Critical Thinking Rational Wiki Genesis

Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It is considered to be an allegorical or mythological account by most rational people, though some Biblical literalists like to think that these events actually happened. Most biblical scholars think the book is a confused melding of three distinct sources and an editor, making it highly self-contradictory. If you are a biblical literalist, those contradictions magically disappear. When citing verses, Genesis is abbreviated as Gen.

"Genesis" comes from the Greek word Γένεσις (génesis), meaning something along the lines of "origin" or "birth". This came from the Hebrew word בְּרֵאשִׁית (B'reshit, literally "in the beginning"). The title is in fact an incipit - i.e. it's the first word that appears in the document (Hebrew בְּרֵאשִׁית, Greek Γένεσις). The Hebrew titles for the books of the Torah are all incipits, while the traditional Greek names (the ones used in English) deviate from this formula.


Genesis runs from the Creation of the Universe™ all the way to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

It's a long one.
  1. Creation Week: Genesis describes the time from Creation to the descent of the Children of Israel to Ancient Egypt. The first chapter of Genesis is about Creation Week, or the week in which God created the heavens and the earth.
    1. God created, in the following order;
      1. The Heavens and the Earth (Gen 1:1)
      2. Light, which he divided into "Night" and "Day". (Gen 1:3)
      3. Heaven (Gen 1:7)
      4. Land (Gen 1:9-10)
      5. Grass, Herbs, and Trees (Gen 1:12)
      6. The Sun and Moon (Gen 1:16)
      7. Whales and "every living creature that moveth" (Gen 1:21)
      8. Beasts of the earth (Gen 1:25) (because beasts don't move, apparently)
      9. (Naked) Male and Female humans! (Gen 1:27)
    2. God gets called, “Elohim” which is plural, when speaking God refers to “we “and “us“. Jews insist it is just a majestic plural and there is not more than one God. [2] Modern biblical scholars theorize that the source of Genesis 1 was actually a litany recited in synagogues after the Babylonian Exile which functioned to unite the congregation in the proper frame of mind for worship. It had, therefore, a Priestly source, as interpreted under the Documentary hypothesis.
  2. Garden of Eden: Somewhat confusingly, a second creation myth begins in chapter two — in reality just a recap of the events described, but worded so confusingly it seems to indicate it's a completely separate story — with God then creating Adam out of a pile of dust, and breathing into his nostrils to induce life (Gen 2:7). God then put Adam in the Garden of Eden, which was probably in Mesopotamia (four rivers flowed through the garden, including the Euphrates). He told Adam not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This, of course, then raises the question as to why the tree was even there in the first place. God then made a woman called Eve out of Adam's rib. Next, the serpent came and told Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Eve obliged, and gave the fruit to Adam. He ate it, and they committed the original sin. God got really mad, and evicted Adam and Eve (Gen 2:24).
  3. The fall: There is a whole theology concerning the "Fall" of man that is bound up with the Genesis stories of patriarchs who lived to be seven, eight, even nine hundred years of age. By the time Abraham rolled around, the life spans had fallen to 175 years. His grandson Jacob lived to be only 147. Moses died at the shockingly young age of only 120. So it is assumed that Adam and Eve were immortal until they sinned, and the longer history rolls on from that point the shorter, on average, human lifespans became as the curse of sin corrupted man. But a very careful reading of Genesis presents something that seems to have been missed, or glossed over.
    1. In Genesis 3:22-23 we read, "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken." Very simply, Adam and Eve were not and never were immortal, and God sent them out of the garden to prevent them from eating of the tree of life and becoming so.
  4. Adam and Eve proceeded to get busy, and produced Cain, and then Abel. Cain became a farmer, while Abel became a shepherd. Both of them offered sacrifices to God - Cain offered what he'd grown on his fields, while Abel slew a lamb. God accepted Abel's offering, but rejected Cain's, presumably because the latter did not contain blood. From now on, blood fetish will be a recurring theme. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy in the wheat field. Cain was exiled, and founded the city of Enoch in the land of Nod.
  5. Nephilim: Some say the "Sons of God" who had sexual intercourse with the "daughters of men" in Genesis 6 were angels, or demons. But loyal angels would never have sex with women, and fallen angels would never be called sons of God. Besides, angels are spirits, and they only obtain bodies for specific tasks, such as wrestling with Jacob. Modern scholarship has "the sons of God" as an earlier, surviving Israelite/Caananite concept of El as head of the heavenly host and Yahweh (and possibly also his wife, Asherah) as children of El, with a level of lower godlings below them. See, for example, Mark Smith's Early History of God.
  6. Global flood: Adam had a lot of kids. Most of them lived for between 800 and 1000 years. An insane amount of incest must then have occurred. Noah came ten generations later, and because every human being on earth except for Noah and his family were wicked, God told him to build an Ark. At the ripe young age of 600, with the help of his sons, he built Noah's Ark. He then put a male and a female (and sometimes several of each) of every single species on the earth, and set off on the voyage with his sons. After 300 days, give or take, the Ark came to rest on the slopes of Mount Ararat, then God tells Noah that every time you see a rainbow its his way of saying that God's never going to try to drown the Earth again.
  7. Curse of Ham: After this, Noah planted some grapes and got drunk. Ham (one of his sons) came along and found him drunk, naked, and sleeping. For some reason, Noah then put a curse on Ham's son Canaan, making him and all his descendants slaves of Ham's brother Shem and Japheth. Some fundamentalists believe this that means Ham was the father of all black people, and use this as justification for the slavery of black people.
  8. Tower of Babel: Four generations after the flood, Noah's descendants tried to build a tower that could reach Heaven. God responded by confusing the languages of all of the workers, and destroying the tower.
  9. The next part is a list of lineages. It's pretty boring, and irrelevant unless you want to know the name of Noah's great-grandson via the lineage of Shem (as Shem begat Aram, then the answer is Uz). Closer examination reveals that Shem dies after almost all his progeny, up to and including Abraham (the only exception is Eber). That's a fun way to spend 500 years after the flood: watching your offspring die of old age before you. The time spans between begats provided in this passage were used by the creationist Bishop James Ussher in the construction of a timeline purportedly showing the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old. (If you're interested in details, it was created on the evening of October 23, 4004 BCE.)
  10. Abraham: The story then shifts to a Babylonian named Abram, who traveled to the land of Canaan with some family. God talked to Abram, and gave him some land, and told him that his descendants were pretty much screwed (confinement in Egypt for 400 years). God then made a covenant with him, and changed his name to "Abraham". This is also the part where God said all boys need to get their foreskin chopped off on the eighth day of their life.
