In the Beginning…Honor

Q: “If Adam was a Central Asian, what type of person would he be?” A: “Oh! He would be a respected guy!  People would honor him because…”  This conversation with my Central Asian friend helped me to see the various honorific elements in the creation of humankind (Gen 1-2).
Central Asian
Does this image of a dignified nomad help us more accurately visualize Genesis 2?
One reason I never noticed  honor-shame dynamics in Genesis 2 is because God does not explicitly declare Adam and Eve’s honor (“You have honor!”).  Rather, God confers honor with various cultural symbols and actions (easily recognized by Central Asians, but not me!).  Using a contemporary example, the Masai of east Africa view spitting upon one another as a sacred symbol of restoration to community (Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, 45-46).  Though God never spat upon Adam (as far as I know), he does symbolize their honor in these eight ways.
  1. Blessing (1:28) was a most basic conference of honor from social superiors.  Blessings in Genesis are not wishes for well-being, but powerful pronouncements of success.  The primary blessings God grants throughout the Pentateuch are fertility, dominion and safety.  In their covenant with God, people are blessed with honor and cursed with shame (cf. Deut 28).
  2. Command to multiply and fill the earth (1:28).  Adam and Eve needed to have many, many grandchildren  – a display of status.  Even today, the quantity of your descendants affects one’s status in the community and ensures the legacy of one’s name.  (HINT: If you want to honor people in collectivistic societies, just ask them how many grandchildren they have!).  The fact that God commanded them to multiply indicates his approval of their family.
  3. Subdue and have dominion over creation (1:28-30).  By granting humans a position of authority over the rest of the creation, God gave them a prince-like status.  They are God’s co-regents in God’s newly minted kingdom. Ordering the world via subjugation and dominion is associated with honor, even in many contemporary societies. Humans are to function as benevolent benefactors ensuring the flourishing of all creation.
  4. Unique food (1:29-30).  Check out the spread God puts out from his new guests!!  He has given them every plant and every tree on the face of the earth for them to enjoy. Feasts communicate honor and prestige, in the Majority World cultures and biblical times (cf. 1 Chr 12:38-50, Isa 25:6, Est 1:1-7).
  5. Tasked to ‘work and keep’ the garden of Eden (2:15).  This technical phrase denotes priestly function within God’s house (cf. Num 3:7-8; 18:7).   Not only are they co-regents in God’s kingdom, Adam and Eve are the high priests in God’s glorious temple (cf. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 66-80).
  6. Luxurious living conditions (2:8-14).  Look at the new pad they are hooked up with!  Adam and Eve live in a divine sanctuary of lush gardens and flowing rivers with gold and onyx stone.  The garden of Eden was a symbol of their prestige, a palace for the new royal couple.
  7. Naming of animals (2:19-20).   The charge to name all the animals demonstrates their authority over all other creatures.  “Naming” is not merely linguistic labels, but assigning roles and establishing order, something only the powerful and respected are capable of doing.  Naming puts everything in the right place.  Establishing proper order by placing each piece into its appropriate social slot attributes honor to leaders.
  8. Provision of a custom help-mate (2:21-23).  As all good fathers do for their sons in collectivistic cultures, God searched far and wide to find the ideal spouse for Adam.  Adam was honored by his divine patron with a wonderful and glorious wife.
To underscore the primal couple’s privileged status, the account of God’s good creation climaxes – “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen 2:25).  Could you imagine walking naked and not feeling any shame? Adam and Even had zero shame; only honor for the first couple.  Adam’s honor is certainly not the only point of Genesis 1-2, but it is a central point considering the 8 symbols of honor and the final verse of the creation event.  If honor is so emphasized from the very beginning of the biblical story, shouldn’t we expect it be a dominant motif through the ENTIRE story? (And to think, these eight symbols exclude the primary symbol of divine honor.  Biblical writers understood ‘the image of God’ as divine honorification, as we will see.)

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3 Comments on “In the Beginning…Honor

  1. After a conversation this week, I wanted to make a brief comment regarding theological method. The foundational elements of Adam’s honor, exegetically speaking, are Gen 2:25 (the final verse of the narrative saying they were naked and not ashamed) and the biblical meaning of Image of God (which I will outline in an upcoming post). The 8 elements listed in this post are only symbolic and not explicit exegetical proof of such a reading. Yet, I believe the ANE cultural context and cumulative affect of all 8 elements strongly support the centrality of Adam’s honor at creation, especially considering the explicit teaching of Gen 2:25 and Image of God.

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