Are There Two Creation Accounts in Genesis?
Genesis 1 and 2 provide accounts of what God did during creation. But these two chapters don’t seem to agree. Are there two different accounts of creation under discussion in Genesis 1 and 2?
It is common for liberal critics of the Bible to assert that the book of Genesis contains two accounts of the creation of the Earth and mankind. Allegedly, these two accounts reflect different authors, different time periods, etc. It further is charged that the narratives contradict each other in several particulars.
The two records are supposed to involve Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. One author has written: “It is evident that the Pentateuch cannot be the continuous work of a single author. This is shown by the existence of two differing accounts (doublets) of the same event: thus e.g. the story of the creation in Gen. 1 and 2:4ff...” (Weiser, 1961, pp. 72-73, emp. in orig.). This view of Scripture is not the exclusive property of the radically liberal theologians; it has made its presence felt in “conservative” circles as well. Some religionists speak of the “two different creation accounts” (Murray and Buffaloe, 1981, p. 7), or the “two ‘creation hymns’ ” (see Manis as quoted by Thompson, 1986, p. 16).
One of the foundational assumptions of this so-called “higher critical” viewpoint is that the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) was not authored by Moses. Supposedly, several ancient writers contributed to this collection. These authors are referred to as J, E, P, and D. Some scholars subdivide them even further, e.g., J1, J2, etc. “J” stands for “Jehovah,” since that name for God was prominent in certain sections. “E” signifies Elohim, another divine name allegedly identifying certain portions. “P” purports to be a “Priestly Code,” and “D” identifies what is known as the “Deuteronomic” writer. The critics claim that all of these writings eventually were collected and combined by a “redactor” (editor). This theory, known as the Documentary Hypothesis, became popular in the 19th century when Jean Astruc, a French physician, claimed that he had isolated certain “source” authors in the Pentateuch. His views were expanded and popularized by others so that by the end of the century numerous biblical commentators had gravitated to this liberal concept. Though this approach is circulated widely and defended frequently, it will not bear the weight of scholarly investigation. [For further discussion of the Documentary Hypothesis, see the author’s article, “Destructive Criticism and the Old Testament,” (Thompson and Jackson, 1990, 4:1ff).]
In the case of the “two creation accounts,” Genesis 1 is said to be a “P” document (dating from the Babylonian or post-Babylonian captivity period), while Genesis 2 is supposed to be a “J” narrative from the ninth century B.C.
The arguments in support of this radical viewpoint are twofold. (1) It is claimed that the two creation stories show evidence of different styles of writing. (2) It is argued that the accounts conflict in that they reflect divergent concepts of deity and a mismatched order of creation. Let us give these assertions brief consideration.
Professor Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool has noted, “stylistic differences are meaningless” (1966, p. 118). Such differences may as much indicate a variance in the subject addressed as the suggestion of multiple authors. On the basis of archaeological evidence, Kitchen has shown that the “stylistic” theory simply is not credible. For example, a biographical inscription of Uni, an Egyptian official who lived about 2400 B.C., reflects at least four different styles, and yet no one denies the unity of its authorship (Kitchen, 1966, p. 125).
The plural authorship of the “creation accounts” is supposed to be indicated by the use of two names for deity in these sections. “God” (Elohim) is employed in Genesis 1, whereas “Jehovah” (Yahweh) is found in 2:4ff. In response it may be observed, first, that solid biblical research has clearly shown the use of different appellations for deity to possibly reflect a purposeful theological emphasis. For example, Elohim, which suggests “strength,” exalts God as the mighty Creator. Yahweh is the name that expresses the essential moral and spiritual nature of deity, particularly in terms of His relationship to the nation of Israel (see Stone, 1944, p. 17). Second, the multiple employment of titles was common in the literature of antiquity as a device of literary variety. Archaeological discoveries have amply illustrated this point. Consider Genesis 28:13. The Lord speaks to Jacob and says: “I am Jehovah (Yahweh), the God (Elohim) of Abraham, the God (Elohim) of Isaac.” Would one argue for the multiple authorship of this single sentence upon the basis of the use of two Hebrew names for the Creator? Hardly. One scholar pointedly observed:
To conclude that differences in style or vocabulary unmistakably indicate different authors is invalid for any body of literature. It is well known that a single author may vary his style and select vocabulary to fit the themes he is developing and the people he is addressing. It goes without saying that a young graduate student’s love letter will vary significantly in vocabulary and style from his research paper (Davis, 1975, p. 23).
It must be concluded that arguments for “two creation accounts” in Genesis, based upon a subjective view of “style,” are speculative and unconvincing.
As mentioned earlier, the alleged discrepancies between chapters 1 and 2 involve an imagined difference in the perception of God on the part of the hypothetical “authors,” and the alleged contradictory order of events mentioned in the respective records.
