Does Genesis 2 Contradict Genesis 1?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A common misunderstanding of the Book of Genesis is how chapters 1 and 2 are related.  Specifically, chapter 1 claims that land animals were created before Adam (see Gen. 1:24-26), but chapter 2 seems to claim that Adam was created before land animals (see Gen. 2:19).  Is it possible that these two creation accounts are contradictory?

The alleged contradiction is refuted when we look more closely at Gen. 2:19.  The NIV translates the verse, “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

Notice that the verse says that God had formed the animals, meaning that the animals were already formed before Adam.  So the contradiction evaporates.

Some translations (e.g., NAS), however, don’t translate the word had, but leave it out (either translation of the verse from Hebrew to English is permissible).  Does this make it a contradiction?

No, not really.  When we look at the focus of chapter 1, it seems to be on the order of creation, but the focus of the passages surrounding Gen. 2:19 is on the naming of animals and the creation of Eve.

According to Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe,

Genesis 1 gives the order of events; Genesis 2 provides more content about them. Genesis 2 does not contradict chapter 1, since it does not affirm exactly when God created the animals. He simply says He brought the animals (which He had previously created) to Adam so that he might name them. The focus in chapter 2 is on the naming of the animals, not on creating them. Genesis 1 provides the outline of events, and chapter 2 gives details. Taken together, the two chapters provide a harmonious and more complete picture of the creation events.

A footnote in The Apologetics Study Bible explains:

Chapter 2 is a second creation account only in the sense that it gives a more detailed accounting, not a contradictory one.  While chapter 1 provides a general description, chapter 2 is specific.  Twofold accounts were common in ancient theories of creation (e.g., the Babylonian story of Atrahasis).  The differences in the order of the creation events are due to the narratives’ respective purposes.  The first gives a loosely chronological account, gathering creation events into a discernible pattern to show the symmetry of creation’s purpose.  The second is topical, focusing on the sixth day by expanding on the creation and the relationship of the man and the woman.  Genesis 2 presupposes chapter 1 and does not duplicate all the creation events.

So Genesis 2 does not contradict Genesis 1 at all, once we see the different purposes for the two different creation narratives.  In fact, they are complementary to each other, with Genesis 2 filling in details from the creation account of Genesis 1.

  • Is it that interesting to provide a logically possible resolution of apparent contradictions? I would think the far more difficult task to grapple is whether the two accounts were written by two (or more) different authors, when they were written and when they were edited together.

    Bill Pratt,

    Are you persuaded by Documentary Hypothesis? Or do you believe Genesis 1 & 2 were written by the same author?

  • Dagwood, I expect I may disagree with Bill here.

    But at least to my thinking, the consistency between Gen 1 & 2 is a much bigger deal than who or how many held the pens. In any view of the authorship, the human author/authors were not present to see the events unfold. That means (under the Christian view) he or they had them by revelation –Ok, that “revelation” would have been from one who presumably would have been there.

    The issue for us is not so much “were they inspired?”, as “How did that inspiration work?”

    Did God whisper in Moses’ ear “take this dictation” in the kind of inspiration the Muslims and Mormons seem to believe? Or did He edit generations of “campfire stories” from different tribes and peoples, inspiring what was remembered, what was forgotten, what was combined with another tail, until it accurately contained the tale He wanted told, to convey the truth He wanted to convey?

    Under that scenario, it would not be the least deflating to find two, or more, voices; even if Moses was the one to ultimately set pen to paper. It would also not be significant to find minor differences, as the tale was told in slightly different forms in order to emphasize slightly different points in the story.

    All the other ideas, the “documentary hypothesis” et. al.; I find them intriguing. I am not much of a literary or religious historian, although I do find them fascinating fields. But in no way do they impact my opinion as to the divine source for the stories and associated editing involved, or their divine authority in the matters God wants to communicate to me by them.

  • R. Eric Sawyer,

    It is a natural progression, once parties are in agreement as to what writings are inspired (and consequently what ones are not) to move on to other questions such as, “How does inspiration work?” If you and Bill Pratt agree Genesis 1 & 2 are inspired, I can certainly understand wanting to take the next step, branching off into other discussions.

    However, there are others (such as myself) who still question the methodology as to how a writing is determined to be theopneustos and can’t progress to the next step until we first determine what writings are included. And what are not.

    Although inerrancy (what this blog entry focuses on) is not synonymous with inspiration, it would seem the two topics are related in many apologists’ position. As Bill Pratt stated, “The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the original writing is inspired by God and therefore without error.”

