Monday, 22 August 2016

The Creation of Humankind: An Exegetical-Theological study of Genesis 1:26-28

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Creation of man


Every history of humankind has a divine origin, it is the will of God that man prosper and fill the earth and as such he has manifested this desire in many and various ways. He had and is still intervening in human histories in order to see that man walks the right path he ordained for him. God the creator of humankind and the whole creation has indeed manifested his sovereignty in varied ways and made remarkable interventions in history. These experiences have been documented into what we have as the Holy writ. This Holy Writ is made up of some essentially varied but related parts. The first five books of the Holy writ is called the Pentateuch. The name of the first book of the Pentateuch is Genesis- tyviÞarEB, which is the translation of the common noun “in the beginning”. This book has fifty unique chapters, and in the first chapter, the creation, origin of the universe and humankind is exhaustively discussed.

In this very essay, we shall concern ourselves mostly with the creation account of humankind as recorded in Genesis 1:26-28, and the title is: The Creation of Humankind: An Exegetical-Theological study of Genesis 1:26-28. In this essay, I will like to undertake a careful study of the above pericope. What we have in our content layout will help us to do justice to the goal we have set out. We are to consider the book of Genesis in general, looking at the date, authorship and structure. We then delimit the verses of Genesis 1:26-28, render an exegetical study of the passages, give a theological study of the passage and then make our evaluation and conclusion.


When you open the Bible, the first book you will encounter is the book of Genesis which is mostly about creation. The book of Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch. This book through tradition has been named after its first-word Bereshit -tyviÞarEB, which translates “the beginning”. “The beginning” here refers to the beginning of creation and it sets out to give an account of creation. According to Sebastian Kizhakkeyil, this book is divided into two unequal sections:

Primaeval History which spans from chapters 1-11, and
Patriarchal Narratives- from chapters 12-50.

The authorship of the Pentateuch which the book of Genesis fell into has been attributed to Moses, perhaps wrongly. In the first chapter of this book, we have the first creation account which comes from different traditions-priestly source and the Yahwistic source. Noteworthy, the first creation account in Genesis chapter 1:1-2; 4a is traceable to the priestly author which was produced during or after the Babylonian exile.  The Akkadian myth has a huge influence on the creation account. There is a very old creation epic known in Akkadian myth as Enuma Elish among others like Gilgamesh epic, Atrahasis story.  The creation account of Akkadian and that of Priestly share some concepts for instance, in the cosmological structure- fixed dome, firmament, the flat land surface and the sheol underneath. Genesis is concerned with origins- of the world of human beings, of Israel and her ancestors and creation at large. This book took its final form in the 5th century B.C when the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile. The authors of this book wished to sketch religious significance of Israel’s view of life and to record a few traditions about their own ancestors that would help them to grasp how they came to be a people and a nation.
Concerning the structure of the book, Genesis describes its own structure by means of ten toledot formulas and they include:
Generations of the heavens and the earth (Gen 2:4); this follows a description of their creation in Gen 1:1-2:3. The generation of Adam (Man), these are the toledot of the heavens and the earth. 2:4 - 4:

·         The toledot of Adam. 5:1 - 6:8,
·         The toledot of Noah. 6:9 - 9:29,
·         The toledot of the sons of Noah. 10:1-11:9,
·         The toledot of Shem. 11:10-26,
·         The toledot of Terah. 11:27-25:11,
·         The toledot of Ishmael. 25:12,
·         The toledot of Isaak. 25:19-35:29,
·         The toledot of Esau 36:1-8, (inclusion: Esau who is Edom),
·         The toledot of Esau 36:9-37:1, (inclusion: Esau the father of Edom) 37:2,
·         The toledot of Jacob. 37:2-50:26.

These toledot differ in purpose and the sessions vary greatly in length and they are very useful in helping us read the mind of the narrator.


This part of our task points to the fact that Genesis 1:26-28 stands out as a pericope within the entire corpus of Genesis when subjected to critical study. When we consider the preceding and the succeeding passages we discover that Genesis 1:26-28 stands out uniquely as a coherent unit. When we consider Genesis 1:25 (God created the wild animals according to their kind, and everything that creeps along the ground according to its kind...)  From this verse, it would appear as though a hedge is erected just before the account of man’s creation, serving as a firm reminder that the human and the animals are not to be confused. All the animals increase after their kind, but it is affirmed with great emphasis that the human was made in divine image; hence, there is a noticeable change of emphasis with the inclusive or plurality of language - Let us make mankind in our image, according to our likeness.
Genesis 1:26-28 began with “God said let us make man in our image, according to our likeness”. This passage gave a clear account of what distinguishes human from all other creatures. With all other creatures the emphasis falls on perpetuating their likeness but, with human, his likeness to his creator is emphasised instead. Because Genesis does not speak about what is in heaven, the heavenly council is not mentioned. Now it appears that what was heavenly and hidden was activated in God as Lord of Heaven, calling the human into being as the representative of everything on earth. We have to note that at no time during creating has God been more directly involved in his act. Hence, the relationship of God with this creature is indicated reciprocally.
Looking at the succeeding verse Genesis 1:29 which reads:

 God said, I have given you every seed-bearing plant which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree that bears fruit with seed. It will be your food.  All the produce of the earth would serve that purpose as there was as well enough for the animals.

