© 1994 by
THE GREAT REVERSAL:
THEMATIC LINKS BETWEEN GENESIS 2 AND 3
Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies
The break between Gen 1 and 2 has been discussed at length by
many scholars.1 Umberto Cassuto, for example, has made a clear
distinction between the story in Gen 1 and the one recorded in chaps.
2 and 3.2 Cassuto argues that the first chapter relates "The Story of
Creation" to teach us "that the whole world and all that it contains
were created by the word of the One God, according to His will, which
operates without restraint."3 The second section, more precisely Gen
2:4-24, is part of the "Story of the Garden of Eden," which stretches to
the end of chap. 3; its purpose is "to explain how it is that in the Lord's
world, the world of the good and beneficent God, evil should exist and
man should endure pain and troubles and calamities."4
On the other hand, the unity of chaps. 2 and 3 is generally
recognized, although different reasons are given in support of this
conclusion. Cassuto bases his argument for the unity of this passage on
1 For example, G. von Rad notes: "The difference is in the point of departure:
Whereas in ch. 1 creation moves from the chaos to the cosmos of the entire world, our
account of creation [chap. 2] sketches the original state as a desert in contrast to the sown"
(Genesis: A Commentary [London: SCM, 1972], 76). Likewise, Claus Westermann states:
"The narrative of Gen 1 is characterized by its onward, irresistible and majestic flow that
distinguishes it so clearly from the drama narrated in Gen 2-3" (Genesis 1-11: A
ch. 1 views reality as an ordered pattern which is confused by the flood, chs. 2-3 see
reality as a network of elemental unions which become disintegrated throughout the
course of the narrative from
JSOT, 1978], 75).
2 A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1978), 1:84-94.
3 Cassuto, 7. For a different view see von Rad, 46: "Faith in creation is neither the
basis nor the goal of the declarations in Gen., chs. 1 and 2. Rather, the position of both
the Yahwist and the Priestly document is basically faith in salvation and election."
4 A Commentary, 71.
48 ZDRAVKO STEFANOVIC
noticeable similarities between certain elements found in the beginning
of chap. 2 and at the end of chap. 3.5 Claus Westermann holds that the
idea of the two chapters as an independent and separate narrative was
"one of the most important and decisive results of literary criticism."6
The presence of thematic links between the two chapters has been
proposed also by von Rad.7 David J. A. Clines points to four areas of
harmonious relationship in chap. 2 that are disrupted in chap. 3.8
In addition to being a literary unit, as seen by the structural and
thematic links already noted,9 these two chapters also show a unity of
purpose. The two come together to present the first of many reversals
in the Bible.10 The purpose of this article is to explore this reversal
theme in Gen 2 and 3.
5 Ibid., 159, 169-171. Cassuto argues for linking some passages through common
terms; for example, Gen 2:7, 17 to 3:19; Gen 2:25 to 3:7, 21; Gen 2:5, 7 to 3:23; Gen 2:8,
15 to 3:24. Considering the two chapters as a unit, E. A. Speiser calls them "the brief
the term "Paradise Tale" (Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature [Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 28). In their respective studies Derek Kidner (Genesis: An
also treat the two chapters as a single unit (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on
Genesis, ICC [
6 Westermann notes that in consequence "it is but logical to use this same method
as a tool for a more exact interpretation of the passage" (186).
7 'The serpent 'which God had made' in ch. 3.1 points back to the creation of the
animals in ch. 2.18. The theme of shame in ch. 3.7 ff. is taken up and attached (almost
abruptly) to the narrative about the creation of man (2.25)" (von Rad, 100). Also
contributing to the discussion is J. T. Walsh, "Genesis 2:46-3:24: A Synchronic Approach,"
JBL 96 (1977): 161-177.
8 "In ch. 3 the relationship of harmony between each of these pairs [man and soil,
man and animals, man and woman, man and God, all in chap. 2] is disrupted. The
communion between God and the man who breathes God's breath (2:7) has become the
legal relationship of accuser and defendant (3:9ff); the relationship of man and woman as
"one flesh" (2:24) has soured into mutual recrimination (3:12); the bond of man (adam)
with the soil (‘adamah) from which he was built has been supplanted by 'an alienation.
