Genesis - fact or fiction?

It used to be an official teaching that Genesis had to be accepted literally, that there was a Garden of Eden, that Adam and Eve were directly “created” from dust (and rib :)) and that there was a literal Tree of Knowledge, and a snake… and all that good jazz. (Of course there would have been a neat question: “who did the record keeping of the events there?”… but let’s not get into it right now).

Of course it went hand in hand with the command of staying away from that “tree”, and then the talking snake convinced poor Eve to taste that forbidden fruit and the rest is “history”.

These days, however, the winds are a-changing. Believers are not required to believe the literal story, if they don’t want to. But this freedom bings up more questions: “what actually transpired which was the original sin”? If there was no Garden, no Tree, no snake, no apple, no command… then what actually happened? Any explanation? Or is the “original sin” is just another piece of mythology these days?

The Bible must be accepted literally because otherwise the whole system unravels. You can’t call a book the objective Word of God than start making excuses. Unfortunately, this basic logical argument isn’t fully realized by so many Catholics nowadays; even the Pope in one of his past books says that the Flood may never have truly happened. By that logic could not one argue that one or more or all of the Gospels are non-literal?

One thing I find interesting about Genesis is 3:1 “Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.” Therefore animals, before the fall, had some form of reason (maybe the same amount we now have); amd conscience too (3:14)

To me, just take that the essence of the story of Fall occurred, in some way. I think it was C.S. Lewis, or maybe J.R.R. Tolkien who said that certain stories of the Bible could best be viewed as fiction that is true.

From the Encyclical Humani Generis:

In a particular way must be deplored a certain too free interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament. Those who favor this system, in order to defend their cause, wrongly refer to the Letter which was sent not long ago to the Archbishop of Paris by the Pontifical Commission on Biblical Studies.[13] This letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, (the Letter points out), in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.

  1. Therefore, whatever of the popular narrations have been inserted into the Sacred Scriptures must in no way be considered on a par with myths or other such things, which are more the product of an extravagant imagination than of that striving for truth and simplicity which in the Sacred Books, also of the Old Testament, is so apparent that our ancient sacred writers must be admitted to be clearly superior to the ancient profane writers.

And let’s get into it: God did the “record keeping” which is why for the past two millennia or so, Christianity has professed, as part of its faith, the following:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

It has never been an official teaching that Genesis had to accepted literally.

“For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally” - Origen, 225 A.D.

But no early Church Father spoke more frequently and expansively on the topic than St. Augustine (who is also considered a Doctor of the Church):

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” - (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).

“Seven days by our reckoning, after the model of the days of creation, make up a week. By the passage of such weeks time rolls on, and in these weeks one day is constituted by the course of the sun from its rising to its setting; but we must bear in mind that these days indeed recall the days of creation, but without in any way being really similar to them” (ibid., 4:27).

“[A]t least we know that it [the Genesis creation day] is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar” (ibid., 5:2).

“For in these days [of creation] the morning and evening are counted until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were is extremely difficult or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!” (The City of God 11:6 [A.D. 419]).

“We see that our ordinary days have no evening but by the setting [of the sun] and no morning but by the rising of the sun, but the first three days of all were passed without sun, since it is reported to have been made on the fourth day. And first of all, indeed, light was made by the word of God, and God, we read, separated it from the darkness and called the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’; but what kind of light that was, and by what periodic movement it made evening and morning, is beyond the reach of our senses; neither can we understand how it was and yet must unhesitatingly believe it” (ibid., 11:7).

“They [pagans] are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of [man as] many thousands of years, though reckoning by the sacred writings we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed” (ibid., 12:10).

I forget what book, but in one of Ratzinger’s books, he mentions how one of the gospels is not credible or reliable as a source of knowledge, for Jesus Christ’s life.

What you are describing is not the official teaching of the Catholic Church. The “official” teaching of the Catholic Church is contained in its Deposit of Faith.

I don’t accept your supposition. Show me any official Church document that supports your claim that the Church said we had to interpret Genesis literally.

Genesis has 50 chapters.:slight_smile:

Not every verse of 50 chapters has been transformed automatically into Catholic doctrines. By the way, the Catholic Church seeks Divine Revelation in Genesis, especially in the first three chapters of Genesis. I do not know about the other 47 chapters.

