Saturday, February 25

Misconceptions about Genesis

A misconception can be defined as "an erroneous conception; mistaken notion" or "a false or mistaken view, opinion, or attitude."[1-2] The Bible has had a major influence on Western society. It has influenced art and music, film and television, books and magazines, college courses, among a plethora of other things. As a result of this diffusion, while not contrived, the influence of the Biblical text has led to the formation of various misconceptions about what the text actually says. For example, a more common misconception is that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. According to the New Testament, however, no such claim is presented. In truth, Mary Magdalene is presented as a follower of Jesus Christ, who, aside from her presence at His resurrection appearances, is mentioned only as one of the women "who had been healed of evil spirits and sickness: Mary, called Magdalene (seven demons had come out of her)" (Luke 8:2). Another misconception relating to Mary is that her last name was actually Magdalene. Actually, Mary Magdalene (Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνή) which has been taken by many to refer to Magdala, the town believed to have been located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). When it comes to the first eleven chapters of Genesis, we may also expect to find various misconceptions arise, and indeed, many have arisen.

To note, the title itself, Genesis, comes from Latin Vulgate (a 4th century translation of the Bible), which was itself borrowed from (or transliterated) the Greek γένεσις, meaning "origin." In the Hebrew, it is called Bereʾšyt (בְּרֵאשִׁית), after the words "In the beginning." Of interest, Cain named the first city in our history after his son, Enoch, which essentially also means "origin," though not specifically. In this article, we will attempt to address specific misconceptions concerning the book of Genesis. Note that in addressing some aspects of a misconception, some interpretation may be involved, with the reader may disagree with. Regardless, there are various misconceptions which many scholars, historians and laymen can agree upon, and we will attempt to note when there is open debate about a particular misconception. These misconceptions follow in no particular order, not of import nor of Biblical appearance.

Misconception 1: The garden of Eden was located in the Middle East, between where the Tigris and Euphrates are located today. While this is not out of the realm of probability, there is a low chance. The text of Genesis actually mentions four rivers, and only two of them were the Tigris (or Hiddekel) and Euphrates. Genesis 2:8, 10-11, 13-14 says, "Now the LORD God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good fro food.... A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold... The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of the Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates." People have struggled down the ages to identify where the Edenic garden was located, even the theologian John Calvin. Calvin observed that the description given in Genesis is mutually exclusive with the current location of the Tigris and Euphrates.

The modern Tigris and Euphrates rivers were most likely named after their antediluvian counterparts, as were other features of the post-flood world. When Noah and his family exited the ark, they likely retained the names of different landmarks in their world, and with that world gone, they used names which would have been familiar to them. The global flood would have destroyed the face of the earth. "If most of the sedimentary strata over the earth's surface (many thousands of feet thick in places) is the result of the global catastrophe as creationists believe, then we would have no idea where the Garden of Eden was originally located - the earth's surface totally changed as a result of the Flood. Not only this, but underneath the region where the present Tigris and Euphrates River are located there exists thousands of feet of sedimentary strata - a significant number of which is fossiliferous. Such fossil-bearing strata had to be laid down at the time of the Flood."[3] The location of the garden of Eden will continue to be debated by scholars and laymen alike, but the misconception is often perpetuated that the Edenic paradise was located precisely where the modern Tigris and Euphrates. If we take the context of the entire book of Genesis, however, the global flood does not appear to allow for this possibility. 

Misconception 2: The fruit eaten by Adam and Eve was an apple. Perhaps the most common misconception concerning the Genesis account; this misconception came about for various reasons. The text of Genesis itself does not state at any point exactly what kind of fruit Adam and Eve actually ate. What we are told is that they ate of the fruit of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." Granted, the fruit could have been an apple. Some suggest that it was a fig, based on the fact that Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). We may wonder, however - if the tree was a fig tree, why was it not identified as such, when figs are actually mentioned? The apple, which has become a kind of symbol for the fall of man, is not mentioned in the account of the fall. Greek and Celtic mythology both included an apple, which belonged to a love goddess and symbolized desire. To note, the legend of Heracles (Hercules) includes (as one of his twelve labors) a trek to the Garden of Hesperides. In the legend, Heracles is sent by Hera to retrieve golden apples - which are guarded by the Hesperides Drakon, a hundred-headed dragon. With this background, we may acknowledge two things: 1) the Greek legend may have been based on the historical account of Adam and Eve (although some will suggest otherwise) and 2) the account includes both a kind of serpent, and special fruit. The inclusion of apples in the Greek garden may have contributed to the misconception that Adam and Eve ate an apple. Also, in Norse mythology, apples are considered a divine fruit, and source of immortality.

