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Don’t be fooled: There’s a lot more going on in the opening chapter of the Bible than you might expect. But to grasp its powerful meaning, you must be willing to see the story from the perspective of its original audience: the ancient Israelites.
The way ancient near-eastern cultures like Israel told stories and passed on their history is very different from our own. They did not typically offer straightforward, chronological, “play-by-play” accounts, as modern-day historians or newspaper reporters might do. Instead, the Biblical writers often organized material by themes and employed elaborate literary techniques that involved repetition, parallelism, allusion, and alliteration—artistry that readers today often miss.
This is certainly the case with the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1. The account of the six days of creation, the divine commands (“Let there be light!”), and God’s rest on the seventh day was never intended to be read like a scientific textbook. Rather, the passage uses figurative language and poetic devices to communicate its beautiful message about creation and God’s plan for the human family. These rich theological points in Genesis 1 are more deeply appreciated when we consider the way the six days of creation unfold in the narrative.
Numerous scholars have pointed out that there is a connection in the narrative between the first three days and the next three days of creation. On the first three days, God creates day and night (first day), sky and sea (second day), and land and vegetation (third day). Then, on the fourth day, God creates the sun, moon, and stars to rule over the day and night, corresponding to what He created on the first day. On the fifth day, God creates the birds to fill the sky and the fish to fill the sea, corresponding to the second day. And on the sixth day, God creates the beasts that crawl on the earth, corresponding to the land created on the third day.
Day 1: Day & Night ⇿ Day 4: Sun, Moon & Stars
Day 2: Sky & Sea ⇿ Day 5: Birds & Fish
Day 3: Land & Vegetation ⇿ Day 6: The Beasts
The author of Genesis 1 is underscoring a series of parallels between the first and last three days of creation to reveal God as the divine architect, creating the universe with great order. He first creates three realms on days 1-3 (time, space, and life), and then He creates the rulers over those realms in days 4-6 (sun, moon, and stars over time; birds and fish filling sky and sea; and the beasts over the land). Finally, God creates man and woman as the crowning of His creation, making them in His image and likeness, and giving them the mission to rule over all creation: “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 earth” (Gn 1:26). All this is missed if we do not take into account the literary artistry of the biblical writers.
A Subversive Message
Much is also missed if we fail to consider the historical context in which this account was written. Other ancient near-eastern cultures around Israel had their own stories about how the world came into existence and how human beings were created. But Israel’s story stands out for its emphasis on monotheism—the belief in only one God.
The pagan nations around Israel believed in multiple deities, many of whom were associated with the things of this world. They worshipped the sun, moon, and stars; the sea monsters were powerful deities, and other pagan gods were associated with the images of various animals.
For Genesis 1, therefore, to proclaim that Israel’s God is the one true God who created the sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, and all the animals would have been a countercultural and subversive message. Genesis would be highlighting how the very gods that the pagans worship are actually not deities at all, but merely creatures of Israel’s God, the one and only true God!
Image Is Everything
The drama of Genesis 1 next moves from the cosmic perspective of God’s creating the sun, moon, and stars to the climactic moment when God finally creates man: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” (Gn 1:26)
Christians often talk about how we are made in the “image of God.” But what does this really mean?
While this concept has many layers of theological meaning (see CCC 356-357), what would have stood out to the ancient Israelites hearing the story of creation is that Adam and Eve have a relationship with God that is truly extraordinary. Nothing else in the visible world even comes close to the intimate communion God establishes with Adam and Eve.
In the Bible, being made in the image of someone else implies a father-and-son relationship. In fact, the next time this word is used in Genesis, it describes the relationship between Adam and his own son, Seth: Adam “became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Gn 5:3).
If Seth is in the image of his father Adam, what would that tell us about Adam’s being made in the image of God? Adam is being revealed as God’s son. Thus, the entire narrative of the Bible begins with an astonishing truth about our identity: We are not mere creatures of the Creator or servants of an almighty deity. We are called to an intimate relationship with this infinite God as His children, made in His image.
The Fatherhood of God
This passage also gives us a glimpse of who God is. If Genesis 1 highlights how Adam was created as God’s son, this would suggest that God is meant to be understood not just as Lord but also as Father.
The rest of Genesis 1 and 2 goes on to show God’s fatherly care for Adam. God provides Adam with a garden full of water to drink and fruits and vegetation to eat. He creates the animals and allows Adam to name them and care for them, showing Adam his mission to rule over and care for all of God’s natural creation. He even provides Adam with a partner: his bride, Eve.
