BIBLE STUDY :

THE STORY OF CREATION

COPYRIGHT © 2000 by The Eclectic Church

 (Genesis 1 to 3)

Prayer

Father, open our minds and hearts so that we might reach a fuller understanding of the practical advice You have seen fit to reveal to us.  Let us never be so presumptuous as to proclaim our words and our wills as Yours…………………………….Amen!

 

History of Story 

 

There are actually two creation accounts in Genesis, which were written at different times.  The story, which begins with Genesis 2:4, is actually the earlier account with scholarly estimates placing its origins between 1000 and 900 BC.  What we today perceive as the first creation account (Genesis 1 – 2:3) was later in origin, around 400 BC.  When you examine these stories in light of the historical perspective in which they were written, it becomes clear that each of these reflects the cultural thinking of the people who authored them mingled in with the inspirations they were designed to instill.   This cultural influence is one reason that historical perspective is so important in interpretation, and truly discredits any literal reading of revelation. *

Historically speaking it would be remiss of any Bible study to neglect to mention that the story of Creation in its seven day order, and also that of Noah in Genesis, are not original stories.  Similar stories were told in older cultures, which the nomadic Jews of the times would have been exposed to.  The creation account coming from Mesopotamia called the Enuma Elish took the form of a six part creation with a “seventh day of rest” for the creative forces.**  The Babylonian account of the flood (Gilgamesh), also older than the story of Noah, bears striking similarities to that of the flood in Genesis ---  including: the ship coming to rest on a mountain top, the sending of birds in search of dry land, and the offering of a sacrifice when the waters receded.***  It is not a far stretch to imagine that the oral traditions of one culture might not be revised to fit the needs of another, especially if those stories contain metaphors for spiritual inspirations that may help us to improve the human condition.  This historical fact might support the hypothesis that the messages and ideas conveyed in these sacred stories are the real intent and inspiration  behind them.   And it is absolute arrogance for people to claim God’s inspiration only for themselves, and their own sacred stories, without recognizing that God could speak to any person, people, or generation.

 

Historically, any objective study of the Bible needs to convey to the reader that the Bible was not always a book as it is now.  In fact, its origins were in oral traditions for centuries before any of the words were ever recorded in any form of a written word.  But the very fact that these stories survive to this day should tell us that they have something important to say. 

 And, these very stories might have been understood in a completely different way in the cultures and languages they were told.  The Creation Story is such a story, now interpreted as the fall of man; largely due, to the thinking of Augustine.  The scholar Elaine Pagels Tells us in “Adam, Eve, and The Serpent:

 

I cam to see that for nearly the first four hundred years of our era, Christians regarded “FREEDOM” as the primary message of Genesis 1-3 --- freedom in its many forms, including free will, freedom from demonic powers, freedom from social and sexual obligations, freedom from tyrannical government and from fate; and self mastery as the source of such freedom.  With Augustine, as I show in Chapter Five, this message changed   (page XXV from introduction)

 

In a world in which Christians were not only free to follow their faith, but were officially encouraged to do so, Augustine came to read the story of Adam and Eve VERY DIFFERENTLY than had the majority of his Jewish and Christian predecessors.  What they had read for centuries as a story of human freedom, became, in his hands, a story of human bondage.  Most Jews and Christians had agreed that God gave human kind in creation the gift of moral freedom, and that Adam’s misuse of it brought death upon his progeny.  But Augustine went further: Adam’s sin not only caused our mortality, but cost us moral freedom, irreversibly corrupted our experience of sexuality (which Augustine tended to identify with original sin), and make us incapable of genuine political freedom. (page XXVI from intoduction)

 

Ms. Pagels points our very nicely that what was once a wonderful story of mankind’s raising to consciousness, evolved in the Christian world into a story of mankind’s fall.   Our purpose here is not to join into this debate, but we thought it necessary to bring these observations to the reader so that they might understand that the Creation story has already been interpreted in a wide variety of ways, often completely opposite of each other.  Many of the early Gnostic Christians, for example, often seen this tale as a good thing for mankind --- because with the knowledge of good and evil came self-awareness and free-choice.

