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.
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.
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 motion – and 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.
 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
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