and female. (4) They were blessed and called “Adam” or man. (5) Adam begat Seth, and (6) Seth begat Enos. So, why the repetition? First, note that there is overlap and repetition throughout the Bible; there is overlap between Genesis 1 and 2, and indeed elsewhere in all the other “generations” accounts. Why? The answer is that the Bible was meant to be read aloud, as most people could not read, and the reading of scripture was a key part of worship. As to the overlapping toledoths, it appears to me that each generation narrative constitutes a separate, self-contained account, such as could be read more or less independently, each with its own overriding themes and narratives, its own internal logic. This, it seems to me, is a more cogent explanation of the repetition than the Documentary Hypothesis, perhaps. The Documentary Hypothesis ignores the fact that repetition would be expected in text to be orally performed, and that indeed entire books, let alone the whole Pentateuch, were not meant to be read all in one sitting.

Does the text not imply that Seth was in the image of God, via Adam (Gen 5:3)? But this is true of everyone; so why mention it? Is it important?

It is probably more important than it might appear at first. There are two points to be made here, one positive and one negative. The positive point is that, if Adam was created in the likeness of God, and Seth was begotten in the likeness of Adam, then “the likeness of God” seems to have been passed down along the line of the people who “began to call on the name of the Lord.” (Gen 4:26) This same line, as described in the rest of Gen 5, gave rise to two men who “walked with God”: Enoch and Noah. It was through Noah and his family that mankind was preserved from total destruction. Notice, about none in Cain’s line is it said anywhere that they were begotten in “the likeness of” God. Cain and his family had abandoned God; so he abandoned them. This brings us to the negative point: while “the likeness of God” is something pure and holy, that likeness was to an important extent lost, though not entirely, so that “the likeness of Adam” was something “earthy” and sinful: “as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Rom. 5:12) as Paul puts it. Thus there is a subtle but clear contrast between the line of Cain and that of Seth, reflected later in such Pauline statements as this: “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” (1 Cor. 15:48-49)

Is it not rather ridiculous to suggest that the first men lived between 900 and 1000 years (Gen 5:5)? Is this not obviously inconsistent with known science?

There are several ways to interpret these claims; the question assumes we are to take the claims “literally.” So let us examine this approach. First, I refuse to ignore science insofar as doing so involves ignoring observations and obvious inferences from them. Are there any observations or inferences about organisms that make extreme longevity in early man impossible or unlikely? So it seems; there are no instances of any animals living so long, and while we do not understand the biological cause of aging, we know of no genetic or environmental variations that reliably cause extreme old age. Thus the theory that the Flood changed the environment in some way such as to prevent extreme longevity appears to be ad hoc from a scientific point of view. But, of course, divine intervention allows for anything. So it is entirely possible that early man could live literally 900 years, and God simply changed the rules after the Flood. This is, it seems to me, the best way to support the text rationally. One might instead claim that there is a mythical element in Genesis 1-11, rather than any scientific explanation. This does not prevent much in the way of unreasonable theological commitments, because all the rest of the Bible requires miracles.

The ages of the antediluvian patriarchs reported in Gen 5:5 (and later such details) allow scholars to date the creation of the universe, on one old theory, to 4004 B.C. This is called the “Young Earth” creation theory. Is this required by the text?

This is not a question to answer in a paragraph, but the short answer is “no.” There is nothing in the text that absolutely requires a Young Earth; there are several ways to avoid the conclusion. One is to say that the genealogies of Cain, Seth, and Noah leave many gaps. Another is that various people were lived before Adam and Eve, but they were specially created for life in the Garden, and were to become a special line of righteous people who could walk with God. Another, which does much more violence to a “literal” reading of the text, is the notion that the text must be regarded as repeating old, mythic stories that are true in metaphorical, symbolic, or moralistic senses, but are not strictly required by a respectful, “believing” reading of the text. Frankly, I do not think that any very important theological issues turn on which of these theories is correct. It is certainly true that the Bible-rooted Christian theology requires belief in miracles, prophesies, and divine manifestations; but it is less obviously true, to me, that the same theology requires belief in the precise names, ages, and events precisely as recorded in Gen 1-11.

There are early Mesopotamian texts also reporting kings of very great age. Is it not likely that the Bible got the notion of superannuated patriarchs from that source (Gen 5:5)?

