Genesis 1-11 Figurative....but now what?!


Okay, my Religious Studies department is confusing me at my High School

  1. If the story of Adam and Eve was just figurative (they say), then where did original sin come from?

  2. Who or what was the serpent representing in the garden? One of the teachers says that it is representing how this story is a myth. I think it was Satan. Isn’t that what head Mary is crushing under her feet? It would make sense…in revelations it says that Satan was “the old snake”

I will have more questions as the weeks progress on. I am in Scriptural studies required for freshmen…

Thanks for all of your help!!!:bible1::bible1::bible1:


The Church teaches that Adam and Eve are not myths. These were two actual people from whom all humans descended. Adam and Eve are our original parents. This is dogma because it is revealed truth.

There is much allegory and many figures in the opening chapters of Genesis. A religious studies class is probably not the best place to learn about orthodox Catholic beliefs.

I would listen, smile, pass the test and learn about Catholic beliefs from authentic Catholic sources. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good place to start.



It’s not figurative.

“For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]”

Source: Humani Generis



What I heard about these chapters is that it’s more of poetry but actual life events. Not that the individuals mentioned, Adam and Eve, Noah were actual ppl.


oh goodness,

I guess I need to talk to my teacher…
and maybe the department head.





"Real History

"The argument is that all of this is real history, it is simply ordered topically rather than chronologically, and the ancient audience of Genesis, it is argued, would have understood it as such.

"Even if Genesis 1 records God’s work in a topical fashion, it still records God’s work—things God really did.

"The Catechism explains that “Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day” (CCC 337), but “nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God’s word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history is rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun” (CCC 338).

"It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis 1 as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history, even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use.

"Adam and Eve: Real People

"It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. A question often raised in this context is whether the human race descended from an original pair of two human beings (a teaching known as monogenism) or a pool of early human couples (a teaching known as polygenism).

"In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

“The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).”



There are different schools of thought, traditional and non-traditional. I am very much a traditionalist because that’s the position that the Church has held for 2000 years. The non-traditional views, if followed carefully under the guidance of correct Catholic Doctrine can be within spiritually safe barriers, but I personally reject it. My suggestion, if you prefer the traditional view in approaching Scripture and you are required to take classes that teach non-traditional things about the Bible, then just learn what’s required and give your teachers a break because they are teaching ciriculum that’s been given to them. But I highly recommend learning the traditional approach to Scripture and learning the non-traditional as a way to enlighten yourself in the different philosophies to Bible study.


It’s important to remember that the Bible is neither a history book nor a scientific treatise, and those who use them as such are in error. What it IS, is the inspired Word of God. So it’s important to remember that while the stories are important, even moreso ois what they’re saying from God to YOU, today. Now.
The Adam and Eve story- BOTH versions presented in Genesis, is clearly an allegory. (Maybe the word “parable” is better?) That doesn’t mean for a second that there’s anly less value in the truth it presents.
Adam represents the point in Human development at which he, (mankind) has to begin making choices that will affect the condition of his soul. No other of God’s creatures must choose between right and wrong, good and evil, truth or lie, obedience or rebellion. THIS is what it means to be made in God’s image… we have life, and a soul, and the absolute ability to do with both whatever WE choose. And there are consequences for those choices. Adam and Eve failed miserably, because desire of self-will overrode the desire for God. It wasn’t god who separated Himself from them (us,) it was Man who made the choice to turn. Look at the events- temptation- a Serpent- has no actual power. Eve herself GIVES the power to the serpent.
In the story, God says, “you may not eat of this tree…” But when Eve is repeating the command for the serpent, she ADDS to it… to make God even more “unreasobnable.” She has already made up her mind when she says, "God said we may not eat of this tree, or even touch it…" … God didn’t say that. Eve did.
By the time the Serpent says, “Come on, you shall not ‘surely die…’” Eve’s already sinning inwardly. She’s rebelled in her heart, she’s lied. Eating of the “fruit” is merely the result of the sin she already committed… the sin of pride and rebellion, already there long before she stretches out her hand to take. And, naturally, Adam follows, his sin being moral weakness and the abdication of his responsibility as her husband. It was his JOB to say, “NO!” but he failed.
So this “original sin” isn’t so much the failure in the garden, the act of taking and eating the forbidden fruit; it’s the deliberate choice to reject God when tempted… and therein lies the whole of Human concupiscence… our sin nature.
In having to make these choices, in our freedom, we are made utterly in the image of God. That freedom is also the source of our sin nature.


