Why must Genesis be literal?

Adam @adamjedgar recently said in.a post,” Either Genesis 1:1 is followed by a literal interpretation of exactly how he created…or the whole bible is a fable…”. I have seen this or a similar statement made multiple times by several people over the years, and really have yet to understand why they feel it to be true. Is this a mantra of the YEC leadership that is repeated? Why must that chapter be literal or else the rest of the Bible including Jesus is false?
I understand that a a 7 day week is referenced elsewhere in the Bible, but that seems rather odd assertion to base one’s faith on, especially as the Bible is filled with symbolism and allegory.
Help me understand the thought process. The cynical me does understand how some YEC organizations are totally dependent on the literal interpretation, but the Bible in its entirely?


I don’t have a quote on hand, but Ken Ham has definitely made reference to the “throw out the entire Bible” idea if the earth is millions of years old. It’s sort of an all-or-nothing proposition – which can help explain why some who come out of YEC become atheists – they’ve already been taught that there are only two viable options. And perhaps some people are just more prone to black-and-white thinking and feel more confident in their views if they believe there are only two options. This also fits in with the idea of Genesis being the entire “foundation” of the Bible and therefore of faith – the way the first chapter is interpreted sets the tone for everything else.

I’ve come to think that maybe, despite how YEC thought leaders often portray YEC as an example of the Bible triumphing over science, the result ends up leaning more in the opposite direction – by making modern, scientific journalism a standard that an ancient collection of documents must live up to.


Having had a proper “High Church” catechism class in my 12th through 14th years, I had the Five Solas drilled into my head, supplemented by weekly “Saturday School” classes–not to be confused with SDA Sabbath School, and occasionally by weekly Sunday School classes.", to wit:

  • Sola Scriptura: “Scripture alone”.
  • Sola Fide: “Faith alone”.
  • Sola Gratia: “Grace alone”.
  • Solus Christus: “Christ alone”.
  • Soli Deo Gloria": “To the Glory of God alone”.

Each is as important as any of the others; but a properly educated kid is taught the Five Solas in order, with “Scripture alone” taught first. What becomes of “Sola Scriptura” if Scriptura can mean whatever the latest fad and fancy says it means?

The Five Solas

If you won’t believe that Genesis is the literal truth then you won’t believe in penal substitutionary atonement.

Could it be that some people are just naturally very literal-minded? Perhaps they have difficulty understanding that “not literal” is not the same as “not true”?


Goodness! What do you mean?
Do you, perchance, believe that there are literal-minded people who actually believe that Psalm 119:105 tells us that “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” means God has lips or that His word is a lamp or flashlight?

That would be remarkably odd, … although not impossible. I knew Deaf who were so “literal- minded” that a not-so literal-minded Hearing person had to proceed with extreme caution when communicating with them. And I also knew other Deaf who were convinced that having hearing makes a person dumber than a rock, when they (i.e. the Hearing) assumed that the Deaf are incapable of doing so many things.

N.T. Wright says he interprets it literally.

But he uses the word “literally” very literally.

Well, I was hoping for some comments defending the statement, and perhaps some are out there still, explaining why one would make that statement.
As food for thought, here is a blog discussing Jordan Peterson’s take on associated topics:Experimental Theology: Maps of Meaning with Jordan Peterson: Part 6, Myth is Both Less and More

One quote from Peterson:
" Myth is not primitive proto-science. It is a qualitatively different phenomenon. Science might be considered “description of the world with regards to those aspects that are consensually apprehensible” … Myth can be more accurately regarded as “description of the world as it signifies (for action ).” The mythic universe is a place to act, not a place to perceive ."

Of course, he is using myth as truth expressed literarily.

1 Like

Good Lord! You mean there are degrees of literal-mindedness, as if on a continuum. Wow! what a novel thought.

