We want to complete our reflection on Genesis right now relative to the whole relationship between science and Christian faith, particularly the origins and the human life on the planet and how this is understood theologically. We have said already many things, and the one thing we do want to say and insist upon is that the Bible does not teach natural science and the Bible is not mythology. The Bible is the testimony to the activity of God Almighty in creation and how God interacts with the world of his making. It doesn’t deal with much how he does it, although there are very intriguing lines we have mentioned.
But in any case, what we want to say for sure right now as we finish off this reflection on Genesis, is that human beings, unique among creatures, not only of animals and plants, but of angels, even, and there’s no mention of angels at all in the Genesis story. Sometimes people think the “let there be light” means the creation of the noetic realm, the realm of the angels, but one thing’s for sure: it’s not there in Genesis. In any case, you do have this serpent who is connected with a kind of fallen spiritual power symbolizing that, which we saw last time.
The result now is this: we say theologically the following things—theologically. That God Almighty is the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. He fashions them, he forms them with his own hands, but he also gives a certain autonomy to creation. “Let the waters bring forth… Let the waters swarm… Let the earth bring forth…” Then all these various kinds and realities or varieties that come into existence, they are by the will of God. God wants it that way, and God says that it is very good.
So the affirmation of the sovereignty of God over creation: there is a creator God. It’s not the case that everything is divine or there is no God at all, which amounts to the same thing, but there is the El Shaddai, the Most High, and that he creates all these things and gives powers to his creation, and he is governing them. In the Genesis accounts, they are attacking the polytheism and the idolatries and the mythologies of the Canaanite world and the Egyptian world and the Sumerian world and the Syrian world and the Assyrian world. There is a real polemic, a real battle going on there between God’s version of reality and then the reality that human beings dream up. Wherever they happen to dream them up, even in areas that were not known to the authors of Genesis, for their world was a pretty small world compared to what we know the planet earth is, not to speak of the galaxies with the hundred thousand billion stars and so on—there’s plenty of information we have now that they did not have then—but the theological truths are still valid.
They are illumined by Christ, and the Christian Gospel is illumining these theological truths, namely that God is Creator, that he creates good, that the plants and animals and waters and trees are not divine beings, God is sovereign over them all, and that God by special activity breathes the breaths of life into all the living beings and among the living beings are those who are called anthrōpos, humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, made to govern, made to be free, made to—well, as one writer says, Jean Daniélou, a great patristic scholar, he said the one thing you see in Genesis is that there’s two things that make human beings human. One is theologia and the other is technologia. The one is that they have a communion with God, they know God, they can obey God, they can turn against God, that there’s a freedom there, but God is involved. And the one, true, and living God has to be involved if you have humanity the way it’s supposed to be.
But the other thing that you see for sure is that human beings are given control and governance of creation. They’re supposed to nurture it, govern it, cultivate it. It’s a technology, so to speak, and that allows for the possibility of science, that the creation which is nothing but a creation can be studied. What can be weighed and measured and you can figure out how old it is and where it came from and how it came to be. Scientists are studying these things all day long and trying to study what seems to be the laws of nature, which are becoming more and more—how can you say?—mysterious as science progresses. The certain laws of nature are no longer so certain, just like when I was young they would say about biblical study: the certain conclusions of a historical critical reading of the Scripture. They’re not so clear any more, and it’s not even—how can you say?—one realizes this is not the method that you can use when you’re dealing with God. God doesn’t fall within those categories, but there is a God and that God speaks, that God acts. He has a word, he has a spirit, he intervenes, and he is to be adored and he is to be obeyed. This is what you see in these stories, and when you don’t do it, you commit suicide, you kill yourself, and you bring corruption into creation.
In later Christian theology, this would be put this way, that according to the Scripture, humanity was created to be prophetic, to be priestly, and to be royal, to be pastoral. Prophetic meant to know the will of God, to know God, to know what was right and what was wrong, but instead of being prophets, human beings, by rebelling against God, disobeying God, turned themselves into fools. That’s a very powerful biblical word, a fool. Instead of being priestly, where everything would be consecrated by human beings and mediated and would become holy communion, the human beings become desecraters and corrupters and polluters. Instead of being governing and royal over creation, the human beings become the slaves of the elemental powers, slaves of their own bodies, slaves of their own DNA, slaves of their own hormones and their own memories and their own interactions with each other and simply end up dead, mortal, rotting in a tomb.
So there is this betrayal of God. It’s a betrayal of humanity. The betrayal of God, the rebellion against God, is a rebellion against oneself. If you try to kill of God, you end up killing yourself. These are the theological conclusions of these biblical stories, and it doesn’t end with Adam and Eve outside paradise, clothed in the garments of skin that God put over them to cover their shame, becoming simply flesh. That it’s not over there; it’s not the end. The holy Scripture continues; the story goes on, so to speak.
