On the face of it, the first two chapters of Genesis give differing accounts of the formation of the world. Whether you then see that as complementary perspectives or a fundamental disagreement that Moses was too stupid to pick up reflects your basic stance towards the Bible (and your I.Q. in my view. Do you really think that wouldn’t have been noticed?)
Genesis 1 recounts the creation of the heavens and the earth over six days, with plants coming into existence on day three, birds and water creatures on day four, and animals being created on day five before humanity, which is presented as being created male and female in one hit. All these things were made just by the simple word of God. God said, ‘let there be…’ and there was.
Genesis 2 recounts the creation of the heavens and the earth ‘on the day (same word as for the seven days of Genesis 1) they were created’. In Genesis 2 man is created first. Then plants are created just to make a garden (the rest of the earth is bare of plant life due to a lack of rain, and a lack of human cultivation—suggesting a fairly critical role for humanity in the filling of the world with life). Then God creates animal and bird life together (no mention of water life being created at all). Then he creates the woman. In none of the cases of man, woman, animal or bird does God create with just a word. Man, animals, and birds are fashioned out of the dirt. Woman is fashioned from Man’s rib. (Only plants, interestingly enough, are created the same in each chapter: both are produced by the earth, one part of creation being used to create another part).
The chronologies of the two passages cannot be reconciled. Neither can the modes of creation be easily reconciled. This would seem to suggest that what we have here is quite possibly a non-literal account of creation in either chapter or in both chapters. That is, having two parallel accounts suggests that the interest is not in giving you an eyewitness account, but in disclosing the meaning of creation, to interpret the world you live in for you. It’s true, but it’s not scientific truth (any more than Christ’s death paying the penalty for our sins is a scientific truth. How would you experimentally validate it?)
However, the guys I was chatting with, like most Creation Scientists I have encountered, insisted that chapter one has to be taken as a literal, eyewitness account. Hence, they were prepared to take chapter 2 as not offering an actual, trustworthy chronology (you can see the irony here I hope). The literal nature of Genesis 1 was secured, from what I could make out (it was, as I said, a difficult conversation, so it wasn’t always easy to work out what substantial points they were making) by appeal to Exodus 20:
Exodus 20:8-11 "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Here, the argument seemed to go, another part of the Bible is taking Genesis 1 as speaking of seven concrete twenty-four days as the reason for the Sabbath command. Therefore, Genesis 1 is to be taken literally, and Genesis 2 less so.
The difficulty, is that the NT draws upon the chronology of chapter 2 and not the chronology of chapter 1 to make its points about how to live:
1 Timothy 2:11-15 Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.
1 Corinthians 11:7-9 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.
In both passages, implications for how men and women are to live are drawn from the chronology of Genesis 2.
It could be suggested that this is the only part of chapter 2 that is a literal chronology—that in the sixth day of creation, God made man first, some of the stuff of chapter 2 ‘kind of’ happened and then Eve was created. But that kind of speculative exegesis is exceptionally strained and distorts the meaning of both chapters—you’ve essentially fused them together to create your own Genesis chapter 1.5.
In other words, even for the Creation Scientist another part of the Bible can appeal to the chronology of a ‘non-literal’ part of Genesis to make authorative demands on God’s people. Exodus 20 appeals to days in chapter one. Paul appeals to the chronology of chapter two. And both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 can’t be historical chronologies, because they can’t be reconciled.
Whichever way you go there, you can’t just point to a passage like Exodus 20 to show that the days are meant to be historical twenty-four days and Genesis 2 is less literal. Because the exact same argument can be derived from Paul to ‘prove’ the historical chronology of chapter 2 and hence the less literal nature of chapter one.
And if the same type of argument can be run twice from the same body of evidence to deduce mutually incompatible results, that indicates that the argument itself is wrong.
One part of the Bible using the chronology of Genesis to establish a point about how God’s people are to live shows that Genesis is designed to tell us how to live. It doesn’t establish that it was meant to offer us a ‘better science’, by telling us what we would have seen if we had been there.
It may do that as well, but the Sabbath command doesn’t prove it.