the case for a literal interpretation of Genesis


Many times on the inter-webs, I meet liberal Christians who think we should not take the bible literally or that some bible passages can only make sense as allegory. What they never tell us is when to read the bible allegorically and when to take it literally. There are many believers who say the bible has never been taken literally except by the fundamentalists, do such people see any difficulty a liberal reading of the bible would pose?

This christian however believes that taking Genesis, at least the first chapters as allegory poses more problems than it solves. One would hope that after coming to such an astute observation, he would maybe read some other book, maybe the Vedas or the Koran or the Gita, maybe their creation stories are a little better.

The believer identifies the following as arising from an allegorical reading of Genesis

Without Genesis, there is no:

Creation

Man

Gender roles

Fall

Sin

Need for redemption (and therefore no prophets or New Testament or gospel)

Covenant with Abraham

Land of Israel

Children of Israel (no lineage for Jesus Christ)

Tribes of Israel

Moses et cetera

This author goes further to ask if Genesis is allegory, how does one justify the existence of Jesus. The authors of his[Jesus] genealogy mention Adam. If Genesis is allegory, Adam is allegory and one can say with justice Jesus is allegory.

His/her solution is to believe in King James Bible as literal. There is no changing their mind.

Do other believers see a problem in taking Genesis as allegory and how do they resolve the issue when they arrive in the New Testament and Jesus several mentions of Adam and Eve. Can the bible be saved by holding both as allegory and as literal? IS this a viable position or is it everywhere beset with difficulties?

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

114 thoughts on “the case for a literal interpretation of Genesis

  1. ladysighs says:

    I can’t answer any of your questions. 😦 I did visit the site via your link and saw that the author was asking for a small prayer request because he/she did not have a tetanus shot and ran into a rusty nail.
    My question is what is the difference between a small prayer request and a big one?

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  2. Another good post, my friend. The problem is LITERALLY taking the bible as allegory. Liberal Christians don’t mean for you to LITERALLY take the bible allegorically, just the parts they personally don’t like. So, as long as you can LITERALLY take only those parts of the bible that are LITERALLY allegorical, then there’s no confusion. If, however, you try to take an allegorical part LITERALLY, and the particular Christian to whom you are speaking does not take it that way, you are evil, stupid, and just don’t have TruFaith. No Christian takes every part of the bible literally, even the ones claiming they do. Thus, I suggest taking a course in wildly imaginative bullsh*t apologetics from William Lane Craig like I did. Then all of this will become SO clear to you you’ll reach Nirvana. Wait. I’m mixing my religions. Literally. Never mind that last bit. Just do what I said or you’ll burn in hell. Ahhh! Now that was better. 😀

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    • makagutu says:

      Thanks my friend for the kind words.

      Even taking just parts of the bible as allegory or rather finding the right christian who has the key to the allegorical passages will not solve their problems. It will create a problem elsewhere if they have to be consistent.

      I don’t like WLC and it is disturbing that a man of his training could say nothing could convince him of the falsity of religion. I expect that from my grandma.

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      • Indeed. WLC is a charlatan and an ass. The Bible is a book of myth. It is no different than a collection of Greek myths or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Just because deluded fools wish to believe in fantasy does not make it real. The Bible means whatever the Christian reading it wants it to mean. Logical and reasonable discourses on subjects like this with Christians are not possible. They’re coming form a place of TruFaith, and are ruled by the premise that evidence, tangible provable evidence, is not required for what they say to be true. I can only mock such thinking. To attempt to reason with such absurdity is to welcome insanity and chaos into your life and mind. I’ve a desire for neither.

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    • fojap says:

      Now that they’ve redefined the meaning of the word literally, it’s even more confusing. Or maybe we should add a comma. “They want to take the bible, literally!” Meaning, they want you to go into a bookstore and steal a bible.

      As far as I can tell, the conservative Christians thing that loving you neighbor bit isn’t meant to be taken literally.

      Now, I just made myself totally confused.

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  3. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Mak, you’ve often taken my suggestions regarding reading material (and I know you’re a prolific reader, certainly more so than I) – I’d like to make another suggestion: Richard Friedman’s The Hidden Face of God.

    Friedman makes a very valid point, that a common theme runs through the Bible, of our choosing to take responsibility for our own lives and destiny – we begin, in the Garden, by disobeying him; Abraham and Moses argue with him; Jonah tries to run from him – gradually, we distance ourselves farther and farther from him, until he finally comes to earth to “save” us, and we kill him. That’s quite an allegory!

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  4. john zande says:

    This author goes further to ask if Genesis is allegory, how does one justify the existence of Jesus.

    That right there is the extraordinary problem no Christian want’s approach. They need sin to be written into the creation story. Everything else can be danced around, and dance they most certainly do, but without that nugget of the “Fall” they have nothing: no reason for their religion.

