After a lecture at a university, a student told me that although he had a church background, he had become an atheist. When I asked him why, he said that one reason was because of all the contradictions in the Bible. I asked for an example, and he replied that there are two different creation stories, one in Genesis 1 and another in Genesis 2. Personally, I was glad that he chose this example of a so-called contradiction, because I myself had struggled with it in the past. My answer to the student seemed to connect with him.
On the surface, it does appear that the accounts are different. However, prayer and study have led me to believe that the accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 are complimentary, not conflicting, accounts. Each has a specific purpose and conveys important information, though the style and format is different.
Genesis 1 gives a comprehensive overview – a day-by-day chronological account of Creation Week. It gives us the “big picture” and outlines in summary form what God did on each day. It is much like a day-by-day log of a trip or project. We are given just enough detail to ignite our curiosity and inspire our awe of God’s creative power and plan.
In Genesis 2, the style changes and the narrative zeros in on one aspect of God’s creative work – His focus, main purpose, or “favorite part” – the creation of Adam and Eve. Here the Author is not as concerned about the chronology, as He is about the details of the creation of mankind, indicating His personal involvement and purpose in every step. The approach in the two accounts is kind of like the difference between writing passionately about your favorite part.
This literary technique is common, not only in Hebraic writing, but even in “modern” writing. It is common to first give a broad overview, and then focus in on one aspect of particular importance or interest. Genesis 1 and 2 are not conflicting reports, they are complimentary – each with a specific purpose and style.
But let’s not miss the significance of the message in the discussion of the format. In all the vastness of creation, our powerful Creator took time to become personally involved with His creation of Adam and Eve. Human beings are not objects of time and chance – we are the handiwork of a wise and loving God. We are not “just animals” (though we share some similar biology) – we are so much more. We are created in the image of God, and our lives have a special purpose and meaning because we bear His image. What a wonderful heritage we have! What a sacred privilege! What an awesome responsibility!