Published: 8 February 2021

Are There Two Creation Stories In Genesis?

In Genesis 1 God is called Elohim whereas in Genesis 2 He is called Yahweh. In Genesis 1 the creation order is plants, animals, then man and woman. In Genesis 2 the order is man, plants, then animals. In Genesis 1 God created man and woman at the same time, but in Genesis 2 He created man alone and later made a woman from the man’s side. Genesis 1 is more structured and formulaic while Genesis 2 has a narrative style.

Based on these textual differences some people have concluded that there are two distinct creation stories. Furthermore, it is reasoned that the stories were written by two different authors with two different agendas. Others portray these differences as contradictions arguing this is evidence that the Bible is nothing more than a book of ancient myths and fables. 

The literary structure of Genesis

Each book of the Bible has a literary form. Scholars and textual analysts have observed a structure composed of sequences and recursions in Genesis. The sequences advance the narrative forward in time and the recursions backup in time to focus on a different character or event.  

Most Christians believe that Genesis 2 is a recap of Genesis 1 where Moses goes into more detail about the events of creation. Those who argue in favor of two creation stories say that nowhere else in Genesis is there a narrative which goes into greater detail (recapitulation) about a previously documented event. Therefore, it is reasoned that Genesis 2 is probably not a recapitulation of Genesis 1.

Implications of the two creations view

If Genesis 1 and 2 are not telling the same story, some interesting implications arise. The most obvious consequence of this view is that God created an unknown number of humans in Gen 1:26-27. Adam and Eve presumably were created later since their origins were recorded in the second creation story. 

The pros of this view is that it offers a good explanation of where Cain got his wife (Gen 4:17). The existence of other people meant he could avoid marrying a sister or niece. A pre-existing population reveals who might potentially retaliate against Cain for killing Abel (Gen 4:14). The presence of others also offers an answer about who the people were that populated the city Cain built (Gen 4:17). 

Admittedly the pros of this view are attractive. However, I do not believe they are compelling enough to toss out the traditional view of one creation account told from two perspectives. I acknowledge there are no other recaps in Genesis, but I would argue that Genesis 2 is, nevertheless, a recapitulation of chapter 1. Here’s why: 

General to specific

Some of the ideas we are introduced to in Genesis 1 are explained in more detail in chapter 2. For example, Gen 1:1 tells us that it was elohim doing the creating. 

“In the beginning, God [elohim] created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1 ESV)

Most of us have been taught that elohim is a name for God. This is true, but doesn’t tell the whole story. 

“The biblical writers refer to a half-dozen different entities with the word elohim. By any religious accounting, the attributes of those entities are not equal. 

  • Yahweh, the God of Israel (thousands of times— e.g., Gen 2:4– 5; Deut 4:35) 
  • The members of Yahweh’s council (Psa 82:1, 6) 
  • Gods and goddesses of other nations (Judg 11:24; 1 Kgs 11:33)
  • Demons (Hebrew: shedim— Deut 32:17) 
  • The deceased Samuel (1 Sam 28:13) 
  • Angels or the Angel of Yahweh (Gen 35:7)”[1]Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (p. 30). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.

Elohim is not God’s proper name. The word elohim is a generic term which the Old Testament applies to many spiritual beings. Yahweh is known as Elohim because He is a spiritual being. However, He is not just any spiritual being, he is THE spiritual being and no other elohim is His equal. 

An ancient reader of Genesis 1 would see that elohim is creating the world and he or she would have said, “Which elohim is doing this?” Genesis chapter 2 tells us that the elohim doing this great work was none other than Yahweh:

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD [Yahweh] God [elohim] made the earth and the heavens.” (Gen. 2:4 ESV)

With this verse we have gone from the generic (elohim) in chapter 1 to the specific (Yahweh) in chapter 2. By the way, in most English translations of the Bible, “LORD” in all caps signifies God’s proper name: Yahweh.

Regarding the phrase “These are the generations” the NET Bible translators have this to say:

“The Hebrew phrase אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת (ʾelleh tolᵉdot) is traditionally translated as “these are the generations of” because the noun was derived from the verb “beget.” Its usage, however, shows that it introduces more than genealogies; it begins a narrative that traces what became of the entity or individual mentioned in the heading. In fact, a good paraphrase of this heading would be: “This is what became of the heavens and the earth,” for what follows is not another account of creation but a tracing of events from creation through the fall and judgment (the section extends from 2:4 through 4:26). See M. H. Woudstra, “The Toledot of the Book of Genesis and Their Redemptive-Historical Significance,” CTJ 5 (1970): 184-89.”[2]Harris, W. Hall, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press; 2005. (emphasis added)

Vegetation to domesticated plants

“When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground,” (Gen. 2:5 ESV)

On day three God made vegetation which provided the basis for food, but chapter two suggests refinement was needed for man to flourish. We see the narrative going from a generic account regarding the function of food, to specifics about domesticated plants which needed humans to tend to them .