First, it is supposed that in Genesis 1 the Creator is a transcendent Being, majestically and distantly bringing the creation into existence. In Genesis 2, however, He is characterized by naive anthropomorphisms (human terminology applied to deity) which imply an inferior status. For example, in Genesis 2 the writer says that Jehovah “formed,” “breathed,” “planted,” etc. (7-8).
While it is true that such expressions are found in chapter 2, what the critics have failed to notice is that anthropomorphic terminology also is employed in Genesis 1:1-2:4. In that section, God “called,” “saw,” “rested,” etc. (1:8,12; 2:1). There is no validity in this argument, and one is not surprised that serious scholars have labeled it “illusory” (Kitchen, 1966, p. 118).
Second, as indicated above, some reversed language order, as seen in the two chapters, is also supposed to demonstrate conflicting creation accounts. E.A. Speiser has written: “The first account starts out with the creation of ‘heaven and earth’ (1:1). The present narrative begins with the making of ‘earth and heaven’ (2:4b).” Speiser goes on to emphasize that in the first record heavenly activity is in focus, while in the latter account man is the center of interest. He thus concluded: “This far-reaching divergence in basic philosophy would alone be sufficient to warn the reader that two separate sources appear to be involved, one heaven-centered and the other earth-centered” (Speiser, 1964, pp. 18-19). This argument for a dual authorship of Genesis 1 and 2 is truly unconvincing. Let us carefully note Genesis 2:4. “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven.” In this one verse there is contained the heaven/earth and earth/heaven motif. [Does this mean that two people must have written this one sentence?] Even the critics do not so contend!
Third, the claim is made that in chapter 1 man is represented as having been made “in the image of God” (27), yet in chapter 2, he is merely “formed...of the dust of the ground” (7), thus suggesting a distinct contrast. The point of comparison is too limited, hence, unfair. As professor John Sailhamer observed:
...we should not overlook the fact that the topic of the “creation of man” in chapter 2 is not limited merely to v. 7. In fact, the topic of the creation of the man and the woman is the focus of the whole of chapter 2. What the author had stated as a simple fact in chapter 1 (man, male and female, was created in God’s likeness) is explained and developed throughout the narrative of chapter 2. We cannot contrast the depiction of the creation of man in chapter 1 with only one verse in chapter 2; we must compare the whole of the chapter (1990, 2:40-41, parenthetical comment in orig.).
Fourth, Genesis 1 and 2 are said to contradict each other in the relative creation-order of plants and man. In chapter 1, it is argued, plants were created on the third day of the initial week (11-12), and man was made on the sixth day (26ff.), whereas in chapter 2, plants and herbs seem not to appear until after the formation of man (5ff.). The real problem exists only in the mind of the critic. There are possible means by which to resolve the alleged difficulty.
Some suggest that in Genesis 1 the original creation of the botanical world is in view, while in Genesis 2 the emphasis is upon the fact that plant reproduction had not commenced, for as yet there was not sufficient moisture, nor a cultivator of the ground, which factors are remedied in verses 6-7 (Jacobus, 1864, 1:96).
Others agree that entirely different matters are in view in these respective accounts. In Genesis 1:11-12 vegetation in general is under consideration, but in Genesis 2:5ff. the writer is discussing the specific sort of vegetation that requires human cultivation. It has been observed “that the words rendered plant, field, and grew, never occur in the first chapter; they are terms expressive of the produce of labour and cultivation; so that the historian evidently means that no cultivated land and no vegetables fit for the use of man were yet in existence on the earth” (Browne, 1981, 1:39, emp. in orig.).
Another view is that Genesis 2:5 does not refer to the condition of the Earth at large; rather, the writer simply is discussing the preparation of the beautiful garden in which man was to live (Young, p. 61). In any event, we must stress this point: whenever there is the possibility of legitimate reconciliation between passages that superficially appear to conflict, no contradiction can be charged!
Fifth, it is argued that Genesis 1 represents animals as existing before man (24-26), yet Genesis 2 has Adam created before the animals are formed (19). The text of Genesis 2:19 merely suggests that the animals were formed before being brought to man; it says nothing about the relative origins of man and beast in terms of chronology. The critic is reading something into the text that simply is not there. William Green pointed out that when noted scholar Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), an advocate of the Documentary Hypothesis, first authored his famous commentary on Genesis, he employed this argument as a proof of a discrepancy between Genesis 1 and 2. However, in the last edition of his work, after his knowledge had matured, he repudiated this quibble and argued for the harmony of 2:19 with chapter 1 (Green, 1979, p. 26).
THE REAL EXPLANATION
Are there differences in the inspired narratives of Genesis 1 and 2? Of course there are. But differences do not necessarily imply contradictions, much less multiple authorship. The real question is this: Is there a purpose to these variations? Indeed there is. Furthermore, there are a number of factors that militate against the notion that Genesis 1 and 2 are independent and contradictory accounts of the creation.
