I’m currently team-teaching a series for youth on “How the Bible Works”. I was struggling to find a resource that did everything I wanted it to do (when does one?), so I put together some teaching packets that I plan to use and re-use in the future. This week, we’re focusing on how to read Genesis 1-3.
Those familiar with covenant theology will recognize the “W’s” as the basic Suzerian Treaty covenantal format. The P’s are God’s promises that continue through every covenant, and are fulfilled finally through Christ. I try to draw that out, and show how we can read each epoch of redemptive history in that light. My belief is that the most reliable way to see Christ in the Old Testament is to see the connections between the covenants…this keeps us clearly connected with God’s actions then and now, and prevents us from ‘stream-of-consciousness’ symbolism.
One more thing: obviously, this is meant as an introduction, not an argument. For those who don’t subscribe to covenant theology, this will give you a clear picture of the pattern covenantal theology folks see, but it’s not designed to argue you into the kingdom 😉 Also – beware that I’m my own covenant theologian. For example – many covenant theologians don’t see a ‘universal covenant’ in Genesis 1-3! I think it’s clearly present, as does the Westminster confession…but I also take issue with calling it a ‘covenant of works’, as does Westminster (and therein lies the reason I write my own stuff!)
So, without further adieu, here’s how to read Genesis 1-3 (feel free to print this resource and use it – just copy in the source: www.scribblepreach.com).
The Universal Covenant: How to Read Genesis 1-3
God’s Work: Grounding God’s Lordship of the covenant in His work: “The Spirit hovered over the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
God’s Way: God’s conditions for covenant members: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” (2:16-17)
God’s Wealth: God’s promised blessings to covenant members.
- Place: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (2:8) …And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
- People: “It is not good for man to be alone… (2:18); “Be fruitful and multiply…” (1:28)
- Purpose: “Fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (1:28)
- PRESENCE: “So God made man in his image; in the image of God he created them.” 1:27
God’s Warning: God’s curses for those who disobey.
- Death: “If you eat of it, you shall surely die (2:17). Isaiah 24:5 – the world broke the “eternal covenant”.
God’s Witness: The symbol of God’s covenant.
A Summary of Genesis 1-3
God has established the world, which gives him the right to lordship over it (Revelation 2:11). God did not create man out of His own need, but created out of His grace – His unmerited favor toward mankind. He grants man the highest blessing of His self-revelation, so that in man’s glorification of God he might be satisfied. This covenant focuses on God as Creator – an essential theme in understanding Christ’s ability to redeem us in the future.
In Eden, mankind will enjoy God’s promised blessings: 1. Place. They have received the garden of Eden, and it is for them to enjoy, to care for, and to cultivate. 2. People. Adam is blessed with a wife, Eve, and they are given the divine benediction to be fruitful and multiply, creating the first human community. 3. Purpose: Adam and Eve are called to “subdue” and “have dominion” over the entire earth. This means they are to not only care for creation, but creatively “keep” it, which means continue the work of their Creator by being creators themselves. Note, the biblical narrative begins in a garden, and ends in a city: this is an earth which is finally “cultivated” by mankind (notice the lavish, flourishing garden in its midst (Rev. 22:1-5). 4. PRESENCE: God creates man in His own image, which indicates a special relationship, different from the animals. God proclaims man “very good”, indicating a relationship of special favor. Later, we read of a Christophony, where God “walks through the garden in the cool of the day.” God’s presence (God is omnipresent, so I prefer “favorable presence”, which connects us to the concept behind the concept: God’s grace) is Adam and Eve’s greatest blessing in the garden, and is meant to be chief in our minds when they are expelled (4:16).
Reading Genesis 1-3 as a Story.
Background: Genesis 1-3 is the story of God’s original and ultimate intent for mankind. As we read Genesis 1-3, we are to see the end for which God created the world, not simply some interesting back-story. Here we read of God as Creator – this is the backdrop of everything else in the Biblical story-arch, because God’s act of creation is intimately connected to His lordship.
Tension (Act I): The question posed to us by the narrative is: Will Adam and Eve fulfill God’s purposes in cultivating the world? Or, will they fail to obey God’s command and doom humanity to death?
