A reminder about these notes: They are intended to help people study the assigned material for this week’s Sunday School lesson. They are not intended as an outline for how to teach that lesson, though I assume that by studying the material a person might get ideas about how to teach it.
And a note about these notes: These questions are for one particular kind of study, not the only kind nor necessarily the best kind. Sometimes we study a book of scripture from cover to cover, learning or reminding ourselves of its overall teachings and how the parts of its story or stories fit together. This kind of study is essential to our understanding the message the scriptures has for us. Sometimes we study chronologically, beginning with the earliest book or section and working our way toward the end so that we understand better the divine history recorded in the scriptures. Other times we study topically, trying to learn the things the scriptures have to say about particular problems or issues. These notes are for close reading, one more way to study. Close reading is helpful for seeing the depth of the scriptures, but it is a way that many of us have not had experience with. So, though I offer these scriptures to help those who wish to do close readings, I don’t suggest that close reading ought to be the only way we study.
Now, for the notes:
Except —I begin with a note about these notes in particular: The questions for Moses 1:27-42 are posted with the study questions for lesson one. These questions will be for Moses 2 and 3. —And a warning: printed, these notes take up to 10 pages.
Latter-day Saints have been given accounts of the creation in Genesis, Moses, Abraham, and the temple, each varying slightly, but importantly, from the others. I don’t think any other story has been repeated this many times in canonical form. Why is this story so important? Why does it occur in scripture three times? Why are the versions of the story different from and irreconcilable with each other? Do we learn things from the differences that we might not see otherwise?
Verse 1: Why does God say “I reveal unto you concerning this heaven, and this earth” (emphasis added)? What in chapter 1 prepares us for this? To what does “this heaven” refer? The Hebrew word translated heaven and used in the corresponding part of Genesis (Genesis 1:1) means “what is above the earth” or “the place where God dwells.” Which meaning do you think is intended here? Why does God begin his revelation of this heaven and this earth by telling us who he is? Why does he tell us that he created the world by the Only Begotten? What does God mean by “in the beginning”? In the beginning of what? In the beginning relative to what? We sometimes use the phrase “heaven and earth” to mean “everything.” Is that what it means here, or does it means something else?
Verse 2: Given the state we see being described here, to what does earth refer? It cannot yet refer to the dry ground because that hasn’t been created. Things are as yet utterly chaotic (as we will see), so how is the word earth being used?
“Without form, and void” is a rhetorical form called hendiadys. (Pronounced hen-DEE-ah-dis. But remember that there’s no test on this material, so you don’t have to remember that—or even care.) Hendiadys is a way of repeating words so that you say the same thing twice. Sometimes it is used for emphasis. Sometimes it is used for explanation.
You will notice that in these study materials, I’ll generally indent notes about more technical matters. That should make it easier for you to skip them if you wish.
The earth was without form, in other words, it was void. What does this repetition tell us here? Is it a matter of emphasis or of explanation?
The Hebrew word translated without form in Genesis 1:1 means “confused” or “chaotic.” It often means “desert,” as in Deuteronomy 32:10 and Job 6:18. The word translated void means “waste, emptiness.” See Isaiah 34:11, where we see the same words translated confusion and emptiness. Together these words means “complete chaos.”
Of what was the earth void or empty? What made it confused or chaotic? Why does it say that God caused darkness to come over the waters? That is different than the standard Genesis text, in which darkness is simply on the face of the waters.
The word translated moved in Genesis 1:2 could also have been translated “hovered.”
Why does God tell us that his Spirit moved or hovered over the waters? Why does this verse end “for I am God”? That seems to be an explanatory phrase, but what does it explain? Does it explain only the material in this verse, or does it also explain part or all of verse 1?
