Critical Theory Attacks Genesis 1 and 2

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It is common for liberal critics of the Bible to assert that the book of Genesis contains two accounts of the creation. Allegedly, these two records reflect different authors, different time periods, etc. It is further charged that the narratives contradict each other in several particulars.

The two accounts are supposed to involve Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25. One author has written:

“. . . [I]t is evident that the Pentateuch cannot be the continuous work of a single author. This is shown by the existence of two differing accounts (doublets) of the same event: thus e.g. the story of the creation in Gen. 1 and 2:4ff . . .” (Weiser, pp. 72-73).

One of the foundational assumptions of this so-called “higher critical” viewpoint is that the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) was not authored by Moses. Supposedly, several ancient writers contributed to this collection. These authors are referred to as J, E, P, and D. Some scholars subdivide them even further (e.g., J1, J2, etc.).

“J” stands for “Jehovah,” since that name for God was prominent in certain sections.
“E” signifies Elohim, a divine name allegedly identifying other portions.
“P” purports to reflect a “Priestly Code.”
“D” identifies what is known as the “Deuteronomic” writer.

The critics claim that all of these writings were eventually collected and combined by a “redactor.”

This theory, known as the Documentary Hypothesis, became popular in the 19th century when a French physician by the name of Jean Astruc claimed that he had isolated certain “source” authors in the Pentateuch. His views were expanded and popularized by others, so that by the end of the century numerous biblical commentators had gravitated to this liberal concept. Though this approach is widely circulated and defended today, it will not bear the test of honest, scholarly investigation.

In the case of the “two creation accounts,” Genesis 1 is said to be a “P” document (dating from the Babylonian or post-Babylonian Captivity period), while Genesis 2 is supposed to be a “J” narrative from the 9th century B.C.

The arguments in support of this radical viewpoint are mainly twofold:

(1) It is claimed that the two creation stories evidence different styles of writing.
(2) It is argued that the accounts conflict in that they reflect divergent concepts of deity, as well as mismatched records of the order of the creation events.

Let us give these assertions brief consideration.

Stylistic Variation

Professor Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool has noted that “stylistic differences are meaningless” (p. 118). Such differences may as much indicate a variance in the subject addressed, as a suggestion of multiple authors. In fact, Kitchen has shown, on the basis of archaeological evidence, that the “stylistic” theory simply isn’t credible. For example, a biographical inscription of Uni, an Egyptian official who lived about 2400 B.C., reflects at least four different styles, and yet no one denies the unity of its authorship (p. 125).

The plural authorship of the “creation accounts” is supposed to be indicated by the use of two names for deity in these sections. “God” (Elohim) is employed in Genesis 1, whereas “Jehovah” (Yahweh) is found in 2:4ff. What shall we say of this?

(1) Solid biblical research has clearly shown that the use of different appellations for deity could reflect a purposeful theological emphasis. For example, Elohim, which suggests “strength,” exalts God as the mighty Creator. Yahweh is the name that expresses the essential moral and spiritual nature of deity, particularly in terms of His relationship to the nation of Israel (see Stone, p. 17).

(2) The multiple employment of titles was common in the literature of antiquity as a device of literary relief. Archaeological discoveries have illustrated this point on numerous occasions.

But, consider Genesis 28:13. The Lord speaks to Jacob and says: “I am Jehovah (Yahweh), the God (Elohim) of Abraham, the God (Elohim) of Isaac . . . .” Would one argue for the multiple authorship of this single sentence upon the basis of the use of two Hebrew names for the Creator? To even hint at this conclusion invites the scorn of thoughtful people.

One scholar has pointedly observed:

“To conclude that differences in style or vocabulary unmistakably indicate different authors is invalid for any body of literature. It is well known that a single author may vary his style and select vocabulary to fit the themes he is developing and the people he is addressing. It goes without saying that a young graduate student’s love letter will vary significantly in vocabulary and style from his research paper” (Davis, p. 23).

It must be concluded that arguments for “two creation accounts” in Genesis, based upon a subjective view of “style,” are purely speculative and absolutely unconvincing.

So-Called Contradictions

As mentioned earlier, the alleged discrepancies between chapters 1 and 2 involve an imagined difference in the perception of God on the part of the hypothetical “authors,” and the alleged contradictory order of events mentioned in the respective records. Let us analyze this.