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  5. themodernidiot says:

    Being that it was a compilation of fictional stories written with borrowed parts from other fictional stories, how could you possibly take it literally?

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    • makagutu says:

      Dear, I was hoping you would chip in.
      Does this apply to the whole thing or just parts of it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • themodernidiot says:

        Well, I’d say that if one is reading the Bible only one way, it’s a recipe for failure. There are both literal and fictitious parts in the compilation, so it seems logical one must read it with both perspectives, as we would with secular literature. Granted I am an English major, so lit is my thing and switching between both analyses is natural for me.

        Friends who are strictly non-fiction readers tell me they have trouble with heavily metaphorical works, and they find poetry especially difficult. I understand that is an obstacle, but there is a common sensical element as well. If we know creation myths were myths, and we know Bible stories borrowed from myth, why would we ever read those particular Bible stories as fact? Doesn’t that seem an odd thing to do?

        It’s bad enough that people accept a god as real in this day and age, but one obstacle at a time lol 🙂

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  6. aguywithoutboxers says:

    I’m unable to answer as to the opinions of the believers. However, I do appreciate and agree with your questions. Great job, my Nairobi brother! Have a safe and happy weekend! 🙂

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  7. Doobster418 says:

    Well, you read my post and you know my thoughts on taking the Bible as anything more than allegory. Besides, as an atheist, I have no skin in the game, other than to be amazed that anyone would take anything in the Bible literally.

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  8. truthtangible says:

    I think allegory is an easy way out. People who use it make anything difficult in the Bible an allegory and everything else that they like is straight forward. There are portions of the bible that are poetry, like the psalms, that have imagery and such that have imagery and such but Genesis is not written in that tone. I just don’t buy the whole allegory thing as a realistic way to approach the Bible.

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    • makagutu says:

      How do you do it, if you care to share?

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      • truthtangible says:

        I try to research the intended audience and how they would have read the text to start. And after that I try to look deeper into the original language because nuance and hyperbole and such are often lost in translation. And those things matter. I have never found, in research of any part of the bible that it was intended to be an allegory. There is symbolism in places like revelations but the story as a whole is still not an allegory.

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        • makagutu says:

          Thanks for your response.
          So am I right to assume you take it either as literal and symbolic depending on what your research leads you to?

          I have an example; the story of Lot and his daughters, are we to take it literally, metaphorically or allegorically?

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          • Or, (and here’s a new one) bullshitful?

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          • truthtangible says:

            It is written with a literal tone, so that is how I take it.

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          • makagutu says:

            Are there passages you take as metaphorical and can you possibly list a few.

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          • truthtangible says:

            I take the description of Satan in genesis the as a metaphor. I don’t think he appeared as a talking snake. I think snake was a descriptive way to describe his character. Like calling someone a rat or a wolf in sheep’s clothes.

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          • makagutu says:

            Very well, allow me to ask one more time. Earlier you had said in your reading of the bible you have not found anywhere it is meant to be allegory, would I be right in thinking you take the bible to be literal? Do you also take it as inerrant word of a god?

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          • truthtangible says:

            Yes to literal. No to inerrant

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          • makagutu says:

            This applies to the entire bible or specific parts? In your opinion is the story of Jonah literal or fiction?
            What about Noah? Did he actually build an ark and transport snails, snakes, tigers and float for almost a year with no window for ventilation?

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          • truthtangible says:

            I believe Noah was a local flood. And that Jonah happened but that is one story I’m still researching. I think all of the bible was written literally and should be read that way. But I think the bible is more peoples experiences with God and what they felt he was saying than the inerrant word directly from God.

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          • makagutu says:

            One of the guys who commented earlier today or late yesterday seems to disagree with you. He says he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to read the bible literally. What would you say to such a person?

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          • truthtangible says:

            I would say that I have spent time trying to find a way to make it “spiritual” and there is no way to be true to the authors intent, or the literary style of writing or to the culture it addresses, and take it as anything but l literal. To not take it that way is tempting because it is a difficult book, but that is not an honest way to read it.

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          • makagutu says:

            What should I tell anyone who tells me a literal reading of the text is reading it wrong?

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          • truthtangible says:

            That they are welcome to think that. I don’t have a hard stance on this. I just can’t find a non literal reading that is consistent

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          • makagutu says:

            Thanks very much. Do have a good day.

            Liked by 1 person

          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            RE: “Yes to literal. No to inerrant

            I was trying to stay out of the conversation, Truth, but you’ve aroused my curiosity – in determining what to take literally, clearly you wouldn’t want to take the errant portions literally – how do you divide the errant from the inerrant?

