Eco-Justice Ministries
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Preaching on Genesis 1
Comparing the Two Creation Stories in Genesis

There are six pages related to the "Preaching on Genesis 1" resources:
Index &
Introduction
Two Different
Creation Stories
Exegesis of
the Text
NRSV Formatted
to Show Structure
Sermon Themes &
Worship Tips
Extended
Quotations

For us to understand the distinctive message of Genesis 1, it is important to see how that text differs from the Eden story in Genesis 2-3. What we think of as "the first story" was composed about 500 years after the Eden account. The Priestly story of creation has a different style and theological message from the earlier Yahwistic story. There are several elements of the Priestly story that can be read as explicit rejections of the earlier story.

Text Genesis 2-3 Genesis 1
Date 1,000 BCE - the time of David 500 BCE - after the Exile
Author Yahwist Priestly
Style Folksy storytelling Highly structured hymn
God Immanent Transcendent
Setting Localized Cosmic
This story's relation to the biblical narrative Begins an ongoing narrative Comes to completion in Sabbath
(but see the note below about the Flood)
Places where the later Priestly story seems to be explicit
in contradicting or rejecting the earlier Yahwistic account.
Creation happens through Resolving a series of problems ("it was not good ") A series of days that are "good" at every step
Relationships within creation Mutuality - especially before the "fall" Separation of various domains & kinds
Humans created Adam created from the earth Humans not created from the earth (others animals are from the earth)
Gender Gender comes later Male and female created together
Plants Some plants are off limits All plants are available for food
Human's relation to Earth Serve the Earth Subdue the Earth
Animals Animals are companions for humans Animals' purpose is not related to humans
Emphasis on humanity's Free will Authority

Genesis 1 and the Flood
It is important to note that the Genesis 1 account describes a vision of cosmic perfection which is tempered with realism after the Flood. (The story of the Flood [Genesis 6:5 - 8:22] includes material from both the Yahwist and the Priestly source.) From the Priestly perspective, the flood was necessary because the earth had become corrupted by violence among all flesh. The sequence of the flood "undoes" the steps of creation from Genesis 1, and then rebuilds the whole creation. This new creation permits violence, although with significant constraints. It may be significant that in the covenant that God makes with all flesh and with the earth itself, the language about humanity having dominion is not included.

Mingling the Two Stories
The Yahwistic and the Priestly creation narratives have very different cosmologies, and define very different roles for humans within the creation.

  • In the older story of the Garden of Eden, "the earthling" is created to serve the earth. (The Hebrew word that is usually translated as "till" in 2:5 and 2:15 is more accurately translated as "serve".) Animals are created as companions to the human, and mutuality characterizes most relationships. The story emphasizes humanity's free will, but puts boundaries on that freedom (not eating of the two trees). A message of the story, echoed in the Yahwistic story of the Tower of Babel, is that humans are not to strive to be like God.
  • In the Priestly story, humans are told to "subdue" the earth, and to have dominion over all living things. The story stresses separations among various "kinds", and implies hierarchical and controlling relationships, as echoed in Psalm 8 (which is the only other passage in the Bible that speaks of humanity's dominion over creation). The story emphasizes the power and authority given to humans, but they are to use that authority only to accomplish God's purposes in preserving the creation.
For whatever reason, Christians have often tried to combine and harmonize these two creation stories, usually by seeing the Eden story as an elaboration of what God does on the sixth day of the Priestly account.

When the two stories are combined, many Christians have picked parts of the message from each story, and lost the important constraints. The freedom of the Yahwistic story is mingled with the authority of the Priestly account, but the constraints of either story are lost. The unrestrained freedom and authority that come from mis-reading these two stories is what people (such as Lynn White) point to when they say that Christianity encourages the abuse and exploitation of nature.


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