Sunday, June 06, 2010

Image and Likeness - Installment Two


We must consider whether the image and likeness of God in man is static or dynamic. Is it simply an attribute we possess or is it something that we acquire and/or develop over time? What exactly is the image and likeness of God essentially (in and of itself)?

To answer these questions, let us go back to Genesis and the Garden of Paradise. Everyone is familiar with the basic story of the Garden and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Nonetheless, a careful review of the details may prove rewarding.

a. Genesis and Creation

It would be helpful to begin with general remarks before we study the passage in detail. Thus we start with the recognition that within the first two chapters of Genesis we have two different accounts of creation. The first, often termed the “Eloistic” account, details God’s actions of creation in the context of a week, complete with the first Sabbath rest. Here, God merely speaks, and it comes to be. “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” (Gen 1.2) In these passages of the Pentateuch there is a philosophical objectivity to God’s interaction with His creation. The Divinity of God is emphasized by His otherness and His omnipotence.

In contrast, beginning at Genesis 2.4 a second account, often called “Yahwist” due to its use of the Divine Name, describes God almost as a gardener or potter, and employs anthropomorphic images. Here, the Hebrew translation states that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” and “planted a Paradise in Eden in the east.” (Gen 2.7, 8) When reading an English text translated from the Hebrew, the use of the term “LORD” or “GOD” in all capitals is a convention indicating the occurrence of the Divine Name in the original. The Greek states that “God formed the man of the dust of the earth” and God “planted a paradise in Eden, towards the East”. In this paradise, or garden, are the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowing the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Gen 2.9) (In this study we will use “paradise” and “garden” interchangeably.)

The author of Genesis certainly knew that these were two separate accounts of God’s action in creating the universe. By including both in his account of the origins of the world and ultimately the history of how Israel came to be in Egypt, we are given notice as it were that the Scriptures will reveal the truth of God’s interaction with man in a composite portrait made up of differing sources. Taken together, these will provide a more vivid picture of His revelation to man than the selection of one sole source or view might offer.

This is significant for several reasons. Firstly, the multitude of witnesses whose testimonies are combined in the Bible truly do provide a rich understanding of God. Secondly, given the period covered between Genesis and the Apocalypse, we understand that the God who reveals Himself in Scripture works in the real world of human history. Thirdly, and more significantly for this discussion, we realize that in studying the Scripture we must not isolate one text from the rest.

While it is undeniable that the first two chapters of Genesis represent two different meditations on the origin of the universe and God’s essential role as Creator, we need not view them as fully unrelated or contradictory. The truths revealed in the one account are relevant and integral to the other. It is not a question of subliming incongruous details into an imagined better whole. The two accounts, dramatically differing in detail, combine to offer profound subjects for meditation and reveal a rich appreciation for the mystery that is God’s self-revelation. It is in this light that we can approach the account of the Garden in reference to image and likeness.

The distinction in style and content between the Eloistic and Yahwist traditions is also significant for our study. The Yahwist use of metaphor and anthropomorphic images in its narrative must be recognized as we interpret it. It is at once poetic and revelatory. We need not imagine God literally molding the first man out of clay to accept the specific relevance being conveyed in the imagery. The specific terminology used in these passages (especially in the Greek) will yield insights echoed in the Church Fathers’ reference to and interpretations of the metaphor and anthropomorphisms in the text.

b. The Garden of Paradise and Free Will

The account of the Garden principally begins at Genesis 2.15 and following.

And the Lord God took the man he formed and put him in the Paradise to work it and guard it. And the Lord God commanded Adam, saying, "You will eat food from every tree of the garden; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat from it, for in whatever day you should eat from it you shall die by death. (Gen 2.15-17)
Here we see the first created human being placed in a paradise (or “Garden”) and being in communion with God. The first man, Adam, is aware of God and God is present to him, speaking to him directly. He is granted a freedom to eat of “every tree of the garden” except the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This reveals several things about the original state of man.

The paradise in which man finds himself is not limited in the variety of its offerings. It is not a question of man only having one food for nourishment; he may eat of “every tree” except the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This paradise was prepared specifically for man with many kinds of fruit. “And God caused to rise out of the earth every tree beautiful to the sight and good for food, the tree of life in the middle of the Paradise, and the tree to perceive knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen 2.9)

Note, the Greek does not merely speak of a tree of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil” as many translation read, but rather speaks of a tree whereby one come to perceive, to know or, literally, ‘to see” in the sense of coming to understand or recognize. It is also worth emphasizing that the tree of life, which grew “in the middle of the paradise”, is itself but one of the many fruits from which Adam can choose. The significance of this is the implicit acknowledgement that free will is part of man’s nature. Adam can choose to eat of the tree of life or not, he can choose to eat an apple or not, etc... This freedom to choose does not in itself exclude him from communion with God; it is actually encouraged by God from the beginning.

The prohibition against eating of the tree to perceive knowledge of good and evil must be understood in this context. Adam is created with free will and placed in a paradise in which he enjoys direct and intimate communion with God. We may enhance our understanding of this by recalling (from the earlier account of creation) that Adam, like of everything created by God, is good. (Gen 1.26, 31)

Next Installment: more on Free Will, Goodness, Evil, Life and Death.


Scott said...

I am enjoying reading your study. Thank you for posting it, Abouna. I look forward to the next installments.

Staying in Balance said...

Thank you for this study. I have sometimes wondered exactly what the prohibition against eating of the Tree of Perceiving the Knowledge of Good and Evil was all about. Also, thanks so much for explaining the particulars of the translations.

Scott said...


Christ is among us!

I was wondering if you would be willing to e-mail me the complete study after you have posted it. I'd like to have a copy to be able to make notes, etc. If not, I understand.

I couldn't find your e-mail address on here, so I'm leaving this as a comment.

Yours in Christ our God,

The Byzantine Rambler said...

Dear Scott:

I'd be happy to email you the whole thing after posting. However, you can also just copy it down from the web as we go along. I'm making slight revisions before publishing each installment.

Thanks for the kind words.