Genesis and Human Origins

First impressions matter! The year was 1990 and I was anxiously preparing to meet Renal’s mother. My wife is from the Philippines and knowing that there’s nothing sweeter to the ear than the sound of your native tongue, I asked her to teach me some Tagalog to impress her mom.

“When you meet her, look her in the eye and say, ‘Ikaw unggoy.’” Renal was smiling and her dark eyes were sparkling. With her help, I was going to make the best first impression ever!

I practiced that phrase for a solid week and on the day that I met my future mother-in-law I shook her hand and said, ‘Ikaw unggoy!’” Honestly, I was expecting a different reaction. My future mother-in-law recoiled and shouted, “That’s bad! That’s bad!” Meanwhile, Renal was hiding in a corner giggling her head off. The first words that my wife taught me in Tagalog literally translate into English as “You monkey.”

In any language, calling a person a “monkey” is a big insult, but it’s especially insulting to a Filipino because “ikaw unggoy!” is a way of calling a person “ugly.” Fortunately for me, Renal’s mom has a good sense of humor, but I was mortified. So much for making a good first impression!

To say that a man is a monkey is scientifically inaccurate, but our poets have made the connection. Dave Matthews sings about the “smartest monkey” and Maynard James Keenan from the band Tool sings:

Don’t these talking monkeys know that Eden has enough to go around?
Plenty in this holy garden, silly old monkeys
Where there’s one you’re bound to divide it
Right in two

Angels on the sideline
Baffled and confused
Father blessed them all with reason
And this is what they choose
Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground

Strictly speaking, humans are not monkeys or even great apes, but as the evolutionary “particles to progress” story is told, we not only share similar design features, but we share the same distant relatives. In this story, primates diverged from other mammals about 85 million years ago and then fractured off into the ape super family (hominoidea) with sub-tribes eventually resulting in humans and other bipedal ancestors. Strictly speaking, humans are not monkeys, but to Christians, this origin story feels a lot like being called, “Ikaw unggoy!”

As I mentioned in the last post, we are faced with two competing origin stories. In the macro evolutionary story of Darwinian Evolution, we are sophisticated beasts, but from the stand point of God’s Word, we are the glory and the garbage of the universe. Humans are the glory of the universe because we alone are said to be made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). Angels and apes are not said to be made in the image of God, only people have that distinction:

Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them (1:26-27).

According to Genesis, people are unique creations. Like animals, we are creatures. God formed us from the dust of the ground, but animals are also formed “out of the ground” (2:7, 19). We are not divine and our origins do not emanate from the stars. On the other hand, we are not beasts. Genesis contains two complementary creation accounts and both of them go out of their way to proclaim the uniqueness of humanity.

Creation Account of Genesis 1

God displays His sovereignty by creating out of nothing. Humans are made in His image, emphasizing our similarity to God and God makes them male and female. The first account of creation is a Google earth view that begins to zoom into the Promised Land.

Creation Account of Genesis 2

The second creation account is a street level account of the sixth day. God’s covenant name is used (Yahweh) and the story emphasizes both our similarities and differences with animals. Like animals, human beings are formed from the ground (2:7, 19), but unlike animals, we speak and have dominion (2:19-20).

Taken together, both accounts help us piece together what God is like and who we are.

What Maketh a Man? 3 Truths about Us
If we are not divine and not beasts, what are we? What maketh a man? To be human is to be made in God’s image, to reflect God in our genders and to lovingly rule His creation. Being human may be more than this, but it is not less than this. The Genesis story tells us three things about what it means to be human:

Truth #1: We are Imagers
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (1:26)

People are the pinnacle of God’s creation. Only man is said to be made in the image of God. Unlike the impersonal divine fiat of “let there be”, God get’s personal in the creation of man with “Let Us make…” But what does it mean to “image” an invisible God?

Let’s start with the first few chapters of Genesis. A clue is found in the toledot of Adam (5:1). God is pictured as the Father of humanity, creating Adam. Later writers of sacred Scripture will pick up and develop this theme of sonship (Lk. 3:38). Adam has a son named Seth, a son in his own likeness and according to his image (5:3). Seth is like Adam. This is our clue to “imaging” God. To image God is to be like Him, as much as humanly possible, so that we can relate to Him in worship. Not only this, but in the ancient world, sons would often take on the vocation of the father and do what the father does. In a functional way, then, we should see Adam doing what God does, albeit in a limited human way.