 

 We must keep in mind that these stories are products of the times in which they were written, that there interpretations should be made with full knowledge of that culture and time, and that concepts (such as marriage) were not the edicts of God; but rather, reflections of cultural beliefs at the time, often understood very differently than they are now.  Humans too often fail to see that while God’s truths may not change, our understanding of them does.

            It is our hope in this Bible study to look at these ancient stories and find metaphors that might be applicable to our understanding of the world.  But to do this we must be aware of the understanding of the peoples where they originated.  It would be a folly to proclaim that revealed word might intentionally lead people away from truth for thousands of years.  It is more probable that these words contain timeless gems of guidance that can be extracted by anyone who reads them, and while the Eclectic View may not be the only view, it should be credible in terms of logic. 

            With these thoughts in mind we offer you a more symbolic way to view this Sacred Story of Human Origins.

Please see Problems in Dealing With Revelation for more details about the problems in translation and interpretation of scriptures.

·          ·          ·          SOURCE  reference --- Elaine Pagels, “Adam, Eve, And The Serpent”

** SOURCE reference ----  John Romer, “Testament”

*** SOURCE reference --- Reader’s Digest, “The Bible Through The Ages”

Note that each of these source materials are wonderful reference books for studying the factual history of the origins of scripture and would make wonderful companion books for this Bible study as well as thoughtful gifts for anyone seeking truth.    

 

 

Practical Interpretations 

 

 

 

The Story of Creation, or any biblical account for that matter, does not have to be accepted as the literal truth in order to have truth and meaning.  In fact, if we look to these tales for their symbolisms, we are rewarded with rich revelations which are spiritually helpful and can be very practical in our daily lives.

      The Creation in Genesis does not have to be viewed as a tale of mankind’s fall and ultimate need for outside redemption.  It can be seen as a tale of God’s wonderful generosity, giving us practical advise on our human shortcomings so that we can participate fully in that creation.

     God’s so-called curse in that story is what we bring upon ourselves when we choose to blind ourselves to the reality of the true Eden we are already dwelling in.  It is a blindness caused by obsessively driven egocentric and selfish pursuits.  It is when we lessen the gift of life, making it secondary to some higher form of existence, an existence we are already participating in but experiencing it in the now.  

 

     OBVIOUSLY, the first and  primary revelation in the Creation Story of Genesis is that God is behind the creation of the physical realities of which  we are part.  The story is saying that there was intent and intelligence behind what we see and that it was not just accidental.

 

     The “how” the creation actually happened is displayed in two wonderful metaphors (the two creation accounts mentioned above) --- for God in His/Her wisdom realized the people of that age could not understand the actual circumstances surrounding the creation as we are beginning to understand them today.  And, the details of Creation were not really so important to these ancient peoples. 

 

    The fact is that most creation accounts convey the concept that reality was not an accident and that there is purpose behind existence and being.  These concepts are almost universal in their scope.  The archetypical message is that there is a transcendent cause for all that is.  So long as we come to recognize this fact, the details of that creation account are of little consequence.  How many of us out there would actually understand any detailed account of the actual creation?  Possibly a few people like physicist Steven Hawkings, but for the most part, it would be incomprehensible to the average person.  If such were the case, of what use would that revelation be!  And if this is true for us today, how much truer would it be for people who lived thousands of years ago?  Do we really believe that the peoples who construed stars as “lesser lights” would have understood the big bang theory, the expansion of the universe or the evolution of life if it were incorporated in the book of Genesis?

     Our Intellects are very limited, and were even more so in ancient times.  It would only make sense, that just as we use stories and symbols to teach our children morals (such as the big bad wolf story to convey the dangers of lying), that God in His/Her wisdom might do the same thing? 

     Humans may or may not ever completely understand the origins of the universe, but understanding such things can make little difference in recognizing that reality is an awesome miracle?  For all intent and purposes, the story of creation in Genesis offers a simple answer to a question as old as human thought:  Why is there something where there should be nothing? What the tale reveals  is that such is because a transcendent force willed it to be!  A Force so beyond us that “Its” very thoughts triggered all we now perceive.

 

INSPIRATION 1

There is a transcendent cause behind the creation of the universe (God).

