The topic of whether we should take Genesis 1 to be literal or allegorical can be traced back for centuries. Some like to interject that recent scientific discoveries in geology, cosmology, and biology have forced Christians to change their interpretation in order to find harmony with science. But, is this true? Some of the most well-known Rabi’s and church fathers throughout history have written about this allegorical interpretation– namely, 4th century Saint Augustine, 1st century Philo, and 3rd century Origen of Alexandria.
Let’s set aside any other issues with taking Genesis 1 literally that don’t have to deal with scripture itself. There are numerous reasons why we should doubt Genesis 1 is a historical narrative. It’s not that we are reading an allegorical interpretation into the text (via eisegesis), we are reading the text and coming away believing it’s allegorical because that’s the only way it could internally make sense.
First off, let’s look at the internal contradictions of chapter 1 if we take it to be a historical narrative. You have a supposed account of six ’24 hour days’ yet the sun was not created until the 3rd day which would make the first 2 days impossible or, at best, very improbable. Some people at this point would interject that all you need for a day is to have “light” and “darkness” which were made in the first day, but this goes against the very definition of what a day is: “the interval of light between two successive nights; the time between sunrise and sunset” via http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/day. So, these first two days are either impossible or not 24 hour days.
We can also look at Genesis 1:11-12 to see some uncanny things happening if this is a historical narrative. Genesis 1:11-12 states, “Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.” Now, the reason this is odd is because this verse is implying that the earth “brought” these things forth within this single day of creation. Anyone that knows anything about plantation or gardening knows that it takes months for plants and vegetation to fully grow. This is problematic for the person who thinks these are 24-hour days. How could these plants and vegetations “come forth” in 24 hours? One would have to appeal to some miraculous intervention by God for this to be so, but then that wouldn’t be taking the “literal” or “face value” meaning of the text. I think this is also a good argument that suggests the author wasn’t actually writing about literal days.
You also have an internal contradiction on how God formed both plants and animals. For instance, Genesis 1:20 claims (KJV) that the sea “brings forth” the “moving creatures that hath life” yet, in the very next verse, Genesis 1:21 claims God supernaturally made every animal- “God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth.” There seems to be a contradiction within these two accounts.
Secondly, lets look at the contradictions between the two creation accounts of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 1:24, we have man being created after all other animals. Yet, in Genesis 2:18-19, we have man being created before all other animals. You also have a contradiction between the chronological order of how man and woman were made– man and woman being created simultaneously in Genesis 1:27, while in Genesis 2:18-22 you have man created first, then woman second.
The contradictions alone should tell us to abandon the historical narrative view of Genesis 1. But, we can go further– looking into the literary devices used in Genesis 1 that can make a positive case for an allegorical interpretation. I’ll just quickly highlight a couple that standout:
-the seventh day God rests as a pure act. Meaning, God never actually rests which would be a metaphorical set-up for practicing the Sabbath.
-the sun and moon are commanded to “rule” over the day and night (v. 16 and 18) as if referring to animate people.
-the way the text is written (the constant repetitions of certain phrases and statements) implies a style which is very synonymous to a blend of prose and poetry (simply in how it’s constructed).
-there is some figurative language used throughout including anthropomorphic statements as if God is actually “speaking,” “seeing,” and “feeling” like humans do.
Two last quick notes- It seems somewhat absurd that God would create the earth in six literal 24-hour days when, in reality, units of time such as “hours,” “days,” and “weeks” are merely human constructs to measure time. Why would God use a human-made construct of time to create all of time and matter? It seems erroneous and somewhat uncanny. Also, there is a lot of controversy over the Hebrew word yom which Genesis 1 uses for “day.” And, as i’ve done some research on this word, it seems clear to me that we do not have to take this to be a literal 24 hour day (though it is used for that purpose other times in the OT). Hosea 6:2 uses the same word in the same sort of setting and it is undoubtedly used in a metaphorical way.
- Incorporating Adam and Eve With Evolution (hashtagapologetics.wordpress.com)