Saturday, November 24, 2012

Contradictions in Scripture, One - The Two Creation Stories

Every one knows the Bible is full of contradictions and mistakes.  Most people can't actually name any, but you know they're there.  It's just common knowledge.  Occasionally you will find someone who can give you examples.  For instance, they used to claim the Hittites didn't exist, they were a mythical people for the Israelites to overcome in their cultural stories.  I say "used to" because in 1876 George Smith discovered the Hittite capital of Carchemish and the Bible was vindicated.  Maybe that is a bad example.
      Here is one that is still used.  Matthew 5 has Jesus preaching His sermon on the mount.  Luke 6 has Him giving the same sermon but on a plain.  Maybe this is an error, but couldn't Jesus have given the same sermon twice?  Do you think i write each of my blog posts fresh for you?  The answer is no, i quite often write something somewhere else and then turn it into a blog post.  In fact, i did that just last week and i'm doing it again this week.  I have a number of friends who are pastors.  They all reuse their sermons.  If we all do this, why not Jesus?  Maybe this was His staple sermon and He gave it dozens of times.  Maybe this is a bad example too.
      Let's try a harder one.  A lot of people have pointed out "two creation stories" in the opening chapters of Genesis.  This raises the question; if Genesis had only one author, why did he tell the same story twice?  But even worse than simply repeating himself, he contradicts himself.  In the first story God creates animals first and people second, both male and female.  In the second telling God creates man first, then animals and then woman.  How do we explain this?
      Before i respond to that, let me discus Bible errors in general.  St. Augustine teaches that sometimes the Bible presents us with difficulties.  This is true, some are a lot harder to explain than the ones i'm examining here, there are some i honestly can't explain.  However, in faith, we believe all these difficulties, the apparent contradictions or mistakes, they all fall into one of three categorizes. 
  • Textual errors - The oldest books of the Bible are thousands of years old and before the moveable type printing press was invented they had to be copied by hand.  We do not believe that God kept the scribes from making mistakes in transcription.  The presence of copyist error in no way conflicts with the infallibility of scripture.  Most of the numerical discrepancies can be explained this way.  
  •  Translational errors - Unless you can reading ancient Greek and Hebrew, you are probably reading a translation.  You know, i'm sure those translators did the best job they could, but they were not divinely inspired.  (Not even the Douay-Rheims or King Jame Versions, sorry)  Sometimes, to resolve an apparent mistake, all you have to do is go back to the original text.
  • Reader error - Sometime its not the Bible at all, but rather the one reading it who is in error.  The two examples i already gave fall into this category; they were wrong to believe the Hittites were mythical and they may be wrong to assume Jesus never repeated Himself.  People who try to critic the scriptures on scientific grounds generally make this error.  As the Bible is not a scientific text book it would be wrong to interpret it as such.  Only truth claims can be wrong and not everything in the Bible is a truth claim; there are myths and metaphors and parables.  The trick is telling the difference.
      There are three stories told in the opening of genesis; the creation of the heavens and earth, the creation of man, and then the entry of sin.  The creation of the world goes from Genesis 1:1 until 2:3.  It shows the chronology of creation culminating in the creation of man and the institution of the sabbath.  In the second story we are told more of the creation of man and the sixth day; in Genesis 1 we got a summary, now we are getting details.  The third story then tell us what happened on that first sabbath, we hear the story of the seventh day.  Genesis 1 tells us the story of heaven and earth in chronological order, dividing it between seven days, presenting it from God's perspective, the perspective of the creator.  Genesis 2 and 3 go back and tells us the story of those last two days, the story of man, from man's perspective, the perspective of the creation.
      So, why the repetition?  Artistic flourish.  The author uses chapter 1 to establish an overarching theme, a venue for chapters 2 and 3.  Then in chapters 2 and 3 he relates it to us.  What of the chronological discrepancies?  They aren't really there in Hebrew.
      In English we are used to writing in chronological order.  If i were to say; i bought a vineyard, i purchased seed, and i planted it in my vineyard.  In English we assume this happened in the order specified; first i bough the vineyard, then the seed, then i planted.  In Hebrew this assumption is to a much lesser degree.  The same is true of ancient Greek and we can see a few examples of this in the opening chapter of Luke.  Luke tells a series of self contained stories which overlap each other. 
  • 1:26 - Elizabeth is six months pregnant.
  • 1:39 - In those day, when Elizabeth was six months pregnant, Mary goes to visit her.
  • 1:56 - Mary stays three months and then leaves.  (End of Story)
  • 1:57 - (Start of new story) Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist.
      Why would Mary leave Elizabeth at the peak or her pregnancy?  Did she stayed for three months and book it as soon as Elizabeth went into labor?  No, of course Mary stayed until after the birth.  Luke doesn't bother to expressly state this because the order isn't that important and he assumes you can figure it out for yourself.
      In fact, let's take a moment and reconstruct Luke 1:56 through 1:80 in correct chronological order.
  • 56a - Mary stays for three month
  • 57 - Then the birth of John.
  • 56b - Ok, now Mary can leave.
  • 58 through 64 - John's circumcision and naming.  In 64 John's dad speaks, blessing God.
  • 67 through 79 - So we have to jump ahead, to what Zechariah, John's dad, says.
  • 65 and 66 - Now we go back to the result of all this, fear and discussion.
  • 80a and Chapter 2 - Chapter 2 happens as 80a is occurring.
  • 80b and 3:1 through 3:14 - The opening of Chapter 3 tells how 80b comes about.
      Confused yet?  Maybe after working through my reconstruction? But if you simply go read Luke, you understand the intended order and it is not that confusing.  The author of Genesis 2 assumes you will read it in light of Genesis 1 and so he doesn't bother giving an exact order of events.  He simply expects you to assemble them correctly, after all, he already gave you the exact order in Genesis 1.

