The Two Creation Accounts (The Covenant & the Cross #24)


Today’s passage of Scripture is Genesis 1:1-2 which reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.“

Allow me to share with you some commentary on this passage from the Bible Knowledge Commentary by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck:

“The account of Creation is the logical starting point for Genesis, for it explains the beginning of the universe. These verses have received much attention in connection with science; this is to be expected. But the passage is a theological treatise as well, for it lays a foundation for the rest of the Pentateuch. In writing this work for Israel, Moses wished to portray God as the Founder and Creator of all life. The account shows that the God who created Israel is the God who created the world and all who are in it. Thus the theocracy is founded on the sovereign God of Creation. That nation, her Law, and her customs and beliefs all go back to who God is. Israel would here learn what kind of God was forming them into a nation.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Daniel Webster. He said: “If there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the Scriptures.”

Our topic for today is titled: “The Two Creation Accounts” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Dr. Michael A. Harbin.

The first two chapters of Genesis contain some of the most controversial material in the Bible. Until the mid-1800s, most scholars viewed these two chapters as a straightforward cosmology, that is, a description of the origin and structure of the universe. Since then, many scholars have abandoned that view. Today, most people in our culture look to geology or astronomy textbooks to find an explanation of how the world came into existence and how, over time, today’s world came to be.

In terms of biblical studies, the primary cause for this change was the work of German scholar Julius Wellhausen, who published his “Prolegomena to the History of Israel” in 1878. In this book, Wellhausen picked up on the ideas of another German scholar, Karl Graf, regarding how Genesis 1 and 2 fit together. Wellhausen was able to develop Graf’s ideas into a coherent theory and make it popular. In the process, he made a number of assumptions, which we discussed in the introduction. The heart of this theory (often called the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis) was that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch (especially Genesis); therefore, what we call the Pentateuch today was a compilation of various documents from a variety of sources. Graf and Wellhausen identified four sources: J (from Jahwe, German for Yahweh), E (from the Hebrew word for God, Elohim), D (from Deuteronomy, which was viewed as a separate work added at the end), and P (a source written by priests to justify their existence). Because of these four sources, the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis is also sometimes called the JEDP theory. This way of looking at the Bible is also called “source criticism” (i.e., critically examining the text to find its literary origins).

It had earlier been observed that in Genesis 1 the word Elohim is used consistently to refer to God. Beginning with Genesis 2:4, in contrast, we find the phrase YHWH-Elohim (translated as “the LORD God”). Some scholars concluded that the two sections were written by two different authors, which would explain the various differences in the way the creation process is described. More recent scholarship, however, has shown that these assumptions are not valid. Moreover, when we look at the terms used for God, we find an interesting distinction.

Elohim. This name, which is used in Genesis 1:1-2:3, is the plural of EL. It is usually viewed as a “plural of majesty.”‘ As used throughout the OT, the term reflects the transcendence of God, that is, His separation from and superiority over creation.’ As used in Genesis 1:1-2:3, which discusses the order and structure of creation, it points out the power and majesty of the transcendent Creator God.

YHWH (Yahweh). This name is apparently derived from the Hebrew verb “hayah”, “to be,” and thus related to the phrase translated “I Am.” As such, it denotes the eternally existing quality of God and emphasizes the personal, eternal, and all-sufficient aspects of God’s nature and character. But as used throughout the rest of the Old Testament, this term also shows the relational aspect of God. When we note how it is used in Genesis 2:4-4:26, we see a section that emphasizes the relationships of creation, especially between God and man. Here the name YHWH points toward the covenant God who is immanent (that is, within creation). Interestingly, in the part of Genesis 2 known as the “second creation account,” it is used as a compound term, YHWH-Elohim, pointing to a God who is both transcendent and relational.

Once we realize how these names are used for different purposes to reflect different roles of God, we begin to have a better feel for the structure of Genesis 1 and 2. In chapter 1, where the title Elohim is used consistently, we are given an overview of God as the Great Creator who is outside of creation. The description of the act of creation here is straightforward and matter-of-fact. In chapter 2, where the name YHWH is used, we see in contrast a focus on man and his relationship to the rest of creation as well as to his Creator. This distinction is even more evident when we observe that this second account is arranged topically rather than chronologically.


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