Let the Bible be the Bible

Let the Bible be the Bible June 26, 2013

Sometimes what we want the Bible to be what it is not so we make the Bible what we want it to be and then we feel better about the Bible. Here’s a good example, taken from my friend and colleague, Claude Mariottini, and his new book Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding. It comes from Genesis 2:19.

KJV: “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”

ASV: “And out of the ground Jehovah God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the heavens; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them: and whatsoever the man called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”

NET: “Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”

All NIV, including NIV 11: “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. 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.”

Why do the NIV translations (NIV, TNIV, NIV 11) all have “had formed” (called a pluperfect) when the other translations have “formed” (simple past)? The Hebrew is a simple past tense, not a pluperfect tense.

The simple fact is this: Genesis 1 has this order for creation: light, heavens, earth, seas, vegetation, trees, sun, moon, stars, sea monsters, fish, birds, animals, and man and woman. The order of creation in Genesis 2 is different: man from the dust, garden, trees, vegetation, animals, birds, and the woman (from the rib of man).

If though one posits that Genesis 2 in 2:19 means that God had already formed them then one can fit the order of Genesis 2 into the order of Genesis 2. But someone like John Sailhamer says this “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” (5). He opts for Cassuto’s view, which Claude says is nothing more than supposition, namely that God had already made cattle but that in 2:19 he makes only animals and birds. But this, too, runs aground.

What is happening here, acc to Claude and others, is the desire to make Genesis 2 fit Genesis 1 in spite of the grammar. It is far wiser to let the Bible be what it is, and that means the simple grammar of a past tense suggests Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are actually two different, and variant, accounts of creation, both drawn deep from Israel’s own history and that each has a different emphasis to bring to the table. Two stories are almost always better than one. Two views highlights more truth. It is best to let the Bible be what it is.

There can be two accounts of creation and the Bible be inspired. Especially if one is concerned with the intent of the text and not assume it is strict historical chronology.


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  • Keith Schooley

    I don’t assume strict historical chronology in either Gen 1 or 2; nonetheless, I think the verb tense argument leaves something to be desired. My biblical Hebrew is more than a little rusty, but I don’t think there is a Hebrew way of expressing the pluperfect (or many other English tenses), thus I wouldn’t lay much stress on the fact that the word in question is a “simple” past tense. On the other hand, there is in Hebrew a way of suggesting a non-chronological progression of thought, the waw-consecutive. This is indicated by NIV’s use of “Now” at the beginning of the sentence.

    So if you have an indication of non-chronological progression followed by a past tense, that’s a good argument for something other than a simple past to be reflected in the verb, and the pluperfect is a pretty strong contender.

    Let’s not assume that someone else’s translational decisions are theologically driven, while our own are simply letting the Bible be what it is.

  • Norman

    This is correct.
    Genesis 1 and 2 have completely different purposes in mind regarding
    their literary intent. Genesis 1 is what
    one might call an opening prologue or from a Hebrew point of view it is an
    outline prophetic overview of the big picture about Israel. Genesis 2 therefore begins the fleshing out of that big picture narrative overview with the details of Israel’s origin presented in a highly stylized and proprietary literary masterpiece.

    Genesis 1 presents the players that will appear and the desired end result for Israel will be Israel (adams) being made in God’s Image. Along with that the animals will benefit and then God will rest when Adam is created in His Image and thus His host surrounds him.

    I give you a clue; go into OT and 2nd T literature and see whom the animals represent. 🙂

    Hos 2:18 And I will make for them (Israel/Judah) a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground.

    Act 10:11-15 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

  • scotmcknight

    Keith, it’s not simply Hebrew but the narrative’s intent, as Sailhamer illustrates.

  • Keith Schooley

    Well, we can’t assume we know what was the narrative’s intent apart from what the narrative says. I don’t think the narrative’s intent was that Adam was completely alone (without even animals) and that God took several flawed runs at making him a companion before coming up with the idea of the woman. I do think that the introduction of the animals at this point in the narrative is intended to provide contrast to the woman who will be the suitable companion none of the other animals could be, but I also think this contrast works regardless of what form the verb for “formed” takes.

