In a prior post (see here), I announced a new blog series designed to address problematic passage in the Bible. This new series will feature guest posts from other evangelical scholars and is largely a response to the series by Peter Enns’ entitled, “Aha moments: biblical scholars tell their stories.”
The contributor for this installment is my friend and colleague John Currid (Ph.D., University of Chicago). John is the Carl W. McMurray Professor of Old Testament here at RTS Charlotte and the Project Director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project in Israel (1995-present). He is the author numerous books including, Against the Gods (Crossway, 2013); Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible (Baker Academic, 1999); and Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 1997).
Those who read this blog know that Peter Enns has a blog series called “aha moments from biblical scholars.” The “aha” moment for these scholars is simply coming to the realization that the Bible is not true in all that it says, but it contains many contradictions that call into question the nature and veracity of the text. One of the guest scholars who has had an “aha” moment is Charles Halton, an assistant professor at Houston Baptist University.
Prof. Halton’s enlightenment regarding the nature of Scripture occurred during his study of Genesis 1 and 2. His conclusion is simple, common, and it has been around a long time: Genesis 1 and 2 are conflicting accounts of creation and are, in reality, two different renditions of creation. The seminal issue for him appears to be that the two texts give two different sequences or chronologies of the creation event. Whereas Genesis 1 presents humans as the last created, Genesis 2 presents them as the first created, even before plants and animals.
The two verses that Prof. Halton uses to support his view of conflicting creation accounts are Genesis 2:5 and 2:19. We will consider each of them in turn.
Although Prof. Halton provides little discussion about Genesis 2:5, it is still clear, at least in my reading of him, that he sees a contradiction between it and Genesis 1. He says in reference to that verse, “after the human is made, God sows a garden and plants begin to sprout.” I assume that he is arguing, as do many others, that humanity was created prior to the plant life in Genesis 2, and, if so, that would be contrary to Genesis 1 in which the opposite is true.
However, one needs to be careful at this juncture to make certain exactly what the text says. Observe that the text does not say there were no plants in the field, but it merely says that they had not yet sprouted or budded. In other words, they are there but they have not grown yet because there is no rain and no man to till the ground at this point.
Many scholars, like Prof. Halton, assume that Genesis 2:5 includes all plant life. As Meredith Kline says, “Verse 5 itself describes a time when the earth was without vegetation.” It seems more likely that this verse merely refers to two categories of plant life and not to all vegetation. And, as we already mentioned, one of these categories is in the ground but has not yet budded. Therefore, it is probably the case that some plant life existed on the earth prior to the creation of mankind in Genesis 2 as in Genesis 1.
Dr. Halton saves most of his discussion for Genesis 2:19. He reads that verse as saying, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the sky.” God was, according to Halton, trying to find a companion for Adam. So in this account the animals are created after humanity in contrast to Genesis 1 in which they were created before humans. Indeed, this appears to be a contradiction that is troubling and cannot be easily dismissed.
Halton then accuses two translations – the ESV and the NIV – of obscuring the natural flow of the passage by translating it as “had formed”, which would be an example of a pluperfect tense. The translation “had formed” would reflect a previous creation of animals prior to the creation of mankind. God, then, would simply be bringing the animals before Adam that had already been created. Halton argues that a pluperfect translation does injustice to the verb. The Hebrew verb is a narrative preterite which indicates sequential action, but the pluperfect would, in fact, remove the immediate sequential aspect of the verb. Thus, he is saying that the ESV and the NIV are attempting to harmonize and reconcile two contradictory creation accounts by removing immediate sequential action from the verb “to form.”
Thus, with the flick of the grammatical wrist Prof. Halton concludes that the ESV and NIV translations “opt for a rather forced reading of the Hebrew.” The case, however, is not that simple. Yes, he is correct that normally the narrative preterite verb does require sequence from the immediately preceding verb and the flow of the passage, but certainly not always. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that the narrative preterite verb (sometimes called wayyiqtol) does at times, in fact, serve as a pluperfect. We cannot take the time here to lay out all the evidence and, therefore, I would refer the reader to the important study of C. John Collins, “The WAYYIQTOL as ‘Pluperfect’: When and Why,” Tyndale Bulletin 46.1 (1995):117-40. More recent Hebrew grammars are recognizing the wayyiqtol verb form can be used in a pluperfect sense. For example, the significant syntax book written by Waltke and O’Connor concludes that the wayyiqtol form may indeed entail a pluperfect situation, and they provide some examples of that usage (pp. 552-53). Consequently, the claim of Prof. Halton in this matter is too sweeping and, therefore, should not be used as evidence for contradictory accounts of Genesis 1 and 2.
