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Friday, January 20, 2006

Question on the meaning of Genesis 2, especially on the meaning of "day"

This is the first part of Genesis 2 (ESV) (I'm reading the ESV through this year, I hope, using one of their plans to do so):
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

The Creation of Man and Woman

4 These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5 When no bush of the field [1] was yet in the land [2] and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist [3] was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.


[1] 2:5 Or open country
[2] 2:5 Or earth; also verse 6
[3] 2:6 Or spring

It struck me, as it never had before, that there is a puzzle here. Genesis 2 apparently says that humans were created before plants were. Genesis 1, taken literally, says that plants were created on the third day, and humans on the sixth. I am not a Hebrew scholar, but the translation above, also the NIV and the NASB, seem to say that there were no plants growing until Adam was created. Here's the ASV, which is public domain:
Gen 2:5 And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for Jehovah God had not caused it to rain upon the earth: and there was not a man to till the ground;

So what's going on? Well, it seems to me that Genesis 2:5 is scriptural evidence that the days of creation of Genesis 1 are not meant to be taken literally. (Exodus 20:11 seems to be evidence that they were.)

I knew that Meredith G. Kline, who was a Bible scholar, had written about Genesis 2:5 as evidence for non-literal days, and that knowledgeable Christian blogger Jeremy Pierce had written about this subject also, and that neither had argued that correctly interpreting Genesis demands that the days of Genesis 1 were literal, but reading this passage in the ESV reminded me forcefully of this matter.

Any comments?

* * * * *

Note added Jan 24: There have been enough comments that I plan to post again on this subject. Also, I entered it in this week's Christian Carnival, so it may get a few more readers, who may also deserve some sort of response.


Brandy said...

Hmmm...I'll have to check this out. Thanks!

Julana said...

I vaguely remember this question being addressed in an Old Testament class I took in college many years ago. I think the first chapter was read as chronological, and the second was an account of things in order of importance, magnitude.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for reading, and commenting, ladies.

Julana, you are probably correct here. However, the second account still seems to be strong evidence that the first one was not meant to be taken in the sense of literal days.

Technogypsy said...

Hey Martin,

You might want to check some of theearly church fathers, I think it was Basil the Great, who pointed out these can not be literal days as the sun and the moon are not formed until day 3.

Adam said...

Here's how I understand it:

In both translations provided, the bushes, herbs, and plants are all "of the field." This refers to cultivated plants that a farmer would grow for food, hence the referral to "no man to work the ground." This doesn't exclude all plants from existence, such as trees and grasses. It doesn't contradict the original order of things in Genesis 1, but gives details as a specific reference to Man's stewardship over God's natural provisions.

I hope that helps.

Also, to Technogypsy:

The order of events in the creation story isn't necessarily supposed to coincide with science's determination of things. God obviously has His own means and methods.

Martin LaBar said...

Yes, technogypsy, I understand that people who have taken the Bible very seriously have not always believed that the days of Genesis 1 were meant to be taken literally. If I had to vote, I'd vote that way myself. However, the sequence could have been literal, with the sun and moon not appearing until the third day, but created earlier.

Adam, I have difficulty with the idea you present, although it may be correct, because the end of Genesis 1 does not separate the food plants provided into field plants, and others. Neither does the third day description of Genesis 1.

Thanks to both of you for reading and commenting.

Kathleen said...

My friend, Matt Grills, at TheMinorProphet, does a nice job thinking through these questions about Genesis 2.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Kathleen. I have looked at the post from Grills, and expect to respond with a post of my own soon.

Jeremy Pierce said...

Look carefully at everything said about plants just in Genesis 1. I don't have time to look at it to see which verses it's in, but you'll find a similar problem already there in what's usually thought of as the first creation account. So it's not just that the two accounts are opposed to each other, as some have thought.

This is analogous in some ways to the problem of the creation of light and days, then the creation of the bodies that serve as the source of light and the determination of when days begin and end. I think there's even another reference later on to the stars. I think the light issue is evidence that it's not chronological, but the plant issue is much more definitive. There's one possible way to try to get around both that I don't think ultimately works, which I hope I have time to post about soon when I put together some recent thoughts I've been having on the matter.

Martin LaBar said...

I look forward to your post, Jeremy!

