The Second Account of Creation: The Subjective Definition of Man

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II


During the General Audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday evening 19 September, Pope John Paul II gave the following address.

1. With reference to Christ's words on the subject of marriage, in which he appealed to the "beginning," we directed our attention last week to the first account of man's creation in the first chapter of Genesis. Today we shall pass to the second account, which is frequently described as the "Yahwist," since it uses the name "Yahweh" for God.

The second account of man's creation (linked to the presentation both of original innocence and happiness and of the first fall) has by its nature a different character. While not wishing to anticipate the particulars of this narrative—because it will be better for us to recall them in later analyses—we should note that the entire text, in formulating the truth about man, amazes us with its typical profundity, different from that of the first chapter of Genesis.

Ancient description

It can be said that it is a profundity that is of a nature particularly subjective, and therefore, in a certain sense, psychological. The second chapter of Genesis constitutes, in a certain manner, the most ancient description and record of man's self-knowledge. Together with the third chapter it is the first testimony of human conscience. A reflection in depth on this text—through the whole archaic form of the narrative, which manifests its primitive mythical character(1)—provides us in nucleo with nearly all the elements of the analysis of man, to which modern, and especially contemporary philosophical anthropology is sensitive. It could be said that Genesis 2 presents the creation of man especially in its subjective aspect. Comparing both accounts, we conclude that this subjectivity corresponds to the objective reality of man created "in the image of God." This fact also is—in another way—important for the theology of the body, as we shall see in subsequent analyses.

First human being

2. It is significant that in his reply to the Pharisees, in which he appealed to the "beginning," Christ indicated first of all the creation of man by referring to Genesis 1:27: "The Creator from the beginning created them male and female." Only afterward did he quote the text of Genesis 2:24. The words which directly describe the unity and indissolubility of marriage are found in the immediate context of the second account of creation. Its characteristic feature is the separate creation of woman (cf. Gn 2:18-23), while the account of the creation of the first man is found in Genesis 2:5-7.

The Bible calls the first human being "man" ('adam), but from the moment of the creation of the first woman, it begins to call him "man" (ish), in relation to ishshah ("woman," because she was taken from the man—ish).(2)

It is also significant that in referring to Genesis 2:24, Christnot only linked the "beginning" with the mystery of creation, but also led us, one might say, to the limit of man's primitive innocence and of original sin. Genesis places the second description of man's creation precisely in this context. There we read first of all: "And the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man; then the man said: 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man'" (Gn 2:22-23). "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gn 2:24). "And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed" (Gn 2:25).

Tree of knowledge

3. Immediately after these verses, chapter 3 begins with its account of the first fall of the man and the woman, linked with the mysterious tree already called the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gn 2:17). Thus an entirely new situation emerges, essentially different from the preceding. The tree of knowledge of good and evil is the line of demarcation between the two original situations which Genesis speaks of.

The first situation was that of original innocence, in which man (male and female) was, as it were, outside the sphere of the knowledge of good and evil, until the moment when he transgressed the Creator's prohibition and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The second situation, however, was that in which man, after having disobeyed the Creator's command at the prompting of the evil spirit, symbolized by the serpent, found himself, in a certain way, within the sphere of the knowledge of good and evil. This second situation determined the state of human sinfulness, in contrast to the state of primitive innocence.

Even though the "Yahwist" text is very concise, it suffices with clarity to differentiate and to set against each other those two original situations. We speak here of situations, having before our eyes the account which is a description of events. Nonetheless, by means of this description and all its particulars, the essential difference emerges between the state of man's sinfulness and that of his original innocence.(3)

Systematic theology will discern in these two antithetical situations two different states of human nature: the state of integral nature and the state of fallen nature. All this emerges from that "Yahwist" text of Genesis 2-3, which contains in itself the most ancient word of revelation. Evidently it has a fundamental significance for the theology of man and for the theology of the body.

The "Yahwist" text

4. When Christ, referring to the "beginning," directed his questioners to the words written in Genesis 2:24, he ordered them, in a certain sense, to go beyond the boundary which, in the Yahwist text of Genesis, runs between the first and second situation of man. He did not approve what Moses had permitted "for their hardness of heart." He appealed to the words of the first divine regulation, which in this text is expressly linked to man's state of original innocence. This means that this regulation has not lost its force, even though man has lost his primitive innocence.

Christ's reply is decisive and unequivocal. Therefore, we must draw from it the normative conclusions which have an essential significance not only for ethics, but especially for the theology of man and for the theology of the body. As a particular element of theological anthropology, it is constituted on the basis of the Word of God which is revealed. During the next meeting we shall seek to draw these conclusions.


