This is part one of a series called “The Backstory.” Backstory is a reference to the sequence of events which form the backdrop to “The call of Abram” and the unfolding of God’s mysterious plan of redemption.
Why Two Creation Stories
“In the beginning” is the phrase we use to identify the Biblical creation story. But have you noticed there are two stories of creation in the Bible? Both tell the story about creation from God’s perspective, but from vastly different vantage points. Why are there two stories; why not combine them? Perhaps God knows that humans have difficulty holding contrasting perspectives in tension against each other. To solve this problem for human weakness, he presents two stories to highlight aspects of his nature as revealed in creation. Astute readers will see this same device employed elsewhere in the scriptures such as the synoptic gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke.
This contrasting tension is evident in the nature of the creator. In creation story one, God brings order out of chaos. He’s powerful, omnipotent, a judge and a king. But then in story two, he is one who brings oneness; he is relational, redeeming, improving things, and bringing meaning and beauty into the world. Understanding these two aspects of God’s nature is foundational for a Christian’s understanding of God’s character. This first glimpse will lay a solid foundation for discovering the harmony within the Godhead. As we dive into the two creation accounts this should become clear.
As you read both stories, notice how God is outside of creation in the first account and then he seems to step into creation in the second. He interacts with nature and befriends humanity – the artist becomes part of the masterpiece. Can you begin to see shadows of the gospel message in story two?
|Story one (Gen. 1:1 – 2:4a)||Story two (Gen. 2:4b – 2:25)|
|God’s Name – Elohim|
|God’s Name – YHVH Elohim|
|Elohim is the Hebrew name for God used in story one.|
See footnote discussion below.
|YHVH Elohim is the Hebrew name for Lord God used in story two. YHVH Elohim is the personal name of God. |
See footnote discussion below.
|Creator – Story one||Creator – Story two|
|“Heaven and earth”||“Earth and heaven”|
|Operates inside of time – Day 1, Day 2, etc.||Timeless – chronology does not matter|
|World is neatly ordered. God separates and divides things, creates boundaries||Lord God brings oneness, connectedness, relational aspects to creation|
|God creates three domains: heavens, seas and earth. Each domain have middle managers ruling them: Sun, Moon | Great fish | Adam||Lord God narrows focus to earth and how Adam is to interact with the earth.|
|Maintenance free, self-replicating systems|
ie) seed bearing plants and trees
|Creation is organic and natural. There is no command to “be fruitful and multiply”. Life just happens|
|God brings order. He separates and divides things, creating boundaries. He is omnipotent, commanding and a judge.||Brings meaning and beauty into the world. He plants a garden, shares his delight with Adam. God is|
Intimate, mystical, not as easy to understand but more relatable.
|God is known by his power, perfection, excellence, understanding, knowledge and his commands.||Lord God brings meaning and beauty to the world. He steps into creation, plants a garden and then shares his delight with Adam.|
|Not relational, no interaction with the world he just made. He takes a “hands off” approach.||Relational – interacts with creation; improves Adam’s situation, narrates the world for man.|
|God judges creation like a sculpture – this is good, and then he stops.||Lord God saw that it was “not good” that Adam was alone. This seems to indicate a third option (“not good”) leaving room for improvement.|
|Man – Story one||Adam – Story two|
|Where does man come from, we don’t know. What is important is the “image and likeness”.||Where does Adam come from? – the ground and breath of God. What is important is the “source”|
|Man is in charge and his mission is to conquer and rule. |
The land is his domain.
|Adam is here to tend and care for the land. The earth is sacred, and the garden is the meeting place of heaven and earth.|
As we begin this journey through the early chapters of the Bible, I want to invite you to engage with the story. How does it make you feel; what parts can you easily relate to and which parts are more difficult for you? Do you see God differently than you may have thought of him before? Let’s try this with a few questions.
- Are you drawn to one story of creation more than the other; what emotions do you feel?
- How do these two creation accounts inform your understanding of God?
- In my life which storyline am I pursuing; do I need to integrate more of Elohim or YHVH into my life?
- Is it possible to reconcile these two very different understandings of God? Consider the Jewish Shema.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Ancient cultures around the Mediterranean used the name El to refer to their chief god among a pantheon of lesser gods. The plural of this name “El” is Elohim often referring to the chief God and his council or son(s). God uses this name in the first creation account to introduce himself. In the Bible, El was the deity worshiped by the Hebrew patriarchs, but he was different from the pantheons of the surrounding cultures.
Later in the second creation account, Elohim revealed his personal name as YHVH Elohim. “YWVH” is known as the tetragrammaton or simply “Ha-Shem”, the name. As the Biblical revelation of God continues, he reveals other aspects of his nature such as: El Shaddai, El Elyon, etc.
If the use of Elohim seems like a profane corruption of God’s name in Creation Story One, consider that God always meets us where we are. He changes us by a continual revelation of himself in our life journey as we cooperate with his work. This is partly done by the ongoing revelation of his name. As humans we know people by their physical bodies and we attach a name to them. God is not like this; he does not have a body (at least in the Old Testament) and so he deposits his nature in his name. Here in the opening chapters of Genesis we get a glimpse of God meeting people where they are with a name they recognize (El). He then begins the progressive revelation of himself through people, stories and events until we see the full expression of his name in his son, our messiah.