Continuing the discussion about Genesis 1 and 2 contradictions

Anti-evolutionists like to portray those of us Christians who accept science as as the ignorant, sycophantic lackeys of atheists, blindly siding with them because we don’t want to seem ignorant.

On the one hand, well, yeah — the science in favor of evolution and an old earth is quite strong, and that’s a big reason why many Christians accept these things as true. If this were the only reason, it might give young-earthers some actual — albeit misleading — ammunition for their claim that Christian theistic evolutionists choose science over the Bible.

Unfortunately for them, the science is not the only factor. Speaking from a purely biblical and theological perspective, young-earth creationism has problems. Which, at the very least, casts doubt on the underlying YEC assertion that theirs is the only correct way to look at the text, and anything else is COMPROMISE and a slap in the face of God.

One of the most serious problems with the young-earth hermeneutic is that the first chapter of Genesis is irreconcilable with the second chapter, if you read them both the way YEC proponents say you have to. The above link is an article I wrote a couple years ago, in which I not only lay out the basic contradictions, but also address the two most common ways YEC proponents attempt to explain away these contradictions, pointing out how their arguments aren’t really faithful to the text.

Last week, a young-earth creationist named Matthew Gallant visited the GOE Facebook page and, in the course of our conversation, I linked to that article. And, to his enormous credit, he actually read it, and responded. I cannot impress upon you enough that, in the two and a half years I have been providing this link to young-earthers and asking them to address it, Matthew Gallant is the first whose response was something other than, “Read this Answers in Genesis article and stop being a bad Christian.”

So, good for you, Matthew Gallant. He posted his response on his blog, which you can read there or below, along with my comments.

‘This is the account’. The CMI article covers this is much more convincing detail than you provide. JEDP also has issues with this verse that lend to summarizing the previous text and introducing new text (all in that one verse) implying the author knows the creation account is done and a new, different account begins (logically and from the text we gather it is not an account of the same things but more details on the previous). Your claim that it asserts a distinct creation account does not have the support it needs.

I didn’t cover this in much detail because it’s such an unpersuasive point to begin with. Young-earth creationism proponents claim the way the Hebrew “toledoth” is used in Genesis 2:4 is the same way it’s used elsewhere in Genesis. It’s not.

There are seven (not 10, as the CMI article claims) uses of this particular form of the Hebrew word in Genesis. In six of these cases (5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27 and 25:19), it introduces a genealogy. The only time the word doesn’t introduce a genealogy is — you guessed it! — Genesis 2:4.

The point being, there is nowhere else in Genesis that this word does what YEC proponents claim it does, that is, introduces a more “zoomed-in” retelling of a story that was told (and completed) immediately before it.

Now, to be fair, the comparison study doesn’t particularly support my view either (the difference being that I never claimed that it did), so we’re left with analyzing the context of how the word is used in this specific case.

So I ask you, in a vacuum, what would you think if you read the following sentence: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.”

Would you think, (a), you are about to read the creation account about what happened in the day God made the earth and heaven? Or, (b), you are about to read a more narrowly focused addendum to a previous — and quite different — creation account?

I rest my case.

Shrubs vs plants and trees: You assert 2:5’s ‘shrub’ equates to 1:11’s ‘plants and trees’ but don’t say why — and you should given the extra qualifications ‘of the field’ (many translations) and the implications these plants required cultivation (‘there was no one to work the ground’). The land may have ‘produced’ all vegetation in 1:11 but not all had ‘appeared’ or ‘sprung up’. It’s amusing you disparage Batten but you fail to mention Gen 2:6 (part of the same thought) ‘but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.’ So your claim to a “more important reason” why plants are supposedly not around doesn’t hold water (couldn’t resist the pun).

I don’t think “of the field” (Hebrew: hassadeh) is a qualifier that requires any additional explanation. In that link, you’ll notice the exact same phrase is applied to the animals God makes — oops, I mean “had made” — in verses 2:19 and 2:20, and I’ve never heard a young-earther say this refers only to domesticated animals or some other small subset of the animal kingdom.

And, just in case Gallant would like to argue that domestic animals are being talked about here, the same phrase is also used in Genesis 3:1, in reference to the serpent. Pretty sure he wasn’t anybody’s pet.