[quote=edwest2]The Catechism states, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language”

LOL…! Consistency, Ed, consistency! You’re gonna confuse the poor OP! :wink:

Here’s the answer the OP is looking for: despite the fact that we have ‘figurative language’ and literary forms like ‘myths’ and ‘epic poems’, the catechism reminds us that they nevertheless “affirm a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”

In other words, despite the fact that the language is figurative, it does describe something real. Original sin isn’t just a made up story, it’s something that really happened to the first humans (whom the Bible names ‘Adam’ (or “man of the red earth”) and ‘Eve’ ("(mother) of all humans"). Did people with those exact names live as our first human ancestors? Perhaps, and perhaps not. But – and this is critical – there were first humans, and these first humans sinned against God; the effects of this first sin are felt by all their descendants.


The Bible records things God actually did. The Church has studied the Bible far more than anyone. Original Sin is in each of us as our own. There is no allegory. An individual Adam sinned.



Very nicely put. I would just like to add that the difference between a traditionalist and a non-traditionalist is this. The traditionalist accommodates the non-traditionalist school of thought though disagreeing. The non-traditionalist wants to convert the traditionalist but can’t. And as you rightly point out, the non-traditionalist will often find themselves walking a tight-rope of internal conflict.


This has nothing to do with being a traditionalist. This has to do with orthodoxy.

Orthodox Catholic teaching is that Genesis uses figurative language to describe actual events, and that Adam and Eve are two real people from who every human being descended.

That has nothing to do with traditionalism vs mainstream Catholicism.



I strongly disagree. While no one is suggesting original sin isn’t real- it clearly is- the story itself is just clearly a parable, one with two versions in two chapters of the same book, in fact, and the logical disconnects in it show it to be so. For example, OBVIOUSLY there were people other than Adam and his family around at the time. Either this is a parable, or God pulled another creation a few miles away and didn’t tell anyone. We see that much from the story itself!
We’re not talking about seven literal days, we’re not talking about a literal snake or actual physical “fruit.” This is pure parable. that’s the only way the narrative works.


I’m convinced that Adam and Eve were real people, the first man and woman God created, but I’m not so certain of some of posters here…


I’m not a strict literalist; yet, I would have to say that calling the creation stories ‘parables’ misses the mark of what the Church is trying to teach us. A parable, it would seem, is simply a story, meant to teach a truth without telling a true story; the catechism defines parables as “simple images or comparisons which confront the hearer or reader with a radical choice about his invitation to enter the Kingdom of God.” I would assert that the creation stories of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 aren’t parables, per se, since they teach true stores (albeit in the medium of figurative language).

One other thing to note: although there are two creation stories (Genesis 1 and Genesis 2), there is only one fall of man story; therefore, your assertion about original sin doesn’t really follow from your claim about ‘two versions’…

For example, OBVIOUSLY there were people other than Adam and his family around at the time.

Why do you make this claim? It seems that you’re vacillating between ‘Scripture as myth’ and ‘Scripture as literal historical truth’! After all, if the point of the story is to tell us, in figurative language, about the sin of our first human parents, then naturally, the conclusion is that they are at the top of our family tree! To think otherwise does damage to the theology in play, here: how do we assess the presence of other humans? Do they not share in original sin? Do they share in it, as if they, too, sinned? Is the sin of Adam and Eve imputed to them through some mechanism?

Moreover, by your ‘other people’ argument, you seem to be pointing to the words of Scripture and saying, “see! there are other peoples in existence! see! it’s right there!” If you want to make a claim for literalism, then it would help to be consistent… :wink:

We’re not talking about seven literal days, we’re not talking about a literal snake or actual physical “fruit.” This is pure parable. that’s the only way the narrative works.

