How to Answer “The Bible says that Bats are Birds” and Similar Criticisms
by Robert Bently
In an effort to attack Christian faith as a whole, many critics attempt to discredit the Bible. Many of their criticisms are similar and can be grouped into a few categories. Most of the criticisms in one category can be rebutted in pretty much the same way so it’s important that Christians learn how to identify common criticisms so that we can give a proper response (1 Peter 3:15).
One such category is “reverse etymology” (as identified in “Exegetical Fallacies” by D. A. Carson). Reverse etymology occurs when we force our modern understanding of a term onto the original meaning of the term. Look at the following example:
“These, moreover, you shall detest among the birds; they are abhorrent, not to be eaten: the eagle and the vulture and the buzzard,… and the stork, the heron in its kinds, and the hoopoe, and the bat.” (Leviticus 11:13,19, NASB)
Now, everyone knows that bats are not birds and so this “proves” the Bible is wrong, right? Well, bats are not birds according to modern taxonomy. However, when Moses penned Leviticus, Linnean taxonomy was still a few dozen centuries away. As a matter of fact, the word “bird” likely did not even exist yet since it is an English word.
The word translated above as “bird” (“fowl” in the KJV) is the Hebrew word “oph” (עוף) which literally means “winged.” Regardless of how we define a bird today (feathered, egg-laying, etc), the Jews of antiquity were certainly not wrong to identify both birds and bats as winged…