26 reasons to interpret Genesis figuratively

With the debate on Evolution and Creation between Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) and Bill Nye (the Science Guy) I though it time to dust off something I wrote a few years ago over on Christian Forums:

Here are a couple of indications the Genesis creation accounts should be understood as a metaphor.

(1) Genesis 2 describes a completely different order of creation to Genesis 1.
(2) Adam is Hebrew for Man or Mankind, which make perfect sense as an Everyman character in a parable describing the creation and fall of the human race.
(3) It is not just Adam’s name being ‘Man’, his wife is called ‘Woman’.
(4) Adam is referred to as ‘them’ Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:2 Male and female he created them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam.
(5) Eve being made from Adam’s rib ‘flesh of his flesh’ is describe as the reason the sexual union makes husband and wife ‘one flesh’ Genesis 2:24. This is an allegorical interpretation of the rib, which is found in the text of Genesis itself.
(6) We have Adam being told to check out the animals to look for a life partner. A wonderful allegorical description of how a man needs a good women to love cherish, but as a literal preparation for adult life and relationships it is pretty weird, not to say unscriptural.
(7) Being made of dust, or God forming us from clay, is a common biblical metaphor everywhere else in scripture.
(8) There is a talking snake described as a literal snake in Genesis 3 but we are told we are told in Revelation 12:9 & 20:2 the snake was not a beast of the field, but Satan.
(9) Our redemption is describe in terms of the redeemer stepping on this snake’s head which never happened in the gospel, not literally anyway.
(10) Adam and Eve could have lived forever by eating from a fruit tree, while Jesus said perishable food cannot give eternal life.
(11) If the Tree of Life was literal it would mean there is another source of everlasting life other than through Jesus and the cross. This does not make sense theologically.
(12) Alternatively, if the Tree of life was allegorical, it would be a beautiful picture of the Cross, 1Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, and of Jesus himself who said he was the true Vine John 15:1,
(13) Paul tells us he sees Adam as a figure of Christ in Romans 5:14 and throughout his epistles interprets Adam and Eve as a picture of marriage or a picture of Christ and the Church.
(14) People back then were very used to parables and metaphors and would launch into extended metaphors without any explanation, the talking trees in Judges 9 or Genesis 49:9 Judah is a lion’s cub… 14 Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds… 27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf…
(15) Genesis 6 uses a figurative interpretation of the creation of Adam to describe the flood Genesis 6:7 So the LORD said, “I will blot out Adam whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Adam, if he was literal, would have been dead by the time of the flood.
(16) We have cherubim with a supernatural sword guarding paradise, elsewhere in the bible cherubim are seen around the throne of God, or the holy of holies in the temple, which makes perfect sense if the garden of Eden is actually talking about heaven or is an allegory for the temple (or both since the temple was a picture of heaven).
(17) You find all the imagery from Genesis coming together again in another highly allegorical book, the book of Revelation where you have another husband and wife, the same talking snake, the tree of life planted by a river in the paradise of God (paradise is how the LXX translates ‘garden’ of Eden).
(18) Nowhere in the bible are the days of Genesis interpreted as literal days.
(19) Genesis 2:4 describes all of creation taking place in a single day.
(20) Genesis 2:17 says Adam would surely die the day he ate the fruit, which did not happen, so either day did not mean a literal day, or the death did not refer to literal physical death.
(21) Exodus 20:11 uses the days of Genesis not to teach a literal six day creation, but as a lesson in Sabbath observance, while Paul goes on to tell us the Sabbath is simply a shadow, an allegorical picture of Christ Colossians 2:16&17.
(22) In Exodus 31:17 God’s seventh day rest is expanded: on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.
This cannot literally mean the God of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps was refreshed after a day’s rest, however as an anthropomorphism, it is a beautiful metaphor describing God’s identification with down trodden workers in the field, the child labourers and migrants workers who are also refreshed after their Sabbath rest Exodus 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. Refreshed literally refers to people who are exhausted getting their breath back. It is not a common word in the bible occurring only three times in the bible, so its occurrence referring to God’s rest in Exodus 31:17 a few chapters after it refers to exhausted field workers is not coincidental.
(23) Days in the OT Law began in the evening Leviticus 23:32 from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath. Yet the Sabbath, if it is based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, was because God set this particular day of the week aside as holy because it is the day he rested during the creation week. The problem is, the days in Genesis, if you take it as seven literal days, all run from morning to morning. Each day of creation is finished with the formula: And there was evening and there was morning the third day Genesis 1:13. Then on to the fourth day. So the Sabbath, if it is literally marking the day God set aside as holy at the creation, is out by 12 hours.(24) Psalm 90:4, a psalm describing the creation, interprets God’s days as like a thousand years, which hardly sounds like a literal interpretation of Genesis.
(25) The psalm goes on to interpret key imagery from Genesis Adam being returned to the dust, the flood, in terms of the fleetingness of human life, an allegorical interpretation.
(26) In Hebrews 3&4 God’s seventh day rest is interpreted, not as a single day’s break at the end of a six day creation, but as an ongoing rest we are to enter ‘today’ through the gospel.

Now while some of these points show the problems with a literal interpretation, others simply show how Genesis fits better if it is interpreted metaphorically, they are evidence it is a metaphor rather than evidence that it isn’t literal.


2 thoughts on “26 reasons to interpret Genesis figuratively

  1. Great timely post and almost all, if not all 26, are reasons from scripture — scripture interpreting scripture!!!

    Unless I missed em, one could add the Framework Interpretation (literary view or Framework View or Parallel Panel (Lamoureux)) as well as the reasons in Denis O. Lamoureux’s course and web lectures, e.g., http://bit.ly/16YJ3Kr, especially The Bible & Ancient Science (ANE evidence combined with what we know using modern scientific instruments that God must have been accommodating to then-believed “science”/historiography to best communicate to an ancient audience his reveled spiritual truth). Can use Photo Flash player app on iPhone/iPad, BTW.

    • Well like I said I wrote it a few years ago (with a few modifications). I was approaching it as a former Creationist talking with Creationists on discussion forums. They are points where scripture jars with literalist creationism. Lamoureux, Walton, etc. are where you go from there when you want a deeper understanding of Genesis.

      Good points. I am glad you brought them up in the replies 🙂

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