  11. Sodom and Gomorrah: Next comes the "hottest" part of Genesis, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by a rain of fire and brimstone. God didn't exactly specify what was going on there but many interpretations hold he did so because everybody in the cities were gay. Unfortunately God revealed these plans to Abraham who realized that he had a nephew living in Sodom named Lot. Also, the city dwellers had sort of wanted to rape Lot's guests, who were actually angels... BUT, the angels were dudes, making homosexuality the obvious sin in this situation. Somehow consent (or the lack thereof) was not mentioned as one of the problems.
    1. As an extremely considerate and self-sacrificial gesture, the merciful and generous Lot offered to save them from such a horrible sin by selflessly offering his own virgin daughters to be raped instead, but they were too perverted to accept any reasonable and godly solution. Indeed, the Bible proves that this solution could have saved Sodom from destruction, when, in a similar case some centuries later, people that accepted it escaped divine retribution (Judges 19:24 etc). Earthly retribution was needed instead (however, the Children of Israel were still considerate enough to apply collective punishment, as true representatives of God on earth, always ready to carefully and piously enact God's favorite procedures).
    2. Lot took the good people in the city (him, his family, and the two guests) out of the city before God destroyed it. Lot's wife made the mistake of looking back at the destruction, and was turned into a pillar of salt (which was probably worth a fortune in those days!). Then, Lot's daughters seemed to think that the world had ended and attempt to repopulate the world by seducing their dad while he's drunk.
  12. Isaac: Abraham was married to a woman named Sarah who was infertile. So, he instead had a son with Sarah's slave named Hagar and in those days the kid was considered legitimate. However, Sarah hated this kid named Ishmael and kicked Hagar and her son out of their camp and Arab people claim their lineage from him. Eventually Sarah had a baby boy named Isaac. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac at the top of the mountain for no reason. Abraham obeyed and brought Isaac to the mountain, and as he was plunging the knife toward his son an angel swooped down and grabbed his hand. This angel then told Abraham that God was just "testing" him. A ram then conveniently appears out of nowhere, and Isaac sacrifices the ram instead.
  13. Jacob (aka Israel): Isaac had two sons - Esau and Jacob. Esau was big and strong, hairy, and the first born, Jacob was cunning and weak and the second born, hence Esau was supposed to inherit his father's estate and blessings. Too bad for Esau, the old man was blind and Rebecca, their mom, liked Jacob better, so Jacob cooked up some soup and gave it to his older brother in exchange for the birthright. Then, Jacob strapped some wool on his arms and fooled his dad into blessing him as the first born. God seemed to tacitly approve of this, and armed with his brother's birthright Jacob set off to find a wife.
    1. Jacob eventually met a nice girl named Rachel and wanted to marry her, but it turned out he was dirt poor and her dad, Laban, made him work as a slave for 7 years to get her hand. Karma must have caught up with Jacob because on his wedding night he got hitched to Rachel's older sister Leah. So, Jacob went back to work for another 7 years and finally got married to the right girl.
    2. Leah was Rachel's older sister. Jacob thought Rachel was more beautiful, and just wanted her, but he was tricked into marrying Leah in order to get Rachel too. Jacob always loved Rachel more. Yahweh compensated by closing Rachel's womb for many years and making Leah as fertile as a bunny. Rachel and Leah were not only Jacob's wives, they shared grandparents with him, making them first cousins. This wasn't a problem, because Jacob's mother and father shared a grandparent and great-grandparent, making them first cousins once removed. Jacob's family tree forked, but only with one another.
    3. He also picked up his wives' handmaidens Bilhah and Zilpah as concubines.[3] As a result, they have a happy family of 13 kids (for the record, the Octomom has 14): sons Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin, and daughter Dinah. The sons eventually become the patriarchs of the 12 Tribes of Israel, or their touring name, the Israelites. The happy patriarch then gets into a wrestling match with an angel and God changes Jacob's name to Israel (he who fights with God).
  14. Tamar: The story of Tamar is one of those overlooked corners of Genesis...because it is a story about a very strong woman. Essentially, Tamar was a proto-Ruth, but more edgy. She was a Canaanite woman who nonetheless became an ancestor of Jesus Christ and the mother of an heir of the Blessing. She was married to Er, the firstborn son of Judah. But Er pissed off the Lord somehow, and God had him whacked.
    1. Then by Hebrew law, the second son Onan was required to marry her, which he did. But he wasn't pleased with the thought of just being a stud for Tamar, so at the height of his passion he withdrew from her and let his seed spill on the ground (somehow this part of the story has been mangled to the point where "Onanism" is a word meaning masturbation, but it was coitus interuptus instead). The Lord didn't like that either, so he in turn whacked Onan.
    2. Judah told Tamar to hang out for a few years until his third son, Shelah, was old enough to give it a go. But when the time came, Judah balked, and refused to marry them off, probably because he thought Tamar was jinxed. Well, Tamar was not to be denied. She dressed like a whore and seduced Judah himself after his wife died. He didn't recognize her when they did the nasty. Nine months later she had twin boys, Peretz and Zerah. At first Judah wanted to burn Tamar to death for being a whore and getting prego, but Tamar retaliated by showing a few tokens he left behind on the bedroom dresser when he visited her. With his face as red as a beet, Judah finally acknowledged her sons as his own, and Peretz was numbered in the line of Messiah.
  15. Joseph (Old Testament): Joseph, the second youngest was his dad's favorite, and, as documented in the musical, got a special rainbow-coloured coat. His older brothers didn't like this, so they did what most other envious siblings would do; they sold him into slavery in Egypt and faked his death. While in Egypt his mistress[4] tried to seduce him, but when he turned her down she claimed that he raped her and as a result he wound up in jail awaiting execution. While in jail he helped interpret the dreams of his inmates (one got his job back in the royal household, the other got executed). Eventually, word of his ability got to the Pharaoh, who let him out of jail so that Joseph could interpret his dream.
    1. The Pharaoh kept having this dream where there were seven fat cows who come out of the Nile and are eaten by seven thin cows. Pharaoh's priests couldn't figure out what it meant, but God, working through Joseph told the Pharaoh that there would be seven years of surplus grain followed by a seven year famine throughout the Middle East. The Pharaoh realized the opportunity, and ordered all the farmers to give half of their surplus grain to the state to stock up for the famine. Unsurprisingly, Joseph turned out to be correct.
    2. The famine eventually hit Joseph's family back home in Canaan who came to Egypt looking for some food. Joseph recognized his family and eventually reconciled with the rest of the Israelites. Eventually Jacob died in Egypt and the Israelites decided that Egypt was not a bad place to live after all. That is, until Exodus...