  • Annie

    I think it’s important to point out that Biblical Hebrew verbs do not have tense in the same sense that English does. What’s being referenced here is called verbal aspect, and that is different from the clean distinction between tenses that we have in English.

  • I wonder if Chapter 2 is in order of importance. Isn’t that how things were sometimes listed?
    Either way, not something I’d ever get in a furfuffle about (oh yeah, that’s a word).


  • scotmcknight

    Keith, but nearly all translations — and I checked several commentaries and all had “formed” and not a one had “had formed” — avoid that sense of the pluperfect. The addition of “had” smooths over the crack of suggesting two opening narratives, which is fine because translations are interpretations, but that also means it’s open for challenge. My colleague, Claude, thinks this one is dubious. Others agree with him.

  • cmariottini

    I fully agree with Scot’s interpretation and I stand by what I wrote in my book. However, I have to disagree with Norman’s and Keith’s responses.

    The problem with Norman’s response is that he takes the Bible out of the historical context, and when this is done, one produces interpretations that do not reflect what the Bible says. Here are a few examples.

    1. Norman says that adam is Israel: “the desired end result for Israel will be Israel (adams) being made in God’s Image.” But, where in the Old Testament is ’ādām identified with Israel? And where does it say that Israel was created in the image of God? The word ’ādām simply means “human beings”: “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam [’ādām]” (Gen 5:1-2 KJV). Both the man and the woman are ’ādām.

    2. Norman uses Hosea 2:18 to illustrate his interpretation by saying that the animals represent something, but he does not say what. Norman’s interpretation of Hosea 2:18 does not reflect what the prophet is trying to communicate to the people living in the Northern Kingdom. Because of the sins of the people, the whole land was suffering, including the animals: “Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away” (Hos 4:3).

    When Israel repents and the land is restored, God will make a covenant with Israel and with the animals. What Hosea meant was that the violation of the covenant brought judgment upon people and animals. The new covenant will restore the imbalance caused by Israel’s transgression of the covenant. Hosea 2:18 has nothing to do with Genesis 2.

    3. Norman completely misunderstood the intent of Acts 10:11-15. I will not address his misinterpretation of this text.

    Keith tries to defend the NIV’s translation of Genesis 2:19. The function of the waw consecutive is to continue the sense of the narrative and place it on the same level as the narrative that precedes the waw consecutive.

    If the waw consecutive in wayyīser in Genesis 2:19 is to be translated “had formed” to indicate that the animals had already been created, then the same word wayyīser in Genesis 2:7 should be translated “had formed” to indicate that the man had already been created. But the NIV cannot say that the man had already been created because he was not yet created. So, the waw consecutive in Genesis 2:19 is saying the same thing: the animals had not yet been created. This is the reason almost every other translation has “formed.” This is the correct translation.

    I tell my students: “When what you believe contradicts what the Bible says, do not change the Bible, change what you believe.” The problem in interpreting the Bible is that many people approach the Bible already knowing what they believe. So, when what the Bible says contradicts what they believe, they find ways to reinterpret the Bible in order to agree with what they think the Bible should say.

    Let the Bible be the Bible.

    Claude Mariottini
    Professor of Old Testament
    Northern Baptist Seminary

  • Abib14

    When reading the Genesis 1 – 2 narrative account, isn’t there two creation accounts not one?

    In the beginning God created the heavens and earth, Genesis 1:1. What is not created? Both the spiritual creation and the physical creation was spoken into existence in Genesis 1:1.

    Jump forward to the last clause of Genesis 2:4. “God made the earth and the heavens.” In Genesis 1:1 we have heavens and earth, and in Genesis 2:4 earth and the heavens, reversed order. Why is that? Two creation accounts are detailed in the Genesis 1 – 2 narrative?

    From Genesis 1:2 thru Genesis 2:3 is the narrative of spiritual or heavenly creation, and we find ourselves in the long spiritual night of day 3 of this account … and from Genesis 2:4 – 25 is the physical or earthly creation or if you will, the “flesh and blood” creation.

