I read a post on Patheos recently pointing out that Genesis told two different conflicting stories of creation. The author opens up with this issue because the post is about how the Bible has errors; a claim which I typically support because the Bible does actually contradict itself in places. Chronicles constantly contradicts details in Samuel or Kings. Either way, I believe Genesis 1 & 2 are unequivocally NOT contradictory. He opens the blog with the following statement.
I still remember the first time I realized that not only were there two creation stories in Genesis, but also that they unequivocally contradicted each other. (Inconsistent Scripture: Why the Bible’s Errors Are Actually Good News for Christians)
The only problem with this claim is that the Bible does not have two different creation accounts. After about 15 minutes of outlining the first two chapters in Genesis it’s clear that chapter one is about general creation, ending with the creation of man, and chapter two is about the creation of mankind, not the general cosmos or planet. Chapter two only very briefly mentions the creation events of chapter one and then moves on to what the main point of chapter two is; the detailed creation of man.
Genesis 1 & 2 side by side outline
From the outline it is fairly obvious that the two chapters are not attempting to tell the same story. Chapter one spends 25 verses detailing creation in an organized manner. This is plain to see by the repeated use of “and then.” The whole chapter has an “and then” motif to it because it’s an organized list. The final event of chapter one is the creation of man and women. Virtually no detail of man’s creation is included in chapter one.
Chapter two has none of the “and then” formula. Rather, it briefly mentions creation in an arbitrary manner and then goes on to tell a more detailed account of how Adam and Eve were created and how God placed them in the garden. Chapter two only spends 3 verses talking about general creation but has 22 verses about God and mankind. Furthermore, the second chapter begins the creation of man kind stating that the other creation has already taken place.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
About the Genesis contradictions
Man or plants first?
Understanding now that the two chapters are not telling the same story, let’s also address the place where people believe the contradictions are. The most often repeated claim is that Genesis 2:5-8 depicts plant life being created after humans were created.
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. (Genesis 2:5-8)
The first issue with this claim is that Genesis 2:1 had already stated that God finished making the heavens and the earth.
The second issue is the interpretation of “shrub”. Verse 2:5 states that “no shrub had yet appeared on the earth, nor any plants sprung up.” This was true because “the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground.” The author is clearly speaking about the type of plants that humans cultivate. In fact, the language used for shrub different than the plants in Genesis 1. The Hebrew words speak of two different things.
In Genesis 1:11, God creates a plethora of generic greenery, vegetation, and plants. This is described with the use of the word for plant (עֵ֥שֶׂב) as well as the word for vegetation, grass, and herb (דֶּ֫שֶׁא). These plants were described as “various kinds.” God was creating all manner of plant life in Genesis 1.
In Genesis 2:5, God is describing a different kind of plant. What was not yet created were the shrubs (שִׂ֫יחַ) which were a product of the field and cultivated by man. Naturally, this is why the author of Genesis points out that it had not rained yet and man was not present to work the ground, resulting in no crops.
Many also claim that God seemingly created the trees after he created Adam but again that is a mis-reading.
The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food. (Genesis 2:8)
How could God place Adam in the garden without having first created it? Clearly the garden was already created. In regards to the food plants, the author is not stating a series of events. It is a general statement that God had placed food in the garden. It’s not a sequential list like Genesis 1.
Did God create Adam and Eve separately or together?
The creation account of Adam ad Eve in chapter one is a generic account. There is no description from the author about how they were created.
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)
This might be the most uneventful and detail-lacking story ever. It’s just one verse. It would be like someone stating that “Justin (me) ate an apple and a banana on Monday.” When did I eat them during the day and in what order? No one knows until they read chapter two. Chapter two would then describe where and when Justin ate the apple and banana. This is how chapter one treats the creation of man. Chapter two expands on the details of the creation story of man. Chapter one was never designed to provide a detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve, which is why it merely states that “God created them.”
In conclusion, I would submit that there is no real contradiction between Genesis 1 & 2. If one is looking for contradictions in the Bible they have plenty of texts to choose from, but this is not one of them.