Does Genesis 2 contradict Genesis 1?

Many have noted that there is an apparent discrepancy in the two creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, humanity is God’s final creation, whereas in Genesis 2, humanity is created (2:7) both before plants (2:5, 9) and before the animals (2:19).

A solution  to the plants issue is to note that Genesis 2 refers to the “plants of the field”. The word “field” (sadeh) here is usually used to refer to a flat place suitable for agriculture, as opposed to the word used in 1:11, “earth”, which is ‘erets — a word which has much broader geographic connotations.

See for example the contrasts between the two words in the following passages:
Gen 23:12-13- Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.”
Ex 9:22- Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.”
Lev 25:2-3- “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits”

This fits well with the latter part of 2:5- ‘there was not yet man to till the ground’. Thus the passage is not saying that there were no plants created yet at all, but that a special place (Eden) was set aside for the foundation of agriculture and for plants “of the field” to be developed.

The second problem of the animals can be solved simply by realising that the word “formed” of 2:19 can be translated as “had formed”. The context would imply that this indeed is a better rendering.

In what way did Adam and Eve die?

Adam and Eve were warned that “in the day they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.” What does this mean, for clearly they did not physically die on that day?

The most common response to this question is that Adam and Eve experienced spiritual death in that day. It is certainly true that something spiritual clearly happened when they disobeyed- there seemed to be a shame and fear of God which immediately emerged in chapter 3, as well as blaming one another for the sin. So clearly the concept of spiritual death may be seen there. However, is the heavily theological concept of death referring to a spiritual separation from God really the concept which was originally intended by the phrase “you shall surely die”?

By the end of chapter 3, there is clearly a reference to physical death- “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Clearly this is the culmination of the consequences of the sin, and the fulfillment of the warning. As a result, I prefer to read the phrase “in the day” as having an idiomatic sense of the certainty of the consequence (for example, as seen in Ex 10:28, 1 Samuel 3:12, 1 Kings 2:37).


Why did God put the tree in the garden anyway?


It’s a good question, and I think the first answer to give is that we actually don’t know because we haven’t been told. I suspect that this is a question above our paygrade. However, we can speculate, and so here all we will be doing is offering some speculations about this question.

The most common answer to this question is that God didn’t want Adam and Eve to be robots, he wanted them to have a chance to use their free will. But a little bit of scrutiny suggests that although there is some truth to this, it is a little bit of a lame answer. Would God really want to put a temptation in the way of his dearly loved children just to see how obedient they were? It sounds a little bit like testing your children’s obedience by putting a bomb in front of them, and a box of matches to light it, and telling them not to light it. Why put it there in the first place?

What perhaps may begin to help explain the situation is the fact that the creation of humanity was not the first event in the history of revolt against God. We know at some point that Satan had rebelled against God, and in fact, we find in Genesis 3 that Satan is already present on earth. In effect, God is saying to Adam and Eve- “you have a choice. The war against me has already started, and it is inevitable that you will be tempted to join it. So, here is your choice. Will you live in perfect relationship with me, or will you join the other side and rebel against me, tasting evil?”. Of course, this does not explain how Satan sinned, or what the nature of his temptation was. That question will likely always remain out of our grasp, at least while we are in this life.

I will add one last possible deeper explanation. We know that the means by which God has chosen to defeat Satan was through humanity. We know very little about the nature of Satan’s sin against God, but it seems that Satan was an angel of God who rebelled against God. Why? He wanted to exalt himself to be like God. The kingdom of Satan is all about self-exaltation. And so when Satan tempts Adam and Eve to sin, what does he say? He says- if you eat of the fruit, you will become like gods. It’s all about self-exaltation.

How does God respond to Satan’s sin? Well, he could have made a very simple response: Zzzzz- (explosion, thunder, lightning, sizzle, smoke.) But in God’s infinite wisdom, He didn’t. He responds by creating another beautiful world- a material world, a lesser world, of dirt and water, flesh and blood, our world. And Satan intervenes into our world to bring his kingdom of self-exaltation into it- and He succeeds, and brings corruption into it, as humanity rebels against God, and chooses self-exaltation rather than self-surrender. The history of our world rolls on, and sinks into more and more chaos, but God has a plan, and is at work. And at the climax of world history, probably to Satan’s astonishment and bewilderment- God the Creator becomes a human baby. God stoops low and takes on flesh and blood, born into human poverty amongst the dirt. And Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, grows as a man, and then, if God humbling himself to become a man was bad enough, now Satan is rubbing his hands in glee- as Jesus submits himself to the hostilities of men- and is arrested, mocked, beaten, whipped, and then crucified. And Jesus Christ, the eternal God of our universe become flesh- dies as if he was the scum of the earth.