˜˜˜

 

      We should also take notice that in the different creation accounts mentioned in the above hisotry, different versions are given for the creation of man.  In verse 1:27 we are told that God Created us “male and female” in His/Her own Image.  Here, there is no distinction made in the creation of humans.  No rib, no mud, just a creation of human beings. 

      The second account (written earlier) where there was a much more patriarchal society, reflecting a great distinction between men and women and their roles in society ---  reflects those ideas in that story.   

    Taken separately these two accounts might seem to be contradictory.  If we scrutinize the second account (the earlier one), we see that the order of creation is even different, with the implication that man was created before vegetation.  Man and woman are created separately and at very different times in opposition to the other account in chapter one. 

     Yet, if we take the two tales together as one, looking for symbol and metaphor, we do not get the obvious contradictions that arise in literalism.  In fact, such a viewing leads us to the world of paradox, which seems to be the world of the Divine. (See: The Divine Paradox)

     These inspirations coming forth tell us that while men and women are separate entities of creation of sorts, they are in the same image of God without distinction. They may have separate roles (differing through the ages), but in the eyes of the Creator there would be no distinction.  It reveals to us, that the essence of God (His/Her Image) is transcendent of sexual distinction --- that God is both and none, male and female (Paradoxical).  If we are to view God as the Source of Being, than “being” reflects all aspects of the Source.

            Another way of looking at the differing accounts is in the presentation.  In Genesis One, we might view it as a revelation about God creating; whereas in the other story, we are being conveyed a concept about man’s relationship with God.  In other words, the first story is a narrative about God and the second is a narrative about man.  God would make no distinctions about male and female, but man in his plurality and his world of black and white’s cannot help but to make distinctions.

 

     Too often literalist are looking at the one account without consideration of the other.  And sometimes, instead of looking to the scriptures for their inspirations, humans look to them to justify their own state of affairs.  How often is the Bible cited, Genesis in particular, to justify the dominance of men over women, or mankind over nature (as we shall see in a moment).  Because of this selective reading of scriptures,  women have very often been seen as subjects of men, treated more as possessions; rather than, as reflective of the Divine Image the same as men as conveyed in the one creation account.   Religions have used this cultural, and very human,  distinction to justify keeping women from clerical positions, or rendering them to second class citizenship; when the paradox contained in Genesis actually negates such an interpretation.

     In the reality of our world the differences between men and women are obvious, and seen through the eyes of our ancient ancestors this clear distinction and cultural order based upon it became reflected in the writings of the Creation account.  But here lies the beauty of looking to scripture in its entirety, rather than singling out a particular chapter and verse out of context to support a point --- because  when we see the seemingly contradictions in the  overall, very often, we can come up with a complete and clear picture of a greater guiding principle.  In this case of men and women, especially when taken in light of the teachings of Jesus, we can see clearly that although men  and women  may be different, they are one and the same in the paradoxical  eyes of the Divine because each is reflective of an element of the all encompassing Divine paradox.

 

     It is also interesting to note here, that in referring to Him/Herself in 1:26, God refers to Him/Herself in the plural “Let US make man in OUR Image”.  It is yet another beautiful reflection of the paradox of a Divine, which cannot be reduced to a single description, or assigned a particular sex, or designated a single entity.  And this, too, is another concept reflected through much of inspiration. One that is most eloquently expressed in the idea that the Jewish People could not speak the Name of God --- for God is so unique, all encompassing  and unknowable that He/She cannot be contained in a Name!

 

INSPIRATION 2

Although men and women are differnt, they are equally made in the same single Image of God (reflecting the Divine Pardox), without any distinction.˜˜˜

 

      Another great contradiction also surfaces in two other verses of these tales, one that directly influences our interactions with creation.  In verse  2:15, God places man in Eden (earth) “to work it and take care of it”.   But unfortunately, in Chapter One verse 28, it says “Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground”.

     Here too, we can see the cultural structure reflected in the thinking.  The earlier story sees mankind as being subject to nature, as a caretaker if you will (2:15).  This culture was nomadic and was very dependent on the environment, having far less control over their surroundings, and probably exerted a great deal of effort as to not upset the balance of things.  The later story (400BCE) reflects a more civilized culture with more control over things, probably in exile, but by this time the culture seen nature as subject to man as they had taken much greater control over their environment in cities and towns.

