In Genesis chapter 2 the order of creation seems to be different to that in chapter 1, with the animals being created (2:19) after Adam (2:7). Doesn’t the Bible contradict itself here?
Expanded and updated for the website, 2023—Editors.
Between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve, the KJV/AV Bible says (Genesis 2:19) “out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air”. On the surface, this seems to say that the land beasts and birds were created between Adam and Eve. However, Jews, including Jesus and the Apostles, evidently did not recognize any such conflict with the account in chapter 1, where Adam and Eve were both created after the beasts and birds (Genesis 1:23–25). Why is this?
The right verb tense
In Hebrew the precise tense of a verb is determined by the context. It is clear from chapter 1, that the beasts and birds were created before Adam, so Jewish readers would have understood the verb ‘formed’ in (Genesis 2:19 to mean ‘had formed’ (the pluperfect tense) or ‘having formed’.
Modern Hebrew scholars agree, e.g. H.C. Leupold (1891–1972), a conservative Lutheran who was Professor of Old Testament Exegesis in the Capital University Seminary, Colombus, Ohio:
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.’1
Many Bible translations indeed translate the passage with a pluperfect, including the ESV which is standard for CMI publications: “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field …” (v.19). Other translations that use the pluperfect include the NIV-1984 and some of the English translations predating the KJV-1611. With the pluperfect ‘had formed’, any apparent disagreement with Genesis 1 disappears completely. Leupold commented, “The insistence of the critics upon a plain past is partly the result of the attempt to make chapter one and two clash at as many points as possible.”1
The structure of Genesis 1 and 2
The question also stems from the wrong assumption that the second chapter of Genesis is just a different account of creation to that in chapter 1. It should be evident that chapter 2 is not just ‘another’ account of creation because chapter 2 says nothing about the creation of the heavens and the earth, the atmosphere, the seas, the land, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sea creatures, etc. Chapter 2 mentions only things directly relevant to the creation of Adam and Eve and their life in the garden God prepared specially for them. Chapter 1 may be understood as creation from God’s perspective; it is ‘the big picture’, an overview of the whole. Chapter 2 views the more important aspects from man’s perspective.
The combination is a typical example of the Ancient Near Eastern literary technique called recapitulation. Kenneth Kitchen, one of Britain’s leading Egyptologists, elaborates on recapitulation, and is scathing of those who ignore the structure to impute contradictions:
It is often claimed that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two different creation-narratives. In point of fact, however, the strictly complementary nature of the ‘two’ accounts is plain enough: Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the centre of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting. There is no incompatible duplication here at all. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand, and the concentration in detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism.2
The original source documents
Genesis 2:4 says, “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.” This marks a break with chapter 1, which really should go up to 2:3. This phraseology next occurs in Genesis 5:1, where it reads “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, …”.
‘Generations’ is a translation of the Hebrew word toledoth. It identifies an account or record of events. In particular, The toledoth of X means ‘what followed from X’. The phrase was apparently used at the beginning of each section in Genesis identifying the patriarch (Adam, Noah, the sons of Noah, Shem, etc.) from whom the subsequent events followed. There are 11 such divisions in Genesis.3
Each record was probably originally a stone or clay tablet. There is no person identified with the account of the origin of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1–2:3), because it refers primarily to the origin of the whole universe, not any person in particular (Adam and Eve are not mentioned by name, for example). Also, only God knew the events of creation, so God had to reveal this, possibly to Adam who recorded it. Moses, as ‘author’ of Genesis, acted as a compiler and editor of the various sections, adding explanatory notes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The toledoths acknowledge the sources of the historical records Moses used. This understanding underlines the historical nature of Genesis and its status as eyewitness history, contrary to the defunct ‘documentary (JEDP) hypothesis’ still taught in many Bible colleges. [Ed. note: for a refutation of this fallacious and anti-Christian theory, see Did Moses really write Genesis?.]
Complementary, not contradictory
The differences in the toledoth statements of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1 affirm that chapter 1, is the overview, the record of the origin of the “heavens and earth”. Genesis 2:4 is the toledoth of the heavens and earth, i.e. what followed from them, the culmination of God’s six 24-hour days work in Creation week. That is, the creation of Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:4–4:26 is the detailed account of Adam and Eve’s creation, their fall into sin, the promise of a Redeemer (3:15), the first murder, and descent into wickedness. But it ends on the high note of the line that would lead to Christ: Seth and Enosh, and people calling on the name of the Lord. Then Genesis 5:1 is the book of toledoth of Adam: his descendants until Noah and his three sons (5:1,2).
Refuting alleged contradictions about plants
Let us apply this understanding to another objection: some also see a problem with the plants and herbs in Genesis 2:5 and the trees in Genesis 2:9. We have already realized that Genesis 2 focuses on issues of direct import to Adam and Eve, not creation in general. Notice that the plants and herbs are described as “of the field” in Genesis chapter 2 (compare 1:12) and they needed a man to tend them (2:5). These are clearly cultivated plants, not just plants in general. Also, the trees (2:9) are only the trees planted in the garden, not trees in general.
Genesis was written like many historical accounts with an overview or summary of events leading up to the events of most interest first, followed by a detailed account which often recaps relevant events in the overview in greater detail. Genesis 1, the ‘big picture’ is clearly concerned with the sequence of events. The events are in chronological sequence, with day 1, day 2, evening and morning, etc. The order of events is not the major concern of Genesis 2. In recapping events they are not necessarily mentioned in chronological order, but in the order which makes most sense to the focus of the account. For example, the animals are mentioned in verse 19, after Adam was created, because it was after Adam was created that he was shown the animals, not that they were created after Adam.
Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are not therefore separate contradictory accounts of creation. Chapter 1 is the ‘big picture’ and chapter 2 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve and day six of creation.
Jesus saw no contradictions
The final word on this matter, however, should really be given to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In Matthew 19:4–5 (cf. Mark 10:5–9), the Lord is addressing the subject of marriage, and says: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”
Notice how in the very same statement, Jesus refers to both )? Genesis 1 (verse 27b: “male and female he created them”) and Genesis 2 verse 24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”). Furthermore, Jesus affirmed that the one who said Genesis 2:24 was none other than God Himself. Obviously, by combining both in this way, He in no way regarded them as separate, contradictory accounts.
Updated: 15 August 2023
Re-posted on homepage: 26 August 2023