Questions about the creation of Eve

Question 105 – from DW, USA

God says in the Bible “It’s not good for the man to be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis chapter 2, verse18).
I have three questions about this passage
a) “It’s not good” Was God capable of creating a situation that was not good?
b) “Man to be alone” I thought God walked in the garden with him, can you be alone while in the presence of God?
c) “A helper suitable for him” What did Adam need help with? Tending the garden? Or naming the animals? He wasn’t under a time constraint was he? As far as companionship, remember we were created for Jesus’ good pleasure, and purpose, there is no marriage in heaven or eternity, if there is something more that we need than Jesus, there is a problem.

This is actually a refined version of a question DW asked previously, and some points are worth reiterating. It would seem that the creation story found in the first few chapters of Genesis is a merging of two accounts. The first describes, in general terms, the creation process that brought the world into being in seven days. There is then an abrupt shift in emphasis in Genesis chapter 2, verse 4, which introduces “the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This second version deals with the specific creation of named human beings, Adam and Eve, their subsequent Fall and loss of a Golden Age.

Some people go to great lengths to prove the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account. There has been some speculation recently whether the story of Eden is an ancient folk memory concerning the fall of civilisations in ancient Africa and the Near East due to sudden climate change approximately six thousand years ago, which coincides roughly with the Biblical chronology (see ‘Why Deserts will Inherit the Earth’, The Independent, 5 June 2006). Or it may be a myth, in the technical sense of the word, i.e. a true story that has been explained supernaturally because the writers lacked the scientific language necessary to objectively describe it.

Whatever the case, these early chapters of Genesis do present some seeming contradictions. Taking the accounts at face value, it is probably best to approach these three questions individually.

a) If two different stories were merged into one (as seems to be the case from textual evidence) it would explain why God terms everything as “good” in Genesis chapter 1, verse 31, but then later on there can be an aspect of this ‘completely good’ creation, which is ‘not good’. Additionally, from later chapters, it seems that God has allowed creatures an element of independent free will, meaning that even if God’s initial creation was perfectly good, it contained within it the possibility of falling away from that initial state and become less than perfect.

Adam’s loneliness is the only thing described as ‘not good’ before the account of the Fall. One explanation for this is that: “Humanity is created as a social being, and is meant to exist in relation with others.” [Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, 1994, p.235]. Being made in the image of God (Trinity) naturally presupposes this. It could be assumed that Adam would want to relate to others like him, in the same way that God, within the Godhead, exists in interpersonal relationship. Adam need not have wanted this, but once he did, this unmet need would have made the situation ‘not good’.

Alternatively, it may just be the phrasing. There is an old joke that God made Adam first and then got started on an upgrade – Eve. In a sense this may have a grain of truth in it. God’s ongoing interaction with the world is shown by the attempt to improve creation that is already good, as God seeks to bring about the best world possible. While this image of God giving creation a ‘tweak’ is over-anthropomorphic, the creation of both Adam and Eve as individuals has already occurred after God’s ‘sabbath rest’ from creation (chapter 2, verse 2), implying that creation did continue after the six days of Genesis chapter 1.

b) In the account, God put Adam into Eden, but did not necessarily live there with him. In chapter 3, verse 8 (after Adam and Eve disobeyed God by taking the forbidden fruit), God is said to be ‘walking in the garden in the cool of the day’. The use of a specific time of day implies that God was not always walking in the garden with Adam. The story itself implies God is absent when the serpent has its fateful conversation with Eve in chapter 3, verses 1-6.

This is an interesting phrase though, with God depicted almost like a country landowner, inspecting his estate in the early evening when strolling around it is cool and enjoyable experience. The anthropomorphism of God at this point is another reason why many people regard this story as an allegory and not literal truth.

c) If these creation accounts are read as allegory, then they seek to explain, in non-scientific terms, why humanity takes the form of two genders. ‘Helper’ is a very interesting choice of word here, and possibly reflects later religious thought being ‘read back’ into the account of origins. Most primitive religions of the Middle East revolved around fertility practices and reverence of the ‘life-bearing mother’. As Israelite religion sought to establish worship of the ‘male’ Yahweh, it would be natural to promote this creation account where the female is subordinate to the male, a ‘weaker’ gender introduced as a ‘helper’ to the ‘stronger’.