     Again, if we choose, we can read a paradox here that can lead to a practical solution to this problem and at the same time see sound advice for our lives.  That being: while by nature of our intelligence we may have some control and superiority of things around us, we have a responsibility to respect and tend to those gifts.

     Unfortunately, here again too many interpretations read the one aspect of the story, ignoring the other.  This idea of “dominion over the earth”, as the King James version calls it, has justified a vast destruction and waste of the natural resources that give us our very lives.  We have a tendency to justify progress at any cost due to a psychological justification seemingly given to us in the Bible.  But that justification is not as blanket as we have come to understand it in so much of Christian thinking.  The same book that is used to promote such thinking also states we are “to tend and keep”, which implies we are responsible for our interaction with the creation!

    When we view this holy story, in conjunction with the rest of revelation, in conjunction with the wonderful inspirations of other faiths and other cultures, we can quickly see that these tales go far beyond the narrow interpretations often assigned to them to offer a font of spiritual advice that we can practically apply to our everyday lives.  In this case, we can read if we choose, that by nature of the very gift of our intelligence comes an even greater responsibility to cherish and tend to the creation.  In this age of today, where we often know the consequences of our interactions with nature, this becomes an even more important lesson.

 

INSPIRATION 3

While our intelligence gives us some control over our environment, it also gives us a greater responsibility to care and tend for it in a responsible manner.˜˜˜

 

     Now we should move on to the so-called  “fall of mankind”.   This is very often a tale cited to promote the concepts of sin and the need for redemption.  Due to the thinking of men like Paul, Augustine, Calvin this story is often viewed as a portrayal of human weakness, often because of our sexual desires.  It is even used to justify in some ways a so-called human predisposition toward sin and the power of the Devil as he is understood today. 

(see, Elaine Pagels, “Adam, Eve, and the Serpent”)

 

     It is time we stopped using this Sacred Story as an excuse or justification for our human shortcomings and failures, a projection of our redemption onto the blood of Jesus.  Instead, we need to see through this story that Jesus offers us salvation in his message and example of love, peace and brotherhood.       

 

     In order to view this story in an alternative perspective, we need to understand it in terms of the people whom it was written for in the first place. 

     To begin with, the idea of Satan was completely different than it is today.  To quote Elaine Pagels  (author of many works including  “Adam, Even and the Serpent” from which this except is taken --- and Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University):

 

“In the Hebrew Bible, as in mainstream Judaism to this day, Satan never appears as Western Christendom has come to know him, as the leader of an “evil empire”, an army of hostile spirits who makes war on God and humankind alike.  On the contrary, he appears in the Book of Numbers and in Job as one of God’s obedient servantsa messenger, or angel, a word that translates the Hebrew term for messenger (mal `ak) into Greek (Angelos).  In Hebrew the Angels were often called “Sons of God” (bene` elochim), and were envisioned as the hierarchical ranks of a great army, or staff of a royal court.

     “In the biblical sources the Hebrew term Satan describes an adversarial role.  IT IS NOT THE NAME OF A PARTICULAR CHARACTER.  Although Hebrew storytellers as early as the sixth century B.C.E. occasionally introduced a supernatural character whom they called the Satan, what was meant, was any one of the angels sent by God for the specific purpose of blocking or obstructing human activity.   The root “stn” means “one who opposes”, obstructs or acts as adversary.  (the Greek term “diabolos”, later translated “devil”, literally means “one who throws something across ones path.”)”   (page 39)

  

    If one proclaims these stories are truly inspired by God, then they need to be understood in terms of the authors who told them and the peoples for whom they were intended.  We need to avoid this distortion of terms and words, which are not only translated from language to language, but word very often perceived  differently by the ancient peoples for whom they were written.  We shall see this over and over in so much of our Bible study.

