Is Michelangelo’s famous Creation of Adam scripturally correct?

Michelangelo’s fourth panel on the famous Sistine Chapel ceiling is the well-known depiction of God creating Adam. Both figures have one arm raised and forefingers almost touching. The moment is supposedly when God infused His just-created figure of man with the spirit of life. However, this does not follow the account of the creation of Adam as given in Scripture: “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 being” (Genesis 2:7). Nevertheless, the two forefingers almost touching on a background of blue sky has now become an icon of creation and is even used in this manner by Christian ministries!

The significance of this may be understood by the interpretation long given to this image by the Jesuit teaching arm of the Roman Catholic Church. They have generally taught that the Adam figure in this painting is actually a pre-Adamic anthropoid or higher ape at the moment of being infused with the soul of man! While Michelangelo was influenced by Neoplatonism in his early life, it is highly unlikely that this evolutionary interpretation of the creation of Adam would have been Michelangelo’s intention.

Michelangelo Buonarroti [1475-1564] was born into a poor Italian Catholic family and had only three years of schooling where he learned to read Italian. The only Bible available to Catholics in those days was the Latin Vulgate, and Michelangelo could not read this. He quickly became a very successful artisan and began his heroic work on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508 at the age of 33. Working 68 feet above the marble mosaic floor of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo had it completed four exhausting years later. However, throughout this time, none of the clergy could see what was being done on the other side of the huge scaffolding that supported the artist and the tubs of wet plaster. Thus, some unscriptural interpretations might be expected and the ceiling has an anachronism in the seventh panel. Here the sacrifice of Noah takes place before the Flood instead of after the Flood [Genesis 8:20-22].

There are several other errors in his enormous output of work, albeit they were unlikely to have been intentional. For example, the famous life-size Pieta [1499], carved from one solid block of stone when he was only 24, shows the dead Christ in the arms of his seven-foot “teen-age” mother. While this is a reflection of the Catholic teaching, more serious is the Christ figure. Here the spear incision appears on the traditional right side of the body rather than the obvious left. However, more subtle are the fully inflated veins indicating a still-functioning heart. Both features cast doubt on the death of Christ following the prediction given in Matthew 28:11-15. Finally, a more obvious anatomical error appears in Michelangelo’s huge sculpture of the naked David [1504] depicted as a Greek rather than a Jew.

In the later part of his life Michelangelo appears to have given up Neoplatonism while his written poetry expresses a genuine love for Christ – he may even have embraced the Christian faith. However, Christians should avoid using reproductions of his unscriptural works and particularly “The Creation of Adam” from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.


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