. .' (3:17 ff.); the harmonious relationship of man with beast in which man is the
acknowledged master (2:19 ff.) has become a perpetual struggle of intransigent foes (3:15)"
9 0n the structure of Gen 2 and 3 see the whole issue of Semeia 18 (1980).
10 See Zdravko Stefanovic, "Daniel: A Book of Significant Reversals," AUSS 30
(Summer 1992): 139-150.
LINKS BETWEEN GENESIS 2 AND 3 49
The Content of Genesis 1:1-2:3
According to von Rad, Gen 1:1 is the "summary statement of
everything that is unfolded step by step in the following verses."11 The
language of the chapter is simple, yet decisive: God's powerful word
created the world in such a way that "it was firm, or well established."12
The creative activity of the first three days parallels that which ensued
on the following three, while the Sabbath rest, established on the
seventh day, had no counterpart. The structure of Gen 1 follows the
pattern: introduction + 3 pairs + climax or conclusion. This structure
is visualized in Figure 1.13 The seventh day, rich with God's blessings,
was the climax of God's creative work. In the words of Abraham
Heschel, "Last in creation, first in intention, 'the Sabbath is the end of
the creation of heaven and earth."'14 Everything was declared to be
"very good" and no shade of disorder can be traced in the complete
11 He also says that the "hidden grandeur of this statement is that God is the Lord
of the world" (49). For Westermann the same verse is "a heading that takes in everything
in the narrative in one single sentence" (94).
12 Cassuto derives ken (1:30) from the root kwn and translates the phrase "and it was
firm or an established thing" (34).
13 On this idea, see Jacques B. Doukhan, The Genesis Creation Story (Berrien Springs,
Account," Origins 5 (1978): 9-38. A structure similar to that proposed in Figure 1 is found
in other biblical passages. In Matt 1 the disputed number of 14 generations can best be
explained as 7 x 2.
14 The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (
1951), 14. Further describing the uniqueness of the Sabbath, V. Hamilton notes: "Silence
and stillness once again enter the atmosphere. The mood of the prologue now resurfaces
in this epilogue. There is no activity, no noise, no speaking. All that God has willed and
designed for his canvas of the universe is now in its place" (The Book of Genesis: Chapters
a Sabbath at creation contain one of the most remarkable and daring testimonies in the
entire priestly document" (61). For Westermann, "the sanctification of the Sabbath
institutes an order for humankind according to which time is divided into time and holy
time, time for work and time for rest. The work of creation began with three acts of
50 ZDRAVKO STEFANOVIC
Summary of the Story
A. FIRST DAY (1:3-5) A: FOURTH DAY (1:14-19)
1. Creation of light 1. Creation of luminaries
2. Light described as good 2. Luminaries described as good
3. Light separated from darkness 3. Times divided by luminaries
B. SECOND DAY (1:6-8) B: FIFTH DAY (1:20-23)
1. The Expanse created (heaven) 1. Creatures fly toward heaven
2. Waters divided from waters (seas) 2. Creatures move in the seas
3. Heaven named 3. Creation blessed
C. THIRD DAY (1:9-13) C: SIXTH DAY (1:24-31)
1. Dry ground appears (earth) 1. Earth population created
2. Grass, plants, and trees created 2. Livestock, ground creatures, and
3. Vegetation yields seeds according animals made
to their kinds 3. God creates man in His image
CLIMAX: THE SEVENTH DAY
Figure 1. A Structural Outline of the Creation Story in Genesis 1:1-2:3.
The Content of Genesis 2:4-25
After introducing the sinless and fully blessed life on the newly
created earth, the Genesis narrator describes the creation of man in
retrospect. This crown of all creation was placed in the beautiful garden
carrying fertility to all the earth, both inside
and outside of
The privileges and responsibilities of the first human being in the
garden are stated. The immediate responsibility was to make an
inventory of all the animals and give to each a name. This action
emphasized man's loneliness. The Creator provided a solu-tion to this
problem, and man's pleasant surprise at receiving this gift is recorded.