 

    Another point before moving on to alternative ways of looking at this tale, it becomes important to also point out that the Creation story in Genesis actually never uses the term Satan in describing the serpent, nor is the devil ever mentioned.  In fact, Genesis states: “Now the serpent was more crafty than OF THE WILD ANIMALS the Lord God had made.”  The serpent in this tale is just another animal, used in this case an archetypical symbol, which in the ancient world was often the symbol of life.  If we look at the double helix today, symbolizing DNA, we see the pattern of two interwoven serpents   --- the same is true for the healers of the medical profession.

    

    And that brings us to an alternative way to look at the story.  This is a story is about a raising to consciousness and self awareness.  It is a story about selfishness and responsibility, and a tale about consequences for our acts pointing out the dangers of ego and selfish driven motivations.

     Like a good parent, God it might be assumed, tried to protect His/Her creatures from the dangers of the world.  Until humankind ate of the fruit of the symbolic tree, they were much like the other creatures God created.  They functioned according to their design and were protected by their instincts and innocence.  In this sense they were in a paradise created by ignorance, operating according to instinct (much like an infant), instead of exercising free and conscious choice.  We all have taboos for our children until they are old enough to handle the responsibility of removing those injunctions.  The injunction against eating the fruit might be seen in this way, the characters of Adam and Eve were not ready to assume responsibility for their own destinies, which is supported with the rest of the tale.  God’s command was not one of a test but an effort to protect His/Her children in their innocence.

     But at some point these creatures choose to move on, gaining self awareness and the ability to self determine their directions in life.  This was a choice that God allowed them to have, and even though they disobeyed God’s directive the flaw (or sin if you will) lay not in their disobedience.  The fall was in the ego that was so disrespectful of the wonderful generosity of God  --- a fault present with us today.  Their sin was like the rebellious teenager who wants adult rights without any of the responsibility.

    The characters were not satisfied with the gifts God gave them, and evidently, with God’s care for them.  If you will notice in the presentation of the serpent, he tells the woman that if they eat the fruit they will become Godlike --- immortal (which in itself is a contradiction to many present interpretations because according to present interpretations there was no death in the world until the fall --- so why would the serpent use immortality to tempt?)

     Adam and Even wanted to be Godlike in their state, but what they found out was that in order to have this knowledge they had to accept consequence and responsibility for their own actions.  It wasn’t as easy as eating a piece of fruit, as their lives (symbolized in the serpent) were leading them to believe.

     We  can also look at this piece of fruit as symbol for seeking the easy way out.  It would be the equivalent of seeking accomplishment without effort, gaining privilege without responsibility.  The fruit could even suggest so much of the magical thinking exposed by religions: where the responsibility for one’s salvation is projected unto rituals, words of faith or even God Himself dying on a cross --- the projections of religions that place evil at the devil’s doorstep instead of in human  choices --- the projections that have us looking to God to bail us out in times of difficulty (often of our own making) through miracles and supernatural wonders.

 

     As the story moves on, we see that even after this knowledge of good and evil is bestowed upon them, Adam and Eve want no part of the responsibility coming with it.  They hide from God, they experience shame and guilt, ultimately casting blame on someone else for their act of greed and selfishness --- the woman on the serpent and the man on the woman --- neither, willing to take responsibility for their own decision. 

     The authors of the story seem to lay the consequences of this human act in the curse of God.  But that might be seen as only perception, a flawed human projection that continues to this day.  People still blame God for so much of the preventable human suffering that goes on.  They see starvation and poverty as God offering the affluent a chance to be generous, when in fact, poverty and hunger are caused by human mechanisms.  They often blame the devil for the evil in the world; when in truth, it is we who are the creators of such human misery that evil produces!   Too often, we pick up on this idea that God cursed humankind, when humankind curses itself with its projection and avoidance of responsibility for so many of its own problems.

      When we refuse to accept consequences for our decisions, when decisions are motivated by selfishness and greed, when we cast blame upon others for our own shortcomings (even a devil) we bring our own curses upon life.  Our projections of fault make our own lives, and the lives of those around us, that much more painful and difficult, and ultimately, what is God’s most precious gift seems like His/Her curse.  We are blinded to the Eden we live in. We can no longer see the Creator walking in the Garden; but rather, have chosen to relegate Him/Her off in some distant heaven.  The flaming swords of the angels are symbols of the blindness generated by selfish egocentric pursuits.   Symbols that Jesus so eloquently expresses when proclaims: “The kingdom of God is around us, but men do not perceive it.”

