Two Distinct Creation Stories (Gen. 1-2)

The Bible begins, everyone knows, with a creation story.  Or, to be more specific, the first two chapters of Genesis actually provide two distinct creation stories. It is amazingly easy to read these two accounts and bridge them together—but a more discerning review illuminates striking differences.

In Gen. 1, “God” (Hebrew Elohim) creates night and day, the moon and the stars, the earth and its oceans—and then the birds, fish and animals, eventually creating “man and woman” before resting on the seventh day.  The chapter contains a refrain at the end of each major act of creation, noting the order of the days.  God creates things out of thin air: he simply (and famously) states “Let there be light,” and there is.  Creation, it seems, is as easy as God snapping his fingers.  At the end of Gen. 1, God has created the entire known world.

But suddenly, everything changes in Gen. 2.  The most striking difference, if one were not to read the work in English, is the nomenclature for God.  Elohim now becomes “LORD God”—or, more specifically, the so-called “tetragrammaton,” which is just a fancy way of saying (without really saying) the Hebrew name of God, or the four letters YHWH.  In English, this would be like essentially calling God “Terry” in the first chapter, and then suddenly referring to him as “Jimbo” in the second.  The two names are markedly different.  But English translations simply use “God” and “LORD God,” and the difference appears insignificant.

With this new name, the creation’s order changes dramatically.  For example, in Gen. 2 man is created before the animals, and woman and man are not created simultaneously.  Rather, LORD God creates man (Hebrew: adam) first, then creates the animals—so that adam can name them—and then creates woman by snatching a rib from adam while he sleeps.  Note that now “LORD God” does not just snap his heavenly fingers—he must use some sort of molding technique to mold adam from clay, and woman from adam.

So what gives?  Why do Gen. 1 and Gen. 2 differ so dramatically?

Scholars looking at the problems—and contradictions—inherent in Gen. 1 v. Gen. 2 have proposed a hypothesis. The hypothesis asserts that the obvious problems between Gen 1 and Gen 2 are a result of the two independent traditions (and authors) of creation.  These accounts were then conjoined into what became the first two chapters of Genesis.

This really shouldn’t be the province of PhD-toting biblical scholars, however.  Anybody reading through the first two chapters of Genesis should see the striking differences: two distinct names for God, two completely different creation stories, and two distinct traditions.  It’s common sense.

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