Does Genesis 1:12 and Gen 2:5 Contradict?

by Peter Salemi

Many critics of the Bible claim that the Genesis 1:12 and 2:5 contradict one another. The first scripture says that on the "third day," (Gen 1:13) "And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good." (1:12). Yet, notice what Genesis 2:5 states, "And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground." The American Standard Version makes it clearer, "And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for Jehovah God had not caused it to rain upon the earth: and there was not a man to till the ground;" This scripture seems to suggest that there was no vegetation on the sixth day when God formed man out of the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7).  Added to that, Genesis 2:9 hearkens back to the third day of creation, and says, "And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil." Besides the tree of good and evil and the tree of life were the trees God created on the third day of creation. Is this all one big contradiction? Did God create the vegetation of the earth on the third or the sixth day of the re-creation week?

Vegetation in Genesis 1 & 2

The first point chapter 2 makes is that there were 4 things that did not yet exist.

  1. the plant of the field

  2. the herb of the field

  3. the man to till the soil

  4. the rain

When did these come into existence? We will see in the latter part of this article.

Are these things, especially the plants and herbs of the field somehow different from those mentioned in chapter 1? If so, how and why did these things come into existence?

Plants & Vegetation

In Genesis chapter 1:12 the Hebrew words for "grass" and "herb" are "deshe" (Strong's #1877), and "'eśeb" (Strong's #6212), meaning "vegetation" and "green plants."

Genesis says, "And the earth brought forth grass [Vegetation], and herb [green plants] yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind:

Most scholars assume that the words and the phrases for the plants or vegetation used in Genesis 1:12 and 2:5 carry the same meaning. However a close reading of the text reveals a different story. It reveals that the botanical terms of Gen 1:12 and 2:5 do not have identical meaning.

In Genesis 1:12 the phrase is "herb [green plants] yielding seed" [eseb mazrya zera]. This is coupled with the "deshe" the "vegetation."

In Genesis 2:5, the phrase "plant of the field" is "siach hassadeh" The word "siach" is  "shrub" (Strong's #7880). This is coupled with, "'eseb hassedeh" "herb of the field."

The word "siach" appears only 4 times in the Bible (Gen 2:5; 21:15; and Job 30:4, 7). The context of both make it clear that both Genesis 21:15 and Job 30:4-7 that the plant is a xerophyte, a plant "adapted to life in a dry or physiologically dry habitat" (Britannica.com under "Xerophyte"). These plants exist in dry and desert environments, which we do not find in the original creation week. As God said at the end of the creation week, everything was "good."

A xerophyte is a species of plant that has adapted to survive in an environment with little liquid water, such as a desert or an ice- or snow-covered region in the Alps or the Arctic

 As such it is most likely a thorny plant. This understanding of the siach receives support from Genesis 3:18 in which the expression "herb of the field" ['eseb hassadeh] is coupled with "thorns and thistles" "Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee [all mankind]; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;" (Genesis 3:18). " 'Thorns and thistles' was apparently intended as a parallel expression for the earlier 'shrub of the the field [siarh hassadeh]." (Interpreting Scripture, Randall W. Younker, p.121, emphasis his). But notice what the scriptures states: "And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 

"Thorns also and thistles shall it [the cursed ground]bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." (Gen 3:17-19). Notice a change that takes place. First, the ground is cursed. Second, a plant that DID NOT EXIST before exists now due to Adam's sin-the thorny xerophytes. Third, Adam by the "sweat of his brow" ate food-the "herb of the field," this is done by painful toil-by tilling the ground. So what is the point the author is trying to make here, then? To better understand, we first go on to the next plant that did not exist yet - the "plant of the field."

The Plant of the Field

While the other botanical term in Genesis 2, 'eseb (plant) is fairly common in the Hebrew text, it appears in the full expression 'eseb hassadeh ("plant of the field") in Genesis only in 2:5 and 3:18. In Genesis 3:18 "plants of the field" are specifically designated as the food Adam will have to eat as a result of his sin and that they come about directly by man's "painful toil" and by the "sweat of [his] brow." In other words, "plants of the field" are those plants that are specifically produced by the labor by which man was burdened because of his fall into sin. As U. Cassuto points out, "these species did not exist, or were not found in the form known to us until after Adam's transgression, and it was in consequence of his fall that they came into the world and received their present form."' (The documentary Hypothesis, p.102, emphasis added).