 

INSPIRATION 4

We need to accept responsibility for our own state of affairs if we are to be able to see the reality of the true Kingdom of God, which is ever present in our daily living!˜˜˜

 

            We need to make one final point in our analysis; a point about time.  This seven day conception of the creation can only be seen as symbol, for what is a day to an Eternal Paradox?  It is human need that requires a time frame, but just as human existence has been a blink of an eye in geological time, seven days is meaningless to an infinite Source.  It is sad when the beauty of Creation in Genesis becomes overshadowed by a debate over the age of the cosmos.  To imply any human conception of time to the Divine, is not only foolish, it is to diminish the awesomeness of God!

 

   

 

An Overall summation

 

 

     In this modern age, to try to present the Creation Story of Genesis as a literal description of God’s creating, and a historical fact of humankind, is the equivalent of trying to proclaim “The Wizard of Oz” as a story of fact.  To ask people to ignore reality in order to have a good faith, is in itself an unholy act.  To blind one’s self to reality, is to blind one’s self to God’s manifestation in the world today.  But to see the symbolism in this ancient text, is to see its timeless value and give it meaning and relevance in our lives today.  It demonstrates the timelessness and relevance of God’s inspiration.

      In many respects the metaphors in the creation account, here discussed, gives us wonderful incite into the paradox of God, the fundamental reality of God’s participation in the creation, and demonstrate that this paradoxical Image of God is a very part of us.  These tales can reveal to us that even in our religious beliefs we can use our faith and God’s inspiration to promote selfish concepts which justify our own way of thinking; or, we can expand our minds and open ourselves to practical guidance on how to live life in the manner the Creator designed it to be lived to its fullest.  We can use God’s revelation to promote a personal agenda, or we can use it to see the connectedness of all things, developing a personal responsibility toward those things we are connected to --- which has us giving back to the whole according to what we might take. 

     And when we view these wonderful inspiration in conjunction with others: from the Eastern religions to the Native American Sacred stories; from the great inspirations in literature and art to the revelation in philosophy and science, right down to the beautiful revelations contained in nature itself and the common sense God has given to those who would use it ---- when we consider all these things we see the foundation of all inspirational messages; that is, while we are all unique individuals with needs and rights, we are also part of the whole and have a unique responsibility to give according to what we take.

       After revealing to us that God created, the Creation account in Genesis reveals to us that selfishness is the “original sin”, that experience is the gift by which we grow, and that free will entails responsibility for one’s own contribution for their gift of being!   We need to recognize that “selfishness” is the “original sin” and that such a recognition is our real baptism into our spiritual growth.

      The Creation in Genesis tells us we were created in Paradise, but too often, our religions use it to convey that God has better to give, and that may be true.  But how can we be worthy of any greater treasure than life, when we fail to show appreciation for the wonderful gift of existence with all its experiences?  Like Adam and Even in the tract, we today, are seeking a magical redemption from the very gift God has blessed us with.  Religiously, we blind ourselves to the fullness of life; looking instead, for reward in death.

     The story of Creation in Genesis warns of the dangers of looking to be gods that are immortal and supernatural.  It encourages us to appreciate the life we have, see the paradise that we are truly in and make the most of the gifts God has bestowed upon us in the reality of what we are.  Life is what God has given, and only God knows the true purpose of death. And if we truly trust (have faith in the way it was understood by the Old Testament Patriarchs) in Him/Her, we need not fear death, for we know it is part of the Divine plan and God’s love will never let us down.  The Creation story is a metaphor that encourages us to live life with all its experiences, receiving what it has to offer --- for this is the Paradise of God.  Life is the gift, life is the treasure, life is the way we experience eternity in the now --- to look for more is to offend God and proclaims that what He/She has given is less than satisfactory. 

    Go , my friend, and walk with God in the here and now, for He/She is ever present all around you!   

 

 

Wishing upon you the Blessings of God

May you come to recognize the Presence of God in your fellow man and in all the Creation!

 

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