One major controversy concerning a biblical narrative and its valid or invalid explanation of nature is the dispute over the creation accounts put forth in the first and second chapters of Genesis. There has been much debate as to whether these two chapters are contradictory or complementary. Some of those with the former view insist that, due to the seeming differences, more than one author is involved, neither of which was aware of what the other wrote.
Traditionally, though, Moses has been taken to be the writer of both accounts. If so, why do there appear to be differences between the chronologies of chapters one and two? Upon superficial reading, the following seems to be the order of events of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, with direct comparison easily seen:
|Genesis 1: Order of Events||Genesis 2: Order of Events|
|1) heavens and earth created||1) heavens and earth created|
|2) light shines on earth||2) plant life appears|
|3) light divided from darkness||3) man (male only) created|
|4) firmament divided||4) animal life created|
|5) land separated from water|
|6) plant life appears|
|7) sun, moon, and stars appear|
|8) animal life created|
There do appear to be differences in the two accounts. The main difference is that, in the Genesis 1 account, animal life came into existence (1:20-25) before mankind (both male and female) did (1:26,27); whereas, in the Genesis 2 account, it looks as though man was created (2:7) before the animals (2:19a), and after that woman was formed (2:22a). Why the discrepancy? Actually, there is none.
The first chapter of Genesis, a chronolog (an account of events in chronological order), is a general overview of the creative activity of God. It is a sequential sketch, an outline. Other things (for example, dinosaurs) came into being at this time. But if everything that God made during His creative process had been written down, it no doubt would have taken many volumes to contain it.
On the other hand, the second chapter of Genesis focuses primarily on God’s final (and greatest) creation, mankind, and on mankind’s interaction with God’s other creations. In Genesis 2:19a, the verb “formed” (or “had formed” in the NIV) is the pluperfect tense of the verb, implying that what follows (that is, “all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air”) had already been formed at some point in the past.
Because Genesis 2 is consistent with and complementary to Genesis 1, we know that the animals were made before Adam was created. Then the animals were brought to Adam to be named (Genesis 2:19bc). However, no suitable helper for Adam could be found among the animals (2:20b); so God placed Adam in a deep sleep, removed one of his ribs (or a part of his side), formed Eve, and brought her to him—and Adam named her “woman” (2:21-23).
Whether one believes in a creative period of six literal 24-hour days or in six “age-days” should make no difference in perceiving Genesis 2 as being an account consistent with Genesis 1. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, who believe that God created in six 24-hour days, sum up well their view of the consistency between the two chapters:
The material dealing with the creation in the first two chapters of Genesis should be treated as a unit for a correct understanding of the creation and its theological teachings. The second account is complementary to the first, dealing more fully with the creation of our first ancestors, while the initial account gives a description of the world which was being fashioned for Adam and Eve to occupy.A much more detailed explanation is given in a chapter entitled, “Don’t Genesis one and two contain two contradictory accounts of creation?” in McDowell and Stewart’s book, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask about the Christian Faith. Similarly, Hugh Ross, who opts for the six “age-days” (billions of years) of creation, states this:
Without question, the description of creation in Genesis 1 is markedly different from that in Genesis 2. However, an examination of the point of view in each passage clarifies why. Genesis 1 focuses on the physical events of creation; Genesis 2, on the spiritual events. More specifically, Genesis 1 describes those miracles God performed to prepare the earth for mankind. Genesis 2 presents God’s assignment of authority and responsibility.Misunderstanding of the creation chronicle (Genesis 1) and development (Genesis 2) has prevented many from taking seriously the rest of what the Bible has to say. By accepting the explanations put forth above as plausible, hopefully many skeptics will be able to open their minds to consider additional Bible messages and revelations as cogent and believable.
Careful attention to verb tenses and to the purpose of each account eliminates any supposed contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2. Plants, rain, man, animals, and woman are subjects of discussion in Genesis 2, but creation chronology is not the issue. The man (Adam) simply interacts first with the plants, then with the animals, and last of all, with the woman (Eve). His role with respect to each is delineated.