Problem: The order of creation is contradictory
Verses: Genesis 1-2; Status: Serious

It is claimed that the order of events in Genesis 1 and 2 are different. Here is day-by-day the creation order in Genesis 1:

  1. Light and dark
  2. Sky
  3. Seas, dry land, plants
  4. Stars, the sun and the moon
  5. Sea creatures and flying creatures
  6. Land animals and then humans

The plants problem

Genesis 2, however, might seem to place humans before plants or before animals. Here's Genesis 2:5-7:

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up - for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground - then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (ESV)

This seems to say that man was created before plants, but strictly speaking it only says that plants were not yet "in the land" or had not "sprung up". An anonymous reader of this page suggests that this could mean they existed but in some sort of dormant state, having not yet been "planted"; though this is a very unnatural natural reading.

Another suggestion is that plants "of the field" refers specifically to cultivated plants. This argument has some weight, since the passage notes that there was nobody "to work the ground" - i.e. there were no farmers yet. This part of the problem is Minor, I think.

The animals problem

Another problem is Genesis 2:18-20:

Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. (NRSV)

This appears to place the creation of man before animals. I suppose "the LORD God formed every animal" could mean "God created new specimens of creatures already in existence", though this is not the natural reading. Alternatively, the ESV and some other Bibles solve the problem by describing this creation in the past tense:

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. (ESV)

This way, God had already created these creatures. The NET Bible (which has extensive notes on translation) says this is dubious:

To harmonize the order of events with the chronology of chapter one, some translate [this] as a past perfect ("had formed," cf. NIV) here. [...] However, it is unlikely that the Hebrew construction can be translated in this way in the middle of this pericope, for the criteria for unmarked temporal overlay are not present here.

That is a bit too technical for me. However, note that God says he will make a helper for man, then we are told about animals being formed. It seems like these things are linked, the first explaining the second; and therefore that the creation of animals came after the creation of man (and in contradiction with Genesis chapter 1). For this reason, I've decided to classify this as Serious.

Conclusion

The standard explanation among non-evangelical Bible scholars is that Genesis 1 and 2 had different authors with different ideas or interpreting different traditions. Of course, that in itself is no problem; but it does tend to cause problems.

Updated: 2016-11-06

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