Verses 3-5: God describes the light as good. In what sense do you think he means that it is good? Is it good because it is pleasant? because it is better than something else? good in some other way? Does the use of the word light in places like Psalms 56:14, Isaiah 9:1, John 1:4-5, and the many places in the D&C have any bearing on how we should understand the word here? Why does God say, “This I did by the word of my power, and it was done as I spake”? How does that relate to the things we saw happening in the previous chapter? What does “the word of my power” mean? “The power of my word” is easier to understand, but that is not what he says. Is this usage related to the usage we see in Ecclesiastes 8:4? Notice that “the evening and the morning were the first day” tells us that the word day is used here only to refer to the period of daylight. We sometimes use the word day to mean a 24-hour period, but that isn’t how it is used here.
In Genesis 1:6, the word firmament could also have been translated “an expanse of beaten plates” or “canopy.” It can refer to something hard, but need not. It can also refer to something that has been stretched out.
As verse 8 makes clear, “the firmament” refers to the heaven or the skies, which look like a canopy or bowl over our heads. Thus, verses 6 and 7 describe a scene something like this: First there is a mass of water. Then, in the middle of that mass, God stretches out a space, dividing the water into two parts, that above what he has stretched out and that below it. (See a diagram of this, with discussion, here. Since this is not the way we understand the universe today (there is no mass of water above the sky) it seems that God is using the understanding of Moses’ day to teach what it is important for Moses—and us—to understand about the creation. We can see a number of places in the story of creation where God explains things in that way. Why would he do that? Notice that in verse 8, God gives a name to the firmament. In the creation story, he names five things: light (Day), darkness (Night), the firmament (Heaven), earth (Earth), and the sea (Sea). Remember this connection between naming and creation because it will be important when we read Moses 3:19 (Genesis 2:19).
Verses 9-10: To what things is God referring when he says “I [. . .] saw that all things which I had made were good”? What is he telling us when he tells us that the things he has made are good?
Verses 11-13: What do “after his kind” and seed “in itself upon the earth” mean? Why was it important to Moses and Israel to know that herbs and fruit were created yielding seed after their kind and in themselves on the earth?
Verses 14-19: Verse 14 begins a second phase in the creation. As many have pointed out, in the first phase (the first three days), God created all the things that cannot move on their own. In this second phase we will see the creation of those things that do move: the heavenly bodies, animals of all kinds, and human beings. (Notice that verse 20 makes this explicit.) Some have understood “let them be for signs” in verse 14 to suggest that the lights of the heavens were to be used in astrological ways. Though God has used the stars and other heavenly body as signs (as he did with what we call “the star of Bethlehem” and with the rainbow), I think we have another case of hendiadys here. (See the discussion of verse 2 for an explanation of hendiadys). In other words, I think “for signs, and for seasons,” means “for signs of the seasons”: the heavenly lights are given to us so that we will have a means of measuring time. (Recall a similar discussion in Abraham 4:4-10.) Notice that verse 18 repeats substantially the material in verse 16. How do you explain that repetition? Verse 18 says that the moon as well as the sun divides the light from the darkness. What does that mean? In other words, how are we to understand the word divide in that verse? If you read these verses not only literally but also symbolically, what can you see in them? What metaphorical lights has God given us? Are there greater and lesser lights? How do they mark the seasons for us? How do they give light on the earth? How do our lights divide the light from the darkness? One of the frequent themes of scripture is the rivalry relation between older (greater) and younger (lesser) brothers. It is a theme that we have seen in Moses’ and Abraham’s accounts of the pre-existence. Does the creation of the greater and the lesser lights have anything to teach us about that rivalry? Why do you think that such rivalry is so often a theme of scripture?
Verses 20-23: The fifth day parallels the second: on the second day the firmament was created, with the waters below; on the fifth day the creatures were created who inhabit the firmament and the waters. The “great whales” referred to in verse 21 probably refers to any large sea animals. It may also be a reference to the sea monsters mentioned in verses such as Isaiah 27:1, Psalms 74:13-14, and Job 26:13. In at least some of these, the biblical writers seem to be referring to Canaanite mythology in which these sea monsters are the principle of evil and, so, symbols of Satan. What might their mention here suggest symbolically? Another translation of “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature” is “Let the waters swarm with swarms of creatures.” What is the point of that repetition? Notice that the fish are told “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters,” while the birds are told only “multiply in the earth.” Why the three-fold blessing/commandment for the fish and only a single one for the birds?
