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Skeptics often accuse Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 of contradicting (note also How does Genesis 2:6 reconcile with Genesis 1:11-13 AND to Genesis 2:5?).

This is based on Genesis 2 translations such as the following (ESV):

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up [...] then the Lord God formed the man

(Parenthetical about rain/mist and working the land elided for brevity. NIV and some other translations give a similar rendering.)

However, KJV has a quite different translation:

in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. [...] And the Lord God formed man

(NKJV, EHV and others are similar.)

Specifically, KJV explicitly connects v5-6 to v4, ending with a full stop before v7. Thus, KVJ reads "in the day that the Lord God made [...] every plant of the field [...] and every herb of the field". This is very different from ESV, in which 'there are no plants' seems to be a description of when "the Lord God formed the man". Moreover, KJV implies that plants have been Created already, but they are not "in the earth" / have not grown. (Other translations suggest that "earth" here may actually refer to Eden, not the whole planet, which would make more sense if plants already exist.)

What is the reasoning behind the seeming change of meaning in NIV/ESV/etc.? Which of the two apparent meanings is more accurate to the original Hebrew?

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  • it'd be helpful if you identified the quotations with the chapter and verse Commented Apr 25 at 16:16
  • @AviAvraham, uh... Genesis 2:5-7? It's in the Question title. I also preface the quotations as "Genesis 2 translations", and later mention 4-7 as verse numbers.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 16:42
  • Can you expound on why you think that some translations don't imply chronology? All the translations seem to at least imply chronology to me.
    – Jason_
    Commented Apr 25 at 17:53
  • @Jason_, KJV establishes a context and then describes an event that occurs. Skeptics assert, usually based on an NIV/ESV translation (which are also what I've always preferred) that Genesis 2 has God Creating Adam before any plants exist, and to be fair I'd always though that was a plausible, even likely, reading. To be honest, I'm now having trouble seeing it myself.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 18:04
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    @Jason_, NIV/ESV seem like they could be read "God formed the man when no bush...". KJV unambiguously reads "God formed man in the day that [He] made the earth and the heavens". Those are quite different! Also, KJV is associating the plants with "God made", while NIV/ESV makes "there are no plants" a description of when Adam was Created.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 18:08

2 Answers 2

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It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Genesis 2 is a parallel creation account, but there are other reasons that it’s not.

The DDS is fragmentary in Genesis 2, but Genesis 2:4-7 in the LXX reads as follows [with my labels added]:

[Toledoth attribution to Genesis 1] “This is the book of the origin of heaven and earth, when it became, in the day God made it.

[Recap] And every green field before it existed on the earth, and all grass of the field before its rising. For not did the Lord God rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to work it. But a spring ascended from out of the earth, and it watered all the face of the earth.

[Zoom in] And God shaped man, taking dust from the earth and breathed into his face breath of life and man became a living soul.

In the LXX, the toledoths (תוֹלְד֧וֹת SH 8435) in Genesis use the Greek word γένεςεως, (SG 1078), which were used as colophons, which end passages with the author attribution rather than putting it at the beginning. There’s a fascinating discussion regarding the tablet theory of Genesis, which shows that Genesis is consistent with the style of ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets. In this case, the Genesis account in chapter 1 ends with Genesis 2:4 ESV:

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.

Here’s why: http://www.talkgenesis.org/genesis-toledoth-mystery/

In addition, the use of "catch lines" in Genesis provides strong support for the hypothesis that Genesis (until the story of Joseph), were originally written on clay tablets!

A catch-line is a phrase or sentence from one tablet that was repeated in the next tablet to connect the two tablets in the absence of “page” numbers.

Okay, imagine being a Babylonian scholar carrying a bunch of tablets and getting tripped by your cat. How would you be able to correctly reorder the scattered tablets? It would be tedious but the catch lines would save your mischievous cat.

Actual experiments with clay tablets demonstrate that the text in Genesis 1-36 has toledoths and catch-lines in the text that divide it into the size range of Mesopotamian clay tablets. However, the account from Gen. 37:2 to Gen. 50:26, is continuous. This is a reasonable indication that the rest of Genesis was most likely recorded on Egyptian papyrus.

