I assume that the church for a majority of its existence has assumed a plain interpretation of Genesis. However it's easy to see the church of the last 50 years adopt a more figurative interpretation of Genesis, presumably to coincide with popular scientist's standpoint that everything was created slowly and that human's are an evolved species.

I'd consider these to be tenets of a literal Genesis view:

  • God created the heavens and the earth in 6 literal, sunrise-sunset days
  • Birds, land-creatures, sea-creatures, plants, etc...were all created within this time frame
  • Adam and Eve were the first created people, created on the 6th day, and are the sole parents of humanity.

So it seems like the new popular tenets are these:

  • The "days" in Genesis 1 represent longer periods of time.
  • God guided evolutionary process.
  • Adam and Eve were 2 of many existing humans at the time and were evolved from a common ancestor to apes.

Can anyone pinpoint the person(s) or event(s) within the church that caused it to accept a more figurative view? This is not a question as to whether a figurative Genesis interpretation is right or wrong, but simply to see from where the normalcy of that belief came. I assume it would have happened in the last 200 years so it shouldn't be too hard to find the flagship for this.

  • Your use of the word 'figurative' so confused me that I looked it up in the dictionary to make sure I really understand the meaning of the word. Now your question really confuses me. Please explain what the word 'figurative' means in your head. Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 14:58
  • @gideonmarx Figurative: Departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical.
    – LCIII
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 15:28
  • 1
    See also: How old is old earth creationism?
    – Ryan Frame
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 18:18
  • I assume that the church for a majority of its existence has assumed a plain interpretation of Genesis -- Your assumption is actually quite wrong. This view is relatively new, and became popular after Origin of the Species was published, and even today is a small minority view, held primarily by North Americans.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 21:57
  • What do you say is figurative, the first three points you mention in your question or the second three? Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


I think it's clear that your assumption is wrong, and that figurative interpretations of the Genesis were always common amongst scholarly interpreters, such as for example St. Augustine. At the very least, he thinks that the transgression in the Garden of Eden was in fact of a sexual nature, and therefore the account as it is, is figurative.

Further, we are somewhat well aware that medieval culture in Europe was steeped in allegorical thinking. Even something like a bestiary, a compendium of beasts, would include several allegorical beasts as stand-ins for vices, for specific historical characters, peoples, etc...

To make a further point however, the idea that figurative, allegorical and literal interpretations of the same text were mutually exclusive is very modern idea.



  • The end of Augustine's Confessions gives an interesting interpretation of start of Genesis.
    – user3331
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 18:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .