There is a strong case to be made that the first clause of 2:4 (4a) is actually the last sentence of the first creation story and its last clause (4b) is the beginning of the second creation story – the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. In table form, here is the first creation story. Note that 2:4a nicely brackets, repeats, and recalls the opening statement, Genesis 1:1.
|Gen 1:1||When God first created the heavens and the earth|
|Gen 1:2-2:3||Describes the six days of creation and the sabbath of the 7th|
|Gen 2:4a||These were the accounts of when the heavens and the earth were created.|
While most scholars agree that Genesis 2:4b is the beginning statement of the second creation story, support for this view is not universal. Friedmann observes((Friedmann, 2001)) that the phrase elle toldot (“these are the records/generations“) always introduces a list or story of events. If true, then to understand 2:4a as a recapitulation of the first seven days of creation is unwarranted. To this argument, Bruce Waltke points out that the elle toldot phrases to which Friedmann refers always refer to subsequent events/generations, not previous ones as it does in this verse. Ruth 4:18 is a typical example. in which the author recounts the geneology of David, presumably looking back in history. In this case, the author of Genesis 2 is also looking back to the events of the first creation story((See also Genesis 25:19 (Waltke, 2001) pp. 55-56)).
There is also a literary consideration supporting 2:4b as the beginning of the second creation story. Westermann makes the argument that by viewing 2:4a as the conclusion of the first creation story, a narrative chiasm is formed (as can be seen in the table, above).
בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם
When the LORD God made earth and skies, …
When: translated from the Hebrew word בְּיוֹם (bəyom), it literally translates to in-the-day-of. However, because of the verbal structure of the verse, when is probably a simpler and more understandable translation((The verb in this first clause, עֲשׂוֹת (`asot) is in a form called an infinitive construct. In the presence of infinitive constructs, bə is often (usually?) viewed as having a temporal meaning, i.e., when)).
earth and skies: this phrase derives from the Hebrewאֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם (‘aretz vəshamayim) and it is noteworthy that in the first verse of the previous creation story, the words are reversed — skies (or heavens) and earth.
Why? Bruce Waltke suggests that the author intended to call the audience’s attention to a change in perspective(((waltke, 2001) p. 55)) . This is an intriguing possibility. The perspectives of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are objectively different. Where Genesis 1 imagines a distant, transcendent being who creates with mere thoughts or delegates the dirty work to His earthly creations, Genesis 2 pictures God as a kind of potter who forms mankind from the earth and who takes an active interest in His creation. In this case, by reversing heavens and earth, the author’s intention is to call to our attention the primacy of terrestrial matters in this particular creation account.
My translation conventions can be found here.
in-the-day-of making the-LORD God land and-skies
in the day of the LORD God making earth and skies.
Contemporary Bible Translations
- (nas) in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.
- (kjv) in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
- (niv) when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens–
- (net) when the LORD God made the earth and heavens.