Then, of course, the ultimate purpose of this entire story, and all of the aspects in the various stories that make up this one narrative—the scholars would say all the various narratives that make up the meta-narrative, the super-narrative that brings it all together, St. Irenaeus would say, that recapitulates it all, anakephalaosis, brings it all to a head—is the coming of Christ. It’s interesting, by the way, that on the feast of the Annunciation in the Orthodox Church, when the Archangel Gabriel comes to Mary as the New Eve and she listens to the angel, the old Eve listened to a serpent; the New Eve listens to the angel. The old Eve brought death into the world and strife and corruption; the New Eve brings life and glory and splendor and immortality again. The old Eve was taken from Adam’s flesh; the New Eve gives her flesh to the New Adam.
This whole story is reversed in the Annunciation and in the first pages of the New Testament Scriptures, but it’s also interesting, as I was saying, that the very first line of the very main hymn of the Annunciation says this: “Sēmeron, today, tēs sotirias or tou sotiriou, of salvation is the kephalaon.” Kephalaon means summing-up; it means brought under a head. So: “Today the salvation of humanity is brought to its head.” It’s brought to its completion when the angel announces that the Word of God is going to take flesh from Mary in Mary’s womb. The Spirit of God is going to hover over her virginity and over her virgin, earthly soil and over her empty womb, the same way the Spirit of God in Genesis was hovering over the void of creation and from that earth fashions the human beings in his image and likeness, male and female.
So this is all filled up, fulfilled in Christ. All of the narratives are fulfilled in that meta-narrative of the Gospel. It’s so interesting, by the way, I can’t resist saying it, that on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple, the beginning of the hymn begins: “Today is the prelude, the oratory, the opening song, of God’s good will toward men.” And on Annunciation it says:
Today is the bringing to a head of our salvation, for the Son of God becomes the Son of Mary, the Virgin, and Gabriel announces the glad tidings of joy, the restoration to paradise.
But, getting back to Genesis, they are now outside paradise. They’re in this world. Last time, I quoted the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, how he puts it. Now I have the text in front of me, and I’ll read it exactly as it’s written in the prayer of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. At the Divine Liturgy, at the eucharistic canon of the Orthodox Church, when we say, “Let us stand aright; let us stand with fear, that we may offer the holy oblation in peace, the prayer begins:
O existing One, Master, Lord God, Father Almighty and adorable, it is truly meet and right and befitting the magnificence of your holiness to praise you, to sing to you, to bless you, to worship you, to give you thanks, to glorify you, the only truly existing God and to offer to you this, our reasonable, spiritual worship with a contrite heart and a spirit of humility. For you have granted us the knowledge of your truth.
So we know the knowledge of truth, and so we say; the prayer continues:
Who can utter your mighty acts? Who can make all your praises known? Who can tell of all your wonders and miracles at all times? O Father of all, Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation, visible and invisible…
So God, Master of all, the Despotēs, called the Lord of heaven and earth and of all creation, visible and invisible.
...who sits upon the throne of glory and beholds the depths.
So he’s over all and he enters into the depths of the whole creation. Then it goes on to describe this God:
...without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, indescribable, changeless, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…
Then it describes Jesus Christ:
...our great God and Savior, our hope, who is the image of your goodness, the seal of your very likeness, showing forth in himself you, O Father, Jesus Christ, the living Word, the true God, the eternal wisdom, the life, the sanctification, the power, the true light, through whom the Holy Spirit was revealed.
Then it describes the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of truth, the gift of divine Sonship, the pledge of future inheritance, the firstfruits of eternal blessings, the life-creating power, the fountain of sanctification…
And then it says this sentence:
...through whom every creature of reason and understanding worships you and always sings to you a hymn of glory.
So it’s the reasonable creatures, the creatures who have understanding, who understand God’s place toward the natural world that can be studied by the scientists. Let the scientists study it. It’s beautiful. You come to know things about it. It blows your mind. We give them every freedom to study it, yet what they are studying is what is created by God. And every creature of reason and understanding worships that God, because to be a human being you have to worship God and care for creation. You have to be a theologian who knows God and a technologist, practicing technologia to understand and operate properly the created order that God has made.
Then the prayer continues. It says:, “You are praised by angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, authorities…” All the angels are mentioned, and then all the believers in Christ sing the song from Isaiah. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory.” Not just heaven, but the earth; it’s filled with God’s glory. We know from Scripture that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the earth shows forth the work of his hands.” And the psalms in holy Scripture, the creation psalms, like Psalm 104 and the last three psalms of the psalter—147, 148, 149, 150—they’re all about this glorious creation that is giving glory to God. So heaven and earth are full of his glory. “Hosanna in the highest!” God is saving us, the Most High God. Then it says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” That’s Christ; that’s the Savior. “Hosanna in the highest.”
Now we want to continue reading. The anaphora prayer continues.
