Bats and the Bible

From Issue: Discovery 10/1/2000

Does the Bible have ”bats in the belfry” when it comes to bats? Some critics of the Bible think so.

In the Old Testament, we find lists of clean and unclean animals. The unclean kinds could not be eaten, and were not fit for sacrifice. Camels, hares, mice, and lizards are just some of the four-legged varieties mentioned by name. Feathered no-no’s included eagles, vultures, ostriches, and owls. At the very end of the list we find bats (Leviticus 11:13- 19). Yes, that’s right, bats! What are bats doing in a list of birds? Everyone knows that bats are mammals, not birds. For a start, bats have fur, not feathers. And instead of laying eggs, bats give birth to live young.

How could the Bible have gotten it so wrong?

This must be a mistake, and if it is a mistake, then the Bible cannot be trusted to get its facts right. An all-knowing God wouldn’t have made such a simple mistake, so the Bible must be the shoddy work of ignorant men, right?

Wrong! The fact is, scientists classify living things by a system invented barely three hundred years ago. Moses received the laws on clean and unclean animals over three thousand years ago.

Leviticus chapter 11, for instance, lists creatures by the way they move: first four-legged animals, then swimming animals, then animals with wings and, finally, animals that crawl or creep. Is there some­ thing wrong with this classification scheme? No, it’s just a different way of doing it.

In fact, many times we don’t follow the modern scientific way of classifying plants and animals. If you go into the grocery store, you will find tomatoes in the vegetable section but, scientifically speaking, a tomato is a fruit. Should we jump up and down and complain to the produce manager that the tomatoes are in the wrong place? No, because we tend to use tomatoes differently from apples and oranges.

One last point. Most of our English Bibles use the word ”bird” in Leviticus 11:13. This is not the best translation. In the original Hebrew language, Moses used a word that meant any kind of creature with wings. So, you see, the Bible’s not so batty after all.


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