One Creation Story or Two?

In recent years I’ve noticed a growing trend where Genesis 1 and 2 are often referred to as “the first and second creation stories.” If there are, in fact, two different creation accounts in Genesis 1-2, this would strongly imply that there were two different authors or two different sources behind what we now recognize as the book of Genesis. This would also cast serious doubt on the traditional view of the Mosaic origin of the book of Genesis. This claim is also used to imply that inspired scripture contains contradictions, which in turn challenges the truthfulness, reliability, and inspiration of scripture as a whole.

It is my position that we should not describe Genesis 1 and 2 and two separate creation accounts. The first reason is because the evidence used to suggest that the two chapters are in tension with one another is not at all obvious. The second is reason is that a careful reading of the book of Genesis implies that the first two chapters of the book were always intended to be read together and in light of one another.

The Reasons for “Two Creation Stories” Language

The two supposed creation stores are Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. Genesis 1:1-2:3 has a seven day structure, with six days of creation and a seventh day of rest. By the end of this section, you have an account of the creation of the whole world. You have mankind living on dry land, which has been separated from the water. You have the sun, moon, stars, plants, and various animals all filling the created world.

This section comes to a clear conclusion in Genesis 2:3.

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Genesis 2:4 then introduces a new section of scripture.

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

At this point, the reader will quickly notice that the section of scripture that follows is not connected to chapter 1 in a clear, linear, chronological sequence. Genesis 2:5 does not pick up right where Genesis 2:3 left off with the beginning of the second week. Instead, it describes a situation where there was no “bush” or “small plants” in the field. Then the text goes back and gives additional details about the creation of man.

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, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground – 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. And the LORD God planted a garden of Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 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 in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:5-9

Not only does Genesis 2:4 begin a new section, but there are some stylistic differences between the two sections. One obvious example is that God is referred to as “God” (Elohim) throughout Genesis 1, whereas “LORD” (Yahweh) is used in Genesis 2:4ff.

Why would one author choose to use two different names for God? This is an excellent question. You can see how a modern reader might conclude that either the author of Genesis is schizophrenic, or there are two different authors.

Another reason for the “two creation stories” language is that there are allegedly contradictions between the two sections. This suggestion is primarily focused on the order of creation. Genesis 1 indicates that plants were created on the third day (1:11-12), and that man was created on the sixth day (1:26ff), whereas in Genesis 2 there were no bushes or small plants in the field until after the formation of man (2:5-7). Genesis 1 represents animals as existing before man (1:24-26), whereas Genesis 2 describes the creation of man (2:7) prior to the creation of animals (2:18-19).

These stylistic differences and alleged contradictions between the two narrative sections are the primary reasons why some refer to Genesis 1 & 2 as two creation stories.

Disunity Between Genesis 1 and 2 Is Not At All Obvious

Although there are clear differences between Genesis 1 and 2, the alleged contradictions are not at all obvious. It’s not difficult to find numerous commentators and scholars who have shown that Genesis 1 and 2 can easily be read in harmony with one another.

If Genesis 2 appears to recap Genesis 1 in some places, this should not surprise us. While in western cultures we tend to read and process everything in clear linear, chronological fashion, we should not assume that the author of Genesis intends to tell the story in this way. In the book of Genesis (as well as in other ancient near eastern writings) it is common to tell stories in cyclical fashion, where recapitulation is often employed. For an author to break from a linear, chronological telling of the story is not at all foreign to their culture. When Genesis 2 describes the creation of plants, animals, and man, this should not be considered strong evidence that the text has a different origin.

While it is helpful to observe stylistic differences between chapters 1 and 2, It is well known that a single author can vary his style or vocabulary to fit the points he wants the reader to draw from the text. Could it be that the author intentionally used the name “God” in Genesis 1, and intentionally started using “LORD” in Genesis 2 because he had a purpose for doing so?

Elohim and Yahweh are not synonyms. Elohim is a more generic term for powerful spiritual beings, whereas Yahweh is the personal name for the God of Israel. While Genesis 1 begins with the claim that the heavens an the earth were created by an Elohim (a claim which would easily be accepted in the ancient world), Genesis 2 makes the point that the heavens and the earth weren’t just created by any god. It was THE LORD God, Yahweh, the God of Israel who created the universe and all of mankind. The Creator is not only all-powerful, but He is also the most-personal and most-faithful. If we jump too quickly to the conclusion that Genesis 1 and 2 have different origins, we may miss what the author was intending to communicate by changing his style the way he did.

Although there are alleged contradictions, they are not at all obvious, as numerous biblical scholars have observed. For a good overview of why we should not assume that the chapters contradict one another, I recommend this article written by Wayne Jackson: “Critical Theory Attacks Genesis 1 and 2”. As long as there are possible satisfactory explanations to show that the text does not contradict itself, we should not act as if it obviously does.

Genesis 1 and 2 are Designed to be Read in Relation to Each Other

Biblical scholars have long recognized that the various sections of the book of Genesis are linked together by the recurring phrase, “These are the generations of…” Variations of this formula appear ten different time throughout the book (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2). In each instance, this “generations” phrase serves to introduce the upcoming section of scripture and to link it to the section of scripture that has immediately preceded it. This is significant because it shows that Genesis 2:4 functions not merely as an introduction to the Adam and Eve narrative that follows, but also as a link that hitches the story of Adam and Eve back to the story of creation in Genesis 1. In other words, Genesis 2:4 communicates to the reader that the two stories should be read in connection to one another.

To illustrate this point, consider how the “generations” phrase functions throughout the rest of the book of Genesis. The next two appearances of the phrase are found in Genesis 5:1, “This is the book of the generations of Adam”, and in in Genesis 6:9, “These are the generations of Noah.” Between Genesis 5:1 and 6:9 is a genealogy that traces an unbroken line between Adam and Noah. Next, Genesis 10:1 begins a section that traces the descendants of the sons of Noah as they were scattered into the various nations of the earth, thus linking Noah to the story of Babel that follows. Next, Genesis 11:10 and 11:27 bracket another genealogy that links the chosen line of Shem to the family of Abram. Genesis 25:12, and 25:19, and 36:1 trace the descendants of Ismael, Isaac, and Esau. Finally Genesis 37:2, “These are the generations of Jacob” continues the story of Jacob’s family by introducing Joseph and Judah.

Every time this phrase appears, it functions to hold the book of Genesis together into one unified work, by clearly communicating to the reader that each of these main characters are connected to one another, and should be considered in light of one another. In other words, the author of the book of Genesis intends for its readers to think of the book as one unified work.

Therefore Genesis 2:4 serves to show how Adam and Eve should be read as proceeding from creation in similarity to how the nations proceeded from Noah, Abram proceeded from the nations, and Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all proceeded from Abraham. When read in this way, we understand that creation itself points the reader forward to the story of Israel and all mankind. This explains why Jesus showed no hesitation in combining both Genesis 1 and 2 to establish his teaching (Mark 10:5-8).

To read Genesis 1 and 2 as two independent creation stories disregards the author’s design of the book of Genesis and his intention for the stories to be read together as a unified whole. When we separate the stories, we miss theological points that can be drawn only by reading the whole text. Before adopting this language, bible students should carefully reconsider whether it actually honors the inspired text, or if it serves to hinder our understanding by introducing internal disunity that was not intended by the author.