Yet, the questions being asked here weren’t about literal snakes or literal fruit; they were about what the snake stands for and how we should understand Genesis 3. We do not have to resort to calling it a ‘parable’ to see what’s happening here in a theological sense… :wink:


*] The first man was created by God. (De fide.)
*] The whole human race stems from one single human pair. (Sent. certa.)
*] Man consists of two essential parts–a material body and a spiritual soul. (De fide.)
*] The rational soul is per se the essential form of the body. (De fide.)
*] Every human being possesses an individual soul. (De fide.)
*] Every individual soul was immediately created out of nothing by God. (Sent. Certa.)
*] A creature has the capacity to receive supernatural gifts. (Sent. communis.)
*] The Supernatural presupposes Nature. (Sent communis.)
*] God has conferred on man a supernatural Destiny. (De fide.)
*] Our first parents, before the Fall, were endowed with sanctifying grace. (De fide.)
*] The donum rectitudinis or integritatis in the narrower sense, i.e., the freedom from irregular desire. (Sent. fidei proxima.)
*] The donum immortalitatis, i.e.,bodily immortality. (De fide.)
*] The donum impassibilitatis, i.e., the freedom from suffering. (Sent. communis.)
*] The donum scientiae, i.e., a knowledge of natural and supernatural truths infused by God. (Sent. communis.)
*] Adam received sanctifying grace not merely for himself, but for all his posterity. (Sent. certa.)
*] Our first parents in paradise sinned grievously through transgression of the Divine probationary commandment. (De fide.)
*] Through the sin our first parents lost sanctifying grace and provoked the anger and the indignation of God. (De fide.)
*] Our first parents became subject to death and to the dominion of the Devil. (De fide.) D788.
*] Adam’s sin is transmitted to his posterity, not by imitation, but by descent. (De fide.)
*] Original Sin consists in the deprivation of grace caused by the free act of sin committed by the head of the race. (Sent. communis.)
*] Original sin is transmitted by natural generation. (De fide.)
*] In the state of original sin man is deprived of sanctifying grace and all that this implies, as well as of the preternatural gifts of integrity. (De fide in regard to Sanctifying Grace and the Donum Immortalitatus. D788 et seq.)
*] Souls who depart this life in the state of original sin are excluded from the Beatific Vision of God. (De fide.)


I believe this is absolutely correct, and also consistent with the teaching of the Church.


“With respect to children who have died without Baptism, the liturgy of the Church invites us to trust in God’s mercy and to pray for their salvation.” (CCC, 1283)


Trust in Christ and don’t fear or be shaken (cf.Ps. 16:8, PS. 62:2, and most importantly all of Hebrews 11 & 12) - Adam & Eve were not fable, myth or a universalist fiction. They were real people and it should be noted in the original Hebrew text of Gen. 1-2 there is no allegorical connotation (50 cent phrase for representing or symbolizing ideas and concepts) regarding them, the garden of Eden, or the serpent. There is nothing in the origianl text that directs Creation and the Fall as being anything other than decidely real and factual. Original Sin was the result of A&E not obeying God’s commands and breakng the Covenant of Works. Please note that God’s punishment is never the end; we may rightly fear it, yet He graciously provides a way even after the Fall. Now that’s love!

Know that everyone comes to a discussion with certain presuppositions, or agendas from some motivation. What you’d do well to know is whom does your heart serve: God or something/anything else. That’s the dividing line, a black-or-white question with eternal (smoking or non-smoking) consequences!

The serpent was real, and Jesus, the Anointed One (which is what “Christ” means) crushed the sin of man with His work on the cross. The “snake & heel” is a foreshadowing of His work. Satan is not a physical being, though he can operate in the physical realm (cf. Job 1&2). He is a spiritual being who operates in the spiritual realm, which you can see in the sundry passages that detail his spiritual attributes: Peter 5:8; Matt. 16:23; Acts 5:3; and Ephs 6:12. Please . . . read them.

Throughout literature, fiction has often contained speaking animals (Aesop’s fables, Alice in Wonderland) to represent a theme and apply a metaphor. Knowing this history, one might see a talking serpent and be tempted think the whole Creation/Fall/Bible narrative is a fable: wrong. The key in Genesis 3 is the first/primary sentence “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”
and specifically the word “the”. The original text does establishes the serpent as an actual creature, not a reprepresentation of humain traits in animal form. Hope that suffices to quell any fears. I pray you will be strngthened by Hebrews 12:3-7:
3Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth will beceome a revolutionary act.”
~George Orwell


I disagree. Adam and Eve had no job to say no. They had free will. They could choose. Eve told God she was beguiled by the serpent, Adam tried to palm it off on Eve. *** BUZZ *** Wrong answer.


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