In the midst of the story, God gives Adam only one restrictive law, a single “Thou shall not”: He says to Adam, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn 2:16-17). This leads us to a crucial question for understanding the story of Adam, as well as the story of our own lives: Why does God give the law?
God does not give this law to Adam in order to control him and restrict his freedom. In fact, God’s words underscore the broad liberty He was giving Adam to eat freely from every other tree in the garden. There is only one tree from which God does not want Adam to eat: the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Neither is the law given merely to test Adam’s obedience. There is a much deeper purpose to the command. The text says God warns Adam about this one tree because He does not want Adam to be harmed: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” In other words, God gives this law to protect Adam from some danger that is symbolized by the tree of knowledge of good and evil (cf. CCC 396).1 Here, we can begin to see how the moral law flows from God’s love for us. As Pope John Paul II once explained: “God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love, proposes this good to man in the commandments.”
The Instruction Manual
Think of God’s moral law as an instruction manual for our lives. When purchasing a car, one receives an owner’s manual that explains how best to operate the vehicle. The manufacturer who made the car knows how it works and gives us operating instructions to ensure that the car functions properly. No one views these instructions as impositions on our lives. They are not given to control us or restrict our freedom; they are given to help us use the vehicle well.
Similarly, the moral law is like God’s instruction manual for our lives. God is the divine manufacturer: He made us and knows how we work. He knows that certain actions will lead us to happiness, while other acts will end only in frustration and emptiness. That’s why God gives the moral law—to help guide us on the pathway to happiness.
The Serpent’s Strategy: Rules vs. Relationship
The law flows from the Father’s heart. But the devil wants Adam and Eve (and all of us) to view God’s law apart from His love—to see the command merely as a rule, not as an expression of his relationship with us.
Consider the serpent’s first words to Eve: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” (Gn 3:1). Here, the serpent simply refers to the Lord as “God” (in Hebrew, the word is Elohim). This title is used in Genesis 1 to describe God as the Creator of the universe. The serpent’s use of this title here is particularly striking, because the rest of Genesis 2-3 characteristically refers to God as “the Lord God” (in Hebrew, Yahweh Elohim), which elsewhere in the Bible expresses God’s intimacy with His people as Israel’s covenant partner. In Genesis 2, it is the “Lord God” who creates man from the ground and breathes life into him, who creates the animals and allows Adam to name them, and who creates the woman from Adam’s side. Indeed, the “Lord God” is a loving God, intimately involved in Adam’s and Eve’s lives, providing for them as His children.
But the serpent will have none of this. He does not call God Yahweh Elohim. He wants Eve to think of God as a remote deity, a distant creator—one who gives a burdensome law. It is as if the serpent is saying, “Did that distant Creator, that powerful lawgiver, say, ‘You shall not eat of any trees of the garden’?” The serpent wants them to think of God as an oppressive lawgiver whose rule limits their freedom.
The woman responds by mentioning that they may eat from other trees, but that if they eat from the tree in the midst of the garden, they would die (Gn 3:2-3). To this, the serpent says: “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gn 3:4).
Attack on God’s Fatherhood
Feel the gravity of the serpent’s words: In saying, “You will not die,” the serpent is calling God a liar. According to the serpent, the tree is not harmful; it is actually something that will make them become like God, who is so afraid of their eating from the tree and becoming like Him that He makes up this law in order to keep them under His control.
Notice that the devil is not simply trying to get Adam and Eve to break a rule; ultimately, he is trying to get them to break a relationship. The first sin, then, involves questioning God’s fatherly goodness. As the Catechism explains, “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC 397).
The first temptation, and every one since, involves an attack on God’s loving Fatherhood. In our own relativistic world, many people adopt the serpent’s view about God’s moral law: They doubt that there really is a moral law that is given for our good.
When a culture views religion as “just a bunch of rules,” and morality as the Church “trying to tell others what to do with their lives,” it no longer sees the moral law as coming from the heart of a loving Father who wants what is best for us. Like Adam and Eve, our modern world has not just abandoned moral truth; it has bought into the serpent’s lie about God Himself.
The ‘First Gospel’
Through sin, Adam and Eve bring discord into the original harmony they had with God and find themselves in desperate need of being restored. Spiritually separated from God and having introduced death into the world, Adam and Eve now have a problem that they are incapable of solving on their own. Right at this desperate moment, God offers a message of hope.
