Sunday Scripture

The Contradictory Creation Stories of Genesis

In a cheap ripoff of PZ Meyers’ Sunday Sacrilege I bring you Sunday Scripture.  A weekly examination of contradictions, and other problems found in the  Bible.

There has always been a debate about whether Genesis chapter 1 and Genesis chapter 2 are two different and contradictory accounts of creation, or whether chapter 2 is just a more detailed account of the chapter 1 narrative.  In my fundamentalism I always took the second position, that chapter 2 is just a more detailed account.  However, if we really do just let the text speak for itself and not try to infer out of it meanings that are not there, we see that they are indeed contradictory.

In chapter 1 verses 9-13, the third day of creation, God creates the earth seas, and all vegetation. 

Then god said let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them, on the earth”; And it was so.  And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind;

Three days later on day 6, God creates man.  Now, if we move over to chapter 2, verse 5 we read ,

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth; and there was no man to cultivate th ground.

God creates man in verse 7 and in verse 9, after the creation of man, we see that God causes,

to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food;

Notice in chapter 1, on the sixth day, animals were created and then man, but in chapter 2 verses 18-19, man is on the earth alone and God creates the animals so he would have a suitable helper.  The animals are created and then brought to Adam to be named. There are other minor discrepancies that really aren’t that significant.  These are the two I wanted to focus on. 

There are some interesting explanations by creationists for these contradictions, all involving a lot of inference, assumption and speculation.  I decided to go straight to the most “authoritative” source for an explanation of these discrepancies.  Answers in Genesis. 

Here is the page on the Answers in Genesis website that addresses many issues related to the Genesis accounts of creation and the flood.  About halfway down the page you will see this link, Genesis 1 and 2: refutation of alleged contradictions, which takes you offsite to a page that attempts to harmonize the two creation accounts. Here is the explanation that is offered for the contradiction between the two accounts of when vegetation was created,

The allegation is that whereas G1 has plants made before man, G2 has man-made before plants. But it is really rather simple to see that G2 indicates no such thing as is claimed, for the latter specifies that what did not exist yet were plants and herbs “of the field” — what field?

The Hebrew word here is sadeh, and where it is used of known geographic locations, refers to either a quite limited area of land, and/or a flat place suitable for agriculture, as opposed to the word used in 1:11, “earth”, which is ‘erets — a word which has much broader geographic connotations.

See for example:

  • Gen. 23:12-13: “And he spake unto Ephron in the audience of the people of the land [‘erets], saying, But if thou wilt give it, I pray thee, hear me: I will give thee money for the field [sadeh]; take it of me, and I will bury my dead there.”
  • Ex. 9:22 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch forth thine hand toward heaven, that there may be hail in all the land [‘erets] of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field [sadeh], throughout the land [‘erets] of Egypt.”
  • Lev. 25:2-3, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land [‘erets] which I give you, then shall the land [‘erets] keep a sabbath unto the LORD. Six years thou shalt sow thy field [sadeh], and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof…”)A key to understanding what is being described here is that verse 2:5 goes on to explain WHY there were no “plants of the field” — because a) there was no rain upon the earth, and b) there was no man to work the earth — the two key elements for agriculture according to the ancient mindset. Thus, what this passage indicates is that there was as yet no organized agriculture, and that makes sense of the verses following, where God specifically plants the garden of Eden and places man to tend to it.
  • G2 is not indicating that there were no plants created yet at all, but that a special place was set aside for the foundation of agriculture and for plants “of the field” to be developed. (This idea of Eden as a special place set aside shall come into play as we progress.)

    Here is my problem with this explanation.  How the hell is someone with no knowledge of Hebrew supposed to figure this out.  If the scriptures really are inspired by God, why would he inspire them in such a way, that the only way to really know what he said, is to have an understanding of the original languages the scriptures were written in.  Surely in his omniscience he would have been able to see the problems this would create for his people. 

    Secondly if this really does refer to agriculture, what is the deal with the  plants and fruit that God created in chapter 1.  If there were fruit trees all over the place why would Adam need agriculture to grow food.  There also seems to be an emphasison seeds in the first chapter as well.  How do we know these seeds aren’t already referring to agriculture.  It seems that Adam either didn’t need agriculture for food or that agriculture existed prior to chapter 2.  Either way, the agriculture explanation is a huge leap in logic that is only justified by a person’s insistence on keeping Genesis 1 and 2 literal accounts of the same event. 

    Now lets take a look at the issue of when animals were created.  You will have to go the link above and read the explanation for this one yourself because it is way to long to quote here.  In short, the writer uses the same type of argument, minutely examining the verb tense of the word formed in chapter 2 verse 19.  Like the first explanation it is a convoluted attempt to massage the meaning you want out of the text by getting into an overly technical explanation of Hebrew.  And like the first I feel the same way about it. 

    This ridiculous parsing of obscure verb tenses is common, and not just in relation to creation.  This technique is used in almost all theological debates and can get outrageously technical.  It eventually became a  point of disillusionment for me that contributed to my cynicism.  I felt that God would never have allowed his word to hinge on such obscure and subjective interpretations of Greek and Hebrew.  Now I look back on this and realize it was just another step in my eventual realization that you could you make the Bible mean anything you wanted it to mean.  And if you could do that, then it really didn’t mean anything at all.

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