The Creation Account: Times Two
Are There Two Creation Accounts in Genesis As Some Claim?

Or, Was the Author of Genesis 1-2 a Flaming Knucklehead?
J. P. Holding

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.

This essay is an expansion upon some counters to objections previously found on another part of this page, and is prompted in part by some responses passed on to me from a Christian member of a known Skeptical discussion board. And so, let's get down to business. We will explore these areas:

Are there actually two creation accounts?

Do these two accounts contradict one another?
In answer to this question, we will pursue these replies:



G1? G2? G Whiz!

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:

1. End of process
2. Divine involvement
3. Separation of Sabbath/separation of couples from parents
4. Blessing of Sabbath/unity of couple

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, and it is a little tougher to deal with:

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, in stepped at this point a member of the Skeptic X school, who, having apparently found a copy in the street (it is hard to imagine any of them going to a library to look this sort of thing up) consulted the revered 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?

In fact, our Skeptic has simply done no more than show us that while complete ignorance is rather dangerous, a little knowledge is even more so. They have certainly reported the text of the grammar correctly, but the "waw consecutive" is rather a more complicated beast than this person supposes, 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 these 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 to this debate 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.

In Case You Want to Argue

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 for them to gnaw on -- 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 and rhetorical 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.

Does anyone notice something? 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 was a knucklehead who couldn't see contradiction so plainly in front of him.)

Conclusion

The attempts by the Skeptics to upset the traditional arguments for the harmony of G1 and G2 have failed. Once again it is obvious that they are hiking into our territory without so much as a map or directions -- and little wonder that they end up lost!


We now offer consideration of a few objections from Ch. 18 of the Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, which repeats the objections noted above, and adds others:





Now we look at a few comments from the Ebon website:


"Though I haven't studied the beliefs of other Ancient Near East cultures in detail, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Bible wasn't the only book of mythology from around that time that had this structure. After all, I would be the first to agree that it, like every other holy text mankind has ever produced, is merely a reflection of its time and place of origin."

So to start, Ebon "refutes" us by conceding the ancient literary genre issue and changing the subject. But no one other than Chick fundamentalists and fundamentalist atheists has ever argued that the Bible had to be in a unique genre or form not reflective of its times. In fact it would only be appropriate for a message to be in a form that would clearly be understood and recognized by its intended readers.

"'Dischronologized narratives' is just a more complicated way of saying that sometimes the Bible does not relate events in the order they happened, generally because the writers wanted to rearrange their timelines in order to make some sort of point. I have no problem at all with this idea - for obvious reasons - and if Mr. Holding accepts it as well, then I suspect we're closer to agreement than he realizes."

So Ebon continues to "refute" us by conceding the potential lack of chronological emphasis in ancient narratives. But credit where due -- another Skeptic we know would just call it "flapdoodle" and leave. Re using CARM:

"As stated previously, if I had chosen only one apologist website to draw responses to these contradictions from, I have no doubt I would have been accused of using only the weakest site out there. I prefer to show that I can deal with Christian arguments from a broad variety of sources."

No, we wouldn't say that; we would raise the charge of inadequate data retrieval, but to suggest that the response was purposely drawn from the weakest source would be absurd, for who in the world could, or has, ranked websites and sources in terms of weakest to strongest? Not that we expect someone who responds to explanations about complexities of Hebrew grammar by referring to them as "linguistic and logical gymnastics" to know any better. Ebon finally asserts that the plain facts blow the "carefully constructed houses of cards apart." What "plain facts" allegedly accomplish this Skeptical feat of derring-do? After noting that the Hebrew permits the Genesis 2:19 passage to indicate that Adam was naming animals which had been created prior, Ebon tries to argue that Genesis 2:18 makes it plain that the animals had not been created yet since Adam is described as being alone. He doesn't bother to argue against the possibility that "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. I suggest that Ebon renew his commitment to viewing the texts outside of his modern Western expectations of chronological progression to consider that the verse where no helpmate is found takes into consideration the unsuitability of the heretofore members of the animal kingdom - those mentioned in the literarily subsequent passage. Thus, God's intention to find a helpmate for Adam points to the creation of Eve, not to the naming of the animals as a sort of antediluvian "Dating Game".