Thus, the abrupt beginning of the section starting in Genesis 2:5 is likely a continuation in greater detail of the creation of man.

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  • To clarify, you are asserting that KJV is wrong to express v4 and v5-6 as the same sentence? Also, do you have a proposed interpretation for v5 that doesn't involve sentence fragments? 😉
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 25 at 21:12
  • 2
    @Matthew, yes, the translators of the KJV didn't know about Mesopotamian clay tablets and their attribution format. Also, punctuation marks are not present in the original manuscripts, Greek or Hebrew, and have been added by translators. Similarly, chapter and verse designations were added later by the Archbishop of Canterbury. See gotquestions.org/divided-Bible-chapters-verses.html for a more complete description. The ESV also separates the toledoth as I have. Hope this helps.
    – Dieter
    Commented Apr 25 at 23:43
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Answer

This problem can be solved when we read Gen 2:5 onwards right after Gen 1:25 as explained below.

This is because, in Genesis first chapter, a global (i.e., worldwide) creation of things are described.

In Genesis second chapter, the creation of the Garden of Eden is described.

Hence, the seeming contradiction, which actually is no contradiction at all.

Explanation

  1. In Genesis 1, the creation is done on “the earth” (Ehrets - H776).

But in Genesis 2, the creation is done on “the field” (sadeh - H7704).

H776 Ehrets = “From an unused root probably meaning to be firm; the earth (at large, or partitively a land)” – Strong.

H7704 Sadeh = “From an unused root meaning to spread out; a field (as flat)” – Strong.

So, we can see that “Ehrets” is the earth or a continent or a large geographical area like a country whereas “Sadeh” is a local area like the Garden of Eden and the surroundings.

The word “sadeh” is not found in the first chapter. It appears first time in the second chapter where the Garden of Eden is mentioned.

Besides, “Sadeh” is found in “Ehrets” (Gen 2:5).

In the first chapter, “the beasts of the Ehrets” (global) are created whereas in the second chapter “beasts of the Sadeh” (local flora and fauna) are created.

  1. In the second chapter, the Garden of Eden is created in the Sadeh. Most of the descriptions here are about the Sadeh and the Garden. These are “localized” descriptions.

  2. It would be impossible for Adam to name all the things created on the earth in a single day. Remember, he was created on the 6th day and by evening would start the Sabbath. So he had to name the creatures before the evening.

But God made him name only the localized creatures – the creatures of the sadeh/field which were less in number compared to the creatures of the ehrets/earth. (These could be mostly ‘domestic’ creatures?)

  1. The fact is, the second chapter is a “blow-up” description of Genesis 1:26-27. That is, the entire second chapter describes what exactly happened in Gen 1:26-27.

So the order of reading should be:

Start from Genesis 1:1 to 1:25 (living things are created on the earth and man is created);

Next read from Genesis 2:5 to 2:25 (man is created and then the “local” flora and fauna in and around the Garden of Eden are created);

Then, come back and continue reading from Genesis 1:28 to Genesis 2:4.

So, 1:1 – 1:25;

Then, 2:5 – 2:25; and

Continue, 1:28 – 2:4

This will give a comprehensive picture of the whole creation.

Why the Confusion

The Scripture describes itself as a Jigsaw puzzle with details scattered “here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:13).

Interestingly, this feature starts from the first chapters themselves!

Strangely, the purpose is to hide the meaning; not to reveal (Mat 13:13).

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  • It's a lovely defense of why there is no contradiction, but doesn't answer the Question, which is why NIV/ESV is translated in a way that implies man being Created before the animals and plants [in Eden]. To be fair, you have shown how such a reading is possible without being a contradiction, but you haven't shown whether it's correct, or whether 2:5-6 is merely establishing context.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 28 at 23:19
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    Thanks for your good words. As per my knowledge, the original Hebrew manuscripts were written practically without any punctuation marks. Before the Masoretic Jews began to copy the MSS in the Middle Ages adding vowels in the MSS, the originals were written only in consonants. Even after adding crude vowels, there were no punctuation marks. So a lot depended on the translators who did their job in different ways. So KJV placing a full stop and others not using it are subjective, it seems. Frankly, I didn’t find a problem in either cases. Commented Apr 29 at 17:06

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