Why Genesis 2:4 Should Be Divided
The following is the current translation of Genesis 2:4 in today’s most popular Bibles:
- These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, (KJV)
- This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. (NIV)
- These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. (ESV)
- This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth.
The Man and Woman in Eden
When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, (NLT)
Of all the top four English versions, I believe only the New Living Translation got it right, because it divides Genesis 2:4 into two parts. The NLT grouped 2:4a with the rest of the first week (Gen. 1:1-2:4a), while the second part is grouped with the creation of mankind (Gen. 2:4b-24). In this post, I will also propose why Genesis 2:4 should be read as separate thoughts.
In the other three versions, Gen. 2:4 is redundant and looks like circular reasoning – saying the exact same thing twice. While it is true Semitic writings feature synonymous parallels, this text doesn’t substitute synonyms for its nouns, nor is it poetry.
This awkward reading is the first indication that an improper scriptural division took place – perhaps 800 years ago! While chapter-and-verse divisions have given the Judeo-Christian world a valuable convenience, improper divisions can be misleading. I am not saying divisions are unnecessary, but I do believe after 800 years of scholarship that it might be time to reevaluate them.
First, let’s consider that Genesis 2:1-3, explaining the Seventh Day, is separated from the other six days of creation (Genesis 1). However, it makes more logical sense if it were read as one continuous thought with the rest of creation week. Assuming this for the sake of the argument, a “reorganized” Genesis 2 begins with the redundant Genesis 2:4.
Why Genesis 2:4 Should Be Divided
The first part of Genesis 2:4 reads: “this is the history of the heavens and the earth in their creation” (elleh toledot ha-shamayim v’ha-aretz b’hi-baram). Of course, this line is quite similar to Genesis 1:1’s “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Therefore, it might be that Genesis 1:1 and 2:4a are “bookends” for the Creation Week, acting as introductory and closing statements. There is nothing contextually wrong with this reading. The Hebrew elleh (this) can be an antecedent or precedent modifier; it can definitely be used as an antecedent, in this case describing things aforementioned (the creation of the heavens and the earth). While this is not “proof” by any stretch, the close resemblance of Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:4a is a second indicator that Genesis 2:4 should be split (the first being an illogical and awkward reading).
Additionally, the author of Genesis 2:4a uses the root bara (“create” in an absolute sense); bara is used five other times in Genesis 1 but not found again until Genesis 5 – the third indication Genesis 2:4a and Genesis 1 belong together.
Additionally, Genesis 2:4a also uses definitive articles ‘the’ with shamayim and eretz (ha-shamayim; ha-aretz) – also matching Genesis 1, but Genesis 2:4b (b’yom asot y’hwh elohim eretz w’shamayim) does not (Note: This could lead to different interpretations of the text, see below); In other words, we have a fourth indication the verses do not belong together.
Speaking of heavens and earth, the order in which the two terms appear in the written text is switched; in 2:4a hashamayim precedes haaretz, but in 2:4b eretz is before shamayim). This is the fifth indication that the two lines were written by separate authors.
Context also plays a part in determining its placement, and is the sixth indication Genesis 2:4 should be read as two thoughts. For instance, Genesis 2:4 reads “elleh toledot ha-shamayim v’ha-aretz b’hi-baram”, literally “This is the history (lit. generations) of the heavens and the earth in their creation.” However, in context, the rest of Genesis 2 doesn’t address “generations” of the heavens and the earth; it portrays an intimate creation of man and woman, and the role of mankind on the earth with His creator. The generations of the heavens and the earth are detailed in Genesis 1, which is a day-by-day historical account, which makes more sense. Likewise, the absence of a definitive article “ha” with eretz and shamayim in 2:4b can arguably be translated more generally as “land” and “sky” (b’yom asot y’hwh elohim eretz w’shamayim: When YHVH Elohim made land and sky…)
Additionally, the author of Genesis 2:4b uses the Hebrew word for day (yom) in the context of an idiom (b’yom; lit. “in the day” but simply meaning “when”), the title of YHVH, and lumps elements of creation together when read with Genesis 2:5: land, sky, shrubs, herbs, rain, etc.). Lumping these elements together does not describe a history, just an introduction to his real intent of portraying man’s relationship to YHVH Elohim.
Nothing I proposed in this post is earth-shattering; on the scale of relevance this would register a low input. However, this is a good example of improper biblical division, and can serve as a good reminder that while chapters and verses are convenient, they are not absolute.
I based my decision on at least six indications that Genesis 2:4 was written by two separate authors:
- In its entirety, Genesis 2:4 is circular and doesn’t make sense in translated English or the original Hebrew.
- Genesis 2:4a appears to be a closing statement, just as Genesis 1:1 is an opening statement.
- The author of 2:4a uses the bara verb, which is used five other times in Genesis 1 but never again in the second creation account.
- The author of 2:4a uses definitive articles (hashamayim and haaretz); the author of 2:4b does not.
- The word order of shamayim and eretz is switched as one reads 2:4a to 2:4b.
- The context of the statement “toledot hashamayim v’haaretz” – generations of the heavens and earth – matches the historical context of Genesis 1 but not the context of the second creation account’s focus on intimacy.
Genesis 2:4a should finish Chapter 1, and 2:4b should begin Genesis’s second chapter. This may seem like a minor thing, but I believe starting the second creation account with its rightful introduction will help alleviate confusion and help establish proper context, which I will address in later posts.