The first part of the story climaxes in the closing verses of chap. 2
with the description of a happy life of intimacy and innocence. Verse
24 speaks of the union between Adam and Eve which perpetuated their
LINKS BETWEEN GENESIS 2 AND 3 51
The Content of Genesis 3
Gen 3 opens with a new character in the story, one not necessarily
unknown to the Genesis narrator's audience. The tempter described as
"serpent" deceives the humans in a subtle way.15
The lengthy persuasion to taste the forbidden fruit culminates in
quick action: both Eve and Adam sin.16 The tragic outcome of the
transgression was increased by Eve's expectation of becoming a divine
being, according to the serpent's promise. Realizing the first results of
sin, the couple tried to hide from God.
God informs the man and the woman of the terrible consequences
of their fall. His pronouncement of the sentence commences with the
serpent, then moves to the woman, and finally to the man. This order
of the sentence is reversed from the order of the narrative, forming a
small-scale reversal in the story. Then judgment is pronounced and man
is expelled from the garden. Von Rad notes that "the penalties go in
reverse order to the trial proceedings."17 Finally a celestial guardian is set
"to keep the way" to the life-giving tree.
Relationship Between Genesis 2 and 3
A close study of Gen 2, and 3 discloses a carefully-crafted structure.18
The structure is chiastic, since the content of chap. 3 contains a reversed
order of similar elements and events found in chap. 2. For the sake of
comparison, the two chapters can be divided into four logical parts,
each containing distinctive themes. The parts of chap. 3 are in fact
reversals of those in chap. 2. Following is a detailed analysis of the
structure and meaning of both chapters, stressing the chiastic art of the
narrative and showing the great reversal in the story of the Garden of
15 Hebrew, wehanndhas. The subject in this sentence precedes the predicate for
16 The lengthy dialogue between the serpent and the woman (3:1-6a) is in sharp
contrast with the swift action expressed by a succession of four consecutive verbs: took,
ate, gave, ate (3:6b), all four preceded by waw consecutive.
17 Von Rad, 92. The order of subjects in the beginning of chap. 3 is serpent-woman-
man. Then in the trial one finds man-woman-serpent. Lastly in the sentence the order is
18 The Hebrew root ‘rm found in 2:25 and 3:1 is the best discernible lexical link
between two chapters. Says J. T. Walsh: "On a literary level Gen 2:46-3:24 is a highly
structured unit" (177).
52 ZDRAVKO STEFANOVIC
this way, Gen 2 has no independent structure of its own. If this fact is
overlooked, the plan of the chapter can be chronologically misleading.19
Gen 2:4 An Introductory Verse Alluding to the Reversal
This introductory verse reminds the reader that God is the Creator
of heaven and earth. The emphasis on this fact is expressed by a double
repetition. Everything which follows in the first part of the story
reported in chap. 2 is traced back to the Creator who is the protagonist
of the first part of the drama.
The words in Gen 2:4 are marked by the use of double chiasm. Not
only is the subject/verb order reversed ("heaven/earth" and "created" is
reversed to "made" and "earth/heaven"), the "heaven/earth" is reversed
to "earth/heaven." One should see in these rever-sals, especially in the
second one, an allusion to the reversal on a larger scale in the story as
a whole, called in this study "the Great Reversal." The verse further
matches the introductory statement of the Creation story in Gen 1:1.
Part One: A. Created and Settled (Gen 2:5-8);
A’. Judged and Expelled (Gen 3:22-24)
The very beginning of the story of Gen 2 and 3 speaks of innocent
and carefree life on earth before man's creation. There was no toil, "no
bush of the field," "no plant," no "rain on the earth" (2:5-6). The end
of the story (Gen 3:22-24) stresses the opposite. Because of the entrance
of sin the man knows both "good and evil."
Whereas before there were "streams" coming up from the earth to
water the ground (2:6), after the sin, blessings do not come
automatically and man's responsibility is increased (3:23). Thus the
beginning of the story declares that "there was no man to work the
ground" (2:5), while the end of the story ironically reveals that after the
act of sin, man must work the ground (3:23).
