Creation in Genesis 1-3 (Part 3–Comparing P & J)

Properly demarcating the two ancient Israelite creation accounts that exist in Genesis 1-3 is additionally important because it provides the opportunity to compare structural and grammatical parallels that exist (or do not exist) between them and to analyze their possible implications.  I have provided the following table of the first several verses of each account in order to facilitate comparison.

P (Genesis 1.1-3)

J (Genesis 2.4b-7)

When God began to create the heavens and the earth

In the day of YHWH-God’s making the earth and heavens

(Now the earth was a formless waste, and darkness was over the deep…)

before there was any plant of the field in the earth…

Then God said, “Let there be light”…

then YHWH-God fashioned man from the dust of the ground…

The parallels here are important for several reasons. As can be seen from the translation provided for P in the preceding table, the first clause stands as the protasis of a subordinate temporal clause introduced by the preposition bereshith. This parallels the J account which also begins with a clear subordinate temporal clause. Furthermore, it is important that both clauses are then followed by disjunctive circumstantial clauses which supply coterminous parenthetical material for the preceding temporal clauses (much like a parenthesis in modern English). In each account these circumstantial disjunctive clauses are then followed by a conjunctive apodosis introducing God’s first creative act, as seen by the translation “then.” These parallels and additional grammatical considerations, I believe, strongly indicate that verse one in the P account be subordinated to verse three, with verse two set off as a parenthesis. This analysis, in turn, complements the earlier conclusion, reached through literary analysis, that Genesis 1.1-2 serves as an introduction to the first creation story describing the cosmos’ pre-creation state.


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6 responses to “Creation in Genesis 1-3 (Part 3–Comparing P & J)

  1. This is plausible but how strong can a grammatical reading actually be? Do authors always use grammar correctly?

  2. john f.,

    I think that I have not used grammatical evidence independently. I have made other arguments–literary, historical, cultural, etc.–throughout this series (and I am planning three more segments with additional evidence and argumentation). However, I think that the grammatical evidence here (and in the other segments) is fairly strong and straightforward. Moreover, I think the fact that the grammatical evidence fits together so well with my other arguments is significant. I believe that the strength of my conclusion(s) lies not in any one argument alone, but in the convergence of several lines of discussion.

  3. What YD presents isn’t grammar but literary form. Confusing the two is not merely a mistake of grammar (grin).

  4. I thought John was here referring to the brief discussion of clause sequencing.


  5. And I think that Blake’s comment does tie in well with what I was trying to say in comment 2.

    Best wishes,


  6. Yes, I see your broader argument and find it very strong. I just don’t know how much the grammatical argument strengthens it in this case. We don’t know what the original grammar of this selection was; we don’t know the identities of the redactors etc. A grammatical argument of this type works better when such factors are controlled for such as in texts of modern literature.

    I think your grammatical analysis is correct, and of course I certainly agree with all of your ultimate conclusions about this stuff — I was just off handedly expressing my own doubts about the strength of this particular approach.