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9-6: John Sailhamer Weighs In, Part 3

Biblical Chronology, Vol. 9, No. 6
Copyright James B. Jordan 1997
June, 1997

We continue our analysis of John Sailhamer’s book *Genesis Unbound: A Provocative New Look at the Creation Account* (Multnomah Books, 1996), which argues that Genesis 1:2ff. is not about the creation of the whole world, but about the preparation of the Land of Eden, which is also the Promised Land.

Narrative Relationships

In his chapter 8, Sailhamer states that "the relationship between Genesis 1 and 2 follows a common pattern seen throughout the further narratives of the primeval history (Genesis 1-11). The author often links two distinct narratives to reflect a specific textual strategy. For example, after a narrative with a general description of an event, the author often attaches one which gives more detail about the same event. Having described the dispersion of the nations `according to their languages and countries’ in Genesis 10, the author attaches the story of the city of Babylon (Tower of Babel) in Genesis 11:1-9 to explain the origin of their different languages" (p. 91).

He then argues that the general description in Genesis 1 is followed up with a "close-up" description of creation in Genesis 2.

Now, Sailhamer’s general statement is correct. We do indeed see in the Bible sometimes a more general summary of an event followed by a more detailed narrative. The problem with his assertion is that Genesis 2 may be specifying Genesis 1 in a way different from what Sailhamer asserts. Traditionally (and correctly, I submit), Genesis 2 is seen as an expansion of the sixth day of Genesis 1. Thus, by itself, Sailhamer’s observation does nothing to prove or even hint that his view of Genesis 1 is correct.

Now as a matter of fact, Genesis 2-3 does recapitulate Genesis 1, but at a microcosmic level. What Genesis 1 says about the entire earth is repeated with reference to man, Eden, and the garden. This can be seen in that the structure of the two passages is the same, the second building on the first. The following discussion is derived from my ongoing studies, "Trees and Thorns," chapter 4 (available from Biblical Horizons , Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588).

Genesis 2:4 is parallel to Genesis 1:1.

In Genesis 2:5-7 we find that the earth is said to be empty of plants and shrubs "of the field." That is, the earth is formless, because the distinction between garden and field has not yet been established, and void because of the absence of these plants. The earth is also covered with water, in the form of streams that water "the entire surface of the ground." Then, as God made light in Genesis 1:2, so God makes man to be light-bearer and governor in Genesis 2:7.

On Day 2, God set up the firmament to separate waters from waters, and on Day 3 He made the land appear and put food-plants on it. Genesis 2:8-14 speaks of the garden and its food-plants, and of the land that arises in the center of the world. (Since the rivers flowed out of Eden to water the whole earth, Eden is the highest point on earth.) Thus Genesis 2:8-14 seems to be a recap of Day 3.

Actually, however, we should see the Garden of Eden as the place where man the light-bearer is placed, so that the Garden corresponds to the firmament heavens that were set up on Day 2, and into which the sun, moon, and stars were placed on Day 4. Later on the Bible the Garden-sanctuary is associated with the firmament. (I have set out many of these associations in Through New Eyes.) The Garden is between the Land of Eden and the rest of the world, since the river arises in Eden, and thus the Edenic Plateau was higher than the Garden. Similarly, the firmament is between the highest heaven and the cosmos.

So, Genesis 2:5-7 recaps Day 1, 2:8 recaps Day 2, and 2:9-14 recaps Day 3. Then in Genesis 2:15-17 God puts the man in the Garden of Eden to dress it and to guard it. Guarding involves separation and distinction, since the man has to know what to guard against. He must guard his own heart against disobedience, and as we shall see he must guard the Garden against invasion. God tells him to separate between the ordinary trees and the two special trees, and between the special tree that might be eaten (the Tree of Life) and the special tree that is temporarily forbidden (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil).

Thus we see in Genesis 2:15 the same themes as Day 4. Man is clearly over the garden, in the same way as the light-bearers are over the earth. The light-bearers are to govern day and night, and the man is to dress the garden. The light-bearers are to separate light and darkness, and the man is to separate between obedience and disobedience, between friend and enemy.

On Day 5, God made the fish and birds to dwell in the seas and on the land, corresponding to Day 3. He also gave them the first command recorded in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2:16-17, we have God’s command to Adam.

