In recent years, there have been a number of vocal groups of Christians who view Genesis as either allegorical or simply mythological. This is an issue that has been pressed on my heart for some time, because of the serious implications it has for the rest of the Bible . In this article, I would like to take a look at what allegory really is, and then take a look at Genesis 1, and see if there is any allegorical language to be found.
First, I think that we need a working definition of the word allegory. Dictionary.com gives this one: “A representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another.” What this typically means is that someone could use ideas which everyone is familiar with to talk about something with a deeper, or different, meaning. With this definition, it would seem that the language would have to be specific for allegory to work. The listener would have to understand that what he is hearing is not strictly true, but is being used to convey meaning. Let us look at this passage of scripture, Luke 15:8-10
“Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
This passage is one of the parables that Jesus told to people during His earthly ministry. He used allegory here to explain that the joy in heaven when a sinner repents is like that of the woman who found her lost coin. It’s pretty clear here that Jesus is giving a parable. He even draws a spiritual application at the end so that it is obvious. He simply used an illustration that most people of the time would understand to explain the spiritual aspect of what He was talking about.
Now let us look at the first five verses of Genesis 1, and see if there is any allegorical language present.
Genesis 1:1-5 says“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
In the Genesis passage, do we see any of the things that make something an allegory? Is this talking about an abstract idea? Or is it speaking of a fact? Is there a figurative treatment of the subject, or is it treated as fact? Is the Genesis passage talking about one thing, and meaning another, or does it just speak of the first day of creation?
The book of Genesis is not written in an allegorical style. The “like” word is missing for one, and for two, the figurative language that is used in allegory is also missing. Three, there is a pattern that is used here too. It is evening, morning, number, day. This is definite, something that is not abstract in the slightest. Allegory would never use this pattern, because allegory is figurative in its nature. This language is not figurative, it is literal in every sense.
In addition to this, Genesis never draws a conclusion. It is presented in a straighforward narrative, leaving the reader to draw conclusions. When Jesus gave the parable of the lost silver piece, He drew a conclusion. Genesis never does this. There is no narrator coming in at the end pointing out that sin is bad and people ought to obey God. The narrative just keeps on going. This is not an allegorical style of writing.
As Christians, we are to take God at His Word. A lot of Christians try very hard to deny the Genesis account of creation, by saying that it is allegory. However, as has been demonstrated above, Genesis is narrative, not allegory. The figurative language is not there. This is written as a historical narrative, and it is meant to be taken as fact. Also, as Christians, we see God’s Word, the Bible, as the authority. If we do not read Genesis as fact, if we try to add millions of years to it, or anything else, we invalidate the rest of the Bible. If the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, the authority, and His revelation to us, how can we not take God at His word? If Genesis is not fact, then the whole foundation of our faith crumbles to dust, and becomes nothing. Psalms 11:3 reminds us “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
It’s always best to use Bible definitions of words, and not definitions from dictionaries. If you look at Galatians 4 v 22 – 26, the apostle Paul refers to the story of Sarai and Hagar. In verse 24 he says, “these things are allegorical” (a translation of the Greek word allegoreo). He shows that Hagar and Sarai are metaphors, Hagar is the covenant that God made with Israel and Sarai is the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Paul does not use the word “like”, because he is not using similes to explain the allegory, but metaphors.
If we look at the start of Genesis chapter 1, it does not use the word “like”, but that does not mean that it isn’t an allegory. What we should be doing is asking ourselves if it could be using metaphors that we find in the rest of the Bible. For example, in Genesis 1 v 2 – 5 it speaks about light and dark, and when we look at the Bible we see that they are two of the big metaphors that it uses (for example God is light, his son is the light of the world, Christians are children of light and God’s word is a lamp to our feet).
So could the creation records be understood as allegories – absolutely! We need to spend time looking at its language, comparing it with the rest of the Bible and seeing if they could be understood allegorically.
I understand your point but there is nothing to say that the story of Hagar and Ishmael could not be both true, and an allegory to the new and old convenants. Further, nothing about the book of Genesis suggests it is an allegory. It reads like all the other history in the Bible.
Thank you for your reply. On your last point, it is clear that there are 3 distinct genres of writing in the first four chapters of Genesis: the two creation records followed by the story of Cain and Abel. We may not know what genre each of them are on first reading, however the one that appears to be most like other historical recounts in the Bible is the story of Cain and Abel. Given the difference in style between that and Genesis chapter 1, we should at least ask whether the first creation record is also a historical recount. I cannot agree that Genesis chapter 1 reads like all other history in the Bible.
Well this is America, you have a right to be wrong. 😉 While it does not record the acts of man, it does faithfully record the actions of God. Unless you want to say God did not preserve His Word or that He got it wrong when He inspired men to write it then Genesis 1 means what it says. And what it says is that God made everything in six literal, 24 hour days.