Genesis 2: Comparative Analysis of Terrence Fretheim and William Brown

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Old Testament, Theology and Faith
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Brown begins by showing the connection between humanity and humus.  All of humanity is connected to the ground from which they come.  They are “groundlings.”  This connection is more noticeable in the Hebrew in which Adam is only slightly different than the word for earth.  As such, Brown points out that humanity is not created in the imago Dei but in the imago terrae.  It is from this dust that God creates everything.  Rather than a powerfully cosmic God, we see a “God of the compost.”  God is intimately working in the “Garden of Plenty.”

Genesis 1 has the continual mantra “It is good.”  However, Genesis 2 moves against this pattern, saying, “It is not good.”  That is not to say that Creation is somehow poorly constructed.  Rather, it is not good because in some way the Creation does not fully reflect the nature of YHWH.  We soon find out this is because man is alone, which is not good.  God is a communal Being, as such, humanity is also communal.  Fretheim’s relational theology becomes quite helpful at this point in recognizing the connection between Creator and humanity.  The Creation is a community, but it is lacking in the fullest sense for the man without woman.  There is an unequal relationship between man and the other creatures.  This is demonstrated in Adam’s naming of the animals, while woman is not “named.”  It is only with woman that Adam proclaims that he has found his ezer kenigdo.

Fretheim notes that God allows the man to decide what is “adequate to move the evaluation of the creation from ‘not good’ to ‘good’” (Kindle location 1537).  In determining what is “fit for him,” God allows and invites freedom and real decisions on the part of humanity.  However, in discerning the issue of homosexuality, would Fretheim also say that this same reality would allow humanity to determine what is good, so that it might be changed?  Fretheim notes that the relationship is not purely sexual, but based also upon the equality between male and female.  So, are the options that God provides contained within certain boundaries?  How might we discuss issues of sexuality further, especially given the heated nature of the topic?

Fretheim’s framework of relational creation is decisively helpful in several ways.  First, it suggests that Creation is not static.  Rather, it is dynamic and subject to further development by other parts of the creation (i.e., humanity).  God creates a world full of potentialities.  Decisions of humanity opens and closes possibilities.  For instance, the narrative notes that no vegetation exists because man has not tilled the soil.  Not only is humanity brought into Eden, but they are invited to join in the creative process!

Fretheim addresses the issue of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  This prohibition is the Law which precedes sin.  In this way, creation’s capacity to create is shown to be derivative of God’s power to create.  There are limits or boundaries within which humanity is invited to work.  These boundaries of relationship provide life and blessing and fruitfulness of Creation.  To step outside of these boundaries is to no longer recognize their dependence upon God or the “proper use of power.”

Unfortunately, Brown spends most of his time discussing the science of origins rather than focusing on the text of Genesis.  Although they may not be mutually exclusive, the text should not be forced to say things that it is not concerned about.  The primary issue is theological and should remain so in our discussions of the text.  Fretheim integrates science into his discussion of the Genesis narratives; however, it is woven much more seamlessly in with the narratives of Genesis 1 and 2.  Thus, science and the text are given voice while maintaining respectful boundaries where they cannot speak.


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