    Man was created on day 1 of the earthly or physical creation narrative, but the vast majority of humankind won’t be spiritually created in Their image until day 6 when mortality puts on immortality in the Great White Throne Judgment in the spiritual creation narrative.

    Genesis 1:2 – 2:3 is similar to the letters to the 7 churches of Revelation 2 – 3, in that both are the opening paragraphs of longer letters, thus from Genesis 3:1 until the last verse of Revelation are the details (longer letter), i.e., the history of the physical creation. The spiritual creation details or longer letter is still in the future.

  • attytjj466

    Gen 1 and Gen 2 are clearly two accounts of a very different “kind” in terms of form and style and intent and focus and purpose. Thus if the NIV rendering is an attempt at harmonization then yes it would be misguided because it would have the effect of detracting and deminishing the message and focus of Gen 2. Nor is it necessary in my view. Gen 2 seems to clearly indicate it is not focused on chronology at all but on theme and dramatic emphasis and development, as it relates to the creation of man and woman. To miss that is to read Gen 2 in the most naive way possible.

  • attytjj466

    From the text of Gen two it is clear there is no INTENT or ATTEMPT to adhere to any historical chronology. The chronology in the chapter, to the degree there is any, is driven and dictated by by the literary and/or rhetorical purpose and themes and drama of the text.

  • Norman


    I appreciate your response to my ideas. The big question you raise is what exactly is the Historical context and therein lays the rub. We can take a commonly assumed historical context and project that as correct or we can dig pretty deeply and see if another context may better represent the background of Genesis.

    First I would state that my presupposition is that Genesis is a Hebrew literary construct representing their heritage and therefore as many scholars readily see today Genesis 2’s story of Adam appears to represent a microcosm of Israel. Adam is a covenant man while gentiles are not represented as such typically in OT and 2nd T literature. Adam becomes a collective understanding for the Hebrew collective or corporate identity for their heritage and does not include Gentiles per se.

    Genesis is not written as an exact historical representation but is written in the genre similar to many other OT, 2nd T and NT pieces that employ apocalyptic “typology” and their underlying symbolic meaning.

    Next I would point out that the Hebrews had another word that better represented generic mankind and that would be “ish” which is often found translated as man. There is a Hebrew difference in connotation between aw-dawm (adam) and ish (man) and that is covenant in nature which represents supposedly faithful Israel. Adam is IMO representative of the first faithful man who has relationship with YHWH and is a type of Christ as Paul points out in Romans 5:14. Also as Paul points out in 1 Cor 15 that Adam represented the fleshly approach corporately while Christ represented the 2nd Adam corporately in the Spirit. 1 Cor15:45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. In the ANE and Hebrew mind these were corporate or collective understandings just as we understand that the church is a singular corporate body of the last Adam Christ now.

    Let me be frank, the animals represent the nations at large and their variations of peoples. It’s very simple to demonstrate throughout OT, 2nd T and NT literature how the Hebrews used these metaphors to draw distinction between the “beast” and the “sheep”. Look closely at Ezekiel 31 where Nations are equated with a Tree that is laid low and it no longer provides for the people under its jurisdiction “. This is a common usage in which I could bring several examples including how King Neb is also described in the same metaphorical language denoting his responsibility to the people(animals) under his jurisdiction.

    Eze 31:9 I made it beautiful in the mass of its branches, and all the trees of Eden envied it, that were in the garden of God. … 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. … On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. 13 On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field.

    Christ picks up on this Tree metaphor and Eze 17 when he speaks of the largest of Garden Trees in which the birds of Heaven rest in its branches contrasted to the mess found under these Nations above. Surely Christ is not talking about literal birds.

