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It is sometimes depicted that the basic argument to read "the creation story" (Genesis 1) as a non literal story are modern science and the evolution theory. But I believe that the biggest problem with a literal view is in the text itself. More specific in the differences between the "creation stories" in Genesis 1 and 2.

Order of Gen 1

Vegetation created:

God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” It was so. The land produced vegetation – plants yielding seeds according to their kinds, and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. God saw that it was good. (1:11)

Human created:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” (1:26)

Order of Gen 2

No vegetation:

Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. (2:5)

Human created:

The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (2:7)

Vegetation created:

The Lord God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.) (2:8-9)

All quotes are from the NET Bible.

Question

Is there a way to make a strong argument that both those stories are to be read literally (as if it was written by a modern historian)? How could those different accounts be merged?

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Coming from a tradition where the Bible is read very literal I try to do just that whenever I feel it's true to the text. But I tend to (in the light of these differences) argue that though these text certainly are "true" they are not written as "history" in a modern sense. I do believe that it's hard to find compelling reasons to merge the two stories. You can of course use the explanation that they are seen from different perspective and if we had ALL the context we would see how they fit together. But I really have a hard time seeing how they would harmonize. Though I love too... –  Niclas Nilsson Nov 28 '12 at 14:59
    
I belive the message is not HOW the world was made, but WHY and WHAT IT MEANS. –  Niclas Nilsson Nov 28 '12 at 14:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Complete order of events:

  1. I built my house
  2. I had a truck load of plants delivered
  3. I built the driveway
  4. I planted plants along the driveway and around the house

Account of contractor #1:

  1. House was built
  2. Plants were truckloaded in
  3. Driveway was built

Account of contractor #2:

  1. House was built
  2. Driveway was built
  3. Plants were planted around the house

Complaint by town inspection officer:

The stories of both contractors are not consistent. One says plants came first. The other says plants came after the driveway. Which is which?

My take:

I don't understand why people are making a big stink about the creation order just as the allegorical town inspector is making a big stink about the order of vegetation.

Does planting vegetation actually mean truckloading them in too?

People are concocting iotas where none should exist. I remember some religious scriptures warning against creating non-existing iotas.

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+1 I do think it's a compelling explanation even thought I don't buy into it 100%. I wonder thought what "I had a truck load of plants delivered" could possibly correspond to in the creation stories? That God placed them on earth without planting them? Of course, you can't know and I can't, so maybe it's just a stupid question. But I love if you give it a shoot. –  Niclas Nilsson Nov 28 '12 at 19:36
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He created vegetation and had them planted on Mars. Or any where besides the garden. –  Blessed Geek Nov 29 '12 at 0:36
    
LOL. Ok I really hope the mars rovers find some traces ;) –  Niclas Nilsson Nov 29 '12 at 7:12

The two creation accounts are not meant to tell history. They are meant to tell the message of God, i.e., mankind can be a divine being if God wills, that mankind can be like God. That is why God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. The first creation account tells the sequence of creation whether it happened in a literal 6 days of 24 hours each day or millions of years for each day it does not matter. God rested on the 7th day. On the day following the 7th day (that is the 8th+ day described in Genesis 2) God formed a man, God picked this man named Adam from a bunch of men and breathed into his nostril the breath of (referring to eternal, not physical) life. God made this man divine like Himself having not only the “image” but also the “likeness” of God. That is why God said let us make man in our image after our likeness. The two creation stories is not about telling the history of humankind but to send mankind God’s message i.e. the reason why I, you, them and all mankind were created is that God wants us to be like Himself.

The second account is completely different in location and in time and in subject person from the first account. It is all about creation of an ordinary man and forming him into a divine being and putting him into paradise, the appropriate word is “Heaven” the home base of God represented by the Garden of Eden.

The first account is the creation of human being having only the image and not the likeness of God that is why it is said Gen 1:27:

So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

The plan of God is to created mankind having not only the image but also the likeness of Himself (Gen 1:26) but this plan of God was not manifested in Genesis 1 but in Genesis 2 that is why it is written in Gen 5:1 “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him.” KJ Version. This verse is referring particularly to Adam and not to all mankind in Gen 1. “Image” and “Likeness” are completely different from each other, Image is referring to what we see physically and likeness is referring to what is inside our mind and heart. To be like God is having the will that wills the will of God, because God is Will. To be like God is to be a divine being having eternal life. Whatever God wills it happens.