Hmmm, Humani Gerneris troubles me, but not too much since its not infallible.

First, what reason is there to regard the first eleven books of Genesis as least literal than the rest of that book? Pius XII speaks of its “simple and metaphorical language”, however, I don’t see how it is simple at all. It goes into great detail about creation, even saying exactly where Eden was (2:10-14) . And if it is metaphors, what do they stand for? How far do we reduce the literality? In dealing with a “people but little cultured”, wouldn’t literalness be far more appropriate in answering "where do we come from?

“This letter, in fact, clearly points out that the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes;”

Verbal nonsense… History is the statement of past events. The events described by the words and sentences either are in accord with what happened, or they are not.

While it is a lot more fun to debate about literal this or that, the proof is in the pudding --meaning Catholic doctrines, As everyone knows, Catholic doctrines mean serious thinking – and who would want to do that.:eek:


The human person is worthy of profund respect from the moment of conception.


To paraphrase couple of priests on the subject:

  1. The story as told in the Bible may not have happened exactly (ie the Garden of Eden may not have been in Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers) line by line. But there is a sensible order to the “evolution” of things in early Genesis.

  2. The idea we need to take away is that God made it perfect, and we screwed it up.

Second that, steve. I’m not sure if this is Church teaching either, but this is also an explanation. The article basically says that both religion and science can agree.

You forgot which book because Pope Benedict said no such thing.

This excerpt from the Catholic indicates in summary form how we are understand the senses of scripture.

[quote=CCC]The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two *senses *of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83
117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85 3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86
  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86

I gotta copy that down, it’s good.

I accept it literally :thumbsup:

There is a special Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition paragrah for the first three chapters in Genesis. It is CCC 390.

For those who really want to know the truth of human nature in the first three chapters of Genesis. Study hard – CCC 355-421.

The “reason” is that the Church, Deo gratias, has acted with great wisdom before the scientific discoveries regarding “evolution”, which is one of the issues addressed by Humani Generis. While some extremist Christian groups simply reject the corpus of scientific evidence as nonsense and declare that God shaped man from dust and woman from the man’s rib, the Church is infinitely more prudent in discerning the delicate boundary between faith and science, and it is in this very complex context that we can understand the wording of the Holy Father.

I have no issue whatsoever in believing that the Almighty creator of the universe could have done all things as described in the first parts of Genesis…however, there are issues that cannot be ignored, evidence that is under the eyes of all, and they cannot be allowed to stand as an exclusive or, otherwise we would make the most grave mistake of letting our adversaries take something that is for the greater glory of God and misrepresent it as sword to strike against His Church. That would be far from wise, and the Church is wisdom.

For the rest, I underscore the post by davidv with the quote of the Catechism about the different senses of Sacred Scripture.

We are not extremists. We acknowledge that “God is the author of Sacred Scripture” and that “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 105). However, we also learn that “to interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words”, and “in order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current” (CCC 109-110).

I have confronted quite a few atheists who strike at us by taking random quotes from the Sacred Scriptures and trying to confront us with the “you take it literally” argument. Truth is, things are far more complex.

Now, there are some truths which the Church teaches as certain:

  • The first man was created by God (de fide)
  • The whole human race stems from one single human pair (sententia 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)
  • Adam’s sin is transmitted to his posterity, not by imitation, but by descent (de fide)
  • et cetera

De fide statements are infallible, and to deny them is heresy.

Sententia certa statements are theologically certain statements. According to Humani Generis and Lumen Gentium, even non-infallible teachings are to receive the submission of mind and will of the faithful. While not requiring the assent of faith, they cannot be disputed nor rejected publicly.

Thus, while one can most definitely discard the thought that anything in the Sacred Scriptures is “fiction” or “myth”, we can state that they are facts, however described in many different ways - just like our Lord revealed the Kingdom of God in many different parables, and it is a fact that the Kingdom is like that, though those descriptions are not literal depictions of the Kingdom.

The Bible has different “senses”, but as the CCC says, they are all based on the literal, and the others can and have been abused.

Statements by SuperLuigi that “the Garden of Eden may not have been in Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers” is pure modernism. Genenis 2:10-14 is NOT liable to some mystical interpretation; look, it even says “the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.”

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