Genesis 2:4:

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.(ESV)

(BHS) אֵ֣לֶּה תֹולְדֹ֧ות הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ בְּהִבָּֽרְאָ֑ם בְּיֹ֗ום עֲשֹׂ֛ות יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶ֥רֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם׃

I’m wondering what “these are the generations” refers to. Is it meant as a summary of what precedes it or as an introduction to what follows it?

I’m also not sure what תֹולְדֹ֧ות (tolədôt; ESV, “generations”) refers to in this context. Other translations use “account,” which is clearer but makes me feel like I’m not quite understanding the plural sense of
אֵ֣לֶּה תֹולְדֹ֧ות (ēlleh tolədôt) nor the connection with the basic meaning which apparently has something to do with descent/ancestry.

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    Fun fact: the LXX title "Genesis" comes from the word the LXX uses for toledoth. – Frank Luke Nov 14 '14 at 19:24

(1) [OP] Is it meant as a summary of what precedes it or as an introduction to what follows it?

That's a very good question. On the face of it, it would appear to be an introduction. This formula, usually referred to simply as the "toledot" formula (from the Hebrew ...אֵלֶּה תֹולְדֹות = ʾēlleh tolədôt... "these are the generations of...") occurs a number of times in the Genesis, and a couple of times beyond it:

Primeval History (1:1–11:26)

2:4   These are the generations of the heavens and the earth
5:1   This is the book of the generations of Adam
6:9   These are the generations of Noah
10:1  These are the generations of the sons of Noah
11:10 These are the generations of Shem

Patriarchal History (11:27–50:26)

11:27 These are the generations of Terah
25:12 These are the generations of Ishmael
25:19 These are the generations of Isaac
36:1  These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom)
36:9  These are the generations of Esau
37:2  These are the generations of Jacob

And Beyond...

Num  3:1  These are the generations of Aaron and Moses  
Ruth 4:18 These are the generations of Perez

It's obvious that in every case the formula introduces what follows. Or at least, that seemed obvious until the advent of the Documentary Hypothesis that separated out the sources of the Pentateuch into distinct strands. Those adopting this approach uniformly assigned the Toledot formula (and usually the material attached to it) to the "Priestly" source (known as P).

For most Pentateuchal cases of the Toledot formula (let's call it TF for the rest of this answer), this worked quite well. But Genesis 1-2 presented a particular problem. In the standard source analysis, the P creation account is the one about the "seven days" in Genesis 1, and spilling over into Genesis 2. The at that point, the Yahwist's (known as J, from the German form of the word) account takes over. The "seam" between these two accounts clearly, then, comes in Gen 2:4 itself. In translation:

  • "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created,..."
    • is a P formula of introduction, but the P material precedes it
  • "...in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens."
    • this must then serve as the beginning of the J material that follows

So the standard "scholarly" account has been to say that Gen 2:4a concludes the P creation account, since it is clearly J material that follows. You will typically still see commentaries that structure the opening part of Genesis as 1:1-2:4a, followed by 2:4b-25. Obviously, then, such commentators take the TF as an unusual "conclusion", rather than as an "introduction".1

As long as you're living in Documentary-Hypothesis-land, this works. But it took the work of Brevard Childs to make what must appear to be the obvious point, that if the TF is everywhere else an introduction, then it must be an introduction here, too.2 The implication for this approach, then, is to deepen the sense of the interweaving of the P and J material, since the P formula is clearly (!) being deliberately used as "glue" to hold the "two accounts" together, thus producing what to some would appear to be an anomaly: there is a P introduction to a J passage.

(2) [OP] I’m also not sure what תֹולְדֹ֧ות (tolədôt; ESV, “generations”) refers to in this context.

The semantics of the key term, tolədôt = "generations of", might seem hazy when used in the TF. Its use is not restricted to this formula; it appears at least a couple dozen times to refer explicitly to succeeding generations in a genealogy (e.g. Exodus 6:16, 19; and lots of times in Numbers and 1 Chronicles 1-9). Some of the formulaic occurrences have this character, too (e.g. Gen 6:9; 25:13; 36:9). Others, however, do not -- like our Gen 2:4, but also 5:1 and 37:2. That non-genealogical use then seems odd.

Nor is it the only Hebrew word available for "generation(s)". There is another, דּוֹר dôr = "period, generation", which looks like a near synonym -- and, in fact, might better suit some of our TF contexts. Or so we might think!

Typically, though, the understanding of semantics needs to follow usage. For tolədôt, it is not unusual to find commentators translating more idiomatically a "history of..." -- that is, the TF introduces an account which may (or may not) be "genealogical" per se.3 As Victor Hamilton points out in his article on the term, the formulaic use seems to have the effect of throwing the spotlight on the "progenitor" of the leading figure in the narrative which follows.4 It isn't necessarily the case that it must be a strict genealogy in terms of some "family tree".

There is more that could be said be said,5 but I hope this sheds at least some light on an interesting issue.