    It would seem “error” (either external or internal contradictions) is some indication as to inspiration. Otherwise, it wouldn’t generate such reactions and gallons of spilled ink on the subject.

    Be that as it may, I tend to find these (endless) resolutions of apparent contradictions by inerrantists to be…well…boring. It is relatively simple to come up with some explanation that is logically possible (especially when one can always revert to “[insert Miracle here.]”)

    The problem is that inerrantists use a different method in determining a contradiction than scholars use, and as long as each is using a different method, they will continue to talk past each other (to the frustration of both.)

    Rather than the light duty of coming up with a logically possible resolution, I was curious as to Bill Pratt’s thoughts as to the different authorships, and whether he held to Moses being the author.

    I’m glad theories like Documentary Hypothesis and errors regarding cosmology and the development of life do not affect your opinion regarding the divine source and divine authority of these writings—can you understand why it might for others?

  • Actually, the step into “How inspiration works” is not one of those issues I find particularly enticing. I have no criticisms for believers who do, but there is other bait to which I will more readily rise.

    Those who disagree with those who, like Bill and myself, proclaim the presence of God’s certain voice through inspiration, there seem to be several common types –although the list is not meant by me to be exhaustive. All or none may apply to you.

    First are those totally outside the church, who look at our claims with a decided “Huh?” about the way I look at the claims of Muslims for the Quran, or LDS folks for the Book of Mormon. Such claims make no sense at all as far as they can see.

    The second are those who have come, for reasons unrelated to the dependability of scripture, to reject what they have known of Christianity. As it is impossible to hold to God’s word as being reliably presence in the Bible, while rejecting classically orthodox Christianity, that must go as well –That is the voice I hear most often in attacks based on inconsistency.

    Understandably either of these grids may range from bemused to searchingly puzzled to hostile. Also understandable is the fact that there is more openness among those neutral than from those moving away.

    My chief aim was to speak against the idea that a claimed inconsistency need disallow an authoritative voice of God in it. I do not believe it does. If I thought Gen. was delivered by Gabriel on golden tablets, I would be much harder pressed. Likewise, if I understood the point of God giving us a holy book to be so that we would get the rules straight, I would also be hard pressed. I believe none of those things are the main point, nor do I believe that is the mechanism of Inspiration.

    I do understand that there are many Christians (including a sizable number of men and women to whom I owe respect) who would disagree with me vehemently. They may be right. But I think that when we force the Bible to be something it is not, we “protect” it to the point of producing error where it did not exist, and thus debase what we would protect. Several of the early Christological heresies made similar errors concerning the interaction of the second person of the Trinity with humanity in the incarnation. They made reasonable errors, for the same reasons, and with the same results. More on that some other time.

    I can respect your quandary concerning how to tell what is theopneustos and what is not. As you seem to agree in your assertions that attempts to reconcile seeming contradictions are boring does not help matters very much. But I submit that a scholarly rigorous assertion as to single authorship of the Pentateuch, and of Isaiah etc, would be no more helpful in proving Divine authorship. And that is because, even if we can prove within a 0.05% certainty that a single 4000 year BCE Hebrew with an Egyptian Royal House education wrote all five volumes, and that we have them today in almost perfectly reliable Hebrew, that goes very little towards saying that the God who created all things is the unquestionable source for all the material of that one Jew. I would have a hard time accepting it, even on that evidence (if accompanied by nothing else).

    Things like the documentary hypothesis do not hurt me, because their unquestionable refutation would not help me.

    I know very, very little of the issues surrounding the acceptance of the Hebrew canon.
    But as I expect you know, the church in the vast main, did not examine the text for accuracy and freedom from textual or historical difficulties, and rule on that basis what was theopneustos. Rather, they claimed, not to judge it, but to recognize it, and that largely by the fruit it bore both pastorally and in terms of doctrinal fruit and consistency. There was the push for apostolic authorship, but even that was not a deal-breaker, as the presence of Luke, acts and Hebrews suggests.

    I would expect that it may annoy you to know end that I hold to infallibility in the way I do for reasons that have very little to do with the text itself. But as accurate as I think Bill is, I don’t trust the Author because I first learned to trust the Book. I learned to trust “the Book” because I learned over many years to trust the Author, and found that, from that direction, the problems were greatly diminished. As much as I would prefer not to lose my sceptics and cynics membership card, there it is. I think that is the nut of the matter, and the only successful way of approaching it.

