What is the meaning of kinds in Genesis?
I have been discussing with my colleagues the meaning of the words kind and kinds that are mentioned in the Creation narrative of Genesis 1:21, 24, and 25. How are we to understand these terms in a modern context? How do they relate to current terms and classifications in biology?
In order to better address this inquiry, the comments will be offered as answers to four related questions.
1. What does “according to their kinds” mean? The Hebrew word translated as “kind” is min, which has the sense of a “kind,” as when one sorts out a collection of objects into various categories. The phrase “according its kind” and similar phrases are used in three contexts. The different contexts are found in Genesis 1; Genesis 6 and 7; Leviticus 11; and Deuteronomy 14. The contexts may be illustrated by the following texts. In Genesis 1:21, we are told that God created creatures “according to their kinds.”* In Genesis 6:20, the text states that animals entered the ark “according to their kinds.” In Leviticus 11:14, the unclean birds include the falcon “according to its kind.”
None of these texts is referring in any way to reproduction, or to whether “kinds” can or cannot change. Instead, it appears that phrases such as “according to its kind” is describing a diversity that is included in a single term such as aquatic creatures, creeping things, falcons, etc. For example, Genesis 1:21 refers to aquatic creatures “according to their kinds.” The text could as well be translated “all kinds of creatures that live in the water” (TEV).
2. Does the reference to “kinds” indicate that the created “kinds” could not change, but were fixed? No. In reality, the Bible predicts that species will change. One of the results of sin was the curse on plants, producing thorns and thistles. How could thorns and thistles be the result of the curse if they had been part of the original creation? The fact that they represent a change is evidence that plants have changed since the creation. The curse on the serpent shows that animals can also change. How could crawling on the belly be a curse if the serpent were created crawling on its belly? Isaiah 65:25 suggests that God intends that wolves should not eat lambs, nor that lions be predators, but that all of creation live in peaceful harmony. The existence of parasites and flightless birds are further evidence that species can change.
3. Can species change so much that new species may be produced? The Bible does not address this question, but it can be explored empirically. First, we must define what a “species” is. The most common definition of a species is “a group of interbreeding, or potentially interbreeding, populations.” There are many examples of populations that are virtually indistinguishable, yet do not interbreed. For example, the European shrew, a tiny mammal, appears similar in all parts of its range, but detailed studies revealed a number of non-interbreeding populations. Such non-interbreeding populations are classified as different species, whether or not a non-expert can tell them apart. Such examples strongly indicate that new species have been produced.
Species confined to a single, small region provide additional evidence that new species can be produced. This is especially noticeable on islands. Many islands have species that are found nowhere else. Examples include the marine iguana of the Galapagos Islands, the Hawaiian finches, and the babirusa pig of Celebes Island. In each case, the most reasonable explanation for the restriction of such species to their respective islands is that they have changed in isolation, from an original colonization by an ancestor that would be classified in a different species.
Then, does the text mean that species can change without limit as in the evolutionary theory? No. The text clearly states that God created diversity from the beginning. Diversity is part of the original creation, with further diversification afterward. There are many independently created lineages, some of which may have only one or a few species, while other lineages may include many species. (A “lineage” consists of an originally created “kind” and all its descendants.)
4. Can we use some taxonomic category to identify the separately created lineages? No. Taxonomic categories are subjectively constructed for the convenience of taxonomists. There is no direct relationship between any taxonomic category and the originally created lineages. Identifying the members of different lineages is one of the goals of creation research.
* Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible texts in this article are quoted from the Revised Standard Version.
James Gibson (Ph.D., Loma Linda University) is the director of the Geoscience Research Institute, 11060 Campus Street, Loma Linda, California 92350, U.S.A. Website: http://www.grisda.org.