The Bible is a book that can be difficult to make sense of – which is why having a mental map of some sort to make sense of it is so important. One of my favorite ways to look at this comes from Dr. Scott Hahn, one of my professors from Franciscan University, who sees the key to understanding the whole of Scripture in six covenants. The following is one part of a my look at each of these six covenants.
The beginning of the Bible may be very familiar to you… “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.” As he goes on through the first few days we see Him create the light and darkness (day 1), the waters below and the waters above -understood as Heaven (day 2), the earth and the plants (day 3), the sun and moon (day 4), the fish and birds from the water (day 5), then the animals and finally human beings (day 6). There is a correlation between day 1 & 3 (both dealing with light), with day 2 & 4 (both dealing with water), and day 3 & 6 (with 2 creative events on both of these days). Then, at the climax of creation, God rests on seventh day.
Catholic tradition holds that these accounts absolutely relate to us the truths of God – though we don’t cling to them as being scientific/historical accounts. When we read scripture, we look primarily at two meanings (or senses) – the literal sense (what the words say) and the spiritual sense (the deeper meaning found within). In the case of the creation accounts in Genesis we look for the literal meaning of the words, though not as a literalistic approach to revelation… or, in the words of Cardinal Caesare Baronius: “The Scriptures tell us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.” (Simply put, don’t get hung up on creation as being six twenty-four hour days, as clearly our understanding of the world around us tells us there’s more to the story here- but this is no way takes away from the truth God wants to convey to us there.)
For our purposes, let’s focus in on the sixth day, when humanity is first created, and the seventh where God institutes the Sabbath:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to 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 wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. –Genesis 1:26-2:3
The whole material world created prior to this moment absolutely reveals certain dimensions of God’s beauty, power, and intelligence – it would be fair to say His fingerprints can be found all over the created world – only human beings are created in the very image and likeness of God. There’s a couple key takeaways here: first, we are distinct in creation as beings with both a body and an immortal soul… which should give you a sense of the particular dignity each human person carries. Second, we see that being male AND female somehow reflects the likeness of God. Here we find the heart of all Catholic teaching on love, marriage, and sexuality – owing to our understanding of the Trinity as a permanent covenant of love and life. As human beings we have the ability to mimic this as male and female: we too can enter into a permanent relationship (marriage) which is also a relationship of love (unity) and life (procreation.)
Following his pronouncement that all creation was “very good,” on the seventh day, God establishes the Sabbath. The created world is made to be a place where God lives in communion with His people – and ultimately, that’s what the seventh day of rest is meant to be: a time where we recognize that communion. That it takes place on the seventh day is significant: 7 is the number of covenant. Each time God swears a covenant, He “sevens” Himself (swears an oath) to make us His family. This covenant is the source and the model for all future covenants (Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David each renew this covenant; and the New Covenant in Christ is often described as bringing about a new creation).
I would be remiss if I don’t offer a few thoughts on the two chapters that follow this covenant. First of all, chapter 2 ends with the introduction of marriage into the biblical vocabulary: a relationship that finds prominence the rest of the way through Scripture. Marriage is seen throughout the Bible as a metaphor for God’s relationship with us; Jesus performs His first miracle at a wedding, and the Bible concludes in the book of revelation with the marriage feast of the Lamb. What’s notable about this account of creation (Genesis 2), is three comments about humanity in the beginning. We hear first of the original state of loneliness in which man finds Himself (with no suitable helpmate), second, the original unity which the man and woman share, as expressed by Adam’s declaration: “this, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” and finally, their experience of being naked and unashamed – each of which offers us some insight into what we are as human beings – and what God’s intention for married love actually is.
All of this changes in Genesis 3 – when sin steps into the world. The “death” they experience by eating of the forbidden fruit is ultimately the loss of innocence and friendship with God – and of course, eventually physical death. Adam and Eve for the first time exercise their freedom to rebel against God – which is ultimately at the heart of every sin, where we make a choice to play God in our own lives. The effects of this sin, which are passed on to each one of us (what we call “original sin”) are fourfold: first, we have a clouded moral judgment; second, our will has become selfish; third, our passions are disordered; and finally, lust has crept it’s way into our hearts.
Gratefully: it’s not all bad news. At the end of dishing out consequences to the man, woman, and serpent, God tells the serpent the following: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This is what we call the protoevangelium – the first prediction of the good news to come – that someday a descendant of the woman will crush the power of evil. In the same ways as Adam and Eve have rejected God by their resounding no… another woman (Mary) will give a wholehearted yes to God, and another Man (Christ) will sacrifice Himself out of love for His bride, making all things new.