The Creation Process

It is supposed that in Genesis 1, the Creator is a very transcendent Being, majestically and distantly bringing the creation into existence, while, on the other hand, in Genesis 2 He is characterized by naive anthropomorphisms (human traits applied to deity), which imply an inferior status. For example, in Genesis 2 the writer says that Jehovah “formed,” “breathed,” “planted,” etc, (7-8).

While it is true that such expressions are found in chapter 2, what the critics have failed to notice is that anthropomorphic terminology is also employed in Genesis 1:1-2:4. In that section, God “called,” “saw,” “rested,” etc. (1:8,12; 2:1). There is no validity in this argument, and one is not surprised that serious scholars have labeled it “illusory” (Kitchen, p. 118).

Which Came First: The Heavens or the Earth?

As indicated above, some reversed language order, as seen in the two chapters, is also supposed to demonstrate conflicting creation accounts. E.A. Speiser has written: “The first account starts out with the creation of ‘heaven and earth’ (1:1). The present narrative begins with the making of ‘earth and heaven’” (2:4b).

The Professor goes on to emphasize that in the first record heavenly activity is the focus, while in the latter account man is the center of interest. He thus concludes: “This far-reaching divergence in basic philosophy would alone be sufficient to warn the reader that two separate sources appear to be involved, one heaven-centered and the other earth-centered” (pp. 18-19).

This argument for a dual authorship of Genesis 1 and 2 is seriously flawed. Let us carefully note Genesis 2:4. “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven.”

In this one verse there is contained the heaven/earth and the earth/heaven motif. Would this thus suggest that this solitary sentence had a dual authorship? The critics do not so contend!

Man: In the Image of God or the Dust of the Ground?

The claim is made that in chapter 1 man is represented as having been made “in the image of God” (27), yet in chapter 2, he is “formed . . . of the dust of the ground” (7), thus suggesting a distinct contrast. The point of comparison is too limited, hence, unfair. As Professor John Sailhamer observes:

“. . . [W]e should not overlook the fact that the topic of the ‘creation of man’ in chapter 2 is not limited merely to v. 7. In fact, the topic of the creation of the man and the woman is the focus of the whole of chapter 2. What the author had stated as a simple fact in chapter 1 (man, male and female, was created in God’s likeness) is explained and developed throughout the narrative of chapter 2. We cannot contrast the depiction of the creation of man in chapter 1 with only one verse in chapter 2; we must compare the whole of the chapter” (pp. 40-41).

Order of Creation: Plants and Man

Genesis 1 and 2 are said to contradict each other in the relative creation-order of plants and man. In chapter 1, it is argued, plants were created on the third day of the initial week (11-12), and man was made on the sixth day (26ff), whereas in chapter 2, plants and herbs seem not to appear until after the formation of man (5ff). The real problem exists only in the mind of the critic. There are a couple of possible ways to resolve the alleged difficulty.

(1) Some suggest that in Genesis 1, the original creation of the botanical world is in view, while in Genesis 2 the emphasis is upon the fact that plant reproduction had not commenced, for as yet there was not sufficient moisture, nor a cultivator of the ground, which factors are remedied in verses 6-7 (Jacobus, p. 96).

(2) Others argue that entirely different matters are in view in these respective accounts. In Genesis 1:11-12 vegetation in general is under consideration, but in Genesis 2:5ff the writer is discussing the specific sort of vegetation that requires human cultivation. It has been observed “that the words rendered plant, field and grew, never occur in the first chapter, they are terms expressive of the produce of labour and cultivation; so that the historian evidently means, that no cultivated land and no vegetables fit for the use of man were yet in existence on the earth” (Browne, p. 39).

(3) Another view is that Genesis 2:5 does not refer to the condition of the earth at large; rather, the writer is simply discussing the preparation of the beautiful garden in which man was to live (Young, p. 61). In any event, we must stress this point: Whenever there is the possibility of legitimate reconciliation between passages which superficially appear to conflict, no contradiction can be charged fairly!

Order of Creation: Animals and Man

It is argued that Genesis 1 represents animals as existing before man (24-26), yet Genesis 2 has Adam created before the animals are formed (19). The Hebrew text of 2:19 merely suggests that the animals were formed before being brought to man; it says nothing about the relative origins of man and beast in terms of chronology. The critic is reading something into the text that simply isn’t there.

William Green pointed out that when noted scholar Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890), an advocate of the Documentary Hypothesis, first authored his famous commentary on Genesis, he employed this very argument as a proof of a discrepancy between Genesis 1 and 2. However, in the last edition of his work, after his knowledge had matured, he repudiated this quibble and argued for the harmony of 2:19 with chapter 1! (p. 26).

