I have been lead to understand that the creation story of Genesis should be read as metaphorical and not literal. However, there seems to be abundant evidence that the ancients understood the story as literal truth. So, was the story in Genesis intended to be taken as a metaphor for the price of disobeying God or was it meant to be taken as a literal account of the creation of the universe? I guess I'd like to know the arguments for and against a literal reading of the text.

  • If "metaphorical," does that entirely reject the belief that Adam and Eve literally existed and were the first humans to be created?
    – user862
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 18:11
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    Creation stories, surely?
    – TRiG
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 20:39
  • I was looking for something along the lines of some historical evidence either way. Since this seems to merely be a potential point of heated arguments, I'm deleting the question. Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 21:36
  • I think you can't delete your question now that it has an upvoted response. Let's think about ways to fix it instead! Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 23:06
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    What part are you asking whether it should be understood as metaphorical? The "six days"? Adam and Eve? For some peope, the answer might depend on which part you are focusing on. Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 17:03

5 Answers 5


This is a matter of faith, not evidence.

At the time that the text came into existence, it seems reasonable to believe that people treated it as literal truth. But the question of 'intent' depends entirely on your beliefs about the subject of the intention. If you believe that the text was directly created by the divinity, then, in turn, you need to decide if you believe that the divinity wants us to treat the story as literal truth or rather as metaphor. If you believe that the text is a more-or-less divinely-inspired human creation, you then have to ask the same question again about the human author.

You will find all variations on the answers to these questions, argued passionately by their credal adherents.

  • One think to note - there is a difference between whether people treated the writing as literal truth when the writing was created and whether this is what actually happened. For example, this becomes very material when discussing a flat earth. The Bible assumes a flat earth cosmology, yet we now know that the earth is, in fact, round. The same consideration and accommodations must be made with the creation story. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 5:58

The answer could be a book, and indeed the question has spawned several.

One book to consider would be The Genesis Debate. I have not read it, but it does have some good reviews on Amazon. I have read Three Views on Creation and Evolution, and that is why I don't recommend it.

All other books in the Counterpoints Series that I have read were well-argued and balanced in terms of authors from the competing viewpoints. After a presentation of their viewpoint, the other viewpoints critique the presentation. Finally, there is a rebuttal from the original author. This book broke that formula to its detriment (though the final rebuttal was still allowed).

There are 10 authors in this book. Two of them believe in a young earth (literal days), one argued God used evolution, and the other seven held to the day-age. Instead of allowing each viewpoint to critique the others, the editor had the same four scholars critique each viewpoint. All four of these critiquers held to some variation of the day-age belief (three openly admitted it and the fourth made it clear in his writing which side he came down on). Finally, there were two closing essays from yet more authors, both of them being old earth creationists. Fair and balanced it was not. The two one-star reviews voted most helpful on Amazon (and their comments) sum it up nicely.


The question of intent is an interesting one. Some say it has a poetic structure and is therefore not an account of literal history. But to make this argument one has to ignore the fact that all Scripture which follows has the same shape. The structure is not poetic but architectural. The Tabernacle and Temple, the Levitical sacrifices, the histories, all follow the same process of forming and filling. Once this is understood, the intent of the Author is understood. God created the world in a way that was a revelation of His nature and one that prefigured and gave structure to everything yet to come.

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    What about Ecc., the Pslms., Song of Songs, and Prov.? None of these have the same "shape". Clearly there are different genres and genres even change within the same books in some cases. In the Word Biblical Commentary series, Gordon J. Wenham notes that the syntax of Gen. 1:1-2:4 is distinctively different from normal Hebrew narrative prose and believes it is be elevated prose in the form of a Hymn that the text invites comparison with the psalms or passages such as Prov. 8:22-32 or Job 38 (Vol 1, Pg 10). Thus it appears that the "shape" is not consistent from one end of Gen. to the other. Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 6:12

I am for the case that creation account is literal, mitigated by scientific perceptions.

For example, accepting the premises of Big Bang, most of the Universe as it current is was brought about within the first 10 seconds of its existence. In the light of this perception, what is the meaning of an "earth day". Young earth proponents are unable to correlate the meaning of an "earth day", since the experience of time itself is merely the ordering of events.

Many people arguing the genesis accounts are basing their arguments either on the English, German or Latin translations rather than the Hebrew (or when applicable Aramaic). There is no point engaging in such arguments when there exists fraudulent aliasing of meanings between the Hebrew/Aramaic texts and their derivative translations.

Aliasing is when two different messages are comparatively superimposed upon the same medium, the characteristics of the medium makes it impossible to differentiate the instances of one message from the other. IOW, bait-and-switch.

Another argument is about context. Why can't we argue that in His omnipotence, for example, knowing that we would jump into the conclusion of not mixing dairy with meat, the complexity of His omnipotence architected the historical development of the verses to result in that out-of-context conclusion, because His final intention is not the "original context", but actually to dissuade people from mixing dairy with meat. Since, scientifically, it is known that milk calcium discourages the absorption of meat iron, vice versa.

Why can't we accept that the Genesis account is a summary of the Evolutionary development of the planet (and Universe)? By doing so, would it be metaphorical or literal? If I created a process flow diagram, leaving out all the details (because that is what a process flow presentation is meant to do) is my process flow diagram metaphorical or literal? Or simply practical?

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    I didn't ask if the account is literally the truth or not. I asked about evidence of authorial intent. Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 0:37
  • "I didn't ask if the account is literally the truth or not" - Yes, you did.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 5:30
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    "I asked about evidence of authorial intent." - NO, no, no, you didn't. I can't read your mind unless you put it in words.
    – Cynthia
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 5:31

An argument the story is metaphorical, i.e., a parable, is the key message in the creation story seems to be about how man & woman (and their children) create their own world of conflict & suffering through the knowledge of good & evil (which is spiritual death, just as James 1:14 states evil desires lead to death). It also infers a state of salvation by giving up judgments of good & evil (similar to the statements of Jesus about not-judging & Paul about how knowledge of the law leads to death).

God himself creates his world by naming & judging his objects of creation and when man & woman gain the same knowledge of naming & judging they are said to have become the same as the gods; that is, man & woman start to create & shape their own world (destiny).

Even God later experienced a regret similar to Cain, when God regretted his own creation that he originally believed to be "good" but later suffered that it was "evil" (thus sent the flood to destroy the world he himself created).

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

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