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Genesis 2: A Second Creation Account?

Randall W. Younker
Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology, Andrews University
Author, God’s Creation: Exploring the Genesis Story

Does Genesis 2 have a different creation story from Genesis 1?

Even to the casual reader, the conclusion of the first chapter of Genesis gives the impression of a completed creation:

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Gen 1:31–2:3, NIV throughout this article).

Some readers, then, have been perplexed by several verses in the following chapter that appear to list four things that God had not yet created. After Genesis 2:4 restates that the Lord God had finished making “the earth and the heavens,” verse 5 goes on to say that He had not yet made: (1) the “shrub of the field”; (2) the “plant of the field”; (3) “rain on the earth”; and (4) a “man to work the ground.” Does not chapter 1 clearly depict the creation of man and plants prior to the end of that first week of Creation? Does chapter 2 contradict chapter 1?

Some critical Bible scholars have tried to explain these differences by claiming that different parts of Genesis were written by different authors at different times. We can’t deal here with all the claims of the historical critics concerning the first two chapters of Genesis. A number of scholars have examined the various arguments claiming that two or more authors or sources are behind the composition of Genesis 1 and 2, and have not found them compelling.1

Multiple Authors?

The idea that Genesis was written by multiple authors rather than by Moses raises a lot of questions. Those who accept these ideas also usually doubt the divine inspiration of the Bible as a whole and the historicity of the Genesis Creation account. This critical view of a non-inspired, non-Mosaic authorship of Genesis has certainly not been the traditional view of either Jews or Christians. Bible-believing Christians point out that the apostles and Christ refer frequently to various portions of Genesis as divinely-inspired Scripture (see, for example, Rom 4:17; Gal 3:8; Heb 4:4; Jms 2:23).

Especially interesting is Jesus’ comment to the Pharisees about the permissibility of divorce (Mt 19; Mk 10). Jesus asked, “‘What did Moses command you?’” (Mk 10:3). When they replied by quoting Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Jesus countered by quoting from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 (Mt 19:4, 5; Mk 10:6-9). Clearly, Jesus’ counter-argument was based on the assumption that Moses authored these passages—otherwise His argument would have been devoid of authority.

From our pioneers onward, Adventists have believed that Moses was the author of Genesis.2 Ellen G. White wrote that while Moses sojourned in Midian, “Here, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote the book of Genesis” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 251). Based on both the internal evidence of Scripture, including the inferred and explicit testimony of the apostles and Jesus, as well as the understanding of Ellen White and the pioneers, the overwhelming majority of Adventists have been reluctant to adopt a critical view that would deny Moses’ God-inspired authorship of Genesis, including the first two chapters.

But what does one do, then, with the apparent contradictions that critical scholars attribute to different authors or sources? I believe that by taking a closer look at the text we can find answers to these troubling questions.

A Closer Look


Anyone who carefully reads the first chapter of Genesis can readily see that the account of the seven days of creation does not really end at verse 31 of chapter 1. Rather, the description of God’s activities during this first week of the world’s history actually continues into the first few verses of chapter 2. The chapter and verse divisions were not provided by the original authors of the biblical text; rather, they were inserted much later and often divide the text in an arbitrary fashion. Indeed, to compensate for this arbitrary division, many modern English translations indicate where the actual, natural break occurs by placing a gap or a heading between 2:4a and 2:4b—right in the middle of this verse!

The theme of chapter 2, therefore, properly begins at 2:4. As noted above, the first point this new section makes is that there were four things that did not yet exist after God had completed the earth and the heavens: the shrub of the field, the plant of the field, rain, and the man to work the soil. How is it that these four things did not yet exist after God announced His creation complete? Are these things, especially the plants and man, somehow different from those mentioned in chapter 1? If so, how and why did these things come into existence? The answer to these questions is the point of chapter 2.

Terms for Vegetation


Although most scholars who have studied the first two chapters of Genesis appear to have assumed that the words and phrases for plants or vegetation used in Genesis 1:11, 12 and Genesis 2:5 carry the same meaning, the fact is that the Hebrew words used in these two chapters are not the same! Genesis 1:11, 12 actually reads, “Let the earth produce vegetation [Heb. deshe’], seed-bearing plants [‘esev mazry‘ zera‘], and fruit-bearing fruit trees [‘ets pry ‘oseh pry] with seed according to its kind.” Genesis 2:5, on the other hand, reads that prior to man’s creation there was no shrub of the field (siah hassadeh), and no plant of the field (‘esev hassadeh) “had yet sprung up.” Even those who cannot read Hebrew can see that the words used in the two chapters are not identical. But do the Hebrew botanical expressions siah hassadeh and ‘esev hassadeh mean the same thing as the expressions that occur in Genesis 1:11, 12? Over the years, many commentators have assumed so.
Different. However, a closer reading of the text reveals that the botanical terms of Genesis 1:11, 12 and Genesis 2:5 do not have the identical meaning. The word siah, “shrub,” appears in only three passages in the Hebrew Bible—Genesis 2:5, 21:15, and Job 30:4, 7, while the full expression siah hassadeh, “shrub of the field,” is unique, appearing only in Genesis 2:5. The contexts of both Genesis 21:15 and Job 30:4, 7 make it clear that the siah is a plant adapted to dry or desert environments. As such, it is most likely a spiny or thorny plant.