Perhaps, or all such lists have a common source or sources. The famous Sumerian King List, found in multiple copies such as a tablet from Larsa and the Weld-Blundell Prism, name some eight kings (similar to the number of pre-Noachian generations) with ridiculously long reigns such as 28,800 years and 64,800 years. There is even a flood recorded, after which the reign lengths shorten, and then shorten some more (see Gen 11). What seems likely is that, given the number of extant copies of this list, it was even more widespread in the time of Moses, and so the highly literate author of Gen 5 would probably be familiar with such lists. Such lists are doubtless reflected in the genealogy of Cain (Gen 4) and of Table of Nations (Gen 10). If indeed elements of the Gen 1-11 narratives are mythic, they might have the notion of superannuated patriarchs from that source, or from a common source (see general questions about Genesis, above). Of course, it is possible that early man was simply long-lived, and God simply changed the laws of nature (see above), but even this suggestion faces issues in terms of reconciliation with scientific (especially anthropological and archaeological) discoveries.

The text keeps repeating “and he died,” and this formula is not employed in later genealogies. Why? Surely simply saying that Adam lived 930 years (Gen 5:5) sufficed to imply that he died?

First of all, there was one patriarch who is notable in that the text does not say he died: Enoch. Instead, because he walked with God, he was “translated” or removed to Heaven. The others, however, went down to the grave. This is important because, as obvious as this would be without being told, the author is underscoring, with a stark and grim poetic beauty, the truth and faithfulness of God’s promise that the wages of Adam’s sin would indeed be death.

What are we to make of the brief and enigmatic tale of Enoch (Gen 5:21-24)? What do “walked with God,” “was not,” and “God took him” mean?

Let us take these three descriptions of Enoch apart. Enoch was not the only one in the Bible who is said to have “walked with God,” or to have “walked before God,” but it is certainly remarkable that the text says twice that Enoch walked with God (Gen 5:22, 24). The first time, the text says he did so “after he began Methuselah three hundred years,” which seems to imply that Enoch made some manner of improvement after the birth of his son. In any event, throughout the Bible, such metaphors are used to describe, essentially, a God-fearing, faithful, and righteous person. Noah also “walked with God (6:9), and Abram was invited to “walk before me” (17:1). Next, what of the rather enigmatic phrase that Enoch “was not” (אַיִן, ayin)? As Matthew Henry puts it, this probably means Enoch “was not to be found.” I might add: he was not among his fellow men, probably nowhere on earth, and very probably not anywhere in ordinary spacetime. Then we have the very terse explanation: “for God took him.” (5:24) A name is later put on the mystery: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” (Heb. 11:5) This might have happened in the way that happened with Elijah (2 Kings 2:11: “by a whirlwind” and in “a chariot of fire”) or Jesus (e.g., Luke 24:51; he was “carried up into heaven”).

How did Lamech’s prophecy of Noah (Gen 5:29) come true?

With “Noah,” a name that sounds similar to the word נָחַם, nacham, it is not immediately clear what Lamech is suggesting. Words derived from this root are translated, variously, be sorry, console, comfort, change mind, and even repent. Probably the best exegesis is to be found by examining the explanation Lamech gives, a prophesy that has its fulfillment in the next chapter. The explanation is: Noah “shall comfort us [? nacham] concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” Noah is not being blamed, in the narrative, for the flood; indeed, he, through his faithful and upright walk with the Lord, will play a key role in the preservation of mankind. Yet it is the two curses upon the land, the curses of Adam and Cain, that led to great toil; the curse also is closely associated with “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart [being] only evil continually.” (6:5) Noah’s actions ensure that the curse is not total; it is not enough to wipe out humanity. So Noah will not make us repent, change our minds, or make us sorry, but indeed he might well console or comfort those remaining, and those in Heaven; and he will help God to change his mind about the curse. See what God says after the Flood: “And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” (Gen 8:21) So God will change his mind—he will thus “repent” of the earlier curse—and so perhaps the name of Noah indicates the “repentance” of God in that sense. Moreover, he and his line will comfort the world by remaining, more or less, the righteous “sons of God” (6:2). They will in time issue in the greatest of comfort, namely, in the Seed—he who will “crush” the head of the serpent (3:15), who will be Moses’ “Prophet from the midst of thee” (Deut 18:15), later to be called the Anointed, that is, the Messiah, a title rendered in Greek Christos, and in English Christ.

What does “sons of God” (Gen 6:2) mean?