With these blessed angelic powers, Master, the Lover of humanity, we sinners also cry out, and we say: You are holy, truly most holy. There are no bounds to the magnificence of your holiness. You are gracious in all your deeds, for with righteousness and true judgment you have ordered all things for us.
So the claim is there is an order; there is a providence. God has a plan from before all ages, but that plan involves—how can you say?—the quasi-autonomy of creation. Creation can rebel; creation can get out of whack. The human beings who are supposed to care for creation can mess it all up, and then they no longer have control over the earth, the waters, the plants, the animals. It all becomes chaos again; it’s a relapse into chaos. This is what St. Basil is actually going to say in this prayer. This is how it continues.
When you created anthrōpos, humanity, human being, by taking dust from the earth, you honored him with your own image, O God. You set him in a paradise of delight, promising him (“promising him,” in the future) everlasting life, eternal life, in the enjoyment of everlasting blessings…
So God puts humanity in a paradise of delight—this is, of course, reference to Genesis—and promised him eternal life, that he would never die, he would be immortal, enjoying everlasting blessings… But how? How? St. Basil says it clearly, following holy Scripture.
...in the observance of your commandments.
And that’s the point. Everything begins with the observance of the commandments. In our Church before Palm Sunday, in the Eastern Orthodox Church we have Lazarus Saturday. The raising of Lazarus is connected to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in the gospel of St. Luke. In that parable, the meaning of that parable that Jesus gives is that rich man is lost, and he wants the poor guy to go back, raised from the dead, to preach to his brothers to be saved. And the Lord Jesus says in the parable—Abraham actually says it in the actual parable that Jesus gives—that if a person doesn’t follow the commandments, they won’t believe even if someone rises from the dead.
In other words, unless people are willing to obey God, love God, and following the commandments of God, they’ll never know anything else and nothing will convince them. They’ll be violent atheists and won’t even believe in the resurrection of the dead and even call it a myth, or the virgin birth a myth or something like that. Why does that happen? Well, according to the Scripture, because they refuse to keep the commandments. Humanity refused to keep the commandments. In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul would put it very clearly. They refused to offer God doxa, glory, and gratitude, thanksgiving. Therefore they plunge into absolute nonsense and folly and ignorance.
God turns them over to their own passions, and they end up creating idols for themselves of all sorts of creaturely things that they worship as God, and then they worship these elemental powers in the universe. Then they think that this fallen world is the way God created it to be, and they could not be even more deluded, realizing that the way the natural order is now is totally corrupted and perverted by the sin of men, by human sin, right from the very beginning. There never was a time when you had human beings really living according to the commandments of God. From the very beginning, there’s apostasy. That’s the Genesis story.
So this is what Basil said.
You set him in a paradise of delight, promising him eternal life in the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of your commandments. But when man disobeyed you, the only true God, who had created him, and was deceived by the guile (the cunning, the subtlety) of the serpent, becoming subject to death through his own transgressions…
So let’s read that again.
But when anthrōpos, humanity, the human being, disobeyed you, the true God who had created him, and was deceived by the subtle cunning and guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death through his own transgressions…
Then it continues.
...you, O God, in your righteous judgment, did send him forth from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration (re-creation) in your Christ himself. For you did not turn yourself away forever from your creature whom you had made, O good One, nor did you forget the works of your hands. Through your tender compassion, of your mercy, you visited him in various ways.
Then all those things are listed. All are listed.
You spoke by the mouth of the prophets. You gave the Law as a help. You appointed angels as guardians. When the fullness of time came, you sent your only Son…
Then the prayer continues.
...so that those who were dead in Adam might be made alive in your Christ himself.
So St. Basil says it all in that prayer. He says everything. But what he says is that we’re no longer in paradise. We’re in this world, the corrupted world, the world where it’s all messed up. Or St. Maximus the Confessor described it this way. He says a world where there is hostility between men and women, where there’s hostility between body and soul, where there’s hostility between spirit and matter, where there’s hostility between the heavenly realm and the earthly realm, and where there’s hostility and division and a rift, a break, between the uncreated God and his creation. Those are the five diaereses that Maximus says Jesus Christ heals and restores. Christ will come to restore the rift between men and women, between body and soul, between spirit and matter, even between, Maximus says, the civilized world and chaos, barbarism. You might say paradise, the way we’re supposed to be, and this world, the way we actually are. Then the ultimate rift to be healed is the rift, the breach between God, the uncreated God, and everything else that is his creature.
Getting back to Genesis, once Adam and Eve are now outside paradise in this present world, and all these curses, so to speak, come upon them because of their transgression, then what do you have? Well, you have in the book of Genesis seven, yes, seven chapters which all show the consequence of the fundamental, ancestral, primordial, might even say original—that’s St. Augustine’s word—sins of humanity. Here I think that we have to say, theologically, I don’t think it really matters much the biology involved here, because if you look at it from biology, you have very many troubles. If Adam and Eve were all alone, whom do their children marry? Do they marry each other? Do they have incest? Where do these other people come from? Where does Seth find his wife? You can’t interpret this as if Adam and Eve were one kind of a couple like Abraham and Sarah or Joachim and Anna or George and [Martha] Washington or something. That’s not what the Scripture is saying.
