Why are there two differing stories of creation in Genesis?
Let's start with a basic observation: two people observing the same events will not give the same account. For example, an accident happens and the police gathers information from the multiple witnesses, yet even if every witness told the absolute truth, none of the accounts will be the same. Why? First, different people see different things because they are standing in different places. Second, people don't see everything, only the things that they focus upon. Third, people tend to summarize what they see and the things one person thinks is important will be different from another's.
What many people miss concerning the book of Genesis is that it is a collection of accounts. The first five books of the Bible are attributed to Moses. For example, in Luke 24:27,44, Jesus talks about the Law of Moses, Psalms, and the Prophets. The first five books of the Bible are often called the Law of Moses. The other books are Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It is interesting to note that sometimes these last four books are quoted with phrases such as "Moses said" as found in Mark 7:10; Acts 3:22; 7:37. However, none of the quotes from Genesis are prefaced with the phrase "Moses said." Some scholars explain this difference by stating that Moses wrote Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but he only served as an editor and compiler of Genesis. The actual text of Genesis comes from people who lived before Moses.
There is some indication in Genesis to say that this belief is true. Throughout the book of Genesis, we find the Hebrew word toledoth appearing regularly. The word toledoth is translated as "These are the generations of ..." or "These are the records of ..." or "This is the history of ...". These appear to be signature lines of various authors of the previous transcript. The word toledoth appears eleven times:
- Genesis 2:4 The records of the heavens and the earth. This is God's history of the creation.
- Genesis 5:1 The records of Adam.
- Genesis 6:9 The records of Noah
- Genesis 10:1 The records of Shem, Ham, and Japheth
- Genesis 11:10 The records of Shem
- Genesis 11:27 The records of Terah
- Genesis 25:12 The records of Ishmael (contained within Isaac's account)
- Genesis 25:19 The records of Isaac
- Genesis 36:1,9 The records of Esau (contained within Jacob's account)
- Genesis 37:2 The records of Jacob
- Exodus 1:1 The records of the children of Israel.
Suppose you sat down to write your history. Where would you start? Most of us would spend a few lines at the start explaining our origins: starting with general information about our ancestry, giving more more details about our grandparents and parents, before launching into the details of our own life. If you look at each record, you will find this same trend:
From Genesis 1:1 to the start of Genesis 2:4 is God's account of how He created the world. Only He could give such an account because man wasn't created until the sixth day.
Starting from the latter half of Genesis 2:4 we read, "In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:4-7). This is the beginning of Adam's account. He gives a brief summary of where he came from, but he gives almost no details because he wasn't there. Yet, the rest of chapter 2 gives a great deal of detail concerning the sixth day of creation -- the day Adam was first formed. The record continues through the significant events in Adam's life and extends to the lives of Adam's early descendants. However, it comes to an end because eventually Adam dies.
Noah's account begins in the latter half of Genesis 5:1. "In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created" (Genesis 5:1-2). Again, Noah backs up to give a brief history of his origins and then he proceeds to launch in to a genealogical account of his history. His style is very different from Adam's, some would call it a bit boring and many people skip it despite the significant information contained in this list. It ends at the beginning of Genesis 6:9. The verses from Genesis 6:1-9 have much more detail, but that is because this is Noah's direct observation.
The latter half of Genesis 6:9 begins the account recorded by Noah's three sons, which goes all the way to Genesis 10:1. It doesn't go all the way back to the beginning, but it does back up to retell the condition of the world and the nature of Noah before launching into the story of the Flood.
I could continue, but I think the point has been made. The repeats exist because each account is a full story in and of itself. Moses took the various stories and compiled them into a single book that we call Genesis (the Beginning). Each story gives a brief summary of the past, but great details to the events in the author's life. None of the accounts contradict, they only differ in the level of detail they give to various events and which events were seen as significant.