Interpretation of Genesis, literal or allegorical?


#1

Hello all, I have a questions for you all.

The situation is: I’m attending a Christian conference, and there is a certain individual/lecturer that is introducing/teaching allegorical and figurative interpretation of the Bible (Genesis, but generally the rest of the old testament). What is the Catholic position on this? I’ve been told in the past that there are scriptural bases for certain doctrines that rely on a literal interpretation of the Pentateuch. They are also saying both an allegorical and literal interpretation are acceptable, is this true? I look forward to your answer(s). Thank you!

Marcus

P.S. The main speaking points are Adam and Eve, The Plagues, The Great Flood, The Burning Bush, etc. One more question: they also made a point of saying that the miracles mentioned in the Old Testament are just allegorical, and that God doesn’t need to perform miracles, is there a Catholic position on this as well?

(My apologies if this isn’t in the correct section of the forum.)


#2

Why are you attending a non-Catholic conference, especially people interpreting the bible that do not have solid Magesterial support?

Regarding the book of Genesis, I would suggest the Encyclical of Pope Pius XII “Humani Generis” as well as the Catechism sections on Scripture, Tradition, and Creation.


#3

All of the Bible contains Truth

Some of the Truth is imparted in the form of allegories, parables, psalms, etc

Hermeneutics is an old field of study

I don’t think you want to start another “evolution” or “was there a literal flood” thread

The Church teaches that we are free to believe in literal 6-day creation or 5 billion years of evolution as long as we hold that God created the universe.

I don’t think that it would be going too far out on a limb to say that the Church teaches that God performs miracles.
He may not “need” to do so (whatever that means) but occasionally He chooses to.


#4

that it is a dangerous method often leading to an ill formed conscious

I’ve been told in the past that there are scriptural bases for certain doctrines that rely on a literal interpretation of the Pentateuch. They are also saying both an allegorical and literal interpretation are acceptable, is this true? ,

There maybe some wiggle room however again this is a dangerous approach

I look forward to your answer(s). Thank you!

Marcus

P.S. The main speaking points are Adam and Eve,

literal

The Plagues,

literal

, The Great Flood,

literal, however the “world” may or may not be literal it may mean the world as know by Hebrews

, The Burning Bush,

literal, why does that even matter? is his faith so sallow

, etc. One more question: they also made a point of saying that the miracles mentioned in the Old Testament are just allegorical, and that God doesn’t need to perform miracles, is there a Catholic position on this as well?,

It is not a miracle to God it is only a miracle to us

(My apologies if this isn’t in the correct section of the forum.)

The fundamental issue here is the Humanizing of God which is ill formed conscious. The theory is God did not prove to the all important ME that he can burn a bush or take up a man so I remain unconvinced, therefore when he shows ME I will have faith until then -----I am my own god---- So as others mentioned rely on the catechism which was created for this reason.

Good Luck


#5

Based upon Pope Leo XIII Encyclical Providentius Deus we are to hold to the literal and obvious meaning of Sacred Scripture unless by necessity you must depart from it. In the Encyclical the Pope upheld what is also known as the rule of St. Augustine with regard to the interpretation of Scripture.

It is not necissary to depart from the literal and obvious meaning of Genesis 1-3. Some believe that we must depart from it by necessity but scientifically both the age of the earth and evolution are theoretical.

Catholics do not depart from the meaning of Scred Scripture based upon theory. If we did we would be re-evaluating what we believe every few years. In fact, to go against Scripture or Tradition based upon modern theories, not proven fact, is the heresey of mondernism.


#6

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
    118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses: The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
    The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.87**119** "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God."88

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.89


#7

Leaving aside the scientific evidence for the age of the universe, one very obvious for doubting the literal truth of Genesis is that the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 flatly contradict one another. In Genesis 1 the animal kingdom is created first, and then come human beings. In Genesis 2 it is precisely the other way around.

Genesis 1 was written, probably, in the 4th century BC. Genesis 2 was written, probably, in the 10th century BC.


#8

As you can see from Buffalo’s post in which he quotes the Catechism, the answer is BOTH!

However, we must distinguish between a literal interpretation and a literalist interpretation. Here’s an example:

"It’s raining cats and dogs"
Literal interpretation: It’s raining very heavily
Literalist interpretation: Canines and felines are falling from the sky! Look out!

The Catholic Church always interprets the Bible in the literal sense, which in turn is the basis for the spiritual senses (of which the allegorical is one of them).

In regards to Genesis, the Creation account uses figurative language to make a point. Does it mean that God created the world in 6 literal 24 hour days? Probably not. Can you believe that it was 6 literal 24 hour days if you want to? Absolutely. There are certain areas where Catholics have the freedom to interpret a passage in several ways.

