Are There Two Creation Accounts?
[Introduction and Inquiry] [Two Creation Accounts -- or One?] [Alleged Points of Contradiction] [An Alternative Explanation] [Extra Objections from Dennis McKinsey and Ebon Musings]

The first two chapters of Genesis are regularly bashed on the noggin for being contrary to modern notions of science; but we won't be discussing that here. Instead, we're going to look at the issue of internal inconsistencies in the two so-called "creation accounts" -- which actually split at verse 2:4; but for brevity we'll refer to the accounts, respectively, as G1 and G2.

We will explore these areas:

  1. Are there actually two creation accounts?
  2. Do these two accounts contradict one another? In answer to this question, we will pursue these replies:
    • Evidences of unity of authorship in the two accounts. Most cite contradiction in tandem with proofs that G1 and G2 were authored by different parties, in accord with the JEDP hypothesis. In response, it should be noted that it is certainly possible, if not very likely, that both G1 and G2 began as oral accounts that were later put into writing. We will argue that one author was responsible for both written accounts, whatever their original source may have been, thus indicating that any contradiction that would exist would have been intentional, and thus not problematic for inerrantists.
    • Internal and grammatical solutions. We will show that even if two different people authored G1 and G2, they are not contradictory at all, but complementary.

G1? G2?

A key operational question for this subject may come as a surprise: Are G1 and G2 actually creation accounts? G1 is undoubtedly so, but the classification of G2 is a bit more subtle, and affects somewhat our overall presentation.

The book of Genesis contains several sections that begin with the phrase which we sometimes render, "These are the generations of..." The word "generations" is the Hebrew toledot and has the connotation of a family history or succession. Toledot are given for Adam's line (5:1-6:8), Noah (6:9-9:29), Noah's sons (10:1-11:9), Shem (11:10-26), Terah and Abram (11:27-25:11), and so on -- there are nearly a dozen recurrences of the toledot introduction and method, and one of these, interestingly enough, is Genesis 2:4-4:6.

What does this mean? It means that G2 is not actually a creation account as such, but a "family history" of the first men in creation [Mat.Gen126, 12ff]. It is therefore a point to begin our argument by noting that anyone who reads G2 as a rehash of the creation accounted in G1 is missing the boat from the start.

It is quite unlikely, given the parallel toledot structure, that the author of Genesis is repeating himself (although we do have examples of dual creation accounts -- the former told generally, the latter told more specifically -- in Sumerian and Babylonian literature). Rather, the indication would be that G2 is of an entirely different genre and approach than G1, and that any supposed contradiction between them needs to be understood in that light.

So G2 is not exactly a "creation account" to begin with; and this leads to the next question, of whether a single author is responsible for both. In that regard, the evidence indicates a very close unity between G1 and G2, one that indicates either a single redactor or, more likely, a single author. G1 and G2 are indeed linked by a detectable and obvious pattern:

Given these internal clues, we would argue that if any contradiction is found between G1 and G2, it is intentional -- serving a rhetorical or polemical purpose -- and therefore, of no consequence for any supposition of inerrancy. However, we find it more likely that no contradiction does exist between G1 and G2, and we shall see how this is so in our next section.

Points of Order

Typically, critics find two major points of disagreement between G1 and G2. The first of these is rather easy to dispose of:

Gen. 1:11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
Gen. 2:4-5 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.

The allegation is that whereas G1 has plants made before man, G2 has man made before plants. But it is really rather simple to see that G2 indicates no such thing as is claimed, for the latter specifies that what did not exist yet were plants and herbs "of the field" -- what field?

The Hebrew word here is sadeh, and where it is used of known geographic locations, refers to either a quite limited area of land, and/or a flat place suitable for agriculture, as opposed to the word used in 1:11, "earth", which is 'erets -- a word which has much broader geographic connotations.

See for example:

  • Gen. 23:12-13: "And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land ['erets], saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field [sadeh]; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there."
  • Ex. 9:22 "And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch forth thine hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land ['erets] of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field [sadeh], throughout the land ['erets] of Egypt."
  • Lev. 25:2-3, "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land ['erets] which I give you, then shall the land ['erets] keep a sabbath unto the LORD. Six years thou shalt sow thy field [sadeh], and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof...")

    A key to understanding what is being described here is that verse 2:5 goes on to explain WHY there were no "plants of the field" -- because a) there was no rain upon the earth, and b) there was no man to work the earth -- the two key elements for agriculture according to the ancient mindset. Thus, what this passage indicates is that there was as yet no organized agriculture, and that makes sense of the verses following, where God specifically plants the garden of Eden and places man to tend to it.

    G2 is not indicating that there were no plants created yet at all, but that a special place was set aside for the foundation of agriculture and for plants "of the field" to be developed. (This idea of Eden as a special place set aside shall come into play as we progress.)

    But now to the second alleged contradiction:

    Gen. 1:24-5 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
    Gen. 2:18-20 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

    Problem? G1 says that animals were created before man; G2 says that man came first, there was a need to designate a helpmeet, then animals were created for the first time...or does it?