Certainly, Adam and Eve, there has to be first people historically. There have to be first humans history. This is not mythology. This is history. There have to be human beings to begin with. There have to be first males and females who are now not simply only animals; they’re now in God’s image. They are free. They are conscious. They have intelligence. They have morality. They can will, they can choose, they can think, they can speak, they can act. They’re not chimpanzees; they’re not apes. They’re not tigers; they’re not amoebas. They’re humans, radically different, yet still the same, because they’re animals still. They’re created with the animals. They’re living souls, according to Genesis.
But then God is there. God is there, speaking with them, raising them up, putting his own Spirit upon them, that they could be made in God’s image, because they’re in God’s image, and the other animals are not. And that image of God means they can have a conscious relationship with God, and they can care for creation. To put it the way we’ve been putting it, they can be theologians and technicians. They can be worshipers of God and governors and carers for creation, for the earth, for the water, for the plants and the animals. This is what you find there, but when you continue reading Genesis…
By the way, I should mention in the Orthodox Church tradition, there is no feast of St. Adam day, or St. Eve day. There’s no panel icons of Adam and Eve. Even on the icon of Pascha, where the Lord Jesus is pulling Adam and Eve out of the tombs, it’s interesting: they don’t have halos in the traditional icons, and they’re not named, even. They’re just man and woman. They’re just humanity, whereas the other figures in the icon, the righteous of the Old Testament, and even those of the Old Testament that weren’t that righteous, like Solomon… David is there. John the Baptist is clearly there; you can recognize him. The righteous of the Old Testament have their halos and their names. They’re the holy people that prefigured—that, rather, prophesied and prepared for the way of the coming of Christ.
But Adam and Eve, you might say they are symbolical names. They’re symbolical names; they stand for humanity. They stand for the human beings. Wherever you have human beings on the planet earth, you have this story. This story is repeated historically. It actually takes place. The rebellion from the beginning, the listening to the serpent from the beginning, not being what God wanted them to be. It’s not using their reality as made in God’s image which was given to them, but distorting that image, corrupting their bodies, not making their body a temple of the Holy Spirit, but rather a body of flesh and sin, of death, mortality. That’s what you have wherever you have humanity.
People could say, “Well, that sounds like mythology.” It’s not mythology, because it happened historically. There were human beings, they’re on the face of the earth, they were made in God’s image and likeness, they’re not chimpanzees or animals, and they blow it and bring evil and destruction and perversion and death upon themselves and chaos and corruption onto creation, and pollution. Wherever you have human beings, that’s what you have, and that’s a historical fact. So there is some first human being, and as long as you’ve got one human being anywhere, as long as you’ve got anthrōpos or Adam or earth-creature, who rebels against God, then all that rebellion is passed onto his children. Then all the children of Adam, to use a biblical expression, become the victims of his perversion and corruption. They inherit the mortality. They are born already under the power of the serpent, even though they did nothing wrong.
In our Orthodox theology, they’re not born guilty, because they didn’t do anything wrong. The children of Adam and Eve didn’t do anything wrong, but they did inherit the consequences of the sin of their parents, and we all are inheriting the consequences of the sins of our parents. To this present day we are inheriting the consequences of the sins of our parents, even physically. If I have an HIV-infected parent and I am born, I have that in me. One of our own daughters has a geneticaldisease. She has a disease of tumors in her body that come from genetics, that come from her forebears. She didn’t decide to have that; she didn’t choose to have that. She has that because she’s part of this fallen world. I have another daughter who used to wear a button: “It’s my father’s fault.” Well, sure. It’s called generational sin, and we know that the sins of parents and grandparents, they affect the progeny. Physically, they affect the progeny, with the tendencies to certain sins, called prolēpsis in Greek, predispositions to sin.
The effect of the sin of Adam and Eve, the primordial generational sins of humanity, is not simply mortality. There are some Orthodox theologians who are so opposed to original sin doctrine that they want to say that the only effect of the primordial sin is mortality, but that’s not true. That’s simply not true. It’s true that there is mortality, but that’s not the only thing. Predisposition to sin, having to deal with our parents—and we’re going to see that in the fifth chapter of Genesis, it’s going to say that in so many words. But let’s deal with the fourth chapter first.
The fourth chapter says that the very first thing that the children of Adam do is kill each other. Beautiful, isn’t it? The very first thing that human beings created for paradise in God’s image do is fratricide. Cain kills Abel. We don’t know why, in some sense. It says that the Lord—that’s Yahweh again; this is a Yahwist tradition—the Lord God respected Abel and his offering, but did not respect Cain and his sacrifices. And that can’t be interpreted because the one was animal and the other was plant, and one offered fruits of the ground and the other one offered animals from the flock. That doesn’t make any sense, because in the law of Moses, both are offered. But the only hint that we have a reason is “Did you not sin, even though you brought it rightly but did not divide it rightly?” Why are you extremely sorrowful? And then God says, “If you do well, won’t I accept your sacrifice?”
