It appears that in Gen 1:12, by the end of Day 3 there were plants and trees covering the dry land:

Gen 1:11 And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. Gen 1:12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Gen 1:13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

But in Genesis 2:5-6 it specifically says that the plants had not sprung up because rain had not been implemented yet and there was no man to work the ground:

Gen 2:5 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 2:6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— Gen 2:7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Gen 2:8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. Gen 2:9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Gen 2:10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.

So at the end of Day 3 was the land covered only with seeds? And if so, wouldn't the mist have germinated them without rain? And why was a man needed to till the ground since "the earth brought forth vegetation" just fine on Day 3?

  • The two creation accounts are often attributed to different authors whose focus was on different things. The first being focused on the importance of the sabbath and the second on the creation and nature of humanity. Since the first account is larger and more cosmic in scope, the details are less important to the narrative. By contrast, the second account is necessarily interested in the human involvement in creation and will therefore look more closely to the details of that. Jun 27, 2016 at 16:42
  • @AlexDurbin Meaning what, though? That there were or weren't trees at the end of Day 3?
    – user10231
    Jun 27, 2016 at 16:50
  • I think the meaning is that both are the case. The two accounts are made to express and highlight two different aspects of creation and are therefore told in two different ways. Whether there were trees on the 3rd day is incidental to the overall message of the narrative for each chapter. If the author's (or the redactor's) real concern were about the trees being there on the 3rd day or not they would have made it more clear. My point might be that the trees themselves are not important to the author. It's how the trees fit into the broader context that is important. Jun 28, 2016 at 4:26
  • Closely related to Does Genesis 2:5-7 suggest the passage of time?
    – user15733
    Sep 7, 2016 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


The question is conflating what are, in the view of nearly all critical scholars, two separate and independent accounts of creation. John J. Collins (The Bible After Babel, page 86) says a well-founded consensus of scholarship distinguishes two creation stories, the Priestly (P) one in Genesis 1:!-2:4a and the Yahwist (J) account in 2:4b-3:24. He says it may be that the Priestly account was composed to put the story of human origins in a broader context, but they are distinct nonetheless.

In The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis, pages 55-57, Leon R. Kass discusses the main differences between chapter 1 and chapter 2, and concludes the second story is not just a magnified version of the human portions of the first. He says it is utterly distinct and independent, and once we recognise the independence of the two creation stories we are compelled to adopt a critical principle of reading if we mean to understand each story on its own terms. He says this means we must scrupulously avoid reading into the second story any facts or notions taken from the first, and vice versa. In particular, he says the seven days of the first account in Genesis should not be read into the second account.

So, when the Priestly Source said there were trees, shrubs and grass on day 3 (Genesis 1:11-13), that is what the Priestly Source meant. And when the Priestly Source said fish, birds and land animals were created before man (both male and female), that is what the Priestly Source meant. On the other hand, when the Yahwist said that there were no plants (or animals) before God created the first man and before God planted the garden (Genesis 2:5-8), that is also what the Yahwist meant.

So, in the Priestly account, at the end of Day 3 the land was covered with plants and trees, just as the text says. Quite distinctly, in the Yahwist account, the plants and trees had to wait until the mist covered the ground and they could begin to grow, although God appears then to have planted fully grown plants and trees in the Garden.

It may be, as Collins says, that the Priestly Source sought, as far as possible, to make the two accounts complement each other, but that does not change the plain meaning of the text.

  • 1
    "The question is conflating what are, in the view of nearly all critical scholars, two separate and independent accounts of creation." - This exactly. Jun 28, 2016 at 4:26

As noted elsewhere, Differences in Genesis creation stories and in Dick Harfield's answer to this question the accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are commonly believed to have been written by different sources, and some believe should be examined independently.

However, when the two records are studied in the light of the other, it is possible to combine both records into a single report of events which took place on the same (third) day:

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he seas: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:9-10 KJV)

[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, (Genesis 2:4 KJV)]1 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. (Genesis 2:5-6 KJV)

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day. (Genesis 1:11-13 KJV)

Yes there were trees on the earth at the end of the third day. All the vegetation was brought forth because man had not yet been created. In other words, since animal life was to subsist on green plants (Genesis 1:30) and be under the dominion of man (Genesis 1:26), and there was no man to till the ground (man having not yet been created), the earth was commanded to bring forth both green plants and seeds; meaning both the initial plants and the next generation were acts of creation. It is possible to see this as a contradiction; it is also reasonable to understand this as an explanation for why God created both plants and seeds instead of waiting for the man. It also indicates the importance of seeds in both accounts. Genesis 1 speaks of seeds to sustain life by plants as food; Genesis 2-3 speaks of the seed which will crush the serpent's head.

As noted in the OP's questions, there is a natural process which could cause the mist to germinate the seeds. Yet there is no indication the seeds were on the ground only that the fruit contained the seeds. Also, if on the ground, germination would take more time than is found in either account.

Again, using both accounts, the planting of the garden described in Genesis 2 can be placed on the sixth day, since that is the day the man was created and brought to the garden. Therefore, the LORD God used seeds from the fruit of the trees created to plant His garden on the sixth day; planting a garden which had trees and fruit on the same day is an act of creation.

This fact that the two accounts can be seamlessly woven into a single record demonstrates a harmony between the two accounts that indicates either a collaborative effort of the two sources, or a single inspired source.

1. Genesis 2:4 functions as an introduction. For the purposes of this question it is shown in that context. However, in terms of the events in Genesis 1 and 2, Genesis 2:4 describes things which occurred in a single 24-hour day which begin during day 2 and were completed on day 3.

  • So on Day 3 God uncovered the dry land that had been submerged, turned on a misting system to water the plants, then took seeds from the dry land and planted a garden and then on day 4 created the sun?
    – user10231
    Jun 27, 2016 at 22:27

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