How far will you take the literal view of Genesis 1-11?

To take Genesis 1 literally you need to be EC and Flat Earth
To take Genesis 2 Literally you need to be a male chauvenist
To take Genesis 3 Literally believe that death was caused by Adam’s Sin,
To take Genesis 5 literally you believe that all of humanity came from 1 couple
To take Genesis 5-11 literally you beliee that
God destroyed all of Creation and started again
Humanity now comes from Noah (only is siblings survived)

I hope people noticed the ramifications of Genesis 2

The ultimate point is, if you reject any of these how can you justify what you do believe?


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I consider scripture a window to God. It is “God-breathed” in the sense that it is “life giving” and not “written” by God. Isn’t there a different Greek word for “inspired” anyway? Scripture is immensely important to me because it is a (fallible and sometimes creative) record of the incarnation that God uses to transform individuals. My morality comes from Jesus and his life so wrestling with the Bible is always going to happen in my life. But I don’t put my faith in a book. My faith is in God to use scripture as he sees fit when I read it.

I find scripture looks all too fallibly human—through and through—on just about every level for me to claim God “wrote” it. The problems don’t end with Genesis 11. That is just the beginning. For example, we also have two contradictory versions of Joseph being sold into slavery, grotesque problems with the Exodus as it written etc. I have no interest in “but the core is true, it really happened” and still trying to maintain defeated beliefs. God may have had some deeper role in scripture, its composition, its dissemination, its canonization and so on, I can’t rule this out and I would genuinely like it to be true (sometimes!) but it is hardly the book from heaven most Christians make it out to be. I think believing the earth was flat would be easier for me at this point…


Though I don’t get the day 2 conclusion I don’t take it literally really at all. Maybe there were two people who was called out of everyone and called his chosen ones and maybe they were the first to sin because they were the first to be given rules and therefore the first to break it and they were used in a myth. But I’m equally comfortable that they are purely characters meant to represent either all of mankind of Israel.

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Another issue is God’s incompetence. He makes man and then realizes it’s not good for him to be alone. He then decides to parade all the animals before him to see if a mate can be found. Oops, God realizes no suitable mate can be found so he makes Eve.

I think some will push back on the chauvinism though.

Do you think the virginal conception of Jesus is from a male chauvinist perspective?

Is it just a miracle or is Mary “pure” because she is a virgin… it’s just as easy to take the infancy narrative that way.

I think the story of A&E is less chauvinistic than we might think given the time it was written in.

But man is certainly formed first and God most certainly incarnated himself as a male in Christianity.


The basic point here is that people try and use a literal view to prove their pet theories while conveniently ignoring aspects that might make them uncomfortable. There is vehement criticism of YEC while insisting that Adam and Eve is literal and factual. And in the same vein they will make all these doctrines about sin and death while ignoring the implications of Genesis 2 which is part of the same narrative. They claim Adam could corrupt the whole of creation when that also means that God was inept and incompetent and unable to maintain the perfection of His creation. All hail the mighty Adam!



This is because they mix Romans in with Adam and Eve. Paul seems to presuppose real people given his arguments. Given Genesis gets so much wrong about the world as it’s written (basically it has an outdated cosmology), they are forced to keep Adam and Eve and drop the rest. Or claim God chose two people out of a total population to interact with which makes little sense given Eve didn’t even exist in the original story until God saw Adam needed a helper.

Christians treat the Bible as an authority so the view you speak of is a compromise. For me I came to see this as just failing to let go of a view that is defeated and continually holding on to whatever I can through mental gymnastics as more and more of my belief is eroded away. So many are okay with relegating Genesis 1-11 to myth but can’t imagine parts of Paul or the Gospels are troubling as well. Unfortunately, the problems in the Bible are cover to cover. The church needs better models not inspiration, a better method of determining official doctrine and to really rethink a lot of things from the ground up.

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That is a very good point.

People try and use “any” view to prove their pet theories.


I am sorry, but it is this sort of attitude that is the route of many problems Relegating?

The use of the word “myth” conjures up the wrong images. If it was called a Parable people might accept it, but Parables are specific to Jesus. The fact that prophets had been using allegory , illustration and stories for centuries seems to have been ignored.

Ignoring the realities does not diminish the meanings. Concentrating on the details just muddies the waters.


It is relegating it. For many people for centuries the Biblical stories were true as written. The flood, the origin of languages, the origin of people and so on. The exodus really happened as described and so on and on.

Hercules? Fake. The Biblical version of this with good hair? Real. Yeah right with eyes rolling is my response.

Now we label things cultural, patriarchal and dismiss them when we find they don’t suit what we believe or other parts of scripture we choose to emphasize. We have been chopping and chipping away so much…ading straw after straw… sooner or later we have to admit the camel’s back is broken.

I’m not basing my life or my laws and rules on mythological stories. I will use them to glean truth and change my life as led by there Holy Spirit. I don’t see the incarnation of Jesus as a myth but something that actually happened. If it was a myth meant to show us how much God loves us I would find it a beautiful story but I wouldn’t base my life around Jesus.