John Wright said...

I'm not sure I understand the conflict. It says

26: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .


7: And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Shouldn't this be read as man having been formed on the second or third day, and made in God's image, given dominion on the earth, at the sixth day?

Martin LaBar said...

Maybe so, but I'm not aware of anyone who reads it like that, and, I believe, Bible scholars are unanimous, or nearly so, in putting the creation of human beings on the sixth day.

Thanks for your comment.

JC said...

Do you that that it is a danger to twist and turn the Biblical meaning and comment that all the words are meant for metaphor? The actual meaning of the Biblical words would be distorted.
Do you know that Muslims have also twisted the Bible in relate the word, Comforter, in the Bible to Prophet Muhammad and mention that he should be greater than Jesus?
The whole Bible could be easily abused if it is not to be interpreted literally.

JC said...

If you would read King James Version, there would be no problem in it since Genesis 2:5 in King James Version does not mention that there was no plant initially. Let's meditate the verse below:
Genesis 2:5, "And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field BEFORE IT GREW: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground." (King James Version)
The phrase, before it grew, as mentioned above does not imply the absence of plants since it could be that there were merely seeds of the plants in which they had not been geminated.
It does not contradict with Genesis 1 in which it mentions that God had created the plants since when God said He had created the plants in Genesis, it could refer to the creation of the seeds of the plants in which God would let them grow.
Now refer to Genesis 2 in ASV version below:
Gen 2:5, "And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for Jehovah GOD HAD NOT CAUSED IT TO RAIN UPON THE EARTH: and there was not a man to till the ground;" (ASV)
As there would be only seeds on earth due to the absence of water as mentioned above for them to generate, there was neither plant nor bush nor herb there since they had not been geminated yet.
Thus, I do not find any contradiction between Genesis 2 and 1.

Martin LaBar said...

Certainly there is a danger, JC, and I believe I am aware of it. It could also be dangerous to claim that the Bible teaches that the earth is only a few thousand years old if it doesn't. I hope that I haven't twisted the Bible. I'm trying to figure out what it really says and means.

I seldom read the KJV, although I grew up with it. Too many of the words do not have much meaning, or, in a few cases, have the wrong meaning, to 21st Century people. See here:

However, the KJV, itself, in Genesis 1:12, seems to indicate that there were plants growing on the earth. Therefore, there is a seeming contradiction between Genesis 1:12 and 2:5, whatever version you use, and you have illustrated my point, namely that you can't just use a literal reading of Genesis 1 & 2, and make sense. You yourself are interpreting Genesis 1:12 as meaning "seeds" not "plants" (or grass, etc.), if I interpret you correctly, in spite of what Genesis 1:12 says, because of what Genesis 2:5 says.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

JC said...

As Genesis 2:6, "(mentions that) and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground-", it implies that the Lord supplied the water prior to the formation of first human being and it also implies that the seeds would receive water to germinate into plants.
The phrase, And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and there he put the man whom he had formed, in Genesis 2:8 implies that seeds should have been turned up to plants in Eden before God placed Adam on it. This verse seems to imply that the plants should have grown up. The phrase, And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in Genesis 2:8 seems to imply that God had already planted a garden in Eden before he put Adam there. Other than this verse, nothing is mentioned whether these plants were grown up before the formation of human beings or after. It is hard to judge whether Genesis 1 does contradict against Genesis 2.

zuma said...

The following is the extract from Strong Concordance, Strong's H3117 - yown (Day). The word, day, has been defined as
1) day, time, year
a) day (as opposed to night)
b) day (24 hour period)
1) as defined by evening and morning in Genesis 1
2) as a division of time
a) a working day, a day's journey
c) days, lifetime (pl.)
d) time, period (general)
e) year
f) temporal references
1) today
ii) yesterday
iii) tomorrow
I too know that some Christians too insist the word, day, to be 1 d) time, period (general) instead of 1 b) 1) so as to support old earth creation. The word, day, has been interpreted by them to be unspecified number of period or long period.
Let's meditate Genesis 1:3-5 below:
Genesis 1:3-5, "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day."
All the words, day, as mentioned in Genesis 1:3-5 are in singular tense and it implies one day instead of more. If we would refer to word, day, to billions of years so as to suit Evolution Theory, the word, day, should be in plurals instead of singular.
The words, evening, and, morning, are too in singular tense instead of plural. Thus, the phrase, there was evening and there was morning the first day, gives the implication that the definition of the word, day, in Genesis 1 should refer to literally a day that covers an evening and a morning. Unless the words, evening, and morning, in Genesis 1:5 is in plural tense, it would then rational to stretch it to billion years.
As the phrase, there was evening and there was morning the first day, is mentioned in Genesis 1:3, it implies that the word, yown, or, day, in Strong's 3117 should adopt 1) b) 1) that is indicated above as 24 hour (period) - as defined by evening and morning in Genesis instead of 1) d) time, period (general)
Can God create the earth within a day?
Matthew 19:26, "But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE."