First, careful analysis reveals that there is deliberate purpose in the individuality of these two sections of Scripture. In Genesis 1 there is a broad outline of the events of the creation week, which reaches its climax with the origin of mankind in the very image of God. In Genesis 2 there is the special emphasis upon man, the divine preparation of his home, the formation of a suitable mate, etc. Edward J. Young has a good statement of this matter:
There are different emphases in the two chapters...but the reason for these is obvious. Chapter 1 continues the narrative of creation until the climax, namely, man made in the image and likeness of God. To prepare the way for the account of the fall, chapter 2 gives certain added details about man’s original condition, which would have been incongruous and out of place in the grand, declarative march of chapter 1 (1960, p. 53).
This type of procedure was not unknown in the literary methodology of antiquity. Gleason Archer observed that the “technique of recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. The author would first introduce his account with a short statement summarizing the whole transaction, and then he would follow it up with a more detailed and circumstantial account when dealing with matters of special importance” (1964, p. 118). These respective sections have a different literary motif. Genesis 1 is chronological, revealing the sequential events of the creation week, whereas Genesis 2 is topical, with special concern for man and his environment. [This procedure is not unknown elsewhere in biblical literature. Matthew’s account of the ministry of Christ is more topical, while Mark’s record is more chronological.]
Second, there is clear evidence that Genesis 2 was never an independent creation account. There are simply too many crucial elements missing for that to have been the case. For instance, there is no mention in Genesis 2 of the creation of the Earth, and there is no reference to the oceans or fish. There is no allusion to the Sun, Moon, and stars, etc. Archer has pointed out that there is not an origins record in the entire literature collection of the ancient Near East that omits discussing the creation of the Sun, Moon, seas, etc. (1982, p. 69). Obviously, Genesis 2 is a sequel to chapter 1. The latter presupposes the former and is built upon it.
Even Howard Johnston, who was (at least in part) sympathetic to the Documentary Hypothesis, conceded:
The initial chapter [Genesis 1] gives a general account of the creation. The second chapter is generally declared by critics to be a second account of the creation, but, considered in the light of the general plan, that is not an accurate statement. Evidently the purpose of this chapter is to show that out of all the creation we have especially to do with man. Therefore only so much of the general account is repeated as is involved in a more detailed statement concerning the creation of man. There is a marked difference of style in the two accounts, but the record is consistent with the plan to narrow down the story to man (1902, p. 90).
The following summary statement by Kenneth Kitchen is worthy of notice:
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 (1966, pp. 116-117, emp. in orig.).
One final but forceful point should be made. In Matthew 19:4-5, the Lord Jesus combined quotations from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. He declared: “He who made them from the beginning made them male and female [1:26], and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh [2:24].” If the liberal viewpoint is true, how very strange that Christ should have given not the slightest hint that the two accounts involved a multiple authorship and contradictory material! Obviously, the Son of God did not endorse the modern Documentary Hypothesis.
When the texts of Genesis 1 and 2 have been considered carefully, one thing is clear: an objective evaluation reveals no discrepancies, nor is a dual authorship to be inferred. Devout students of the Bible should not be disturbed by the fanciful, ever-changing theories of the liberal critics. It is wise to remember that the Word of God was not written for the benefit of “scholars,” but for the common person. The Scriptures assume that the average person is able to understand the message and to know that the source is divine.
Archer, Gleason (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody).
Archer, Gleason (1982), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Browne, Harold (1981), The Bible Commentary, ed. F.C. Cook (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint).
Davis, John (1975), Paradise to Prison—Studies in Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker).
Green, William Henry (1979), The Unity of the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint).
Jacobus, Melancthon (1864), Notes on Genesis (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication).
Johnston, Howard Agnew (1902), Bible Criticism and the Average Man (New York: Revell).
Kitchen, Kenneth (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (London: Tyndale).
Murray, N. Patrick and Neal D. Buffaloe (1981), Creationism and Evolution: The Real Issues (Little Rock, AR: The Bookmark).
Sailhamer, John (1990), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Speiser, E.A. (1964), “Genesis,” The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday).
Stone, Nathan (1944), Names of God (Chicago: Moody).
Thompson, Bert (1986), Is Genesis Myth? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press). In this volume, Dr. Thompson reproduces a document, “Research in Genesis,” authored by Archie Manis, who was at that time a biology professor at Abilene Christian University. Dr. Manis has since left the University.
Thompson, Bert and Wayne Jackson, eds. (1990), Essays in Apologetics (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Weiser, Arthur (1961), The Old Testament: Its Formation and Development (New York: Association Press).
Young, Edward J. (1960), An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).