Do the First Two Chapters of Genesis Contradict Each Other (and If So, Is This a Problem)?

BY ADDISON WIER

Steve Wells, author of The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, claims that the first two chapters of Genesis contradict each other.  In his commentary on Genesis 1 he writes:

“(1.1) ‘In the Beginning’ The first of two contradictory accounts.  Compare [this] with [Genesis] 2.4-25 in which the order of events is entirely different.”1

Is Wells right?  Are Genesis 1 and 2 really contradictory?  Is there really no plausible way of reconciling them?  To answer these questions, let’s have a look at what Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe say in their book, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.  They believe that the case is not that Genesis 1 and 2 are contradictory, but merely that they have two different focuses: Genesis 1 gives the order/outline of the events, while Genesis 2 provides more detail about them.  Taken together, they claim, the two chapters actually give a harmonious (and more complete) picture of the Genesis creation account (in other words, they are not contradictory, according to their view).2

However, moving on from Geisler and Howe, let’s just say (for the sake of argument) that this isn’t the case.  Is that really a problem for biblical inerrancy?  It doesn’t appear to be.  These next points might be wading into some controversial waters, but if the creation accounts found in Genesis really are contradictory, then it may actually help to give some biblical viability to old-earth/evolutionary creationism, and not necessarily help in undermining the Bible’s authority.  In fact, the claim of contradictory accounts is one of the arguments that evolutionary creationist Francis Collins gives in support of his views on the compatibility of Genesis and modern science.3  Now of course, a good bit more would probably be needed in order to show that a non-literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account is viable, but such details on Genesis 1 and 2 (if true) could possibly be used as part of a cumulative case, consisting of multiple lines of circumstantial evidence.4

So in the end, the report given by Wells about Genesis 1 and 2 being contradictory appears to be greatly exaggerated…and even if it weren’t, such a matter would probably not be that big of a problem for those that believe in biblical inerrancy.

 

  1. Wells, Steve, The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (hardcover, 2013), pg. 4; also posted online at http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/gen/1.html
  2. Howe, Norman L. Geisler and Thomas, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation (new paperback edition, 2008), pg. 35
  3. Collins, Francis S., The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), pg. 150-151; see also (with Karl W. Giberson) The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions (2011), pg. 208-209
  4. Circumstantial evidence (also known as indirect evidence) is evidence that, while not necessarily proving something on its own, nevertheless points one in the right direction by demonstrating something related to the question at hand.  When combined with multiple other pieces of circumstantial evidence, one can make a pretty impressive case.  For more on this topic, see J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels (2013), pg. 54-60 and 66-67
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