A number of questions present themselves when we carefully analyze the Genesis record of creation. Is the record in Gen. 2 different to that in Gen. 1? Why are there two different accounts? Was everything created " in the beginning" or on the days of creation? How long were the days? Were they six literal days? How are we to understand Gen. 2:4,5? Were there previous creations?
There are a number of possible answers to these questions. What follows is by no means a conclusive answer, but it is a suggested framework for understanding the creation record. The basic thesis which I present here has been developed from a section in Alan Hayward, Creation and Evolution (London: Triangle, 1985).
But firstly, let's not get seriously worried about the way pseudo-science mocks our simple faith in Genesis 1-3. The branch of science called 'apologetics' (that which answers 'scientific' objections to faith) has chosen an altogether bad title for itself. We as Bible believers have nothing, absolutely nothing, to apologize for. It is evolutionists and the like who ought to be the real apologetics- for science has no viable explanation for life's essential origin. We need not be made to feel almost ashamed that we believe the Biblical record.
There is no doubt in my mind that the six days of creation were six literal days of 24 hours. There is no suggestion in the way the Lord Jesus and Paul both quote from and allude to the Genesis record that it is to be taken figuratively. Israel were to keep the seventh day as Sabbath and creatively labour in the six other days (which was just as much a command as the keeping of Sabbath), because " in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day" (Ex. 20:11). Adam was the first man, and Eve was the mother of all living human beings. >From one blood all were created (Acts 17:26). It is emphasized that God created through His word of command; He said, and it was done (Ps. 33:6,9; 148:5; Is. 40:26; Jn. 1:3; Heb. 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5). God is outside the constraints of time, and outside the possibility of His word not being fulfilled. Therefore if He says something, it is as it is done, even if in human time His command is not immediately fulfilled. Thus He calls things which are not as though they are (Rom. 4:17). It is in this sense that the Lord Jesus and those in Him are spoken of as if we existed at the beginning; although we didn't physically. And so God spoke the words He did on six literal, consecutive days, and the orders ('fiats' is the word Bro. Hayward uses) were therefore, in this sense as good as done. But the actual time taken to carry them out by the Angels may have been very long. The Genesis record can then be understood as stating these commands, and then recording their fulfilment- although the fulfilment wasn't necessarily on that same day.
Indeed, it would seem from later Scripture that the orders and intentions outlined by God on the six literal days are still being fulfilled. Take the command for there to be light (Gen. 1:3.4). This is interpreted in 2 Cor. 4:6 as meaning that God shines in men's hearts in order to give them the knowledge of the light of Christ. The command was initially fulfilled by the Angels enabling the sun to shine through the thick darkness that shrouded the earth; but the deeper intention was to shine the spiritual light into the heart of earth-dwellers. And this is still being fulfilled. Likewise the resting of God on the seventh day was in fact a prophecy concerning how He and all His people will enter into the " rest" of the Kingdom. The Lord realized this when He said that even on Sabbath, God was still working (Jn. 5:17). The creation work had not really been completed in practice, although in prospect it had been. In this very context Paul comments that although we must still enter into that rest, " the works were finished from the foundation of the world" (Heb. 4:3).
Another example is the command uttered on the sixth day to make man in God's image. The creation record in Genesis 2 is not about a different creation; it is a more detailed account of how the Angels went about fulfilling the command they were given on the sixth day. The process of bringing all the animals to Adam, him naming them, becoming disappointed with them, wishing for a true partner need not therefore be compressed into 24 hours. It could have taken a period of time. Yet the command to make man, male and female, was given on the sixth day. However, this may have taken far longer than 24 hours to complete. Indeed, the real intention of God to create man in His image was not finished even then; for Col. 1:15 interprets the creation of a man in God's image as a reference to the resurrection and glorification of the Lord Jesus. This was what the Angels had worked for millennia for, in order to fulfil the original fiat concerning the creation of man in God's image. Even now, we see not yet all things subdued under Him (Heb. 2:8); the intention that the man should have dominion over all creation as uttered and apparently fulfilled on the sixth day has yet to materially come to pass. The Angels are still working- with us. For 1 Cor. 15:49 teaches that we do not now fully have God's image, but we will receive it at the resurrection. Therefore we are driven to the conclusion that the outworking of the creation directives regarding man in God's image was not only in the 24 hours after it was given, but is still working itself out now. The new creation is therefore a continuation of and an essential part of the natural creation; not just a mirror of the natural in spiritual terms.
I can foresee that the objection to this thesis would be that God is spoken of as resting on the seventh day as if all creation has been finished. This is indeed what it sounds like- and from God's perspective, it was true. He had spoken, and so it was done. He through His word had created. The Angels were now working it all out in practice, having 'set it up' in the six literal days. This view of the record explains two verses which would seem to defy any other sensible interpretation: " God blessed the seventh day...because that in it he had rested from all his work which God had created to make" (2:3 AVmg.). God " had created to make" by the seventh day. He had created, because His word was as good as executed; but the things were not all made. But He had " created to make" . Likewise Gen. 2:5 speaks of the day that the Lord " made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew" . Now this is saving the best for last. Here surely is concrete evidence for the thesis presented. The plants were made before they were actually in the earth. This doesn't mean that they were made in Heaven and then transplanted to earth. Surely it is to be read in the context of all the other hints that God stated His commands regarding creation, and this was as good as it all being made. But in material terms, it all appeared some time later.
And let's take deeply to ourselves the power of God's word as revealed here. He has spoken to us and of us, He has promised us His salvation and the inheritance of the earth. It is as good as done. Our difficulty in grasping this in the Genesis record of six literal days creation is continued in our hesitancy to apprehend the utter certainty of our promised salvation and the spiritual heights into which we have therefore already been translated.