    Hosea is not about animals, it’s about Israel and Judah and their apostasy and their lack of performing their ministry to the Nations as they are expected to do as God’s people. Genesis 2’s usage of the animal metaphor is a “common” Hebrew construct designating Israel among the Nations and the animal and Beast metaphor is a tool that resonates over many varieties of writings that contributes to the cohesion of the Jewish story. 2nd T literature such as Enoch and Jubilees delve extensively into this Hebrew method in which animals are talking and become representative of the Nations. Look at Enoch’s “Dream vision” if you need a good example of how they used the animal metaphor. Jubilees says that the animals mouths were shut and they no longer could talk and interfere with Adam and when Adam was cast out of the Garden Adam was instructed to offer sacrifices for these animals sins. (Animals have sins?) Just like the Jews were instructed to do for the Gentiles at the Feast of Weeks.
    These stories are caricatures of the reality that the authors of these pieces used to express their theology revolving around Israel and the Nations. Reading Hosea 4:3 as about animals is IMO missing the veiled Hebrew message. Israel did not repent and the physical land promises were annulled, yet Spiritual Israel as established through Messiah brought the Land into the blessings of God. Reading the OT stories physically is why we still have people holding on to 6 Day creationism and a physical Garden of Eden. All because we fail to heed the way Hebrews wrote and interpreted their own literature. We project our literalness upon them and like the Jews that rejected Christ we are often looking for a physical fulfillment not realizing the true nature of the fulfillment of Messiah.

    I do not misunderstand Acts 10 but understand how the Jews recognized that the animals from the four winds in the vision represented the Gentile people at large (unclean animals) just as Acts 10 illustrates. The covenant with the Nations as prophesied in Hosea 2 is being fulfilled in Acts 10 where Israel and the Nations will lie down together in peace just as Isaiah 11, 65 & 66 also imply.

    Eze 47 also demonstrates the animal metaphor in messianic fulfillment. Christ sought fishers of men and illustrated this with his bounty of 153 fish caught at the end of John’s Gospel. The 12 Apostles were representative of Israel going to the Nations and reaping the Harvest that Israel was expected to live up to but failed to all along.

    Eze 47: 9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.

    Anyone who thinks Ezk 47 is about a physical fulfillment just have not immersed themselves deeply and robustly enough into Hebrew literature but are parroting western thinking and misunderstanding about Hebrew literature. It’s OK though because even if one doesn’t understand it fully doesn’t mean they are missing out on the blessings of that fulfillment.

    When I encounter people who are having difficulty with the Bible and understanding it I tell them to dig deeper because it is understandable even though it may not square with what you may have been taught. The problem is that most people simply do not have the time and resources to search out these issues competently without getting their life out of balance. Hopefully over time these fresh understandings of the old way of Israel ‘s messianic expectation will gradually filter out over time and provide a leavening for correcting ideas that cause people to abandon their faith so readily.


  • Jeremy B.

    Norm, I appreciate you have an argument, but are you talking down to a biblical scholar as if he’s a layperson in the back pew? That seems an odd approach, given we know his qualifications, but I’m not aware of yours.

  • Norman

    Jeremy, point taken and I did recognize that Cmariottini is a biblical scholar. However his arguments were made from an I’m right and your wrong approach and I may have let that color my tone more than I should have. If I were a novice student of the scriptures regarding Genesis then I should have kept quite but I’m not a novice in this area as I have spent years and thousands of hours delving into, reading and debating these issues, therefore I felt competent to stand my ground.

    By the way my responses are generally geared to the layperson as I’m really writing to them in my reply as I’m interested in illustrating concepts they can get their minds around. Scholars are generally set.

    Thanks for the feedback as I should have exhibited more respect.

  • cmariottini


    I do not want to open a debate with you about your typological interpretation of the Old Testament. May I recommend that you read my post on “Paul and the Muzzling of the Ox.” Here is the link:


    Claude Mariottini

  • Norman

    Dr. Mariottini,

    Thank you for your link, and I to do not want to belabor this subject at this juncture. I read your bio and first I want to thank you and honor you for your service to God. Even though we disagree on how the scripture may have been interpreted by the earliest Christians I truly respect your lifelong missional and pastoral dedication to God’s people.

    I made my rejoinder and will let it rest.


  • Abib14

    Focusing on the word “formed” please allow me to add what I recently read in a commentary titled, “The Daily.”

