In Genesis chapter 2 the order of creation seems to be different to that in chapter 1 with the animals being created (2:19) after Adam (2:7). Doesn’t the Bible contradict itself here?
Between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve, the KJV/AV Bible says (Genesis 2:19) ‘out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air’. On the surface, this seems to say that the land beasts and birds were created between Adam and Eve. However, Jewish scholars apparently did not recognize any such conflict with the account in chapter 1, where Adam and Eve were both created after the beasts and birds (Genesis 1:23–25). Why is this? Because in Hebrew the precise tense of a verb is determined by the context. It is clear from chapter 1 that the beasts and birds were created before Adam, so Jewish scholars would have understood the verb ‘formed’ in (Genesis 2:19 to mean ‘had formed’ or ‘having formed’. If we translate verse 19 as follows (as one widely used translation1 does), ‘Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field …’, the apparent disagreement with Genesis 1 disappears completely.
The question also stems from the wrong assumption that the second chapter of Genesis is just a different account of creation to that in chapter 1. It should be evident that chapter 2 is not just ‘another’ account of creation because chapter 2 says nothing about the creation of the heavens and the earth, the atmosphere, the seas, the land, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sea creatures, etc. Chapter 2 mentions only things directly relevant to the creation of Adam and Eve and their life in the garden God prepared specially for them. Chapter 1 may be understood as creation from God’s perspective; it is ‘the big picture’, an overview of the whole. Chapter 2 views the more important aspects from man’s perspective.
Genesis 2:4 says, ‘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’. This marks a break with chapter 1. This phraseology next occurs in Genesis 5:1, where it reads ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man’.
‘Generations’ is a translation of the Hebrew word toledoth, which means ‘origin’ or ‘record of the origin’. It identifies an account or record of events. The phrase was apparently used at the end of each section in Genesis2 identifying the patriarch (Adam, Noah, the sons of Noah, Shem, etc.) to whom it primarily referred, and possibly who was responsible for the record. There are 10 such divisions in Genesis.
Each record was probably originally a stone or clay tablet. There is no person identified with the account of the origin of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1–2:4), because it refers primarily to the origin of the whole universe, not any person in particular (Adam and Eve are not mentioned by name, for example). Also, only God knew the events of creation, so God had to reveal this, possibly to Adam who recorded it. Moses, as ‘author’ of Genesis, acted as a compiler and editor of the various sections, adding explanatory notes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The toledoths acknowledge the sources of the historical records Moses used. This understanding underlines the historical nature of Genesis and its status as eyewitness history, contrary to the defunct ‘documentary (JEDP) hypothesis’ still taught in many Bible colleges. [Ed. note: for a refutation of this fallacious and anti-Christian theory, see Did Moses really write Genesis?.]
The differences in the toledoth statements of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1 affirm that chapter 1 is the overview, the record of the origin of the ‘heavens and earth’ (2:4)—whereas chapter 2 is concerned with Adam and Eve, the detailed account of Adam and Eve’s creation (5:1,2). The wording of 2:4 also suggests the shift in emphasis: in the first part of the verse it is ‘heavens and earth’ whereas in the end of the verse it is ‘earth and heavens’. Scholars think that the first part of the verse would have been on the end of a clay or stone tablet recording the origin of the universe and the latter part of the verse would have been on the beginning of a second tablet containing the account of events on earth pertaining particularly to Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:4b–5:1a).
Let us apply this understanding to another objection: some also see a problem with the plants and herbs in Genesis 2:5 and the trees in Genesis 2:9. We have already realized that Genesis 2 focuses on issues of direct import to Adam and Eve, not creation in general. Notice that the plants and herbs are described as ‘of the field’ in Genesis chapter 2 (compare 1:12) and they needed a man to tend them (2:5). These are clearly cultivated plants, not just plants in general. Also, the trees (2:9) are only the trees planted in the garden, not trees in general.
Genesis was written like many historical accounts with an overview or summary of events leading up to the events of most interest first, followed by a detailed account which often recaps relevant events in the overview in greater detail. Genesis 1, the ‘big picture’ is clearly concerned with the sequence of events. The events are in chronological sequence, with day 1, day 2, evening and morning, etc. The order of events is not the major concern of Genesis 2. In recapping events they are not necessarily mentioned in chronological order, but in the order which makes most sense to the focus of the account. For example, the animals are mentioned in verse 19, after Adam was created, because it was after Adam was created that he was shown the animals, not that they were created after Adam.
Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are not therefore separate contradictory accounts of creation. Chapter 1 is the ‘big picture’ and Chapter 2 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve and day six of creation.
The final word on this matter, however, should really be given to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. In Matthew chapter 19, verses 4 and 5, the Lord is addressing the subject of marriage, and says: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”
Notice how in the very same statement, Jesus refers to both Genesis 1 (verse 27b: ‘male and female he created them’) and Genesis 2 (verse 24: ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’). Obviously, by combining both in this way, He in no way regarded them as separate, contradictory accounts.