19 Westerrnann finds in "Gen 2-3 repetitions, lack of agreement, lack of balance, gaps
in the line of thought, contradictions. One could not expect anything else." These he
attributes to "the many-sided process of the formation of this text" (190).
LINKS BETWEEN GENESIS 2 AND 3 53
A. CREATED AND SETTLED (2:5-8) A'. JUDGED AND EXPELLED (3:22-24)
1. Innocent, carefree life: no toil, no 1. The man knows good and evil
plants, no rain
2. Streams water the ground 2. The man's responsibility increased
3. No man to work the ground 3. There is a man to work the ground
4. Through breath becomes a living 4. The man is prevented from eating
being the tree of life and living of the tree of life and living
5. God plants a garden in the east 5. God places cherubim in the east
6. The man settles in the garden 6. The man expelled from the garden
B. BLESSINGS AND ORDER (2:9-17) B'. CURSES AND DISORDER (3:14-21)
1. Trees and plants pleasing to eye and 1. Thorns and thistles grow out of the
good for food planted in the grow ground
out of the ground in the garden 2. Curses related to four subjects:
2. Blessings related to a river and its animals, woman, man, ground
four head-waters 3. Serpent's 3-fold curse: being cursed,
3. Havilah's 3-fold blessing: gold, resin, crawling on belly, eating dust
onyx 4. In sweat the man tills the cursed
4. The man to work in the garden and ground and eats of it
care for it 5. Verdict: Return to the dust
5. On the day man eats he will die
C.WOMAN CREATED (2:18-23) C'. WOMAN TEMPTED (3:1-13)
1. God's concern: Man is alone 1. Man hides from God who still looks
2. The man needs a helper 2. Together with helper, man is helpless
3. God provides a helper 3. The man blames his helper
4. Man's lordship over 4. Man is afraid, naked, hiding
5. All animals in harmony with man 5. An animal deceives the man
6. Woman taken from the man 6. Woman takes fruit and gives to man
7. Man's admiration for the woman 7. Woman's admiration for fruit
8. Happy intimate relationship 8. Fear and shame of naked body
Happiness in sinless and
innocent human relationship
Figure 2. The Chiastic Structure of Genesis 2 and 3
54 ZDRAVKO STEFANOVIC
The same man who through the breath of life "became a living
being" (2:7) is now rendered unable "to reach out his hand and take also
from the tree of life and eat, and live forever" (3:22).
Lastly, the same God who "planted a garden
in the east, in
(2:8) now places "on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim to
guard the way to the tree of life" (3:24). Thus the man, who had been
created by God and placed in the garden (2:8), is now judged and
expelled from it by God (3:23).
Following is a list of the Hebrew words and expressions shared by
both sections in the story: yhwh ‘elohim, "the Lord God"; ha'adam,
"the man"; la ’abod et-ha'adamah, "to work the ground"; hayyim, "life";
gan-be’eden miqqedem, "a garden in the east in
Part Two: B. Blessings and Order (Gen 2:9-17);
B’ . Curses and Disorder (Gen 3:14-21)
The story continues in section B of Gen 2 (vv. 9-17) with a detailed
description of the garden of Eden and its blessings. The trees that God
made to grow out of the ground "were pleasing to the eye and good for
food" (2:9). After the sin, in section B' of Gen 3 (vv. 14-21), the narrator
reports that the ground produced "thorns and thistles" displeasing to the
eye. Thus, two kinds of weed plants take the place of the two trees in
the perfect garden.
The blessings of the garden are related to a
river flowing from
and its four "headwaters." After the sin, the curses have to do with four
subjects: animals (3:14); woman (3:16); man (3:17-19); and ground
In Gen 2 "the
sign of blessings; "good gold," aromatic resin, and onyx (2:12). In
contrast, Gen 3 reveals one of the animals, the serpent, carrying a
threefold sign of curse: being cursed above all creatures, crawling on the
belly, and eating dust (3:14).21 The reversal occurred because the human
beings once had freedom of eating from any tree except one (2:16-17),
yet they dared to eat from the single forbidden tree (3:17); they could
eat from only one of these two trees at a time.