The idea that human beings exist solely for God’s pleasure has entered into popular theology in many churches. This idea has been particularly highlighted by the book The Purpose Driven Life, written by American pastor Rick Warren, where it is explicitly spelled out as the first of five purposes for every human being (op. cit., published by Zondervan 2002, pp 63ff). There is a good Biblical basis to this point of view, but it does not necessarily mean that God is selfish about creation.

To put it another way, being made for God’s pleasure does not limit the actions and activities of human beings, as long as those activities bring pleasure to God. Again the phrase ‘created in the image of God’ crops up. Human beings, as image-bearing creatures are designed to be relational and as such need other creatures that they can relate to, so that they do not feel ‘alone’.

God could have created every human being the same way Genesis records him creating Adam. Asking why God introduced sex into the equation by creating a new gender leads to pure speculation. Perhaps it was to introduce a random ‘chance’ element into things. Maybe it was a necessary part of allowing free will. It is impossible to know, but Adam’s relational need for a helper does not contradict the idea that all human beings exist because of God’s creative actions and for God’s pleasure.

The Tale of the Talmud

Question 104, from JV, United Kingdom

I am currently looking into the Hebrew roots of Christianity, I was wondering as to whether we need to study the Talmud (oral laws), as God gave them, as well as the commandments on Mount Sinai. Jesus is said to be the fulfilment of the law not the abolisher of it, does that include the oral laws? I find there is great wisdom in them and the fact that Jesus himself studied the oral laws and argued with them show to me that they are of value!

The Talmud (technically Talmuds, because there are two of them) are systematic commentaries on the Mishnah, which is the rabbinical law code of proper Jewish practice. The final version of the Mishnah is generally dated to the second century AD, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (AD70) and the ‘diaspora’ as the Jews made their home in other countries. The Talmuds are usually dated two to three centuries later.

The general consensus is that as the life of the Jewish community adjusted to the upheaval of the dislocation from Temple-centred religion, a revised law code was needed to ensure that Jews were still living according to the customs and rituals that marked them out as God’s chosen people. The Mishnah, based on the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, also called the Pentateuch), therefore enabled Judaism to continue despite the Temple being razed to the ground on the orders of Titus Caesar.

Unlike the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament, the Mishnah is arranged systematically by topic, rather than by author. It is divided into six broad parts: Agriculture (mainly farming according to the principles of Torah), Appointed Times (how to celebrate the holy days of Judaism), the role and status of Women, Damages (dealing with governmental issues and conflict resolution), Holy Things, and Purities (including lists of things that make a Jew impure).

The Palestinian Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud each develop the teaching of the Mishnah, although neither expand upon the Purities section. The Palestinian Talmud omits Holy Things, while its Babylonian counterpart does not reference Agriculture. As such the Talmuds fill in some gaps that have been left out of the Mishnah.

While the Torah, and later the rest of the Hebrew Bible, was regarded as divinely inspired before the Mishnah was compiled, it was not long before the Mishnah was regarded as being the embodiment of an oral tradition that was alleged to date back to the time of the exodus. There is no way of proving whether this belief has any truth to it, although historians tend to assume that it does not. However, the Mishnah, and the Talmuds, do contain material which probably had a long folk-history before it was ever written down. Jesus therefore was probably aware of, and may have been influenced by, this material, but chronologically he was unable to engage with the Talmud during his earthly ministry.

The Talmuds also refer to extra material not found in the Mishnah, including previous commentaries on the Torah. The two Talmuds also contain references to the Mishnah as the ‘oral Torah’ and, because of their inextricable links to the Mishnah have thus taken on a semi-canonical status in Judaism themselves. In fact, the sixth century Babylonian Talmud is regarded as the authoritative encyclopedia of Judaism.

While the Mishnah and Talmuds provide Christian theologians with valuable insights into Christianity’s Jewish roots, it is generally held that these works are not authoritative. The New Testament in its current form dates from a similar time, and it could be argued that the Talmud and the New Testament represent two diverging views. One was a retreat back into the legalistic world of the Torah; the other looking outward beyond the confines of one people group into a wider world.

Thanks for your question JV.