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What do you think about the two creation stories in Genesis?

What are your thoughts on the fact that there are two creation stories in Genesis?  We see that 1:27 when “male and female” are created together, it’s “very good,” and then all of a sudden with 2:4 we start all over again, with some seemingly significant differences, not the least of which is creating “woman” well after Adam and the rest of the animals. (8/20/2012)

Ooo – excellent question.  This is a great time for it as well, because St. John’s members are supposed to be starting today to read The Story, and of course this is the first question that’s going to come up.

The most interesting thing I learned while searching for an answer is that the tradition that Moses wrote the entire Torah (also called the Pentateuch, that is, Genesis through Deuteronomy) is relatively recent – at least as old as Christianity, but not as old as the Torah itself.[1] In the rare places that the Torah says “Moses wrote…” (Exodus 24:4, Numbers 33:2, Deuteronomy 31:9, and Deuteronomy 31:22), it is always referring to specific passages. I scanned the 79 New Testament verses that refer to Moses, and none of them actually says that he wrote the entire Torah, either.

That leads us to one of the main ideas about why we see two creation stories. If Moses didn’t write it all, somebody else must have put it together. If you look at the Torah in Hebrew, you see a lot of names of God. Two of the most important and most common names are YHWH and Elohim. The vast majority of English translations use God for Elohim and LORD for YHWH.

The passages that these two names are used in are thought by many scholars to contain other significant differences in style, as well as duplications in content. Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 uses the name Elohim 35 times in 34 verses, but it never uses the name YHWH. Starting in verse 2:4, the name used for God is YHWH Elohim. (This is usually translated LORD God.) This compound name is used eleven times in Ch. 2:4 – 2:25, and neither name is used by itself.

Many scholars think this difference (not to mention the fact that there seem to be two creation stories) means that two very old, equally valid, and equally valuable creation stories were known to the Hebrew people. The “Redactors” are the (somewhat hypothetical) editors who a lot of scholars think put together the Torah in its current form, probably around the time of David or Solomon.  The Redactors used both of the two ancient creation accounts.

On the other hand, Everett Fox, a recent translator and commentator for the Torah of the Schocken Bible (1983) sees no problem. Fox sees Genesis as a unified whole, and Chs. 1 – 11 as Part I, “Primeval History,” of this unified whole. (He does not necessarily think that the whole book was written by one person at one time, however.) He says, “Part I is concerned with the origin of the world and its institutions. Chapter 1 expounds on the origins of earth, sky, vegetation, animals, and human beings (as well as the Sabbath); Chapter 2, of sexuality, death, pain in childbirth, and work; Chapter 4, of sin, hatred, and murder ….” Fox also points out that 1:1 – 2:3 are about the origins of “the heavens and the earth,” and focus on God as the only active agent. In 2:4, the focus narrows and emphasizes earth: “At the time of YHWH, God’s making of earth and heaven…” Other characters, notably Adam, Eve, and the serpent, become active in the story.

Both of the possible explanations above come directly out of the Biblical text, the first from differences in style and vocabulary, and the second from the overall progression of Genesis. If you would be interested or amused by a non-Biblical explanation, you can Google “Eve Lilith.” This ancient answer to our fellow-reader’s question explains the two stories by saying that Adam had two wives! I notice that it still doesn’t explain why Adam was “created twice.”

I liked a website about the creation stories that asks rhetorically, if a friend tells you that he planted a tree, and then he mentions that he dug a hole, amended the soil, put in a tree, and watered, do you immediately think that he planted two trees? [2] No, of course not. Having two versions of the creation story should not be alarming or even surprising. We have two versions of the period of the kings: one in 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings and a second, parallel account in 1 and 2 Chronicles. The details and focus often differ, but no one thinks there were two periods of kings, with two Davids and two Solomons! We have four accounts of the ministry of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – but no one thinks there were four ministries! There are numerous examples of parallel accounts in other books as well, e.g., Deuteronomy vs. Genesis through Leviticus; sections of the prophets vs. sections of 1 and 2 Kings; and Acts vs. various letters. Finally, there’s another account of creation itself in Job 38 – 41.

So my thought (which is what I was asked for) is that the Redactors had two very ancient and valuable versions of the story of creation, and they put them both in, arranging them as they did for exactly the reasons given by Fox. Genesis 1 gives the whole big picture in a very formalized way; in the process, it tells us the nature of God and God’s creation. Genesis 2 concentrates on human beings in a more informal way; in the process, it tells us about our appropriate relationship with God. They are only contradictory if you are trying to make a 21st-century do-it-yourself kit for creating the universe out of an ancient text that is actually about the nature of God and humanity.

Offhand, I know of no significant, explicit contradictions between any of the various parallel accounts in the Bible, and certainly there are no contradictions whatsoever that are important to God’s plan for salvation.

1. “Introduction to the Pentateuch,” The Jerusalem Bible, 1966, p. 7.
2. Warning: This website seems to have been written by an attorney. The overall discussion is very intricate.

Copyright 2012, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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