Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hierarchy in creation: the Biblical view


Alice C. Linsley


Conceptually, the triangle or pyramid was regarded as the structure of the world by the ancient Afro-Asiatics. They were fascinated by the geometric properties of this shape. This is evident in the construction of pyramids and ziggarats. It is also evident in their multi-tiered cosmology which pictured the Creator at the peak of the heavens.

We find the hierarchical concept in the biblical order of creation, with the Human ranked above the other animals and the animals ranked above the plants. Within these tiers are what Genesis calls the "kinds", each reproducing according to its own kind.  The Creator's design entails boundaries which are generally recognized in reproductive science. These boundaries were largely honored by the Afro-Asiatics.

Onanism was an unrighteous deed because the seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of plants, which spring forth from the earth. The seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted” (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2 A.D. 191).

Bestiality and sodomy are also serious violations of the biblical order of creation.  By extension, it was  forbidden even to sow two different seeds in the same field, as was the blending of different fibers. The prohibition against mixing types, be they seeds, fibers or blood, upholds the distinction between this side of the boundary and that side, against confusing the holy with the unholy, or blurring the distinction between life and death, as happens when a baby goat is boiled in its mother's milk (forbidden three places in Scripture). Ultimately, the binary distinctions are God's way of ordering our thinking so as to preserve our lives and souls.

Pslam 8:6, which parallels the names Enoch and Adam, provides further evidence of this triangular hierarchy. Kain's first-born son was named Enoch and Seth's first-born son was named Enosh. These are linguistically equivalent names.  The name appears later in Numbers as Hanoch, the first-born son of Reuben. The point is that the names Enoch/Enosh/Hanoch stand for the first-born son in the ruling lines. He is the ruler-designate, and an historical figure. He is paralleled in Psalm 8 with Adam, the First Created Man, to whom the mandate was given to "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth." (Gen. 1:28)  This is not a mandate to exploit, as is so often misrepresented by secularists. It is an assertion about the uniqueness of Mankind and our place in the order of creation.

It is against this conception of the hierarchy in creation that we understand the nature of Eve's sin. She who represents the queen over the created order submits herself to the will of a creature who slithers on the ground. In this the original hierarchy or order in creation became inverted. Instead of listening to the Creator, Eve listened to the serpent, basest of creatures. Instead of taking from the tree of life, she took from a tree that brought death. Death already existed, as evidenced by the extinction of many species even before humans appeared on the surface of the earth. So Eve's disobedience did not introduce physical death to the world, it brought spiritual death. This is how the Church Fathers understood the Fall. Such death could be overcome only by God acting in time and space.

Related reading:  Who Were the Kushites?The Afro-Asiatic Dominion; The Biblical Meaning of Eve


5 comments:

  1. This is the best explanation of separation I have ever heard.

    I have been reading about "first is last" in Indo-European literature. There are many stories about how the youngest or most unassuming inherit or become the provider for the older siblings. It seems that this is also a theme in Jewish and Christian writings. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not first born sons. David was the youngest son of 11 (as I recall). It seems to me the distinction is between whom God annoints and those annointed by men.

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  2. Yes. Here we also find the pattern of kenosis, the emptying of oneself in order to serve the lowliest. This is the meaning of Philippians 2:6-11.

    "Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God sonething to be grasped. But He emptied himselfs, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.

    And for this God raised him high, and gave hin the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

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  3. The quote of Clement of Alexandria was striking to me as I have been reading more in depth about demographics lately, at a time when my Bible reading also has me realizing over and over again how much emphasis God put on making his people numerous - VERY numerous. The purpose of which was to ensure they had enough oomph as a people/nation to resist both political/military and spiritual desolation.

    Also, elaborating on God's emphasis on making his people numerous, there is constant emphasis on teaching your children and your grandchildren about him, about the way, about his laws - when you get up, when you sit down, and so on. Well, the fact is that the recent generation of followers of Jesus, basically, declined to be numerous. And families with one or two children, demographically, "begat" equally or even smaller families. Not only that, I just read that the average age between the older grandparent and the first grandchild is now close to 70 years! Hardly conducive to any opportunity to personally pass on a spiritual legacy.

    I realize my observations are not about anthropology, per se. But just as you saw the practice of Onanism, and so on, relevant to your anthropological analysis of the order of creation, I - though I may struggle to articulate it just now - see the same relevance with these observations of demographers.

    Thinking through it, perhaps it is that, by declining/refusing/not realizing we "should" (i.e., it is God's intention for us) to become/remain a numerous people, that itself - sort of by omission, not commission - violates the biblical order of creation. It's a collective negative act that, ultimately, functions as a de-elevation of human kind and an elevation of other kinds.

    In fact, of course, it's common in some political ideologies to elevate the welfare of animals and "the planet" well above human kind.

    While most followers of Jesus reject such violation of the biblical order, OTOH, many live as though they agree with it -- by placing no importance, or even rejecting, the idea that God intended his people to be fruitful and multiply.

    So, my question is: do you see in this (the minimizing or even rejection of human reproduction, even among followers of Jesus) a parallel, at some level, with Eve giving up her status as queen of the created order and, instead, elevating the lower orders?

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  4. I wrote the above comment and I misspoke in saying the span between the older grandchild and the first grandchild is, on "average," 70 years. I should have said that 70 years is becoming a typical span here, whereas that used to be quite uncommon. Thanks.

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  5. Anon,

    There is much confusion among Christians about the entire matter of human reproduction. This is evident in the lax attitude toward adultery, homosex, abortion, onanism and pornography. Is Eve to blame? I believe that this story illustrates how all people are. All of us tend to listen to the wrong voices, make the wrong decisions, sometimes out of ignorance (no excuse; Roms. 1:20) and sometimes because we want the easy road. Human reproduction was understood as a divine command among Abraham's ancestors. They were to spread across the earth and take with them the Proto-Gospel. Fertility was considered a blessing. Today most couples take fertility for granted, but not those who have struggled to conceive.

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Your comments are welcome. Please stay on topic and provide examples to support your point.