    For quite some time now the classical solution to this problem has been to do what the NIV (but no other version that I know of) has done, and that is to render the verb in verse 2:19 not as simple past tense, but as a pluperfect, so:

    Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.

    Thus, it is asserted by various proponents, for example, from Leupold's Exposition of Genesis:

    Without any emphasis on the sequence of acts the account here records the making of the various creatures and the bringing of them to man. That in reality they had been made prior to the creation of man is so entirely apparent from chapter one as not to require explanation. But the reminder that God had "molded" them makes obvious His power to bring them to man and so is quite appropriately mentioned here. It would not, in our estimation, be wrong to translate yatsar as a pluperfect in this instance: 'He had molded.' The insistence of the critics upon a plain past is partly the result of the attempt to make chapters one and two clash at as many points as possible.

    Likewise, others have noted that the very context of the passages indicate that the pluperfect should be used, and this was the simple solution which I offered in an initial analysis of this verse, in reply to claims of contradiction by Jim Merritt.

    However, one critic cited Gensenius' Hebrew Grammar and asserted that "such a reading is NOT POSSIBLE in the Hebrew since (starting after Gen. 2:4) the form of the narrative consists of a number of temporally consecutive clauses, linked by a special marker known as "WAW CONSECUTIVE".

    And what is this item? Citing "section 49a, note 1, page 133" of that grammar, they said:

    "This name best expresses the prevailing syntactical relation, for by WAW CONSECUTIVE an action is always represented as the direct, or at least temporal CONSEQUENCE of a preceding action."

    Thus, they said, "the Genesis 2 narrative literally takes the form of a series of clauses WHICH OCCUR IN A TEMPORALLY ORDERED SEQUENCE" and because the "Hebrew syntax tells us that the actions performed in such a clause are '...the direct, or at least temporal consequence of a preceding action', the only preceding action for which the creation of the beasts and birds can reasonably be considered 'a direct consequence' is God's declaration that He will make a helper for 'the man'. " And that is that -- or is it?

    They have certainly reported the text of the grammar correctly, but the "waw consecutive" is rather a more complicated matter, for it does not ALWAYS indicate temporal sequence, as indeed the grammar indicates. There are examples in the OT, NT, and in Egyptian and Assyrian literature of "dischronologized" narratives where items are arranged topically rather than chronologically, and this would justify our own use of the pluperfect for the sake of context; indeed, even commentators that prefer to keep the simple past tense suppose not that there is a contradiction, but that G2 is reporting the order out of sequence purposely in order to stress man's dominion over the created animals.

    An older commentary by Keil and Delitsch made this point nicely:

    The consecutive arrangement (in Gen. 2:19) may be explained on the supposition that the writer, who was about to describe the relation of man to the beast, went back to the creation, in the simple method of the early Semitic historian, and placed this first instead of making it subordinate; so that our modern style of expressing the same would be "God brought to Adam the beast which He had formed."
    A striking example of this style of narrative is in 1 Kings 7:13. The building and completion of the temple we noticed several times in chapter 6, and the last time in connection with the year and month, chapter 6:9,14,37,38. After that, the fact is stated that the royal palace was 13 years in building; and then it is related that Solomon fetched Hiram from Tyre, to make 2 pillars. If we are to understand the (WAW/VAV) consecutive here, Solomon would be made to send for the artist 13 years after the temple was finished. It only expresses the thought, "Hiram, whom Solomon fetched from Tyre. -Also note Judges 2:6.

    More than this, there are also various "exceptions" which crop up in Hebrew grammar where the waw consecutive is used. Greenberg, citing the grammar of Jouon, notes [Gree.UE, 37, 168n] that the waw consecutive "sometimes occurs when there is no idea of succession" and that there are places where a pluperfect can be rendered in accordance with a summarizing or recapitulating use of the waw consecutive.

    Collins [Coll.WAP] points out that there are cases of unmarked pluperfects in the OT, and that the specific verb in question in this verse itself often warrants a pluperfect translation. Furthermore, another contributor observed:

    Gen. 2:19 begins with VaYYiTSeR; the verb "YaTSaR" in the imperfect with a WAW consecutive. Waltke and O'Connor ("Introduction to the Syntax of Biblical Hebrew", pp. 544-546) say that "It (imperfect with a WAW consecutive) shows in Hebrew meanings equivalent to those of the suffix (perfect) conjugation." Earlier, on p. 490, they had already shown that the suffix conjugation can have a pluperfect meaning; later, on p. 552, they show that the imperfect with a WAW consecutive can also have a pluperfect meaning, giving as examples "The Lord *had said* (Hebrew: VaYeDaBBeR) to Moses" (Num. 1:47-49) and "The Lord *had said* (Hebrew: VaYYoMeR) to Moses" (Ex. 4:18-19).

    I have not been able to check the accuracy of this cite, but assuming it is true, we have now as many as four indications that the use of the waw consecutive in no way diminishes the argument for the use of the pluperfect. It remains untouched by the critic's argument.