Martin LaBar said...

Certainly God could have created the world, or the universe, in a day, (or less) and perhaps He did. But there is considerable scientific evidence that the earth, and the universe, are a lot older than that, and Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19 tell us that nature, too, is part of God's revelation to us. Some have suggested that the earth and universe merely appear to be old (geologic layers, apparent size of the universe, with its expansion) but is not, but it's doubtful that God would mislead us in that way. There are Bible scholars who don't believe that the days of Genesis 1 were 24 hours long.

As to plural, I checked Strongs for the second day (Genesis 1:8) and Genesis 3:14, which the KJV translates as "days," and, as far as I can tell, the same Hebrew word is used for both. I could be wrong -- I know no Hebrew.

Compare and

I chose those verses because I didn't want to use the first day, although it's probably the same, and because 3:24 seems to be the first use of "days" in the KJV. I didn't check any others.

I use the Blueletter Bible, which I have access to, and it seems to be a Young-Earth organization. A few years ago, they included a video from Kent Hovind as one of their resources on Genesis 1. (Perhaps they still do.) Hovind is definitely YEC.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, JC. I would still argue that the plain reading of the Bible, using the KJV (although modern translations are clearer, at least to me) for Genesis 1:12 is that mature plants were formed, just as mature animals, not eggs or whatever, were formed later in Genesis 1. The plain reading of Genesis 2:5, on the other hand, is that the plants weren't coming up yet when people appeared. So people, including you and me, look to interpretations, because the plain reading of the two verses seem to conflict.

We have to be very careful about putting something other than the plain reading in scripture, for example in reading the 10 commandments, or the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, because those passages (and many others) seem to have been meant straightforwardly. However, Genesis 1-3, maybe not so.


JC said...

Pertaining to your findings that the age of fossils, I will deal with you soon and that is why I have requested from you the radioactive dating method previously. Not that I am smart, but for the sake of God's truth, I have to work for it to reveal its truth.
Thanks for your source.
Anyway, I will deal with you for the Biblical verses first before evidence.

zuma said...

Genesis 3:24 in King James Version does not mention the word, day, here:
Genesis 3:24, "So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life."
If you would compare Genesis 2 and 3, you would discover that the plants should have grown up before the formation of human beings. The following are the extracts with elaboration:
Genesis 3:2, "And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden," (ESV version)
The phrase, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, in Genesis 3:2 implies that the plants should have been grown up after the formation of human beings. Or else, how could they be able to locate fruits from plants?
As the phrase, he put the man whom he had formed, is mentioned in Genesis 2:8 after the phrase, And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, it implies that God should have planted a garden in Eden before he placed Adam in which he had formed there. As that would be so, seeds in the Eden should have turned up to be plants prior to placing Adam into this garden. Or in other words, seeds should have grown up to be plants before the formation of human beings.
As that would be so, it turns up that there is no contradiction between Genesis 1 that mentions that God created the plants before the formation of human beings.

Martin LaBar said...

Whoops! My mistake.

I meant Genesis 3:14, not 3:24.


zuma said...

Genesis 3:14, "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou has done this, thou art curse above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon they belly shall thou go, and dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life:"
The phrase, shalt thou eat all the days of they life, as mentioned above give the implication of its future consumption of food in the future instead of in the past as the word, shalt, is mentioned here in future tense.

Martin LaBar said...

My point in using Genesis 3:14 was that the Hebrew word for "days" seems to be exactly the same as the Hebrew word for "day" used in Genesis 1:8, using the on-line Strong's.