Question: I’ve heard a few people say that the Book of Genesis has two contradictory creation accounts: the first in chapter 1 when God created the animals and then man. The other is in chapter 2 when he created Adam and then the animals. Which one is correct?
Answer: When God mentions that he made man in Genesis chapter 1, he made man in the plural sense; God made humans, he made them male and female. In chapter 2 God breathes into a human and places him in the garden. Some people struggle with chapter 2, sceptics say Genesis chapter 2 was written by someone else who had a different story than the guy who wrote chapter 1, because when you read it in Hebrew chapter 2 says man is made first and then the animals, but in chapter 1 it was the other way around. Some supporters of the Bible say, “It’s just a retelling of chapter 1 and the added English words are there to help us understand the tense.” But chapter 2 stands up on its own without anyone needing to prop it up. Man was made from the ground and so were the animals; it’s not just Genesis chapter 2 that reminds us about that. Abraham called himself dust and ashes (Gen 18:27), and in times of sadness people in the Old Testament would throw dust on their heads. It’s a reminder that we are all made from the dust of the earth and to that dust we must return.
God places a man in the garden who, like all men, had come from the dust of the ground.
Confusion arises in some people’s minds when they read Genesis chapter 2 because biblical Hebrew doesn’t have a pluperfect tense—a fact important for the Bible student to remember. Critics say that Genesis chapter 1 has the animals created before humans but chapter 2 has a human created before the animals; however, that objection disappears once we take into account the absence of pluperfect tense in Hebrew.
Early Hebrew states the completion of an event but leaves the time of the event to be inferred by the context. “Context is king” is a saying that some Bible translators like to use; they say it because it’s true. Hebrew tenses do not convey the time but simply the state of an action. Genesis 2:7 (kjv) says, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This means, “The Lord God, who had previously formed man of the dust . . . ” which is the same as Genesis 2:19 that says, “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them.” The meaning being that the Lord God had previously formed the beasts that we read about in Genesis chapter 1.
In modern English we are able to use the pluperfect tense easily. The pluperfect tense is used to indicate that an action took place before some other action in the past. We use the pluperfect tense when we use the word “had” twice in succession: “Michael arrived smelly at the party last Saturday night because he had had to retrieve his wallet that had fallen into a drain.” There are other ways of using the pluperfect tense: “By the time I made my entrance into the party Michael had left.”
Genesis finds another way of helping us understand the text and that is by believing what is written. If we are looking for faults (using our modern writing techniques perfected by centuries of punctuation) we can find them. But if we believe what Genesis relates, then everything falls neatly into place because “context” makes the story plain. The animals had already been created in chapter 1 before the man was created so we must be using the pluperfect tense when the animals are spoken of in chapter 2.
The writer of Genesis is expecting us to put our own mind into gear when we read his words. Genesis chapter 2 naturally follows chapter 1 chronologically, once we grasp that then the events described in Genesis fall into place historically, scientifically, geographically, and theologically.
Genesis 2:7 reminds us that, yes, God had made men (Adam plural) from the dust of the ground just as he had made the beasts. We then begin to hear about one particular man (Adam singular) whom God takes, or travels with, to the garden he had planted.
There is another way to view the forming of the man in Genesis 2 - what takes place in the garden of Eden has layers to its narrative. When we read in chapter 2 that the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, we can view it in three complimentary ways—yes, we read in Genesis 1 that God did originally cause the land to produce living creatures; that’s one way we can view it.
The second way that Adam, the man, was formed, or as we may put it these days “formatted” was for the specific purpose of God’s Son being born of human offspring.
Thirdly, we can view “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground” in Genesis 2 as the Lord God forming the “character” of Adam, particularly while Adam is going through his early years. All parents have a part to play in forming the character of their children. The word “form” is not used in Genesis 1 when we read that living creatures were created from the ground. The Hebrew word used for “form” relates to the way a potter forms a piece of pottery. In Jeremiah we read, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel” (Jer 18:6). In this verse the Lord is talking about forming the character of the people, he wants to “form” their hearts to be like his own righteous heart. The Hebrew word for “formed” is yatsar and is used when speaking of forming the people of Israel’s character. That process started with Adam who was their forefather. Yatsar is the root word in Genesis chapter 2 and in Jeremiah chapter 18. So forming someone’s character, personality, or spiritual qualities is another way we can view the phrase, “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.”