Contradiction Tuesday: Creation Narrative

Now is as good a time as any to get back to Contradiction Tuesday, so let’s get right to it.

In Genesis 1:25-26, beasts are formed and then God creates man.  However, in Genesis 2:18-19, man is created first and then God creates all of the animals to search for a mate for the man.

To resolve this conundrum, we have to understand the purpose of each chapter of Genesis.  In other words, we have to put each in its narrative context.

Genesis 1 is reporting a sequence of events; the language makes that abundantly clear.  “There was evening, there was morning, the ________ day” appears after every creation day.  However, Genesis 2 isn’t concerned with the big picture; only the creation of man.  Put another way, Genesis 1 is being general, while Genesis 2 is being specific.

Let’s lay the two chapters side-by-side and watch what happens.

On Day 1, God creates light and separates it from the darkness.  On Day 2, God creates dry land and separates it from the water.  At the beginning of Day 3, we would have dry land but no plants, animals, fish, birds, etc.

Now turn to Genesis 2:

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up — for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground —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 creature. (Gen 2:5-7, emphasis added)

That’s a beautiful description of Day 3 immediately after the dry land is formed.  Back to Genesis 1:

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Gen 1:11-13)

After he creates man in Genesis 2, he plants a garden:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:8-9)

So that means on Day 3, God creates dry land, then a man, then plants a Garden for the man to tend.  Notice the structure of Genesis 1 and 2 are parallel.

On Day 4, God assigns the sun, moon, and stars as the rulers of the heaven in Genesis 1, while God charges the man with ruling the Garden in Genesis 2.  Again, note the parallel structure.

In Genesis 1, on Day 5 God makes the fish and the birds, and on Day 6 God makes the beasts and livestock.  Genesis 2 reverses the order and omits the fish, saying that God “formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them” (Gen 2:19).  None were suitable mates, so God finally created woman from man.

Now some might point out that Genesis 2 reverses the order given in Genesis 1 and call that the contradiction.  But that misses the beauty of the parallel structure.  Remember that Genesis 2 isn’t its own creation account.  It is focused on one specific aspect of that creation: the creation of mankind, which is being directly paralleled with the creation of the entire universe in Genesis 1.

Finally, we read in Genesis 1 that humankind is made male and female in the image of God.  This is a summary of the lengthy journey detailed in chapter 2; God has finally created both man and woman, and they are joined to one another as one flesh in marriage because a man cannot be complete without a woman (who was taken out of him).

This resolution means that Genesis 1 paints the broad strokes of all creation, while Genesis 2 focuses specifically on mankind.  Similar to how the introduction of a book puts each chapter in its proper context and paints the broad strokes of the central argument presented by the book.  Then, each subsequent chapter expounds in minute detail why each plank of the argument works.

A different view, but still keeping the parallel structure as a centerpiece.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on February 6, 2012, in Bible Thoughts, God and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I messed up:

    Day 1: Light and dark.

    Day 2: Heaven and earth (NOT dry land and water).

    Day 3: Dry land, etc …

    I wanted to tell on myself before someone pointed it out in the comments section.

  2. Insted of twisting yourself in knots and papering over cracks trying to hamonise two voices in to one, it is easier, a simpler explanation, and more accurate to note that the editor combined two sources in to one document. This is also demonstrated in the two flood stories and three genealogies which the editor includes in his Primeval History. In line with the basic documentary hypothesis.

    • I didn’t twist myself in knots at all. I just laid two stories side-by-side and noted how each should be read. It took 5 minutes to realize, about an hour to write.

      Many have come to similar conclusions over the years by simply reading the narratives for what they say and noting that they follow each other in parallel.

      Remember when you asked, “what method should we use to overcome our intense motivation to sustain our current beliefs. To overcome our ego and hidden bias. To overcome the desire to conform with the beliefs of our communituies.”? I don’t know the answer, really. But I would submit to you a step toward overcoming your bias would be to consider what I say for longer than 5 seconds, and not shrug it off with, “I’ve read stuff that says you’re wrong from my camp, so you must be wrong.”

      Documentary hypothesis is based on such arbitrary standards it’s ridiculous. Perhaps satire can show you why that is so.

      I also found a short blurb on another blog focusing on Genesis. The author of a book refuting JEDP theory states that the Torah was written by a single individual who purposely employed different literary styles and chiastic structures to teach different things.

      Not surprising. Read a couple different blog posts here with different intended audiences and purposes. I write one way to Christians. I write another to atheists. I write another way to sincere seekers. Compare that to my syndicated material (link to the right), intended for any audience — Christian or atheist. I employ different styles and techniques depending on the circumstance, so why wouldn’t the writer of the Torah do the same thing?

      Consider what “Mosaic authorship” really means. Then hear a brief case for a single author of the Torah.

      All that said, simple harmony makes much more sense then setting two chapters of a single book, placed right next to each other, at total odds.

  1. Pingback: Resources for Genesis 2:18 - 19

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