In Gen 2, it is all about the paradise like the plants, the herbs, the rain, the man that is needed to till the ground, are all figure of speech. They are not meant to be translated literally. How about the mentioning of the animals. Are there animals in heaven. The word animals are referring to the angels in heaven. How about the mentioning of the dust of the ground that God formed into man. It is referring to the spiritual body and not the mortal body of Adam that God formed. And how about Eve, causing Adam fall into deep sleep and taking one of his ribs to create a woman. It was referring to the final stage of God’s forming the soul of Adam into divinity, giving him eternal life, a living saint while still living on earth and it is said that Adam was walking with God in heaven. How about the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Were those trees really existing? Physically no, spiritually yes. This is what it means, Adam while in heaven spiritually has two choices, to retain his being holy by walking side by side with God doing the will of God (here represented by the tree of life) or to go against the will of God (represented by the tree of knowledge of good and evil).

I am here trying to explain that the creation mentioned in Genesis 2 has nothing to do with that in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2, Adam was created in different location, different time and not the same man created in Genesis 1. Adam had eternal life, a divine being while in the garden. How about eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge … God said to Adam On the day you eat of it you will surely die. After Adam ate of it Adam did not die though physically, but the cause of his fall from heaven down back to earth but did not die though but survive the deep fall not even a scratch. What died in Adam was his eternal life, his being holy that is why it is said Gen 3:22 KJV And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever (like he used to in paradise), so God put a guard so Adam could not reach his hand to the tree of life and eat of it and live forever again, meaning regain his eternal life.

What matters much is the message God wants to send to us, if God wills while still living in this physical world God can make us elevate to spiritual world and walk with Him in heaven. How, by elevating our faith. That is the message of the two creation stories.

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Hello and welcome to BH. You've indirectly answered part of the question, by saying that chapter 2 happened on day 8+. Could you expand on that to also talk about the rest of chapter 2 -- how do you reconcile the differences in vegetation, for instance? Also, as a style thing, all-caps sounds like shouting so when you edit your answer, could you alter that formatting? Thanks. Finally, this site does not presume any doctrine, christian or otherwise, and your answer would be much stronger if you removed the final two words and focused on Genesis. –  Gone Quiet Jun 17 '13 at 12:52
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Hi Roberto and thanks for coming back to this answer. I edited this post to add paragraphs and make a few minor formatting changes. You might benefit from our formatting suggestions or the more general editing help. –  Jon Ericson Jun 19 '13 at 16:09

This is a very big question, and I'm not even going to attempt to answer all of it here. I will observe, however, that these accounts have in fact been harmonized quite successfully by noting differences in location as well as difference in terminology.

For instance, I point out that the supposedly late "vegetation" of 2:8–9 which you refer to is clearly talking about the Garden of Eden, as shown in your own quotation.

There are also explanatory things in the second account that should give us pause. For example, when 2:5 speaks of vegetation that had not come up, it apparently accounts for this by referring to two factors: no rain (although the ground did get moisture via another source, according to the next verse), and no man to work the ground. That's the sort of cue that an interpreter should question. Does this mean that what is in view is specifically something related to agricultural activity, rather than just a generic, blanket statement about all vegetation.

As I said, that is just an example. There are a lot of small details in these texts, and reading them correctly will entail a lot of evaluation on both broad and narrow levels.

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Also the two kinds of vegetation here are specified as "of the field." –  Frank Luke Jun 19 '13 at 13:53

Short Answer: The two accounts can be matched up with little difficulty. The focus of Genesis 2 merely expands on "Day 6" of creation. (This just leaves the question of Genesis 2:5, which is clearly just a commentary on the state of the earth at some point prior to the creation of man. So if the shrubs of 2:5 are included in the food of 1:11 then 2:5 is describing the state prior to 1:11. If they are different, then this is just a strategic point of reference for Moses' post-Fall audience.)


Let's start by examining the two sections carefully.

