Genesis 1-3: Responding to Critics of Its Allegorical Nature


This article on Genesis 1-3 first appeared on Catholic Stand.

In my last article on Genesis 1-3, I wrote about the allegorical nature of these chapters, but I did not lay out all the evidence for why I believe they are allegorical. Because some commenters criticized my article (which is perfectly fine), I want to provide clear and concise reasons, from the Bible alone, for why Genesis 1-3 is an allegory. I should point out that the critics could not provide any evidence for a literal interpretation of these chapters.

By the way, Genesis 1-3 falls under the category of historical allegory, which simply means the story is historically true but written in a way that morally edifies us and/or points us to Jesus Christ. In this article, I would like to briefly outline all the contextual evidence for concluding that Genesis 1-3 is an allegory.

The Contextual Evidence
  • Genesis 1:2 – God was “moving.” God does not literally move. He is present always (eternal) and everywhere (omnipresent). His power extends to all places and times without failure (omnipotent). He does not change (He is immutable; Malachi 3:6, James 1:7, Hebrews 13:8).
  • 1:4-5 – God defined day as light. He did not define it as a 24-hour cycle as the literalists would have us believe. In fact, “day” is not used to represent the earth’s 24-hour rotation anywhere in the first three chapters of Genesis. Although each “day” ends with “and there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day,” these are clearly not the mornings and evenings to which we are accustomed, since God did not create the sun and moon until the fourth day. So, what does this “morning and evening” language mean? Simply that God’s work is perfectly good and visible without even a hint of darkness. The “day” Genesis refers to is full and complete light, and God is light, whereas morning and evening are a mixture of darkness and light. Thus, “day” points to the purity of God, who is Light.
  • 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31 – God formed, filled, and ordered creation during the day. As I mentioned, Scripture says, “And there was evening and there was morning, the Nth day.” A literal interpretation of these verses would imply that God works during the day and does nothing at night. But this is nonsense. Due to God’s infinite nature, He does not change and certainly does not need rest. Therefore, He does not work and then rest as if He wears Himself out from a hard day’s labor. He is pure act.
  • 1:9-13 – God brought forth all kinds of vegetation and trees that bore fruit. God did not create the sun until the next “day.” Did He not know that the earth was frozen and hostile to plant life? Did He not know that plants need the sun to bear fruit?
  • 1:14 – On the fourth day, God made the sun and the moon. Again, since God does not make the sun and moon until the fourth day, we should not believe that “day” means a 24-hour cycle comprised of day and night.
  • 2:2-3 – God “rested.” As noted, God does not rest. He is omnipotent, infinite, and pure act. He does not change. “Rested” in this verse simply means that God finished creation. It does not mean that He stopped caring for or guiding it.
  • 2:4 – “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens….” In this verse, “day” does not mean a 24-hour cycle either. Its use here refers to the entire time that God made the heavens and the earth. Just to be clear, God is not subject to time, but creation is.
  • 2:18 – After making Adam, God said that it was not good for him to be alone. Then He made the beasts and birds. After realizing that these were not good helpers for Adam, He created Eve. Now, God does not think discursively, that is, in a sequence of thoughts, one after another. He does not need to figure things out like humans do. Since He is all-knowing (omniscient), He eternally knows that the beasts and birds would not have been good helpers for Adam. All this passage is communicating is that no creature is “good” for man other than his complementary counterpart, his other half, the woman. Thus, man should never pair himself (i.e., physically unite with or marry) with anyone or anything other than a woman.
  • 3:1 – The serpent. The serpent is Satan, a fallen angel. He is not a physical serpent. Rather, he took the form of a serpent by being as subtle, cunning, and as poisonous as one (spiritually, that is). Additionally, God gave Adam and Eve all knowledge necessary to exercise their God-given dominion over earthly creation. They would not have looked at a snake and thought, “Wow! A talking snake that is inferior to us. We should really listen to what he has to say. He might just enlighten us.” This is not how Satan presented himself. Satan appeared as an intellectually superior being, an angel. Although he is a fallen angel, Adam and Eve would have been intrigued by his presence and would have listened to his words.
  • 3:8a – “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking….” God does not walk. He is pure spirit. And we have no reason to believe that He assumed a human body at the point of creation. What would have been the purpose of this body? God could have communicated without a body, and He did not need a body to redeem man; not yet anyway. God is simply telling us that He approached man, who had separated himself from God through sin. Man did not approach God after the fall. Again, this shows God’s concern for and love of His creation. After all, He is our Father.
  • 3:8b – Adam and Eve “hid themselves.” Adam and Eve could not “hide” from God. Rather, “hiding” tells us that they separated themselves from God and refused to come to God after they sinned.
  • 3:9 – God asked, “Where are you?” God knew exactly where they were. If He did not know, He would not be omniscient. God wants us to know that He gave Adam and Eve an opportunity to respond to His call with a sincere confession. He does the same for us every moment of every day.
Literal Vs. Allegorical

Given the forgoing passages, we can see that Genesis 1-3 presents us with multiple clues, if not outright proof, for accepting the allegorical interpretation of these chapters. It gives us zero clues for accepting the literal interpretation.

Now, a literalist might argue that by interpreting Genesis 1-3 allegorically, the entire Bible can be interpreted through this lens and, thus, lose all its meaning.

This is not the case, however. The use of different literary genres in some Scripture passages does not compromise the literal sense in other Scripture passages. For instance, symbolic language permeates the books of Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Simply recognizing this fact does not jeopardize the rest of Scripture.

(For more on the senses of Scripture, read Catechism paragraphs 115-119 and Verbum Domini paragraph 37.)