Friday, June 02, 2006

Was Man Created Before or After the Animals?


God Creating Birds and Animals Art Print by Belbello da Pavia

Dear Mr. R.
I struggle to find a way to reconcile the different creation accounts of Genesis with each other. In the first creation account (Gen. 1), God makes all of creation, the plants, animals, etc., and then he makes man. In the second (Gen. 2), he makes man first and then makes the animals. I am very confused with this whole issue at this point and was wondering if you could shed some light upon the situation for me. I feel that I must be reading something incorrectly or missing something very crucial.

-First a little bit of background. Modern historical critical scholars claim that Genesis 1 and 2 represent two different and conflicting accounts of creation. They say this primarily due to the way in which these two passages name God (Gen. 1 “Elohim” and Gen. 2 “Yahweh,”) but also due to other apparent discrepancies, such as the one you are talking about, as well as discrepancies of order and duration of events, language, emphases, etc. They conclude that the two passages must have been written/edited by different authors, Gen. 1-2:3 supposedly being the “Elohist” account and 2:4ff being the “Yahwist” account. (You have heard of the "JEDP" theory, right?) These apparent discrepancies are the root of the apparent contradiction that you are asking about.

The main discrepancy, that between the names of God, can be solved simply if we realize that (regardless of whether all of Genesis was written by Moses or by different authors/editors), the Primary Author of Scripture, the Holy Ghost, had two different intentions in these two accounts. In Gen. 1 He calls Himself Elohim (= “God,” which connotes God’s power and majesty: “GOD THE ALMIGHTY!!!”), wishing to express His lordship and dominion over the earth. In Gen. 2 He calls Himself Yahweh (= “I AM WHO AM,” which connotes a personal revelation to the chosen people of the covenant), wishing to express his personal covenant with Adam and Eve.

Of course, there are other apparent discrepancies. But ultimately, because the Primary Author of ALL of Scripture is the Holy Ghost, all the discrepancies can be resolved. I can’t possibly solve them all (and perhaps there are some that will never been resolved), but we can tackle in detail the one you mentioned.

The discrepancy concerning the order and duration of events is simply resolved if we realize that although scripture intends to convey history, it is not history in the sense that we understand it. What we call “history” in the modern sense is really only one type of history, the kind best described as archivist history, where chronological accuracy has primary importance. But the history of Scripture can best be described as Semitic religious history, which orders events not necessarily in chronological order, but in order of importance or in an order that has religious meaning. (Cf. even the Gospels sometimes go back and forth chronologically.) So it’s perfectly normal for Gen. 1 to give the overall chronological big picture and then for Gen. 2 to go back, slow down, and give the details with all their religious importance.

So on the one hand, there’s Genesis 1, which gives a day-by-day account of creation. On day one, “God” (Elohim) made light and darkness; On day two, God made and divided the waters, making the firmament of heaven and the seas; On day three God separated the sea from dry land and created plants; On day four God made the rulers of those things made in day one, namely, the Sun and the moon; On day five God made the rulers of those things made in day two, namely, birds and fish; On day six God made the rulers of those things made in day three, namely, animals and men. In verses 24-5, the animals are made first. The next verses, Genesis 1:26ff, have God making man and woman and immediately blessing them and giving them dominion over the (already-created) animals. All of this happened on the sixth day of creation. Then this account of the seven days of creation (the hexameron) ends in Genesis 2 with the Day Seven (verses 1-3).

On the other hand, there is Genesis 2, verses 4ff, where there seems to be yet another account of creation, and this time the Creator is named the “Lord God” (Yahweh). This account does not do a day-by-day narration of events, but rather starts with the creation of the heavens and the earth and says, “in the day that the Lord God created the heavens and the earth (v. 4)... the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth (v. 7).” Then it describes Paradise until v. 17. In vv. 18ff the creation of Eve is narrated: "It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself...” But then Genesis 2:19 narrates the event of God bringing the animals before Adam. Some translations say that He “formed” the animals “and brought” them before Adam (who was presumably created before the animals). And only after this is Eve made from the side of Adam.

