What is the significance of the recurring phrase “These are the generations” (the first instance of it being at Gen 2:4)?

This phrase, the toledoth (“generations”) formula, precedes one of a series of connected accounts. Genesis 1 does not begin with this phrase, but from here until the end of the book, all the various accounts are included these sections, some rather short and others chapters long. The word תּוֹלְדָה or toledoth means “generations,” or, it seems, something like “an account of how something came about” and usually “an account of the generations following” some person such as Noah. Each family was said to have a “head” for his generation; so we might say that the sections recount the story of a family. We will be returning to this topic as new toledoths appear.

Since the heavens and the earth are not a family, and since the creation was already recounted in Gen 1, why is the toledoth formula here in 2:4, and why is there another creation account?

These two questions have the same answer, namely, this does tell the story of a sort of “family”: it is the family of “the dust of the ground,” from which Adam and Eve sprang, and this is their story. This is not, of course, an entire creation account—contrary to “critical” readers who fail to consider the whole context—but only mentions a few small details needed to contextualize the account of Adam and his activity. Indeed, if you do not recognize that the narratives, in the present chapter (beginning at Gen 1:4) as well as the following three chapters, concerns Adam and his immediate family, you will be confused about this redundant creation language. By the way, it is not about “the generations of Adam,” which actually begins at Gen 5:1, because the generations of a figure do not typically include the figure, but instead refer to those generated bythe figure. It is possible that “generations” should be rendered “offspring” or “descendants.”

So why is it “Lord God” now (at, e.g., Gen 2:4) and not just “God”?

It is a two-word phrase, יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים or yahweh elohim. Some critical purveyors of the Documentary Hypothesis make much of this, thinking it is the “Yahwist” who wrote these texts. This is more easily explained by saying that God, since he will presently have a man to rule over, can be called the sovereign lord—is a good gloss of the etymological and connotative meaning of the name “Yahweh”—in addition to “God.”

Of the many things that God created before Adam, why mention plants, ground, and rain, again, at Gen 2:5?

Because the present narrative is about the creation of Adam, whose primary function was to “till the ground”; it is surely no accident that the name Adam resembles adamah, ground. In the narrative, neither rain, which was necessary for growing things, nor grass and plants, which could be grown, were needed, because Adam was not yet on hand to farm them. Of course, we have already been told in Gen 1:11-12 that on the third day God created plants, and presumably some time before that he first caused the rain to fall. But those verses are in no tension with Gen 2:5, because the narrator is simply reminding the reader that there was a time before rain, ground, and plants—and Adam—but that they will all, presently, be working together. This is to be understood as an origin story, in short, not just of man, but more precisely of man-the-tiller-of-the-ground.

Does the mention of the “mist” that “watered” the ground in Gen 2:6 not entail that it rained only after, or just before, Adam was created?

This might seem to be the narrative’s implication, because why else mention such a trivial-seeming detail otherwise? Does that not in fact contradict Gen 1? There are probably a few different ways to make sense of this, but I believe the simplest is simply to point out that from a Biblical point of view the very purpose of the rain and plants is for use (and soon, cultivation) by man; so if there are a few eons that separate the sprouting of the first plants and the creation of man, it hardly matters for the narrative since we are not talking about a scientific explanation but about the origin of man, the tiller of the ground. Indeed, God is himself shortly both to plant and to water the Garden of Eden for Adam, which aptly explains this choice of detail—by contrast with the prior desolation, they relate what a blessing for Adam the Garden was.

Why is a second origin account given for man (Gen 2:6)? And are these accounts consistent?

There is nothing inconsistent about them, but there is a difference of emphasis. In Gen 1 we have an account of God’s creation, and man is brought up strictly in that connection. How he is made is not the focus. Gen 2, by contrast, is not primarily an account of God’s creation but instead concerning “the generations of”—that is, the family of—“the heavens and of the earth.” The focus, moreover, is on that offspring, namely, Adam and his immediate family. Gen 2 kicks off a string of “family stories,” beginning with the very first one. Gen 1, by contrast, is sui generis, because it is about the original creative activity of God, which happened once only and so is treated separately. That there is overlap makes sense, because the events are interrelated, just as there is overlap (and consequent repetition, as we will see) between the later family stories.

What is significant about how Adam was made in Gen 2:6?

Adam was made from the same matter as the soil, soil that was recently mentioned to be watered by a mist. This, however much the process might differ from evolution, is correct as to the components of Adam’s body, since our elements can indeed be found in the earth. Moreover, it is interesting that a rather naturalistic explanation is offered here: it was not magic but fashioning out of natural elements, which had already gone through a few phases of development. Obviously, the intelligent design of man’s body is much harder to explain in terms of merely natural development; but we are not told how long this process took, and there is no strong indication that this either is, or is not, metaphor or synecdoche. The other interesting thing to observe about the incident is that Adam is said to be made of a material part, whence he gets his name (again, Adam comes from the word for “ground,” or adamah), and what appears to be a spiritual part, which comes directly from the breath, נְשָׁמָה or neshamah, of God himself.

Has anything in the Bible through Gen 2:7 entailed that man has a spirit, as opposed to a living body like any animal’s body?

This depends on your theology on two different points: whether it is a soul that makes man alive, and whether saying that man was created in God’s image entails that man has a spirit (or soul). On the first question, we are told that God breathed the breath of life, and thus Adam became a living soul. Now, these particular English words, from the KJV, are not dispositive, because the original words are perhaps not as clear. “Breath” translates נְשָׁמָה or neshamah, which is most typically breath, but is closely connected to “spirit,” so for example Job 27:3 has “All the while my breath [neshamah] is in me, and the spirit [ruach] of God is in my nostrils”. Ruach (רוּחַ) means not just spirit but “wind”; the suggestion is both that God’s breath (neshamah) is like the wind (ruach), and also that the principle of life is something invisible, like (but obviously not literally the same as) the wind. The word ruach was also used in Gen 1:2, in the phrase “the Spirit of God.” This leads us to the second question: the image of God is some sort of similarity, and we are not precisely told how we are similar (see on Gen 1:26-27). The text might well be thought to suggest that man is like God, or represents God, by exercising dominion over the earth. God’s ultimate act of dominion, namely creation, was done through the creative Spirit. So it is reasonable to think that the original author and readers of Genesis would take the text to imply not just that Adam was a living being, but possessed an active, “ruling” spirit (one capable of “dominion”), akin to God’s, but acting in a much more restricted sphere.