Are Genesis 1 and 2 contradictory creation accounts?

Creation

I remember the first time a Christian told me that Genesis 1 and 2 were contradictory. He seemed to say it as if it didn’t matter. It was like saying, “There are contradictions in Scripture, but don’t worry about it and just have faith.” This, I believe, is a huge problem. It seems to limit God’s omnipotence or His goodness. It becomes difficult to explain how God, the author of Scripture, would contradict himself. Does God error?

I agree that there are apparent contradictions in Scripture, but just like other apparent contradictions, they are cleared up when understood correctly. Christians can’t avoid this issue in Genesis 1 and 2 by saying they don’t contradict. Instead, we have to give reasons why.

What is the apparent contradiction?

It has often been said that Genesis 1 and 2 provide contradictory accounts of when man was created in relation to other created things. Genesis 1:26 puts the creation of man on the 6th day after all plants (day 3) and animals (days 5 and 6). Genesis 2:5-7 seems to say that man was created before the plants and animals. So the question becomes, were Adam and Eve created near the beginning or end of creation?

In order to answer this question, we must understand the context of Genesis 1 and 2. We understand this need for context in our lives every day. For example, “The lions destroyed the dolphins,” appears crazy on the surface. Why did the lions go into the ocean? Why didn’t the dolphins simply swim away? It then becomes very clear when you realize the person talking is on the sports channel and is covering a recent football game. The context in which the person is talking or writing makes all the difference.

So, we must look at the context and perspective of Genesis 2 in order to see if it contradicts the timeline in Genesis 1. With this understanding, we are able to see that there is a change of perspective. Dr. Hugh Ross, an astronomer and President of Reasons to Believe, explains the change in perspective from Genesis 1 and 2 in his book, Navigating Genesis. He writes,

“While Genesis 1 focuses almost entirely on the physical creation–what God made or made happen and in what order, Genesis 2 begins to elaborate on the why, or purpose, of creation. The Genesis 1 storyteller describes the unfolding scene of the six creation days from a vantage point somewhere just above Earth’s surface, but below the clouds, as God prepared a suitable habitat for humanity. Genesis 2 zooms in on a small portion of Earth’s surface (Eden) and what occurred from the vantage point of one human being (the first human) in that locale, walking and awakening to the sights and sounds all around” (p. 95).

Genesis 2 is no longer talking about the whole globe. Realizing the setting allows us to understand what is meant by the different descriptions. Just like the report about the lions and dolphins. Once you realize the context, we are no longer talking about the ocean but about football. Genesis 1 offers the big picture timeline and Genesis 2 focuses on what happened during the 6th day of creation in the garden. Dr. Ross continues,

“Genesis 1 presents the major physical creation events in a time-ordered sequence… In Genesis 2 God introduces the first humans to their setting, first to the misty land itself, then to the plants, then to the higher animals and, finally, to each other. That is, God sequentially lays out humanity’s authority over and responsibility to manage different components of His earthly creation but offers only a highly condensed, non-sequential summary of His physical creation activity. No contradiction can be inferred legitimately from differences between these two versions of the creation story” (p. 95-96).

Genesis 2 never says that man was created before plants or animals. The garden in Eden was planted after man was created, but this doesn’t mean that the whole globe was void of plants. We then see in Genesis 2:19 that “the Lord 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.” The language here is that God “had formed” the animals and then brought them to the man. Again, this is consistent with what we see in Genesis 1.

Conclusion

Understanding the context and change of perspective allows us to read these two accounts in harmony. They are not both offering a big picture timeline of the creation event. Instead, they are each describing a different aspect of creation. This apparent contradiction becomes clear when understood in this new way, and Genesis 1 and 2 become complementary creation accounts.

What are other apparent contradictions that you have a difficult time with? Comment below!

rpauly@southlandscs.com
Ryan Pauly graduated in 2010 with a B.A. of Religion and an emphasis in Youth Leadership from Vanguard University of Southern California. After graduating he became a missionary in the Dominican Republic. During his four years of living in the Dominican Republic he taught English, Worldview, Apologetics, and Leadership to junior high and high school students. Ryan moved back to Southern California in 2015 and started teaching Historical Christian Doctrine, Apologetics, Comparative Religions and Worldviews, and Philosophy of Ethics at a Southern California Christian high school. In 2017, Ryan joined MAVEN as a field guide for their worldview missions experiences and became a trained volunteer apologist for the Reasons to Believe apologetics community. Ryan holds a certificate in Science Apologetics from the Reasons Institute and is currently working on his M.A. of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. His writing has been featured at crossexamined.org, seanmcdowell.org, thepoachedegg.net, and he is also a contributor for the updated version of the popular Apologetics Study Bible for Students which was released in 2017. Along with his writing, Ryan has appeared on Truth Matters TV and you can tune in to the Coffeehouse Questions radio show hosted by Ryan every Wednesday from 4:30-5 pm on Active Reliance Radio.

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