So it seems like Cain was not doing things well, and that’s why God did not accept his sacrifice. That’s what it seems to be, but in any case, Cain is jealous of Abel, and envy is one of the primordial sins. In fact, in our tradition it’s the envy of the devil that causes all of our problems. If you read the New Testament, if you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke about the trial of Jesus, and John as well, but it says that those high priests and scribes and lawyers delivered Jesus up to be crucified out of envy. It says it in so many words. Jealousy is the basic, insidious thing. You might even say that Adam and Eve in paradise were jealous of God. They wanted to be like God. Or as one of my students once said, they wanted to be like God without God. They wanted to be like God against God.
And in some sense they were even jealous of God, because knew the difference between good and evil, and they wanted to know it, too. But God knows it by God as sovereign over it; he doesn’t have to learn it by actually doing evil to know what evil is, but creatures do. Creatures’ knowledge of good and evil is totally abstract until—but when they’re doing good, that’s all they need to know. Then they’re free, then they’re true, then they’re with God. But the minute they turn on that, it destroys them, and that’s the story here. Then the destruction continues, and this is what we’re going to see through the rest of Genesis: the destruction continues. Cain kills Abel.
Then it says that this groaning when you till the ground will continue, trembling, sweat of the brow. Then Cain says, “My guilt is too hard to bear,” but then God marks him and somehow forgives him and protects him, even though he is a sinner. So God’s kind of mercy somehow continues. So he says, “Whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” It’s the Lord who is the lord of vengeance; he’s the one who judges, not us. We don’t put anybody to death. God will do his vengeance on Cain if there’s vengeance to be done. But then Cain leaves out of the presence of the Lord and dwells in the land of Nod, opposite Eden, east of Eden. So that’s even the name of a Steinbeck book.
Here you have Cain and Abel, murdering. Then it continues. Cain knew his wife, and you could ask the question, “Where did he get that wife?” Was it sons of Adam and Eve? So you can’t interpret that biologically. There’s no way it’s to be interpreted biologically. It can be interpreted theologically and historically: theologically as showing the truth of God and historically meaning that these are events that take place among human beings, so that the root is historical but the story is not historical. That’s a very biblical thing. You’re dealing with real events in human history, but how they’re being presented is in a quasi-historical manner for theological purposes, but they are not simply, we might use that word, literal history in the modern sense.
But then it continues about these births. Enoch, and then you have Irad and you have Methuselah, and you have these incredible ages which are also theological. Then you have those who begin to work with metal and bronze, and then those who begin to play on pipes and so on. So you have a kind of continuation after Cain and Abel. Then at the end of that fourth chapter, you have:
Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore a son, and he named him Seth, saying: God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.
So God replaces Abel with Seth. Then it says, “As for Seth, to him also a son was born. He named him Enosh, and he hoped in the Lord God and called upon his name.” In the Hebrew text it would say it was from that time that man began to call upon God. They remembered and they began to learn about God.
In the fifth chapter, the story continues, and there’s a very, very important text in the beginning of the fifth chapter of Genesis. This is what it says. I’m reading now from the Orthodox Study Bible which translates the Septuagint.
This is the book of the genesis of humanity (mankind), in the day God made Adam, whom he made in God’s image. He made them male and female and blessed them, and the day he made them he called his name Adam. Now Adam lived 230 years, and he begot a son according to his form, in his image, and he named him Seth.
Isn’t that interesting? It says now that when Adam and Eve reproduced, and they beget a son, the son is now in their eidos, their form, and in their image, eikona. That’s the Greek words. Now if you read that same text from the Hebrew translation in the RSV, this is what it would say.
This is the book of the generation of Adam, when God created man (anthrōpos), he made him in the likeness of God, male and female he created them, and he blessed them, and he named them man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he became the father of a son (and then it says here) in his own likeness, after his own image, and he named him Seth.
What’s that all about? Well, that tells us this. The children of Adam—humanity from the beginning was made in God’s image and likeness, but by the sin of human beings—the children are no longer in the image and likeness of God. They’re now in the image and likeness of their parents. It says it very clearly. “He became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his own image, and he named him Seth.” That’s the Hebrew translation into English. The Greek translation into English is: “Adam lived 230 years and begot a son, according to his form and image, and he named him Seth.”