According to Michael Zohary, an Israeli botanist, there are more than seventy species of spiny plants that grow among the flora of Israel; more than twenty of these are mentioned in Scripture. These plants, while essential to the fragile ecosystems of dry desert regions, are generally classified as intrusive, obnoxious plants by farmers. They are not the type of plant that a farmer of the ancient Near East would deliberately cultivate in his garden, nor were these plants likely included among the species when God planted the garden east in Eden, filling it with “every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food” (Gen 2:9). Thus, one of the plants that did not yet exist at the beginning of the narrative of Genesis 2:4b was the thorny xerophyte—the agriculturist’s bane. What point is Genesis making here, then? To better understand, we first go on to the next plant that was not yet—the “plant of the field.”

Plant of the Field


While the other botanical term in Genesis 2, ‘esev (“plant”), is fairly common in the Hebrew text, it appears in the full expression ‘esev hassadeh (“plant of the field”) only in Genesis 2:5 and Genesis 3:18. In Genesis 3:18 “plants of the field” are specifically designated as the food Adam will have to eat as a result of his sin; they come about directly by man’s “painful toil” and by the “sweat of [his] brow” (NIV). In other words, “plants of the field” are those plants that are specifically produced by the labor by which man was burdened because of his fall into sin. As one scholar has pointed out, “These species did not exist, or were not found in the form known to us until after Adam’s transgression, and it was in consequence of his fall that they came into the world and received their present form.”3

Grains. The fact that Genesis 3:19 explicitly states that these plants were used to make bread indicates that the expression “plants of the field” specifically refers to wheat, barley, and other well-known grains of the Middle East. Raising such crops requires tilling the ground, another feature of these plants that is specifically mentioned in the text.

Taken together, then, these two botanical terms—“shrub of the field” and “plant of the field”—encompass not the entire plant kingdom, but rather, that part of the plant kingdom the cultivator is particularly concerned with: food crops and weeds.

No Man to Till the Ground


The necessity of man’s labor in the production of the “plant of the field” leads to another item that did not yet exist—a man to till the ground. Again, some scholars have assumed that Genesis 2:5b contradicts chapter 1 because, while the first chapter depicts the creation of man on day six, Genesis 2:5b seems to imply that God had not yet made man after “the earth and heavens were made.” However, this over-simplified reading of the text ignores the critical modifier “to till the ground.”

It is important to note that in Genesis 1:26-30, God did not create man to work the ground. Rather, he was to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (v. 26).

Cursed. A man who “works the ground” does not come into view until after Adam’s fall. Then, because of Adam’s sin, God tells him, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it [the ground] all the days of your life” (Gen 3:17). Thus, like the “plant of the field” of Genesis 2:5, the “man to work the ground” does not come into existence until after the Fall, as a direct result of sin. Note also in this connection that Cain, the first murderer, is described as one who “worked the soil.”

Genesis 2:5b, therefore, is not saying that no man yet existed after God had made the earth and heavens. Rather, it is saying that no sinful man (i.e., one who must work the ground for food) yet existed. Such a man would not exist until after the Fall, an event that is not discussed until chapter 3. Genesis 2, then, sets the stage for what comes later in Genesis 3.

Some have pointed out that in Genesis 2:15, pre-Fall man was to “work the garden,” and thus, they say, Genesis 2:5b simply anticipates the activity described in this later verse. Indeed, the Hebrew word for “work” is the same in both verses (‘eved). However, working a garden is not the same as working the ground. Whereas the English word garden evokes images of neatly hoed rows of carrots, radishes, turnips, etc., the Hebrew word for garden (gan) is not restricted to this. In fact, people in the ancient Near East did not think very highly of vegetable gardening.4 The Old Testament itself provides only one reference (1 Kgs 21:2) to a vegetable garden (gan yaraq). The ancient Hebrew gan (usually translated as garden) was generally understood to be an enclosed, non-irrigated fruit tree orchard or vineyard and was considered a possession of great value. Even though both orchard and field cultivation are very labor intensive initially, once an orchard matures it provides a high, stable yield for a minimum amount of labor. Field cultivation, on the other hand, required continued intensive labor each year. So people considered healthy, mature orchards a prize possession.