See the main article on this topic: Documentary hypothesis

Traditionally, Genesis and the other four Mosaic books were considered to have been written by Moses himself. Although a minority among conservative Christians still hold to this view, the greater part of modern scholarship believes that they were collected in the middle of the first millennium BCE from a number of older sources. Literary criticism and analysis suggests three sources for the original material which was then edited by a redactor. The fact that Moses' death is related in Deut. 34 has mysteriously changed few fundamentalist whackjobs' opinions.

Genesis is typical of the contemporary Mesopotamian worldview, and likely has been strongly influenced by non-Abrahamic religions or myths.

Based on similarities in both the story itself as well as shared cultural worldviews, many scholars argue that the story of creation week in Genesis is strongly influenced by (if not based on) the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish.[5]

Similarities with Enuma Elish[edit]

  1. Order of Creation
  2. "Order" from "Chaos" (The Torah places more emphasis on the organization of things rather than the 'something from nothing' aspect of creation that is emphasized by the Christian Old Testament.)
  3. 6 periods of time before the creation of "man" or of "savage god". In the Enuma Elish, it is six prior generations of gods, not six days, and man is to be slave to the gods.
  4. Concept that man is created in God's image.
  5. Gods are created from clay (the ground) and man from the Gods' blood. "Adamah" means "red dirt," so the Bible seems to have gone for a little of column A and a little of column B.
  6. The strange idea of light being created before the sun.

Similarities with Sumerian myths[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Epic of Gilgamesh

The Sumerian myth and the Eden story share some similar aspects.[6]

  1. The setting: a garden paradise (Dilmun) surrounded by desert, where all is peaceful and no animals harm one another.
  2. Variation of the creation of Eve: in Sumerian myth, Ninhursag curses the God Enki for eating forbidden fruit, then regrets her actions and creates seven goddesses from his semen to heal his seven wounds. One, Ninti, was created to heal his injured rib, and was the goddess of healing afflictions of the chest.
  3. The meaning of the female names; Eve (life), Ninti (lady of life)
  4. Flood myth, with Utnapishtim replaced with Noah and the angry God Enlil (who essentially wanted humanity to stop playing their fucking music so loud) and the sympathetic Ea / Enki folded into crazy ol' Pentateuch YHWH
  5. Gilgamesh finds a fruit that will grant him eternal life, but it is eaten by a serpent before he can try it out

Similarities with Greek mythology[edit]

  1. In Greek myth, after assorted divine fuckery, Zeus takes the secret of creating fire (ie, the gift of knowledge) from man, and the Titan Prometheus, creator of mankind, restores it. For this, Zeus condemns Prometheus to eternal punishment and dicks over mankind, doing the latter by presenting a jar containing all the world's evils to Pandora, the first woman, who promptly opens it. The essential idea that Zeus was a massive asshole seems to have been lost on the writers of the Bible, who made God the good guy in all of this.
  2. Both Deucalion and Noah are commissioned to build boats and dump animals on, ignoring plants and marine life, and also without any sense of scale.
  3. Both Noah and Deucalion get free kids.

Jewish vs. Christian versions[edit]

It is worth noting that the Jewish and Christian versions of Genesis have quite a few differences (as do much of the Hebrew scriptures in general), including the order of sentences and passages, the structure of passages, emphasis on the importance of particular stories, and, in fact, word choice when translating into non-Hebrew languages which can drastically alter meanings of particular verses.

Contradictions and other nonsense[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Biblical contradictions

“”We can start right off with the first two books of the bible, in Genesis.

In the first chapter, God creates Adam and Eve at the same time.

In the second chapter, God creates Adam, and then Adam does a few things, he names the animals, he does this and he does that, and he gets lonely. So he talks to God and says, you know, "I'm lonely". God then says "Allright, I'll provide you with a mate", and then he takes the rib, and creates Eve out of his rib and so on...

We all know these stories. These are two different creation stories.
—Michael Shermer[7]

Most biblical scholars believe that the first two chapters of Genesis actually contain two creation myths spliced together, along with "editorial comments" from the compiler (which some believe to be the spiritual precursor of WikiEditors, since he or she adds meticulous details like lists of "begats", pages of cubit measurements for a boat, and repetitive, redundant, recurring language). Dr. Paul L. Maier, who is himself a believer, puts it as follows;[7]

“”Well, I wouldn't call them contradictions as much as commentaries the one on the other. Again, let's point out we probably do have two different authors here, whose work was blended together then, in an editorial revisioning, somewhat.