There are three theories, about what the “sons of God” are, that I want to consider: (1) they are angels, presumably fallen angels; (2) they are the faithful from the line of Seth, those who called on the name of the Lord or walked with the Lord; or (3) they are all men. Now, there is little evidence internal to the Bible that the phrase here meant demons or demonic spirits (fallen angels), whether embodied themselves or inhabiting the bodies of wicked men—though the phrase “sons of God” does sometimes mean angels. The famous but certainly pseudepigraphal (i.e., falsely attributed) Book of Enoch suggests it; but it was written in the 100s AD, not at all by Enoch, and represents a highly conjectural theory, not scripture. Observe, in support of the line of Seth theory, that the previous two chapters did explain and contrasted in detail the two different lines—and that these lines come at the end of the toledoth about the line of Seth. This then raises the question: did the lines intermarry? And if so, what was the result? We are told what the result was, and so we should perhaps settle the question in the context of the remarks about nephilim in Gen 6:4. As to the third theory, this is also intiguing, because, as Sailhamer has argued, the “sons of God” might well be all men, because Adam was created by God. In that case, the “daughters of men” would be women because Eve was made of Adam’s rib. Then the comments in Gen 6:1-2 regard the totality of the “multiplying” generations of man, of all men, who are shortly to be done away with for their wickedness.

What does “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen 6:3) mean, and what does this have to do with limiting his years to 120?

This is another hard saying that is not made particularly clearer or more certain in other translations. The root of the Hebrew word that “strive” translates, דִּין or din, can mean variously judge, vindicate, or abide (at least).The context is essential to fixing the sense. So note that it is because man is flesh that the Lord’s spirit will not “strive” with man, and that, therefore, his days will be limited to 120 years. Moreover, what has changed is that man has become wicked, and so God is grieved (Gen 6:5-6). This seems fairly plainly to suggest that, because man is wicked, he should not live so long and his years should be cut short. Note the author is being very explicit here in passing about something readers often observe to themselves, namely, that the lifespans of the postdiluvian patriarchs became gradually shorter; while Noah, who was born and lived most of his days before the Flood, lived to be 950, Shem lived to 600, Abraham to 180, and Moses to 120. So a broad gloss of the thought being conveyed is something like this: “My spirit, the spirit of God which I blew into Adam and which gives man life, will not always abide with and govern man—and thus he is mortal—and thus also he will not merely die, as all but Enoch have done, but he will live only 120 years because of his wickedness which is indeed “from his youth” (Gen 8:21).

Who or what were the “giants in the earth in those days” (Gen 6:4)?

This is one of the most puzzling texts in the Bible. The KJV translation “giants” is from Septuagint translation, γίγαντες or gigantes, of the Hebrew word נְפִיל, nephilim. This word can also mean “the fallen [ones],” suggesting corrupt, wicked men, the word itself most likely from נָפַל, naphal, “to fall.” This is a very slender bit of linguistic evidence on which to build notions of demon-spawned giants, which is a common theory. The reason I personally find this theory unlikely is simply that there is no other evidence in the Bible suggesting either that demons can sire earthly offspring or that there were supernaturally large giants, and rarely if ever is there so slender evidence offered for such theologically consequential creatures. If the author wanted you to believe in demon-spawned giants, surely he would have said more. Besides, there are much more reasonable theories, associated with interpretations (2) and (3), above, of the “sons of God.” Here then is the summary case for another theory. Note first that Gen 6:1-8 comes at the end of two genealogies—not separated in the original by chapters—describing the corruption of Cain’s line and the comparative righteousness of Seth’s. These verses serve as a grim conclusion to two toledoth sections about men who, whether regardless how their family line began, mostly became wicked and all-too-mortal. Then we are told, by way of summarizing the outcome of it all, that men were fruitful and multiplied, and “the sons of Gods saw the daughters of men,” etc. These (so to speak) pregnant remarks, I propose, crucially advance the narrative by explaining how Seth’s line of Lord-callers and walkers-with-God were corrupted: basically, Seth’s line, dignified in the description as “sons of God,” did not abstain from marrying the beautiful but wicked women of Cain’s line. The implication of the verses is similar to the many instances of Israelites intermarrying with “strange women” and being corrupted thereby. Indeed, the offspring of such unions were “mighty men which were of old, men of renown” (6:4), but immediately we are told, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (6:5). One thinks of Gilgamesh and other kings who claimed divine blood (the epic says he was two-thirds god and one-third man); the wording in the text is winking at such myths, particularly considering that 6:4’s “and also after that,” i.e., after the Flood there would be similarly arrogant strongmen, supposedly demigods but really just corrupt and powerful men. Indeed, the text may suggest that all men were like the nephilim insofar as the more divine and righteous cultural features all but died due to intermarriage. So the cultural dominance of Cain’s line was total, and Noah’s family was therefore the last remnant of the Seth line.