A Tale of Two Stories
Ever met someone who said you shouldn’t trust the Bible because of contradictions in the text?
I remember talking with a skeptic I’ll call “Julie” while travelling to Northern California from down south. I don’t remember how the conversation began, but I do remember that she was pretty sure that we couldn’t trust anything written in the Bible. Why? She told me it was “because the Bible contradicts itself right from the beginning!”
I guess she’d read something about there being a contradiction in Genesis but she couldn’t quite remember what the problem was. I asked her what she meant by that and eventually she said, “In chapter 1, God made Eve before Adam, but in chapter 2, God made Adam before Eve.”
I gave her a kind of a curious smile and asked, “Really? Could you show that to me?”
I turned to Genesis 1 and handed her my Bible. Of course, she couldn’t find what she was looking for, because it’s just not there.
Answering the Challenge of “Two Different Creation Stories”
In this post, I’ll share two alleged contradictions in Genesis 1 and 2 and an easy way to look into them so you’ll be ready if this whole idea of two different creation stories comes up in conversation.
Why write about two challenges in one post? Because I think Julie heard them both, got confused, and they somehow got merged into one problem in her mind.
Challenge 1: When Did God Create Eve?
The first challenge I think Julie heard is the allegation that God created Adam and Eve at the exact same time in Genesis 1 and that this contradicts the account of Eve being created after Adam in Genesis 2.
The thing is, Genesis 1 doesn’t say anything about who God created first. Here’s what Genesis 1:27 says (NASB):
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
All this says is that God is the one who created humankind—which is what the first word, “man” actually refers to. I like how the NET Bible brings this out by translating the first part like this: “God created humankind in his own image.” So God created both male and female humans. It’s just a general statement that doesn’t say anything about who God made first.
Genesis opens up with a broad, birds-eye view of the action in chapter one before featuring the narrative of Adam and Eve in chapter 2.
“We have this whole universe in Genesis 1:1 through 2:3. And then Genesis 2:4 goes on and really zeros down into (God’s) work of humanity.”
A Close-Up Shot
I like how Dr. Darrell Bock compares this to a movie, where the first chapter shows the reader a huge, panoramic shot and then chapter two zooms in for a fuller, close-up of something just briefly mentioned in chapter one. He put it like this on the podcast with Dr. Averbeck:
Genesis 1 is the big sweep and Genesis 2 is the zeroing in with the camera and zooming in, if you will, and saying, ‘Let’s talk about this one aspect of this creation.’
So I think Julie got this “When did God make Eve?” thing confused with another challenge I sometimes hear when it comes to the Genesis creation account. And this second one is all about when God made animals.
Challenge 2: When Did God Create Animals?
Other skeptics say, “Look, these two creation accounts are still two, very different—in fact, contradictory—-stories.” The second challenge I think Julie heard is that God created animals before man in chapter 1, but that He created animals after man in the chapter 2.
Here’s what Genesis 2:19-20 records (NASB):
 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.
 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.
It doesn’t seem like the writer had any kind of chronological intent here. Verse 19 is just a literary summary of what God already made in chapter one. Kind of interesting how the fact that verse 19 doesn’t mention cattle supports this idea. How?
The late Umberto Cassuto, who was a Professor of Bible at Hebrew University of Jerusalem explained this exact thing in his work, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis:
In vs. 19 only the beasts of the field and the flying creatures of the air are referred to, and no mention whatsoever is made of the cattle…If the term beasts had been used here, or beasts of the earth, one might have assumed that it included cattle as well; but the expression beasts of the field is actually an antonym of cattle…
in v. 20, the first category of creatures to be named by man is precisely the cattle…the cattle were already to be found with man in the garden of Eden, and there was no need to create them and bring them before him (129).
“If “beast of the fields” is the total opposite of “cattle” in the Hebrew mindset, then the whole “When did God make the animals?” challenge pretty much goes away.” No contradiction with Genesis 1. God made the animals before he made Adam. No problem.
So it turns out there’s not two different, contradictory creation stories. There’s no contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2 after all. Both chapters agree that God created animals before Adam and God made Adam before Eve. Unless you’re looking for ways to make something look like a contradiction, there’s no reason to force a chronological intent on a passage when there just isn’t one there.
So what happend with Julie? Well, her initial challenge actually led us into a deeper conversation about who Jesus claimed to be and the historical evidence for His resurrection—two of my favorite topics of conversation!
Two Major Takeaways
Here are a couple of things I hope you take away from this post: First, you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to answer a challenge like the one Julie told me about. Sometimes, just a careful reading of the actual text can go a long way.
And second, you’re probably not going to hear a challenge that no scholar has ever thought about before. If you take the time to do your homework and look it up, you’ll find there are good answers to the hard questions.
Note: The photo of the woman used above is a stock photo called Lunchtime Dreaming, taken from the free stock art Web site, Stock.XCHNG. The link to Cassuto’s work above is an Amazon affiliate link which supports the content on this blog.
Recommended: Podcast on the Historical Adam
Does it really matter if Adam was a real guy? I worked on this video series where Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Richard Averbeck discuss the Historical Adam, focusing on the background of the Genesis creation account in light of other ancient creation stories. Check it out!
Historical Adam and the Ancient Near East
Comparing the Bible to Other Creation Accounts
Genesis in light of other Near East creation stories.
Why Believe in a Historical Adam?
The Image of God and the serpent in Genesis.