Issues With Genesis 1-3

The story of Genesis is one rife with logical difficulties and troubling conclusions where God punishes man for a sin committed in ignorance, and in fear, banishes man from the garden.

There are two ways you can literally interpret a text. The first type of literal reading is taking the text at face value, i.e “Jonny walked down fifth avenue” is taken to mean that a man named Jonny walked down the stated street. The second type is understanding metaphorical language and parsing its intended meaning, i.e. “Jenna makes me happier than a sunflower in spring” should not be understood as the author claiming to transform into a sunflower. This is still literal textual interpretation since the immediate meaning is accepted.

In Genesis, there is much debate about how to interpret the beginning of the book. Some take the story literally, in either of the senses, others view it as myth, and therefore look for thematic meaning, and yet others view the book as containing hidden meanings, such as Gnostics. I’ll touch on some verses of Genesis 1-3 through the literal lenses, and save hidden meaning discourse for a later article.

If one is to interpret the text literally, in the first sense, Genesis appears incomprehensible. God makes light [Genesis 1:3] prior to making the sun [Genesis 1:16]; so by what means was the world illuminated? This is not some divine light, for on the first day “God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night’” [Genesis 1:4-5]. This is explicitly a physical, worldly light. The very fact that He is working on a timescale with defined days prior to the creation of the sun, the determiner of days, is faulty. He also makes plants [Genesis 1:14] before the sun [Genesis 1:16], so all the plants would have immediately died.

God rests on the seventh day, implying he exists in points of time, and blesses the day, making it holy [Genesis 2:3]. If so, and God Himself made the day holy, why have Christians revoked the requirement to rest on the Sabbath? It is then said that “there was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the Lord God had sent no rain upon the earth” [Genesis 2:5] despite God having previously made plants. Since he also made the sun, the conditions for rain could exist outside His direct intervention too. God then makes man again [Genesis 2:7] implying that this is a retelling of the original story, or a different story about new people; thus there would have been those outside the garden and inside it.

God makes man “and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” [Genesis 2:15]; “the garden was not intended as a paradise for the human race, but as a pleasure park for God; the man tended it for God. The story is not about ‘paradise lost’” [Genesis 2:8 fn].

God makes woman as “a helper suited to him (man)” [Genesis 2:18]. Despite God making her as a helpmate, it is she who gives man the fruit, causing man’s downfall [Genesis 3:6]. If God was omniscient, he must have known that the helper would have been a hinderer, and despite this He made her anyways. Furthermore, since God must have known that mankind would betray His wishes, and He made them all the same, and He knew the serpent would confuse the woman, and did nothing to stop it, God can said to have knowingly created the exact conditions for man’s downfall.

Normally, “if a man puts an obstacle in the road, and someone comes along and trips over it in the dark, it is the man who put it there who is responsible for the fall” [Porphyry, 38]. To say that man actually had a free choice unknown to God at the time of creation is to say that God is not omniscient. To say that God knew ahead of time that the results of making man in the Garden would lead to evil, and then He created the world in that exact way, is to say he deliberately placed the roadblock that man fell over.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, man could not have known that disobeying God was actually wrong, for they had not yet eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. By definition, they lacked the ability to differentiate right from wrong. God does not even banish man from the Garden for the disobedience in itself. God proclaims “See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever? The Lord God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden” [Genesis 3:22-23]. God expels man from the Garden to prevent man from becoming fully reflective of God. So terrified is He that He places “the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life” [Genesis 3:24].

The devil also comes across as a reasonable figure under strict literalism. When the woman tells the snake that they may not eat from the tree, or they will die, the devil replies “you certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” [Genesis 3:4]. The devil actually never instructs the woman to eat from the tree, but says a strictly true statement, which is that they will not die from eating it, and God is afraid of them possessing knowledge like Him, which is affirmed in Genesis 3:22. That the mortality of man remains qualitatively unaltered is evidenced by them not having eaten from the Tree of Life; for since they did not yet eat from the tree, they did not have eternal life. The devil can be compared to Prometheus, going against the will of God to bring wisdom to humans.

Suspiciously, God uses the plural in Genesis 3:22: “like one of us.” Who were these other beings in heaven with Him? The Trinity is a poor explanation as Moses never spoke of Jesus or “the Word as firstborn son of God or as a God” and “he neither knew at all nor taught openly thereof” [Julian, 38]. It could be that “the plurality of the name of God (‘elohim’) in Genesis 1 suggests an original polytheism that only later evolved into an ardent monotheism” [Currid, 35]. This theory presents itself in other sections such as Genesis 1:2 where the word tehom (“deep”) may be linked to Tiamat, the Mesopotamian goddess of the deep sea who Marduk had to vanquish to create the world [Currid, 18]. Psalm 82 references polytheism, beginning with: “God takes a stand in the divine council, gives judgment in the midst of the gods,” however the literal translation of the passage is “God [Elohim] is taking his stand in the assembly of El, in the midst of the gods he [Elohim] will bring judgement” [Currid, 140]. El was a major Canaanite god and his assembly was a well known-concept to the Jews, since “by origin and by birth” Jews were from Canaan [Ezekiel 16:3]. That the Jews flirted with polytheism at various times in their history is indisputable, and scripturally documented. So far had polytheism taken hold that “many Israelites saw little if any difference between the worship of the Lord and the worship of the Baals” [Hosea 2:18-19 fn].

Another contention arises when examining the text from the Hebrew’s perspective. Julian, a fourth century Christian apostate, writes: “Moses does not say that the deep was created by God, or the darkness or the waters...he does not mention the birth or creation of the angels...It follows that, according to Moses, God is the creator of nothing that is incorporeal, but is only the disposer of matter that already existed” [Julian, 8]. The contention is not without some validity; it’s stated earth was “hidden beneath the encompassing cosmic waters, could not be seen, and thus had no ‘form’; there was only darkness; turbulent wind swept over the waters. Commencing with the last-named elements (darkness and water), vv. 3–10 describe the rearrangement of this chaos” [Genesis 1:2 fn]. While dependent on the verbiage of various versions of Genesis 1, at the very least the lack of clarity raises questions if this is a literal recounting of the creation of the world.

Works Cited