Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Later, in Genesis 2:4, it seems that a second, different story of creation begins. The idea of two differing creation accounts is a common misinterpretation of these two passages which, in fact, describe the same creation event. They do not disagree as to the order in which things were created and do not contradict one another. Genesis 1 describes the “six days of creation” (and a seventh day of rest); Genesis 2 covers only one day of that creation week—the sixth day—and there is no contradiction.
In Genesis 2, the author steps back in the sequence to focus on the sixth day, when God made mankind. In the first chapter, the author of Genesis presents the creation of man on the sixth day as the culmination or high point of creation. Then, in the second chapter, the author gives greater detail regarding the creation of man and woman.
There are two primary claims of contradictions between Genesis chapters 1—2. The first is in regard to plant life. Genesis 1:11 records God creating vegetation on the third day. Genesis 2:5 states that prior to the creation of man “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 had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground.” There is no contradiction, though, because Genesis 2:5 does not say how long before man’s creation there was no plant life. In fact, the previous verse mentions the first and second days of creation (at which point there were no plants), so it makes sense that Genesis 2:5 would mention there were no plants. Several days of creation occur between Genesis 2:6 and Genesis 2:7. Verse 7 details the creation of man on the sixth day. Verse 8 mentions the garden that God had created for him—the fourth day is spoken of in the past tense. The trees that God makes to grow in verse 9 are those in the garden. So the passages do not contradict. Genesis 1:11 speaks of God creating vegetation on the third day; Genesis 2:5 speaks of the first and second days when there was no vegetation; and Genesis 2:9 speaks of the specific growth of trees in Eden.
The second claimed contradiction is in regard to animal life. Genesis 1:24-25 records God creating animal life on the sixth day, before He created man. Genesis 2:19, in some translations, seems to record God creating the animals after He had created man. However, a good and plausible translation of Genesis 2:19-20 reads, “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.” The text does not say that God created man, then created the animals, and then brought the animals to the man. Rather, the text says, “Now the LORD God had [already] created all the animals.” There is no contradiction. On the sixth day, God created the animals, then created man, and then brought the animals to the man, allowing the man to name the animals.
By considering the two creation accounts individually and then reconciling them, we see that God describes the sequence of creation in Genesis 1, then clarifies its most important details, especially of the sixth day, in Genesis 2. There is no contradiction here, merely a common literary device describing an event from the general to the specific.