The Contradiction in Genesis Chapters 1 & 2

May 2010

I had read the book of Genesis many times before, and had always thought I knew the story of Creation rather well, particularly as I had also heard many sermons and teachings on it. This time, however, as I re-visited Genesis I noticed a contradiction between chapters 1 and 2 that I had somehow missed before, one which bothered me immensely.

Chapter 1 stated that God had created Man (male and female) on Day 6, whilst chapter 2 stated that Man was created before any plant of the field had yet sprung up
Here are the relevant snippets from Genesis:

Genesis 1: 26-31
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Genesis 2: 4-7
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

According to chapter 1, plants were created on Day 3. Here's the relevant snippet:

Genesis 1:11-13
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

 So there lies the contradiction:    When was Man created - on Day 6 or Day 3 (prior to Plants)?

So I began to question God - why do these two chapters seem to contradict one another? There must be a very good reason for it, some plausible explanation for it, but what could it be?

That same week, I asked this very question to my friend at church. He considers himself to be intellectually and theologically sound. His first response to me was that this particular contradiction is one that should not gravely concern me - because in essence, God created spaces and then filled them. It really doesn't matter how and when God filled those spaces, God eventually filled them. My friend then went on to say that this contradiction has been the subject of many discussions amongst well-established theologians, as follows:

I read through these discussions with the utmost interest, but I was not satisfied with all that was written. Somehow I knew that there was something deeper than all these intellectual discussions - which seem to me to be merely human theories and justifications in an attempt to explain something that just didn't quite add up!

Although the contradiction was not a life and death situation for me, it was very important to me (anything to know God better is important to me). So I went to bed that night, questioning God again. I persisted in my questioning. I was desperate for an answer that I could be satisfied with. This reminded me of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26) where Jesus stated that He would give her living water. How appropriate I thought, indeed only He can give living water that satisfies, whereas humans can only give ordinary water than would only encourage more thirst.  I was still thirsty (unsatisfied) after reading those theologian discussions, I needed the real living water from God. I needed an answer directly from God Himself.

As my heart and my mind pressed on God for an answer, I felt what I can only call "His Revelation Knowledge" started to flow from above into me. Suddenly I began to understand, I began to see, it all began to make sense - just like jigsaw pieces falling into their places. Bits of knowledge began to fill my mind, and it continued and continued. I was excited, I was overwhelmed! Before long, I found myself shouting praises and thanks to God because what He has shown me was just incredible! He showed me that ....

Genesis chapters 1 and 2 DO NOT contradict!
They actually merged beautifully

and I began to see the order of His creation, His thoughts when He was creating them, which I will now share with you.

Here are the details of how Genesis chapters 1 and 2 merged:

Genesis 1:1-31 & Genesis 2:1-3

This is a SUMMARY of Creation.

Day 1: Light & Darkness (Day & Night), Evening & Morning.

Day 2: Sky & Expanse

Day 3:

    • Part I:  Land & Seas
    • Part II: Vegetation on Land: Plants & Trees

Day 4: Lights (for both night and day), Stars & Moon.

Day 5: Sea Creatures & Birds

Day 6:

    • Part I: Land Animals (wild, livestocks, etc)
    • Part II: Man (male & female) to rule over sea creatures, birds, livestock, land animals. 

Day 7: God rested, blessed this 7th day to be holy. This day is referred to as "Sabbath Day".

Genesis 2:4-25

This is the DETAILS of Creation.

Day 1 & 2 are as in Chapter 1 (but unstated).

Day 3: Man (male) was created in between Part I and Part II (i.e. after Land & Seas, but before Plant & Trees). He was formed from dust (Genesis 2:7), so Land must have had to have existed first. Other versions of the Bible have suggested "mud" which is clearly a mixture of Land and Water (Seas).  So Day 3, Part I must have happened first before God formed Man.  

After Man (male) was created, God placed him in the Garden of Eden to tend it.

But God saw that it was not good for Man (male) to be alone, so God continued His creation until Day 6 (Part I) to make a suitable helper for Man. Day 5 & 6 saw the creations of sea creatures, birds and land animals, made to be companions for Man. God brought the land animals and birds to Man to name. Man named each one, including himself as "Adam" (we see the first reference of the name "Adam" in Genesis 2:20). But since none of them were suitable helpers for Adam, God created Eve (female) from Adam’s rib - by this time, it was Day 6, Part II.