After the Fall, God confronts the serpent, saying, “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” (Gn 3:15). These words represent the first time in the Bible when God’s plan of salvation is prophetically foreshadowed. The imagery of the strife between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring depicts a long battle between those who will follow the serpent’s ways and those descendants of the woman who will follow God’s ways. In the end, however, the woman is described as having a descendant who will defeat the devil. Since the use of the imagery of crushing the head in the Bible denotes a king defeating his enemies, this passage portrays the woman as having a royal offspring who will emerge to defeat the serpent.
The Real Story
Christians have called this passage the Protoevangelium, or the “first Gospel.” According to the Catechism, these words represent the first prophecy about the redemptive work of Christ:
The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the “New Adam” who, because he “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience of Adam. Furthermore, many…have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve.” (CCC 411)
The New Adam
But Genesis 3 not only provides a prophecy about Christ’s victory over the devil; the narrative also foreshadows how Jesus will restore the sons of Adam to covenant with God.
Consider what happened after Adam was tested in the Garden of Eden and ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As a result of the fall, Adam faces several curses. His work will not be as easy as it once was in the Garden of Eden; now, he will have to “sweat” in his labors (Gn 3:19) while his crops bear “thorns and thistles” (Gn 3:18). Even the ground where he will work is cursed (Gn 3:17). The most severe of the curses, however, is that he will no longer live forever but return to the ground from which he was made. God says to Adam, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3:19).
All this sheds light on the climax of Christ’s mission in His passion and death. As the New Adam, Jesus confronts the curses laid on Adam that have plagued the human family ever since the Fall. Like Adam, Jesus, on the night before He died, enters a garden—the Garden of Gethsemane—where He is tested (Mt 26:36-46). There, He takes on Adam’s sweat as He experiences sweat-like drops of blood falling from His face. On Good Friday, Jesus symbolically takes on the curse of Adam’s thorns as He is handed over to the Roman soldiers, who place a crown of thorns on His head (Mt 27:29). Finally, Jesus even takes on the curse of Adam’s death as He goes to a tree—the wood of the cross—and dies on Calvary. And, like Adam, Jesus is placed in the cursed ground, where He is buried in a tomb. It is precisely from the darkness of that tomb in the cursed ground that Jesus, the Light of the World, rises victoriously from the dead on Easter Sunday to shine the light of salvation at the dawn of the new creation.
by Edward Sri and Curtis Martin
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Do you know the real story of the Bible?
What do Adam and Eve, Moses, David, Jesus and the Apostles have to do with my life?
In The Real Story, Edward Sri and Curtis Martin break open the Word to examine how all these pieces fit together into one cohesive narrative—a story of how, little by little, God has drawn His people into closer union with Himself, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His Church.
Through a closer study of the key characters and events in the larger biblical narrative, Sri and Martin show that the Bible ultimately isn’t a collection of disjointed stories, but an epic saga of God’s infinite love for us and His perfect plan for our salvation since the beginning of time.
Back to The Real Story (Paperback)
Author description goes here...
Alternative Headline Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible
Product Type Media Books
Author Edward Sri and Curtis Martin
Publisher Beacon Publishing
Number of Pages 151
Book Format Paperback
God Awsome Plan of Salvation - A MUST Read
Through typology, which shows how the New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament, my love for God has grown. The Real Story is full of typology. Indeed, this book shows us how God always intended to give us Jesus as our Redemptor. And it explains the events throughout the Bible very well, making us understand the real meaning of those events. So many people see the God of the Old Testament as a punishing God, which conflicts with the God of the New Testament. The authors allowed us to see that God has never changed, and that is the beauty of this book. God has always been a loving father to all of us. The book is very easy to read and goes straight to the point. I consider it a “must” to read.
Kudos for the Real Story - Illuminating the Big Picture of the Bible
This book was an eye opener for me. The Bible - Old Testament has always been difficult for me to understand and this book brings into sharp focus the covenant God established with His people from the beginning. In clear and concise commentary it begins with the story of Abraham, continues through Jesus' fulfillment of the kingdom, and outlines how God interacts and guides mankind. He nurtured but let the people chose and face consequences when they did not chose rightly. Most importantly, it culminates with the message that we receive God's interaction and guidance today if we seek it and live His covenant. I borrowed this book from a friend but now I am ordering my own copy and a few to distribute to my family and friends. Thank you for this treasure to help in our understanding of God's story.
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