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In Genesis 1:27, it says:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

In Genesis 2:7, it says:

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

It is common among Christian denominations to believe that these two verses are describing the same event.

However, some denominations apparently believe that these events are in chronological order: that Genesis 1:27 happened on the sixth day, and Genesis 2:7 happened after the first seven days.

Since both events are about the creation of the human being, but happened on two different days, how do Christian denominations that read these events as happening in chronological order, rather than as two different accounts of the same event, understand this?

  • What makes you think this happened at two different times? – Andrew May 15 '17 at 15:02
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  • Would you be so kind as to provide what particular denomination takes Genesis 2:7 as an event that occurred after the first seven days? – Mea quidem sententia May 15 '17 at 16:18
  • @Meaquidemsententia See my answer, just posted below. – Lee Woofenden May 15 '17 at 16:50
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The various New Church (Swedenborgian) denominations that follow the Christian theology and Bible interpretations of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) see the two Creation stories of Genesis 1:1–2:3 and Genesis 2:4–25, not as describing the same events twice, but as being two distinct stories placed in chronological order.

Swedenborg saw these two Creation stories as being, not about the physical creation of the earth, and humans on it, but rather as the spiritual creation of human beings: meaning our "regeneration" or spiritual rebirth from being physical-minded and worldly people to being spiritual and heavenly people.

In Swedenborg's spiritual interpretation of the Creation stories, the first story represents the initial stage of our rebirth from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive, and the second story represents a second stage of that process. Here is how he expresses it in Secrets of Heaven #81, in his summary on the meaning of Genesis 2:

This chapter [Genesis 2] deals with the heavenly person; the last dealt with the spiritual person, who previously had been lifeless. In modern times, though, people know nothing about the character of a heavenly person and very little about that of a spiritual person or of a lifeless one. Let me clarify the differences through a brief discussion of each type.

(1) The only truth and goodness that lifeless people acknowledge are bodily and worldly kinds, and these they revere.

Spiritual people acknowledge spiritual and heavenly types of truth and goodness, but their acknowledgment stems from faith—as do their actions—and not as much from love.

Heavenly people believe and perceive truth and goodness of spiritual and heavenly kinds, but they acknowledge no other faith than one that springs from love; and love is also what moves them to action.

(2) Those who are lifeless fixate purely on bodily and worldly life as their goals. They do not know what eternal life is or what the Lord is. If they have heard about these, they have no belief in them. Those who are spiritual focus first on eternal life as their goal, and then on the Lord.

Those who are heavenly concentrate first on the Lord as their goal, and then on his kingdom and eternal life.

(3) When the lifeless undergo conflict, they almost always give in. When they are free of conflict, evil and falsity master them, and they are slaves to it. Their restraints are external and include fear of the law and fear of losing their life, wealth, profits, and consequent reputation.

The spiritual are subject to conflict, but they always win. The restraints that curb them are internal ones termed the bonds of conscience.

Heavenly people experience no conflict. If evil and falsity attack them, they spurn them, which is why they are called victors. They have no apparent restraints to curb them, being free, but they do have invisible restraints, which are the goodness and truth they perceive.

In other words, Swedenborg sees the stories as dealing with three stages in the spiritual development of an individual person, and also of humankind as a whole.

Stage 1: The worldly person, who is spiritually lifeless

The first stage, he says, is represented by the state of creation just after the initial creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1:

The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. (Genesis 1:2)

The formlessness, void, and darkness, he says, is the spiritual formlessness, void, and darkness of people who have not yet been regenerated, or spiritually born again. This is where all of us start, and it is also where the earliest human beings on earth also started as a group.

Stage 2: The spiritual person, prompted by faith

He then interprets the first Creation story of Genesis 1 as referring to our reformation into spiritually aware and enlightened beings, who live a good life based on faith, belief, and understanding. This first Creation story is complete in us when we believe in God and live a good life because we know it is the right thing to do, and we know and understand that this is what God has commanded us to do for our own good.

The first Creation story, then, focuses on the rebirth and reformation of our mind and our understanding.

Stage 3: The heavenly person, prompted by love

The second Creation story, by contrast, Swedenborg says, focuses on the rebirth of our heart, our love, and our will.

When we have reformed our life and our thinking about life based on faith and an understanding of the goodness and rightness of God's laws and God's commandments, our spiritual rebirth or re-creation process moves deeper, to the level of our heart and what we love and feel joy in. That is what takes place in the second Creation story, in Swedenborg's interpretation of it.

When this third stage of our spiritual re-creation is complete, we live a good life, not merely because we know and understand that it is the right thing to do—which is a rather intellectual and therefore relatively superficial type of spiritual life—but rather because we feel the love of God in our heart, and this prompts us to spontaneously and warmly love both God and our fellow human beings. So our spiritual life is moved not just by faith and understanding, but even more by a warm and burning love in our heart that prompts us to want and do everything good for the people around us.

This brings God's heavenly kingdom into fruition in and around those who reach this stage of spiritual rebirth.

References to the full exegesis

This is a necessarily brief and sketchy account of Swedenborg's detailed exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2, which he sees as a sort of "preface" to the Bible, providing a summary in two short chapters of everything that follows in the entire Bible.

You can read his fuller exegesis of these chapters in an older translation online at the links below. All linked numbers are from Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia ("Secrets of Heaven"). Subsequent section numbers can be read sequentially by clicking the "Next" button below each section.

His exegesis of Genesis 1 starts with a preface in #1, and the exegesis proper starts with a summary of the spiritual meaning in #6, followed by a detailed exegesis starting in #14.

His exegesis of Genesis 2 starts with a summary in #73, followed by a detailed exegesis starting in #81.

For a more modern and readable translation, I recommend the New Century Edition, which is available as a free download from the publisher's website here.

Summary and conclusion

In this chronological understanding of the two Creation stories:

When the human being is first created in Genesis 1:27–28, it represents our creation as spiritually aware human beings prompted by faith and an understanding of God's commandments as being good and right for us to follow.

When the human being is created second, in Genesis 2:7, it represents our creation as heavenly human beings, meaning people who are moved primarily by love for God and love for the neighbor, and who live a good life as prompted and motivated by that love. This, Swedenborg says, is God's ultimate goal for us, and completes our process of being born again as new creations in the image and likeness of God.

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