The Structure of Genesis 2:5 – 3:24

The simplest pattern of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. We can diagram two parallel lines as follows:


Inverted parallelism provides variation. It looks like this:


More complex versions of the inverted pattern appear often in the Bible. Genesis 2:5 – 3:24 provides a good example. This lengthy passage consists of seven scenes arranged as three concentric circles around a center point.

A. (2:5-17) Humankind placed in the Garden of Eden.

B. (2:18-25) Harmonious relationship between man, woman, and animals.

C. (3:1-5) Dialogue between serpent and woman about eating from the tree.

X. (3:6-7) Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree.

C′. (3:8-13) Dialogue between God, Adam, and Eve about eating from the tree.

B′. (3:14-21) God’s curse yields conflict between man, woman, and the serpent.

A′. (3:22-24) Humankind expelled from the Garden of Eden


Parallels between A and A′ include: in this passage the only… (a) references to the Tree of Life; (b) occurrences of the name “Eden;” (c) references to the east; (d) occurrences of the Hebrew word for “guard/keep.”

Parallels between B and B′ include: (a) Adam names woman/Eve; (b) In Section B, humans are naked and unashamed, while in Section B′, naked and ashamed, they return to the next-best scenario when God provides clothing for them.

Parallels between C and C′ include: These are the only dialogues in the entire passage; there are three subunits to both scenes: 3:1-5 contains three questions or statements by the serpent and woman about the tree; 3:9-13 contains three questions (with responses) from God about eating from the tree.


This structure highlights the contrast between the blessedness of the garden as originally envisioned, and the cursedness of expelled humanity. Verses 6-7 belong at the literary center because they present the critical sin that condemned humanity for all ages. This eating from the tree is also central spatially, the only event in this passage that necessarily takes place in the exact middle of the Garden of Eden.


Another Set of Rings!
A. (3:9-11) Accusing The Man

B. (3:12) Accusing The Woman

C. (3:13) Accusing The Snake

C′ (3:14-15) Punishing the Snake

B′ (3:16) Punishing the Woman

A′ (3:17-19) Punishing the Man


Meaning II
Here the ring structure draws attention to the conclusion of the central C and C′. This is the ray of hope in this sad passage, the Bible’s first reference to God’s Messiah, who will overcome Satan and the Curse:

He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.


Hallelujah! Praise be to God!


Sources: Jerome T. Walsh, “Genesis 2:4b-3:24: A Synchronic Approach,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96/2 (1977) pp. 161-77; Y. T. Radday, “Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative,” in J. W. Welch (ed.), Chiasmus in Antiquity (1981) pp. 98-99; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (1987) pp. 50-51; Sidney Griedanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis (2007) pp. 62-63, 81.



Colossians 1:6-10 Translated In Such A Way As To Highlight Paul’s Allusion to Genesis 1:28

In the same way, the gospel is being fruitful and multiplying throughout the whole world, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf. He told us of your love in the Spirit. On account of this, since the day we heard it, we have not stopped praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will with complete spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in every way, in every good work being fruitful, and multiplying in the knowledge of God.

The Holy Seventh Day, In Its Old Testament and New Testament Manifestations

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2-3 NIV).

The Preliminary Seventh Day Of the Old Covenant

The Sabbath was inaugurated for the people of Israel to be celebrated as a weekly sign of the covenant. As a sign of the covenant, it was to last as long as that covenant. God instituted the Sabbath for his people as a constant, regular source of blessing for both spiritual and physical renewal; it was to express social concern and compassion. The Sabbath was a reminder that God was in control of man’s time. Trained by the regular recurrence of this gracious gift, Israel was able to stand before the Creator in freedom, responsibility, trust, and gratitude; she worshipped Him, the Lord of the Sabbath, and looked forward with joy and anticipation to the coming of the final Rest (Harold H. P. Dressler in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Wipf & Stock, 1999) pp. 34-35).

The Final Seventh Day Inaugurated With The Coming of Christ

The True Sabbath, which has come with Christ, is not a literal physical rest, but is the salvation that God has provided. Believers in Christ can now live in God’s Sabbath that has already dawned (A. T. Lincoln, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Wipf & Stock, 1999) p. 215).

Entering God’s rest requires obedience that springs from faith, just as it did for Israel. It does no good to simply hear the gospel message; one must act on it by faithfully following Jesus. If He is the source of rest, indeed the Rest-Giver, that rest only comes through faith in Him (Rich Robinson, Christ in the Sabbath, p. 130).

Question: What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment? Answer: That every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath (The Heidleberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38, the answer’s second part).

The Final Seventh Day Consummated In The New Heavens and New Earth

Behind the offer made to the wilderness generation of Numbers 14, and the implied offer of Psalm 95, the author of Hebrews recognizes that there is a promise of entry into God’s own resting place that will occur at the end of the ages. Joshua did not lead his generation into this rest, for it would take place only when Jesus returns. When believers from every generation enter God’s resting place and receive the promised eternal inheritance, they will participate in God’s Sabbath celebration around his throne and rest from all their labors as God rested from his works at creation (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, p. 178).


