I often hear and read from skeptics that Genesis chapter one and two give conflicting accounts of creation. In this article I offer a dissenting opinion. However, Genesis 1 and 2 are not conflicting but complementary creation accounts. Where Genesis 1 to 2:3 describes the big picture creation of the cosmos, from beginning to Adam and Eve, Genesis 2:4 onwards provides a detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve at the end of Day 6.
Genesis 2, therefore, is not a retelling of the events of Genesis 1, but is instead a supplementary expansion of Genesis 1:26-27 with some additional details of the rest of creation included as relevant to the creation and significance of mankind. Where Genesis 1 simply documents that God created mankind and that as male and female we reflect God’s image, Genesis 2 documents the specific events surrounding the creation to show the reality and significance of mankind as a distinct creation and different from the animals.
The interpretive perspective is that of an old-creation model and may not exactly match the interpretation offered by other Christians, particularly those who hold to a young-creation interpretation. That said, the interpretation is not materially dependent on any particular age of the earth.
- The Land of Genesis Two
- The Fertility of the Land
- The Reponsibility of the Man
- The Complimentarity of Man and Woman
The Land of Genesis Two
The detailed account of the creation of mankind begins in verse 5 by way of introduction with a brief synopsis of the state of the land in which the next part of the narrative takes place:
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground – 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:5-9 (ESV)
Key to understanding this passage is the translation of the Hebrew word erets, variously translated earth and land in Genesis 1 & 2. In some cases the use of “earth” implies to the English reader the whole globe, which is not at all what the Hebrew requires (and which misconception is sometimes exacerbated when it is capitalized in English translations, applying an interpretive bias which may not be warranted). So when Genesis 2:5 says there was “no bush of the field yet in the land” and the mist (or spring) was watering the “whole face of the ground” it can refer to only a limited geographical region – and this is certainly what is meant given the context; the region in question being that of Eden and it’s surrounds. Nothing in these verses implies or requires that the geographical context is the whole planet.
Therefore the narrative focus is Eden and mankind. This focus is entirely expected and appropriate for the one creation of God that was “in the image of God”. It fits very well in the overall narrative flow and sets the stage for telling how sin and death for mankind entered the world in the following chapter. Note that there is no indication anywhere in scripture that sin brought death for any part of creation except for mankind.
We are told that within this “land” of unspecified extent, God “formed” the first man, of “dust”, planted a garden and placed him in it to work and tend it. God caused the garden to be abundant with the kinds of plants that Adam needed for food – making the point that Adam had no physiological lack.
Here an element which is central to the overall narrative is introduced, that the garden also contained two very special trees, a tree of “life” and a tree of “the knowledge of good and evil”.
The Fertility of the Land
10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Genesis 2:10-14 (ESV)
The scripture describes Eden as a place abundant with life and provision, a well watered paradise, making the point that Adam has no physical need which might drive him to eat from the forbidden tree.
The place names, of course, should not be considered to necessarily bear any relation to the names of modernity, though they may have been meaningful to the people of Moses’ time.
The Reponsibility of the Man
Adam is given a resposibility and a duty… and a prohibition.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Please take careful note that it’s the “knowledge of good and evil”, not merely “knowledge”. What was placed before the man was the choice between eternal life in submission to God and moral self-determination, between the dependence on God in obedience and the ability to determine for oneself what is good and what is evil. Man’s failure of this single moral choice is detailed in the following chapter. This is the same choice before us all today, between obedience to God and self-determination. God does not send us to hell, rather he gives the unbeliever their heart’s desire for eternity – a place where all beings answer to no-one except themselves. If you want a picture of hell, really, truly and deeply consider a world in which every being manifests total selfishness absent any and all restraint.
The warning is given that to choose self-determination is to choose death. Scripture does not define death as a cessation of existance; indeed from beginning to end it makes clear that humanity was created as a spititual, that is, eternal being. Rather “death” is separation from God and his goodness.
The Complimentarity of Man and Woman
Notice that at this point Eve has not yet been created; scripture is silent on this, but the strong implication is that the prohibition was communicated to Eve from Adam, not directly from God.
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
Genesis 2:19-20 (ESV)
God knows that, as yet, there is no creature in creation which is a suitable partner to the man he has created. But before he remedies that lack, he first must make the man keenly aware of it.
As well as working the garden, Adam’s task was to observe and name the animals with which he interacted – no indication is given of just how many animals this meant, though it was certainly not all of creation, since many of the animals lived in habitats far distant from the location of Eden (regardless of where in the world Eden was located). The significant result of this exercise in naming is the realization by Adam that nothing in all of God’s creation is “like” him – Adam is unique and now he knows it.
An interesting side-note here is that God had formed the beasts and birds “out of the ground”. This is a perfect aspect verb, which in the context of Genesis 1 is quite reasonably rendered in the past tense in English.
21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Genesis 2:21-23 (ESV)
Having demonstrated to Adam his uniqueness in creation God now proceeds to make another person from material taken from Adam’s side (“ribs” is an unnecessarily specific translation here; the Hebrew word is tsela which means generally “side”).
This new person is now as unique as Adam, and like him quite separate from all the animals. That some significant time had elapsed is seen in “at last”. Adam immediately perceives her unique suitability when he cries “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”, quite similar to our idea of our child being our very “flesh and blood”.
Only now is the image of God fully evinced in creation, as Genesis 1 tells us, “male and female he created them”.
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2:24-25 (ESV)
The institution of marriage is incepted, and mankind in the purity of their sinless state have no need of clothing for their bodies, for there is not yet a violation of self in being fully exposed to another.