One of the big problems when looking at the start of the Book of Genesis, is how to reconcile the two creation records.
In Genesis chapter 1 there is a description of God creating the Heavens and the Earth, and then filling them with The Sun, Moon, stars, plants, animals and finally man. This takes six days and then God rests on the seventh day.
Immediately after the first creation account we have another one in Genesis chapters 2 and 3, and this also includes a description of the creation of man and woman, just like Genesis chapter 1. The problem is that this account seems to be different from the first one. For example, in the first creation account plants are created before man, but in the second one man is created before plants.
There are also differences with the way that man is portrayed in the two records. In the first creation record man is described as having dominion (over living things), whereas in the second creation record he is portrayed as a servant (of the ground).
Generally, the view is that the two creation records are complementary accounts of the making of the same man and woman. However, if we delve into the language of the accounts in more detail, another possibility emerges.
In the first creation record, there is a pattern with the way that heavens, earth, seas and man are described. The first time that the firmament is described it is literally called “heavens”, but after that it is called “the heavens.” Similarly, the first time the waters under the heavens, the dry land and man are described they are called seas, earth and Adam respectively. However, after those first uses they are called “the seas”, “the earth” and “the Adam”. So the first time they are mentioned it is heavens, seas, earth and Adam, but after that they have “the” added.
So the only time when it speaks about “heavens” (as opposed to “the heavens”) is Genesis 1 v 8. Likewise, the only time when it speaks about “earth” is Genesis 1 v 10.
I suggest that the single use of heavens and earth in the first creation record is a way of showing where the second creation record fits in to it. This is because “heavens” and “earth” (as opposed to “the heavens” and “the earth”) are used in the introduction to the second creation record. Genesis 2 v 4 says, “This is the history of the heavens and the earth, when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heavens (my translation)".
So if we wanted to link the second creation narrative to the first one on a timeline, then it is reasonable to put it in the time of the second and third days, because that is when “heavens” and “earth” came into being. We get support for this view when Genesis 2 v 5 says that it is describing a time which was “before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field was grown.” This of course ties in with Genesis chapter 1, because it was not until later in the third day, after the creation of “heavens” and “earth”, that it speaks about the earth bringing forth plants. Just in case we’ve forgotten, heavens, earth and plants are metaphors in Genesis chapter 1, and this needs to guide our understanding of their use in chapters 2 and 3 as well.
(In the first creation record, it say that “heavens” were made on the second day, and “earth” on the third day. Yet in the second creation record is speaks about “the day that the Lord God made earth and heavens (Genesis 2 v 4 - my translation)”. So shouldn’t it be speaking about the days when they were made, and not the day? If we remember that “day” means a time when God is visible, then both the making of “heavens” and “earth” were during “the day”. This seems to be the meaning of day in Genesis 2 v 4 – it is the time when God was working to make “heavens” and “earth”.)
Placing the events of Genesis chapter 2 in the same sort of timescale as Genesis 1 v 8 – 10, clears up another possible anomaly from the early chapters of Genesis. The Adam in Genesis chapter 2 could eat from every tree of the garden, except from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2 v 16, 17). Later on in Genesis 3, he was not allowed to eat from the tree of life either, in fact once he sinned his food was only to be the herb of the field (Genesis 3 v 18). This can be compared with the man in Genesis 1 v 29, who appears on the sixth day and who is different again. He was told that he was given “every tree whose fruit yields seed” for food. As the man in Genesis 1 v 29 represents the Lord Jesus Christ and the redeemed, then the man in the second creation record (who belongs to the second and third days of Genesis chapter 1) precedes him. The creation account about the Adam or man in Genesis chapters 2 and 3 describes what the apostle Paul calls the first man Adam, whereas the events at the end of Genesis chapter 1 relate to the second or last Adam.
Once we reach the conclusion that the description of the Adam in Genesis 1 v 26 - 27 relates to the risen Lord Jesus Christ and his bride, and that the first creation record is a description of God’s plan to bring salvation to mankind, then the need for a second creation record becomes clear. It is required to provide important information about the start of God’s purpose with mankind, which is something that is not covered in Genesis chapter 1. It also describes the relationship between God and man when God first showed himself to his creation. In other words, it explains the layout of the spiritual heavens and earth when God first dealt with mankind.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
(In instances where scripture is not from the New King James Version, it will be labelled “my translation”)