Why are there two different Creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1-2?
Question: "Why are there two different Creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1-2?"
Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” Later, in Genesis 2:4, it seems that a second, different story of Creation begins. The idea of two creation accounts is a common misinterpretation of these two passages which describe the same creation event. They do not disagree as to the order in which things were created and thereby do not contradict one another. According to the erroneous view, Genesis 1 claims that God created land, then vegetation, then animals, then man, while Genesis 2 claims that God created land, then man, then plants, then animals. In actual fact, while Genesis 1 describes the “Six Days of Creation” (and a seventh day of rest), Genesis 2 covers only one day of that Creation week—the sixth day—and there is no contradiction (as we will see).
We will begin with a verse-by-verse examination of the first five verses of the Genesis 2 account (italicized) and finish with a broad overview of the rest of the chapter. As the Genesis 1 passage actually ends in the third verse of the second chapter, we will begin the Genesis 2 account in the fourth verse. We use the New American Standard Bible (NASB) throughout as it is generally recognized as the best formal equivalent (i.e. literal) translation of the text.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and heaven (v.4). The Hebrew word here translated “account” is toledot. It occurs a dozen more times throughout Genesis (5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 32, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 13, 19, 36:1, 9 and 37:2) and dozens more times throughout the Old Testament, always in reference to human lineage (without exception). The word “day” here refers to an unspecified length of time (e.g. “back in my great-grandfather’s day”), rather than to a 24-hour period (e.g. “it will take three days to finish”) or to the daylight hours (e.g. “it gets hot during the day”). So, a straightforward reading of the fourth verse would be: “what follows is the human lineage of the heavens and earth in the era that God created them.” It does not specify a first day or a second or an eighth day.
Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground (v.5). The Hebrew word here translated “field” is sadeh. It refers to a smaller piece of land or to a cultivated field. The word “earth” is erets. It refers to a larger piece of land or to the planet as a whole. This is an important distinction, one which we see not only here but elsewhere in Genesis (23:13, for example) and throughout the Old Testament (Leviticus 25:2-3, for example). While the vegetation of Genesis 1:11-12 was of the general sort, the vegetation of Genesis 2:5, 8-9 is of a very specific kind. The “shrubs of the sadeh” and the “plants of the sadeh,” refer to agriculture, sadeh meaning a cultivated field.
Notice that there was no agriculture yet because God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. In view here are two of the four things necessary for agriculture (man to cultivate the ground and rain, the other two being nutritious soil and sunlight). Not only does the text refer specifically to the agricultural plants of a cultivated field; it is further implied that two of the things necessary for agriculture were at that point still lacking. Moreover, it is obvious this doesn’t mean plants in general as that would be the same as saying that there were no jungles or forests or prairies anywhere because man had not cultivated the ground, which is a ridiculous thought. No, the vegetation described here is that of horticulture. It is husbandry.
But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground (v.6). Notice that land and water (in the form of mist) already existed at this point. It just hadn’t rained yet. Genesis 2 is not an account of the creation of land and water; that had already happened in Genesis 1.
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (v.7). Here in presenting the human lineage of the heavens and earth in the era that they were created, the author steps back in the temporal sequence to the sixth day, when God first made man, an appropriate place to start. We see this same literary device—this stepping back in a temporal sequence for the purpose of greater detail—elsewhere in the Bible as well. Consider 1 Kings 6-7. In chapter six we read about the construction of Solomon’s temple. It is completed by the last verse of the chapter, verse 38: “In the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished throughout all its parts and according to all its plans. So he was seven years in building it.” Then, in the first verse of the next chapter the author moves on to describe the construction of Solomon’s palace: “Now Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished all his house.” In the 12th verse, the author finishes with the palace. Then, in the 13th verse of the 7th chapter, he goes back to the beginning of the construction of the temple, thereby stepping back into the temporal sequence which he had completed in the 6th chapter before ever going on to describe the construction of the palace in the 7th.
In the same way, the author of Genesis presents the creation of man on the sixth day in the first chapter, because man is the culmination or high point of the Creation. Then, in the second chapter, he goes back to the sixth day to present greater detail of the account which starts in 2:4 (and which lasts all the way up ‘til 5:1, where the next account begins).
The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed (v.8). Here we have the creation of agriculture with the very first garden, created by God for man. This is where man gets his start in husbandry, and we’ve been tending fields ever since (except of course during that brief stint in the ark). For the sake of brevity we will not expound each of the remaining verses individually. We will paint the rest of the chapter in broad strokes.
Verses 9-14 describe the Garden of Eden and a river which ran through it. The river split into four smaller rivers, each of which ran through a different pre-diluvial (pre-Flood) territory. Apparently the post-diluvians named some of their rivers and lands after these pre-diluvian ones, similar to how the early American colonists named their cities and states after the ones they left behind (New York, named after the English city of York; New Jersey, named after the Island of Jersey in the English Channel; New Orleans, named after the French city of Orleans, etc).
Verse 15-17 return to the Garden and include the warning against eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In verse 18 we read of God’s decision to create a woman for His man, a decision which He no doubt made long before He ever created the first man. The decision is here presented as a lead in to what happens next.
In verses 19-20, God sits Adam down and creates all of the “beasts of the field” and the “birds of the air” out of the dirt in front of him for him to name. First let’s note that, according to the ancient mindset, by naming something you take ownership of it. So this was a sort of ceremony whereby Adam received these creatures (and by extension, the rest of creation) from God as his own. Second, notice that God didn’t recreate every kind of animal for Adam to name, just a select few: the “beasts of the field,” (what we would call the beasts of burden – those who would help man in his agricultural activities) and the “birds of the air” (no doubt for their stunning majesty… as if God was saying to Adam, “You think those beasts of burden are impressive, check these out!”). So Adam wasn’t sitting there for weeks naming thousands of animals. Third, consider the fact that God had initially created all of these creatures before He ever made Adam, so Adam didn’t get to see God create them. By creating a garden and recreating a few representatives of the animal kingdom right in front of Adam, God was thereby able to show him that He was the Creator of everything (lest some usurper – i.e. the Devil – come along later and try to make that claim for himself). Fourth and finally, this exercise was not doubt didactic. Perhaps by it God was able to teach Adam some an important lesson about the uniqueness, beauty and peculiar worth of the gift which he was about to receive—his wife. Finally, in verses 21-25 God places the priceless jewel in the crown of his creation: He creates woman out of man. And the rest, as they say, is history.
By considering the two creation accounts individually and then reconciling them, we see that God describes the sequence of Creation in Genesis 1, then fleshes out its most important aspects and details, especially of the sixth day, in Genesis 2. There is no contradiction here, merely a common literary device describing an event from the general to the specific.
Biblical Creationism by Henry Morris.
This page is also available in:
What does the Bible say about Creation vs. evolution?
Is there any evidence for the Bible's view of a young earth?
What is the Gap Theory? Did anything happen between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2?
Why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden?
Does the Bible say anything about a pre-Adamic race?
Questions about Creation
Why are there two different Creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1-2?