I remember: In the early 1960s, my father (a Missouri Synod–Lutheran pastor) spoke of a conversation between him and the small-town, local Presbyterian minister. They must have been talking about Genesis 1 or about Deluge Geology, and my father quoted the Presbyterian as having said something to the effect that: “Myths can be true.”

And what truth is expressed literarily in Genesis?

My thought is that it tells of who God is and his relationship to creation, in short.


It may have something to do with how the stories are familiar, and we trust what the pastor says. For example, my pastors have all (as far as I remember) said that God is defining marriage in Genesis. However, we seem to read over much of Genesis without treating all things mentioned there as being a definition. I’m from a farming community where most people go to church, but I’ve never heard the definition of domesticated animals according to Genesis. I guess I grew up reading the Bible into my worldview of the familiar, and one verse defined one thing and the next verse was just what those ancient people thought, and so I read without realizing how I was thinking about the message.


Sorry Phil, but doesn’t it tell truth about the writers’ concept of who God is and his relationship to creation? It can tell no truth whatsoever about God as He is. How could it?

Inspiration. Something you don’t accept, so no use worrying.

I haven’t read Wright explain what he means by this but he often is running with a good insight so I’m curious. Any chance he means he is taking it “literarily”?

1 Like

Not a problem Phil. I’m not worried. So what is the truth beyond the writers’ concept of who God is and his relationship to creation? What wouldn’t the writers have written if they hadn’t been supernaturally inspired?

It’s more about a psychological need for certainty. Once you stop taking “the plain sense” as they understand it as literally true, everything becomes suspect. If the Bible can’t be trusted on creation, if it doesn’t know something simple like the earth moves or thoughts originate in the brain, not the kidneys, why trust it in believing a man rose from the dead? Some just have faith in their experiental reality of God while experiencing the Gospel of Jesus. For others that is not enough. They need to know and why wouldn’t God provide us with proof? What is he punishing people with hell for if the evidence for him is not abundantly clear? If the Bible is not our penultimate source of information? Some just need bad historical apologetics. We are post enlightenment, fact-literal Westerners after all (“did it happen like this” is inexorably intertwined with “is it true”). The all or nothing approach is logically flawed but for many people once you erode the Bible of possessing supernatural and accurate facts on creation and many other issues, they aren’t intellectually sure why they should believe any of it. Historical apologetics grounds faith on a foundation of sand. But you have to maintain that foundation at ALL costs if the alternative is losing your faith. Just a false dilemma in the end but one we (and myself especially) need to be extremely cognizant and respectful of. It’s also a valid question because the primeval history is only the beginning. A better model of inspiration is needed. God writing a book like a modern person sitting down is not it.



I know you are replying to Phil here, but I’m butting in …

Truth beyond who God is? Was there something even higher than that which we should be talking about here instead? We could bring the sacred inspirations way down into the world of mere scientific proposition, and have it try to do science’s job for it … but … why? And why do I get the feeling you’re still stuck in the “wanting the Bible to prove itself through predictions” game as if it was just another bit player under the supervision of a scientific / rationalistic mindset?

The query in the OP caused me to ask the question: where else do we see black and white thinking? A google search brings up a link to mental health issues and a great variety of ways this kind of thinking can sabotage your life.

But another thing which came to mind, was when Jesus said in Matthew 12:30, "whoever is not with me is against me. Hearing someone say that would automatically lead me to conclude this is a dangerous cult. But then a curious thing happens if you google this one as well. You find that Jesus also said the opposite in Luke 9:50 and Mark 9:40, “whoever is not against us is for us.” So what the heck? Is Jesus supporting black and white thinking or not? Not! Putting two and two together leads to only one conclusion. It is Jesus Himself who has a polarizing effect on people… at least, it was so in Israel during His ministry. So Jesus is NOT demanding a way of thinking that forces things into black and white alternatives only. Not at all. It is only that we can sometimes observe a polarizing effect in human behavior where people go extremes and very few find a balance between them.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.