The fact that Genesis 3:19 explicitly states that these plants were used to make "bread" would indicate that the expression "plants of the field" specifically refers to the well-known grains of the Middle East that are used to make bread-that is, wheat, barley and other grains. In the Middle East, the growing of these bread grains requires the "tilling of the ground;" another feature of these plants that is specifically mentioned in Genesis. Thus the two botanical terms "shrub of the field" and "plant of the field" encompass not the entire plant kingdom but rather that part of the plant kingdom that the requires a cultivator and that the cultivator is particularly concerned with - annual cultivants and intrusives.

No man to till the ground

Again, some scholars have assumed that Genesis 2:5 contradicts chapter 1, because, while the first chapter depicts the creation of man on day six, Genesis 2:5 seems to imply that God had not yet made man after "the earth and heavens were made." (v.1). However, this is again an over-simplified reading of the text that ignores the critical modifier "to till the ground."

In fact, the narrative of chapter one ends at chapter 2 verse 3. How do we know this? Verse 4 begins "These [margin "This is the history"] are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens," Lubenow writes: "It is common for ancient records to begin with a genealogy or register documenting close family relationships" (Bones of Contention, p.216).The translators of the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament) regarded that phrase as being so significant that they gave the book its name after the term. Genesis is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew TOLeDOT, "generations." So Chapter 2 verse 4 begins another narrative separate from the Creation week the narrative previous to this. The writer of this tablet was Adam (Read our Article "Who Wrote the Book of Genesis" for further details).

Now this section of Genesis chapter 2:5-7 is describing the 6th day of creation week. The wording of verse 4 is explained from the Keil & Delitzsche commentary, "...here the creation of the universe is mentioned as the starting-point to the account of its historical development, because this account looks back to particular points in the creation itself," (emphasis added).

The Pulpit commentary agrees, "...and so the generations of the heavens and the earth refer not to their original production (Gesenius), but to their onward movements from creation downwards (Keil). Hence with no incongruity, but with singular propriety, the first half of the present verse, ending with the words when they were created, literally, in their creation, stands at the commencement of the section in which the forward progression of the universe is traced" (emphasis added). So here Adam uses the creation of everything as a starting point, then he gives us the history of the creation of man and woman on the sixth day (Gen 2 vv.5-7); the garden of Eden, and the fall of man. (Gen 3). Adam is recording what happened to man and his fall from grace.

Now, It is important to note that Adam when he was created in Genesis 1:26-30 was not intended to work the ground. Rather, he was to have "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

Further, he was given "every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it" (v.29) for food. Nothing is said of deriving food from "working the ground."

The man who "till[s] the ground" does not come into view until after Adam's fall. Then, because of his sin, Adam is told, "cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it [the ground] all the days of your life" (Gen 3:17) Thus, like the "plant of the field" of Genesis 2:5, the "man to work the ground" does not come into existence until after the Fall as a direct result of sin. Genesis 2:5, therefore, is not saying that the plants did not exist till after man was created. Rather, it is saying that no plants that were intended to be cultivated and produced due to labor "tiller of the ground" existed till sinful man came about and the ground was cursed due to his sin! Such a man would not exist until after the Fall, and that man was sinful Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:5, thus, is setting the stage for what comes later in Genesis 3

The Rain

The final thing that Genesis 2:5 indicates did not yet exist is rain. Following the same pattern that has clearly been set for the three previous categories, it is logical to assume that rain does not make its appearance until after the entrance of sin. This is, indeed, the case. However, unlike the first three items, which appear immediately after man's fall, rain is not mentioned until Genesis 7:4, 12, at the commencement of the Flood, although the context clearly indicates that rain, too, comes as a consequence of the entrance of sin into the world.

Although the thorny shrubs, cultivated plants, and the act of cultivation were immediate judgments brought upon human beings for their sin, they were permitted to continue living. The final judgment of rain comes only after the condition of the antediluvians worsens to the point that God regrets giving them this second chance and determines to terminate the human race. Rain makes its entrance into the world, not as a water source for aquiculture but as an agent of God's judgment.

In conclusion, a close reading of the text suggests that chapter 2 does not offer a Creation account that contradicts chapter 1. Rather, the point of Genesis 2:4-9 is to explain the origin of four things that were not part of the original creation described in chapter one:

  1. thorns;
  2. agriculture;
  3. cultivation/irrigation;
  4. rain.

Chapter 2 informs the reader that each of these things was introduced as a direct result of the entrance of sin. Thorns, plants requiring cultivation, and a human race that must work the ground for its food are introduced in Genesis 3:17, 18 as curses or judgments immediately after the Fall. Although rain is not mentioned until the Flood, it, too, comes as a curse-a judgment against humanity's sin. Thus, rather, than a contradiction of chapter 1, these early verses in Chapter 2 actually serve as a bridge between the perfect creation of Chapter 1 and the introduction of sin into the world in Chapter 3.