The Book of Genesis begins with creation. God creates the heavens and the earth. He creates light to illuminate the heavens and the earth. He creates the waters and the land and populates them with living creatures. He creates man to care for the earth. God created everything out of nothing, creation ex nihilo, and everything he created was good and very good.
In Genesis, we actually find two creation stories. The first covers the creation of all things, and the second covers the creation of Adam and Eve. This can be broken down into two parts: the creation of ha-adam and the creation of Adam. Today, we will cover the creation of ha-adam and its implications for human nature and freedom.
We find the creation of ha-adam in both creation stories, first in Genesis 1:26-27 and then again in Genesis 2:7. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us,
then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
In Genesis 2:7, we read another telling of the creation of humanity: “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (RSV). At this point, we don’t have a name or a specific individual. Rather, we find the creation of “man,” which in Hebrew translates to ‘ha-Adam’ or ‘the human being.’ In Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:7, ‘man’ is an expansive term. We find the creation of humanity.
While we frequently speak about God creating the world out of nothing, we often forget that God also creates man out of nothing. In Genesis 2:7, God breathes life into the nostrils of man. Before that point, man is not a living thing. Man is not a lifeless body that is brought to life when God gives His breath. Rather, God breathes life – creation – for man to exist. Before, there is no soul and no life in man. Before the unity of the body and soul, man does not exist. But when God breathes soul into body, man exists. Man, like the world, is created out of nothing.
Whatever is used to create something tells us about the nature of that thing. If God creates something out of nothing, that means that nothing precedes its creation. Imagine you are creating a tree house. You may use a bunch of 2x4s, a lot of nails, and two or three trees to hold it all together. After you’re done, you have created a tree house that was not there before. However, you did not create the tree house ex nihilo; you built it out of wood and metal. We are not able to create a tree house out of nothing, and so any tree house we do create has intrinsic limitations. The properties of wood and metal limit what the tree house can be like. For example, it can burn if struck by lightning, because it is made of wood and wood is capable of being burned.
But since man (humanity) is created out of nothing, there are no prior limitations to what man could become. Keep in mind that I am not referring to the body, as Genesis tells us that God created man’s body out of something (dust). The body therefore has physical limitations. However, ‘man’ does not refer to the body alone. When we speak about ‘humanity,’ we don’t mean bodies. ‘Man’ does not exist until God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Thus, God creates man without depending upon external factors. It was God Himself, His breath, that created man. While He used the dust of the earth to form our bodies, He created our humanity itself out of nothing. Our souls and our humanity come directly from God, which means that humanity is not ultimately dependent upon anything outside of God. Our humanity is intrinsically free because God created humanity out of nothing. Since no baser materials precede humanity (as wood and nails precede the tree house), our human freedom is absolute and unconditional.
The creation of ha-adam has significant implications for how we should think about humanity and human nature. The creation story leads to the conclusion that humanity is intrinsically free. Because we are created free and out of nothing, God can both entrust us with tasks and responsibilities, and also hold us accountable if we fail to fulfill those responsibilities.