Verses 24-31: The sixth day parallels the third day: the creation of animals and human beings parallels the creation of the earth and its vegetation. The word cattle seems to be used more broadly than we would use it, referring to any creatures that can be domesticated. “Beasts of the earth” seems to refer to the other animals. To what might “creeping things” refer and why are they categorized separately? Why does verse 25 repeat what was said in verse 24? Why does the Father tell us that the Only Begotten was with him from the beginning? Why is “Only Begotten” almost exclusively the name used to refer to the Savior in these chapters? Why does the creation of human beings begin with a kind of prelude, “I, God, said [. . .] Let us make man”? When he created the other things, he said “Let there be [. . .]” and it was created. In this case, the story shows him stopping to discuss the next event in creation. What does that tell us? Though most of those who accept the Bible as scripture do not believe that God has a body, the language used in describing the creation of man is fairly clearly language that says, implicitly, that he does. To make man in the image of God is to give him the same bodily form as God. Other interpretations are possible, but that is the plain meaning of the Hebrew text, for the word for image refers specifically to the visible form of something. (See, for example, Genesis 5:3, where the same Hebrew word is used.) The word translated likeness is broader. It, too, can mean “visible shape,” as in 2 Kings 16:10 where it is translated fashion). But it can also be used for simple comparisons in which we would say “A is like B” without meaning that they look alike (as in Psalms 58:4 and Isaiah 13:4), and it can refer to how we think about something (as in Isaiah 40:18). Given that we have the same form as does the Father, how else are we like him? How are we like the Son? When the Father says that human beings are to be made in the image and likeness of the Father and the Son, what is he saying? Why is it important to notice (verse 27) that the word man refers to both male and female? What does that tell us about verse 26? Why does verse 27 repeat what was said in verse 26? How does the commandment to human beings (verse 28) differ from the commandment to fish (verse 22)? What is the difference between being fruitful and multiplying, or is this hendiadys: be fruitful, in other words, multiply? In what ways can we be fruitful? What ways do we have to multiply the number of children in our Heavenly Father’s kingdom? What does it mean to have dominion? What kind of rule over others does God expect of those who follow him? How might that apply to our dominion over “every living thing that moveth upon the earth”? What do you make of the fact that God gives us dominion only over the moving creatures? (Notice that Moses differs from Genesis in this way.) Of course, human beings are told to subdue the earth. What is the difference between subduing and having dominion?
One alternate translation of the word translated subdue is “make to serve,” which assumes that what one subdues resists.
Does this verse tell us that we can do whatever we wish? Compare Moses 29-30 to Genesis 29-30. What are the differences and what does Moses teach us that we don’t learn from Genesis? What do you make of the fact that both human beings and animals are given only vegetation and the products of vegetation as meat, in other words, as food? For other relevant scriptures, see Genesis 9:1-4 and Isaiah 11:7 and 65:25. Each of the previous times that God has passed judgment on his creation, he has said that it was good (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25). In verse 31, why does he say that the things he has made are “very good”?
In the Bible, the Hebrew word translated host almost always refers to the troops of an army or to warfare. Beside here, I can find only two exceptions (though I didn’t make a comprehensive search). One is in scriptures that speak of those who enter into service in the tabernacle (for example, in Numbers 4, where the word is translated service). The other is in Job 7:1, 10:17, and 14:14, where the word means “appointed time” and seems to be unrelated to the use here.
Why does God use the word hosts, meaning “armies,” to describe his creation? What do you make of the formality of the language in these verses? For example, in verses 1and 2, God says three times that the heaven and the earth were finished. And in verses 2 and 3 he tells us twice that he rested on the seventh day. What do you make of the formal structure of the account as a whole? What is that formality of structure designed to teach us? What does it mean to say that the seventh day is blessed? What does it mean to say that it is sanctified? Is there any difference between these two terms or do we have another hendiadys here: “blessed in that I sanctified it”?