The word field in Hebrew is “sadeh” (שָׂדֶה). It means pasture, open fields, land, arable land.[3]Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.6. Leiden: Brill, 2000. The context is calling for the idea of arable land – farm land where cultivated crops are grown. 

Therefore, the text is not speaking about a time prior to vegetation on day 3, but is speaking about a time before there were cultivated plants (agriculture). The reasons given for there being no agriculture is that this was a time before rain and before man existed who would have done the farming. The text has moved us from generic vegetation to a specific kind of vegetation: plants of a farmer’s field. 

“Mankind” to “Adam and Eve”

Genesis 1:27 tells us “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This introduction tells us he made humans, male and female, but doesn’t tell us who or how many. Genesis 2 shares much greater detail about this. We learn the number of humans, their names, more about their roles as God’s image bearers and a little about their mortal nature (made from dust). 

In Hebrew, Eve means “life.” It would seem a bit odd for Adam to give his wife this name if there were other mothers also producing life.

There are indeed reasons in the text that would lead us to think there are two creation stories going on, but none of the reasons are very  compelling. In my opinion, the simpler explanation is that there is one story told in two ways. 

Additional considerations

Clearly, I favor the idea that Adam and Eve were the first humans and all other humans in the world were the result of their procreation. Eve’s name gives credence to this conclusion.

Mother of all living

“The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Gen. 3:20 ESV)

How could it be said that Eve was the mother of all living if there were other humans who were presumably reproducing? This fact really casts doubt on the idea of a second creation where Adam and Eve were created separately from other humans. 

Of course, this also raises the question of how she could be called the mother of all living because at the point in the narrative when Adam named Eve, she was not the mother of anyone. She had not yet had any children. In Hebrew, Eve means “life.” It would seem a bit odd for Adam to give his wife this name if there were other mothers also producing life.

Some versions indicate that she was named Eve because she would become the mother of all living:

And the man calleth his wife’s name Eve: for she hath been mother of all living. (Gen. 3:20 YLT)

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. (Gen. 3:20 NIV)

The NET Bible translator’s notes suggests this was an editorial comment added by the narrator:

“The explanatory clause [because] gives the reason for the name. Where the one doing the naming gives the explanation, the text normally uses “saying”; where the narrator explains it, the explanatory clause is typically used.” [4]Harris, W. Hall, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005.

What this means is that if Adam had been the one who explained why he gave her this name, the Gen 3:20 would read: 

The man named his wife Eve, saying she was the mother of all the living.

Since the Bible uses the word “because” the NET Bible translators conclude that it was the narrator who supplied the reason she was given this name. The narrator was Moses of course, but He wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so in that sense God was responsible for the narration. 

Adam was the first man

“And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1 Cor. 15:45 NKJV)

This seems to be plain enough, and simpler explanations tend to be the correct ones. Paul’s statement here is straight forward. We can have some certainty that Paul wasn’t merely comparing Adam and Jesus’s contributions to God’s story. If he were doing that he could have simply referred to “the first Adam.” By saying “the first man Adam” he is making an additional statement about which human was the first human. 

Does Paul’s wording prove there were no other humans specifically created by God Himself? No, because it could be argued that Adam was the very first man and God subsequently created additional humans. If this were the case, why do we never hear about any of them? None of them are ever named. Only the offspring of Adam and Eve are mentioned in the entire Bible. If God created additional people besides Adam and Eve you would think the Bible would at least mention them. But, it doesn’t. 

Extend grace

Christians who are honest, intelligent, and love God come down on both sides of this. We must be gracious with those whose conclusions differ slightly from our own. Unless I can prove my interpretation, I cannot be dogmatic and draw lines of fellowship. And by prove, I mean that we must be able to demonstrate from the Bible that no other conclusion is possible. Let’s be careful what we call heresy because God commands unity among believers and He didn’t make it an optional command.

References

References
1 Heiser, Michael S.. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (p. 30). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.
2 Harris, W. Hall, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press; 2005.
3 Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.6. Leiden: Brill, 2000.
4 Harris, W. Hall, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005.