As to Genesis 2:6, that verse fits in perfectly with my view that the whole story is one straightforward, cohesive narrative (apart from Genesis 1). Verse 4 introduces the story. Verse 5 presents a problem — there are no plants — and gives two reasons for this: there is no water, and there is no man to take care of them. In verse 6, God provides the water, and in verse 7, he provides the man. And, in verse 8 — voila! Plants. Badda bing, badda boom.

The literalist view, on the other hand, still needs to account for why verse 5 says there are no plants…except for, you know, all the plants that God supposedly had made a few days earlier, right?

Creation of animals: It is perfectly congruent for (a) God to have created all animals in Gen 1:24 and for God to have created more of those animals to have Adam name them (to see God actually creating things and to discover none are like Adam), and (b) to take the text to mean that they had already been made and that God “brought” them to him which is the wording of many translations. Your claim about ‘formed’ vs ‘had formed’ lacks support. 2:7 could easily have said ‘had formed’ with the prefix “Now” rather than “Then”. Additionally, when you take the Gen 2 as more details about day 6, there’s no problem reading it either way. God did ‘form’ Adam on day 6 and/or he ‘had formed’ Adam ‘earlier’ on day 6.

(a) No, it isn’t “congruent.” Genesis 1 says God made birds on one day, then animals on the next, followed by humans. According to the YEC hermeneutic, Genesis 2 says God made birds, then on the next day, animals, then one man, then more birds and more animals, then woman.

Not to mention the fact that verses 18 and 20 very clearly explain what the primary purpose of verse 19 is. It’s not to “see God actually creating things and discover that none are like Adam.” It’s to create a suitable helper for man.

This interpretation is the very definition of incongruent.

(b) Like Genesis 2:4-8, 2:18-22 is a straightforward narrative. Verse 18 identifies a problem — man is alone — and God sets out to rectify this by saying he will make a helper. God makes a bunch of helpers (verse 19), but decides none of them are suitable (verse 20). So he makes woman, and gives her to the man (verses 21-22).

On the other hand, in Gallant’s view, the story looks like this: Verse 18 identifies a problem — man is alone — and God sets out to rectify this by saying he will make a helper. Then, in verse 19, God changes his mind: “Actually, scratch that. I already made all these things. Why don’t you see if any of them will work? That would save me some trouble, and save you a rib!”

These guys can play fast and loose with verb tenses all they like, but it doesn’t change the fact that they really are screwing up the story.

I will make a helper suitable for him: Correct. God still had some making to do on day 6. He still had to make Eve. As the points above show, when you view Gen 2 as a more detailed accounted of day 6, the tense of the words makes sense.

No they don’t. This view makes verses 19 and 20 bizarre and irrelevant. If God knows from the beginning that he needs to make woman to serve as a suitable helper for man, why spend all the time talking about stuff he previously made that wouldn’t serve as a suitable helper?

It’d be like me agreeing to make my wife a sandwich, and when I asked what she wanted on it, she started by listing everything in our kitchen that isn’t a sandwich ingredient. It makes absolutely no sense.

“risk distorting these lessons such that the real, eternal value intended by the original authors”: I think CMI sums it up about right:

“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.”

Jesus had no problem viewing both accounts as compatible and complementary. He even drew out ‘lessons of eternal value’ from both at once. There is also no need to abandon any actual ‘lessons of eternal value’ by viewing them as plain accounts that make sense of and build on each other.

I also have no problem viewing Genesis 1 and 2 as compatible and complementary, if you read them the way they were intended. The contradictions only come from reading them as literal historical accounts, since, you know, that’s not what they are.

Oh, and speaking of which, Jesus referencing theological teachings in answer to a question about divorce is not exactly a whole-hearted endorsement of the modern literalistic hermeneutic, and all the extrabiblical stuff YEC proponents have to add in to make it work. It’d be like if I said, “I think Odysseus’ hubris is something we could all take a lesson from,” and you took that as meaning I strip nude every full moon to worship the Greek pantheon.

“In my view, these two snippets of ancient literature contain the essence of God’s reason for making mankind, and the relationship he desires with every man and woman who now lives.” The beauty of a plain reading of the Genesis creation, not only that it makes logical sense from the text, is that you take both historical truth *and* the theological and existential truths. Creationists don’t claim there’s only one level of understanding or one set of lessons that creation provides. You get the best of all worlds when you take God’s Word at His written word. That’s the beauty of God’s written word.

