Genesis 2 and Early Church Writings [Clement of Rome] 21-25

Genesis 2 – God rests on the seventh day.  The day therefore becomes blessed and hallowed. Then we go on to another story of man’s creation. It is not completely consistent with the details of the first, but its focus is wholly on the place of man in the creation, man’s role in “naming” all that is, and relations between the man and the woman created.

 

Here the creation of man occurs before the bringing forth of vegetation and rain upon the earth.  There was a stream swelling up out of the ground, and out of the clay near the stream, God forms a man and breathes “the breath of life” into his nostrils (2:7).  Then God “plants” a garden and places the man there.  Only then does God continue his work of creation – planting beautiful trees and placing two special trees at the center of the garden: the tree of life (in the middle) and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:9).

 

Man’s commission here is somewhat smaller in this story, extending primarily to caring for the garden, which apparently is made to represent all the earthly creation. Man is given dominion over it in a limited way, however.  He apparently can eat of the tree of life, but of the other tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, this he is forbidden to eat upon pain of death (2:17). I say that last phrase in my own words, as they might have been said in a U.S. Court. The biblical translations of it are interesting and at one time I became a little obsessed with the differences. My notes from those days are included below.

 

The translations of this verse are frustratingly inconsistent, especially so because the verse is so central to the meaning of the story. Here they are

  • NLT (2007) – “If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
  • NAB (1987) – “From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.”
  • Jerusalem Bible (1966) – “Nevertheless of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat, for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die.”
  • Confraternity (1959) – “…but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat; for the day you eat of it, you must die.”
  • King James – “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
  • Good News Bible (1992) – “ . . .except the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad.  You must not eat the fruit of that tree; if you do, you will die the same day.”
  • NRSV (1989) – “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, or in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.”
  • Schocken Bible (1996): “YHWH, God, commanded concerning the human, saying: From every (other) tree of the garden you may eat, yes, eat, but from the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil—you are not to eat from it, for on the day that you eat from it, you must die, yes, die.”
  • Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (1985) – “but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”

 

The differences in the translations have been important for scholars in interpreting what is being communicated to us by the story. The traditional reading of this passage led some people to see this story as in explaining the reason for man’s mortality.

 

Quakers see the story as explaining the fact that man lives in a condition of “spiritual death,” and this seems more convincing and more profound than the other reading.  The interpretation has turned in part on how one reads the clause I have highlighted.  If man merely incurred the fate of eventual mortality, then the story is on point for the mortality approach.  But if the death man incurred was more instantaneous, then the only interpretation that will stand is that he incurred a profound spiritual death that presents the “problem” or issue around which the on-going story of redemption will focus.

 

Returning to the text, the man in this story is still alone.  There are no other earthly creatures, and woman has yet to make her appearance.  So man is lonely. First, the creatures are created and brought to man to see what he would name them, but none of the creatures proves a suitable mate for man until God creates woman.  The Lord creates Eve not out of the ground as he does all the other creatures.  He creates her out of Adam side, out of part of Adam, and when she is presented to Adam, he recognizes that she is part of his own flesh. 

 

It is my sense of it that this creation of woman from Adam is meant to echo the first creation of “man” (meaning man and woman) in the first account.  But there the lonely one is God.  After all He created, He still wanted something in the creation to reflect His image and likeness, to be “bone of His bone” if you will.  And His answer was man.  In that account, man, like everything else issues forth from His all-powerful Word, not from the dust.  As the unity of Adam and Eve finds its pinnacle in their coming together as “one flesh,” so the redemption of mankind will take shape as a great eschatological wedding and banquet.  But that will come later.

 

First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (96/97 AD)

Section 21

The spirit of the Lord, as the Bible tells us, is a candle searching the inward parts of the body; so let us keep in mind this nearness of His presence, remembering that not a single one of our thoughts or reasonings can ever be hidden from Him” (32).

 

“The right thing, then, is not to run away from His will . . . but to reverence the Lord Jesus Christ whose blood was given for us” (32).

 

“Accordingly, let us be respectful to those who have been set over us, honor our elders and train up our young people in the fear of God; let us set our womenfolk on the road to goodness, by teaching them to be examples of lovable purity, to display real sincerity in their submissiveness, to prove the self-restraint of their tongues by observing silence, and to bestow equal affection, with no favoritism and as becomes holiness, upon all God-fearing persons” (32).

 

“As for our children, see that they have their share of Christian instruction; let them learn how greatly a humble spirit avails with God, how mightily a chaste and innocent love prevails with Him, and how great and goodly a thing is the fear of Him, by which all who pass their lives therein with holiness and purity of heart are made sure of salvation. For He is the searcher of our thoughts and desires; His is the breath that is in us, and at His own good pleasure will He take it away” (32).

 

Section 22

“All these promises find their confirmation when we believe in Christ, for it is He Himself who summons us, through His Holy Spirit, with the words, Come, my children; listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord . . . Keep your tongue free of evil, and your lips from uttering deceit; turn away from wrong, and do what is good, seek peacefulness, and make that your aim. The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous, and His ears open to their prayers” (33).

 

Section 23

“So let us be done with vacillation, and indulge no more inward doubts of the reality of His great and glorious gifts” (33).

 

Section 24

“Think, my dear friends, how the Lord offers us proof after proof that there is going to be a resurrection, of which He has made Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. My friends, look how regularly there are processes of resurrection going on at this very moment. The day and the night show us an example of it; for night sinks to rest, and day arises; day passes away, and night comes again” (33).

Section 25 – Clement also uses the legend [myth] of the Phoenix as a kind of “figure” of Christ’s resurrection. The Phoenix was a bird thought to have a life-span of 500 years. It must have been a well-known myth in his day:  “When the hour of its dissolution and death approaches, it makes a nest for itself out of frankincense and myrrh and other fragrant spices, and in the fullness of time it enters into this and expires. Its decaying flesh breeds a small grub, which is nourished by the moisture of the dead bird and presently grows wings. This, on reaching full growth, takes up the next containing the bones of its predecessor and carries them all the way from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. There, in the full light of day and before the eyes of all beholders, it flies to the altar of the Sun, deposits them there, and speeds back to its homeland; and when the priests consult their time records, they find that its arrival has marked the completion of the five-hundredth year” (33-34).

 

Just looking around for a little information on the reference to this myth, I came across a whole book called The Myth of the Phoenix According to Classical and Early Christian Traditions by R. van den Broek. Sounds interesting!

 

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