A hermeneutic of suspicion appears to dominate those who hold to two separate, contradictory creation accounts from two different sources. It is true that the two chapters of Genesis view the creation event from two different angles or perspectives. Genesis 1 paints the creation of the cosmos in a sequential, broad stroke, whereas Genesis 2:4-25 presents an elaboration of the sixth day and focuses primarily on the creation of mankind. This is one reason that Genesis 1 employs the name Elohim for God: this is the name of the powerful Creator who made the heavens and the earth. Genesis 2 primarily uses the name Yahweh Elohim, not because it is a different account, but it is stressing the covenantal name for God who has a covenantal relationship with his people. Genesis 1 and 2 are not contradictory accounts of the creation, but complementary accounts that highlight different aspects of the creation event.
Prof. Halton’s view has been around for a long time, at least as early as the late 19th century. There is nothing new here. In fact, it really is not an “aha” moment, but actually a “ho-hum” moment.
Dan Phillips says
I think the only error the author of Genesis 1 and 2 might have made was in overestimating the intelligence of his readers — in assuming they’d know to keep the chronological framework of chapter one in mind when reading the topic-focused narrative of chapter 2. But since that error is not in the text itself… no doctrinal problem. (c:
Kevin Davis says
It seems more likely that this verse merely refers to two categories of plant life and not to all vegetation.
How is it “more likely”? How is it more likely that “vegetation” referred only to its seed form and not to its mature form? The only answer, as Professor Currid realizes, is that this is the only way to harmonize the two accounts, therefore it must be “more likely”! I would appreciate it if that was clearly stated, instead of appealing to a plausibility out of thin air. It is certainly not plausible, nor would anyone read Gen 1 in that way, unless he was forced by Gen 2.
I have no desire to defend Professor Enns and his “a ha” series. He is clearly beyond the pale of either evangelical or catholic/orthodox hermeneutics, which requires a far more robust theological context in which to operate — a context which guarantees the authority of Holy Writ for the church. Nonetheless, I surely hope that Enns’ detractors can do better than this, or perhaps it is time that we stop using an absurdly restrictive historiography, especially when we read the first three chapters of Genesis.
Note you are already assuming that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict one another. No reason to do that, unless you think God has a speech impediment.
Brian Collins says
In response to Kevin’s question, I’d note that עֵשֶׂב (“small plant,” ESV) probably refers to edible plants that a farmer cultivates (Wenham, WBC, 1:58; Mathews, NAC, 1:194; McCabe, DBSJ 11.1 (Fall 2006): 88-89. The field (שָׂדֶה) does not always refer to cultivated fields, but it often does. This is seems to be the best sense in this context (BDB, s.v. שָׂדֶה 1a, 2a.). שִׂיחַ is a much more difficult term to define. It occurs only four times in Scripture, and in the other occurrences it seems to refer to a desert kind of shrub. It may be that an allusion exists here to Genesis 3:18. In that passage both cultivated plants (עֵ֫שֶׂב) and thorns and thistles appear. Thorns cannot be mentioned here, since they did not exist before the Fall. Perhaps שִׂיחַ is mentioned as the kind of plant that became thorny after the Fall (Mathews, NAC, 1:193-94; Cassuto, 1:101-2; Hamilton, NICOT, 1:154; McCabe, 88-89). There are contextual arguments as well (e.g., no man is given as a reason why these plants were not growing in this land), so these are just some of the indicators of why it is more likely that not all plant life is under consideration here.
Mark D Futato wrote a good article on this in WTJ, “Because it had not rained”. He seems to answer the question about vegetation in 2:5 rather nicely.
Stephen Funck says
God Wrote The Bible Confusing On Purpose
Mark 4: 10-12 “And when he was alone, they asked about the parable. He said; ‘to you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but to them all these things are done in parables: so that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven.” This is similar to God’s word to Isaiah 6:9-11.
