Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 Two Different Creation Accounts?

It is a commonplace in historical-critical scholarship to say that there are two creation accounts that contradict each other, and that therefore, the first two chapters of Genesis could not have been written by the same author. The first bit of evidence given is that, in Genesis 1, plants are created before humans, whereas in chapter 2, plants were created after humans. The second bit of evidence is the order of creation for animals vis-a-vis man: in Genesis 1, animals are created before man on the sixth day, whereas in Genesis 2, they are supposedly created after (depending on one’s translation of the verb “formed” in 2:19). What is more, historical-critical scholars tend to view any attempt to see the relationship of these chapters in a different way as a “harmonizing” attempt (as if harmonizing were some kind of dirty word). I will make the argument here, not even based on harmonizing with regard to the first bit, but based on exegesis, that the historical-critical understanding of the relationship of the chapters is in grave error.

The exegetical flow of Genesis 2:5-9 has to do with the institution of agriculture. How did it get started? Well, before it got started, there were two “problems” or “things lacking” to rectify. The first was that there was no rain, and the second was that there were no farmers. Agriculture does rather depend on these two things even today! Going back all the way to Keil and Delitzsch’s commentary, the “bush of the field” and “the plant of the field” in verse 5a are not descriptive, then, of all kinds of plants. Rather, they are limited to cultivated crops (the designation “of the field” points this way). This is absolutely proven by the second of the two reasons given for why these plants were not present. The first reason, “no rain,” of course, would be a good reason for why any plant had not yet appeared. So, that reason for the lack of plants is inconclusive for our point. However, “no man to work the ground” in verse 5b cannot possibly be a reason for why wild plants were not present. Wild plants do not need humans to work the ground in order to thrive. Therefore, to interpret the “bush of the field” and “plant of the field” in verse 5a to refer to all plants of whatever kind is irresponsible exegesis.

Whatever one may think of Kline’s exegesis of these verses, I think his point about verse 6 is well worth considering. A two-fold “problem” needs a two-fold solution. Kline believes that verse 6 is a. speaking about a rain-cloud, and b. giving us the solution to the first problem (no rain). Verse 7 then describes the fix to the second problem (no farmer). This interpretation is confirmed, then, in verses 8-9, where a garden (cultivated plants!) is planted, and verse 9, where the emphasis is on the food quality of the plants. Verses 5-9 then tell us of the introduction of cultivation in history, which is a large part of the cultural mandate of 1:28-29. This points to continuity between the two chapters, not discontinuity. As many scholars have noticed, chapter 1 treats of the creation of all things with a sort of wide-angle lens, whereas chapter 2 turns on the telephoto lens in order to focus more specifically on the creation of man, and the covenant which God made with him.

One last comment on this first part of the issue: I have yet to see a single liberal treatment of Genesis 1-2 that even acknowledges these exegetical points. They simply assume, without any argument, that, “of course,” Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 contradict each other. One suspects that, even if a liberal were to read about these arguments for explaining the text, they would push such considerations under the rug, because they favor the idea of a contradiction, since it supports the JEDP source theory. Of course, a single author could not have had such things in mind as a more general account of the creation of all things in chapter 1, and the focus on the creation of humanity in chapter 2. Quite impossible! It seems to me that ancient authors might have been a bit more flexible than the modern historical critics give them credit for!

The second bit of evidence given is the order of creation with regard to animals and man. If 2:19 is translated, “Now out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heaven,” then yes, there is an issue there. But if, with the NIV and ESV, the verb “form” is translated as a pluperfect “had formed,” the entire question is resolved. The issue is whether the verb can be translated this way. The grammar of Gesenius/Kautzsch/Cowley seems to think this is a possibility. It cites Genesis 2:19 as an example of an imperfect being used “In dependent clauses to represent actions, &c., which from some point of time in the past are to be represented as future” (par. 107k). Waltke and O’Connor do not list Genesis 2:19 as an example of the wayyqtl representing a pluperfect sense, though they allow that this is a possible use of the wayyqtl, while admitting that it is controversial (see 33.2.3).

Joüon-Muraoka (in the second edition; the first edition does not discuss the issue) would call this use of the imperfect “very irregular.” J-M argues that the pluperfect can only be expressed by avoiding wayyqtl (166.j). Davidson allows for a third possibility for the imperfect: “to express actions which are contingent or depending on something preceding” 43(b). The upshot of the discussion is this, that we have four options. The first option is to translate “formed” as a simple past, interpret the form as a contradiction, and thus assume an absolutely idiotic redactor, who couldn’t spot the contradiction with chapter 1 if his life depended on it. Or, secondly, we could interpret the form as a pluperfect, which IS grammatically possible, at least according to GKC and W-O’C, and thereby alleviate the difficulty entirely, thus assuming a reasonably intelligent author. The third option is go with Davidson’s approach, and interpret the verb as expressive of an action which was dependent on some previous action, though I am not entirely sure how that would help us. The fourth option is maybe the simplest one: translate as a simple past, but then note that 2:19 does not have to express a time relation between the creation of the animals and the creation of man. I prefer option 2 or option 4.

Does this mean I am harmonizing where the text does not allow me? I would argue no. These are legitimate exegetical options. But if all it takes to “reconcile” these two passages is interpreting a verb form in a perfectly acceptable grammatical way, or suspending a time relation between two actions, recognizing along with many Hebrew scholars that narrative continuity is not the same as temporal continuity, then I would argue that the contradiction is the mind of the liberal critic, who forces it on the text. In literary terms, a contradiction should only exist if there is no other possible alternative, since we must assume that the author knew what he was doing, and was not an idiot. The problem that the liberal critic has is that he or she is so confident that there is a contradiction present that they are willing to build an entire theory of sources on this basis (along with the different names of God used in chapters 1 and 2, which would be subject matter for a different post). I hope I have shown that no contradiction is necessary from natural interpretations of the text. Where contradictions are not the only option, they should not be chosen. This is all the more true if we believe that God is the ultimate author of the Bible and that He cannot lie.

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