Which did God create first, man or animals?

Posted on Oct.18, 2008. Filed in Genesis. Average rating: 5.6 / 10 (Rate It).

The Bible begins in Genesis 1 with an account of God creating the world in six days and then resting on the seventh. Genesis 2 then gives a second Creation narrative. These two narratives differ concerning the order in which God created man and animals.

In Genesis 1, God creates animals and then humans:

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:24-27 (NRSV)]

In Genesis 2, God creates man and then animals as possible helpers for him:

… when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up — for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground — then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being…

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. [Genesis 2:5-7, 18-20 (NRSV)]

So in what order did God create life? Did he create man before or after the animals?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    Unfortunately, I can’t see how to deal with this dilemma without getting into a fairly detailed analysis of the creation. So here goes.

    The story of the seven days of creation gives a chronological account of God’s _speaking_. It is not intended to give a chronological account of how creation came to be as a result of God’s speaking.* To be sure it links the coming to be with the associated words of creation, so it is topically arranged in that way. Thus Man is God’s final word on creation (at least His final word here on Earth). Man may or may not be the very last thing on Earth that gets created.

    The second account begins with a misty and muddy Earth, and the very first thing that God creates to bring order to this is Man. All other things are created either to be Man’s charges or to serve Man’s purposes. Finally a co-equal helper is made for Man to help him in all the work God has given him. Once again, the goal here is not to give a chronological account of the events of creation, but to explain Man and Woman’s role in it. Man may or may not be the very first thing on Earth that gets created.

    Since neither account is necessarily chronological in terms of the order in which things come to be, it is not possible for them to conflict on a point of chronology.

    There are a lot of questions I’m leaving to one side here for the sake of space and real relevance. In particular, I’m not going to talk about creation v. evolution except to say that I don’t think that what I’ve said so far really does much to harmonize evolution with the Bible.

    *It is conceivable that God’s work is ‘done’ at the end of seven days in the sense that everything has been created and all the laws have been commanded that are necessary for all of the things that God has spoken to come to be. (In saying this, I do not intend to claim that laws of nature somehow constrain events without God’s constant support and maintenance.)

  2. 2

    WisdomLover, that sounds like an ad hoc hypothesis. I don’t think that rational persons would NATURALLY come to that conclusion. Such contortions result from a priori insistence on scriptural veracity.

  3. 3


    On natural readings

    The distinction between what is ‘natural’ and what is a ‘contortion’ is very slippery. Nor does it have much bearing on the more fundamental question of what is true.

    What seems natural to one person may seem very unnatural to another simply because they’ve seen different arguments. Science is full of examples of this. A rational person who had never seen the arguments for heliocentrism might view it as a contortion and view geocentrism as the ‘natural’ conclusion.

    Which Hypothesis is Ad Hoc?

    That there are two accounts, one that ends with Man and one that begins with Man can hardly be in doubt. (Indeed, that’s the whole basis of this alleged inconsistency).

    That neither account is strictly chronological is also not a stretch. The Bible is not supposed to be a science textbook. It is supposed to be God’s revelation of Himself to Man for the purpose of redeeming Man. To be sure, the Bible portrays God’s redemption as a plan that is worked out in history. But I don’t think that that requires that we adopt a strict chronological view of cosmogonies.

    Perhaps I did not quite get why the two accounts place Man where they do. Perhaps you have a better reading?

    Now, consider the following conjunction of claims:

    1. The Genesis accounts were written by more than one author and later compiled by an editor.
    2. Item 1 explains how you can have a seeming contradiction of chronology in such a short space.

    This is, very roughly, the standard liberal view of the passages in question. And it is fine as far as it goes. But when conjoined with the following claims, it becomes implausible in the extreme:

    3. Each author and the editor viewed the accounts as chronological because that is their natural reading.
    4. As such, the seeming contradiction (the presence of which is explained by multiple authors) is a real contradiction.

    An editor is just like an author or any other normal person in not wanting to contradict themselves within a few sentences. If the editor who put the passages together thought they were contradictory, he would have done something to mitigate the contradiction. Indeed, an editor is probably more careful about this than an author.

    Is Inerrancy Held A Priori?

    The short answer is “Of course.” If by a priori you mean that we have a deductive argument that we bring to the reading of Scripture (this is not to say that there may be a posteriori elements behind the premises of that argument).

    To put it another way, inerrantists do not hold the view they do because they believe the Bible reads with the rigourous consistency of Whitehead’s and Russell’s Principia Mathematica (only more so, since there are no mistakes).

    Even the most traditional thinker on this subject will agree that the Bible is a compilation of several author’s works, over a long period of time, written in multiple languages, over a broad range of subjects, written in many literary forms. No one could expect to pick up a work like that and read it without having to scratch their heads now and then.

    Inerrantist’s believe that they have good and adequate reasons

    1. To believe in God.
    2. To believe that God revealed himself through Scripture by inspiring men to write.
    3. To believe that God would not inspire these men to write in a way that would deceive them or their (diligent) readers.

    Errancy has posted a couple of good links on this subject to the right. See especially the “Reasonable Faith” entry and the Chicago Statement.