What Jesus said is confusing!!! He said some things that are hard to take. The Bible has hard sayings. A lot of people think the Bible, Jesus, God are wrong. When we look at the world, all the evil, there are things that make it look like there is no god, or that he doesn’t care. Many don’t get what they pray for. Why bother?
That is how it can be from our human point of view. But all people know their own mind, their understanding, is limited, incomplete, defective. What we wanted, led to disaster and what we did not like, led to blessing.
Would God write the Bible confusing on purpose? Would Jesus, really say heartless words? If I was god, I would never do that in my “Good Book”. The Bible is also full of wonderful words, promises of mercy, forgiveness. Savior, Redeemer, Love. In Love, God knows He cannot allow us to be fooled by Satan’s lies. Jesus is my friend. God is my loving Father. He is Holy, Pure, Righteous. Nothing sinful, flawed, can exist in His presence. He is perfect, never does anything wrong or the wrong way.
Sometimes a truth can only be expressed by saying two opposite statements. The wave / particle nature of light, the deep truths of physics, are like that. “His ways are not like our ways, His thoughts are not like our thoughts.” He wrote the Bible in such a way as to make clear our human understanding is defective. Because our evil minds twist everything, there are some things He can not say plainly.
We only begin to get a glimmer of God when we give up our own ways, thoughts and seek His way. Pray God would give you His Wisdom, that He would shape your mind to be His mind, your heart to be His heart.
We can only understand a Spiritual Book spiritually, by God’s Spirit, not by our human abilities. I know people who express the Spirit of Christ, but their understanding of certain Bible teachings is different from what the Lord has led me to believe. I know others I am in full agreement with but in whom I see no sign or interest in the Spirit of Love, Truth, Peace.
Those the world calls religious leaders have a hard time thinking they are flawed. They represent God, speak for God. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God’s biggest problems are not the “criminals” but the “good people”, leaders who speak for God.
God is capable. The Bible is exactly what He wants. It is God’s deliberate intention that we have 2 different versions of the 10 Commandments, 2 of the Lord’s Prayer, 4 of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, 4 of His death and resurrection. Those “variations” would have been eliminated by a human author. If we had the Lord’s Prayer in Jesus’ Aramaic words, we would be praying it in Aramaic! Jesus words were translated into Greek. The Old Testament is in Hebrew. Therefore there is nothing wrong by using English or Chinese.
Mt. 5:17 records Jesus saying not the smallest letter (jot) or decorative corner of a letter (tittle) would pass from the Law (Bible) until all is accomplished. 2nd Cor. 3:6 “ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”.
People argue, fight, kill over human opinions about the words of the Bible. The Spirit is about God’s Love, salvation, worship, care for the brother, witness to the lost. No one can fight or kill over that. All who seek the Spirit of God, the Love of Christ are united in the Spiritual Body of the Church. All real Christians love God, love their brothers in the true faith, and as children of the Father, they even love, as He does, the lost, the enemy.
The early church had a “rule” to guide them in understanding what the Bible said, what was the “real” will of God. “The Rule of Faith” or “Analogy of Faith.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_Faith . Since the real, wise, God cannot disagree with Himself, all things properly understood, taken together, are in agreement. That agrees with what has been always, everywhere, taught by everyone. That is the definition of the “catholic”, universal faith, “Standard Christianity.” It is also in agreement with the “traditions” of the church from the beginning. A real powerful God, a Holy Spirit with the power to guide direct the people of God, makes that happen. Because we, human beings, including human church members are flawed sinners in this life, we are continually creating errors and confusion. Looking at the outward manifestations of the Church, error and confusion are rampant. The power of God is evident to those who spiritually discern God’s presence.
There are Bible variations from Europe, Ethiopia, Babylon. There are no variations in meaning. Men hand copied the Bible for thousands of years. It was not possible for anyone, any group, to control what God says.
A few years after Mohammed, the leader ordered all variants destroyed and authorized one purified Quran. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses control the copyright, content, of their books and modify them from the originals.
The original Scholars, Doctors, Teachers of the Church were acknowledged because they could accurately pass on the historic truths of God. Today in order to be someone, a scholar has to make a “new” discovery. The greater the correction of old truth, the more renowned the scholar.