Which in itself makes an important point about the fact that scholarly consensus regarding the Bible neither supports infallibility, nor a literal reading, and indeed about the inherently man-made nature of scripture.

Still, Genesis is ripe with blatant contradiction from which the text cannot hope to revive. To name a few examples;

  1. In the first myth, the stages of creation are separated into six days. The second myth does not mention any separation of time periods.
  2. In Genesis 1:6-8, the earth is covered in water. God (Elohim) commands the waters covering the earth to separate, forming land and sea. In Genesis 2:5-6, the earth is dry. God (v.2 YHWH-Elohim) had not caused it to rain yet. He then causes water to spring up from beneath the earth.
  3. In Genesis 1:27-28, God (Elohim) creates man and woman (both unnamed) together, then tells them to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. In Genesis 2:7, the LORD (YHWH-Elohim) creates Adam, then creates Eve from Adam's rib in Genesis 2:21-22. Adam and Eve are not told to be fruitful and multiply.
  4. In the first myth, God gives the man and woman dominion over the earth. In the second myth, the LORD does not.
  5. The first myth contains no reference to a self-contained Garden of Eden where the man and woman must remain. The Garden of Eden first appears in the second myth.
  6. The first myth lacks geographical references. In the second myth, the Editors inserted names of the rivers and lands near the Garden of Eden.
  7. In the first myth, the animals of the sea and air were created on Thursday, while the animals of the land, including man, were created on Friday. In the second myth, man is created before any plants are even created, let alone any animals to eat them.

Because of the two scrolls and the additions of the Editors, Genesis contains many conflicts. The Noah story has many fun examples.

  1. Genesis 6:11 repeats Genesis 6:1. Perfect gods need to state things 2 or more times.
  2. Genesis 6:19 God commands Noah to bring 2 of every kind. Yet in Genesis 7:1 he is to take either 7 or 7 pairs of each clean animal, and 2 of all the rest.
  3. Genesis 7:12, it rained for 40 days, and the waters abate after 150 days and the ark lands. Genesis 8:1-3, it rains for 150 days, and the waters abate after 10 months, the ark landing after 7 months (I know, 7 ≠ 10 in my math book, either.)
  4. Genesis 8:7 Noah sends a raven to find land. Genesis 8:8 he sends a dove to do the same. Modern translations use "then" as a conjunction. But, the original Hebrew Torah makes no such correction for the sudden change in birdspecies.
  5. Finally, the land dries up. Either on the first day of the first month, or the 27th day of the 2nd month. Clearly, conservative math is not a new concept!

Jacob and genetics[edit]

In Genesis, Jacob for some reason wants his livestock to have speckled coats, so he forces them to eat in front of speckled rods (Genesis 30:37-Genesis 30:40);[8]

Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban's animals.

What we learned here is that the external markings of calves can thus be controlled by having their mothers look at markings on sticks when they are conceived. According to scripture, this actually works. However, anyone who didn't sleep through high school biology class will tell you that the coloring of livestock is completely independent from what color rods their parents stare at. Of course, it's best not to take things for granted, so testing should be done as prescribed by the passage. This would make an excellent topic for creationists to make new excuses for, and much joy could be had by all.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Torah Summary & Analysis


  1. ↑
  2. ↑What does Genesis 1:26 say in Hebrew?
  3. ↑We're not saying that this sort of relationship won't work today, but he'd need a lot of stamina and some really willing partners to try it. It probably wouldn't work, unless you call them mistresses instead of concubines, because concubines may require some sort of formal ceremony/registrations.
  4. ↑In case the context, which is rather vague since being a mistress does not preclude one from the ability to seduce a lover that one already has, does not make this obvious, "mistress" here means "owner's wife," not "lover."
  5. ↑[1] Read it for yourself.
  6. ↑A brief look at Sumerian Myth
  7. 7.07.1Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, S02E11, The Bible - Fact or Fiction
  8. ↑

Biblical literalism is the theological view that the contents of the Bible should be seen as literally true and "inerrant." The text is not to be interpreted as allegory, literature, or mythology, and is without fault in its claims; unimpeachably true in all matters. Literalism is the basis of several different pseudoscientific positions, such as young Earth creationism,[2]deluge theory,[2] and geocentrism. Literalism has also been used as the justification for slavery,[3] as well as a justification for racialsegregation,[3]Jim Crow laws,[4] and Apartheid (Acts 17:26).[5]

A belief in biblical literalism requires one to ignore or deny huge amounts of modern science and its supporting evidence, and to replace provable, rational explanations with various versions of Goddidit. Insistence on simple literal meaning also obscures the larger points that the scriptures convey, such as moral lessons or evidence of God's mercy. Belief in literalism often involves an appeal to a "common sense" interpretation of the Bible that anyone can see for themselves, while at the same time promoting an official literal interpretation from religious authority.[3] Even ignoring the hypocrisy of claiming individually-interpreted literalism while promoting an official party line of literalism, other problems of literalism include:

Literalism vs inerrancy vs infallibility[edit]

“”Ah, yes — sometimes the Bible is the word of God. Sometimes it's the word of man. And sometimes, it's the word of two or more men. Sometimes the Bible's literal, and sometimes it's simply symbolic.

—Penn Jillette, in response to Christians who try to both eat and keep the literalism cake at the same time[6]

It is important to distinguish between the related, but separate concepts of biblical literalism, biblical inerrancy, and biblical infallibility. Some are used interchangeably depending on who you ask. But, going by strict definitions for reasons of precision, they are different — many doctrinal bases or confessions for churches and organised sects require adherents to view the Bible as "inerrant" but do not support literalistic interpretations like creationism.

