Myth 3: “Genesis 1 and 2 provide two different accounts of creation.”
Below is a summary of Myth 3. For the full chapter on this topic, download the Seven Myths book here.
Myth number 3 is: “Genesis 1 and 2 provide two different accounts of creation.” At first blush, this may seem to be the case. But taking a careful look reveals something different.
First, both of these chapters are inspired and historical—at least Jesus believed so when he quoted from both Genesis 1 and 2 in Matthew 19. Next, we need to understand how Genesis is laid out. While our Bibles today break Genesis into 50 chapters, the original text is actually broken into 11 sections, called Toledotes [pronounced “Toll-Dotes”] which means “to bear” or “to generate” in Hebrew. Genesis 1 provides the introduction—the overview of the creation of the entire universe in six days, which precedes the first Toledote that begins in Genesis 2 verse 4: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth…” Genesis one-one through two-three provides a complete overview of the six days of Creation in a step-wise way, with each creation day starting out with “God said,” followed by His creative works on that day, then concluded by “there was evening and morning” and a mention of the numerical day.
Genesis 2 is not concerned with the steps of the overall Creation account, but rather focuses on the events of Day 6, including the creation of Adam, the Garden of Eden and its river systems, Adam’s instructions for the Garden, naming the animals, the creation of Eve, and the institution of marriage. None of these details are in the first Chapter of Genesis; they are saved for the second chapter that sets the stage for the third, which is the fall of man and the curse of sin, both of which happened in the Garden. The second chapter also does not mention important Creation events from the first chapter, such as the creation of earth, atmosphere, oceans, sea creatures, land, and the sun and stars—showing that it was not attempting to be a second account of creation. These two chapters actually tie into each other, with each chapter providing important details not in the other.
Some say that it appears that plants were created after people in Genesis 2, apparently conflicting with the Genesis 1 account that explains plants being made on Day 3, and man on Day 6. Genesis 2:5-7 says: “Before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground...”
In this passage, these verses call the plants: “plants of the field” and “herbs of the field.” These terms are more specific than the “grass, herbs, and trees” described in Day 3 of Genesis 1 because none of these are accompanied with the “of the field” description. Hebrew scholar Dr. Mark Futato defines “plants of the field” as “wild shrubs of the steppe or grassland and “herbs of the field” as “cultivated grain.” Both make sense, especially given the context that describes there being “no man to till the field” and no rain yet. Then, in the very next chapter we see it is these very “herbs of the field” that are cursed with “thorns and thistles” that Adam would have to till and farm “by the sweat of his brow” as a consequence of the Fall. Indeed, because of Adam’s sin, he would no longer have it easy. Instead of eating from abundant fruit trees in the garden, he would need to till the ground, contend with thorns and thistles, and grow crops for food.
The next contention that some people bring up with the Genesis 2 account is that verse 19 states, “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them.” It’s that word “formed” which gets people thinking the animal kinds were created right then and there—after man, and before women—unlike the sequence in Chapter 1 where humans were created last. So, were the animals created after Adam? Actually, they weren’t. The verse is simply stating the source and origin of the animal kinds, which were formed out of the dust and spoken into existence by God. Also notice that God put Adam in charge over all the animals, taking dominion over all of Creation. In Hebrew, the precise tense of a verb is determined by the context. Genesis 1 makes it clear that the animals were created before Adam, so Hebrew scholars would have understood the verb “formed” to mean “had formed” or “having formed,” which is how many Bible translations state this passage (including Tyndale’s translation, which predates the King James).
Moreover, Hebrew verbs focus on completeness of action, not past/present/future temporality. So, they do not have “tense” like English verbs. Instead, the past/present/future of an action verb is determined by context. Thus, in context with Genesis 1, Genesis 2:19, which uses a verb that denotes completion of actions, can be translated as “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.” Given this, the apparent disagreement with Genesis 1 disappears completely.
The extra details in the Genesis 2 account demonstrate several things. First, the account affirms Genesis 1 in every way, without contradiction. Second, we find that Genesis 1 and 2 are complementary rather than contradictory. Chapter 1 may be understood as Creation from God’s perspective; it is the “big picture,” an overview of the whole and the sequence of God’s created works: Light, Atmosphere, Vegetation, Sun and Stars, Birds and Fish, Mammals and Man. Chapter 2 views the more important aspects from man’s perspective and expounds upon Day 6 events with details like the names of the first man and woman, their relationship with Creation, where they were first placed (in the Garden of Eden), naming the animals, and setting the stage for the events that would later occur in the garden.
Looking at it this way, the first two chapters of Genesis provide a cohesive and detailed account of Creation. They certainly don’t represent two different accounts of Creation. They were authorized by Moses, cited by Jesus, and referred to as authoritative by New Testament writers.