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A concerned reader wonders how to respond to an issue that has created doubt in her husband's faith. Tim Chaffey, AiG-U.S., addresses his concerns.
My husband recently had a discussion with one of his professors regarding Hebrew scriptures in Genesis. My husband has concluded that because there seems to be [contradiction] between the order of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 that the Bible is not flawless. I do not share his conclusion and would like to have an answer for him. The scriptures in question are Genesis 1:1–2:3 vs. Genesis 2:4-22. He has claimed to be a believer for 10 years, but now believes that man has mucked up the Word of God and that the Bible is not completely accurate and has flaws. Could you help me?
– R.H., USA
Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis.
My husband recently had a discussion with one of his professors regarding Hebrew scriptures in Genesis. My husband has concluded that because there seems to be contradition between the order of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 that the Bible is not flawless. I do not share his conclusion and would like to have an answer for him. The scriptures in question are Genesis 1:1-2:3 vs. Genesis 2:4-22.
This is a common argument used against the traditional understanding of Genesis (i.e., God created everything in six normal-length days approximately 6,000 years ago). This argument attempts to show that inconsistencies exist between the first two chapters in the Bible. Critics and skeptics use it in their efforts to show the Bible cannot be trusted. Some Christians who believe in billions of years use it in trying to show that these chapters should not be understood in their plain sense. However, the argument is based on a misunderstanding of Genesis 2.
Genesis 1:1–2:3 provides us with a chronological account of what God did on each of the days during the creation week. Genesis 2:4–25 zooms in on day six and shows some of the events of that day.1 Let’s take a look at what happened on day six, according to Genesis 2, and we’ll see there is no discrepancy here.
The particular issue that people have with Genesis 2 is that the order of the creation of man, animals, and trees seems to be contrary to the order stated in Genesis 1.
Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
Following the creation of man, Genesis 2:9 mentions that God created trees, including the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
“And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (Genesis 2:9)
Then Genesis 2:19 mentions the creation of certain land animals.
Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. (Genesis 2:19)
At first glance this seems to be a contradiction because Genesis 1 has the animals and trees created prior to the creation of man; however, both issues can be resolved by an understanding of the original language and the translation process.2 The Hebrew word for “formed” in both passages is yatsar. The New King James Version (quoted above) translates the verb in its perfect form.
However, this Hebrew word may also be translated in its pluperfect form. In this case, it would read that God “had formed” these creatures, as some other translations have it (e.g. ESV, NIV, etc.) For example, Genesis 2:19 in the NIV states:
“Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them.” (emphasis mine)
This rendering eliminates any problem with the chronology because it refers to what God had already done earlier in the creation week. This would mean that the plants (Genesis 2:9) and the animals (Genesis 2:19) had already been formed by God earlier in the creation week. William Tyndale was the first to translate an English Bible directly from the original languages,3 and He also translated the verb in its pluperfect form.
And after that the LORD God had made of the earth all manner beasts of the field, and all manner fowls of the air, he brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them. And as Adam called all manner living beasts: even so are their names. (Tyndale, Genesis 2:19)
(For more information on this topic, please see Two Creation Accounts.)
He has claimed to be a believer for 10 years, but now believes that man has mucked up the Word of God and that the Bible is not completely accurate and has flaws. Could you help me?
This seems to stem from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, which is clearly spelled out in our statement of faith.
The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches. Its authority is not limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes but includes its assertions in such fields as history and science. (emphasis mine)
It is important to notice that inerrancy only applies to the original autographs (manuscripts). It does not extend to every copy and translation. As a result of this misunderstanding, people have sometimes come across an error in one of the translations and mistakenly assumed that the Bible must contain errors. In truth, the error was made by either a translation committee or a scribe responsible for copying the manuscript.
I would recommend a book entitled Nothing But the Truth by Brian Edwards. It explains the issues of translation and inerrancy in good detail, and would address your husband’s questions (also see Why 66?).
To automatically assume that this is a contradiction portrays the author of Genesis in a pretty dim light. Was he so inept that he couldn’t keep from contradicting himself in the first two chapters or were these chapters written with two different focuses? Rather than immediately assuming that the writer could not get his facts straight in the first two chapters, one should dig a little deeper (as you have done by asking us) to see if there is a better explanation.
While man and the devil often do attempt to muck up God’s Word, we can have confidence that God’s Word is true and accurate from the very beginning.
Tim Chaffey, AiG-U.S.