Could you help me with what appears to be a contradiction between the two stories of creation in Genesis?

Hi Kasey

Could you help me with what appears to be a contridiction between the two stories of creation in Genesis

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Hey Paul!

Thanks for that question brother! Happy to take a shot at it!

First things first. In the spirit of Ravi, whenever I’m in a conversation with somebody, I’m always looking for the “question behind the question.”

For me, the “question behind the question” with regards to Genesis has to do with the idea that if God authored a book, it would never contain perspectives or statements that differ from one another. If we find seeming instances of those things, then the Bible really wasn’t authored by God…. right?

There is some major truth to this, namely, in the idea that all scripture really is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Bible will never contradict itself, and if the Bible means to tell us that something is a historical fact, then we must treat it as such. Not only that, but Jesus had an incredibly high view of scripture (Matthew 5:18) - and we should too, if we really take him at his word.

So how do we make sense of instances like Genesis 1:1-2:3 looking like a different creation account than Genesis 2:4 and onwards?

I think this question has less to do with actual contradictions and so much more to do with how we discern literary genres in the Bible.

One of the most helpful answers for me comes from John Lennox’s book Seven Days That Divide the World. He makes a widely acknowledged point: that we cannot simply ignore context and literary genre if we are going to find what the authors of the Genesis truly meant to say:

“It would be a pity if, in a desire (rightly) to treat the Bible as more than a book, we ended up treating it as less than a book by not permitting it the range and use of language, order, and figures of speech that are (or ought to be) familiar to us from our ordinary experience of conversation and reading.”

In other words, sometimes we approach the Bible in a way we would never approach conversations with other people.

My buddy Tim, for example, is incredibly skilled at ultimate frisbee. I was recently bragging to some friends about how good he is, and had the following conversation:

Me: “Tim is really good at ultimate frisbee. When we played the other week, he knocked the other team’s socks off.”

Friend 1 : “Woah, really?”

Me: “Yeah. I saw him throw a hammer 40 yards, against the wind, right into the arms of his teammate who was in the end zone.”

Even in this conversation, we’re interacting with a few different literary devices.

Two accounts of the same story/theme: My first description described what happened in the big picture. My second story re-told the same events with more specificity.

“Wait!” somebody might say, “There’s a contradiction here! Did people’s socks get knocked off or did Tim throw a hammer at a teammate?”

As native English speakers, we’d all recognize how badly they’re missing the point.

Levels of metaphor describing true events. My friend Tim “knocked the other teams socks off.” While it’s true that archeologists would not find socks littered across that field, nobody should just write off what I’m saying as untrue, because I’m describing something very, very real (Tim is amazing at frisbee). I’m actually doing it in a way that’s meant to convey more than just saying the words “Tim is amazing at frisbee.”

Then I go on to say that Tim “threw a hammer.” I’m still using a metaphor, but now its a bit more specific. Archeologists in this instance would not find hammers buried in the field where we played frisbee… but they might find contemporary versions of people throwing a frisbee “like a hammer.”

And finally, when I say that Tim threw the frisbee “from 40 yards,” “against the wind,” and “right into his teammates arms,” I’m getting a lot more specific. But take note! Even here, I’m not actually trying to give a breakdown of how wind, frisbees and the human arms operate according to the laws of physics. I haven’t told you if Tim’s throw won the game or just got us some points. I haven’t told you if this happened multiple times or just once. There’s still a lot we don’t know!

But ultimately it’s okay, because my intent in telling you this story was to tell you how good Tim was at frisbee and give you a powerful, real-life illustration of how that plays itself out.

If archeologists and historians of the distant future find my account and have some difficulty deciphering exactly what I meant to say, it doesn’t mean that I contradicted myself!

So to conclude:

Christians disagree over which bits of Genesis are mostly metaphor and which bits are meant to be more specific, but nobody disagrees that the Bible uses all of these methods to accurately describe what happened at the beginning of the world.

Christians disagree over whether Gen 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4 are two separate accounts of creation compiled into one book, or whether they are the work of one author using different styles, but in many ways, it’s a little bit like dissecting my story looking for contradictions. The two accounts don’t contradict: they just have different levels of emphasis.

What really matters is to ask “What do the authors want us to know about God and how he created the world?”

I would highly recommend the following resources if you want to dig in further:

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