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.