Orchard. That the Garden of Eden was a fruit tree orchard is clear from Genesis 2:9, which specifically mentions that it contained all kinds of trees that were good for food. When ancient Israelites heard or read that God gave Adam a gan or orchard, they recognized this as a truly wonderful gift, suitable even for a king.

Finally, we should remember that Genesis 3 explicitly associates “working the ground” with the entrance of sin. Rather than working in the garden God had provided and eating the fruits of its trees, sinful man must now obtain his subsistence by the sweat of his brow through the working of the ground.

Rain


One other thing that Genesis 2:5b says did not yet exist after God finished the earth and the heavens is rain. Following the same pattern established for the three previous categories, we may logically assume that rain does not make its appearance until after the entrance of sin. This is indeed the case. However, unlike the other three items that appear immediately after man’s fall, the Bible does not mention rain until Genesis 7:4, 12, at the commencement of the Flood. The context, though, clearly indicates that rain also comes as a consequence of sin.

Although the thorny shrubs, cultivated plants, and the need for cultivation were immediate judgments brought upon mankind for their sin, God permitted human beings to continue living. The final judgment of rain comes only after man’s condition worsens to the point that God regrets giving them this second chance and determines to destroy the rebellious members of the race. Rain makes its entrance into the world not as a water source for agriculture but as an agent of God’s judgment.

Summary


A careful reading of the text reveals that chapter 2 does not offer a Creation account that contradicts chapter 1. Rather, the introductory verses in chapter 2 explain the origin of four things that were not part of the original Creation described in chapter 1: (1) thorns, (2) agriculture, (3) cultivation/irrigation, and (4) rain. Chapter 2 informs the reader that each of these things resulted directly from the entrance of sin. Genesis 3:17, 18 introduces thorns, plants requiring cultivation, and a human race that must work the ground for its food as curses or judgments immediately after the Fall. Although the Bible does not mention it until the Flood, rain also comes as a curse—a judgment against humanity’s sin.

Bridge. Thus, rather than contradicting chapter 1, these early verses in chapter 2 actually serve as a bridge between the perfect Creation of chapter 1 and the introduction of sin into the world in chapter 3. Genesis 2:4b-6 essentially asks the ancient Hebrews how these four undesirable elements of their lives—the need to deal with thorny plants, the annual uncertainty and hard work of the grain crop, the need to undertake the physically demanding plowing of the ground, and the dependence on the uncertain, but essential, life-giving rain—came to be part of humanity’s lot.

After posing this vexing question, beginning in 2:7 the text proceeds to answer it by recapping in more detail the creation of the man whose sin would result in the four things that were not yet. The remainder of chapter 2 thus leads naturally and directly into chapter 3, which describes the Fall and explains exactly how things got the way they are now. This account continues right through to the Flood story.5

The alleged contradictions between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2:4b-7 do not demonstrate different authors for these chapters, for in fact the passages do not conflict. These verses actually tend to support the unified and integrated nature of the early chapters of Genesis.6

Notes


1. O. T. Allis, The Five Books of Moses (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1943); U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis, trans. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961); K. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (InterVarsity, 1967); G. J. Wenham, “The Date of Deuteronomy: Linchpin of Old Testament Criticism: Part II,” Themelios 11 (1985):3-18; I. M. Kikawada and A. Quinn, Before Abraham Was: The Unity of Genesis 1-11 (Abingdon, 1985); R. N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study (JSOT 53; Sheffield: JSOT, 1987).
2. See F. D. Nichol, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1953), pp. 201-203.
3. The major aspects of this argument are developed by U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, vol. 1, From Adam to Noah, trans. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem: Manges, 1961), p. 102.
4. Borowski cites a couple of texts in support of this conclusion. The first is Proverbs 15:17, which reads, “Better is a meal of vegetables [aruhat yaraq] where love is than fatted ox and hatred with it.” The second is the story of Daniel, wherein the impression is given that vegetables were not considered as nutritious as other foodstuffs. Borowski suggests that the underdeveloped state of horticulture may be behind the Israelite attitude that held vegetables in low regard. See O. Borowski, Agriculture in Iron Age Israel (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1987), p. 101. See also D. Hopkins, The Highlands of Canaan (Sheffield, England: Almond Press, 1985), p. 243.
5. Thus, I believe that scholars like Kikawada and Quinn, Kitchen, and others (see note 1) are on the right track in seeing all of Genesis 1-11 as a single literary unit.
6. For a good overview of these issues and a similar conclusion, see F. D. Nichol, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1, Genesis to Deuteronomy (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald, 1953), pp. 201-203.

This article was adapted from God’s Creation: Exploring the Genesis Story (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1999). An expanded version appears in John Templeton Baldwin, ed., Creation, Catastrophe, and Calvary: Why a Global Flood is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 2000).

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