Day 6 is equivalent to Genesis 2:18-24. On Day 5 God created sea creatures and birds. On Day 6a He made the land animals, and on Day 6b He created man. Here in Genesis 2:18-24 God brought beasts and birds, representatives of the two days, before the man. When none proved suitable as a mate, God created woman. Thus, we move from animals to humanity once again.

This brings us to the seventh day. In Genesis 1, God, rested on the seventh day. Genesis 2 brings out the notion that God rested not only because He was finished, but also because He had turned the administration of the world over to a steward. He turned the garden over to Adam and Eve, and departed.

It is clear that God departed because after our first parents sinned, He returned. Genesis 2:24 also points to God’s departure when it says "for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." We are so used to seeing this sentence as an aphorism that we fail to take note of it in context. Adam’s father is God. There is a sense in which Adam leaves God as earthly father and sets up his own household in Genesis 2:24. God continues, of course, to be Adam’s heavenly father. This is a point of tension in the passage, because now the question comes: How will this young man fare now that he is on his own, captain of his own family and in charge of the garden? It is the same question that parents ask themselves when they give their children away in marriage.

Now, if we examine the acts of "Yahweh God" in Genesis 2, we can see even more closely the parallel literary structure that this passage bears to Genesis 1. The two passages are parallel chiasms. (On the chiastic structure of Genesis 1, see Biblical Chronology 9:3).

1. Garden formless, empty, given light-bearer (man), 2:4-7

"And YHWH God formed man"

Spirit hovered, made light // breathing into dust, make man

2. Garden-sanctuary, 2:8

"And YHWH God planted a garden"

Parallel to firmament

3. Trees grow out of land, 2:9; centrality of land, 2:10-14

"And YHWH God caused to grow"

Reverse parallel to land and trees of Day 3

4. Man established as ruler, 2:15

"And YHWH God took the man and put him"

Parallel to lights "put" and established as rulers on Day 4

5. Commands, regarding trees, 2:16-17

"And YHWH God commanded the man"

Parallel to command on Day 5

6. Community, 2:18-24

"And YHWH God said"

Parallel to community of man and animals, man and wife

7. Sabbath sin and judgment, 2:25–3:23

Parallel to sabbath, Day 7

Now, these parallels establish a far closer association of Genesis 1 and 2-3 than Sailhamer himself seems to recognize. Yet, these parallels also clearly separate the two passages as to their referents. The light and light-bearers of Genesis 1 become the man in Genesis 2-3. The firmament of Genesis 1 becomes the garden of Genesis 2-3. From these facts, and the others, we can see that the links Sailhamer seeks to forge between Genesis 1 and 2-3 are the wrong links.

Presenting humanity as lightbearers in the firmament, mediating between heaven and the world, is implied in the Genesis 1 account. As we have seen, Genesis 1:2 announces three "problems," to wit: the earth was formless, empty, and dark. The formlessness of the world is taken care of by the two great separations of days 2 and 3a. The emptiness of the world is taken care of by the trees and grains of day 3b. The darkness of the world is taken care of by the initial light of day 1, and then by the lightbearers of day 4.

Now, the lightbearers culminate all three "answers." They separate the day and the night (form); they fill the sky (fill); and they govern (vv. 16 & 18). They are signs of rulers.

When humanity is made, God tells them: Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (filling); and subdue it (forming); and rule over it (lightbearing, analogous to lightbearers of day 4). Human beings are thus just like the lightbearers. Moreover, as we have seen, the sixth day corresponds to the second, so that humanity is like the firmament. It is only a very slight move to see that humanity is, accordingly, like the lightbearers of the firmament.

Thus, the account in Genesis 1 has already set up an analogy between humanity and the lightbearers in the firmament. All Genesis 2 does it make it more explicit. Genesis 2 is an expansion of the sixth day. On that day, God recapitulated the work of the six days, but in a humaniform fashion. "Man in garden" is a microcosm of the macrocosmic "man in world."

The Covenant God

In chapter 9, Sailhamer argues that the God of Genesis 1 is the same as the covenant Yahweh God who brought Israel out of Egypt. For him this is further evidence that Genesis 1:2ff. deals with God’s putting man into a specific land (Eden, which for him is Canaan also).

Here we must make two observations. First, of course it is the same God. And, since the only God there is is also the covenant God, we can certainly see covenantal aspects in Genesis 1.