Verse 4: What does the phrase “generations of the heaven and the earth” mean? When the verse says “these are the generations of the heaven and the earth” is it referring to the account that has just been given or the account that is to come?
Verse 5: The creation story in Moses 2 is clearly different from that in Moses 3. That fact has bothered Old Testament readers of the corresponding chapters for some time. For example, in chapter 2, the creation takes six days, in this chapter it takes one (verse 4—”in the day”); in chapter 2 the earth begins as a mass of water, but in chapter 3 the land is already there (verse 5-6); in chapter 2 the two human sexes are created at the same time, but in chapter 3 male is created before female; in chapter 2 the plants are created on the third day—before the creation of humans—but in this chapter Man is created before the trees and, perhaps by implication, before other plants as well (verses 7 and 9); and in chapter 2 the living creatures were created before humans, but in Moses 3 they are created afterwards (verses 7 and 19). Some scholars interpret the first account of creation as an account of physical creation and the second as an account of the moral creation of human beings. How did Joseph Smith account for these differences? Moses makes more clear than do the other two scriptural accounts what kind of creation we have been reading about so far. If Moses 3 describes the physical creation, what does that say about attempts to correlate Moses 2 (and Genesis 1) with scientific accounts of creation? More important, what is the significance of the spiritual creation? Why is it important to know of the spiritual creation? What might the fact of the spiritual creation teach us? In what ways is it a type of other things?
Verse 7: A great deal of our religious language depends on this verse. For example, inspire means “to breath into,” and spirit means, literally, “breath.” What is the point of this language? In other words, what does it teach us? (As you think about this question, consider John 3:8.) For example, do you see any significance in the fact that Man is said to be made of both air (breath) and earth? Do you see any significance in the idea that Man’s life comes to him as the breath of God?
The name Adam and the Hebrew words for “earth” and “red” are related.
Why does God give Man a name meaning “earth”?
Verse 8: The name Eden seems to connote “a well-watered place.” What kinds of things are associated with water? What is the point of saying that the Garden was eastward? What kinds of typological significances can you see in the Garden of Eden? For example, how does it point us toward Christ?
Verse 9: Moses differs from Genesis in that it adds naturally to the phrase, “to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight.” What does that addition tell us? Why was that addition important? What does it mean to say that the tree became a living soul? What else do we see described by that phrase? The Book of Mormon often uses the Tree of Life as a symbol. Where do you see it used in the Book of Mormon? What kinds of things does it symbolize? Of what is it a type? What does knowledge mean when used as it is here, in reference to good and evil? Here too, what the Book of Mormon tells us about a knowledge of the Tree of Life may help us understand what it means to have a knowledge of good and evil. How do our children come to a knowledge of good and evil?
Verse 10: If the river flows out of Eden to water the Garden, then it seems that Eden and the Garden are not the same thing. Compare this to verse 8. What does the word Eden refer to? Does this help us understand what “eastward in Eden” might mean?
Verses 11-14: Abraham omits this part of the story. Why? Why do you think it is included in Moses and Genesis? Is there a spiritual reason for its inclusion? Might there be a connection between the rivers that flow from Eden and the water that is to come from the temple mount at the Second Coming? If so, what is the connection?
Verse 15: What does it mean to dress the Garden?
The Hebrew word translated dress in Genesis 2:15 means “to serve” or “to till.”
What does it mean to keep the Garden?
The Hebrew word translated keep in Genesis 2:15 means “to guard” or “to keep.” Its basic idea is “to exercise great care.” The word is used, for example, when the Bible speaks of keeping the commandments, as in Exodus 20:6.
One translator says that Adam’s job was “to serve and to guard.” What do you think of that translation? What does Adam’s job in the Garden mean to us? Do we have any similar job?
