“Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”[Genesis 2:7-8]
Bible scoffers and skeptics often appeal to contradictions in God’s word to justify their unbelief. One of the most common objections to the validity of Scripture comes from apparent discrepancies in very first two chapters of Genesis.
When reading on the surface, some have concluded that the Bible provides two entirely different creation accounts, and these accounts, critics say, are contradictory, proving the unreliability of God’s word.
Even Biblical scholars and theologians have bought in to the two creation accounts and as a result have produced all kinds of fantasies to harmonize the apparent inconsistencies in Genesis 1 & 2.
Some Jewish scholars, when writing ancient commentaries on the Old Testament, contrived a bizarre narrative about Adam having two wives — Eve being the second after a character named Lilith in Genesis 1. The sensational legend of Lilith in the Garden persists to this day, but of course there is no no Biblical evidence to support such nonsense.
Many other conspiratorial theories have emerged by scholar and skeptic alike in an attempt to harmonize the apparent contradictions in Genesis 1-2, but all of these attempts are unnecessary. Simply by taking a closer look at the text itself, it becomes clear that there is no need to explain two creation accounts because there is no contradiction whatsoever in Genesis 1-2.
What’s the Problem?
First, I need to address the apparent inconsistencies with Genesis 1 & 2.
- In Genesis 1, God makes the plants and trees and all vegetation on Day 3, the fish and birds on Day 5, and the land animals and man on Day 6.
- In Genesis 2, God makes man out of ground (Genesis 2:7) and then God makes trees, plants, vegetation (Genesis 2:9), birds and animals AFTER the creation of Adam (Genesis 2:18-20).
- So the question is … Did God create the trees and birds and land animals before or after the creation of Adam?
This is usually where most scoffers give each other a high five and drop their microphone, as if they have destroyed the integrity of the Bible. This is usually when the untrained Christian begins to shrink back and doubt the reliability of the Scriptures.
Fortunately, there is no need to fret or fear because not only is there a simple explanation for this apparent contradiction, there are actually TWO!
ANSWER #1 – It’s All in the Details
Far from being a separate creation account, Genesis 2 provides an up-close and detailed account of God’s creative work during Day 6. Whereas Genesis 1 provides a general overview and chronological account of creation, Genesis 2 focuses in on God’s creative work on Day 6, especially with man in the Garden of Eden.
Even though many translations of Genesis 2 imply that God created the trees, birds, and land animals sequentially after creating man, there is one possible explanation. Genesis 2 describes God’s special work in the Garden of Eden beyond what He had already done to form and fill the rest of the earth.
Apparently after filling the entirety of earth with plants and trees and birds and bees and fish in the seas, God redirected His focus on the sixth day and created man in His own image. Having fashioned the crowning glory of His creation in Adam, the LORD now needed to prepare a proper home for man, so He surveyed the land and designated an ideal spot “in the east” and formed the Garden of Eden.
What the Bible describes in Genesis 2, therefore, is not contradictory to what God had already done on Days 3-6, but rather complimentary. After Adam was created on Day 6, God put His finishing touches on the Garden by forming every tree that is “pleasant to the sight and good for food,” along with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These trees and vegetation apparently were unique and distinct as being good for food and especially beautiful as the backdrop to the Garden.
The same can be said about the birds and land animals. Having previously created the swarms in the sea and the flocks and herds on the earth, the LORD gave Adam special to privilege of being an eyewitness to creation in the Garden.
In other words, God could have formed one of each kind of animal exclusively in Adam’s presence for a special purpose. As God formed them in front of Adam, the man was able to behold the awesome power of God as a first-hand eyewitness. Plus having named the birds and animals, Adam was given authority over them.
The Garden scene in Genesis 2 is more about the theological significance of Adam’s role and responsibility as God’s representative on earth, having been given authority over all creation. The last of God’s creative works, of course, was woman, as God saved His best work for last!
However, it is important that we understand Adam’s place in God’s created order, as the man was given headship and authority over the animals and also over his own wife. The concept of headship is essential to understanding the Biblical narrative and the role of Jesus Christ – the Second Adam.
In this respect, Eve was not an eyewitness to God’s creative work, as Adam was, and Eve did not receive God’s commandment directly but through her husband.
So one possibility is that instead of two separate creation accounts that contradict each other, the Bible is actually describing complimentary accounts of the same creative work of God. Genesis 1 is an overview of creation, providing a general chronological account of God’s creative work, whereas Genesis 2 is a detailed account of Day 6 of creation that provides the theological framework of the created order and the man’s role of authority over creation.
ANSWER #2 – A More Accurate Translation
A second explanation for harmonizing Genesis 1 & 2 is a much simpler one involving the Hebrew language, specifically when it comes Genesis 2:19.
Many translations, like the King James Version, render the Hebrew word, yatsar, in the simple past tense, which creates the chronological confusion of Day 6.
But other translations, such as the NIV and ESV, have a subtly different rendition.
“Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.”[Genesis 2:19 – NIV]
“Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man.”[Genesis 2:19 – ESV]
These trusted translations remain true to the Hebrew text and suggest a different way of viewing the first two chapters of Genesis. These renderings eliminate the need for chronological clarity altogether, by simply saying that God “had already formed” all the birds and animals before bringing them to Adam in the Garden.
Unlike Genesis 1, Genesis 2 does not suggest a chronology. Therefore, the animals being brought to Adam had already been made and were not being brought to him immediately after their creation. Interestingly, Tyndale’s translation, which predates the KJV, agrees with this translation.
It can be argued that Tyndale and the NIV-ESV are more accurate on this verse because the verb in the sentence can be translated as pluperfect rather than perfect, which is in no violation of the Hebrew text but rather perfectly acceptable rendering according to the rules of Hebrew grammar.
“The pluperfect tense can be considered as the past of the past—that is to say, in a narration set in the past, the event to which the narration refers is already further in the past. Once the pluperfect is taken into account, the perceived contradiction completely disappears.”[Paul F. Taylor – Answers in Genesis] https://answersingenesis.org/contradictions-in-the-bible/two-creation-accounts/]
So simply by referring to the original Hebrew text, the apparent inconsistencies disappear and the creation narrative is perfectly harmonized between Genesis 1-2.
Personally, I believe both explanations are sound and do not violate the Hebrew text, so either way we can be certain. There is only one creation narrative and not two, further reinforcing the reliability and integrity of God’s word.