Genesis 1

Here is the chronology from Genesis 1:

  • Day 1: God creates light, and separates it from darkness

  • Day 2: God creates heaven to separate the lower waters from the upper waters

  • Day 3: God gathers the lower waters together, exposing dry land, and creates seed-bearing and fruit-bearing vegetation (for food for all the creatures of the earth)

  • Day 4: God creates the luminaries in the heavens to serve as lights, clocks, and calendars

  • Day 5: God creates the fish and birds

  • Day 6: God creates the land animals and man

  • Day 7: God rested

Genesis 1 definitely reads like a chronological account of the creation of the heavens and the earth. That is reason enough to consider the possibility that this is what it was intended to be. The reason it is not typically taken as such is that many interpreters know that it is "true" in some way, and yet also "know" that it could not possibly be literal, historical, or chronological. (Or so they were taught.)

Genesis 2

Here is the chronology from Genesis 2:

  • No shrub of the field was in the earth, and no plant of the field had sprouted because there was no rain, nor were there people to cultivate the ground

  • God formed Adam

  • God planted the Garden of Eden for Adam and stocked it with every tree that was good and pleasant

  • God placed Adam in the Garden

  • God decided to make Adam a helper, and started by bringing every kind of bird and beast out of the ground and to Adam so he could name them

  • God made Eve

The focus of this chapter is clearly on the creation of Adam and Eve and the Garden paradise that God made for them to dwell in. The previous chapter covered the creation of the entire universe. The next chapter covers Adam and Eve falling into sin, the cursing of the ground, and their exile from the Garden. If we follow the flow of the narrative through the first 3 chapters of Genesis it is easy to see that Genesis 2 expands on Genesis 1 and prepares the reader for Genesis 3.

Can They Be Merged?

As mentioned, Genesis 1 is presented to the reader as a chronological account of the creation of the universe (with a heavy focus on man and man's perspective.) Genesis 2 is presented to the reader as an account of the creation of Adam and Eve and the original Garden paradise. Genesis 3 is presented to the reader as a grand "mucking up" of everything good that God made.

With that in mind, we can start by recognizing a few things:

  • The main focus of Genesis 2 is the creation of Adam and Eve. This took place during "Day 6" of the Genesis 1 account.

  • The purpose of Genesis 2 is to prepare the reader to understand Genesis 3, not to provide stale historical records for future generations to fill their heads with. Everything mentioned in Genesis 2 is strategic, with an eye toward Genesis 3 and beyond.

  • The audience of Genesis 1-3 lived after the Fall and did not experience life during the Creation Week, or life in the Garden paradise.

So we can attempt an initial chronology based on these two accounts:

  • God made light, heaven, and dry land

  • God made seed-bearing and fruit-bearing vegetation for food

  • God made fish, birds, and land animals

  • God made Adam

  • God made the Garden of Eden and placed Adam there

  • God had Adam name the animals and then He made Eve

So the two chronologies mesh perfectly. At this point the only real question is what Genesis 2:5 means:

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.

The question is how does this affect our chronology? Actually, the answer is pretty simple: It doesn't! We already know that the author is going back and elaborating on stuff that had already been described in the previous chapter, so all that this verse is saying is that at some point prior to the creation of man the "shrubs of the field" and "plants of the field" had not yet sprouted. And actually, we already knew that from Genesis 1.

Supplementary Discussion

Of course, this leaves us with an obvious question: Why did Moses include Genesis 2:5 at the beginning of his account of the creation of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.

The easy answer is that he is presenting the earth as a place void of man, and then proceeds to describe the creation of man. But there may in fact be an additional reason. Genesis 3 touches on trees, Adam, Eve, cursed ground, and exile from Eden. Genesis 2 touches on trees, Adam, Eve, and Eden. Verse 5 may in fact touch on the "cursed ground."

After the Fall, the ground was cursed, and it was by thorns and hard work that the earth would yield its fruit. Before sin, God placed man in a garden where every pleasant and good tree was provided to them by God for food. Moses wants us to see the contrast there. Verse 5 may simply be a reference for his post-Fall audience to recall that the land at that time was not yet full of the thorns and "shrubs of the field" and "plants of the field" which required rain and cultivation before they could sprout.

So then, the point of Genesis 2:5 is not to claim that in Day 6 of the creation week there was not yet any vegetation on the earth (Moses is not an idiot!)... but rather, he is explaining to his readers that originally, before sin (and before man was on the earth,) the effects of the curse were not yet in the earth, and God provided for His creation perfectly.

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