The Real Explanation

Are there differences in the inspired narratives of Genesis 1 and 2? Of course there are. But differences do not necessarily imply contradictions, much less multiple authorships. The real question is this: Is there a purpose to those variations? Indeed there is. Furthermore, there are a number of factors which militate against the notion that Genesis 1 and 2 are independent and contradictory accounts of the creation. Think about these points.

(1) There is method in the emphases of these two sections of scripture. In Genesis 1 there is a broad outline of the events of the creation week, which reaches its climax with the origin of mankind — in the very image of God. In Genesis 2 there is a special emphasis upon man, the divine preparation of his home, the formation of a suitable mate, etc.

This type of procedure was not unknown in the literary methodology of antiquity. Gleason Archer observes that the

“technique of recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. The author would first introduce his account with a short statement summarizing the whole transaction, and then he would follow it up with a more detailed and circumstantial account when dealing with matters of special importance” (1964, p. 118).

(2) These respective sections have a different literary motif. Genesis 1 is chronological, revealing the sequential events of the creation week, whereas Genesis 2 is topical, with special concern for man and his environment. (This procedure is not unknown in biblical literature. Matthew’s account of the ministry of Christ is more topical, while Mark’s record is more chronological.)

Professor Edward J. Young has a good statement of this matter:

“There are different emphases in the two chapters . . . but the reason for these is obvious. Chapter 1 continues the narrative of creation until the climax, namely, man made in the image and likeness of God. To prepare the way for the account of the fall, chapter 2 gives certain added details about man’s original condition, which would have been incongruous and out of place in the grand, declarative march of chapter 1” (p. 53).

(3) There is clear evidence that Genesis 2 was never an independent creation account. There are simply too many crucial elements missing for that to have been the case. For instance, there is no mention in Genesis 2 of the creation of the earth, and there is no reference to the oceans or fish. There is no allusion to the sun, moon, and stars, etc.

Archer points out that there is not an origins record in the entire literature collection of the ancient Near East that omits discussing the creation of the sun, moon, seas, etc. (Archer, 1982, p. 69). Obviously, Genesis 2 is a sequel to chapter 1. The latter presupposes the former and is built upon it.

Even Johnston, who is sympathetic to the Documentary Hypothesis (at least in part), is forced to concede:

“The initial chapter [Genesis 1] gives a general account of the creation. The second chapter is generally declared by critics to be a second account of the creation, but, considered in the light of the general plan, that is not an accurate statement. Evidently the purpose of this chapter is to show that out of all the creation we have especially to do with man. Therefore only so much of the general account is repeated as is involved in a more detailed statement concerning the creation of man. There is a marked difference of style in the two accounts, but the record is consistent with the plan to narrow down the story to man” (p. 90).

The following summary statement by Kenneth Kitchen is worthy of notice:

“It is often claimed that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two different creation-narratives. In point of fact, however, the strictly complementary nature of the ‘two’ accounts is plain enough: Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the centre of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting. There is no incompatible duplication here at all. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand, and the concentration in detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism” (pp. 116-117).


When the texts of Genesis 1 and 2 have been carefully considered, one thing is clear. An objective evaluation reveals no discrepancies, nor is a dual authorship to be inferred. Devout students of the Bible should not be disturbed by the fanciful, ever-changing theories of the liberal critics. It is wise to remember that the Word of God was not written for the benefit of “scholars,” but for the common person. The Scriptures assume that the average person is able to understand the message and to know that the source is divine.

  • Archer, Gleason (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press).
  • Archer, Gleason (1982), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co.).
  • Browne, Harold (1981 Reprint), The Bible Commentary, F. C. Cook, Editor (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), Vol. I.
  • Davis, John (1975), Paradise to Prison – Studies in Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House).
  • Green, William Henry (1979 Reprint), The Unity of the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House).
  • Jacobus, Melancthon (1864), Notes on Genesis (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication), Vol. I.
  • Johnston, Howard Agnew (1902), Bible Criticism and the Average Man (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co.).
  • Kitchen, Kenneth (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press).
  • Sailhamer, John (1990), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank Gaebelein, Ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co.), Vol. 2.
  • Speiser, E. A. (1964), “Genesis,” The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday & Co.).
  • Stone, Nathan (1944), Names of God (Chicago: Moody Press).
  • Weiser, Artur (1961), The Old Testament: Its Formation and Development (New York: Association Press).
  • Young, Edward J. (1960) An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co.).