Does Genesis 2:19 Contradict Genesis 1?

By J. Luis Dizon

Luis Dizon is a Ph.D Candidate at the University of Toronto in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, specializing in Comparative Abrahamic Religions. He is also a regular guest on the show Reason and Theology, speaking on topics relating to Biblical studies and comparative religions.

One argument made by those who assert that Genesis 2 presents a separate Creation narrative from Genesis 1 is that, while Genesis 1:20-25 speaks of God creating the animals before creating mankind, Genesis 2 reverses the order and has God creating man before creating the animals. Genesis 2:19 is often cited in conjunction with this, which reads:

וַיִּצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים מִן־הָֽאֲדָמָ֗ה כָּל־חַיַּ֤ת הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְאֵת֙ כָּל־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיָּבֵא֙ אֶל־הָ֣אָדָ֔ם לִרְא֖וֹת מַה־יִּקְרָא־ל֑וֹ וְכֹל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִקְרָא־ל֧וֹ הָֽאָדָ֛ם נֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּ֖ה ה֥וּא שְׁמֽוֹ

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (ESV-CE)

The argument relies on the assumption that verse 19 occurs in strict chronological sequence after the events narrated prior to it. Those who take this view argue that the use of the wayyiqtol (or preterite) form for the verb “form” (וַיִּצֶר֩) in the beginning of this verse indicates that a sequential ordering of events is in view, with the forming happening immediately after God “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18).

In order to make this argument, one has to say that the wayyiqtol always denotes a temporal sequence. However, this is not the case. As Waltke and O’Connor note in their Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, a clause which begins with wayyiqtol is always related to the preceding clause in some way, but this relation need not be temporal. They explain:

Relative waw with a prefix form represents a situation that is usually successive and always subordinate to a preceding statement. The succession may be either absolute or subjective, and often the distinction between them is blurred. Temporal sequence depends on objective fact outside the control of the speaker; logical sequence, by contrast, subjectively exists in the way a speaker sees the relationship between situations. Sometimes with wayyqtl a situation is represented as a logical entailment from (a) preceding one(s) or a logical contrast with it/them or as a summarizing statement of it/them. If the explanatory situation in fact occurred prior to the leading one, it may be necessary to translate wayyqtl by a pluperfect. Wayyqtl may be used after any clause which provides a starting point for development, as happens when wayyqtl is used epexegetically, after a circumstantial clause or phrase. [1]

Likewise, Arnold and Choi note that while the use of the wayyiqtol is usually avoided in references to anterior events, occasionally such usage does appear in the Hebrew Bible:

Within narrative, an action or situation that is not sequential to the main verb, but prior to it (equivalent to the English pluperfect or past perfect), is often presented by avoiding the וַיִּקְטֹל pattern and replacing it with the conjunctive waw on a finite form. But, occasionally, waw consecutive plus imperfect may be used to mark such anterior constructions, which must be discerned from the context. [2]

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament likewise concurs that the wayyiqtol can be used non-sequentially, and cites specific instances of this. It also explicitly proposes this as a solution to the problem posed regarding Genesis 2:19:

[T]he “waw consecutive,” . . . denotes sequence in past narrative. But sometimes the action is not successive in a strict sense. It may denote logical sequence (cf. Gen 2:1; 23:20; Deut 3:8) or action that is actually prior to the preceding verb, i.e. it functions as a pluperfect (cf. Gen 19:27; Num 1:48; II Sam 12:27; I Kgs 12:13; passim). W. Martin refers to this last usage as “dischronologized narrative (“Dischronologized Narrative in the Old Testament,” Vetus Testamentum, Congress Volume, Rome, 1968:179–86). This use explains the apparent contradiction between Gen 1:24–26 and Gen 2:19. The latter passage means “and the Lord had formed.” [3]

Finally, Jouon and Muraoka caution against the strict connecting of Hebrew temporal forms with time and aspect, since Hebrew sometimes uses finite verbs in ways that are atypical compared to other languages:

[Hebrew temporal forms] express both time and aspect, but only to a limited extent…. Thus the forms do not express time as clearly as some other languages do. After an initial form which situates the action in a temporal sphere, there is fairly often a certain freedom as to what form must be taken by the verb following; it sometimes seems to be used in an atemporal way and to take the value of the preceding form. [4]

In conclusion, there is no necessity in viewing Genesis 2:19 as coming immediately after the preceding verses in temporal sequence. The use of the wayyiqtol need not signify sequential action, but can be used to refer back to an antecedent event. In this case, Genesis 2:19 is hearkening back to Genesis 1:20-25, rather than contradicting it. Recognition of this fact will go a long way towards clearing the misconception that Genesis 1 and 2 present two separate and incompatible Creation accounts.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke and Michael Patrick O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 547.

[2] Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 85. Italics mine.

[3] Carl Philip Weber, “519 וָ,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 229.

[4] Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Roma: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2006), 390.

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