  • Self-interpretation: The most extreme form, this argues that there is a singular true meaning which will be made evident to any "real" believer by simply reading the text. This typically forms an excessively text-literal reading which treats the text as though it were scientific data; all apparent contradictions will be held to be factual and "harmonised" with this in mind. This attitude may regard a specific translation as the only correct one (for example, Jack Chick regarded only the King James Bible as truthful). It is often criticised by less insane literalists as worshipping the Bible instead of God.
  • Biblical literalism: A literalist approach means that one reads the Bible in a plain and straightforward manner, attempting to discern the author or authors' original intent. Biblical literalists believe that the original authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit and drafted scripture in various literary genres and styles of the period. Thus, biblical literalists accept that, for example, poetry and allegory in the Bible are literally true but may not necessarily be written as a historical document. They examine the circumstances of scripture to determine how it should be understood.
  • Biblical inerrancy: This is the basis that the Bible simply doesn't contain any errors. There is a subtle but important difference between this and historical accuracy, as stories can be interpreted as allegorical, but their meanings remain true.
  • Biblical infallibility: The least radical position. It holds that the Bible is an infallible source regarding questions of faith and redemption, but not on questions of science and history. These people may be willing to accept scientific facts like evolution as true.

The actual interpretation of these questions further depends on the various denominations and theological schools of thought.

Other views[edit]

“”They're making the mistake of linking their belief in faith, in their religion, to actual factual tenets. These are not factual stories to be taken as historical events, they're really stories about how we should live our lives. They're moral homilies. What can I personally get out of the Bible for me, today. That's what those stories are about. And to take them literally is; you're missing the point of the Bible!

—Michael Shermer[6]

Many Christian groups, such as the Catholic Church, hold that the Bible is inerrant in its spiritual and moral teachings, but can be inaccurate as far as history goes. In contrast to that position, Biblical literalists hold that the Bible reports true history from Genesis onward.

Some Christians would argue that it is a necessary fact of life that doubting one's own religion and all the things learned from one's family is the most important step one can take to living the life of a model Christian.

Many educated Christians who do not believe in biblical literalism would maintain that interpreting the Bible literally, and therefore giving the genocidal tendencies of the Old Testament precedence over the love and compassion of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, is fundamentally wrong. Some would go even further to say that the center of one's faith should be Jesus Christ, as illuminated by the Bible. Making the Bible the center of one's faith, rather than Jesus and his commands to love and care for humanity, is therefore a form of idolatry, and deeply sinful.

Problems abound[edit]

“”It's mythic storytelling and nothing more. The more we learn about archeology and history in biblical times, the more we realize that most of the stuff in the bible is fiction.

—Michael Shermer[6]

There are numerous problems with Biblical inerrancy.


See the main articles on this topic: Evidence against a recent creation, Branches of science you have to ignore to believe in young Earth creationism, and Biblical scientific errors

The first and most obvious problem with Biblical inerrancy is that science has utterly and completely falsified it where it makes statements about the natural world. We now know that the earth is far older than 6,000 years, that the many species of life developed slowly through the mechanisms of evolution, and that familiar spirits and wizards - which the Bible refers to as though they are real[7] - have no influence on the world.

However, Biblical inerrantists have not gotten this memo and have sent out bands of so-called creation scientists to slap a "scientific" veneer on inerrancy on the Bible and impugn without grounds the integrity of actual scientists.


See the main article on this topic: Pseudoarchaeology § Biblical archaeology

“”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

—Origen, early church father[8]

Here is a piece of historical revisionism. Biblical literalists insist upon a literal interpretation of Genesis: "Genesis 1-11 is factual."[9] Yet a number of Church Fathers, including Saint Augustine, have gone on record as not interpreting Genesis literally, and orthodox Christians were apparently free to disagree on the matter.[10] Had Biblical literalism been so "integral" to the Church in those early days, the body of righteous faithful would have branded those men as heretics, instead of commemorating them as Church Fathers and canonizing most of them. Not even the Reformers took the Bible in the most literal sense; certain Calvinist writers used an allegorical method of interpretation.[11]

Advocates of the Bible as a literal history-book may overlook the actuality of history-writing in antiquity. History as understood in the 21st century - comprising verifiable accounts of events analyzed and interpreted with balance and with caution - hardly existed before the 18th century. On the other hand, ancient history writing largely included:

As a product of the ancient era, the "history" in the Bible texts (as opposed to (for example) laws and prophecies) broadly resembles:

All part of the literary history genre, but little of it literal history.

Biblical position[edit]

“”What has always happened (so far) is that when science has asserted something inconsistent with religious doctrine, eventually the doctrine has changed. It does not happen that some method of religious inquiry is undertaken that resolves the problem; instead, there is a process of reinterpretation. Whereas the early Catholic Church believed that geocentrism was essential to Christian doctrine, now the [C]hurch has found a way to interpret its scriptures less literally. It is to be hoped that the idea of a literal six-day creation is similarly on its way out (as most branches of Christianity have already decided).

—Mark Owen Webb[12]

The Bible does not refer to itself as a unit, nor could it possibly do so, since its most recent books date from generations before certain church councils assembled and winnowed the canon of scripture. The closest the Bible comes to self-referral and claims of inerrancy is, for example, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which reads "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (ESV). Note, first, that "Scripture" in this passage refers to, at most, the old Jewish canon, and second, that it says nothing of inerrancy or any similar concept. Going from "breathed out by God" to "without error in a single detail" is a logical leap made in relatively recent times. Should an omnipotent deity have wanted to establish a doctrine of inerrancy, the passage from 2 Timothy above could easily have indicated that "Scripture is inerrant and should be regarded as fully accurate in every historical detail", rather than making a general statement about scripture (however defined) being "profitable" or "useful".