    Another Option

    So the pluperfect is a more than acceptable reading; but since we are facing the sorts who believe that merely quoting versions is a way to prove that one is correct, and since most versions do use the simple past tense (although as we have noted, even commentators who use it do not necessarily agree that it constitutes actual contradiction), we had better have another line of defense -- and indeed, there is another, one that relates back to our indication of the garden as a special sort of "domestic creation" for man to do his service in.

    The naming of the animals was not simply a pre-Linnean classification exercise; it was a demonstration of Adam's dominion over the entirety of nature. The giving of names, in ancient oriental thought, was an exercise of sovereignty and command. One may compare here the idea of bringing subjects before a sovereign, and this will come into play as we develop our argument that assumes reading "formed" as a simple past tense.

    Now for recollection purposes, let's once again quote the key passage:

    Gen. 2:18-20 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

    Notice: God "formed" beasts and fowl here -- but he brings before Adam beasts, fowl, and cattle -- the domestic creatures! Where did they come from? The answer, under this proposition, is that they were already in Eden (a place of domestic specialty set aside), and that the "forming" of the beasts and fowl is an act of special creation, giving Adam "samples" of these beasts and fowls from outside Eden for the sake of presenting them to the earth's appointed sovereign. (For after all, why should a king have to wait for his subjects to wander in when he can have them brought to him at once?)

    In this passage the author clearly shows awareness of the cattle having already been created in G1, for he does not indicate their creation here, but rather assumes that they don't need to be created. Even without the pluperfect rendering, G1 and G2 demonstrate a perfect consistency.

    This explanation is also supported by the chiastic structure of the report of the animals: They are cited in the order, "beasts...fowl...cattle...fowl...beasts" -- suggesting that the report is done by design, not because the writer couldn't see contradiction so plainly in front of him.

    Other Objections

    • Gen. 1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.; vs. 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

      It is said: "In the first account Adam may eat from any fruit tree; while in the second he may not eat the fruit of all trees."

      However, the tree of knowledge is part of a garden not planted until Genesis 2:8. It did not exist at the time Gen. 1:29 is recorded; Gen. 2;17 is therefore updated instructions.

    • Gen. 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.; and 2:22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

      It is argued that in the first case, man and woman were created together, while they were created separately in the second.

      Once again it is simply a matter of establishing the chronology: the last phrase of Gen. 1:27 refers to an event that takes place chronologically much later than the first phrase. We need to keep in mind that we do indeed agree that there are two stories here; but they are complementary (just like dual creation accounts in other ancient sources), and each reflects an intact unit of oral tradition. It is only when we read them as logocentric moderns that we see a problem: The two stories originally were told independently.

    • Gen. 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.; and 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

      It is said that the first account gives men and women dominion, whereas in the second they were "confined" to Eden.

      Where does it say that they were "confined" to Eden? All I see here is God getting the dominion process started easy with an initial parcel of land that is ready to go.

    • Re the use of Elohim in the first account and Yahweh Elohim in the second: for the use of the word elohim, see here.
    • Gen. 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

      vs.


      Gen. 3:5, 22 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil...And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

      It is objected that "In the first creation man is made in the image of God; while in the second that likeness is acquired by learning of good and evil."

      For an answer to this, see Chapter 1 of my book The Mormon Defenders. The second part does not say that this is how the "likeness" is acquired.

    • Gen. 1:2, 9-10 And the earth was without form, and void...And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters...And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas.

      vs.


      Gen. 2:4-6 ...in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens...for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth...there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

      It is said: "In the first creation account the earth was first covered with water and land did not appear until later. In the second creation account there was no water at first. The earth was dry land and was later watered by a mist."

      But the second verse set does not say that "there was no water at first" at all. It says that there was no rain, which is not quite the same thing.

      It is said, "Genesis 2:18 makes it plain that the animals had not been created yet since Adam is described as being alone."

      "Alone" simply means without a suitable helpmate, which is somewhat curious given that we have no textual justification for assuming that God had left the scene.

      It is said, "Genesis chapter 1 states that creation took a full week - seven days, evening and morning. But the second creation story, beginning in 2:4, says this: 'These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.' This verse says 'In the day' - that is, one day, singular - 'that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.' In short, while chapter 1 spreads the creation out over a week, chapter 2 compresses it entirely into one day."

      This asserts that "in the day" means on one particular day based solely on the singular form of "day" within that phrase. Indeed?

      Thus, we may conclude that Genesis 35:3 makes clear that Jacob experienced his troubles during a single day of distress. Leviticus 14:1-9, likewise makes clear that the rules in effect in the day (14:2) of a leper's cleansing, which take about a week, take merely one day to go through. This is simply misreading of Biblical language.

      -JPH

      Sources

      1. Coll.WAP - Collins, C. John. "The Wayyiqtol as 'Pluperfect': When and Why". Tyndale Bulletin 46, 1995, 177-40.
      2. Gree.UE - Greenberg, Moshe. Understanding Exodus. Berhman House: 1969.
      3. Mat.Gen126 - Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 1-11:26. Broadman and Holman, 1996.