Also, "When Aquila of Pontus translated the Song of Solomon from Hebrew to Greek in the second century A.D., he rendered 'I raised thee up under the apple tree; there my mother brought me forth' as 'I raised thee up under the apple tree; there wast thou corrupted' - evidently taking the verse to refer to the forbidden tree. St. Jerome, translating the Hebrew Bible into Latin [in the 4th century AD], followed suit, and the idea has persisted ever since."[4] Another possible reason that this misconception has persisted may be due to the usage of the word "apple" in Middle English (11th-15th centuries AD), which was used to refer to all fruits and nuts (aside from berries). Popular tradition has held that the fruit was an apple.[5] Renaissance art (14th-17th centuries) also adapted parts of Greek mythology into Biblical paintings, including the garden of Eden. As Greek legend held that the Garden of Hesperides contained golden apples, this was carried over into the Edenic paintings. Yet another point to consider is that the laryngeal prominence, which is the lump on the human neck found to be more prominent in males - commonly referred to as the male's "Adam's apple." Although tradition has identified the fruit in Eden as the apple, the Biblical text itself does not.

Misconception 3: The book of Genesis identifies the serpent in Eden as Satan. The biblical text itself only notes the serpent as "more crafty than all the wild animals" (Genesis 3:1). Where, then, does this misconception arise from? Before exploring where the identification comes from, understand that the claim is not being that the serpent was not Satan, simply that Genesis does not identify him as Satan. While Satan influences the serpent in Eden as recorded in Genesis (the first book in Scripture), Satan is not identified as the serpent until Revelation (the last book in Scripture). Whether Satan simply influenced the serpent, disguised himself as a serpent or actually possessed the serpent is beyond the range of this article. Conclusively, Revelation 12:9 says, "The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray," and Revelation 20:2 says, "He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (emphasis mine). The entomology of Satan's name was briefly mentioned by Justin Martyr (and early church father and apologist) about AD 156.

Justin noted, "Or he meant the devil by the lion roaring against Him: whom Moses calls the serpent, but in Job and Zechariah he is called the devil, and by Jesus is addressed as Satan, showing that a compounded name was acquired for him by the deeds which he performed. For 'Sata' in the Jewish and Syrian tongue means apostate; and 'Nas' is the word from which he is called by interpretation the serpent, i.e., according to the interpretation of the Hebrew term, from both of which there arises the single word Satanas."[6] Therefore, while Genesis itself does not identify the serpent as Satan, elsewhere in Scripture, he is indeed identified as Satan, "that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan" (Revelation 20:2).

Misconception 4: God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day. Often, well-meaning Christians, when describing intimacy with our Creator, will refer to God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. However, as with the other misconceptions, Genesis does not actually state that God walked with Adam and Eve during the cool of the day. In all likelihood, this misconception is derived from Genesis 3:8, "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden." This scene was post-fall, i.e., after the fall of man. In other words, God is not described as having walked with Adam and Eve in the pre-fall world, and in this reference, when Adam and Eve heard God, they hide from Him. Surely, Adam and Eve shared an intimacy with God known to few human beings, and may have indeed walked with God pre-fall, but Genesis does not mention such an occurrence. The first reference to someone who "walked with God" was Enoch, the seventh from Adam. Genesis 5:22-24 says, "After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away" (cf. Hebrews 11:5). While Enoch essentially "walked with God," it was in the sense of following God faithfully in a spiritual sense.

