(Gen. 2:4) Why does the creation story repeat itself?

CLAIM: JEDP theorists note multiple names for God in the Hebrew text. In Genesis 1:1-2:3, the author uses the term “Elohim” for God, while Genesis 2:4 introduces the term “Yahweh” for God. Critics argue that a later author/editor must have come across two creation stories, splicing them together. One is from the Elohist (or “E”) source, and the other is from the Yahwist (or “J”) source.

RESPONSE: There are multiple verses in the Bible which demonstrate that Yahweh and Elohim are terms used to describe the same God. For instance, Genesis records, “The LORD [Yahweh] your God [Elohim] gave me success” (Gen. 27:20). Jeremiah writes about the “great and powerful God [Elohim], whose name is the LORD [Yahweh] Almighty” (Jer. 32:18). Therefore, to bifurcate these titles into two separate deities (or notions of deity) is unnecessary.

Why then two titles for God, rather than one?

The term Elohim refers to God as Creator, while Yahweh refers to him as Covenant-Maker (c.f. Ex. 6:3).[1] Similarly, in Psalm 19, we read the same distinction. When the psalmist speaks of God as Creator, he uses Elohim. However, when he speaks of the law of God, he uses Yahweh. Some interpreters see Genesis 1 as referring to physical creation, while Genesis 2 focuses on spiritual creation. Others regard Genesis 1 as the big picture of the cosmos, and Genesis 2 as a “zoom in” on the human race—the center of God’s creation. When dealing with the cosmos, God has one name, but when dealing with humans, he has another. These are not contradictory accounts; they are complementary accounts. In the same way, the NT authors call Jesus both “Savior” and “Lord.” But, few would see these titles as evidence of dual authorship.

This claim assumes that one author cannot use two different words to describe God. And yet, we would never place this arbitrary criterion on any other area of literature. Consider C. S. Lewis as an example. He wrote juvenile books for kids, educational books in philosophy, devotional Christian literature, and poetry. If we applied this criterion to Lewis’ works, we might divide his work into four separate writing communities—the Juvenile Source, the Educational Source, the Devotional Source, and the Poetry Source (or JEDP). While this is clearly an amusing interpretation of Lewis’ work, this is similar to the subjective nature of the JEDP theory. As professor Peter Gentry has observed regarding ancient Near Eastern literature, this repetition in story telling is quite common to the time period. He writes,

Genesis 2:4-25, the so-called ‘second account’ of creation, is in fact not evidence of an editor patching together different sources, but corresponds well to the normal pattern of Hebrew narrative to consider a topic in a resumptive manner. We cannot critique ancient, eastern texts using principles of literary analysis based upon modern, western literature. Instead, the approach in ancient Hebrew literature is to take up a topic and develop it from a particular perspective and then to stop and take up the same theme again from another point of view. This pattern is kaleidoscopic and recursive. The first creation story (1:1-2:3) gives a global perspective. The second creation story (2:4-3:24) begins by focusing on the creation of man. Thus the first focuses on the origin of the universe, the second on humanity. Therefore, 2:4-3:24 is, in fact, devoted to further development of the topics broached in the sixth paragraph of the ‘first account’ and so adds to the significance of the creation of mankind.[2]

The use of two different names does not prove two separate authors; it proves that one author had two separate purposes. Consider the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the archaeology classroom, students probably called their professor “Dr. Jones,” but on the field, they call him “Indiana” or “Indy” or another nickname. Different contexts require different names. Moreover, Moses wrote over the course of four decades into different contexts to different people for different purposes. Do you think it’s plausible that you will have a different style of writing 40 years from now?


[1] Archer writes, “Since Elohɩ̂m (“God”) was the appropriate title for noncovenantal contexts, Moses (assuming that he was the author of the whole book) could very well have employed it exclusively for the creation account of chapter 1 and then shifted to Yahweh (Elohɩ̂m) (for the most part) in chapter 2, where he dealt with the covenant of works set up between God and Adam.” Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Third Edition. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1998. 213.

[2] Gentry, Peter. “Kingdom Through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image.” SBTJ. 12/1. Spring, 2008. 22.