Does the Book of Genesis Contradict Itself?

Does Genesis 1 Tell a Different Story of Creation than Genesis 2?

Does the story of creation told in Genesis chapter one contradict what is written in Genesis chapter two? For many non-believers, and some people of faith, the two stories of creation recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis are somewhat confusing. Does the Bible contradict itself from the very beginning? Or is there a logical and reasonable explanation for the apparent differences?

First we will look at the story and order of creation as told in Genesis chapter one. The process, as most everyone knows, took six days with the seventh day reserved for rest.

  • Day One - Light is created.
  • Day Two - Heaven and earth are separated.
  • Day Three - Dry lands, sea, plants and tress are created.
  • Day Four - The Sun, moon and stars are placed in the sky.
  • Day Five - All creatures that live in the sea and fly in the sky are created.
  • Day Six - Land animals are created and spread across the earth - then man is created.
  • Day Seven - God rested from His work on creation
In Genesis chapter two we see what some believe is a second account or telling of the creation story. The primary area of concern comes in verse nineteen. In this verse we hear of the creation of the land animals which in chapter two seems to come after the creation of man. If this is accurate, it is obviously a contradiction between the two chapters. The vast majority of scholars insist chapter two is not a second version of the creation story, it is instead a review of day six from chapter one. Here we will briefly look at several possible solutions and explanations for these passages.

In chapter two we see the creation of the Garden of Eden which was not created in chapter one. The Garden of Eden was not a new creation element as it used elements which were previously created. This makes it obvious Chapter Two is not simply a retelling of Chapter One but instead includes additional details of creation. At the end of day six God created man, basically His last item to be created. Much like the Garden of Eden comes in after the individual elements were created, once man is created, God brings the animals He had previously created before Adam for review and naming.  

"Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper ]suitable for him.” And out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal 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 livestock, and to the birds of the sky, and to every animal of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him." - Genesis 2:18-20

The important question is, are these the same animals Chapter One tells us were created on day five, or is this verse telling us God created the animals after He created man? If so, this is indeed a direct contradiction to what we read in chapter one. Critics insist this is indeed a contradiction and proof the Bible's story of creation cannot be trusted or taken seriously. Are they correct in their concerns and doubts?

Many Bible scholars will tell you verse nineteen should not be read as a story of the creation of the animals, but of a reintroduction of the animals that had been created on day five. The focus of the passage is the fact the animals are brought before Adam, establishing man's domination over the animals by giving them names. Obviously chapter one is a very broad overview of the creation of the entire universe as well as all life an Earth. Chapter two offers slightly more details which includes the story of Adam's interaction with the animals. This takes place after God places Adam in the Garden of Eden. 

A small number of Bible scholars believe both verses refer to the creation of animals. Their theory claims most animals were created in chapter one, then in chapter two God created additional animals which were brought before Adam. In this theory all of the animals created on day six were brought to Adam, but not all of the animals God had created previously. As mentioned, this theory is not widely accepted. Obviously however, if this is correct, it removes the contradiction. This is far from the only possible solution to the problem.

Another small group tells us the author of Genesis, traditionally Moses, was not at all concerned with giving a proper chronological order to creation. His primary concern is giving us a brief written account of how God created the Heavens and the Earth. In the Genesis narrative, according to some, the order of events is not important, thus we should not be concerned with these apparent contradictions since no exact order of events was ever intended. While this train of thought removes the problem of a contradiction, it basically does so by ignoring it completely.

As with many things, the simplest solution is the most likely to be correct. Many scholars believe this is the case here as well. The problem lies not with the content of the bible, but the modern translation of the text. It is felt the proper translation of the verb "formed" should be a pluperfect. This would change the reading of the verb from, formed, to had formed. 

 “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field."  

“And out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field."

[Pluperfect - telling of an action completed prior to some past point in time.]

If this theory of an error in translation is correct then it removes any potential contradiction. Supporters of the pluperfect translation insist anyone who argues against the change in the verb does so with an empty argument. While this relatively minor change in the modern translation does resolve the problem, is it the correct solution to the apparent contradiction?

A often overlooked element of the Genesis narrative is the very first line. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This is not a title to the chapter, it is a statement. Is this first sentence telling us God created everything in a single moment, or perhaps over a longer period of time, and the remainder of the creation story is just filling in the details?

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." - Genesis 1:1-2

In this opening we see the earth already exists as does water, all before day 1, but in Chapter One the seas are not created until day 3. Is this a contradiction beyond what we see in chapter 1 and 2? Did creation take place in stages? Is this opening statement just an overview before the details are revealed? Or could it be the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis are written in a narrative style that is no longer used or fully understood? After all, it was written more than 3,000 years ago. This is yet another possibility of the creation story, that God worked in stages and each stage or phase of creation is recorded in its own unique way. This theory proposes that prior to day one God had already created the heavens and the earth, then the story picks up from there. This not only does not resolve the apparent contradiction, but actually creates additional problems. It is considered by many that creation was not done in six 24 hour days, but happened over a much longer period of time. Regardless of how long God took to complete the creation process, you would expect the order in which they took place to be recorded correctly.

While many different scholars, critics and believers struggle to resolve the issue, the truth is very likely a combination of all these theories. The most probable explanation is that Genesis chapter two is not a re-telling of creation, it is a more detailed re-cap of just a portion of Genesis chapter one. Day six was likely deemed more important since it involved the creation of man and thus received slightly more attention. The two should not be considered two versions of the same event, but rather a retelling of the same event, with no real contradictions. 

Did you enjoy this article? Follow this Blog to get new posts sent to you.


Through the Ages

  Geologic Time 4.6 Million B.C. -to- 2.6 Million B.C. Stone Age Palaeolithic 2.6 Million B.C. -to- 10,000 B.C. Mesolithic 10,000 B.C. -to- ...