Section B closes with a prohibition against eating from that single
tree lest one die (2:17), while in section B', after the sin, the verdict is
pronounced: Man will return to the ground out of which he was taken
20 Even though the text does not explicitly state that the woman and the man were
cursed, the two were deprived of many blessings.
21 "To eat dust" is a Biblical idiom relating to an utmost humiliation and curse (see
LINKS BETWEEN GENESIS 2 AND 3 55
(3:19). The section, however, closes with a ray of hope. First, assurance
is given that the line of living human beings will continue (3:20);
second, God takes care of the immediate needs of the man and woman
by clothing them (3:21).
The following is a list of the Hebrew words and phrases found in
both sections: smh (hiphil imperfect), "grow out"; yhwh 'elohim, "the
Lord God"; ha'adamah, "the ground"; ‘kl... 'es, "eat ... tree"; ro‘s,
"head"; sem, "name"; hlk, "walk"; lqh, "take"; swh, "command"; ‘adam
... 'mr, "man . . . said"; lo' to'kal mimmennu, "you shall not eat
Part Three: C Woman Created (Gen 2:18-23)
C. Woman Tempted (Gen 3:1-13)
Section C of Gen 2 (vv. 18-23) focuses on God's concern for man's
social needs. The Creator declares that "it is not good for the man to be
alone" (2:18). After the sin, however (Section C' of Gen 3:1-13), that
same man wants to be alone and hides from God who still looks for
him (3:9). Thus the man who had no helper suitable for him (2:20) is
now helpless, in spite of having a helper (3:10). God states that he "will
make a helper" (2:18), yet now the man blames that very helper whom
he affirms God "put here with me" (3:12).22 Man's superiority and
lordship over the livestock, birds, and the beasts (2:20) stands in sharp
contrast to the man who is afraid, naked, and trying to hide (3:10).
Whereas part C says that all animals were in harmony with man and
subject to him (2:19-20), part C' speaks of the man and the woman
deceived by an animal and in conflict with it (3:13).
Section C describes the woman as the being "taken out of the man"
(2:22), while C' speaks of the same woman in an active role, taking
some fruit and giving to the man (3:6). Man's admiration for the woman
(2:23) is replaced by her admiration for the forbidden fruit (3:6).
Whereas before the man was in an intimate relationship with the
woman-bone to bone, flesh to flesh (2:23)--now man and woman are
ashamed and afraid (3:7-8).
The following is a list of words and phrases common to both
sections: yhwh 'elohim, - "the Lord God"; ha'adam, "the man"; ‘sh,
"make"; qr' ... ha'adam lo, "the man called it"; lqh, "take"; issah,
“woman"; is, "man."
22 Hebrew ‘ezer k’negdo is found twice in section C (2:18, 20).
56 ZDRAVKO STEFANOVIC
The Climax of Sinless Life (Gen 2:24-25)
The climax of the Story of Creation was reached when God rested
on the seventh day (2:2-3). The climax of the story of the Garden of
with the family unit. The climax speaks of a sinless, harmonious and
happy human life in all its innocence.23 A supernatural unity is related
here in which two beings are able to become basar 'ehad, "one flesh"
A structural study of chaps. 2 and 3 of the book of Genesis reveals
the presence of a chiasm in the narrative and strongly suggests the unity
of the story as argued by scholars. The theme of the story of the
Garden of Eden is the Great Reversal brought about by the entrance of
sin into the world created by God.24 Clines affirms that “the flood is
only the final stage in a process of cosmic disintegration which began
The presence of the chiastic structure or reversed parallelism
presents the literary beauty of Genesis through a story that teaches how
God was the source of creation in all its perfection, while the disorder
was brought about by man's act of sin. Elsewhere the Bible teaches that
the last cosmic reversal in history will be God's reversal.
23 Ibid, where v. 25 is called "The climax of the creation."
24 "Expressed more concisely, Gen. ch. 3, asserts that all sorrow
(von Rad, 101).
comes from sin"
25 Clines, 75.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Berrien Springs , MI 49104
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com