I hope young-earth proponents really do accept the theological and existential truths of Genesis 1-3, as they claim to, because those are the only ones that really matter. It is these deeper things that teach us the timeless truths about God, mankind and the relationship between the two. It is these deeper truths that can apply to our modern lives as followers of Jesus, teaching us about how we were made to be in relationship with God, how sin changed that, and how our redemption in Christ can restore that as well.

It adds nothing to the text if you take that list of deeper truths, and add onto the end, “Oh, and it also literally happened that way, too.” It adds nothing. Maybe you have a couple history factoids to add to your memory banks, but it’s not going to change the way you pray, the way you think about God or the way you live.

It does not enrich the text, and it certainly does not make it more beautiful. As I think I’ve clearly demonstrated, it does little to the text but make it clunkier and a lot more confusing.

Tyler Francke is founder of God of Evolution and author of Reoriented. He can be reached at tyler@godofevolution.com.

  • There’s an inherent problem to referring to Jesus’ teaching on divorce. It shines the spotlight on a key issue with the YEC interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2. Adam and Eve have no father or mother, so what could that instruction possibly mean to them? “In every marriage but yours, this is how it goes down. Also, you don’t know what these things are, but people will so, you know.”

    These are good responses. I especially liked how you handled the “domesticated plants” explanation. It’s ridiculous. It’s even dumber when you read the Septuagint. The first part “bush of the field” could almost support the YEC view, because the Septuagint translates it as “green field,” which probably means a new, untended area but could possibly mean a cultivated field. But the next phrase “small plants” is translated “grass.” The Septuagint says, “There was no grass because it had not rained.”

    I realize you were focused purely on the issue of differences between Genesis 1 and 2, but the exegetical issues against a literalist interpretation are legion. I actually left the YEC view behind for exegetical reasons, not scientific ones.

    • There’s an inherent problem to referring to Jesus’ teaching on divorce. It shines the spotlight on a key issue with the YEC interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2. Adam and Eve have no father or mother, so what could that instruction possibly mean to them? “In every marriage but yours, this is how it goes down. Also, you don’t know what these things are, but people will so, you know.”

      You know, I’ve actually never thought about that before, but that’s a really good point. Then again, they would probably say Adam’s dad was God and his mom was the earth or something.

      These are good responses. I especially liked how you handled the “domesticated plants” explanation. It’s ridiculous. It’s even dumber when you read the Septuagint. The first part “bush of the field” could almost support the YEC view, because the Septuagint translates it as “green field,” which probably means a new, untended area but could possibly mean a cultivated field. But the next phrase “small plants” is translated “grass.” The Septuagint says, “There was no grass because it had not rained.”

      Thanks. I have to say I was particularly partial to my Parable of the Sandwich. Really hope that catches on. But yeah, the “of the field” thing is just another aspect of the YEC movement’s whole everything-gets-a-straightforward-surface-level-reading-unless-it-doesn’t-fit-in-which-case-we-twist-it-however-we-have-to hermeneutic. It’s pretty irritating.

      • To me, the father and mother reference is one of the clearest indicators that we are seeing that the Genesis 1 story is being told from the author’s current frame of reference and not a “prophetic eyewitness” to historical events – that and the out-of-nowhere sacrifices of Cain and Abel. Well, that and the fact that Genesis 1-3 is the story of Israel.

        The YECs get a lot of mileage out of, “Well, but God knew…” and “we don’t know what He told Adam.” For all the claims of taking God’s word at face value, they really have to go outside it a lot to make a coherent reading.

        The sandwich parable was actually very good. I’m going to use it with attribution.

        I noticed the CMI article referred to the “now defunct JEPD hypothesis.” Now defunct? I think somebody needs to get acquainted with the current state of biblical scholarship.

        • I noticed the CMI article referred to the “now defunct JEPD hypothesis.” Now defunct? I think somebody needs to get acquainted with the current state of biblical scholarship.

          Yeah, that stuck out to me, too. But I just took it as another example of how they craft their alternate reality to be whatever they want it to be. In their world, the theory of evolution is a snake oil sham, tottering on the brink of collapse, so why not the documentary hypothesis, too?

  • Charles Weston

    It’s important to note that the only biblically authorized reason for a man to move out of his parents’ home is to get married.