Misconception 5: Childbirth/sex began after the fall of man (and/or) pain existed before the fall, according to Genesis 3:16. This particular misconception generally arises from a cursory reading of Genesis 3:16, "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe, with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and you will strike his heel." Another translation reads, "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." The misconception is then twofold: Eve would have borne children in pain before the fall, and there was no sex before the fall. As a result of socio-historical influences, many have been led to believe that sex in and of itself is inherently bad. However, that is an unbiblical teaching. Sex itself was created by God before the fall. In fact, the misconception here arises because of the belief that God mentions conception, and therefore, woman could bear children only after sin entered into creation. When it comes to the increase in sorrow and conception, Bodie Hodge noted:

"Consider that Eve not only went through the pain of child bearing during delivery, but she also had to endure the loss of Abel, her own son, slain by his own brother. Consider also Mary, who saw her son Jesus die on the Cross... it would be rare, if not impossible, to find a mother who has not seen her children suffer in some manner, from starvation to sickness, cuts, scrapes, and so on... in a pre-Fall world with no death or its associated aspect of suffering (Romans 5:12)... pain would have been non-existent. So an increase (where death and suffering entered the creation) wouldn't necessarily mean that this pain previously existed, but its mere entrance into the world made for an increase. From nothing to something is obviously an increase. With regard to physical pain, as in childbearing, a similar reading can be applied. Increased pain doesn't necessarily mean pain before. Consider what physical pain is. With your hand, you can touch a surface that is warm and you can detect the warm surface. There is no pain involved, merely sensation. However, if the surface temperature increases, at some point the sensation turns to pain. In the same way, if I were to put my hand between two objects that merely rested against my hand, then I would have sensation. But if the objects began to 'sandwich' my hand and continued to squeeze together, there would become a point where it is no longer mere sensation but pain. Increased physical pain doesn't mean there was pain before, but merely sensations that were useful. So pain wasn't a part of the original creation, but sensation - the sense of touch - was."[7]

Indeed, there are various reasons for the entrance of pain at the fall. An increase in the intensity of sensation, potential design changes (such as pelvis bones for childbearing), and the change from a perfect state to an imperfect state all contribute to this. But what of the misconception that there was no sex until after the Fall? In actually, after creating Eve, God commands Adam and Eve to "Be fruitful and increase in number [or multiply]" (Genesis 1:28). In other words, the first command to mankind was, "thou shalt have sex." This command was given prior to fall the before, indeed, God did not declare His creation "very good" (Genesis 1:31) until after giving Adam and Eve this command. Sex itself was created in God's perfect creation, between Adam and Eve, between "man... [and] his wife, and they [in marriage] will become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Conclusively, the "pain" issue is simply a matter of an increase in the intensity of sensation, and the "sex" issue was not a post-fall "curse," but indeed, an ante-fall (pre-fall) commandment given by God.

Misconception 6: Cain murdered Abel with a rock or club. While in all likelihood the weapon of choice which Cain utilized to murder his brother could have been a rock or a club, the text itself does not actually say how Cain killed Abel. The text of Genesis 4:8 says, "Cain said to his brother Abel, 'Let's go out to the field.' And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him." To note, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac and the Masoretic Text do not have the phrase, "Let's go out to the field." Does the Bible, when speaking of Abel, describe exactly how he was murdered? 1st John 3:12 says, "Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous," Matthew 23:35 refers to the "blood of the righteous Abel," Hebrews 12:24 mentions "to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel," and Hebrews 11:4 says, "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead." It seems as if we do not have a Biblical reference concerning how Abel was murdered.

Where does the "misconception" arise that Cain murdered Abel with a stone/rock? One of the texts that likely gave rise to this belief is found in the pseudipigraphal work, the book of Jubilees (c.160-150 BC). The relevant text conveys, "At the close of this jubilee Cain was killed after him in the same year; because his house fell on him and he died in the middle of his house, and he was killed by its stones. With a stone he had killed Abel, and by a stone he was killed in righteous judgment" (Jubilees 4:31). The pseudipigraphal works, 1st Enoch 22:7 and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs 12:7, make reference to the murder of Abel, but not the means by which he was killed. Flavius Josephus (1st century Jewish historian), along with early Jewish traditions, also make reference to Cain and Abel. It seems as if the book of Jubilees, at least in part, contributed to the belief that Abel was murdered by a stone. Biblically, we may be able to examine a few considerations. After the fall, God "made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Genesis 3:20), implying the slaying of an animal. We see this in Genesis 4:4, "But Abel also brought an offering - fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering." Abel probably used a sacrificial knife (perhaps made of stone), and as Cain had seen his brother use it in action, could have used it, in turn, to murder Abel. Ultimately, we do not know how Abel was killed, as the text of Genesis does not say. Indeed, it could have been a stone or a club, but the text itself does not explicitly tell us.