There is a change in tonality- I have given you every seed-bearing plant.[1] Herein, attention has been shifted a little again falling back to the tone used in verse 25 before the verses 26-28 which we are considering.


So far, it is clear that God is the only doer in the act of creation. As a result of God’s action by means of his word, the world emerges from chaos where God establishes order by fixing a place for each and separating one from another and naming the first created things. God created man in a world of perfect order and placed him in a garden that was abundant in everything, hence, God created the world by his word; he named the created things until the man took over the task of stewardship.


In his Encyclical letter Laudato-si, Pope Francis quoting Patriarch Bartholomew said that there is urgent need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins” For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”
We are not God, the earth was here before us and it has been given to us; this allows us to respond to the charge that Judeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature.  Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognising that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. The earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1); to him belongs the earth with all that is within it (Deuteronomy 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me (Leviticus 25:23). It is as a result of the fact that man wants to play God that is why instead of functioning like a steward which is the original intention of God, He wants to take over from God by all means (Laudato Si no. 65).

                    THE IMAGE OF GOD (GENESIS 1:27)

 When God said “Let Us make man,” He uses the term ’ādām (אָדָ֛ם). Although this is primarily a masculine word, Peter Gentry notes that this word “[is] a generic term for mankind as both male and female, is created in the image of God.” This means that according to this passage, the creation of mankind entails male and female, hence why the verse states that “male and female He created them” (v. 27). This means that men and women are equally made in God’s image, are equally the crown of creation and share the same dignity and benefits entailed by these facts.
In addition to this, it is necessary to look at the section where God states that man is made in His image and likeness, as this is the most important part of the passage. The terms “image” and “likeness” were considered by ancient writers from Irenaeus (circa A.D. 180) onwards to refer to distinct aspects of human nature. However, this distinction would have been foreign to the cultural setting that Genesis was written in. The Hebrew text literally says that God made man “in our image, in our likeness” (כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ), without any distinction made between the two terms. However, in the LXX, it is translated as “according to our image and according to our likeness” (κατ’ εκόνα μετέραν κα καθ’ μοίωσιν), and this translation is carried over to the Vulgate (ad imaginem et similitudinem), While the inclusion of the word “and” in these translations does not necessarily create a distinction between the two, it does lend itself to that misinterpretation. Also, both words mean substantially the same thing, which is something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an ‘image’ of. Thus the words “image” and “likeness” are to be taken as two words referring to one concept. So exactly which characteristics of man indicate that he is made in the image of God? This is a question that has many answers to it, and theologians have spent much time trying to pinpoint some characteristic or another which exemplify this image, be it man’s intellect, his sense of morality, his moral purity, his being created as male and female, or his dominion over the creation. However, the simplest answer is that being made in God’s image means that man resembles God, and this semblance entails all of the above qualities (plus other things, such as his sense of eternality, cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11). To put it in the words of John Calvin: “The image of God extends to everything in which the nature of man surpasses that of all other species of animals.


The book of Genesis presented a very rich theology. All the narratives are orientated towards conveying a message of salvation about God, his plan for humanity and the world. Hence, the theodicy points to the fact that God is the creator of the whole universe, the cosmology says God is the source and originator of the world and everything in creation. There is also the theme of sin and inclination to sin as exemplified by Eve and Adam, which followed by divine justice, there is also elections, covenants and divine promises
                         CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE

The entire book of Genesis and particularly the verses we chose, written centuries ago, still shine forth today with unsullied brightness, like a box of precious stone. In this session, two factors stand out conspicuously, the need to recognise God as the source of all creation and also to know that we are mere stewards, that we should not destroy creation but harness it. Let’s take a concrete example of the Nigerian situation - the killings by Boko Haram and the destruction of pipelines by the militants in the Niger Delta is obvious to any sane person that they are not harnessing their stewardship towards creation, they are playing ‘lords and masters’. On the other hand, we are in a very great ideological and cultural struggle which has to do with gender inequality. This pericope reminds us that we are equal before God, and that man should not look down on women and vice versa, hence, the Hebrew world Adam[2]. We have to respect the dignity of the human person be she/he, by so doing we are in a way testifying and manifesting our stewardship to the creation.

In this essay, we have been able to ‘attempt’ an exegetical study of Genesis 1:26-28. After all that we did in the above paragraphs, we might want to conclude with the subsequent inputs: on the one hand, we note that the seriousness of taking human life is grounded in the fact that humanity is created in the image of God. As has been pointed out, “to murder another person … is to attack the part of creation that most resembles God, and it betrays an attempt or desire (if one were able) to attack God himself.” Thus, it could be said that on this basis, murder is a form of sacrilege; an attempt to deface God’s image through the death of the image-bearer.
On the other hand, we see the great significance of the Bible’s teaching on the creation of man, particularly on his having been made in the image and likeness of God. This is important in informing us of what our place in the order of creation is, both as stewards of creation and as representations of God’s glory. This is also important because it gives value to human life, and because it determines how our conduct should be with regards to our fellow human beings.

[1] Cf. With these words, the author expresses the ideal of a non-violent world in which not even animals would be killed. But later, a concession is made in (Gen.9:3) because God takes into consideration the true condition of sinful humanity.
[2]  The Hebrew term Adam is a masculine noun that can be understood to mean “Man” in reference to an adult male, or “humankind” in reference to human species encompassing both male and female. Adam refers herein to humanity.

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