The Old Testament

Creation Account, Times Two

Or, Was the Author of Genesis 1-2 a Flaming Knucklehead?

J. P. Holding

[Introduction and Inquiry] [Two Creation Accounts -- or One?] [Alleged Points of Contradiction] [An Alternative Explanation]

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 Farrell Till's errancy discussion board, where it seems that the local thralls of the Grand High Weasel have been making their usual attempt to sound scholarly while at the same time actually making terrific fools of themselves. And so, let's get down to business. 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. We will argue that one author was responsible for both accounts, 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? 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 dividing points 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:

  • 1:1-2 Introduction
  • 2:4-6 Introduction
  • 1:3-5 Light/Darkness
  • 2:7 Man/Dust
  • 1:6-8 Firmament in Heaven
  • 2:8 Garden on Earth
  • 1:9-13 water and land, plants
  • 2:9-15 plants, water and land
  • 1:14-19 luminaries separated
  • 2:16-17 two trees separated
  • 1:20-3 first creation of animal life
  • 2:18 first concern for man's companionship
  • 1:24-31 creation continues
  • 2:19-22 concern continues
  • 2:1-3, 2:23-4 internal patterns
    • end of process
    • divine involvement
    • separation of Sabbath/separation of couples from parents
    • 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 a quite limited area of land, as opposed to the word used in 1:11, "earth", which is 'erets -- a word which has much broader geographic connotations. 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. (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, then animals...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 thrall of the Till 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 Till-thrall 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 soverignty 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.)


The attempts by the thralls of Farrell Till 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!

  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.

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