  4. 4


    Despite the veneer of erudition, your reasoning is obfuscating the most salient facts. It is not such a “slippery” slope as you imagine, unless you are relying on special pleading, in that you suggest some esoteric knowledge or special “revealed” insight. If this is the case, I have no appeal to you.

    While objective certainty on many issues may be a suspect notion, we can – and furthermore must -reasonably rely on intersubjective agreement. The legal system does this in many ways: “What would a reasonable person do under these circumstances?” So I am referring to a person without a personal investment in the outcome, without an emotional need to believe. In other words, only someone with an inflexible commitment to scriptural veracity would see the contradictions in the apologetic way you have described. If you had no particularistic faith in the Bible, you would consider your own argument a bit of a stretch, eh? Followers of the Quran engage in similar rhetorical gymnastics in order to preserve that which is precious to them.

    In such case, any reasonable argument (that is universally recognizable) is wholly without force and futile.

  5. 5

    I’m sorry. Did you have a specific criticism of my argument to make?

  6. 6


    Why so dismissive? Evasion by glib dismissal is hardly good form or good faith.

    I was contending with your approach which assumes a harmonization or reconciliation between clearly inconsistent narratives is needed. This is “needed” only because one has discounted the possibility that stories are speculative, imagined, or fabricated, and a natural healthy aspect of the human experience. Thus, an ad hoc hypothesis is constructed to account for variations that an uninterested observer would see as indicative of inconsistency, and therefore NATURALLY perceive fallibility.

    Do you deny the general proposition that there are certain rational observations that are universal and that transcend cultural prejudices? We can all stipulate certain realities, right?

    Would this same level of special consideration be given with another religious narrative (most cultures have creation myths) or with any other ancient document for that matter? Of course not. One would assume that such expressions of human speculation are always subject to variation and losses in transmission. This should apply even for the most credulous; who believe that in its erstwhile pristine state the message was impeccable.

    Your statement that the existence of multiple authors accounts for the appearance of discrepancies implicitly introduces error by suggesting that (even if of divine origin) the message was mediated by humans with all their attendant fallibilities. Unless, you throw in yet another ad hoc hypothesis: God made sure that despite allowing enough human influence to create the illusion of inconsistency, he would not let so much humanity influence the text that it became suspect; and then hid this from all but the uninitiated (special pleading).

    Furthermore, your definition of inerrancy seems a bit of an equivocation. My understanding is that inerrantists assert that the “Word of God” is wholly without error. Your definition is rather novel, I think. You may argue that the contradictions and inconsistencies are inconsequential, but they are nonetheless present. Are they not? Dismissing their importance, as you know, is not the same as denying their existence. That is an entirely separate argument.

  7. 7

    I’m still not seeing a specific criticism of the position I articulated. So let me ask some pointed questions.

    Do you think that the first account of creation is a strict chronological account and that the days mentioned are all 24 hour time periods?

    Do you think that the second account of creation is a strict chronological account?

    If you do believe that both are strict chronological accounts, how do you account for the fact that both ended up in the same book right next to each other?

  8. 8

    The redactors weren’t necessarily too concerned with inerrancy themselves.

  9. 9

    Thanks for getting right to the heart of the issue with those questions, WL. I’m still working out how best to read the Creation narratives, but for what it’s worth here’s where I’m at (please forgive the loose usage of literary terms):

    There’s a continuum of positions here, with a straightforward literal reading at one end, a subtle semi-literal reading in the middle, and an ahistorical allegorical reading at the other end. Of course, you can adopt one approach for one Creation narrative and a different approach for the other.

    I take Genesis 1 to be a Creation narrative, reading it sufficiently literally that I do take it to be asserting that things came into existence in the order described (but not so literally as to exclude either an old Earth or theistic evolution).

    However, I take Genesis 2 to be a story about man’s place in Creation, his rights and responsibilities to it, reading it sufficiently allegorically that I don’t take it to be asserting that things came into existence in the order described.

    So my answers to your questions are: (1) Yes, but not 24 hour ‘days’; (2) No; (3) N/A. I don’t think that the Bible asserts the surface chronology of Genesis 2, so I don’t think that the Bible is contradictory concerning the order of Creation of man and animals.

    I am still thinking this through, however; working out what are the truth-conditions of texts like these isn’t easy, particularly given our cultural distance from whatever literary genre they belong to.

  10. 10

    I’m not arguing that the redactor (if that theory is true) was concerned with inerrancy. I am arguing that he was concerned with consistency, or, at the very least, he was interested in minimizing the appearance of inconsistency.

    By the theory, the whole point was to unify the various traditions. If the Jews, in their various J, P and E (and whatever else) factions, generally viewed the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 accounts as strict chronologies, putting the accounts right next to each other wouldn’t be a very good way of unifying them.

    I don’t think you are going to find a very plausible account of why two incompatible chronologies would be placed right next to each other by a redactor or by Moses when the book being written/edited purports to be the Word of God.

    This is what leads me to think that at least one (and perhaps both) of the accounts was (were) never intended to be a strict chronology.

    Note that I am not arguing here against the redactor theory, per se. I’m merely pointing out that redaction is a process carried out by a human who has normal human concerns about consistency.

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