    • Both Genesis chapter 1 & 2 are correct, they do not contradict, but complement one another; they merge beautifully.
    • It is no coincidence that Day 3 and Day 6 were the only days where there were two parts of Creation (unlike the other days) because these were the days on which Adam and Eve were created. 
      • Adam (male) was made on Day 3 (between Parts I & II).
      • Eve (female) was made on Day 6 (Part II). 
    • Man (male) was the "first" thing that God created to fill the spaces. This makes Man to be the most precious thing to God, and thus he can be considered as the "firstfruit". 
James 1:18
He (God) chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

    • Chapter 1 states the making of Man (male & female) to be Day 6 because Chapter 1 is a summary. Chapter 2, however, points to the detail of how the male part (of Man) was made on a different day to the female part. The making of Man (just male) is not complete without the making of the female part also. So the statement of creating "Man" can only be said when both male and female have been completed, which is ultimately Day 6.

It's like making a suit (jacket & trousers). I can finish making the jacket first, but I cannot say I finished making the suit, until after I have also finished making the trousers. Hence the very day I finish making the trousers, I can say then that I have finished making the suit (since I had already also finished making the jacket). In the same way was Man made, Chapter 1 was able to state the making of Man to be on Day 6 because that was when the creation of Eve completed the creation of Man.

  • In addition to this, God could not say that it was not good for Man (male) to be alone if He had not first created Man (in finished form); not forgetting to mention the fact that Eve was created from Adam's ribs (so Adam would have had to be already created and living). So this supports the making of Adam and Eve to have been done at a different time or occasion.
  • Unlike the theological discussions where it was stated that the two creation stories contradict one another, God has revealed that they are very much in harmony with one and another, and intended to be so. It just needed God's revelation knowledge to knit them together.
  • Unlike the theological discussions where it was stated that Genesis Chapter 1 has been written in "poetry" style, and chapter 2 in "narrative" style, God has revealed that Genesis chapter 1 is a summary of Creation and Genesis 2 is the details of Creation.

Implications (even for us today)

If indeed Adam (male) was created on Day 3, the implications are enormous, serious, but also wonderful: 
  • Firstly, it would mean that Adam witnessed some of God’s creation work, namely in creating plants, trees, sun, moon, stars, birds, sea creatures and land animals (basically all the space fillers). What an experience it must have been for Adam to witness God working, God creating, God showing His power, His skill. The family tree stated in Genesis chapter 5 shows Adam living through 8 generations – from his son Seth right through to Lamech (Noah’s father). Imagine the stories Adam would have handed down to his family first-hand about how God created all the space fillers; stories told in great accuracy and in great detail. Today - God still loves to show us His power, His skills -- and through all His wonderful works in our lives, we have miracles and testimonies which we can share with our families, our neighbours and friends for generations to come. 
  • The second implication is that in letting Adam witness Creation, God was sharing Himself with Adam. In fact God brought the animals & birds to Adam, so that Adam can give them names. God gave Adam a role to play in Creation. He gave Adam the task of creating names for these animals (sea and land creatures) and birds. God could have named them Himself, but He asked Adam to do it instead – it’s a position of privilege for Adam. God wanted Adam to be His partner. And God is still like that today. He loves to partner with us. There is a part that God does that we cannot do, but there is also a part that we must do that we can do. In doing so, together we have a relationship with God. If God did everything for us without us having to do anything, then there wouldn't be a relationship. So let's share all our joys, sorrows, the burden of our hearts, our thoughts, our questions with Him - He longs to journey with us in all adventures.
  • The third implication is that Adam would be the FIRST space filler that God created. After God created Land & Seas (which are spaces), He did not proceed to create Plants & Trees, but rather He created the Man Adam first. This means that God has placed us at the TOP of the list of space fillers, thus we are the MOST precious to God. We were FIRST in His mind and we are still first in His mind today. God loves us above all things created, we are His firstfruits. So we can take the love He has for us and let it heal our wounds, our depression, let it comfort our mourning and let it be the guide for our lives.