Recently, I attended a seminary on the Bible and evolution. During the presentation the teacher tried to explain Genesis 2:19 and the creation of the animals after the creation of man. One student in the class asked a very important question: “how do you explain that in Genesis 1 the animals were created before man?”
The teacher tried to explain how the creation of man and animals in Genesis 2 fits into the creation of animal and man in Genesis 1. In the process, the teacher gave the student the most unconvincing answer that I ever heard.
This kind of approach to Genesis 1 and 2 leaves students perplexed because the explanation creates more questions than answers. In addition, superficial explanations create doubts in the minds of educated believers who are confronted with the claims of science and the teachings of the Bible.
But I cannot blame the teacher alone for the unconvincing answer. Genesis 2:19 has caused problems to translators and scholars alike and the answer of the teacher was based on a mistranslation of Genesis 2:19 found in the NIV.
Below are two translations of Genesis 2:19 (I have italicized the problem section of the text):
This is the translation of Genesis 2:19 in the New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV):
“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 the man called every living creature, that was its name.”
The reading of the NRSV is also found in the following English translations of the Bible: ASV, HCSB, JPS, KJV, NAB, NAS, NJB, NET, LB, RSV, and the TNK.
This is the translation of Genesis 2:19 in the New International Version (NIV):
“Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”
The reading of the NIV is also found in the following English translations of the Bible: ESV, GWN, NIV 2011, and TNIV.
The problem with the two translations is evident. The NRSV’s translation indicates that the animals were created after the creation of man in 2:7. The NIV’s translation implies that the animals were already created (“Now the LORD God had formed”) before the creation of man in Genesis 2:7.
The problem with the NIV is that according to Hebrew grammar, the translation of Genesis 2:19 in the NIV is unacceptable. This translation of the NIV was adopted in order to harmonize the conflict between Genesis 1 and 2.
This is the order of creation:
Genesis 1: Order of creation: Genesis 2: Order of creation: light man created from the dust heavens the garden earth, seas trees and vegetation vegetation, trees animals sun, moon, and stars birds sea monsters, fish, birds woman created from man animals man and woman (created together)
The order of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is different. How then can the problem be solved? H. C. Leupold, in his book Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965), p. 130, wrote:
“It would not, in our estimation, be wrong to translate yatsar as a pluperfect in this instance: ‘he had molded.’ The insistence of the critics upon a plain past is partly the result of the attempt to make chapters one and two clash at as many points as possible.”
Victor P. Hamilton, in his book The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 176, wrote: “Many commentators have maintained that in this verse one finds a classic illustration of a major conflict between the sequence of creation in 1:1-2:4a and that in 2:4bff. In one (1:24-25) animals precede man. In the other (2:19) animals come after man. It is possible to translate formed as ‘had formed’ (so NIV).”
As I mentioned above, the translation of the NIV is unacceptable. John Sailhamer, in his commentary on “Genesis,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), p. 48, wrote:
“The NIV has offered an untenable solution in its rendering the waw consecutive in wayyiser by a pluperfect: ‘Now the LORD God had formed.’ Not only is such a translation for the waw consecutive hardly possible, . . . but it misses the very point of the narrative, namely, that the animals were created in response to God’s declaration that it was not good that man should be alone (2:18).”
Franz Delitzsch, in his book A New Commentary on Genesis (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1888), p. 67, made a similar argument. Delitzsch wrote: “The meaning cannot be that the animals had already been created, and are now brought to be named: such a sense is excluded by grammar and misses the point of the passage.”
Thus, as Sailhamer (and Delitzsch) points out, the translation of the NIV is wrong, and it misses the point the author is trying to make about man’s loneliness. And it is out of this wrong translation that many pastors and commentators err in their interpretation of Genesis 2:19.
A better explanation of Genesis 2:19 has been proposed by U. Cassuto. In his book A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1961), p. 128-129, Cassuto said that the translation “had formed” “cannot be considered seriously.” Cassuto proposes that Genesis 2:19 only mentions the creation of two kinds of animals: the animal of the field and the birds of the air.
Since in Genesis 2:20 Adam names three kinds of animals, cattle, the birdss of the air, and the animal of the field, Cassuto proposes that the cattle were already in the garden with the man. According to Cassuto, the animals of the field and the birds of the air had already been dispersed over all the earth. So, God formed a particular specimen of the animals of the field and the birds of the air so that man could name them. Cassuto (p. 129) wrote:
“Of all the species of beasts and flying creatures that had already been created and had spread over the face of the earth and the firmament of the heavens, the LORD God now formed particular specimens for the purpose of presenting them all before man in the midst of the Garden.”
Cassuto’s view has been adopted by both Hamilton and Sailhamer and by many other commentators. This interpretation of Genesis 2:19 solves the contradiction of the accounts of the creation of the animals in Genesis 1 and 2. It also provides a way of integrating Genesis 2 into Genesis 1. However, I am not convinced.
Cassuto’s interpretation is only a supposition. He supposes that the animals of the field and the birds of the air had already been dispersed over all the earth, but there is no evidence of this in the text. His view is just another attempt at harmonizing Genesis 1 and 2.
It is evident that the order of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is different and cannot be easily reconciled. The text of Genesis 1 and 2 points to two different stories of creation and no harmonizing of the text will solve the problem. To my view, the NIV’s translation violates the rules of Hebrew grammar in order to present an ideological interpretation of the text.
The Bible is still the Word of God. As Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III wrote in their book, Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origin, one can believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and still believe that Genesis 1 and 2 are two different creation stories presenting different theological perspectives of what God did when he created the world.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary