Barry Newman's Blog

March 2, 2011

Science and Genesis 2: 4 – 3: 24 (part V)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:02 pm

Genesis 2: 5-7 – Setting the Scene

“And no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground – the Lord God (Yahweh Elohim) formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (NIV)

A number of interesting questions immediately suggest themselves. What is the connection between this account (and the making of man in particular) and the creation of man on Day 6 in chapter 1?  Does this account indicate that rain was not in existence until after at least Day 5?  When did rain first appear? What is meant by “streams coming up from the earth? What are we to make of man being formed from the dust of the ground and God breathing into his nostrils?

The connection between Day 6 and 2: 4-25

McCabe (2006) is of the firm view that 2: 4-25 is an account that indicates more of what happened on Day 6.  He also believes that what is being described in the reference to the “no shrub of the field”, “no plant of the field” and no rain having been sent on earth but streams watering the ground, is a description of a locality, not that of the world at large.  This interpretation neatly avoids any idea that there is some conflict between this account of creation and the creation account of Days 1 to 6.  (As part of his perspective McCabe understands the reference in 2: 19 to the beasts of the field and the birds of the air having been formed to have a pluperfect sense – they had been formed previously.)

However, it can be argued that the toledoth of 2: 4, however it is to be understood, suggests that a new phase of the text follows rather than an expansion of the account of Day 6.  Indeed the writer makes no obvious tight connection between 2: 4 ff and what has occurred on Day 6.  There is an “and” (Hebrew: waw) following immediately upon the words, “earth and heavens” but it could be understood as a way of beginning a new account – a new perspective.  Translating it as “Now” with the sentence beginning, “Now no shrub of the field …” (e.g. New American Standard Bible) allows for this type of understanding.  Furthermore, it doesn’t strike me that the references in 2: 5, 6 relate to a local scene, at least not one of quite limited area.

To begin with, the two references to “earth” in v. 5 following closely upon the reference to “earth and heavens” seem to me more suggestive of the whole earth than a small area of land.  At the same time however, by comparison with a modern understanding of the dimensions of the earth, the writer may have envisaged something much smaller than what we view as the whole earth, something of the size of the ancient Near East or less. Futato (See Futato, M.D., “Because it had rained: A study of Gen 2: 5-7 With Implications for Gen 2: 4-25 and Gen 1:1-2:3, Westminster Theological Journal, 60, 1998, 1-21, referred to in this blog series as, Futato)[1] sees the scene as reflective in part of the dry season in Canaan. If “earth” is understood to refer to something like Canaan and lands adjacent to and East of Canaan then the phenomenon of “no rain” is something of considerable significance. The reference in v. 8 to a garden being planted towards the East and the description of the four rivers in later vv. suggests that the area under consideration corresponds to Canaan or thereabouts and the Mesopotamian world. It may be considered to be a local area but it is not so local that the absence of rain would not have been seen as insignificant.

[1] The main concern of Futato is to argue that Genesis 2: 4-25 and 1: 1-2:3 are topically rather than chronologically arranged.  While not supporting his main thesis I think Futato has much to offer in his understanding of 2: 4-25.



  1. The appearance of the first rain on the earth is something that rightly or wrongly I have always understood with some significance in the Genesis account. The watering of the garden of Eden by the subterranean supply of water, either as mists or springs meant that the more familiar method (to us) of supplying water by precipitation was not necessary. I have had cause to reflect on the occurence of two phrases in the account “the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth” (Genesis 2:5) and “I will send rain on the earth” (Genesis 7:4) and I find it a compelling thought that the first rain to fall on the earth was when the Lord sent the Flood in the days of Noah. If that is the case then I can see why Noah is set forth as not only a man of obedience to God’s word but also a man of faith who “when warned about things not yet seen” (Hebrews 11:7) if indeed no rain had been seen by the time he built the ark. Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief!

    Comment by Richard Smith — June 14, 2011 @ 4:14 am | Reply

    • Thanks again Richard. I suspect we will disagree, and perhaps strongly disagree, at a number of points, but I hope we can still maintain Christian fellowship.

      I appreciate that possibility you raise and memory says I did mention it as such. However I am inclined to go the way I indicated.


      Comment by barrynewman — June 14, 2011 @ 7:56 am | Reply

  2. Thanks for commenting Barry,

    I should have thanked you for your blog before commenting. Tone is never measured well in text whether that be by hand or by computer but it does not excuse my launching into my comment without some decorum. I also must add a word of apology as I should have posted this under another article where it is more relevant.

    I am slightly intrigued that you jump from disagreement to the matter of fellowship especially on the relatively minor point of debate around whether rain occurred prior to the Flood. I sense some sensitivity here – excuse the pun. As noted from your recent seminar at WEB – no I was not attending in drag, I listened to the MP3 file online :-). I would just add that not everyone who holds strongly to a certain view of Genesis should be characterised as being unloving to his brother who differs in view especially if both have teachable spirits though I am sad to hear of your experience. The key thing is whether we are willing to listen and hear the Word of God both when it speaks in agreement with our current views and when it cuts across them.

    As to fellowship since you mention it. I do believe for two to walk together they must be agreed (Amos 3:3) and yet I also realise if we agreed on every jot and tittle we would be treading on each other’s toes to carry the metaphor. The big picture for me personally is our handling and receiving of the Word of God (Acts 17:11, 1 Thess. 2:13) and what flows from that is our interpretation of the same. If we have a low view of the Word it will necessarily follow that we will draw weak and erroneous conclusions on many matters, especially matters of contention with other world views. The Creation and Flood accounts of Genesis are just two current examples. I think we might not fully agree but I think or at least hope we are walking in parallel on these matters.

    On this whole subject I am very worried that we as a body of Christ are far too influence by other world views and are not prepared to rest on the Scriptures which cannot be broken. That does not mean we can fall asleep on the Scriptures for we are to prove ourselves as workmen who need not be ashamed in handling the Word of truth but the first and final arbiter has to be the Word of God irrespective of the teaching around us which will of necessity conflict with it.

    The cry of “Sola Scriptura” is a slogan we may recite but in reality few actually put into practise I fear and I include myself in that too. Isaiah 8:20 may seem a harsh word to our sensitive ears but if only we would listen to the Word more than we do and less to the mutters and peeps of the voices around us.

    Sorry again if my tone is not carried well in my writing but these are weighty matters. Would we listen to a doctor all the more if he delivered his diagnosis with a jocular manner? Maybe today we would but that is another matter.

    Yours humbly and happy to be rebuked.


    Comment by Richard Smith — June 15, 2011 @ 3:37 am | Reply

    • Hi Richard,

      There is no need for you to apologise for anything. I am the one who should apologise. I should have been more explicit earlier, when you first began to comment. I could see from most of your comments that it would likely be that we would be in disagreement at a number of points. I thought it unhelpful to mount counter arguments to what you were saying (my main arguments were already in the posts) but thought it wise to alert you to the real possibility that our disagreements were likely to become even more fundamental as you read more. I am sorry that I came across as rebuking. I didn’t intend to convey that notion at all.



      Comment by barrynewman — June 15, 2011 @ 6:29 am | Reply

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