Genesis figurative language


So I’m trying not to break forum ban on a certain subject so this is worded in a way that it shouldn’t.

What evidence can I use to support that the book of genesis is using figurative language and therefore doesnt need to be taken strictly literal?


For one, snakes dont talk.



Nit. “Serpent” not “snake”. Might not seem a big deal but “serpent” makes it easier to see the linkage to Revelation 12:9.


Oh wow a fellow diocese of phoenix member!


One would be that there is evidence of poetic features.

For example, it is my understanding that Hebrew poetry uses a lot of repetition to suggest its main themes. In Genesis, there are several things that are repeated: “And God said…Let the ____ [happen]…and it was so.” “And God saw that it was good.” “Evening came, and morning followed, the ___th day.”

Those repeated phrases are poetic features. Among the things they suggest, one is that the main themes of Genesis include that God created the world, that it is ordered, and that it is good.

There is also the interesting parallels between each “day.” This table makes the parallels clear:

[table=“head”]First Triad | | | Second Triad
Day 1 | Day and night (1:3-5). | Sun for the day, moon and stars for the night (1:14). | Day 4
Day 2 | The sky and the sea (1:7-8). | Birds for the sky and fish for the sea (1:20). | Day 5
Day 3 | Dry land (1:9) and vegetation (1:11) | Beasts and men to walk on the land (1:25-26) and eat the vegetation (1:29-30) | Day 6

Under this interpretation, the author of Genesis used the first three days to show that God created three “domains” and the fourth, fifth, and sixth days to show that God created inhabitants for each of these domains. From this perspective, the “days” aren’t the focus but the arrangement of the domains to their inhabitants, and the days only serve as an image to help us see order in this. It’s not the daily sequence that we should focus on so much as the part of creation spoken of under each day, so that we see that they are made to complement and complete each other. If the author intended the days and the sequence to be symbolic, to serve the purpose of pointing to the orderliness in each thing being created for its respective domain, then there is nothing in this text that is incompatible with modern cosmology or the theory of evolution.

The talking snake thing is more relevant than it may seem at first. Talking animals is a frequent feature of symbolic and allegorical literature. It still is today. That is just one more piece of evidence that the author of Genesis was writing in a genre where things aren’t completely literal.

I hope that helps. God bless!


Scott Hahn labels the triads in a slightly different way that I find very helpful:

Triad 1 – time
Triad 2 – physical space (three dimensions)
Triad 3 – physical things/“stuff”

Then 4, 5, 6 are about rulers

Triad 1 – rulers of time = sun & moon
Triad 2 – rulers of 3 dimensions = birds & fish
Triad 3 – rulers of physicality, ending is man who is ruler of all


And a slightly different question. If Genesis is literally true where does the light in day 1 come from since the sun and moon don’t show up until day 4?


I suggest you buy the Genesis edition of the Ignatius Study Bible books.

Very reasonable booklet and the footnotes will answer all your questions.


Fr. Robert Barron has said that the Bible can’t be taken as literal book because the Bible ISN’T a book, it’s a library, with all manner of genres contained therein. From poetry to history. I always feel disheartened when fellow Catholics INSIST the Genesis creation account is literal and therefore evolution is untrue. The Church hasn’t held that view since the '50s, at least.


If you’re talking to a believing Catholic, you can cite the Catechism.CCC#390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language…


Funny, I feel the opposite. If its not a true literal event then someone forgot to tell Jesus so he would not have embarrassed himself (and hence, shown that he was not really God) by speaking as if its true.

Must be what all the “INSISTING” is about… 'cause it kind of makes the whole entire thing a clear sham and waste of time if it were not literal.


Where did Jesus discuss the creation story?


Even Saint Augustine in the 4th century didn’t take Genesis literally if I’m correct. That’s what fundamentalists and militant atheists don’t understand; they have no sense of context.


This is the tack I’d take. Shaolen’s interlocutor might not be willing to accept Augustine’s “The Literal Meaning of Genesis”, though.

p.s., Shaolen: your PM inbox is full. :wink:


First. The book of Genesis has 50 chapters. Wow! That is way over my white hairs.

Second. Figurative language does not necessarily absolutely mean that it is telling a lie.

Personally, I think that the reason Satan is pictured as a snake in the grass is because the Halloween costume with the red horns and cute red tail had not yet been invented.

I do not do Noah and following which means you need only to study the first three chapters in Genesis. So, if you would kindly give me some figurative language verses, we can together check to see if there is “literal” truth


Incorrect. Why was Jesus born? Why did He have to die as a Sacrifice?

“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).”



The Catholic Church has held that Genesis 1: 1 is literal truth since the beginning and it is still teaching that Genesis 1:1 is literal truth. In fact, those who attend Sunday Holy Sacrifice of the Mass profess that belief in the Creed which everyone says out loud.


He has quoted it.


The Catholic Church has held that Genesis 1: 1 is literal truth since the beginning and it is still teaching that Genesis 1:1 is literal truth. In fact, those who attend Sunday Holy Sacrifice of the Mass profess that belief in the Creed which everyone says out loud.


Not all truth is expressed in the mode of historical facts taken literally. Parts of Genesis – although they are expressions of the truth – are nevertheless truth that is expressed through the mode of allegory. The Catechism affirms this.

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