Do the Creation Stories in Genesis 1 and 2 Contradict Each Other?

Over the years, many skeptics have claimed that the creation stories found in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are contradictory. One book puts it like this. Genesis begins with two distinctive creation stories that are impossible to synthesize or string together into consecutive events with any integrity. That same book went on to claim that the two accounts were written by different authors and that the order of events just don’t line up. Let’s discuss these ideas in turn.

  1. Was Genesis 1 and 2 written by different authors who were telling different stories? Early Jewish and Christian traditions held that the majority of the first five books of the bible, which we call the Pentateuch, were associated with Moses but in the early 1800s some European Old Testament scholars began to seriously challenge that idea. By the end of the 1800s, a theory called the Documentary Hypothesis was introduced and this basically taught that the Pentateuch was written by four or more authors/editors who lived long after Moses and that the supernatural events it records are not historical. Other than an obvious anti-supernatural bias, there were two reasons for these conclusions. First, there are some stylistic differences in the text and second, God is called by different names in the various portions. For example, in Genesis 1, God is referred to as “Elohim”. In chapter 2, he’s called “Yahweh”. This led some to see this as evidence that we have two different authors, which gave them the idea that these are two separate creation accounts. Genesis 1 gives us a more broad and chronological description of the creation days and it uses the more general term for the creator God “Elohim”. Genesis 2 zooms in and gives us a more focused look at the sixth day of creation and it expounds more upon what happened as humans were created, placed in the garden and began their relationship with God. This might be why Moses used God’s personal name here “Yahweh”. Regarding stylistic differences, it’s really not that unusual for an author to vary their writing style based on what they’re writing. I know this from personal experience. There are certain types of things I’ll write where I’m trying to stay as condensed and succinct as possible. I don’t tend to give a lot of details or tell a lot of personal stories, I don’t get too deep in the weeds of the different objections and counter-objections. However when I wrote my book, I knew I had a lot more space to convey the point that I was trying to make. I wanted to write it in a casual voice that would feel like you’re having a conversation with me and I can totally see how someone might read one of my blog posts and read my book and think this was written by two different authors. In the same way, the first five books of the old testament cover all kinds of different materials. It’d be natural for the author to use one style for writing history, another style for writing laws and penalties, and even another when describing the intricate details of the sacrificial system. But the most powerful evidence for Mosaic authorship in my opinion is the evidence found within the bible itself. The Pentateuch claims this in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, along with other Old Testament authors like Joshua, Ezra and Daniel. In the New Testament, Peter and Paul refer to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch and Jesus does also in all four gospels.
  2. Let’s take a look at that second claim. Are Genesis 1 and 2 actually contradictory stories? The only way these can be seen as contradictory is just to assume that they’re meant to be understood both as a chronological treatment of the creation narrative. But Genesis 1 is more of a broad chronological helicopter-style flyover of the creation account – it even lists the actual creation days in numerical order – whereas Genesis 2 zooms in for a closer look at day six. But even with this in mind, people still get tripped up on some details. Here’s one of the most common and difficult ones.

Genesis 1:11 says this: Then God said “Let the earth produce vegetation, seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth, bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds and it was so.” Then in Genesis 2:5 it says “No shrub of the field had yet grown on the land and no plant of the field had yet sprouted for the Lord God had not made it rain on the land and there was no man to work the ground.” Upon first glance, Genesis 1 seems to be saying that vegetation was created on day 3 before man, and Genesis 2 seems to be saying that vegetation didn’t exist before man. So which is it? If we look at the word order and structure of the sentence in Genesis 2, the reason that no shrub of the field and plant of the field had grown was because there had been no rain or man to till the ground. These particular types of plants required both. I say “these particular types” because Genesis 2 mentions two types of plants that aren’t mentioned in Genesis 1. This suggests that whatever kind of plants these were, they were designed specifically for man to tend. Bible scholar Michael Kruger wrote this: Be assured that there is no contradiction between Genesis 2:5 and Genesis 1 because Genesis 2:5 is speaking of entirely different types of plants. It’s only these particular plants designed for mankind that will spring up after man.

Another common misunderstanding occurs because Genesis 1 says that the animals were created on day 6 before man but Genesis 2:19 says this “So the Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky and brought each to the man to see what he would call it.” Did man already exist when God made the animals? The short answer is “no”. In Hebrew there’s no separate plu-perfect verb tense so this means that distinguishing chronology isn’t quite as simple in Hebrew as it is in English. Here’s an example John Lennox gives in his book Seven Days That Divide The World. Jim bought a car. He drove it home. You ask where he keeps it. He built a garage to put it in. He built the garage when he brought it home? No, the garage was actually already there. The fact could have been made clearer in English by using the plu perfect tense “he had built” rather than using the simple past tense “he built”. There’s good reason to translate these verses in the plu perfect sense as the NIV and ESV have and it goes like this: God had formed the animals and brought them to man instead of God formed. 

There’s no chronological disagreement here. When we hear a skeptic claim about the bible, sometimes it’s just easy to go with the flow and throw up your hands and say it doesn’t really matter. Investigation takes hard work but in my years of study, I’ve learned that if I’ll put in the effort and energy, it always turns out that the one who needs correcting is always me, not the bible.