In addition, the phrase "word of God" in reference to the Bible is a recent and extra-biblical concept. "Word of God" appears in the Gospel of John where it refers to God or to Jesus, not to the Bible or to any previously-compiled canon of scripture.

Biblical claim of potential for error[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Biblical contradictions

“”The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own.

WE AFFIRM that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church's faith throughout its history.

WE DENY that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.
Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy[13]

While there is no Biblical suggestion that the Bible as it was revealed contained errors, there is explicit mention made of the potential for man to add to or take from God's words, or at least his words in the book of Revelation (see also above). Revelation 22:18-19 reads:

“”I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.


If these are part of the original, divinely inspired text, then they indicate that man could potentially alter the Bible; if they are not, they indicate that man did alter the Bible at some point.

Note that no less a theologian than Martin Luther advocated altering the Bible by (for example) demoting the book of Revelation from the canon. About this, pastor Mal Couch of the Tyndale Theological Seminary writes:[14]

Another section, which [Luther] placed in the back of his Bible, included the New Testament works he felt had relatively little value (Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation). With reference to these four books, Luther said, 'They have from ancient times had a different reputation' and therefore should not be included with the 'true and certain chief books of the New Testament.' [...] In reference to Revelation, Luther wrote in 1522 that he could find 'no trace' of evidence that the book 'was written by the Holy Spirit.' In other words, he rejected its divine inspiration.

Biblical canon[edit]

“”WE DENY that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

—Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy[13]

It is all very well to say, "The Bible is without error." But then comes the question, What is the Bible? Since the Bible is made up numerous books, rather than a single unit, which books are literally true is a big deal.[15] The Biblical canon has been anything but fixed. As noted above, in the Apostolic Age there was really no Bible to speak of apart from the old Jewish canon; significant disputes over canonicity were not settled until a few centuries later, and they were not settled by "the Bible," but by ecumenical church councils.

Then at the Protestant Reformation, seven entire books not in the Hebrew Bible were cut from the canon. Martin Luther cut four more (Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation) mostly due to verses within them that contradicted his theological views.[16]

What, then, is the Bible? Were the Reformers right in cutting the deuterocanon? Was Luther right in his cuts? This seems to throw the whole concept of Biblical inerrancy into question by introducing a factor of fallible human judgment. If a book is erroneously included in the canon, literalists are material heretics; if a book is erroneously excluded, literalists are denying the inerrancy of a part of the Bible and hence the concept of Biblical inerrancy becomes useless.

Indeed, as church father Augustine of Hippo himself concluded on the question of biblical inerrancy, in a letter to Saint Jerome:[17]

“”On my part I confess to your charity that it is only to those Books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honour and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these Books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.

The Catholics and Eastern Orthodox answer these questions thus: there is a concept of a "Holy Tradition" that is maintained within the church. Holy Tradition is put on par with the Bible in terms of authority, and the Biblical canon is part of that tradition.

However, the Biblical literalists have rejected this concept of tradition. As the Chicago Statement itself says, "The Church's part was to discern the canon God had created" -- and the Church, by the literalists' own admission, was perfectly capable of going wrong on this. In some sense, creating an errant Bible with inerrant contents.

You can read more at our main article, Apocrypha.

Metaphorical verses[edit]

“”I speak to them in parables.

—Some guy who didn't know the Bible was meant to be taken literally[18]

Some Biblical verses are meant to be metaphorical; some are not. How can a Biblical literalist tell the two apart?

As a special case of the above problem with interpretations, there is a problem with deciding what verses were meant to be taken literally and which verses were not. The Chicago Statement acknowledges that many parts of the Bible are not intended to be taken literally: "A parable, for example, should not be treated like a chronicle, nor should poetry be interpreted as though it were a straightforward narrative."[9]

But what is to be read straight and what is to be read as a poem, allegory, etc.? Literalists (e.g., Philip J. Rayment of A Storehouse of Knowledge[19][20]) claim that it is "clear" or "obvious" what is meant to be taken literally and what is not; in the Chicago Statement this is expressed as support for "genre criticism," or systematic attempts to determine which verses belong to which literary genres.

Unfortunately for the people who claim "clarity" or "obviousness," while genre criticism has shed some light on the matter, there is vast disagreement about what is literal and what is not. An example is the Book of Revelation: while most Christians, including some literalists, view Revelation as being obviously allegorical and using "apocalyptic symbolism,"[19] other literalists propagate New World Order conspiracy theories in which they claim that the Antichrist will soon be introducing a cashless economy, in which people will have to pay for things via an implant that will take the form of "a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads" (Revelation 13:16).

The problem of delineating the metaphorical parts of scripture from the literal ones applies to most any religion with its own scripture, and the tendency on the part of apologists toward moving the goalposts when faced with this problem was notably parodied by Zach Weiner of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Though he does not unambiguously reference a specific religion, he does encapsulate the issue nicely.

Fixity of the Earth[edit]

Take the year AD 1500 as a rough division line. Before that date, no one suggested that references to the fixity of the Earth and the motion of the Sun were figurative. Everybody thought that the Sun went around the Earth daily, just as the Bible says. After a somewhat tumultuous transition period, during which those who thought that it just might be figurative language in the Bible were often in trouble for suggesting that, it turns out that just about everybody -- except for modern geocentrists -- agrees that the Earth is a planet, and that the Biblical language is, after all, not literal. It may indeed have been intended as figurative, but it is difficult to maintain that it is "clear" or "obvious" if everybody, for 2000 years or more (from the first Biblical readers in 500 BC or earlier up to AD 1500, not to mention today's modern geocentrists), thought it was literal.


