One challenge that sometimes arises concerning the veracity of the Bible relates to the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. Some believe that each chapter represents a different story, written by a different author (evidenced by the use of different names for God) with contradictions. But are they really different, contradictory, stories?
Dr. Richard Averbeck responded to this challenge in an episode of the Table Podcast by highlighting the literary shift of focus between the two chapters. Genesis opens up with a broad, birds-eye view of the action in chapter one before featuring the narrative of Adam and Eve in chapter 2.
“We have this whole universe in Genesis 1:1 through 2:3. And then Genesis 2:4 goes on and really zeros down into (God’s) work of humanity.”
He says that the way God is mentioned in each chapter highlights the shift of focus as well:
“In the first chapter, the name for God is Elohim. It’s the broad name for the great God. Then what happens in Chapter 2 is there’s a shift…It moves to Yahweh Elohim, and uses Yahweh Elohim throughout the account in Chapter 2.
The writer…(is) telling them the Yahweh who is the God delivering you from Egypt is the same God who created all that we have, all that we’re in the midst of here in this universe. And so it’s really tying the history of Israel into – and the importance of Yahweh as the covenant God of Israel into – who he really is.”
But other skeptics don’t base their objections on the names of God in these opening chapters. Some argue that the creation accounts are still two, very different—in fact, contradictory—-stories. They allege that God is depicted as creating animals before man in the first chapter and that He is depicted as creating animals after man in the second chapter. This objection concerns Genesis 2:19-20 (NASB):
“Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field* and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.”
This challenge forces an unnatural chronological intent on what could be considered a literary summary of what God had already made in chapter one. Interestingly, the fact that verse 19 does not mention cattle demonstrates this idea.
In A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, the late Professor of Bible at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Umberto Cassuto, observed:
“in vs. 19 only the beasts of the field and the flying creatures of the air are referred to, and no mention whatsoever is made of the cattle…If the terms beasts had been used here, or beasts of the earth, one might have assumed that it included cattle as well; but the expression beasts of the field is actually an antonym of cattle…
in v. 20, the first category of creatures to be named by man is precisely the cattle…the cattle were already to be found with man in the garden of Eden, and there was no need to create them and bring them before him” (129).
Cassuto’s point is that sequence is not the point in this text and there are textual clues that indicate this. Genesis 2:19 is a literary summary about what the lack of a corresponding human for Adam would mean, just as Genesis 1:26-28 summarizes the creation of male and female together. Cassuto’s observation means we have to be careful to see what the Bible is actually trying to do and be careful not to place on its intent more than it is doing. When we read the Bible as doing more than it is affirming, we may create a problem or expectations where one does not exist. Reading carefully and keeping an eye on options for what an author may be doing may prevent us from becoming trapped in a problem of our own making in asking the Bible to do something it is not attempting to do. Seen in this light, these two accounts can give us different angles on creation without being contradictory.
For further discussion on the opening chapters of Genesis and other creation accounts of the Ancient Near East, watch the podcast: “The Historical Adam and the Ancient Near East” (Episode 1).
ESV= “every beast of the field,”
HCSB = “every wild animal”
KJV = “every beast of the field”
NET = “every living animal of the field”
NIV= “all the wild animals;”
NLT = “all the wild animals”