Genesis 1 and 2: Two Different Accounts of Creation?
June 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
This discussion was part of a larger debate on gender, but stands alone as a good picture of the argument for 1) an allegorical interpretation of Genesis, and 2) the claim that the 2nd chapter of Genesis is not a more detailed account of the 6th day of creation described in Genesis 1, but a separate, even contradictory, account of creation.
Mike, I’d like to stress the “if” of your assumption that Genesis 2 is an expansion of the 6th day in the original account. In Gen 1 the waters are established in day 1, and vegetation in day 2. In Genesis 2, the account begins with the creation of man “when no plant of the field was yet in the earth…for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth…” (2:5). I find compelling evidence to suggest the presence of two separate sources detailing the same basic story. Other scholars, such as the compilers of the edition of the Bible that I read, would posit that as many as 4 generic types of sources, each of them broken further down into individual manuscripts, comprise what we know today as the canon.
Then again, I’m coming from a very different perspective than you are. I’m approaching this from an almost literary-historical perspective in the vein of my decidedly non-confessional education, as I’m sure you’re approaching the text from within whichever perspective you espouse as a part of your faith and education therein. I think mostly my point is that I personally find it hard to understand a literal interpretation of the Bible as the word of God when the two of us aren’t even reading it in its original language or context. Again I don’t want to preclude the possibility altogether or antagonize you in any way, I’d just like to hear your thoughts on the matter because frankly we aren’t ever taught the other side of most of these debates and I’m not entirely satisfied with that fact.
Simon touches on this a bit in his last post, but I feel that there is indeed compelling reason to doubt that Genesis 2 is not simply a detailed account of Genesis 1. In fact, many biblical scholars will agree that they are two completely separate accounts of creation with two different authors. Essentially, different stories are being told with different reasons behind telling each story. In fact, as far as I can tell, there is not an Adam in the Genesis 1 account to compare to the Adam of Genesis 2. And is the story not a more beautiful piece of literature when one sees the characters Adam and Eve as archetypal figures, especially in light of what is to come later in the biblical narrative? I respect your beliefs and know that I can’t argue you into another one, so this isn’t the goal I have in mind, but if you are willing to, try approaching the Bible from a different perspective; I don’t believe you have to drop your faith to be able to do so.
Simon and Tanya, I appreciate your comments, this is healthy discussion. I do see the dilemma that 2:5 poses and I admit at first look it appears to contradict the order of Creation (plants before man) in chapter 1. Sometimes I wish I could conjure up the original manuscript and an ancient scribe to read it for me :). But from what we have available, here’s what I’ve found. Genesis 1 describes God creating vegetation (1:11-13)…
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. The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Evening came, and then morning: the third day.
And Genesis 2:5, in a couple translations…
Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground… (NIV)
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. (HCSB)
When God created in chapter 1, He created fully-grown animals, plants and people. Stars were already born and casting light, and the moon was already reflecting light. The creatures He made would “swarm”, “fly”, “crawl” (rather than appearing as eggs or infants), etc., the day they were made. Adam was created as an adult, not an embryo. God’s pattern was to create the fully-formed thing with the ability to reproduce after its kind. When 1:11,12 says “Let the earth produce” and “the earth brought forth” vegetation, whether the tree shot out of the ground immediately or merely appeared in the ground as fully grown, we know it was a mature tree the same day it as created, because these plants are described as “seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it.” At creation, they were grown trees ready to produce seeds.
In chapter 2, Adam, on day 6, his first day on earth, would be surrounded by trees and plants, and there was certainly enough water in the ground to sustain them if it hadn’t rained yet by day 6 (we don’t know when the first rains came; we only know they hadn’t yet). Here’s the main point: No NEW plants would have “sprung up” or “sprouted” because those seed bearing plants wouldn’t have had the opportunity to drop seeds and for those seeds to take root and start to appear yet. They hadn’t reproduced. There is also in chapter 2 the context of Adam as a farmer/gardener, so the emphasis seems to be on cultivation. “There was no man to work the ground” (2:5) on day 3. “Then the LORD God formed the man…” at 2:7, which is the focal point of the narrative of chapter 2.
I agree that teaching on Scripture is often very one-sided and it is important to consider different perspectives. There is definitely value in searching lexicons, learning Hebrew and Greek and studying earlier manuscripts, but at the outset, I wouldn’t prescribe anything other than simply reading. Reading as you would any other piece of literature. I have actually tried reading Genesis and other texts as if they were allegorical. The problem I run into is that Genesis simply doesn’t read like allegory. It reads like history. The Epic of Gilgamesh is obviously not history. Literary style, even in other languages and cultures is very telling. When you read a fiction novel, you don’t need to be told it’s fiction. When you read poetry, you know not to take the imagery as literal, but to look for its meaning. Apply the same when reading books, personal letters, instruction manuals, news reports, blogs… The Bible contains history, poetry, prophecy, parables, Epistolary writings, and these are evident when we simply read it, rather than read INTO it.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems in understanding, but I think the idea of an allegorical Genesis is unreasonable given the greater context of Scripture. Christianity is meaningless if Adam was not a historical figure, because then there is no sin and therefore no need of Christ’s salvation. If we assume millions of years instead of literal 24-hour days in Genesis 1, we end up with millions of years of death before Adam, death that is said to be from Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12-21). The cause is moved after the effect. Paul obviously had the understanding of a real Adam when he talked about Adam’s real sin as the catalyst of our very real sin problem. As a former Pharisee in the first century, Paul would have had knowledge of and access to a far bigger library of Jewish history than we do, and he speaks of Adam as if he really existed. Jesus Himself spoke of Adam and Eve as historical figures at Creation, not the result of billions of years of evolution… “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female…” (Matt. 19:4). Archetypal figures may make for “a more beautiful piece of literature” to some, but it would be a theological disaster for all. In terms of the Genesis account, there simply isn’t a compelling reason to assume allegory anyway, and I think a straightforward reading suggests the opposite.
Thanks Mike, I appreciate that you took the time to reply.
Thank you, Simon, I’ve enjoyed the discussion!