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          • truthtangible says:

            It is still literal. Literal is simply not analogy, or metaphor or symbolism or whatever. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong. It is like if you read a bad history account. It is literal, it is just wrong.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            OK, that’s much clearer – hey, I’m still on my first cup of coffee here, I’m doing the best I can!

            Liked by 1 person

  9. […] the case for a literal interpretation of Genesis (maasaiboys.wordpress.com) […]

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  10. Sonel says:

    The Genesis Story Retold…

    And God populated the earth with broccoli and cauliflower and
    spinach, green and yellow vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

    And Satan created McDonald’s. And McDonald’s brought forth the 99-cent double cheeseburger. And Satan said to Man, “You want fries with that?” And Man said, “Super-size them,” and Man gained pounds.

    And God created the healthful yogurt, that Woman might keep her figure that Man found so fair. And Satan froze the yogurt, and he brought forth chocolate, nuts, and brightly colored sprinkle candy to put on the yogurt. And Woman gained pounds.

    And God said, “Try my crispy fresh salad.” And Satan brought forth creamy dressings, bacon bits, and shredded cheese. And there was ice cream for dessert. And Woman gained pounds.

    And God said, “I have sent you heart healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them.” And Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained pounds and his bad cholesterol went through the roof.

    And God brought forth running shoes and Man resolved to lose those extra pounds. And Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil to change the channels between ESPN and ESPN2. And Man gained pounds.

    And God said, “You’re running up the score, Satan.”

    And God brought forth the potato, a vegetable naturally low in fat and brimming with nutrition. And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fried them. And he created sour cream dip also. And Man clutched his remote control and ate potato chips swaddled in cholesterol. And Satan saw and said, “It is good.” And Man went into cardiac arrest.

    And God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.

    And Satan chuckled and created Government Hospitals.

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  11. shelldigger says:

    I always enjoy the way you posit your arguments Mak. They make sense.

    Unlike creationist apologetics.

    Sonel, I’d nominate you for a Nobel, but someone I know might get miffed! I’m too slow moving these days to be dodging lightning bolts.

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  12. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Here, Sonel – one for the fridge door —

    My Appetite is My Shepherd

    My appetite is my shepherd; I always want.
    It maketh me to sit down and stuff myself.
    It leadeth me to my refrigerator repeatedly.
    It leadeth me in the path of Burger King for a Whopper.
    It destroyeth my shape.
    Yea, though I knoweth I gaineth, I will not stop eating for the food tasteth so good.
    The ice cream and the cookies, they comfort me.
    When the table is spread before me, it exciteth me for I knoweth that I soon shall dig in.
    As I filleth my plate continuously, My clothes runneth smaller.
    Surely bulges and pudgies shall follow me all the days of my life.
    And I shall be “pleasingly plump” forever.

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  13. It seems to me that linguistic theory is being completely ignored in this piece by the author of the blog post. When it comes to the Tanakh or Old Testament, it was written as an abjad, originally, which means that it was a consonantal text, with few vowels. Here’s a description from Wikipedia:

    “The original writing system of the Hebrew text was an abjad: consonants written with some applied vowel letters (“matres lectionis”). During the early Middle Ages scholars known as the Masoretes created a single formalized system of vocalization. This was chiefly done by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, in the Tiberias school, based on the oral tradition for reading the Tanakh, hence the name Tiberian vocalization. It also included some innovations of Ben Naftali and the Babylonian exiles.[7] Despite the comparatively late process of codification, some traditional sources and some Orthodox Jews hold the pronunciation and cantillation to derive from the revelation at Sinai, since it is impossible to read the original text without pronunciations and cantillation pauses.[8] The combination of a text (מקרא miqra), pronunciation (ניקוד niqqud) and cantillation (טעמים te`amim) enable the reader to understand both the simple meaning and the nuances in sentence flow of the text.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanakh#Language_and_pronunciation)

    So, it seems nearly impossible, truly, to interpret the text literally. It’s all dependent upon one’s translation model employed. Furthermore, how can one use a modern usage for language, in concretizing it, whereas the concept of the ancient Israelites for language was a much greater language flux with regard to word usage?

    How can we apply concrete notions to words and ideas that were for the most part by their very nature fluid? How is that possible? I’m not sure I understand what the atheist’s argument is for reading the Old Testament literally. There is not such argument, if one understands linguistic theory. It seems to me that those atheists who want to read the Bible literally are committing the same error that fundamentalist Christians commit, which leads to a great deal of conflict.

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  14. chicagoja says:

    Origen would disagree with you.

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    • makagutu says:

      How would Origen want us read the good book?