But it is in this death, this ultimate act of self-surrender, that Satan’s kingdom is ultimately defeated. This is how God chooses to defeat the kingdom of self-exaltation- by a graphic demonstration of the glory of self-surrender. And Jesus in his self-surrendering death doesn’t just pay the price for sins of humans- He also in the most emphatic way possible- responds to Satan’s act of treacherous self-exaltation with an act of incredible self-surrender- and this is the means which God chooses to defeat Satan.

So the means God chooses to defeat Satan is through the creation of humans, and their own alliance with Satan. But then Jesus demonstrates the full glory of God in becoming a human and defeating Satan in a death of humiliation before a resurrection of glory. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the first step along the pathway for the fulfillment of God’s plan to defeat Satan and demonstrate once and for all the futility of the kingdom of self-exaltation.

Old Earth or Young Earth?

planet-581239_960_720 (1)A major area of controversy amongst Christians has been the reconciliation of the early chapters of Genesis with modern science. Modern secular science would date the world to be around 15 billion years old, whereas a straightforward reading of Genesis 1-11 would imply a world of around 6000 years old. Other related questions include:

  • Did God use a process of evolution to create humanity?
  • Are the 7 days in Genesis 1 to be interpreted as literal 24 hour days or can they be read as long ages or as poetry?
  • Was the flood described in Genesis 6 literally worldwide or merely a large localised flood?
  • Was there death and suffering in the animal world before Adam and Eve sinned?

The Christian community is divided in their responses to these questions. Some insist that we must approach our science with the biblical presuppositions of Genesis 1-11 in place (Young Earth Creationists (YECs)). They would argue that when we approach science from a biblical worldview, there is plenty of evidence to support a world only 6000 years old, special creation of the different ‘kinds’ of Genesis 1 (not evolution), and a worldwide cataclysmic flood.

Other Christians insist that the facts of science are clear that the universe is very ancient in age, and that this in fact does not need to be a problem in reading Genesis. Several different interpretations are suggested: some see Genesis 1 as describing the general order of evolution over the ages, whereas others see it as merely a poetic way of saying that God did create, but not how he created.

It appears to me that the most straightforward reading of scripture would seem to support the young earth scenario, whereas the great consensus amongst scientists still would support an ancient universe, despite evidences appealed to by Christian scientists arguing for a young universe. There is a need for grace, humility and a lot of continuing study into the interpretation of both scripture and science.

To what degree should we expect to gain scientific understanding from the Bible? The following points are worth considering:

  • If the Bible is narrating true historical events, then one can expect to find scientific evidence that is consistent with them occurring in the past.
  • However, the Bible was not written as a kind of scientific code-book with hints for new theories to be read in between the lines. Eg recently an American businessman commenced an oil company in Israel claiming that the Bible indicated where he should drill for oil (Dt 33:24!).
  • Some parts of the Bible are clearly not intended to have scientific implications. This is particularly the case in the use of genres such as poetic and apocalyptic literature. For example, Revelation 7:1, Psalm 144:5-6, Psalm 104:3-4. The majority of Genesis is clearly intended to be read as historical narrative; the burden of proof lies with those who suggest the early chapters of Genesis are poetic to prove that it is so.
  • Sometimes we use idiomatic language rather than strictly scientific language –eg “sunrise”. This can be the same in the Bible. Eg Eccles 1:5, or the “heart” as the centre of the human personality.
  • Did the writers of the Bible use language that was 100% accurate scientifically or did it rather reflect their scientific understanding of the day? Eg it is often suggested that “the waters above the heavens” (Gen 1:7) or the “windows of heaven” (Gen 8:2) might have reflected a primitive cosmology. One possible solution to this is that the authors may have written in language which fit in with their cultural beliefs, but in itself was equivocal in its meaning- “ the inspired author of Genesis was allowed to use the only terms available to him in his language to describe natural phenomena, but was not allowed to offer anything more than the vaguest, most minimal descriptions of those phenomena, thereby leaving nearly everything unsaid about their exact nature.” (JP Holding in an excellent essay in Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 13(2):44–51, Nov 1999)