Misconception 7: The animals on the ark were only two by two. There is a children's sing along that mentions the animals on the ark as "two by two." Popular media in general has also often portrayed the animals in this way. Those who read Genesis for the first time may read into the text the various misconceptions they have heard (including those aforementioned, more often than not), and thus, when they come across a reference to animals entering by sevens, an alleged contradiction presents itself. This is a case where a simply misconception lends itself to belief in a biblical contradiction. But no such contradiction exists. Genesis 7:2-3 records, "Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair [two] of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth." However, Genesis 7:8-9 says that pairs of every kind of animal, male and female, entered the ark. Is this indeed a contradiction? In verses 8 and 9, Moses indicates how many kinds - not species - entered the ark. As they entered the ark, they went in as male and female, simply the orderly manner in which they entered the ark.

Concerning verses 2 and 3, clean animals entered the ark in groups of sevens (7 males and 7 females), and unclean animals entered in pairs (one male and one female). Jewish dietary law has more clean than unclean animals, hence, more animals entered the ark by sevens. Again, there is no contradiction, but a mere misconception toward the number of animals. There were seven pairs of clean animals, and one pair of unclean animals - and both entered the ark in an orderly fashion, as male and female.

Misconception 8: Humans can only live to be 120 years old. This misconception comes from a cursory reading of Genesis 6:3, which says, "Then the LORD said, 'My Spirit will not contend with human beings forever, for they are corrupt; their days will be a hundred and twenty years." Is God conveying that man can live to be only 120? If that is the case, how do we explain the fact that Noah's grandson (post-flood) lived to be 403 (Genesis 6:13), or Shelah (403), Eber (430), Peleg (209), Reu (207), Serug (200), Abraham (175), and Job (140+ years, probably about 200)? Upon closer examination, God is not stating that man will live to be one hundred and twenty years old. Evidently, between the time which God declared this statement and the time of the global flood, 120 years passed. Whether Noah had 120 years to build the Ark is another consideration, as God commanded his sons and daughter-in-laws on the ark with him (Genesis 6:18), implying that his sons were old enough to have married. But his first son was not born until twenty years after God gave the statement, and hence, Noah likely had less than 100 years to build the ark. Regardless, God's decree of 120 years was the limit of years left for mankind to repent. According to 2nd Peter 2:5, during the time which he was building the ark, Noah preached to others, yet none but his family appears to have listened.

Misconception 9: Nimrod built the Tower of Babel. While it is quite possible that Nimrod led the people to build the Tower of Babel, the text of Genesis does not actually state that Nimrod built Babel. This misconception is based, in part, on an interpretation of Genesis 10:10, which describes the cities of Nimrod, "The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar [Babylonia]." As the Bible attributes the formation of Babylon to Nimrod, and Genesis 11:2 mentions the Tower of Babel (and its city) as being built in Shinar (Babylonia), and the location is later named "Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world" (Genesis 11:9), with the notion that Babel is Babylon, it is indeed highly likely that Nimrod built the Tower of Babel (along with others, of course). Again, while this concept can be derived from Scriptural clues, Genesis does not state that Nimrod was involved in the development of the tower Babel and its city. Aside from Genesis 10, where does the concept that Nimrod built Babel come from?

Nimrod has traditionally been considered the leader of those who built the Tower even from Classical times. Flavius Josephus (1st century historian) said, "Now it was Nimrod who exited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, - a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God as if it was through his means they were happy, but ti believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness" (Antiquities This idea is also taught in the Talmud (Chullin 89a, Pesahim 94b, Erubin 53a, Avodah Zarah 53b) and in later midrash (a form of Biblical exegesis), including the Genesis Rabba. Ephrem the Syrian (c.AD 306-373), a Christian theologian, held the view that Nimrod actually opposed those who built the Tower of Babel. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (possibly 8th century AD) also mentions a Jewish tradition that Nimrod fled Shinar, refusing to take part in the building of the Tower. Although early Jewish traditions appear to teach that Nimrod was the builder of the tower of Babel (and he likely was), there is no consensus, and the Biblical text does not state that Nimrod actually built the Tower (and/or) the city.