      Looking for a fun project?  Go do with Genesis 2 what i did with Luke 1:56-80.  It will be fun.

 (My 'i's are left lower case by intention, to annoy the Grammar Nazis.  If you spot an error elsewhere, feel free to point it out.)

  Before you leave!  If you enjoy my blog consider clicking that share button down below.  Maybe some of your friends will enjoy it too. 
Also, feel free to like my page on Facebook;
Or follow me on Twitter;


  1. James, something else to consider is that Genesis 2 is told from a different perspective (or a different purpose.) I think Genesis 2 is the author zooming in on the creation of man. It talks about creating animals after man, but that is not actually all the of the animals in the world, but one of every kind of animal for the purpose of naming and seeing if it is a suitable helper. In other words, GOD just makes a new dog and gives it to Adam, and then makes a new cat, etc. (This whole idea did not originate with me.)

    1. "Genesis 1 tells us the story ... presenting it from God's perspective, the perspective of the creator. Genesis 2 and 3 go back and tell us the story ... from man's perspective, the perspective of the creation."

      I reject the idea that Genesis 1, 2 and 3 are purely symbolic with no literal truth. However, i also reject the idea that they are without symbolism and to be read purely literally.
      Three views of creation
      -The Symbolic View, Sola Anima - no literal truth, we can tell nothing about the actual means of creation from Genesis. Spiritual truth alone.
      -The Literal View - This is actually how it happened in seven literal days without simplification or omission. The literal meaning is how it literally happened.
      -The Analogis View - The literal means of creation are contained in the Genesis account but by way of analogy. For example Genesis 2:7 doesn't mean that God literally crafted Adam out of clay and then turned that clay into the first person. Rather, it means we were created from preexisting matter through a process orchestrated by God. So, Genesis 2:7 is literally true from a certain point of view. i.e. the literal meaning of 2:7 may be evolution. 2:7b is clearly symbolic because God doesn't literally breath.

      This third view is mine.
      I cannot accept a second creation in 2:19. It neither fits with such a reading nor is it even called for by the text.
      In Hebrew "Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals" NIV
      is rendered the same was as
      "And out of the ground Jehovah God formed every beast of the field" ASV

      The Hebrew text of 2:19 does not specify whether God created man or beast first. However 1:24 does strongly imply that He created the animals first.