Welcome to Untangling Genesis. It is often assumed that the writer of the creation records at the start of Genesis was attempting to provide a literal description of how God made the Universe.
But there is no reason why the creation records in Genesis should be taken literally. The Bible is packed full of figurative or non-literal language, like Jesus’ parables and the Book of Revelation, so it is quite reasonable to ask whether they should actually be understood in a non-literal way.
This site is a summary of a much larger study. Please go to the Downloads page, read the full study and let me know what you think.
If we allow the Bible to interpret itself, I think we will find that the creation records are allegorical. At this point you might be thinking … “Whategorical”? Let me explain. The clearest example of an allegory in the Bible is in Galatians chapter 4, and we know it’s an allegory because, … well …, it says it’s an allegory.
In Galatians chapter 4, the apostle Paul speaks about the children that were born to Abraham’s two wives, Sarah and Hagar. Verses 24 – 26 say, “These things are allegorical (my translation of the greek word allegoreo). For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar, for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children – but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all (my translation).”
On one level, the story of Hagar and Sarah describes the struggles of two women in a world of polygamy and slavery. But Paul says that Hagar and Sarah are also metaphors that represent two covenants. Just in case you’re not sure what a metaphor is, let me explain further.
We’ll start first with similes, because they are … similar. A simile would say, “the sun is like an orange football rolling across the sky”. A simile says that something is like something else. A metaphor is like a simile, but is more definite. Instead of saying that “the sun is like an orange football”, it says, “the sun is an orange football”. So in Galatians chapter 4, Paul doesn’t say that Hagar is like a covenant, but that Hagar is a covenant. Hagar is a metaphor and represents the Law of Moses.
What I am suggesting is that the first creation record in Genesis 1 v 1 – 2 v 3 is an allegory, and the things in it like light, plants, animals and the sea are metaphors that represent other things. Once we use the Bible to understand the metaphors we find out that it is a description, not of the start of God’s purpose with the world, but of the whole of his plan for mankind.
The second creation record in Genesis 2 v 4 – 3 v 24 is a different genre to the first one. In style it is similar to the myths we find in the ancient world. That’s not to say it isn’t true, it’s just that it isn’t literally true. It also uses metaphors to create an allegorical piece of writing. This time its focus is the first time when God showed himself to mankind and the relationship between God and man.
The other pages on this site give more details of the allegorical approach to the creation records, and the Word document in the Downloads page covers the same areas in more depth.
I believe that a non literal approach is the best way to understand the start of the Bible. It does raise issues and challenges, but they are not as difficult to resolve as those presented by other approaches, in my opinion.
I am conscious that Christians have a range of beliefs and you may disagree with some of the views that I express. However, I feel that the allegorical approach to the Genesis records is flexible enough to cope with a range of doctrinal opinions.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
(In instances where scripture is not from the New King James Version, it will be labelled “my translation”)