1)If in the language of the rationalism of the 19th century, the term "myth" indicated what was not contained in reality, the product of the imagination (Wundt), or what is irrational (Levy-Bruhl), the 20th century has modified the concept of myth.
L. Walk sees in myth natural philosophy, primitive and religious. R. Otto considers it as the instrument of religious knowledge. For C. G. Jung, however, myth is the manifestation of the archetypes and the expression of the "collective unconsciousness," the symbol of the interior processes.
M. Eliade discovers in myth the structure of the reality that is inaccessible to rational and empirical investigation. Myth transforms the event into a category, and makes us capable of perceiving the transcendental reality. It is not merely a symbol of the interior processes (as Jung states), but it is an autonomous and creative act of the human spirit by means of which revelation is realized (cf. Traite d'histoire des religions [Paris: 1949], p. 363; Images et symboles [Paris: 1952], pp. 199-235).
According to P. Tillich myth is a symbol, constituted by the elements of reality to present the absolute and the transcendence of being, to which the religious act tends.
H. Schlier emphasizes that the myth does not know historical facts and has no need of them, inasmuch as it describes man's cosmic destiny, which is always identical.
In short, the myth tends to know what is unknowable.
According to P. Ricoeur: "The myth is something other than an explanation of the world, of its history and its destiny. It expresses in terms of the world, indeed of what is beyond the world, or of a second world, the understanding that man has of himself through relation with the fundamental and the limit of his existence.... It expresses in an objective language the understanding that man has of his dependence in regard to what lies at the limit and the origin of his world" (P. Ricoeur, Le conflit des interprétation [Paris: Seuil, 1969], p. 383).
The Adamic myth is par excellence the anthropological myth. Adam means Man. But not every myth of the 'primordial man' is an 'Adamic myth' which...alone is truly anthropological. By this three features are denoted:
—the aetiological myth relates the origin of evil to an ancestor of present mankind, whose condition is homogeneous with ours....
—the aetiological myth is the most extreme attempt to separate the origin of evil from that of good. The aim of this myth is to establish firmly that evil has a radical origin, distinct from the more primitive source of the goodness of things....
The myth, in naming Adam, man, makes explicit the concrete universality of human evil; the spirit of penitence is given in the Adamic myth the symbol of this universality. Thus we find again...the universalizing function of the myth. But at the same time, we find the two other functions, equally called forth by the penitential experience.... The proto-historical myth thus serves not only to make general to mankind of all times and of all places the experience of Israel, but to extend to mankind the great tension of the condemnation and of mercy which the prophets had taught Israel to discern in its own destiny.
Finally, the last function of the myth, which finds a motive in the faith of Israel: the myth prepares for speculation in exploring the point where the ontological and the historical part company" (P. Ricoeur, Finitude et culpabilité: Il Symbolique du mal [Paris: Aubier, 1960], pp. 218-227).

2) As regards etymology, it is not excluded that the Hebrew term ish is derived from a root which signifies "strength" (ish or wsh), whereas ishshah is linked to a series of Semitic terms whose meaning varies between "woman" and "wife."
The etymology proposed by the biblical text is of a popular character and serves to underline the unity of the origin of man and woman. This seems to be confirmed by the assonance of both terms.

3) "Religious language itself calls for the transposition from 'images' or rather 'symbolic modalities' to 'conceptual modalities' of expression.
At first sight this transposition might appear to be a purely extrinsic change. Symbolic language seems inadequate to introduce the concept because of a reason that is peculiar to Western culture. In this culture religious language has always been conditioned by another language, the philosophical, which is the conceptual language par excellence.... If it is true that a religious vocabulary is understood only in a community which interprets it and according to a tradition of interpretation, it is also true that there does not exist a tradition of interpretation that is not 'mediated' by some philosophical conception.
So the word 'God,' which in the biblical texts receives its meaning from the convergence of different modes of discourse (narratives, prophecies, legislative texts and wisdom literature, proverbs and hymns)—viewing this convergence both as the point of intersection and as the horizon evasive of any and every form—had to be absorbed in the conceptual space, in order to be reinterpreted in terms of the philosophical Absolute, as the first Mover, first Cause, Actus Essendi, perfect Being, etc. Our concept of God pertains therefore, to an onto-theology, in which there is organized the entire constellation of the key-words of theological semantics, but in a framework of meanings dictated by metaphysics" (P. Ricoeur, Ermeneutica biblica [Brescia: Morcelliana, 1978], pp. 140-141; original title, Biblical Hermeneutics [Montana: 1975]).
The question, whether the metaphysical reduction really expresses the content which the symbolical and metaphorical language conceals within itself, is another matter.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 September 1979, page 1

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