The OTHER Genesis Creation Account -or- Why The Creation Doesn’t Really Matter

It’s generally accepted there are two creation accounts in Genesis, the beautiful poetry of Genesis 1 and then the very earthy expulsion from the Garden that is Genesis 2 and 3. I think there are a couple of “re-creation” accounts — Genesis 6-9 comes to mind — but the creation is central to a lot of theologies because they come at the front of the book, so they are what people tend to read first (and focus on, to the exclusion of a lot of the rest of the narrative).

And our theological thinking tends to be geared toward beginning with creation. It makes logical sense to us. After all, God created everything, and if God started there, than we probably ought to as well.
I believe such an approach, however, gives undue attention to God’s act creation. It puts the act of creating central and our human place in creation — our participation in creating, organizing and arranging the world. A place I’m not sure Israel gave it. In fact, I suspect creation was something of an afterthought for Israel.
The third creation account supports this, I think. It’s a short account, the first two verses of Genesis 5, and they go like this:

(1) This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.  (2) Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man [אדם] when they were created. (ESV)

or

(1) This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him;  (2) male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. (JPS Tanakh, which is a much more literal rendering of the Hebrew)

or, if you must have the Hebrew (from the JPS Tanakh)

זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹהִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ ׃  זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בְּרָאָ֑ם וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָ֗ם וַיִּקְרָ֤א אֶת ־שְׁמָם֙ אָדָ֔ם בְּי֖וֹם הִבָּֽרְאָֽם ׃ ס

After that, the chapter launches into a lengthy genealogy of the generations from Adam, through Seth, to Noah. Along the way, we meet the longest-lived characters in scripture, most of whom are just names. There’s Methuselah, who lives nearly 1,000 years, and his father Enoch, who apparently never died (since everyone else named in this genealogy is noted to have died). He just disappeared after living a paltry 365 years (that itself is an interesting number). “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” (Gen. 5:24, ESV)

Now, this could simply be a reiteration of Genesis 1-3, as it hits the most important details. But this feels like the start of the book to me, possibly the original start of another document or set of tales. So, instead of repeating the essential details of the first three chapters of Genesis, these two short verses could be the original “creation” text upon which the first three chapters of Genesis expand.

In fact, as I read through Genesis 5 and the first part of Genesis 6, Genesis 6:1-8 feels like an insert (or two, since they mix God אלהים and Lord יהוה in an awkward way, and in this portion of the Bible (the Noah story especially), the switching between God and Lord seems to be indicative of edits. At any rate, the story feels like it ought to naturally flow from 5:32 straight to 6:9. Whoever might have been the original authors/editors of this material was not so much concerned with detailed causes of things. It is enough that God created Adam male and female in his image, blessed them and named them, just as it is enough that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Gen. 6:11) This explanation is expanded upon at the beginning of Genesis 6, which adds lust to the picture — the lust of the mysterious “sons of God” (בני–אלהים), and a race of giants, “the men of renown” whose names we never actually learn (because they don’t matter, as the world is about to be flooded an all life on it annihilated).

Where was I? Right, creation. The short creation account of Genesis 5 — if it is the start of an account — suggests how unimportant the act of creation was. It can be dealt with quickly, in a few words, and merits no real explanation. It doesn’t need it. The creation is a given, something that can be assumed, an fairly unimportant theologically. The narrative of the first 11 chapters of Genesis goes in fits and starts anyway, and is not particularly complete, focused, or comprehensive until Genesis 12, where the real action — the call of Abraham — begins.

It is at Genesis 12 that this story evolves from an account of why things are the way they are (a series of fall stories, from the fall of humanity — Genesis 2-4 — to the judgement on universal empire — Genesis 11 — to the toleration of evil in the world, as I have written about before) to an actual narrative about a specific people. The Bible moves from being a universal account, and one that appears to be cobbled together in places (pay close attention to the Noah story), to a specific account of a people — us — in the call of God to Abraham.

This call, this very specific revelation of God to Abraham, is what’s really important theologically. This, and not the creation of the world, is where the story of Israel — and the church — really starts. Because we aren’t a people created, but a people called.

I suspect this troublesome for us, because our theologies are all so creation centered. Even our confessions of faith — “I believe in God the father, creator of heaven and earth” — begin with creation. But what matters is not the created order of the world — which has been corrupted by sin anyway — but the call to be a very specific people in the world. What matters are the promises of God to the people God has called. And later God’s redemption of the people God has called.

This may seem like hair-splitting, but we worship not the God of all creation, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The former is a serene majesty, an almost abstract one, who says “be” and it is, who divides the waters and the land and sees that it is all “good” (טוב). The latter gets down and dirty in the mess of the world, in the mess that is the called-out people.

We tell the story not of a created world, but of a redeemed world.

As I consider it, while our trinitarian creeds begin with creation, they spend very little time there. We affirm a creator God, but we really need to explain the second person — Christ, the anointed one, the redeemer. Mostly because we argued over who Jesus was and exactly how he was all those things. But this also focuses our theological thinking, or at least it should, on the redemption, rather than the creation. On our specific calling and encounter with God, the things that make us a particular people, rather than some set of general principles we think God built into the world.

There are probably other implications for a theology that focuses on redemption rather than creation, but I’m going to let this sit for a bit and percolate. And see what happens with it.