Genesis 1-3 – Part II: Literal or Allegorical?

This article first appeared on Catholic Stand.

In Part I of this series, I spoke of the value of the allegorical language used in the first creation account in Genesis. God communicates His divine truth through images and metaphorical language, and we should understand the truth He is communicating without trying to take the account literally. The same applies to the rest of Genesis 1-3.

Genesis 2:4-25 offers us another account of creation. This account quickly gets to the creation of man (2:7). Remember, God’s creative act and man’s Fall truly happened, but He is not trying to communicate these things to us scientifically.

Genesis 2:7-8 – God creates Adam directly from the earth. This shows man’s direct connection to the earth and his responsibility for it, including responsibility for other human beings. Then God breaths into him. First of all, God does not breathe in a literal sense; He is pure spirit. This is another indicator that God is communicating to us allegorically.

Secondly, God breathing onto or into man occurs only one other time in Scripture. In John 20:22-23, on the evening of the Resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room and breathes on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Therefore, as God gave Adam and Eve the ability to create new life, He gives the disciples the ability to restore life through forgiveness of sins, which results in the infusion of grace.

Also in Genesis, it says that “man became a living soul.” Man is not merely physical. He is a body-soul composite. God does not make any other creature like this. Before the Fall, the soul governed the body rather than the other way around. The same will be true when we receive our glorified bodies at the second resurrection.

Furthermore, notice that God forms man outside the Garden and then places him in it. This image illustrates God’s benevolence. It also shows that the Garden does not belong to man properly but is his by way of gift. Spiritually speaking, God takes man out of spiritual desolation and brings him into spiritual wealth.

In Genesis 3:23, after man sins, he loses God’s gifts (i.e., grace, the Garden, dominion, and life) because he rejected them. Additionally, one reason Adam’s (vs. Eve’s) sin was especially grievous was because God gifted the Garden to him directly but to Eve indirectly through Adam.

Genesis 2:8-15 – God creates a garden (Eden) and places Adam in it to “till it and keep it.” Tilling and keeping the Garden would have been easy in the dominative state before the Fall because man did not have to struggle to exercise dominion.

Next, in the Garden, God plants the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Context indicates that both were pleasant to the sight and good for food (2:9, 3:6). Again, God does not create evil.

Genesis 2:16-17 – God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or he will die. Now, knowledge of good and evil is not in itself evil. However, attempting to obtain knowledge by evil means is evil. Adam and Eve should have walked with God to attain knowledge. Rather, they came to understand evil directly by obeying Satan and disobeying God’s command not to eat from this tree.

Genesis 2:20-22 – God creates a “helper” for Adam. The husband and wife must help one another to care for their familial garden. This means that help is reciprocal. If someone is my helper, justice requires that I somehow help that person help me. Think about parent/child, husband/wife, and employee/employer relationships.  Each person helps the other. If God makes my wife to help me, I must help her by giving her everything she needs to help me. This is the correct understanding of equality. Man has the primary responsibility for ensuring everything works in proper order. This is another reason that Adam, rather than Eve, is blamed for the Fall.

Genesis 2:22-24 – God makes Eve from Adam’s side (think about Christ’s bride made from His side on the cross, John 19:34). The teaching here is explicit. The two become one. Man “clings” to his wife. “Clings” implies an unbreakable bond. Imagine clinging to a life preserver in a turbulent sea. Nothing will pry you from that preserver. This is how a husband and wife must cling to one another. They must not allow anything or anyone to break them apart. Accordingly, marriage is a covenantal relationship of fidelity that is indissoluble until death.

Finally, in Genesis 2:25, it says they were “naked and were not ashamed.” Adam and Eve lived in a state of original innocence and integrity, filled with sanctifying grace, until Original Sin.

In Part III of this series, I will discuss that terrible event – the Fall of Man – and its consequences for the rest of us.