Second, however, Sailhamer completely overlooks the implications of the fact that Genesis 1 speaks only of "God," while the name "Yahweh God" appears throughout Genesis 2-3. The name "Yahweh God" is the name given by God in a peculiar way to the people of Israel at the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 6). The name was known earlier, of course, but not given in its full meaning until the exodus.

So, there is indeed a link between the exodus to Canaan under Yahweh God, and Yahweh God’s putting Adam into the garden of Eden. Adam made an "exodus" from wherever he was originally into the garden.

But the fact that "Yahweh God" is NOT used in Genesis 1 certainly indicates a contrast. If "Yahweh God" is the "land-covenant name" of God, then its absence from Genesis 1 is significant. Genesis 1 is NOT presenting God as the "land-covenant" God, but as the "cosmos-covenant" God. In terms of this distinction, we have a macrocosmic name for God in Genesis 1, and a microcosmic name for God in Genesis 2. We have God’s covenantal relationship to the cosmos APART FROM MAN in Genesis 1, and His covenantal relationship to the cosmos THROUGH MAN in Genesis 2. This is the fairly obvious relationship between Genesis 1 and 2-3, which Sailhamer overlooks, does not deal with argumentatively, and from which he has said nothing to dislodge.

(Note: There are more nuances of distinction between "God" and "Yahweh God" in the Bible than the ones we are considering here.)

Once again, Sailhamer has just "sailed through" the passage, presenting his position without even taking notice of the common and well-nigh universal interpretation that he is discarding. His "hammer" simply misses the anvil of argument completely.

When Was Man Created?

On p. 106, Sailhamer presents his argument that mankind was not made during the "beginning period" of Genesis 1:1, but on the sixth day of the "special land-making" work of Genesis 1:2ff. "Were it not for the rest of Genesis, particularly the genealogies in chapters 5 and 10, we would be correct to include human beings among the creatures which inhabited the earth at this time. The genealogies of Genesis, however, tell us clearly that all human beings on earth are descendants of the man and woman created on the sixth day of the week which follows. We are forced by the logic of the text to exclude humans from the world created `in the beginning.’"

While I certainly agree that all humanity are descended from Adam and Eve, I don’t see how this can be asserted on Sailhamer’s premises. If he were correct, the genealogy of Genesis 5 would only concern the human beings set up in the original land. The post-Flood genealogies are not at issue, since they deal with humanity after the world-wide Flood. Maybe the "daughters of men" that the "sons of God" intermarried with in Genesis 6 were pre-Adamic humans. How can Sailhamer know? Genesis 5:1 – 6:8 does not anywhere state that all the human beings on the whole earth were descended from Adam. Of course, that is assumed — but again, how can Sailhamer know?

Now, if we take the traditional view of Genesis 1, we know for a fact that the only two human beings on the whole earth were Adam and Eve, created on the sixth day. But on Sailhamer’s view, these were two human beings created and put into the special land. Nothing indicates that there were not other human beings already in existence. Moreover, Sailhamer’s assertion that everything in heaven & earth was made "in the beginning period" can hardly exclude such a pre-Adamic humanity.

The First Day

For Sailhamer, the first day starts in Genesis 1:2, not Genesis 1:1. Now, in a further attempt to substantiate his position, he creates a problem in Genesis 1 where none exists. He asks (as others have) how there can be light on the first day if the sun was not created until the fourth? As we have seen in previous issues of this newsletter, there is no problem here at all. When the glory cloud of God appears in the Bible, it is always refulgent with light. The hovering Spirit, who is always associated with the manifestation of God’s glory, is the Source of the light on days 1-3 of Genesis 1. Thus, there simply is no problem here at all.

Sailhamer solves this non-existent problem by asserting once again that the universe, including the sun, had been around for a long time. Since (for him), Genesis 1:2 only concerns the forming of the Edenic land, "let there be light" just means "let the sun rise." Well, if Sailhamer’s interpretation were correct, then his interpretation of "let there be light" is possible. But as we have seen, Sailhamer has utterly failed to persuade that "in the beginning" refers to a long period of time, or that Genesis 1:2ff. has to do only with the promised land.

The Second Day

A more significant problem of interpretation surrounds day 2 of Genesis 1. Sailhamer takes up the second day in his chapter 11. Sailhamer says that the "firmament" is simply the sky, and that the waters above the firmament are clouds. If Genesis 1:7 said that the waters are "within" the firmament, the reference might be to clouds. But the text says that the water are "above" the firmament.