  • R. Eric Sawyer,

    Quite the contrary, you do not annoy me in the least. I enjoy interacting with people, and viewing the various approaches to these theistic quandaries. How dull to demand the other person MUST fit into some shoehorned doctrinal position before entering a discussion.

    However, this generates two (at least) notions:

    1) Our conversations must necessarily take longer, as we cannot presume what the other thinks; rather we must first ascertain it through inquiry; and

    2) I would ask for some understanding in interacting with two (or more) people with two (or more) positions, as this can cause some confusion.

    In other words, as Christians enter the conversations (and this is common) with, “I believe similar to what Christian One said, but with this variance,” and another enters with, “I believe similar to Christians One and Two, but with this variance,” and so on, it becomes increasingly difficult for the skeptic to ever debate “Christianity” precisely as it gains more heads than Hydra. One learns—despite the fervent belief of particular adherents—there is no ”the” Christianity—it is 1,000 different opinions in 1,000 different individuals.

    I would agree with you that even if we could exactly identify the author, this does not end our investigation, nor resolve what writing constitutes theopneustos and what does not. In fact (similar to what you said), I tried to take inerrancy and textual criticism out of the question by conceding them, and still wondered what Bill Pratt’s method of determining theopneustos writing was.

    He replied, as part of his method. “…I must now ask whether the text in question comes from a true representative of that God. “ [emphasis in original]

    If part of his method involves looking at authorship…I would think it important to look at authorship. Thus the reason for my first question in this blog entry.

    See, the question between the two creation accounts in Genesis is not whether one can propose a logically possible resolution—they can. The real question is whether these are from two (or more) authors, and if so, whom, and if so (to continue with Bill Pratt’s methodology), whether these authors are “true representatives of that God.”

    Certainly as a small part in that discussion, the inconsistencies support Documentary Hypothesis, but there is so much more to unpack. But first—as I started this comment out—I have to learn what Bill Pratt’s position is on the topic. Hence my question.

  • Dennis Sabre

    Remember that this story was told and retold many times before Moses was inspired to record it for posterity; one possibility is that someone along the line felt it n ecessary to give this added detail of the creation. Then again, it could have been implied that God had “also” created …; maybe the intent of this statement is to point out that all creatures are essentially of the same substance with the soul being the defining difference.

  • Armand Massie

    “Does Genesis 2 contradict Genesis 1?”

    Looking back to the original question and the defenses given by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe and The Apologetics Study Bible, it seems to me these defenses are inadequate and miss the point entirely. When reading Gen.2 in its context it is clear that explicit reference is made to the chronology established in Gen.1 and that creation of “the man” is deliberately placed in a different sequence as that of Gen.1.

    The link below is to an article that gives a rather original perspective to the question as to whether a contradiction exists between these two narratives.

    The arguments made in the article referenced above make pretty good sense but may require most people to re-evaluate their hemerneutic. At the very least, Harper’s arguments are more solidly constructed than the poor defenses mounted by Geisler and company.

    Is it possible, as Harper proposes, That the two narratives are not talking about the same “Adam” and that Moses knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote these two accounts?

  • Unfortunately, the link Mr. Massie provided doesn’t seem to take me to an unrestricted site.
    But happily, a few moments with Google will lead to both the “Voice of Elijah” and the writings of Mr. Harper, as well as the voices of others who are more acquainted with these sources

    I have not read enough to have my own settled opinion, but I am greatly troubled by any source that declares that the church has gotten it wrong ever since it was deluded in the days of the fathers. Even the leaders of the Protestant reformation of the 15th century were not to my knowledge so audacious
    Joseph Smith was, and there have been others. But I do not see that as much of a recommendation. Claiming to be one of the very few, or even the only one over the last 2 millennia who understands what God was saying gives one a very high hurdle to overcome from the start.

    I will leave it to others to dig into Mr. Harper’s specific claims, if they wish.

  • Dagwood, I appreciate your comments on the hydra-headed argument. I can well appreciated how it must feel to engage with one “adversary” only to have another spring up that declares itself to be the same, but with armor against your weapon. We are the same, except for the differences. As I’m sure you can appreciate, such is the wearisome task of engaging with Protestants!

    I would have to counter though,that there are not 1000 Christianities – there is only one, with a thousand takes around the edges.

    Strike at the edges, and another snake arises. Identify and cut off the head that we have in common, and the Hydra is defeated.

    Everything but the Incarnation , crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus I just that sort of issue –they unpack, clarify, look for implications, etc, and not one of the differences matter anything if disconnected from that central issue. Some are more central than others, but the centrality is the where the life comes from.