Now we bear the image, we are in the image and likeness of our parents. Then as the generations go on, that progresses. You might almost dare say, to use the no-word, it evolves. The sinful character of humanity evolves. It progresses; it gets worse and worse. If you read the chapter five, you have all these generations. It’s a genealogy. It’s so interesting that you have a genealogy plunked right in the beginning of Genesis. The children of Seth, the children of Enosh, the children of Kenan, the children of Mahalalel, the children of Enoch. Enoch walked with God; he was not. Methuselah, who lived 187 years—he’s the oldest—[before he became the] father of Lamech. Lamech lived 100; he became the [father of a] son he called Noah.
By the time you get to the end of the fifth chapter, it says, “He called his son Noah, saying: Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” Then it says, “Lamech lived after the birth of Noah 595 years, and he had other sons and daughters.” So you have all these big years, and I think no one in their right mind would think these were literal calendar years in our sense of the term. They are ways of speaking about longevity, about generations, about periods of time. Again, it’s historical; it’s radically historical. It’s not mythological. Genealogies are always telling you: This ain’t myth. The minute you have a genealogy—this ain’t myth. The Bible is filled with genealogies: the Chronicles, the book of Numbers, the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke. They have genealogies in them, because this is not mythology; this is history. This is human life outside paradise and how it acts and what happens.
Then you have, in the sixth chapter, this very strange thing. This might be, in fact, some kind of Canaanite—you don’t know what it is, these Nephilim who are on the earth, sons of God came unto daughters of men. They bore children, mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Some people think that this means that there were some kind of giant people around the earth that came again and reproduced with the humans who came from Adam and Eve, that there were some other kinds of beings there and that they took up with the daughters of men. I don’t know what that means. It’s just a very difficult thing to understand what that is.
But what follows is not difficult at all. What follows is very clear. It says:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, and the Lord was sorry that he had made humanity on the earth (man), and it grieved him to his heart.
It speaks about God having a heart. It’s anthropomorphic language.
So the Lord (and again, it’s Yahweh) said: I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth: man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them. But Noah himself found favor in the eyes of God.
Then you have the generations of Noah, this righteous man, blameless in his generations, who walked with God, and he has three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Then the claim is that the humanity comes from these three sons of Noah. Why? Because in the Bible, the earth is corrupt in God’s sight. It’s filled with violence. God saw the earth and, behold, it was corrupt. All flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” Then, of course, you have the story which I will not repeat in detail, where God commands Noah to build this ark. Then he’s going to let loose the waters over the firmament and the waters under the firmament, and there’s going to be this horrible flood.
It’s very interesting, by the way. You have to ask the question: Why does the ancient world have so many stories about floods? You could say, well, it’s just common mythology, but that doesn’t seem to make sense. It would seem to make more sense that there must have been traditions and tales in virtually all the peoples of the earth, which meant all the peoples in that region of the earth, of in fact a real historical flood that took place that the various peoples of that area knew about and then told stories about. It wasn’t fantasy; it wasn’t created. Something like that happened, and then it becomes into the legends and the sagas and the tales of all the peoples of the region. So it was a common thing.
When people would say, “Oh, it’s common, therefore it’s just the Bible follows the other common myths,” and so on, it could be that just the opposite is true, that there was a kind of a flood and it was really destructive and very tragic and people remembered it, but then God decided to save some of the people within it. Then the story of Noah comes up to give God’s version of what happened. God says what happened is that man really lost control of the universe, floods overwhelmed them, they were so carnal, so evil, had no control over reality at all, and that just a remnant of them was saved. We’ll see through the holy Scripture how God is always saving a remnant of the people, a small group of the people, who are righteous.
Then those righteous people usually end up sinning, too. Noah ends up sinning with his sons in the story. His sons uncover his nakedness. But if you just take the story as it is—and there’s different stories. Some stories said that those who went into the ark went in two by two; some say they went in seven by seven. The stories differ, but the theological point is totally, totally clear, and that is that God is very unhappy with the behavior of humans. He regrets even that he made it. The evil became so bad, like the killing with Cain and Abel started the whole thing and it gets worse and worse and worse and it’s just downhill. Then what happens finally is that there’s disruption in creation; chaos rules again. But God acts and intervenes in order to save, in order to keep the human race going.
Then of course after the story of Noah, the humanity is now traced back to Noah. Some people think that when the New Testament speaks about “one man,” they’re speaking about Noah, not necessarily Adam. Noah here is presented as a much more historical figure than Adam and Eve. You might say the historicity of it is much more obvious; it’s much more, so to speak, vivid, that this kind of thing happened, but God acted to intervene and then God promises it won’t happen again.
Here you have something in the Bible very particularly. Everything that happens in the Bible always has a future meaning. It’s always prophetic. Everything in the Bible is prefigurative. It’s prophetic. When you read what happened in the past, it helps you to understand what you can expect in the future. Of course, in the future, what is expected is that there will be a total salvation. Here when the holy Fathers interpret the story of Noah-ark, they do it ecclesiologically and sacramentally. The ark is the Church. That’s what really saves you. The waters are baptism. You’ve got to go through the waters in order to be saved and be saved from their terrifying power. Then a dove will come, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and it’ll have olive in its mouth, which symbolizes the healing power of God. Some of the Fathers saw the whole sacraments of the Church in the story of Noah’s ark.