Does this mean that there are no miracles in the Old Testament? Absolutely not! That’s stretching things a bit too far.

The most important thing to consider is the type of literature you are reading. You interpret poetry far different than you interpret historical narratives. The Bible contains both. We should not try to interpret the poetic parts literalistically or the historical parts figuratively.


#9

Based upon Pope Leo XIII Encyclical Providentius Deus we are to hold to the literal and obvious meaning of Sacred Scripture unless by necessity you must depart from it. In the Encyclical the Pope upheld what is also known as the rule of St. Augustine with regard to the interpretation of Scripture.

St. Augustine, as you might know, denied that the “days” in the creation story were literal days, observing that it was absurd to suppose literal mornings and evenings with no sun to have them.

He spent a great amount of study and effort to find a way to interpret it as a literal history, but he finally gave up and admitted that it was impossible.


#10

I don’t think that it would be going too far out on a limb to say that the Church teaches that God performs miracles.
He may not “need” to do so (whatever that means) but occasionally He chooses to.

I believe you are right. Obviously, an omnipotent God would have no need to do miracles; He could simply create the system correctly the first time.

It seems that God performs each miracle not from necessity, but to teach us something. At least that’s the case with all the miracles I know about.


#11

Excellant point. As a former fundamentalist this always was a sticking point. The purpose of the early chapters in Genesis was to show:
God as Creator.
How Original sin started.
The first promise of the Christ.
It was never meant to be a scientific account nor a CNN eyewitness account. When you get stuck on that, you miss the point of the account.
Many fundamentalists also seem unaware that much of Genesis is made up of what were originally oral accounts. There are three very noticable oral accounts in the Creation story alone. Moses was not writing soon-to-be-published novel, he was stringing together several oral histories to tell the story of Israel and ultimately the Messiah.
But getting fundamentalist christians to see this is difficult.
I know, I tried for 14 years.


#12

This understanding is incorrect. In the second perspctive in Genesis 2 it specifically refers to the plants of the field and not plants in general. The reason its says there were no plants of the field is because it tells us that the body of Adam was formed from lifeless soil,virgin soil.

Your body was not created to be connected with the animal. You are separate from the animals and the Bible supports this.

Just as the Second Adam came from a virgin the first Adam came from virgin soil.


#13

Gen 1.24-27 “And God sai, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Animal kingdom first, then man.

Gen 2.7-20 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul… And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.”

Man first, then the animal kingdom.


#14

A lack of understanding of the connection and relationship of Genesis 1 and 2 does not negate the literal value.

In addition dogmatically the Catholic Church is not consistent with evolutionary theory because it requires Catholics to believe that all humans came from Adam and Eve, the doctrine on Original Sin and that Eve physically came from Adam.

Multiple parents of humans polygeism is a heresey, but it is believed by many evolution scientists because it is consistent with the evolutionary model.

Eve coming physically coming from Adam is miraculous and can not be explained with evolution yet Catholics are required to believe it.

These two Catholic dogmas rule out a reasonable Catholic belief in evolution. Therefore the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 still holds in the Catholic Faith.


#15

A good source of information on the Catholic understanding of Genesis 1 and 2 can be found at:

kolbecenter.org/

The Kolbe Center has the backing of Bishops within the Church and it dogmatically accurate.


#16

I’m not a Catholic, but I guess that damns the current Pope (not to mention his predecessor).


#17

Evolution is scientific fact. Just because you do not recognize it as a fact, it doesn’t change that the scientific community agrees that it is such. The THEORY of Evolution is still a theory because scientists cannot determine yet the mechanism behind it. Why does it occur?

THE FACT: Evolution does indeed occur and there is overwhelming evidence of it.
THE THEORY: What is the exact mechanism of evolution?

Click above for a more thorough explanation.

The mechanism… God of course. The mechanism behind everything is God. But once science finds a scientific explanation for evolution, and they will, you and many others probably wont like it because you might think scientists are saying that its “Not God”.I

Sorry to break it to you buddy but everything is god, except the bible, that was written by men.


#18

You know… they also have the authority to buy out people when their children are molested by its priests. Yeah… they also have the power to hide it when it happens and turn the other cheek. Great use of power those ones.

Not to mention the millions of people they’ve murdered in the name of Jesus since its creation.


#19

I wouldn’t be here if the kind of people that interpret the bible literally and believe the universe was created in 6 literal 24 hour periods didn’t try to cram it down my throat.


#20

Don’t forget the ‘talking serpent’!


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