    On that score, forgive me from grabbing the battle that more properly belongs to Bill. As I think he may throw the truth into danger by claiming too much, so I have been accused (in a manner that seems very strange to me!) of yielding too much.

    BTW, I took the opportunity to visit over at your site, and post a note. Looks like a pretty jumping place!
    As one from the “other side of the aisle” I find it interesting to sometimes reflect on the differences and similarities one can see in the sites form both “tribes”
    I of course have my own thoughts, but don’t assume that I’m always pleased by those thoughts! (My own site is way too quiet for much data gathering, except for “quiet v. busy” axis on the matrix.

  • Bill Pratt

    I was introduced to the Documentary Hypothesis in a seminary course a couple years ago. I did some basic research into its arguments and was not persuaded. I wrote a research paper on the Documentary Hypothesis explaining why I didn’t think it was persuasive. I’ll have to dig around and find the paper, but I don’t remember the details off the top of my head.

    I lean toward thinking that Gen 1 and 2 were written substantially by the same person.

  • Staticsmasher

    The “explanation” here regarding the contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 completely ignores the elephant in the room. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam(Gen 2:7), sees that Adam needs a helper (Gen 2:18), and creates the animals [in an attempt to find Adam a helper] (Gen 2:19). When Adam does not find a suitable helper among the animals (Gen 2:20), God creates Eve to be Adams helper(Gen 2:22). This chronology makes perfect sense in context. Therefore, the creation of the animals is conditional upon Adams created nature. So, the animals could not have been created before Adam. In logic, this rule of inference is called Modus Tollens.

    The amount of ad hoc gymnastics necessary to reconcile the two accounts of Genesis makes the straight forward account above far more likely. Also, neither my NRSV, nor the KJV or NLV bibles use the word “had” in Gen 2:19. Even if they *had*, it would stand out from the flow of the context.

  • Samt Elvis

    It says in the original Hebrew language of Genesis transliterated into English:

    These are
    the births of the heavens and of the earth when they were created in the day
    that Jehovah was making earth and heavens—and every shrub of the field was not
    yet on the earth, and every plant of the field had not yet sprung up; for
    Jehovah God had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the
    ground. And mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the
    ground. And Jehovah God formed the man out of dust from the ground, and blew
    into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

    And Jehovah
    God planted a garden in Eden, to the east; and He put the man whom He had formed
    there. And out of the ground Jehovah God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant
    to the sight, and good for food…

    There’s no contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2. It is important to remember that Genesis is a narrative and is consistent without contradictions according to its kind. We would be facing the same problem of “contradiction” if we were examining a legal document from a linguistic and grammatic perspective.

    So the definition of contradiction: something cannot be “a” and not “a” at the same time must fit with the type of document it is measuring.
    This is a narrative. A narrative conforms to the rules of language–not scientific data. Thus, the modifiers “every” and “not” along with the coordinating conjunction “yet” clarify and amplify Genesis one. They do not contradict it.

    Gen 1.10b “the earth sprout tender sprouts, the plant seeding seed, the fruit tree producing fruit…And it was so…And there was evening and there was morning the third day.”

    Gen 2.5 “…and every shrub of the field was not yet on the earth, and every plant of the field had not yet sprung up…”
    This just means plants weren’t everywhere–yet.

  • Samt Elvis

    If you get yourself a bible that is in the original Hebrew and Greek, and have it transliterated into English by translators that you trust and respect, I think all your questions about contradictions will be cleared up. I hope this helps. 🙂

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  • TRUTH IS! There are two unique Creation accounts bore witness of in Genesis chapters 1 & 2, for the first Creation was of The SPIRIT and the 2nd Creation was needful after a multitude of souls rebelled against ELOHIM and followed Lucifer who wanted to be “like god”!

    So it is that in this day and age pagan catholicism and her harlot christian daughters have made their version(jesus) of a messiah “like god”, yet to no avail!

    For soon, and very soon time will be no more and those worldly, and/or religious, and/or “hell’o'” folks will REALize they are there, forever…….

    “Come out from among them and be separate”!

    Seek and desire to have your portion in “The Family of Our FATHER and GOD”, “of WHOM the Whole Family, both in Heaven and ON EARTH, IS Named”! (Ephesians 3:15;2:19, Galatians 6:10)

    HalleluYAH! (Btw, “YAH” is not a name, for “I AM that I AM” IS the which WAS, IS NOW and FOREVER)

    Immanuel(Our FATHER, HE WHO IS SPIRIT was in The Messiah) IS “The Name above all names”!