God wrote the Bible in such a way to make sure we know salvation is by Faith in Christ, His Gift, Grace alone. It is not by our human understanding, knowledge. Spiritual truth is found by those who seek it spiritually, humbly admitting their human inability to comprehend the Divine.
To God alone be Glory
He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves,
but for him who died and was raised for them. 2 Cor. 5:15
See my web site for more. http://thesignofconcord.com Email [email protected]
Stephen H. Funck September 12, 2014
Original version written when Chaplain at Baltimore City Detention Center
Kevin Davis says
Thanks to Brian Collins for offering a brief but substantive reply, with citations for follow-up. I greatly appreciate it.
Ernst Wendland says
Those who argue for two separate and contradictory Creation accounts ignore a common mode of Hebrew narrative construction, at least in the Pentateuch, which is simply: First a general summary or topic statement, which is then followed by a more detailed account or a development of the topic. We see this model already in chapter 1: general summary (1:1)—the details (1:-2:3, with an interesting concluding summary in 2:1). From 2:4 onwards, the rest of Genesis is structured by the initial topic method—the ten “Toledoth” (Heb. for ‘Generations/Genealogies); cf. 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, and 37:2 (#10). The NET gives a helpful overview of this technique, with special reference to Gen. 2:4.
NET: The Hebrew phrase אֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת (’elle tol edot) is traditionally translated as “these are the generations of” because the noun was derived from the verb “beget.” Its usage, however, shows that it introduces more than genealogies; it begins a narrative that traces what became of the entity or individual mentioned in the heading. In fact, a good paraphrase of this heading would be: “This is what became of the heavens and the earth,” for what follows is not another account of creation but a tracing of events from creation through the fall and judgment (the section extends from Ge 2:4 through Ge 4:26). See M. H. Woudstra, “The Toledot of the Book of Genesis and Their Redemptive-Historical Significance,” CTJ 5 (1970): 184-89. The expression this is the account of is an important title used throughout the Book of Genesis, serving as the organizing principle of the work. It is always a heading, introducing the subject matter that is to come. From the starting point of the title, the narrative traces the genealogy or the records or the particulars involved. Although some would make the heading in Ge 2:4 a summary of creation (Ge 1:1-2:3), that goes against the usage in the book. As a heading it introduces the theme of the next section, the particulars about this creation that God made. Ge 2 is not a simple parallel account of creation; rather, beginning with the account of the creation of man and women, the narrative tells what became of that creation. As a beginning, the construction of Ge 2:4-7 forms a fine parallel to the construction of Ge 1:1-3. The subject matter of each תּוֹלְדֹת (tol edot, “this is the account of”) section of the book traces a decline or a deterioration through to the next beginning point, and each is thereby a microcosm of the book which begins with divine blessing in the garden, and ends with a coffin in Egypt. So, what became of the creation? Ge 2:4-4:26 will explain that sin entered the world and all but destroyed God’s perfect creation.
Ernst Wendland says
I forgot to mention: Be sure to get a copy of Prof. Currid’s recent book, “Against the Gods” (Crossway, 2013). It is a fascinating and very accessible study of ancient religious beliefs in competition with those of Scripture (the Hebrew Bible). My review of this book, if anyone is interested, may be found (PDF copy) at the following site: https://www.academia.edu/5809334/REVIEW_John_D._Currid_Against_the_Gods_The_Polemical_Theology_of_the_Old_Testament
Thanks for the post – and loved “Against the Gods”.
Question. In a response to critics of Gen. 1 & 2, wouldn’t it be more helpful to lay out a number of theories that handle Gen 1 & 2? The most respected Genesis commentaries – Wenham, Mathews, Hamilton, Waltke, Kidner – do a very good job of sketching many of these alternatives out and folks should know about them.
Moreover, John Sailhamer’s approach (and his student Seth Postell) to Genesis 1-2 is definitely worth being part of the conversation. Sailhamer’s approach is the most powerful “text-centered” approach I have yet to encounter. And certainly we have John Walton’s functional creation view to consider.
I would think the ultimate goal should be to bring people in to Genesis 1-2 in an engaging and faithful way. Treating Genesis 2 as a telescoping of Day 6 is not the only alternative. Just letting folks know there are powerful alternatives to Enn’s take, or to a “Ken Hamm” approach is well worth the time.