So, in sum, the problem is that, whereas in Gen. 1:24-5 God made the animals and in Gen. 1:26ff He made man and woman, in Gen. 2:7 Adam was made, and then in Gen. 2:19 “God formed... [the] wild animals....” So Gen. 1 is saying animals first then both man and woman, but Gen. 2 is saying Adam first, then the animals, then Eve.

This is mainly a problem of translation--specifically, the translation of 2:19, where Genesis mentions the creation of animals. Does this passage mean to narrate the creation of animals (as if it hadn't narrated it yet), or to recall the already-narrated creation of animals? In other words, does the Sacred Author mean 2:19 as new information or simply as a recap of something that had already happened?

Since I don’t know Hebrew, I can’t help you with the original text. So let’s look at some translations:

The Douay Rheims (the traditional Catholic English translation) is very clear:
And the Lord God HAVING FORMED out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam...
In other words, we could read it as "God, having previously formed... the beasts... brought them to Adam.” This translation clearly conveys that by v. 19 God had already formed the animals and that now he’s just bringing them to Adam. This solves the apparent contradiction.

Now, the Douay is a very literal translation of St. Jerome's Latin Vulgate. The Vulgate, which is the official Latin translation of the Roman Rite (and which was officially declared by Trent to be an infallible translation!), is even more clear. Here is the text along with a word-by-word translation:

FORMATIS (having been formed) igitur (therefore) Dominus (the Lord) Deus (God) de (from) humo (the ground) cunctis (all) animantibus (the animals) terrae (of the earth) et (and) universis (all) volatilibus (the birds) caeli (of the sky) adduxit (lead) ea (them) ad (to) Adam (Adam)....

This Latin construction, formatis... cunctis animantibus terrae... (= "all the animals of the earth having been formed") is what grammarians call an "ablative absolute," which is, in principle, a phrase that is "grammatically independent of the sentence of which it occurs" (Scanlon, Latin Grammar, p. 120). In other words, the phrase speaks of an event which occurs at a time different from that of the main sentence. To render the passage in a crudely literal way: “Therefore, all the animals of the earth and all the birds of the sky having been formed from the ground [understood, already, at some other time], the Lord God lead them to Adam....”

Now, the Septuagint (from the Latin, Septuaginta literally, "The Seventy") was a compilation done from seventy exactly identical but independent translations done by seventy Hellenistic Jewish rabbis. Their unanimity was taken as a sign from God's approval. The Septuagint reads (in Roman transliteration, with word-by-word translation in parenthesis):

Kai (And) EPLASEN (forming) ho (the) Theos (God) eti (therefore) ek (from) tês (the) gês (ground) panta (all) ta (the) thêria (animals) tou (of the) agrou (earth), kai (and) panta (all) ta (the) peteina (birds) toû (of the) ouranou (sky); kai (and) êgagen (leading) auta (them) pros (to) ton (the) Adam (Adam)...

In Greek there is no ablative absolute. The Greeks instead were crazy about their participles: it would be something completely normal for them to say something like this: “Jesus, coming out of Nazareth, walking through the cities of Galilee, being baptized in the Jordan river, preaching to the lost tribes of Israel, dying on the cross, and being buried in the tomb, rose on the third day.” So all those verbs, the participles (“coming,” “walking,” “being baptized,” “preaching,” “dying,” “being buried”) speak of events that happened at a different time from the main verb of the sentence, “rose.” The same thing happens here in the Greek of Gen. 2:19: “And, again, God, forming from the ground all the animals of the earth and all the birds of the sky, and leading them to Adam...” So the sentence very clearly allows the “forming” (eplasen) and the “leading” (êgagen) to have taken place at (significantly) different times.

But the newer (less Catholic) translations of 2:19 are unaware of these nuances:

New American Bible:
So the Lord God FORMED out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man...
Implying that he formed the animals and then he brought them to an already existing Adam. This would contradict Gen. 1:24ff.

The King James Version has the same problem:
And out of the ground the Lord God FORMED every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam ...

Jerusalem Bible isn’t better:

So from the soil Yahweh God fashioned all the wild beasts [missing: “of the earth”] and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man...

The New International Version is much better:

Now, the Lord God had FORMED out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man ...

So the NIV seems to render the first sentence as a reminder and not as a new piece in the chronological narrative.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.

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