It’s not for nothing, by the way, that the Orthodox church buildings are called arks and tabernacles. It’s the same word, by the way, in Hebrew. And that the center of a church building is called a nave. A nave means a boat; a nave means an ark. One Western writer, Hugo of Saint Victor, he wrote a whole ecclesiology describing the whole meaning of the Christian Church by using the story of Noah’s ark as a prefigurative type of what is perfectly fulfilled in the New Testament in Christ and the Church.
Of course, in the New Testament Scripture it does it, too. In the letter of Peter, it speaks about “in the days of Noah,” and then “the hope was given,” and that “now this symbolizes baptism through which people are saved when they enter into the Church,” because when you’re baptized, you enter into the Church. You’re saved from the terrifying power of water, and you are given the life-giving power of water. Then God keeps you from all of these cosmic catastrophes that can destroy you; and that ultimately God will save the whole human race. So here he does save the whole human race through Noah and his children.
But then the story, of course, [of] Noah goes on again and again; it continues in the Bible. It’s not only the sixth chapter; it’s the seventh chapter, it’s the eighth chapter, it’s the ninth chapter. It’s a long story. It’s one of the stories that most children learn when they go to Sunday school for the first thing. We used to joke in our day that our kids in the Orthodox Church never get out of Noah’s ark. It’s the one story they know.
However, I just heard a woman friend of mine who is a music teacher at a fancy school. She was teaching a class of about 35 children a song about Noah’s ark, and she asked the children to tell the story of Noah’s ark, and not one child in the classroom knew it. Not one child in the classroom knew the story of Noah and the ark. But when I was a child, every kid knew it. Everyone had toys.
This was always telling us that God is going to save us. There is the rainbow. But if you’re evil and you’re corrupted before God and get corrupted, the earth will rebel, the waters of the firmament will break. You’ll get flooded over; you’ll get killed. So you’d better jump in that ark and you’d better be saved.
I have a friend who converted to the Orthodox Church, and someone asked him how it was that he entered into the Orthodox Church. He said, “Well, the Orthodox Church is like Noah’s ark. It’s filled with animals and it stinks to high heaven and it’s very rickety and it gets bashed around in the storms of life and in all the powers of this corrupted world, but it saves you.” But it saves you. And I love that, personally. I love to think of the Church as Noah’s ark, as the ark. It’s bashed around, it’s in this wildly violent world, it’s filled with animals—animals are stinky; only God knows what it was like on that ark if you think about it literally—but ultimately it saves you.
But there’s no guarantee that it will continue to save you. You can be off the ark and off to this corrupted world, and you can just be caught by it again. In fact, that’s even what happens in the Bible, because in the Bible it says Noah began to be a husbandman when he came off the ark. And it says from his three sons all the world was populated. I’ll just read it to you.
Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.
So that’s the claim that God kind of saves of his creation; he doesn’t completely destroy it. But then it says Noah began to be a husbandman. It means a person who keeps a vineyard. Then he began to make wine. Then he drank the wine that he got from his grapes. Then he got drunk. Then he was naked in his house. Then Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told the two brothers outside. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it both shoulders, walked backwards, covered their father’s nakedness. Since their face was turned away, they did not see his nakedness. Thus when Noah became sober, after he was drunk, he knew what his younger son had done to him.
By the way, in the Bible, the expression “to uncover one’s nakedness,” it means to do a sexual sin. It doesn’t just mean to look; it means to do something. So it says here what the younger son had done. And then Noah says, “Curséd be Canaan. A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth and let him dwell in the habitations of Shem. Let Canaan be his servant as well.” Of course, people see this as a prediction that the Canaanites will be ruled over by the Israelites, and the land of Canaan will be given to God’s people. Then it says: “And Noah lived 950 years, and he died.”
Then you have a genealogy again. The whole tenth chapter is again a genealogy. The Bible loves those genealogies, because this is telling what is happening in human history. Then you get to the 11th chapter, and that’s kind of the epitome of evil, and that’s the tower of Babel. The 11th chapter says the whole earth was one language and speech, and then the people got presumptuous. “Come, let us make bricks, bake them with fire.” And they wanted to build a tower whose top would reach to heaven. It says, “And let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole world.”
Some people think that these were these juggernaut-types of towers that you can find in, well, modern Iraq and in those areas of Babylon where people tried to build temples that can take them up to the heavens where they think that they can tap the power of God and then con God. All pagan religion is an attempt to con God, and Christianity has become in our time a pagan religion, where people go to church to con God, to make God make them healthy, happy, live long lives, destroy their enemies, enjoy life on this earth, live long, and even be sure after they die that they go to heaven. That’s pure paganism. It’s nothing to do with the Bible.