“”WE AFFIRM that a person is not dependent for understanding of Scripture on the expertise of biblical scholars. WE DENY that a person should ignore the fruits of the technical study of Scripture by biblical scholars.[9]

Norman L. Geisler, one of the signatories of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, expounds on the above position as follows, revealing it to have a political rather than a doctrinal basis, rather like the rationale behind the Conservative Bible Project (complete with scare quotes around experts): "One is not dependent on biblical 'experts' for his understanding of the basic truths of Scripture ... For if the understanding of the laity is contingent on the teaching of experts, then Protestant interpretive experts will have replaced the teaching magisterium of Catholic priests with a kind of teaching magisterium of Protestant scholars." With that in mind, there are at least two problems with this idea.

Firstly, if one looks at this from any sort of rational perspective, one can see that of course the layman needs the help of experts to understand the Bible; if one just picked up a copy of the Bible he found in the wilderness and read it cover-to-cover (something that few will do, and some cannot do) current doctrinal positions are the product of two millennia worth of theological thought, which the isolated Bible reader could not replicate in his own head, even allowing that most of that theology is based solely in the Bible. It is not: one must have at least some background in Western philosophy and the history of the times to do that properly.

Some Biblical literalists will respond to such criticisms by saying "HolySpiritDidIt": the Holy Spirit is said to fill the gaps to enable any person to understand the Bible. The Chicago Statement frames this as, "The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning."[13] However, the Bible itself is the ultimate means of support for such claims, introducing an element of circularity: one still needs experts to tell him that "HolySpiritDidIt."

However, even if HolySpiritDidIt, there is a second problem with this position, at least with regard to the Old Testament: historically, nobody interpreted the Bible independently of a body of experts. Before Jesus's time, the Jews maintained much of their religious law in an oral tradition of commentaries that was only codified into the Talmud several centuries after Jesus's death as a response to the destruction of the Second Temple. In Jesus's time the "scribes and Pharisees" were responsible for debating and teaching the law to the people, and although Jesus denounced the hypocrisy of these experts, he acknowledged (Matthew 23:3) that they taught the law correctly. From the Apostolic Age up until the Protestant Reformation, similarly, in both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy there were ecumenical councils to settle theological disputes and an idea of "Holy Tradition" in the church, independent of the Bible.

There is a third (albeit slightly weaker) point to be made: to suggest that the Holy Spirit is necessary to understand the bible seems to imply that the bible is not literally true after all. Instead, this would mean that the composite of what is in the bible and what the Holy Spirit makes you understand is literally true as a combined unit. But of course, since the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals (as opposed to a world wide broadcast), we are still left with what amounts to individual interpretation of the bible, or at the very least a homunculus fallacy.

Problematic "self-interpretation"[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Biblical contradictions

“”WE AFFIRM that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.[13] WE AFFIRM that the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite and fixed.[9]

—Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

“”The very same Bible — which biblicists insist is perspicuous and harmonious — gives rise to divergent understandings among intelligent, sincere, committed readers about what it says about most topics of interest. Knowledge of "biblical" teachings, in short, is characterized by pervasive interpretive pluralism. … In a crucial sense it simply does not matter whether the Bible is everything biblicists claim theoretically concerning its authority, infallibility, inner consistency, perspicuity, and so on, since in actual functioning the Bible produces a pluralism of interpretations.

—Christian Smith[21]

In line with Biblical literalists' political objection to the idea that experts are needed to interpret the Bible, they hold that the Bible has only one correct interpretation and that this interpretation is self-evident. Contrast this view with the more flexible methodology of higher criticism, which seeks to understand scripture within the historical context of its original meaning to the author and recipients, rather than treating scripture as divinely inspired and incapable of error. Where literalists treat scripture as revelation, scholars employing higher criticism aim to treat it as an historical document.

The Bible itself disagrees with any rigid approach to interpreting it according to some "self-evident" literal meaning.

Genesis 16-17 relates the story of a love triangle between Abraham, his wife Sarah, and her handmaiden Hagar. Sarah appears to be sterile, and tells Abraham to have a child with Hagar, which he does. Some years later, God makes a covenant with Abraham in exchange for, among other things, a child with Sarah.

In Galatians 4, St. Paul assigns an entirely new allegorical or figurative interpretation to this story to go along with the literal one: Hagar's son Ishmael represents non-Christians in bondage to the Mosaic Law, while Sarah's son Isaac represents Christians freed from the law by the new covenant. So according to the Bible itself, at least some parts of it can be interpreted in non-self-evident ways unintended by their original authors.

Fr. John Whiteford, an evangelical who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, had this to say about the idea that "Scripture is to interpret Scripture":

“”Protestants who are willing to honestly assess the current state of the Protestant world, must ask themselves why, if Protestantism and its foundational teaching of Sola Scriptura are of God, has it resulted in over twenty-thousand differing groups that can't agree on basic aspects of what the Bible says, or what it even means to be a Christian? Why (if the Bible is sufficient apart from Holy Tradition) can a Baptist, a Jehovah's Witness, a Charismatic, and a Methodist all claim to believe what the Bible says and yet no two of them agree what it is that the Bible says?[22]

Which rules?[edit]

“”This case is not about who is, or is not a Fundamentalist. It is about people hiding behind a claim of reading the Bible literally, which nobody does anyway. A great example can be found among those who claim to follow every word of the Bible and use that claim to explain their rejection of homosexuality and witchcraft, but have no problem violating equally biblical bans on pork or cooking on the Sabbath. Of course, they will point to a new scripture which extends the prohibition on the first two, and frees them from the second set of proscriptions. But that is an interpretive move and that means that they are no longer literalists[.]

—Brad Hirschfield[23]

The Bible has a great many rules, many contradictory. The only way to know which ones to follow (not eating pork, killing homosexuals) is to interpret the Bible. This means that people extend beyond mere literalism and enter into the field of Biblical criticism.