    First in Genesis 2:7 the Lord God formed man. Hopefully the Hebrew characters for Strong’s Hebrew #3335 will be displayed וַיִּיצֶר֩

    Later in Genesis 2:19 the Lord God formed every beast of the field, again, hopefully the Hebrew characters will display for Strong’s Hebrew #3335 וַיִּצֶר֩

    Do you see those Hebrew characters that look like apostrophes? They are called yowds. Do you see that there are two yowds in Strong’s Hebrew word 3335 when the Lord God formed man? Do you see that there is only one yowd when the Lord God formed every beast of the field?

    Both Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 are part of the physical creation rather than the spiritual creation. And some would argue that the first yowd represents physical life while the second yowd represents the potential for receiving the Second Breath of Life Eternal.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    According to the following grammar, the verb in question may be understood as having a progressive action.

    “§ 42. The simple impf. expresses an action incomplete or unfinished. Such an action may be conceived as nascent, or entering on execution (pres.), progressing, or moving on towards execution (impf.), or as ready, or about to enter upon execution (fut.). Connected with the last use is the use of impf. to express a great variety of actions which are dependent on something preceding, whether it be the will or desire of the speaker (juss., opt.), or his judgment or permission (potential), or on some other action, or on particles expressing purpose and the like (subjunctive).” (Davidson, A. B. (1902). Introductory Hebrew grammar Hebrew syntax (3d ed.) (64). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.) See also, § 111. The Imperfect with Waw Consecutive., Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar.

    It would seem that the translators of the LXX viewed it this way, and used the term “eti” (still, yet, even) in this verse to give the sense that we find in Brenton’s English translation.

    Genesis 2:19 “And God formed yet farther out of the earth all the wild beasts of the field…”

    This translation shows a progressive action. God has continued to form animals from the ground since day 5 of the creation. And in my interpretation of Genesis, the 6 days are not literal days but thousands of years. So what this scripture is telling me is that from the time God created the first animals to the creation of animals that Adam was to name, many thousands of years had passed. This progressive action of creating the animals is talking about the long period of time between the creation of the sea monsters and dinosaurs to the creation of the domestic animals along with man. These animals in Gen 2:19, along with man, never lived with the animals created in Gen 1:20-23, they were all gone by then, they were progressively replaced over time by new forms.

    The same sense is seen in the creation of vegetation. The LXX reads:

    Genesis 2:9 “And God made to spring up also out of the earth every tree beautiful to the eye and good for food…”

    Again, the same idea, before this time, the vegetation was more of a primitive jungle, that did not have suitable food for humans. Gen 2:9 was the progressive action of creating suitable food for humans.

    The important part is were to place these scriptures into the creation account of Genesis 1. Gen 2:19 is an expanded view of what was going on between Gen 1:23 and Gen 1:27. Gen 2:9 is an expanded view of what was going on between Gen 1:11 and Gen 1:12. To better understand, the progressive action of the creation of the vegetation that started on the 3rd day, did not finish until the 6th day. The same with the animals starting on the 5th day.

  • AHH

    A similar thing some translations do in bending the text to their presupposition of what the Bible should be is to translate the solid dome (firmament) in Genesis 1:6 with words like “expanse” or “sky” that hide the inconvenient fact that Genesis is crediting God with creating a solid structure above us that we now know doesn’t exist.
    NIV 2011 uses “vault” which is also unclear but maybe OK if one thinks of a vaulted ceiling.

  • Keith –

    We still have to recognise the two differing ‘orders’ in Gen 1:1-2:3 and Gen 2:4-25. I like what Scot posited: ‘Two stories are almost always better than one. Two views highlights more truth.’

    Kind of like we have 4 Gospel accounts. Some of the details differ, some of the events are a little different chronologically, each writer shapes things a little differently to emphasise specific theological points, etc, etc. But all 4 still come God-breathed.

    Two creation ‘accounts’ come to us in the 2 passages in Genesis. Both emphasise different things to teach us. But they don’t fit exactly in a more modern framework. But we still have the breath of God upon them.