Modern science and historical criticism has truly changed so much about the Bible and how it was previously received. YECs deny science. The rest of the literalist Christians accept science but deny history or water it down with mental gymnastics and bad apologetics.

There is a valid reason why YECs won’t let the nose of the camel in the tent. They know the rest is soon to follow. But this is a problem of the Church’s own making. The more people double down on literal readings and bad apologetics,. the more people associate this with the Bible and see myth as false.

The problem is not accepting the Bible for what it is. Because fallible human myth that speaks theological truths is not the same as a book written by God from heaven that is kept free of all errors. In what world is that not a downgrade to you?

I don’t imagine God sitting in heaven writing fake stories using fake cosmology or falsely having one author write a letter in someone else name. Myth serves a valid purpose. We are story tellers and love narrative. But for the sake of honesty, it shouldn’t so easily confuse itself or pretend to be historical narration.


I think she did. But it’s harder to see that because of how the story is translated and changing views on human physiology.

The way modern Bibles tell the story, it starts with “the man” trading a “rib” for a “helper.” Androcentric traditions became encrusted in translation. Instead, the word adam indicates a kind – humankind – not a sex. The word ish indicates a man, and it’s used when the man celebrates the woman. Before that, the adam isn’t called a man.

God forms the human, blows life into its nostrils, then gives instructions on what to eat and not eat. These instructions are for the human alone, but God sees that this loneliness is not good. God promises to make an ally as a partner. In the Hebrew grammar, both the human and the ally are masculine nouns, but that doesn’t prove they’re males. Hebrew tends to use the masculine when sex and gender aren’t in view – or are mixed or can’t be determined. The masculine is the default. At this point, the story doesn’t reveal the sex of the promised ally or the human.

God makes all the animals from the ground and invites the human to meet them. The human names each one, but recognizes that none is a suitable ally. So God casts the human into a deep sleep, then takes one tsela – one side – that will soon be used to build a woman. Dozens of biblical examples show that this Hebrew word means a side and not a rib. After removing one side, God closes up the flesh of the remaining side. This half, now a complete person again, will soon call himself a man. Finally, God builds the half that was taken into a woman.

Forming the woman from living flesh reveals another detail that modern readers easily miss. In ancient Near East worldviews, a person thinks, makes decisions and feels emotion with their guts. Later cultures located a person’s mind in an immaterial soul distinct from their body, but for early audiences of Genesis the mind resides in the physical guts. Since God had removed a full side, the story shows that the woman was made from the human’s guts – from organs that were already functioning. Because the one body became two, the one mind also became two.

The woman’s mind is not a blank slate. She knows how to speak. She heard God’s commands. She’s already met every creature in the garden. She remembers giving each one a name that showed it was not on her level. But now, she looks up to the snake and considers it an ally that can help her on her way. The story depicts her turn from God well before she takes an illicit bite.

The woman relates to the man much like Judah relates to Israel. Similar to how some of Israel split off to become the nation of Judah, God split off a side of Adam to form Eve. These special parts, Judah and Eve, are not less than their counterparts who continue to be known by more common names. And further, the narrative of the solitary Adam forms the first chapter of both Eve and Adam’s life, just as the history of united Israel provides the shared backstory for Judah and Israel.


So parables are devalued if they are not based on real events?

And what has the Exodus to do with Genesis 1-11? They are different books.

Does the teaching of Job change if Job is fictitious? does the teaching of Jonah change if the whale is allegorical? Does the value of Exodus change if the 7 plagues are explained or the crossing was of the “reed sea”?

Sure, the resurrection must be real to have any meaning but what about the sayings? If the words are not precisely as spoken? Or maybe the timing or order in which they occur? John seems to marry teaching to action when they might not have occurred that way. Does this devalue it?

The Devil is in the details! But it seems that is also where dogmas come from.



I read Genesis from the perspective of the audience for whom it was first written. My reading is literal, but my conclusion is wholly different from that which a contemporary audience might construct.

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How does that work? Either there was a garden or there wasn’t?
Is Adam a real character or a representative? Was there an actual tree of Knowledge?

Either it is literal or it is not. If you do not take it as the audience did then you are automatically interpreting rather than accepting.


I attempted to edit my comment for clarity prior to posting it and in doing so inadvertently excised the most relevant portion. Ha! My apologies, let me try this again.

My reading of Genesis is literal in the context of the audience for whom it was written. Chapters one and two describe the evolution of the world and its inhabitants over the course of millions of years, but it is written in such a way that a Canaanite may comprehend. You can’t explain a concept like plate tectonics or cellular biology to someone that can’t even read or write their own name and expect them to understand. You can, however, successfully convey a summary illustrated by fantastical imagery which also conveniently lends itself well to oral propagation.

Adam is not a specific individual or even an archetype. He is representative of mankind’s early consciousness. This is made clear when Adam begins assigning names to everything he sees and thus begins the process of establishing dominion over his worldly environment. He stands apart from his hominid predecessors of 1:26 in that he is able to apprehend his world and thus reflect himself back upon it. To this I’ll add that I view Genesis chapters one and two in regards to mankind as a continuous narrative, and not two separate accounts of the same event. My reasoning is partially due to the fact that nowhere else is such recursive narration employed (as far as I can tell, anyway).