Theological warfare[edit]

In the best of traditions of internecine inter-Christian strife, Episcopal Bishop Emeritus John Shelby Spong makes the case for dismissing Biblical literalists as heretics.[24]

Claims of Biblical literalism[edit]

Numerous Christian organizations claim to take the Bible literally, although Answers in Genesis rewords "literally" as in a plain or straightforward manner.[25] But this statement cannot of course be true in all cases, since when it comes to what biblical passages Answers in Genesis read in a straightforward manner, they are very picky. Who could even imagine them actually taking Jeremiah 17:10, Psalm 139:23, and Romans 8:27 literally. All three verses, read plainly, imply that God has to search out man's hearts in order to know them. Basically, the Biblical God is not omniscient, though any conservative Christian mother would love for her son to think this (to keep him from masturbating).

The same fallacious claim appears at the Got Questions website, an opponent of everything from carbon dating to human/chimp DNA evidence of the common ancestry all primates share. They interpret Jacob's fight with Yahweh as some type of allegorical bullshit meant to remind Christians that though we may fight God and His will for us, in truth, God is so very good. As believers in Christ, we may well struggle with Him through the loneliness of night, but by daybreak His blessing will come.[26] Yeh right, Genesis chapter 32 is actually better interpreted as a remnant of the Yahwistic source, describing Yahweh as an anthropomorphic figure both physically (Gen. 3:8, Gen. 11:5, Ex. 17:7), or mentally (as when Abraham bargains with Yahweh for the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, or when, during the Exodus, Yahweh, incensed by the Israelites' lack of faith, threatens to destroy them all and raise Moses' descendants instead but "relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened" when dissuaded by Moses).[27] Genesis chapter thirty-two, if anything, is just what it looks like: a story about Yahweh's bad-ass fight with Jacob.


Unquestioningly accepting the Bible or large portions of it can have adverse effects.

While this doesn't disprove biblical literalism, it does make it very bad public policy.

Faith healing[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Faith healing

Many children have died because their faith community believed prayer rather than medicine is what the Bible literally teaches.

For example, the Church of the First Born cites James 5:14:[28]

If any be sick, call for the elders of the church, let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

This community rejects modern medicine but accepts computers and the Internet.

Unquestioning faith[edit]

People who adhere to literalism do not question their religion, tending towards a simplistic acceptance of what they are told. Though frequently literalists claim to have read the Bible, upon questioning it is clear they have rarely thought through the various positions proffered in it, including myriad inconsistencies or evidence that their God is capricious and violent.[citation needed] To hold such a position either requires a low IQ, a lack of education, or an overly developed reliance on cognitive dissonance.

One reason for biblical literalism is the need for consistency to protect ideas that are central to a religious ideology. For example, if one were to take the story of Genesis as being allegorical, then what is to stop that person from taking the words of Jesus and the Ten Commandments as being allegorical, and not the direct word of God? People thinking this way also tend to be the ones who try to find one single flaw in scientific theories such as evolution and declare that the single fault invalidates the entire system (which is a pure Achilles Heel fallacy).

Necessary for salvation?[edit]

The Chicago Statement admits that belief in Biblical inerrancy should not be elevated to the level of a creed: "WE DENY that such confession [of Biblical inerrancy] is necessary for salvation."[13]

However, the statement also apparently contradicts itself by strongly implying that those who do not confess it are not saved: "The following Statement affirms this inerrancy of Scripture afresh, making clear our understanding of it and warning against its denial. We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God's own Word which marks true Christian faith."[13]

Biblical literalists have made clear, both in words and actions, that they have no problem with the idea that those who reject literalism are going to hell, and that any admission they make otherwise is lip-service to orthodoxy that they do not actually accept.

Disbelief in evolution[edit]

The writers of the Chicago Statement went out of their way to bash evolution by saying:

“”WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.[9]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ↑
  2. 2.02.1Righting America at the Creation Museum by Susan L. Trollinger & William Vance Trollinger Jr. (2016) Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 1421419513.
  3. Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975 by Carolyn Renée Dupont (2015). New York University Press. ISBN 1479823511.
  4. ↑People of God: Segregation September 21, 2012 Central Seminary.
  5. ↑The theology of apartheid by Ned Temko (June 12, 1986) The Christian Science Monitor.
  6. & Teller: Bullshit!, S02E01, The Bible - Fact or Fiction
  7. ↑See Leviticus 19:31.
  8. ↑ Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.4, p.365
  9. Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics
  10. ↑Old Catholic Encyclopedia: "Biblical Chronology"
  11. ↑A Study of Biblical Typology (Wayne Jackson, Christian Courier)
  12. ↑Webb, Mark Owen. "HIZMET, RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, AND SCIENTIFIC EDUCATION." Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais 31.90 (2016): 9-16.
  13. Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
  14. ↑Mal Couch, A Bible Handbook to Revelation, page 34
  15. ↑
  16. ↑"Luther's Antilegomena"
  17. ↑
  18. ↑See Matthew 13:13.
  19. 19.019.1Philip J. Rayment on literal readings of the Bible
  20. ↑Philip J. Rayment on exactly what is to be read literally
  21. am by Christian Smith (2011). Brazos Press. ISBN 158743329X.
  22. ↑Fr. John Whiteford. "Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of their Minds"
  23. ↑
  24. ↑Spong, John Shelby (2016). Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy– A Journey into a New Christianity Through the Doorway of Matthew's Gospel. New York: HarperCollins. p. 41. ISBN 9780062363208. Retrieved 2017-10-25. "Christian literalism or fundamentalism [...] is thus nothing more than a 'Gentile heresy.' It is the result of a misunderstanding of the Jewish message, born in the period of Christian history that I now call the 'Gentile captivity' of the Christian church!" 
  25. ↑
  26. ↑
  27. ↑
  28. ↑
Yes an ass spoke, take it literally or go straight to Hell jackass.
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