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It is important to understand that the world as it was first created was a very different place from the world we live in today. The world we live in is a tangled mess. Every day, the news documents natural disasters and the violent behavior of human beings. The first two chapters of Genesis describe the unspoiled original creation, which has implications for our understanding of life today.
Genesis 1 begins with God, who has been from all eternity: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (v. 1). The opening chapter of the Bible gives an account of the power of God to take the earth that was uninhabitable (“without form and void”) and in six days make it into something inhabitable for human beings (v. 2). God is powerful, majestic, and transcendent. He speaks and things come into existence, and He sets in order the world He has created. God in Genesis 1 is Elohim, a name in the Hebrew intensive plural form that emphasizes His majestic deity. Unlike the creation accounts of the ancient Near East, the Genesis account has no opposing power that God has to overcome in creating the world or death that would mar God’s creation. Instead, the following declaration is made several times: “And God saw that it was good” (vv. 10, 18, 21, 25), with the concluding statement, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (v. 31). God’s creation is a beautiful and magnificent place for all His creatures, but especially for human beings, to enjoy.
It is important to discuss the place and work of mankind in the context of a world that has not been affected by sin. God’s creation of mankind is set apart from His creation of the other animals with the words “Let us make man” (v. 26). Whether these words express God’s self-deliberation or self-exhortation, they emphasize God’s personal involvement with the creation of mankind in a way that is different from His interaction with the animals. Human beings are made in the image of God and display the “likeness” of God. Although there are many ways the image and likeness of God could be described, the main things that separate human beings from animals are self-consciousness, the ability to communicate, the ability to reason, and the ability to make moral decisions. The image of God gives us a dignity that the animals do not have because we are a reflection of God. We are uniquely made in God’s creation. We are able to have a personal relationship with God through communication and fellowship with Him. We are created to worship Him and to find our highest purpose in living our lives for His glory.
When first created, Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence, not yet tainted by sin, possessing both the ability to sin (posse peccare) and the ability not to sin (posse non peccare). This was a natural condition called original righteousness. Harmony existed among the human faculties so that the mind, the will, and the affections were upright and submissive to God. This condition would have been passed on to the descendants of Adam if he had not sinned. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, argues that original righteousness was a supernatural gift added to the natural condition of mankind, but such a view contradicts the teaching of Scripture. This view assumes that there was something lacking in the original state of mankind, but God’s creation of everything He had made, including mankind, was declared good (v. 31). When God gave Adam the command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (2:17), Adam had the ability to keep the command. In other words, Adam was able “not to sin.”
When God created mankind in His image, He also gave them dominion over His creation, specifically mentioning the fish, the birds, and the livestock (1:26). Human dominion has become a point of contention because many have denied the special place of human beings in creation by giving animals the same level of importance. Dominion, however, must be understood in the context of Genesis 1–2, where the role of human beings reflects the way God is presented. In Genesis 1, God is the powerful, majestic Creator who forms His creation to make it inhabitable for mankind. Human dominion over creation is a reflection of God’s activity. Although we do not have the same ability to create as God does, for He created the world ex nihilo (from nothing), we are creative and have the ability to understand God’s creation and use it for good. The Hebrew word translated “dominion” in Genesis 1:26–28 means “to rule” and occurs in contexts where one group rules over another group, such as the rule of Israel over its enemies (Isa. 14:2) or the rule of gentile nations over people subjected to them (v. 6). The word “subdue” occurs in Genesis 1:28, where mankind is commanded to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, followed by the commands to subdue and have dominion over it. This word is a strong term that refers to bringing something under control. Apart from Genesis 1:28, it occurs in the context of a fallen world where there is opposition expressed and thus the need for some kind of coercion to take place (Num. 3:22, 29; Josh. 18:1; Mic. 7:10). Before the fall, Adam was to exercise this role by taking the ordered, domesticated world of the garden to the pristine, good, but wild world outside the garden.
Genesis 1 presents one side of the role of human beings in God’s creation described in terms of dominion and rule. Genesis 2 presents the other side where the emphasis is on care for creation. This role is also patterned after God’s activity, where the powerful, transcendent, creator God of Genesis 1 enters His creation to personally create Adam and Eve and to prepare for them a special place to live. The name for God is not just Elohim, as in Genesis 1, but is “LORD God” (Yahweh Elohim). The name Yahweh becomes significant as the covenant name of God in the exodus from Egypt, where God hears the cry of His people and fights to deliver them. The role of Adam in the garden is patterned after God’s activity as he is placed “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (2:15). Thus, the proper role of human beings in God’s world is patterned after God’s activity, and it includes both dominion and care for creation.
Genesis 1 presents the big picture of God’s creating the heavens and earth. Genesis 2 focuses on His activity in the garden by describing how He created Adam and Eve and provided for them a special place to live and work. These chapters are important because they set forth God’s design for mankind in several areas that are foundational for human life. God interacts with human beings through a covenant, so it is not a surprise to find evidence for a covenant relationship in Genesis 2. Although the word covenant does not occur in Genesis 2, it also does not occur in 2 Samuel 7, but other Scriptures refer to that passage as establishing a covenant (2 Sam. 23:5; Ps. 89:3, 28; 132:11–12). A similar relationship exists between Genesis 3 and Hosea 6:7. The key is not whether the term covenant occurs but whether the elements of a covenant are present. This covenant made with Adam is commonly called the covenant of works because life is offered on the condition of personal and perfect obedience—on Adam’s perfectly doing the works God gave him to do (Westminster Confession of Faith 7.2).