In other words, like Father, like son. God is a talking God (1:3; 2:16 and throughout). Adam talks. More than that, he sings to God and his wife (2:23). God is relational. We hear Him walking in the Garden in the cool of the day (3:8). “Walking with God” is a key phrase in Genesis. It is a relational metaphor for being in right relationship with God in the sacred intimacy of worship (5:22; 6:9; 17:1). God is also sovereign—He rules over all creation. Like God, Adam has been given dominion (1:26, 28).

To be made in the image of God, then, is to be like God and to represent Him as much as humanly possible. It is the image of God that gives us that capacity to relate to God in worship and it is the foundation of human dignity and human rights (9:6).

Truth #2: We are Male and Female
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (1:27).

Like God, man is a unity and plurality and we “image” God through our gender. Maleness and femaleness is, according to God, “very good” (1:31). Men will always be men before God and women will always be women before God. The ideal man is “manly” and the ideal woman is “womanly”. So much for androgyny! This has enormous implications for our gender-confused culture. According to Genesis (and science) gender is biological. While there may be plasticity in the brain, gender itself is not plastic. You can no more change your gender than you can change your age. More than that, gender is intrinsic to our humanity. Kathy Keller reminds us:

The first mention of gender in the Bible occurs with the very first mention of humanity itself. ‘In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them’ (Genesis 1:27). This means that our maleness or our femaleness is not incidental to our humanness but constitutes its very essence….If the postmodern view that gender is wholly a ‘social construct’ were true, then we could follow whatever path seemed good to us. If our gender is at the heart of our [human] nature, however, we risk losing a key part of ourselves if we abandon our distinctive male and female roles.

Truth #3) We Have Been Given Dominion
“God blessed them’ and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:28).

In the first creation account, the land is tohu wabohu (i.e. uninhabitable waste). In my opinion, this is a better translation than “formless and void” (1:2). The six days of creation show God taking what is tohu and turning it a land that is tob (good). If being made in God’s image is being like God and representing Him, then we must do what He does and turn tohu into tob. To accomplish this, He gives us dominion over creation. Dominion is stewardship, not ownership. Only God owns the earth and the Promised Land (Ps. 24:1; Ezek. 38:16; Joel 3:2). Dominion over creation is about responsibility, not power. This God-given stewardship is the foundation of God-centered environmentalism.

Adam’s dominion is played out in the second creation account. He names the creatures that God brings to him (2:19). This dominion was supposed to extend to the serpent, but instead of driving it from the Garden, Adam and Eve listened to it and ruined creation. Later in the story of the Promised Land, God’s son Israel would also be given the opportunity to drive the serpent from the land (Numbers 33:51-53).

One final truth demands our attention. Man is presented as a direct creation from God (1:27; 2:7). Dust is our origin, and because of sin and apart from God’s rescue, our destiny (2:7; 3:19). There is no hint in the text that we evolved. In his excellent (and short) book Seven Days That Divide the World, Dr. John Lennox observes:

Moreover, in saying that God made man of the dust of the ground, Genesis seems to be going out of its way to imply a direct special creation act, rather than suggesting humans arose, either by natural processes or by God’s special activity, out of preexisting hominids or, indeed, Neolithic farmers….it is interesting that the first lesson Adam was taught, according to the Bible [Genesis 2:18-24], is that he was fundamentally different from all other creatures.

This would necessarily include nonhuman hominids like species of australopithecus (i.e. Lucy) and possibly Neanderthals. Among all nonhuman hominids, “…there was not found a helper suitable for him” (2:20).

What about Theistic Evolution?
Theistic evolution is the new interpretive kid on the block. In this view, God created all life through evolutionary processes and natural selection over long periods of time. Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything, but it is wholly absorbed with function and not how He manufactured things. The days of creation can be thought of as long periods of time or understood as poetry (the Literary Framework view). Adam and Eve evolved from earlier primates and at some point in the evolutionary process, God did something special by conferring His image on two primates or a select group of them.

In this view, we are not beasts because of God’s special work of conferring His image on us, but I have a hard time reconciling this with the text. Dr. Lennox again:

If you were ever trying to get across the idea that human beings were a product of existing animals, Genesis is a very bad way to do it. Because it appears to go in the exact opposite direction…I noticed though, which is interesting, that some of my friends who take the hominid view [theistic evolution], they still, many of them, have to say that God does something special to make that hominid a human being, but then, once you have admitted the principle, that God does something special, why not go the whole way?

We are not beasts. We are not divine. We are special creatures made to worship God and enjoy Him forever. As imagers of God, we are the glory of the universe, as sinners, we are the garbage of the universe, but God has made a way for us to “walk” with Him again through the death and resurrection of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Dust is no longer our destiny. Everyone who puts their trust in Him will dance on their dusty graves!

Next Week: Fossils and Genetic Diversity