Creation, Version 2?

Genesis 1:25-27 says that God created animals, then mankind. But Genesis 2 describes the creation of man, then says, “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them…” (verse 19). How can these two seemingly different accounts be reconciled?

By the late 1800s many biblical scholars were arguing that the book of Genesis actually presents two accounts of creation—one in chapter 1, another in chapter 2—that are not consistent with each other. In particular, they asserted that chapter 2 places the creation of man before that of animals and birds (vv. 7,19), contrary to the order in chapter 1. This view is still very popular—so much so that some Bibles even include the heading, “Another Account of Creation” at Genesis 2:4.

Are we looking at two conflicting versions of creation here? No; the difference between Genesis chapters 1 and 2 is simply a matter of focus.

Genesis 1 is an overview of God’s creation of all things, culminating on the sixth day in the creation of mankind. Then in chapter 2 the lens zooms in on that particular creative act. It provides more detail and highlights the fact that humans, being made in God’s image, are unique and superior among His creatures. And it lays the foundation for the story of humanity that follows.

As for Genesis 2:19, the text tells us nothing about the order in which creation events happened. The verse says that God formed the other animals out of the ground (which agrees with Genesis 1:20-25); it says nothing about when this happened, because that isn’t the focus here. Instead, the emphasis is seen in the last part of the verse. In bringing the animals before Adam, God showed him (1) his dominion over other created things (reflected in his naming them) and (2) the lack of a companion who was comparable to him (2:20)—setting the stage for the creation of woman.

Gleason Archer wrote, “From the survey of the first fifteen verses of chapter 2, it becomes quite apparent that this was never intended to be a general creation narrative” (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties 69). And C. F. Keil explained that chapter 2 “is not a second, complete and independent history of the creation, nor does it contain mere appendices to the account in chapter 1; but it describes the history of the commencement of the human race” (Keil 47).

We should also keep in mind that Jesus tied Genesis 1 and 2 together: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female [Genesis 1:27], and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]?” (Matthew 19:4-5). The Son of God declared Genesis 1 and 2 to be in harmony, not conflict.

As is the case with Genesis 1 and 2, many of the alleged contradictions or discrepancies in the Bible are simply a matter of two passages emphasizing different facets of the same thing. Imagine two photos of the Grand Canyon taken from different angles; each might highlight different features and might have a very different look from the other, but both would still be photos of the Grand Canyon. We would say that they complemented one another, not that they contradicted one another.

For a chief application of this principle, consider that many historical events in Scripture are recorded by more than one author. We find this when reading, say, the books of Kings and Chronicles in the Old Testament, or the four Gospels in the New Testament. And when we compare two (or more) accounts of the same event, it shouldn’t surprise us to see some differences in emphasis. One account gives a short summary of what happened, another gives a more thorough description. One records specifics that the other does not, and omits details that the other includes. And what may at first look like a discrepancy between the accounts is seen, on closer examination, to be just a difference in focus.