Order of Creation

Paul Adams (ADAMS_P@msb.flint.umich.edu)
Sat, 22 Jun 1996 16:07:01 EDT

On June 20, 1996 Juli Kuhl wrote the following with respect to Exodus

>The concept of God being "refreshed" sounded a bit more than just
>anthropomorphic to me, so I looked up the passage in the NIV. It reads
>that God "abstained from work and rested", no doubt implying that
>there is a difference between the two "activities" (if you can call
>"rest" an activity). I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be suggesting to
>anyone that God was refreshed, only because it implies need, and thus
>less than perfectness.

Anthropomorphisms, ascribing human qualities to non-human beings,
frequently cause people discomfort. This occurs whether the ascription
is for lower or higher beings. For example, identifying human-like
emotions and intentions in the reactions of lower animals is enough to
give animal behaviorists fits. And in theology, attributing human
characteristics to God is disturbing because it seems to pull the God of
the universe down to our level. Yet, I believe, these two forms of
anthropomorphism should be viewed quite differently. When referring to
animals, anthropomorphisms are almost always a misidentification of
literal human qualities in animals. But when the Bible uses
anthropomorphisms with respect to God, they should not be understood
necessarily as a literal attribution of the quality to God but as an
appropriate literary device to facilitate our identification with God as
a person. This need to depict God with human attributes was greatly
reduced with the Incarnation.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia comments on
anthropomorphisms in this way:

Fear of the charge of anthropomorphism has had a strangely
deterrent effect upon many minds, but very needlessly so. Even
that rich storehouse of apparently crude anthropomorphisms, the
OT, when it ascribes to Deity physical characters, mental and
moral attributes, like those of man, merely means to make the
Divine nature and operations intelligible, not to transfer to
Him the defects and limitations of human character and life.

With respect to the particular reference in question, the Hebrew word
translated "refreshed" in Exodus 31:17 is *naphash.* ("...in six days
the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and
was refreshed." RSV) The same Hebrew word is also used in the following
two passages in the Old Testament (also RSV):

Exod. 23:12 "Six days you shall do your work, but on the
seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your ass may have
rest, and the son of your bondmaid, and the alien, may be

2Sam. 16:14 And the king, and all the people who were with
him, arrived weary at the Jordan; and there he refreshed himself.

Juli is more comfortable using the NIV, which translates Exodus 31:17
"[God] abstained from work and rested." It is significant that the NIV
translates the other two passages as "refreshed" rather than "rested."
The NIV is the translation that I use most frequently, yet I am often
frustrated by its attempts to "fix" things that don't need fixing. I
suspect that the translators knew that "rested" would make people feel
more comfortable than "refreshed." But by translating it this way, they
muted the obvious anthropomorphism and thereby thwarted hermeneutic

While I am discussing the "Order of Creation" and quirks of the NIV, let
me bring up a related point. As was mentioned early in this thread, the
different creation sequences in Genesis 1 (plants, animals, mankind) and
Genesis 2 (Adam, plants, animals, Eve) have produced various solutions
to deal with the apparent discrepancy. For me, the most obvious
explanation is that the order of Genesis 2 was chosen for dramatic
rather than chronological emphasis. Yet many Christians feel that they
must remove any chronological conflict in the creation events of the two
accounts. Their efforts, in my opinion, amount to trying to fit a square
peg into a round hole. They do this primarily in two ways. The first is
to understand the creation of plants and animals in Genesis 2 as
additional creation events in the locality of the Garden of Eden. (So,
to be consistent, do they also see the creation of Adam and Eve as local
events, separate from the creation of other humans? Yeah, right.)

The second way concerns the creation of animals in Gen. 2:19, "So out of
the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field...." They point
out that the verb *yatsar* can at times be translated as the pluperfect
"had formed" rather than the imperfect "formed." By doing that in 2:19,
the creation of animals could be understood as coming before the
creation of man (2:7). Just how valid is this change in verb tenses? Can
one simply choose the tense one wants? Apparently it is not quite that
simple. N. H. Ridderbos describes the technical problem in translating
*yatsar* in 2:19 in this way:

This...suggestion fails to satisfy the student of Hebrew. A
consecutive imperfect may indeed serve to indicate the
pluperfect...but then it follows a perfect having the
significance of a pluperfect. That is not true here.
(*Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science?*
1957, p. 26)

One does not have to understand the intricacies of Hebrew grammar and
syntax (which I don't) to recognize that choosing the verb tense does
not amount to "just taking your pick." In support of that conclusion,
note that all translations of Genesis (that I am aware of) give *yatsar*
in 2:19 as "formed"-- all, that is, except the NIV. It may stand alone
as translating the verse with the pluperfect form: "Now the Lord God had
formed out of the ground...."

It's obvious to me that the only justification for using the pluperfect
tense in 2:19 is the assumption that the sequence in the two chapters
were intended to agree. Thus, they shave off the corners of the square
peg so that it will fit more easily into the round hole. But just maybe,
the peg was not supposed to fit into the hole. It would appear that more
objective translations indicate that it was not.

Paul A. Adams
Biology Department
University of Michigan-Flint
Flint, Michigan 48502-2186