The parties of the covenant were God and Adam. The condition of their covenant relationship was the command that God gave to Adam not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16–17). God’s abundant goodness was shown in His allowing Adam to eat from all the trees in the garden, prohibiting him from eating from only one tree. God tested Adam to see if he would disdain His beneficent provision of food to eat from the prohibited tree. This command with a penalty attached focuses on the necessity of Adam to obey God in everything. It presents him with a clear choice of obedience or disobedience to God.
Covenants also have blessings and curses. In Genesis 1:28, God blesses mankind and commands them to multiply and fill the earth. God’s blessings are experienced in the fulfillment of God’s commands. God’s blessings are also seen in how God provides everything that Adam needs in the garden for a full and productive life (Gen. 2). The curse is connected to the prohibition that Adam should not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (v. 17). The penalty for breaking God’s command is death. If Adam disobeys, there will be momentous changes in his relationship with God, his relationship to his wife Eve, his relationship with creation, and his perception of himself. Death will include the loss of physical life, but it will also have immediate spiritual consequences.
Covenants operate on the basis of a representative principle so that the actions of the covenant representative affect others who are part of the covenant relationship, including the representative’s descendants (Gen. 17:7; Deut. 5:2–3; 2 Sam. 7:12–16). The penalty clearly states that if Adam eats from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he will die. The entrance of sin and death into the world would affect not only him (Gen. 3:9–12) and his descendants (see the outworking of sin in Gen. 4) but also the rest of creation (Gen. 3:17–19). Adam was the covenant head of the human race, and his sin negatively affected all his natural descendants. Theologically, sin was imputed or credited to every natural descendant of Adam because of his transgression (Rom. 5:12–13). The implication is that if Adam had obeyed God’s command and passed the test, he would have enjoyed life with even greater blessing. Adam was created in a state of positive holiness and was not subject to the law of death, but the possibility of sinning existed. He did not yet enjoy life in its fullness to the highest degree of perfection—life that cannot be lost. He would have attained the condition of non posse peccare (not able to sin). This life was symbolized by the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22), a pledge of the covenant of life (Westminster Larger Catechism 20), the promised reward for obedience.
Although Adam failed to keep the terms of the covenant of works by eating the forbidden fruit, foundational creation ordinances established by God for mankind in that covenant continue. God established marriage in order that the command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28) can be carried out. God’s creation of mankind as male and female is designed to establish the one-flesh relationship of marriage for both companionship and the bearing of children (2:24). God gave Adam the job of working and keeping the garden (v. 15), which included planting and growing plants (v. 5), exercising a kingly role of dominion by naming the animals in the garden (vv. 19–20), and guarding the sacred space of the garden (a priestly role that comes into focus in chapter 3). Adam was to fulfill his role as a steward of God’s creation, as an image bearer of God who is submissive to God’s will (a prophetic role), and as one who is to honor God with everything he does. God was personally involved in forming Adam from the dust of the ground and breathing life into him (2:7) and in taking a rib from his side to provide a helper suitable for him (vv. 21–22). God is Adam’s Creator, but He is more than His Creator, for the garden was a special place where the first couple could have fellowship with God (associations between the garden and the temple, such as the cherubim, the Tree of Life, and the water flowing from the place of God’s presence, support this). God must have come into the garden many times for fellowship before He came into the garden in judgment, because instead of coming to meet God, Adam and Eve hid from God (3:8). Our first parents, like all human beings, were created to worship (Rom. 1:21–23). Adam’s work in the garden was more than just a way that his family could be sustained physically but was a vocation because it had the purpose of glorifying God.
At the end of the creation account, God finished His work of creation and rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1–3). This day thus became special as God blessed it and set it apart as holy. Moses later refers to this pattern in the context of the fourth commandment as a reason for remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy (Ex. 20:11). Although there is no specific mention of Sabbath observance in the garden, there is also no specific mention of worship or any of the other Ten Commandments. Many of them, however, are implied in the structure of life set up in the garden. God gave Adam a job to do that would provide for his daily needs. Work implies that people should be content with what they have (see the tenth commandment) and should not steal to get what they want (see the eighth commandment). The exclusive one-flesh relationship of marriage supports the seventh commandment’s prohibition of adultery. The negative consequences of the lies and deception of Satan show the importance of telling the truth (see the ninth commandment). The fact that God is the only true God and seeks to establish a relationship with Adam and Eve implies the importance of the commandments on worship and the honor of God’s name (see the first, second, and third commandments). The blessing of the seventh day and setting it apart as holy is significant because it has implications for mankind as a pattern of our six days of work and one day of rest (the fourth commandment). We experience this pattern weekly as we cease from our work and worship on the day of Christ’s resurrection.
The salvation that Christ secured for us brings final rest (Matt. 11:1) because He fulfilled all righteousness by keeping the law on our behalf (fulfilling the covenant of works). But we will not enter into the fullness of that rest until He comes again. Until then, what a privilege we have to experience a taste of that rest in the presence of God with God’s people in weekly worship as we prepare for that glorious worship at the end of time when we will experience the fullness of our salvation rest when Christ comes again. We will then attain the eschatological glory and rest of not being able to sin (non posse peccare), reaching the goal that God originally had planned for mankind.