In the first chapter of Genesis, it gives us a description of God creating the heavens and earth and it says that on the seventh day he had finished his word and had rested (Genesis 2:2-3), but did any Early Church Father believe that the Creation account in Genesis was allegorical and not literal?

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    Do you mean that they took the creation account to just be a story and that God did not, literally, create a material universe? If so, they would have to come up with their own idea as to how we find ourselves in a physical universe. Or, do you mean that they saw mataphoric lessons running in tandem with God's creation; symbolisms teaching spiritual lessons? Augustine read many symbolic meanings into scripture, but that does not mean to say he did not view the creation as having literally happened. Can you clarify, please?
    – Anne
    Dec 23, 2022 at 12:29
  • Perhaps the word allegorical is a better choice than metaphorical?
    – User 14
    Dec 23, 2022 at 14:27
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    Similarly, it would be good to know the earliest instance of anyone saying the creation account was anything but literal. (Until very recently, why would anyone think of doubting it?) Dec 23, 2022 at 23:41

1 Answer 1


According to this article:

Clement of Alexandria states that "That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: 'This is the book of the generation, also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth' [Gen. 2:4]. For the expression 'when they were created' intimates an indefinite and dateless production" (Miscellanies 6:16 [A.D. 208]). While this might seem like a claim for long ages, other sources indicate that Clement held to instantaneous Creation such that "indefinite and dateless" properly refers to an immeasurably short interval.

Origen, however, is well known, even in Creationist circles, as denying that Creation took six days. "I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally" (The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).

A claim is made for Cyprian in the mentioned article, but the quote is taken out of context. Further reading would be required to determine if he is speaking of Creation taking six thousand years, or if he merely holds the view of many others that judgment will occur six or seven thousand years after creation.

Augustine stated that "at least we know that [the Genesis creation day] is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar" (Genesi Ad Litteram). However, he also believed in instantaneous Creation. This article is worth a read if you desire a more in-depth exploration of Augustine's beliefs.

This article from Answers in Genesis, which is of course strongly biased toward a historical reading of Genesis, affirms that Clement, Origen and Augustine all believed in an allegorical reading, so we can have high confidence that such assessment is correct. Still, it's worth noting that these are exceptions; the majority of the church throughout history accepted Genesis 1-11 as plain history. Certainly it is history steeped in additional allegorical meaning, but Scripture reaffirms time and again that God uses real events as symbols.

  • Given that you say of 'Answers in Genesis' that "we can have high confidence in their assessment," despite saying they are "strongly biased toward a historical reading of Genesis", I am confused. That would surely mitigate against accepting their assessment of those early church leaders?
    – Anne
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:03
  • @Anne, if AiG was claiming that some church father agreed with their (AiG's) stance, then yes, that would be suspect (and is why I'm somewhat cautious about accepting the Catholic article uncritically). That's not what's happening with the AiG article; AiG is presenting church fathers that disagree with them. Why would you expect someone to fake that? It is because they are presenting hostile witnesses that we can have high confidence that those witnesses really are hostile.
    – Matthew
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:15
  • Fair comment, Matthew! But I would suppose some written statements about believing in literal 24-hour-Earth-day creation 'days' could be found in church records. It would not be wrong for AiG to present those, would it? A balanced response would try to collate both sides of the issue.
    – Anne
    Dec 24, 2022 at 17:22

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