      Like

      • chicagoja says:

        Origen said that the Creation story was allegorical. One of his quotes on the subject was: “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”

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        • makagutu says:

          Oh i love that.
          I have no sides on how the bible should be read as long as its readers do not insist that it represents reality or should be used as a guide to legislation.

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          • chicagoja says:

            I have reason to believe that parts of the Creation Story in Genesis are based on historical events which have been misunderstood or reinterpreted. The patriarch of the Israelites was Abraham, of course, and the Bible tells us that he came from the city of Ur; that makes him a Sumerian. The Old Testament wasn’t written down until 500 BC and before that it was passed on from generation to generation via oral tradition – and that oral tradition came from Sumeria and you can read all about it by researching Sumerian texts, especially “The Seven Tablets of Creation” from which the Genesis story was borrowed (as the Sumerian texts are 2,000 years older than the Old Testament). There’s also a number of books that have been published about the Sumerian texts which the academic community, among others, has tried their best to suppress.

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          • makagutu says:

            I like this. Which parts of the story would you consider historical in the creation story?

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          • chicagoja says:

            The Genesis story of the creation of mankind (as the names Adam and Eve are not names as we know them, but rather designations/titles which mean mankind) is based on real events. The Genesis story of the creation of man was not the very first creation (as religion states) but a subsequent genetic manipulation by the Sumerian “gods”. The story was written down by the Sumerians in “The Seven Tablets of Creation” where the creation story is detailed in the first six tablets and the seventh tablet is about praising the gods. In the Genesis story, everyone is familiar with the six days of creation followed by the Sabbath which is copied directly from “The Seven Tablets of Creation”.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            Do you have a link to those tablets, JA, if so, I’d love to have it.

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          • makagutu says:

            Makes two of us

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          • chicagoja says:

            There are all sorts of links on the internet plus books that have been written about it over the last 120 years. Suggest you just google it.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            ChicagoJA – you’re slightly mistaken – granted, Genesis does say that Abe came from UR, but it doesn’t say when, and that’s important. When I first began researching the Bible, I hunted everywhere for Abe’s birthdate – I wanted to feel free to send him a card – and no one seems to know. I found numbers that ranged from 1750 to 2350 BCE.

            That’s important, because the Sumerians ruled Mesopotamia for 4000 years, until, as I mentioned on Nan’s blog last night, after you posted the above, then the Akkadians filtered in and took over around 2600 BCE, after which, the Sumerian language, for all practical purposes, died out (it was used only for religious ceremonies by the surviving Sumerians, just as Egyptian is now used only in Egyptian Coptic churches), followed by the Amurrites, around 500 years after that.

            The Jewish Encyclopedia gives the most reliable date (since we’re talking about a fictional character, it’s kinda like trying to determine when Superman was born), and that would place him on the border, timewise, between the Akkadian and Amurrite occupations of the Mesopotamian basin.

            You’re also right that the biblical stories were handed down orally, for vast amounts of time, but you would need to do some research on the Documentary Hypothesis, to learn when they were first written down. Four sources were used to compose Genesis (spoiler alert: none of them was Moses):
            • the Yahwist (J) Source, writing in the Southern Jewish Kingdom of Judea about 950 BCE,
            • the Eloist (E) Source, writing in the Northern Jewish Kingdom of Israel about 850 BCE,
            • the Priestly (P) Source, writing in captivity in Babylon about 550 BCE,
            • the Deuteronomist (D) Source, who wrote only Deuteronomy about 800 BCE
            • the Redactor, aka editor, who pieced the first three sources together like a patchwork quilt into the Torah, about 400 BCE

            The tower of Babel fable was based on the building of the Great Ziggurt at Ur:

            I’ve never figured why this god needed to confuse the language, when all he needed to do was sit back with a cold beer and wait for them to build it high enough that the workers passed out from oxygen deprivation.

            And the flood story was based on an actual Mesopotamian flood that occurred in 2900 BCE, when the Euphrates River overflowed its banks to a height of 15 cubits (22.5 feet) – the same 15 cubits the Bible tells us the entire earth was covered above the highest mountains. It covered an area equal to about three counties (red).

            The actual, historical Sumerian king, Ziusudra (see the Sumerian King’s List), escaped on a trading barge, loaded with cotton, cattle and beer. Of course, the story was later popularized by the first work of known fiction, The Epic of Gilgamesh.

            Hope this helps —

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          • Excellent comment. Very informative. Thanks.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            IbtD – you might want to check Nan’s blog, for a bit more info, including a pet theory of mine —
            http://sayitnow.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/born-in-sin/#comment-1002

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          • Will do. I appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into researching topics like this. Apologists must really dislike you.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            Yeah – ain’t it great?!

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          • chicagoja says:

            Great details, but the only point I was making is that the Genesis story was copied from the Sumerian Seven Tablets of Creation.

            Like

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