Beginnings (6): Genesis 2

Two Accounts

There is no secret that there are two different accounts of creation in Scripture: in Genesis chapter 1 and in Genesis chapter 2. So far, we have discussed the first account (it took us a month, and we only touched the surface of this truly bottomless chapter – Genesis 1). Today, we will begin discussing the second.

Genesis 2:4 is the opening verse of the second account: it begins the second “story of heaven and earth when God created earth and heaven”. After this verse, the language and tone change dramatically, and some very significant differences emerge. The most important change concerns the names of God: the first account refers to the Creator as “God” or “Elohim” in Hebrew, while the second refers to the Creator as the “LORD God,” or “YHWH Elohim”.

This difference was noted long ago, and has been the starting point for Biblical Criticism, which has seen in the uses of different divine names, important clues to the authorship of such passages. Because of this difference, the two Creation stories have been seen as stemming from two different traditions: the former is usually assigned to the P-source, the latter to the J-source, though this division is disputed by some scholars. J is the designation given by biblical critics to the author who used the divine name   יהוה YHWH, and is thought to have lived in the southern kingdom sometime after the death of Solomon. According to this theory, he was responsible for most of Genesis; whilst P is designated as the author of the first chapter of Genesis, the book of Leviticus and some other sections of the Torah.

I don’t think that my task here is to give you the answers. We all know that at the end of the day, this is a question of my faith and yours—how we read this book and what we make of this text. I have my own opinion and position, and of course, you don’t have to accept it.  However, I do hope to enrich your reading of the Bible by pointing out the details and nuances that are being overlooked because of translation, and by providing some relevant Jewish commentaries (including my own). What you do with these details, nuances and insights will depend on where you stand and what you believe.

 

Two Sides of God

 Many people see the first and the second accounts as contradicting one another and not connected at all; they consider them as representing two completely different versions of the story of creation, thus suggesting that there was no single author of this story – and there is no single author of this book!  I personally think there is a place for yet another approach—or maybe even other approaches—in order to reconcile the first two chapters of Genesis!

First of all, could it be that these two accounts reflect two sides of God’s nature? As I mentioned previously, we have different names of God in the two accounts. In chapter 2, the Creator is referred to as Lord God (Adonai Elohim), while in the first chapter, the Creator is called God (Elohim). Elohim ( (אלוהים- “God” or “gods” – is the generic term for God we find in the Bible. It can be used as a plural noun if applied to the gods of other nations, or a singular noun when it refers to Israel’s God. On the other hand, Adonai יהוה)) is the absolutely unique and personal name of the God of Israel—the name most frequently used in the Bible[1].

Jewish tradition interprets the names Elohim and Adonai as reflections of the two sides of the nature of God: Elohim representing the quality of justice; Adonai reflecting the quality of mercy. For instance, in Genesis 22, it is Elohim that commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but it was the LORD, Adonai (the Angel of the Lord), who stopped Abraham’s hand in the end. Midrash says that the world was originally created by God as Elohim (Genesis 1), but that afterward He is called Adonai Elohim (Genesis 2) because He saw that, without His mercy His creation would not survive.

 

Opposite Directions

There is another possible approach or explanation—an explanation that is seen even in the very first verse of the second account:  Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven“. The second account starts right away with the earth and those belonging here – first of all, a man. Let’s listen to Rashi’s commentaries. His explanation for the differences between Genesis 1 and 2 – why 2:7-23 seems to repeat the story already told in 1:26-27 – is that first, the Torah presents us with the general picture of the story of creation, and then it shows us specific details of the creation of humankind, which of course, is the most important of the creations.

Thus, the man that we see in the second chapter is still the same Adam, but now the picture is taken from a completely different angle—a different vantage point. It’s not occasional that even the order of the words in the two accounts is completely opposite: whereas the first chapter begins with the famous “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (1:1), it is said in chapter 2: “the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (2:4). We see the same vav here, it connects again the heaven and the earth—but it connects them in opposite directions. In a sense, chapter 2 is like a slow motion of those verses from chapter 1, where God is dealing with the man.

