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Monday, September 30, 2019

Should Genesis 1-2 be taken literally?

Should Genesis 1-2 be taken literally?

First question: what is literally? In this case, let's say that "literally" means that the days of Genesis 1 were consecutive 24-hour days, and that the events described as having taken place during these days took place as Genesis 1 indicates that they did, in the order given. I also stipulate that "literally" means that the events in Genesis 2 took place as described, in order as given.

The creative events in Genesis 1 (See here for link to that chapter. I have linked to the public domain World English Bible, but all commonly used English translations may be accessed easily from that page.) may be listed as follows:
Day 1: light (verses 3-5)
Day 2: sky (?) separating clouds from surface water (The King James says "firmament.")
Day 3: dry land, land plants
Day 4: sun, moon, stars
Day 5: moving water creatures, birds
Day 6: land animals, humans

The events in Genesis 2 are as follows:
1: Adam (verse 7)
2. A garden (verse 8)
3. Animals created (verses 19-20)
4. Eve created (verses 21-22)

Genesis 2 is often taken to be a re-telling of the events in Genesis 1, or as a passage putting Genesis 1 in context. But, whatever Genesis 2 was meant to do, the sequence of events is not the same as those in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2, Adam comes before the garden, and before the animals. Thus, Genesis 1 and 2 cannot both be taken literally, if literally means what was specified in the beginning of this post.

There are other problems with taking Genesis 1 and 2 literally:

* The various days, as described, begin with the word "let," for example "let there be," in verse 14. But Genesis 1:2, which indicates that there was a formless creation, probably covered with water, comes before "let there be light," in verse 3. Was there, then, creation before day 1?
* What was the source of light in day 1? (The sun was mentioned first in day 4.)
* "Day" is used in Genesis 1, with the apparent (but perhaps not literal) meaning of 24-hour day. However, in Genesis 2:4, which summarizes the creation, it can't mean 24-hour day. Also, the Blueletter Bible gives several different meanings for yowm, the Hebrew word translated as "day," in Genesis 1, and also in Genesis 2:4.
* (added April 7, 2020) Here's a post on how Young-Earth Creationists haven't fully explored the use of yowm in the Bible.

For more on this topic, see J. Richard Middleton, "What is the Relationship Between the Creation Accounts in Genesis 1 and 2?

Thanks for reading. 

Added March 4, 2020:
I have come across two posts from Answers in Genesis. They suggest that some Bible translations do not translate a Hebrew word correctly, and that where Genesis 2 is translated as "19 Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every animal of the field ..." in the World English Bible, and other versions, it should have been translated as "Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals ..." [emphasis added] as in the New International Version, and two other translations. (The rest of the 14 translations given in the Blueletter Bible use "formed.") The translation that they prefer could resolve the seeming discrepancy between Genesis 1 and 2, as to the timing of the creating of the land animals vs. the creation of Adam, but the translation is not preferred in most versions.

But there is still a difficulty with the comparison of Genesis 1 and 2, for those who hold that both should be taken literally.  In verse 9 of Genesis 2, it says "Out of the ground Yahweh God made every tree to grow ...". If that should have been "Out of the ground Yahweh God had made every tree to grow ...", none of the 14 English translations in the Blue Letter Bible do so. Thus, there seems to be a contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, as to the sequence of land plants and humans. (Adam is mentioned in Genesis 2:7, before the mention of land plants.)

This is one post on Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2 by Answers in Genesis. This is the other. The first one does not mention Genesis 2:9.

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