Some summary observations:

  • Many people have some very strong opinions which they bring to this topic, and fairly negative stereotypes of other views. For example, many Christians immediately equate the theory of evolution with atheism. However, we should be at least open to considering whether there is any theological reason why God could not have created the world through a gradual process in which His hand guided an evolving world. On the other hand, the general media rarely give any serious engagement with scientific arguments proposed by those questioning evolution. Rather, they are just quickly dismissed as being “anti-science” because they believe in God, and all their arguments are ignored. It is common for both sides of the debate to dismiss the others’ arguments as unworthy of any consideration.
  • An important point to realize is that much of the clash between the two approaches to science is that the YEC appeals to the fact that the world before Noah was tremendously different to the modern world, and the flood was a cataclysmic event unlike anything since, whereas secular science operates under the assumption that the present is the key to the past. This brings radically different assumptions to how evidences are interpreted scientifically.
  • My personal observation is that the YEC position is the most straightforward understanding of the biblical text, and as such deserves to be given some space to develop their case, and should be listened to with an open mind. However, in spite of their progress in scientific research, they still have a way to go in demonstrating their view is consistent with the scientific evidence. Furthermore, at times they have overstated their biblical case while not establishing their scientific case.
  • A biblical case for an old earth could be mounted along the following lines, as argued at one stage by CS Lewis and more recently by John Lennox. Satan was present on the earth prior to Adam and Eve’s sin- is it possible that He had some role in the corruption of earth from a perfect creation? Is it possible that the garden of Eden alone was paradise, with the rest of the earth surrounding it fairly much the same as it is now?
  • I think the biblical evidence quite possibly allows for death in the animal world before the sin of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve received their death sentence after their sin via their exclusion from the tree of life. This implies that it was access to the tree of life which enabled their eternal life, and thus death was a normal force without it. This then implies that animals also outside the garden would experience death as a normal part of creation.
  • A well argued defence of an old earth and theistic evolution is argued by evangelical leader Tim Keller in the article “Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople”.

What were the “waters above the expanse”?

What are the “waters above the expanse” referring to?

When God creates the universe in Genesis 1, initially He creates planet Earth as a ball of water, which the Spirit of God hovers over (Genesis 1:2), and the rest of the universe is created from Earth. This is very unlike modern understandings of the universe in which earth originated as a late development from the rest of the universe. After creating light in Day 1, God in Day 2 creates an expanse out of the watery earth. This expanse is the sky, in which the birds fly (1:20) and even includes space itself, in which the sun, moon and stars exist (1:17). The waters below the expanse are clearly just the waters that remain as part of earth- which God will then in Day 3 create land out of. What though are the waters above the expanse? These waters are never referred to again in scripture, with the possible exception of Psalm 148:4. Some have suggested they were clouds which were created initially but then quickly dispersed in the succeeding events of creation, so that they did not exist any longer. Others see it as some kind of boundary to the entire universe which either might still exist or have now ceased to exist.

So how are these verses to be interpreted in the light of modern cosmological understandings? There are two broad Christian interpretations of Genesis 1- a figurative interpretation and a literal one. The figurative interpretation sees the whole passage as a poetic description of creation rather than a series of literal events which occurred. Under such an understanding, the events described probably fit in with ancient concepts of the universe, but the point of the passage is to poetically ascribe praise to God the one Creator who brought all things into being in an orderly way, not to give a scientific explanation of how God created the earth. The legitimacy of this approach is contested by many Christians today.

If these verses are to be taken literally, they suggest a very different understanding of creation than what is understood by secular scientists- that in fact, the universe had its origin out of planet earth which was originally a ball of water. Young Earth Creationists point to evidence of the existence of water throughout the universe as support to show that this premise is not unfeasible.   See Evidence of a watery origin for the solar system , and Water Near Edge Universe Bolsters Creation.