The six days creation is nothing more than a rhetorical device used to convey the importance of rest to such primitive people. God knows that mankind’s disobedience would plant the seeds of a growing irrationality in their primitive brains, so He needed to make explicit the importance of not working oneself to death. To do so, He offers a mirror to his audience and invites them to reflect upon their fallen state and reconcile it by observing the sabbath. The idea that God, the Alpha and the Omega, who was, is and forever shall be, needs a day of rest after working for six is kind of preposterous, though somewhat paradoxically it’s all the more reason to obey His command.

  • Suppose Adam and Eve were actually “old world monkeys” [such as Mandrills or Baboons], and were hardly the kind of Primata that would have been able to pass stories of their world down to anybody.
  • And suppose “Mosaic authorship of Genesis according to tradition” was as unlikely as monkeys naming all the animals in the world they lived in.
  • How literal do you suppose the folks who actually composed Genesis 1-11 would have been inclined to think their story was?
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There’s εμπνέω, which IIRC was used in connection with (excellent) poetry and even theater, usually appearing in the participial form εμπνευσμένος. It’s built from the prefix for “in” plus the root for both “breathe” and "breath/spirit’. I think ἐππνέω was also used in an old dialect, formed from “upon” plus the same root as above, but I think it doesn’t show up in Koine (though on the other hand, the Greeks were much like Germans, throwing words together to make new words as they pleased).

That one doesn’t bother me. One interesting explanation is that the Israelites regarded all offspring of Abraham who weren’t from Isaac as Ishmaelites, but I don’t know of any actual textual support for that; I don’t know of any for another explanation that all traders got called Midianites, either; the Midianites were nomadic but what’s the evidence that they were such traders that the name stuck to any traders?

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Not at all – parables can be found in the Prophets; in fact Jesus uses imagery from those to fill in meaning on some of His.

Concentrating on the details is how you understand a piece of writing – it’s taking the details out of their context that screws things up.

This reminded me of a visiting professor who asked that given the facts that Jesus would have had zits, gotten sunburned and dirty, and excreted like the rest of us why should we try to pretend that the scriptures are clinically clean? He suggested that the fact of the Incarnation should lead us to expect that human frailty should show up all over in scripture.

Especially since most of the scriptures were written before historical narrative was even a thing!

A rabbi I knew pointed us once to a writer who argued that ha’Adam was both male and female in essence and neither in physiology until the division into two. It struck me as really weird back then.

Another is that things made from dust are both mortal and unique; if you want two things that are of the same sort, you take the new one from the living old one. That makes sense of the exclamation that “This is flesh of my flesh!”

Given that the word can mean “heavenly being” that’s a good point: she knew and trusted this being because it was a member of God’s heavenly family.

Several scholars I’ve read make this point, and it’s implicit in both the literary genres of the first Creation story: you read the story as a unit within which it is read literally, but you do not export that literality outside the story.

Oh, it’s definitely more than that: the Egyptian creation story, which the Genesis story follows in terms of order of events, takes place in a single day or all at once. By dividing it all into six days the writer indicates that the whole of Creation is orderly, that all its spaces and all that fills those were intentional; and by tying the final day of the Creator’s work to the mundane day of human existence he declares that YHWH-Elohim is lord of time.

And in so doing He added to the point that He is lord of time.

Which is why the teachings of certain sects about the seventh day are silly. But they also miss the point that in the ancient near east if a deity was said to take up his/her/its rest, it meant that the deity regarded his/her-its realm as complete and was settling in to watch over it. By adding this rest to the end of the creation of everything the message was that YHWH-Elohim was ruling in His temple – a temple that comprised everything there was.

I can’t make my thoughts conform to such “what ifs”.

Mosaic authorship of the core of the Torah is not unreasonable, but there are marks of editing all over it – not to the point of the JEDP notion (which more and more scholars are abandoning; I was just reading last week how one scholar had decided that J & E were one writer while D and P were not a single editor but a “college” or “school” in the old sense. Others merge J, E, and D, and others just throw away the effort to try to make it all fit such a tidy scheme and argue that the evidence – especially if you consider the rest of the “historical” books – suggests numerous editors/redactors in different places at different times.

I don’t think the original writer or the original audience would have had any idea of what we meant by “literal” in the first place! Their categories were more like “records” (lists and catalogues of things), “boasting” (by kings and heroes of their deeds, or others speaking for them), and “divine” (bringing a lesson from ‘above’ in one form or another – and the difference between boasting and divine was tenuous.

One way to put it would be to say that in the ancient near east a story from ‘above’ was talking about reality because it came from deity; whether the story had "actually happened’ in the terms we think of wasn’t even a category difference for them – if a god spoke it, it was just as real as if that god created/made it.


I posted a bit of a poem over in the Pithy Quotes thread which actually would have been much more relevant here. Instead of moving it here, though, I’ll just mention it with the link.

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This is actually a very important question to ask, but it is one for which there are no simple answers as it steps into the often foreboding realm of revealed religion. We’re aware that much of scripture is the work of inspired men, so perhaps an equally important question to ask is, “what did they see?”

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