"I will not deny that Mr. Holding is not alone in suggesting this harmonization, but he quotes from another commentator whose perspective on the matter is unintentionally revealing:

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.

Just who these anonymous "critics" are we are not told, but apparently they include the translators of the KJV and RSV versions of the Bible, which both render verse 2:19 in the simple past tense: "And out of the ground the Lord God formed". Unsurprisingly, it is only the NIV which uses the pluperfect - the NIV, the translation produced by evangelical Christian inerrantists who confessed in advance their agenda to "smooth over" many of the difficulties and contradictions in the Bible, which they accomplished through several egregious mistranslations (since they are probably deliberate, it would not be right to call them errors)."

Apparently realizing the problem that he has created for himself, Ebon not only ignores the bulk of material from the article on the pluperfect (including failing to provide any actual objections against it), he also tries to retread the argument from chronological progression that he essentially conceded almost from the start. Simple past tense of the passage dealing with the presentation of the animals supposedly indicates that they were created after Adam was found to be alone with no suitable helper - conveniently forgetting what he had earlier conceded. (Had Ebon any sense as well, he would realize that the KJV was produced rather before the time of Leupold and could obviously not be in view here. He also fails to note our point that even without the pluperfect the story is perfectly consistent.) As before the charge of bias is merely that of laziness and does not serve to answer the arguments, and also fails to account for our point, "even commentators that prefer to keep the simple past tense suppose not that these 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." Either way Ebon is gigged.

Ebon isn't finished with his fishing expedition, however. He alleges that I "admit" that Genesis 2:9 states that fruit trees were only created after Adam. Where he gets that idea I can only guess. I am clear in identifying the plants "of the field" as agricultural varieties relevant after the expulsion from Eden. "Fruit trees" and "plants/herbs of the field" are not overlapping categories. Hold onto your hats, though, for Ebon has an ace up his sleeve (supposedly):

There is one more stark contradiction in this text, one which Mr. Holding's article does not breathe a whisper of, and yet it derails all of his carefully laid apologetics. 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."
Catch that? This verse says "In the day" - that is, one day, singular - "that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." Chapter 2 goes on to list all of God's creative acts without any suggestion that any time was passing. In short, while chapter 1 spreads the creation out over a week, chapter 2 compresses it entirely into one day.

Some "ace in the hole"! Ebon asserts that "in the day" means on one particular day based solely on the singular form of "day" within that phrase. 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 (probably they meant that it would seem like a week even though it takes a mere Ebon day!). No doubt we'll see that Bible "contradiction" listed in a future Ebon Musing. He is simply misinterpreting a phrase in hopes of propping up his sagging (settled, actually) argument. He won't find a single scholar -- even one of liberal persuasion -- who takes "day" in this verse as meaning a 24-hour period. That's the kind of nonsense "freethinking" study will get you. And on this where I say:

Given these internal clues, we would argue that if any contradiction is found ... it is intentional -- serving a rhetorical or polemical purpose -- and therefore, of no consequence for any supposition of inerrancy.

It is said:

"I'm sorry to be the one to inform him of this, but even if the writer (or writers) of Genesis deliberately intended the text to conflict like this, that doesn't make it any less of a contradiction."

Ebon then proceeds to make a semantically absurd claim:

"This is a simple matter of definition. If two statements cannot logically both be true, then together they are a contradiction. The writer's intent simply does not enter into it. If I said 'Black is white,' it would not be any less of a contradiction if I meant to say it."

I regret to inform the semantically-challenged Ebon that the intent of the author has everything to do with whether or not a passage is contradictory. Ebon's example illustrates this with superb irony. Suppose I write that "Black is white" with the intent of making a comment on Frank Black's race. His claim of undeniable contradiction comes crashing heavily to the ground. In addition to my intent being an identification of Mister Black's race, it is also be an intentionally paradoxical statement, in keeping with what I have in mind with my comment above. There exists in such instances a semantic contract between reader and writer, an "understood" point that "I am purposely creating a contradiction for a reason." As such the statement moves beyond the realm of what can be properly called "error" and enters into the realm of artistic license, and therefore beyond Ebon's grasp as an apparent "fundaliteralist."

Sources

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

This articles comes from the Tektonics website. We want to Thank J.P. Holding.

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