  1. Such is still seen, for example, in the article on ילד [yld] (the tri-literal root from which tolədôt comes) by J. Schreiner, in G. Botterweck & H. Ringgren (eds), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1990), vol. 6, pp. 79-80.
  2. He makes this simple case in his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (SCM/Fortress, 1979), on p. 149. His brief arguments here have generally found favour in later scholarship.
  3. One such is Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word, 1987), pp. 44, 55-6.
  4. V. Hamilton, "ילד [yld]", in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. by W.A. VanGemeren (Zondervan, 1997), vol. 2, p. 459.
  5. See e.g. Martin Woudstra, "The Toledot of the Book of Genesis and Their Redemptive-Historical Significance", Calvin Theological Journal 5 (1970): 184-9; and more recently Matthew A. Thomas, These are the Generations: Identity, Covenant, and the 'toledot' Formula (T & T Clark, 2011).
    Update [20161111]: A new article has just appeared which discusses the anomalous uses of the "formula", including 2:4. See now: Sarah Schwartz, "Narrative Toledot Formulae in Genesis: The Case of Heaven and Earth, Noah, and Isaac", Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 16.8 (2016): 1-36.
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  • I've read it suggested that the TF is always a colophon rather than an introduction. Or perhaps we should think of it as a hinge rather than either. And of course it's so much simpler if you reject the DH :) – curiousdannii Nov 14 '14 at 17:43
  • @curiousdannii Thanks for the comment. Can you supply a reference for "always a colphon"? Frankly, that sounds daft to me. :) (I did say "frankly"!) "Hinge" almost the same. I've given the full list above: how many lack a clear "ending" before the TF? Any? And actually, the DH is a bit of a "red herring" here. It's necessary to understand the scholarly literature, but if you ignored it completely, you would end up with something similar. The patterns of "openings" and "closings" tell their own story aside from putative sources - this is also true of other parts of the Bible, of course. – Dɑvïd Nov 14 '14 at 19:00
  • It's called the Wiseman hypothesis – curiousdannii Nov 14 '14 at 19:11
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    Thanks, curiousd. There's a reason why the Wikipedia intro finishes with this: "...but [it] otherwise remained without acceptance in scholarly circles." Outside of his son (who was one of the 20th Century's finest Assyriologists, it has to be said) and R.K. Harrison (who was somewhat cruelly known by students as "Archaic Harrison", I have been reliably informed) basically no one else believed it. The "Reception" section there reflects a more considered rejection -- but rejection all the same. – Dɑvïd Nov 14 '14 at 20:05
  • Yeah I wasn't saying I necessarily believe it, just that it's a theory that's out there. Some of them look like they come at the end of their sections (more than just 2:4 IMO), others definitely at the beginning. But I'm yet to find an explanation I'm fully happy with. – curiousdannii Nov 15 '14 at 0:22

I am an advocate of the correct translation of Genesis 1, because most of these problematic issues arising in Genesis 1 would be kindergarten stuff had it been correctly translated. Genesis 1 is about creation of rational creatures and thereafter assigning them to their abodes. It's these creatures that are allegorised as the heavens and the earth, ref Deut 30:19. So by Gen 2:4, for example, all have been created and assigned to their respective abodes. That's why we read;

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

The term 'generations' strictly refers to family line and descendancy as David in his answer above illustrates its use from a number of scriptural references; for an example the generations of sons of Noah; Shem, Ham and Japheth. The illustrations above have a common aspect, and that is, to give the order of birth of the characters that make a generation.

Now note the odd and flipped expression of ''earth and heavens!'' What does he mean? He is simply maintaining the order in which these entities were created, yes, the earth first and then the heavens! Creation begins by seperation of the waters from the waters. Now waters denote a rational entity including man. Revelation 17:15, Isaiah 8:7 etc.

Gen 1:1-3 there's trouble in the nature of the entity denoted as waters. In Gen 1:2 the Most High reacts to that chaos by decreeing a state of orderliness according to His ways denoted as light, Light is a type for a behaviour, Matthew 5:14. This results in two distinct entities; One 'nature' or essence is masked as light, and the other as darkeness.

This is what Gen 1:4 alludes to as deviding light and darkness when the two entities are seperated.

Now according to the symbolism, of an 'original' entity's face was in darkness, some were changed by the light that was called in Gen 1:2, and from then on those that were changed to the Most High's satisfaction were accordingly labelled as light in Gen 1:14, and not waters anymore.

These are both the 'lights' and the 'heavens' that are created way after the allegorical earth in Gen 1:10.

That's why the writer flips the normal order of heavens and earth, which is an allusion to relative statures in holiness of creatures in the two realms, and replaces it with 'earth and heavens', a reference to the literal order of the creatures in these two realms coming into being.

This is the meaning of 'generations' in Genesis 2:4

An additional note, this is what Genesis 1:1 truly says;

By (using) the Heads or Chiefs, God created the heavens and the earth.

This is a familiar rhetorical device that appears in many places famous of which being Genesis 12:3 and Genesis 48:20. These two refer to aspects of beings and not inanimate objects.

This is how the correct translation is derived;

Gen 1:1;

A) has no 'the',

B) the word rendered beginning is actually head or chief, moreover,

C) the word is plural.

So the verse is really about delegation of this creation, or carrying it out by agency denoted as Heads or Chiefs. It's not referring to a point in time of this creation, this is an aspect ofcourse.


The simple answer is that these are the generations of the days is that they were not a day but a longer period of time which leads to evolution of the heavens and the earth etc. God's words were terse and to the point as exemplified in the Ten Commandments.

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