Verses 16-17: Are there any commandments for which it is not true that we may choose for ourselves for it (the choice) is given to us? Does this addendum to the commandment make it different than other commandments? Why does God add, “But, remember that I forbid it”? What do these verses in Moses include that is omitted from the Genesis account? What does that addition teach us? What does the Abraham account add to the Genesis account? What does that addition teach us?
The Hebrew of Genesis 2:18 might also be translated “it is absolutely not good that the man should be alone.”
What is the problem with man being alone? We have the word helpmeet in English. However, notice that neither Moses nor Genesis uses that word. They use two words: help meet. The scholarly discussion of the meaning of this phrase is enormous, but I will deal with only a few possibilities. Since one relevant meaning of meet is “appropriate,” we can understand the last part of the verse to say “a helper appropriate to him.” What kind of helper would be appropriate to Adam?
The Hebrew of Genesis literally means “a helper in front of him” or “a helper opposite him.” Is it significant that God describes Woman as being in front of Man? In what sense does Woman stand opposite Man?
One translator says that this should be understood to mean “a helper corresponding to him” rather than “appropriate to him.” What kind of helper would that be? With what would a helper give him help at this point in the story? How does the account of the creation of male and female in this chapter compare and contrast with the account of that creation in chapter 2? What does each tell us?
Verses 19-20: Notice that Abraham omits these verses at this point, putting them, instead, at the end of the chapter. What do you make of that difference? How does that change what Abraham is saying in contrast to what Moses is saying? Notice, too, that these verses break up the story of Eve’s creation: verse 18 prepares us for that creation and verse 21 tells us of it. These verses interrupt the natural flow from 18 to 21. Why? What do they have to do with the creation of Eve? How do they help us understand that creation?
Verse 19: What does the fact that Adam names the animals teach us about the creation? In Moses God breathes the breath of life into the animals, but in Genesis he does not. Does addition to Moses teach us something about animals that the Genesis text does not?
“Living souls” in the Genesis text is “living creature”: hayyah in Hebrew, which sounds very much like the word for Eve, hawwah. Is the writer making a word play here. If he is, what is its point?
Verse 20: Does the end of this verse help us understand what verses 19 and 20 have to do with the creation of Eve? What happened to Adam as he named the animals; what did he discover? Does this teach us anything about our lives?
Verses 21-22: What might be the significance of Adam’s sleep? As a matter of doctrine, we do not believe that Eve was created out of Adam’s rib. So why is the story told this way? What’s the point?
Verse 23: Does this verse help us understand what the story of Eve’s creation tells us? What does it mean to say “this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”? (Compare Genesis 29:14; Judges 9:2; 2 Samuel 5:1; 19:12-13; 1 Chronicles 11:1.) Given the important role naming has played in this story, is there anything significant about the fact that Adam names her “Woman because she was taken out of man”? If so, what? Why doesn’t he give her the name Eve at this point?
Up to this point the Hebrew word translated man has been adam, from which Adam gets his name. Here, however, the word used is ish. It’s meaning (other than “man”) isn’t certain, but it may mean something like “that which exists.” When used to mean “man,” adam can refer to a particular individual or it can refer to humans in general. (As we will see, it can also refer to a married couple.) Ish, however, refers to specific individuals rather than to men or humans in general. The Hebrew word translated woman is isha. Obviously it sounds very much like ish, the word for man, just as the English woman sounds very much like man. In fact, isha may be a variation of ish, though many scholars doubt that they are related. However, even if they aren’t, the writer of this story uses them as if they are. We’re interested in what the writer is telling us, not in the history of words for its own sake. Given the story we have just seen in verses 19 and 20, what might the similarity of the Hebrew words for man and woman indicate?
How does the name that Adam gives Woman differ from the names he gave the animals?
Verse 24: Who is speaking in this verse, Adam or the writer? What does it mean to leave father and mother? What does it imply about the Man and the Woman? What does it mean to cleave to a person? What are the different ways in which a man and a woman may cleave to one another? What does it mean to be one flesh?
Verse 25: What does their nakedness indicate? Why should they be ashamed? What is the purpose of this verse?
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