Babel may have been a Ziggurat much like this (Hardnfast)
Misconception 10: God destroyed the Tower of Babel and the Tower was built out of fear that God would send another flood. The last popular notion which we will explore again concerns the Tower of Babel. What does the Bible tell us about the Tower of Babel? "Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, 'Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.' They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.' But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that they were building. The LORD said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so that they will not understand each other.' So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel - because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:1-9).

There are other references and allusion to Babel throughout Scripture, but this is the account of the dispersion at Babel. At no point does it state that the people sought to build the tower to escape a coming flood, nor does it state that God destroyed the tower. It simply states that the people wanted to make a name for themselves and defy God's direct command to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). Where do we get the idea that God destroyed the tower or that the tower was built to escape a coming flood? According to Genesis 10:32, "the nations spread out after the flood," not before (referring to the dispersion). Note also that nowhere in the text does it state that they did not finish the tower - another popular misconception about Babel, although it is possible. The tradition that God destroyed the Tower is not found in the Bible, but it is mentioned in Jubilees 10:26, "The Lord sent a mighty wind against the tower and it fell to the earth," as well as by Cornelius Alexander (1st century BC, fragment 10), Abydenus the Greek historian (c.200 BC, fragments 5-6), the Sibylline oracles (c.2nd century BC-5th century AD, 3.117-129), and a midrash mentions that the top of the tower had been burnt, the middle eroded over time, and the bottom was swallowed. Finally, in the History of the Prophets and Kings written by the Muslim historian Muhammad ibn Jarrir al-Tabari (AD 838-923), Nimrod builds the Tower in Babil, but Allah destroys it.

Josephus also mentions the destruction of the tower (Antiquities, and it from Josephus where the flood issue is mentioned, "[Nimrod] also gradually changed the government into tyranny - seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!" (Antiquities, emphasis mine). Jewish rabbinic literature also appears to allude to this idea. Although these traditions are found in different cultures, written in different legendary accounts, God's Word does not mention the destruction of Babel, nor does it mention the intent to build the tower as an attempt to escape a possible future flood (also demonstrating a lack of faith in God, as He had promised not to send a global flood again, see Genesis 9:11-16).

There are many others to explore, but it is not the intent to explore the entirety of these misconceptions or possible misconceptions. For example, debate continues over whether or not the serpent originally had legs - one may note that Genesis 3 does not actually state that the serpent had legs, simply that he would crawl on his belly. There are favorable arguments for each view, and through the ages, church fathers, theologians and laymen have been divided on the issue. For example, Henry Morris believed that the serpent did have legs, John Calvin did not. Matthew Henry believed that the serpent did have legs, and perhaps feet and wings, and Martin Luther as well as Flavius Josephus (1st century historian) believed that the serpent did have legs. It is also interesting to note that Genesis never calls the serpent a "snake," but a "serpent." Among this and others, as well as throughout the many books of the Bible, misconceptions have, can, and will continue to arise. Misconceptions are good to face, though, even when we do not necessarily wish to accept the truth or the possibility that our view was actually a misconception, as it would allow for a clearer understanding of the Biblical text instead of what popular tradition teaches. For this among other reasons, it is important to actually read what God's Word says, and attempt to filter out our misconceptions about it in the process.

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at or, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

[1] "misconception." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 23 Feb. 2012.
[2] "misconception." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 23 Feb. 2012.
[3] Ham, Ken. The New Answers Book 3. 3rd ed. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2010. 15. Print.
[4]  Carol Alway, et al. Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. 4th ed. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, 1978. 330. Print.
[5] Macrone, Michael; Tom Lulevitch. Brush up your Bible!. Random House Value, 1998. Print.
[6] Justin Martyr. Dialogue of Justin philosopher and Martyr with Trypho, a Jew, chapter 103. 
[7] Hodge, Bodie. The Fall of Satan: Rebels in the Garden. 1st ed. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2011. 120-121. Print.