Climax (Act II): When the serpent comes to Adam and Even in Genesis 3, this is the climax of the story. We are to see this event as an event of cosmic tension, because the serpent threatens to undo Adam and Eve’s obedience, and therefore thwart God’s purposes in the world.
Point of No Return (Act III): Adam and Eve disobey God and obey the serpent. They have revoked the right to the covenant blessings of fruitful marriage (people), fulfilling work (purpose), dominion over the garden and the earth (place), and, above all, the presence of God. Because of this failure, we see a reversal of God’s original blessings: the people that God created would now be filled with strife and competition. The place God created would now be subjected to sin ‘groaning’ under the weight of mankind’s failure. The purpose of God would now be filled with ‘thorns and thistles’ and ‘great pains’. And, ultimately, mankind would be moved from the presence of God – expelled from the goodness of the garden. This makes the story of Genesis 1-3 a tragedy (it has a bad ending, as opposed to a comedy, with a good ending).
Christ’s Fulfillment of Genesis 1-3
Christ’s Work: God initiates the universal covenant and establishes it in His work of Creation. Yet we know that it is “through Christ” and “to Christ” that all things were created that are created. He is the powerful Word through which God created the world. God’s word is not a benign word, but a powerful word, and that is because it is the living and active word of Christ. On the seventh day of creation, the scriptures tell us God ‘rested from His work’. Through Christ, we experience an eternal rest from our own labors and efforts to manufacture righteousness. Through Christ we can experience regeneration, or ‘new creation’, which begins in our hearts and is fulfilled in the resurrection.
Christ’s Way: Though Adam failed to fulfill his covenant obligations, Christ did not. For this reason, scripture calls Christ the ‘second Adam’. Rather than bringing death on mankind, Christ has defeated death by subjecting himself to it. He is then raised, reversing the effects of the fall of man, and fulfilling God’s original call to perfect obedience.
Christ’s Reward: This covenant emphasizes Christ’s Creative work in redemption. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God’s intention for creation is restored: we are given a place through Christ: not simply a ‘heavenly home’ but a restoration of heaven and earth. He will re-create the world. We are given a people through Christ: the human race under Adam was founded in the marriage between Adam and Eve. But in Christ we see that this marriage was a picture of what was to come – the marriage between Christ and his bride, the church. He creates a new people for Himself, the fountainhead of the new community of God. Through Christ, our purpose in the world is restored: in the Spirit of God we can work, play, live and eat to the glory of God, as was God’s original intent. Christ is the creative animator of His people. And finally, Christ fulfills the penultimate blessing of God – His presence – by first making us ‘new creations‘ through the Spirit.
Christ’s Warning: Christ is the source of all life, and in Him we live, move and have our being. But if we reject Christ, we too will remain in the universal covenant of death. We remain ‘in Adam’, we will be subject to the eternal death which he brought upon mankind.
Christ’s Witness: The Tree of Life symbolizes the eternal nature of the life God offers His children. In Revelation, we see this tree restored, and the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil removed. Christ, being the creative source of all life, has removed the second once and for all, and established the first.
10 Questions for Applying Genesis 1-3
- Do you acknowledge God’s Lordship, founded on His act of creation, over every area of life?
- Do you submit to God’s powerful word on a daily and hourly basis?
- How do you see yourself in the failure of the first human couple?
- Are you viewing marriage as a picture of Christ and the church, or have you fallen for worldly conceptions?
- Are you fulfilling God’s missional purpose for your life?
- Are you resting (or ‘sabbathing) today in the finished work of Christ?
- Do you see all others as made ‘in the image of God’, and treat them as people with inherent dignity?
- How do you see the result of Adam’s failure in the world around you?
- Do you set your hope on the place Christ has prepared for you (the new heavens and earth), or on earthly plans and schemes?
- Have you been made a new creation in Christ? Have you accepted the reversal of the curse, and the defeat of death forever? Have you been restored to God’s favorable presence, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Have you allowed Christ to remove you from Adam’s headship, and restore you to His own?