But there is this attempt for human beings to somehow take over, build a city that would reach to heaven and manipulate even the powers of God towards their end. Then according to the story God comes down. He acts again; he intervenes again. Then it’s the Lord Yahweh [who] comes and sees the city, and the Lord Yahweh—and this is connected very particularly with our Lord Jesus Christ—it says that they have one race and one language and they’d begun to do what they said, and he says, “Let us go down and confuse their languages.” So the languages are confused, and then it becomes very hard for the human race to try to be God, because then they begin fighting with each other. They have different languages, different customs, different traditions.
Now the variety is good. There’s no doubt that variety is good. We have Shem, Ham, Japheth. We have these various tribes. We have all these people saved. It’s good. God said it is very good in the beginning, and he never goes back on that. But what he does say is: You should adore God and not try to make yourselves into God.
It’s interesting in the Orthodox Church, on the feast of Pentecost, when everyone hears the Gospel of Christ in their own languages, the kontakion of the feast says this in the Orthodox Church.
When the Most High scattered the nations, he confused the nations, but when he sends the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, he draws all humanity into unity.
On the day of Pentecost, all these different languages are heard, now glorifying God and testifying to the witness that Christ is the Messiah and that the final covenant has come and it’s for all the nations of the earth. So when the Most High scattered the tongues, he dispersed the nations, but when he sent the tongues of fire on Pentecost in the Holy Spirit, he gathered all the nations into unity.
Of course, in the Bible everything will be for the sake of the salvation of the nations, and God is interested in the nations. Until the 11th chapter of Genesis, you have no Israelites. They begin with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and that begins in the 12th chapter of Genesis, that finally all this evil is somehow brought to its culmination in the story of the tower of Babel—or bay-bel, however you say that word, babble. And then Babel will become the great symbol of the antithesis of Jerusalem. It will be Babylon.
After the story of this presumption of humans to reach into heaven, you have another genealogy: the genealogy of Shem. You have another genealogy: of Terah. And then you have the Lord God calling Abram, who then becomes Abraham, changes his name, and he tells him:
Get out of your country, from your kinsmen and your father’s house. Go to a land I will show you, and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing, and I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you, and in you all the nations, all of the tribes of the earth, will be blessed.
And that’s the beginning of salvation history: the call of Abraham. But in that pre-history, what do you see? Nothing but violence, evil, destruction, and presumption, carnality and pride, vanity. So those first eleven chapters of Genesis are a whole, you might call it a verbal icon, a picture, a description of the fundamental rebellion of humanity against God and all the consequences that that brings. But it also says that God does not give up. God keeps going, and then of course the ultimate of God’s action with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets, the Babylonian captivity, the destruction of the temple, the rebuilding of the temple—all that happens—the law of Moses—all of that will have its head be summed up when the angel of the Lord comes to a woman and says to her, “Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you. You will bear a Son, and he will be called the Son of the Most High.”
When Mary hears the messenger of God, not Satan, and says, “Let it be to me according to your word,” then the whole thing is reversed. The whole thing is reconstructed. It all starts over again, and it begins in the womb of Mary, through the tomb where her Son will lie dead and then raised from that tomb which will be seen to be empty, and then we’ll know that all the promises of God to humanity, to save humanity, to save those who will be saved, to those who will be sons of God with Jesus, because Adam was made to be a son of God, but he rejected it, but to all who accept it, they will be saved by Jesus Christ, who is the real Adam, the New Adam, the Last Adam, the Man from heaven, of whom the first Adam was just a typos.
The New Eve will be the Church that comes from his side, symbolized in his own mother, the greatest of the disciples, and we will become one flesh. Humanity will finally become one flesh with God’s own Son and have God as the Abba Father and will live once again in paradise. Then when that Christ comes, the whole of creation will become paradise. At the end, paradise is not one little place. All the hundred thousand billion galaxies and stars will become paradise in the risen and glorified Christ when he comes again in glory; and that those who do not love it, who do not want it, they will have to bow their knee to him, but they may not like it, but they will then be in the hell that they themselves have chosen. May it not be so, but it may be so.
But what we have to say now is: We see all of this already in the first chapters of the Bible. It’s all prefigured in the story of creation. The whole re-creation is in the story of creation, and it is all done by God, through his Word who will be incarnate in human flesh as the Last Adam, Jesus, by the breath of his mouth, by the wind that flows over, the Holy Spirit of God that’s there from the very beginning.
So this is how we see this; this is how we understand it. It has nothing to do with mythology; it has nothing to do with natural science as such, but it does tell us that creation has its own integrity, and it can be studied, and we can learn from it. It can proclaim the glory of God, but it has methods of its own. But never let the study of the fallen world draw metaphysical conclusions, because they will not follow. They are not about that. There has to be science and technology, but there has to be wisdom, divine knowledge, and theology. We have to really work on seeing how those two are connected together: the theology and the science, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of God’s good, yet corrupted, creation.