The Plurality of God

And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness… (Genesis 1:26).

Why doesn’t the text read, “Let me make man in my image….”?

G. J. Wenham lists six possible meanings of the divine plural in Genesis 1:26. According to his preferred view: God is speaking to his angelic court (1 Kings 22:19ff and Job 38:7b are sometimes used as parallels to defend this view). Under this interpretation, however, man would be made in the image of both God and the angels (“in our image” in Gen 1:26) — which does not square with the rest of Scripture.

Wenham also commends the possibility that we are witnessing God’s deliberation or self-exhortation. This fits well with the climactic swell of the chapter toward the sixth day. Immediately prior to creating the apex of his universe, God pauses, reflects, and converses with himself about bringing human beings into existence.

Christians have long held that this passage presents an early expression of the plurality of God, later revealed as the tri-unity of God. This no doubt is correct. But it does not explain why this manner of speaking is used so infrequently. For example, why doesn’t Genesis 1:29 read, “We have given you every plant yielding seed….”?

The key is to recognize the importance this passage places upon humanity in its entirety. The plurality of God will be reflected not only in the human individual, but especially in human community. Hence the move from singular (“…make man”) to plural (“Let them have dominion”). God summons humankind, as an entire race, to subdue the earth. No individual could do that alone. Notice the singular-to-plural move in verse 27 as well: “he created him… male and female, he created them.” The spectrum of what it means to be like God is found not in male or female alone, but in both together.

On the one hand, humankind is a single entity. All human persons stand in solidarity before God. But on the other hand, humankind is a community, male and female. And none is the full image of God alone. (W. Brueggemann).

The divine first person plural is found at only two other points in Genesis — both within accounts of judgment. And both allude to mankind’s intended state as presented in Genesis 1:26-28. After disobediently cutting themselves off from God, mankind has become like God, but not with the sort of likeness described in Genesis 1:26, 27.

Then the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of Us in knowing good and evil… (Genesis 3:22).

Then at the Tower of Babel, mankind refuses to be fully plural; they are unwilling to multiply and spread out across the face of the earth as God had commanded in Genesis 1:28.

And the Lord said…, Come, let Us go down and confuse their language… (Genesis 11:7).

Given both human disobedience and American individualism, all of this is well worth our pondering. And it sheds light, does it not, on what Jesus meant when he said:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).


Christ’s Extraordinary Love

Jesus Christ, in his humanness, hesitated on his way to the cross:

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow. –Matthew 26:38

Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. –Mark 14:36

Now my soul is troubled. –John 12:27

What overcame this hesitance? The answer is love. Theologian David Wells captures that love so well in his recent book. Here is Wells describing Christ’s love as displayed, not just on the way to the cross, but in the entirety of his incarnation:

Christ had all of the essential characteristics and defining attributes of God. He had the very “godness” of God (Phil. 2:6; cf. John 1:1). He was “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3), the total reality of who God is (Col. 1:15; cf. John 10:30). It was he who set aside all of this glory in order to carry out a very costly act of service. That he would strip away his bright glory to become not only incarnate but someone of little account, unrecognized for who he was, disparaged, rejected, and laughed at by those in power, a person of no status though he was the very center of the universe and its Creator, is an expression of humility so deep that words are inadequate to grasp it. Yet this is only a part of the picture.

We also see that Christ did not clutch onto his place in heaven (Phil. 2:6) but joined with the Father in the plan to redeem lost sinners. He joyfully set aside his status and “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7). He who had been in the “form of God” took on what might be seen as its antithesis, “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). This, though, is an optical illusion. God, in his essential nature and as an outcome of his love, was also by nature a servant. So Christ obscured his divine attributes, putting them into abeyance, and took on the life of an inconsequential servant. He entered our life with all of its quarrels and discord, its arrogance and deceit, all of its godlessness, its self-serving spiritualities and misleading religions. He was met, not with the worship which was his due, but by great “hostilities against himself” (Heb. 12:3). He was also met by the full force of the lying, leering, murderous evil in Satan. You know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul says as he reflects back on all of this, that “though he was rich, . . . he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor: 8:9).

Are we to suppose that in the far mists of eternity, when our calling and redemption were only in the mind of God, Christ was unaware of what this would entail? Was he caught by surprise after he became incarnate? Do we ever hear him reproaching the Father for not having told him what this mission of redemption would cost? Of course not! The point about Christ’s love is that he knew. He knew from the very start. But such is this love, this self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-abasing love that he freely and joyfully gave of himself to do what had to be done, knowing all that was entailed. Indeed, there is no other motive sufficient to account for what he did than this extraordinary love, For only this kind of love would pay the cost which this kind of mission required. He saw that his own self-giving reached a greater end by becoming incarnate than by not doing so. He willingly chose not to enjoy the worship of the angels in a place of utter holiness for an uninterrupted eternity for the gain that redemption would bring.

David Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. Pp. 93-94.

And he went out, bearing his own cross. –John 19:17


Originally posted, April 17, 2014.