What the "firmament" is in Genesis 1 is a hard problem, and can only be addressed by taking into account much that is found later in the Bible. Even in Genesis 1, however, we can see what the most likely interpretation is.

In the beginning, God created the angelic heaven and the cosmic earth. From Genesis 1:1-2 we see a four-tiered universe. Lowest was the land. Over the land was the sea. Over the sea was some kind of dark space. And over the dark space was the angelic heaven. There was no boundary between the angelic heaven and the cosmic earth.

On the second day, God established a boundary between the angelic heaven and the cosmic earth, and took part of the sea up into the angelic heaven. The notions that the "waters above" are simply clouds in the sky or a water canopy over the whole world, will not withstand close inspection. A very good discussion of this (though detailed and difficult for the layman to follow) is found in Paul H. Seely, "The Firmament and the Water Above," *The Westminster Theological Journal* 53:2 (Fall 1991):227-240 and 54:1 (Spring, 1992):31-46. Sadly, Sailhamer seems unaware of this study.

Since the sun, moon, and stars are located "in" the firmament, the waters above the firmament must be "beyond" the visible universe. Thus, the waters above cannot be clouds or a vapor canopy, both of which are under the stars. Moreover, whenever the angelic heaven appears to men in the Bible, it is as if a curtain had pulled back and the angelic heaven is revealed as very near at hand. And, the angelic heaven is pictured as having a sea in it (Ezekiel 1:22; Revelation 4:6).

Thus, the firmament is some kind of "dimensional barrier" between the angelic heaven and the cosmic earth. Neither the angelic heaven nor the firmament (its far side, anyway) can be reached by a spaceship.

Further study will reveal that the firmament is not only a shell-like barrier or curtain between heaven and earth, but also a chamber between the two. The highest heaven is equivalent to the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. The firmament heaven is equivalent to the Holy Place (and notice that seven astral lamps in the Holy Place, symbolically linked to the sun, moon, and the five visible planets).

Taking water from the earth up into heaven is a prophetic type of taking baptized people from earth up into heaven.

For more on all of this, I can only recommend my own lectures on the firmament, available from Biblical Horizons , Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588.

Setting aside the details, however, it is clear that the waters "above" the firmament cannot be clouds, and thus Sailhamer’s exegesis cannot stand. Removing water from the earth into the angelic heavens, beyond the stars, is clearly a much more cosmic action than merely putting clouds above the land of Eden. Thus, the events of the second day by themselves alone completely destroy Sailhamer’s thesis.

Not Good?

Since Sailhamer has ignored the programmatic character of Genesis 1:2 for the passage as a whole, he is left with a question about why God did not pronounce matters "good" at the end of the second day. He submits that the "land" was not yet good for humanity at that point, since water still covered it. We can say the same thing for the mid-point of the third day, however, since there were not yet any plants on the "land" at that point. Yet, God calls matters good before setting in the plants. Thus, I don’t think Sailhamer’s explanation carries any water at this point.

Rather, as we have noted already, God is working to take care of the three "problems" set out in Genesis 1:2 — darkness, formlessness, and emptiness. The second day and the first half of the third day deal with the problem of formlessness, and that is why God does not pronounce things "good" until the end of the second half of the third day. Only then was the forming work completed.

The forming work in Genesis 1 takes the original structure of the world into a new structure, which has a wonderful balance and symmetry. Here is the end product:

Highest Heaven

Angelic heaven

Heavenly sea under these heaven, above firmament

Firmament Heaven

Far reaches: right "under" the angelic heaven; stars

Near end: the blue sky




Notice first of all that the resulting configuration of the Highest Heaven and the Earth is the same: dwelling place with sea underneath (below) it.

Second, notice that the firmament is called "heaven," which means that the firmament displays within the original "earth" (cosmos) the nature of the Highest Heaven. The stars in the firmament are related to the angels and their realm, while the blue sky at the lower end of the firmament is related to the heavenly sea.

All of this is the forming work that God originally had in mind, and in terms of which the original creation was relatively "formless." I may add that this is precisely the cosmic configuration seen in the Tabernacle:

Highest Heaven – Holy of Holies


Blue cherubim veil (waters)

Firmament Heaven – Holy Place

Lamps (stars)

Second blue veil (waters)

Courtyard – Earth

Laver (on a pedestal off the ground, thus also waters)

Altar of earth raised up

Third blue veil at entrance (lower waters)

(For more on all this, see my book *Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World.*)