 

Man’s dual nature 

So, in chapter 2 we see the whole process in slow motionand thanks to this slow motion, for the first time we realize a fact that could be easily missed in the fast- moving change of episodes in chapter 1: this man, whom God declared to be created “in His image and according to His likeness“, is not some sort of angelic, spiritual being, having no fleshly desires or concerns and occupied with purely spiritual matters. No, he is a very material man—a creature of flesh and blood. We remember that throughout the whole story of Creation in the first account, God kept showing us, through different hints—by the names and the combinations of the letters—that this special creature that He created had a dual nature. Now, it’s not a hint anymore: Scripture says plainly that Adam is “formed… of the dust of the ground”! I believe that these two accounts of creation somehow reflect those two different aspects of Adam: yes, he is created in God’s image – but he is also “formed… of the dust of the ground”! From now on this incredible tension between the dust of the ground we are formed from, and God’s image we are created in, will mark every single page of this book – and every single step of human lives.

 

[1] The original pronunciation was most likely Yahweh, but since Jewish tradition permitted the name to be voiced only by the High Priest, it became customary, after the destruction of the second Temple, to say the word Adonai (my Lord)  when reading   יהוה

 

 If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses [1]  (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  . My last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and  Jewish Background insights   into NT,  is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

[1] At this point, we offer WTP course only in English, while DHB course exists both in Spanish and Portuguese.

 

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (9 comments)

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  1. Chiefer

    A man thought he had so BIG revelation (in my previous comment) about two different points of view in Genesis 1&2, just to find it’s so obvious hahaha LOL ;).
    Thank you sis Julia, you are such a blessing to me, you stretch my mind.

  2. Chris

    Could “lord adonai”, be jeshua?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hello Chris, in Hebrew we would say that the answer to this question is not lashoni , but parshani – it’s not in the language, but in the interpretation. Of course, there are many believers in Yeshua who would agree with your suggestion; once again, however, this is the question of interpretation.

  3. Catherine Elsie Stevens

    I thought the first 5 books of the Bible were written by Moses. Moses possibly wrote Job as well. Has the information changed?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hello Catherine, the traditional view that Moses was the single author of the Torah came under increasing scrutiny already in the 17th century. The difference between the two accounts (Gen.1 and Gen. 2) was the starting point for the Biblical Criticism. Among the scholars, the most widely accepted theory has been so called Documentary Hypothesis: it says that there are 4 major sources or documents (called J,E,P, and D) the combination of which during the fifth century BCE, resulted in the creation of a single book, the Torah, which was declared a sacred text by official canonization about the year 400. However, of course, there are millions of people who believe that the Torah was originally written by Moses (even though it might have undergone some editing process later) – so, as I wrote, in the end of the day, this is a question of your and my faith, how we perceive this Book and its origin.

  4. Dot Healy

    Very interesting Julia – thank you for your insights.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Dot! Always happy to hear from you!

  5. Thomas E. Simmons II

    Great insights Ms Blum. I am currently teaching Gen 1, 2, and 3 with my students and getting them to see the very same deliberate differences between God (Elohim) and LORD God (Adonai Elohim). Yes, not multiple authors (as precise ELS codes with attest in the BHS manuscript) but two different “sides” of God that reveal the two primary natures of man. God creates the heavens (first) and earth (last). The LORD God makes the Earth (First) and the Heavens (last). God (Elohim) creates man from His spiritual image as the Eternal Creator. The LORD God forms man physically and makes man into a living soul. Every reference to God throughout the scriptures teaches us how this relationship changes every time there is a change in the Name or in the reference to God Himself. Every reference to God (Elohim) is a direct reference to His spiritual existence as the Eternal Creator and every time we see the holy Name, the relationship shifts to include Gods covenant relationship with all creation, on man as a living soul and man’s physical existence on earth. So much of the mysteries of our relationship with God in the scriptures are missed in misunderstanding this very first lesson from the Word.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Thomas, for your comment, I can’t agree more: these first chapters of the Bible are absolutely crucial, and indeed, so many important lessons and insights are missed because of misunderstanding of these chapters!