|Does the Bible wrongly call the bat a "bird"?|
Lev. 11:13, 19 And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls...And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. (See also Deut. 14:11, 18)
Is there a biological error here? Aren't bats mammals, not birds?
Let's start with the simple answer. Obviously, Linnean classification was not available in the time of the writing of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and the scientific definition of what a "bird" was did not exist either. Classification of animals and things was made by different means: function or form. In this case, the word we render birds means simply "owner of a wing", the word being 'owph, which comes from a root word which means to cover or to fly.
The category of 'owph includes birds, bats, and certain insects. It would also have included pterosaurs, if they had been around. Even modern ecologists classify water-dwelling life in a very similar way according to their mode of living: plankton (floaters/drifters), nekton (swimmers) and benthos (bottom-dwellers).
It's similar to refuting geocentrism charges against the Bible by showing that even modern astronomers use terms like "sunset" and "sunrise" without being accused of being geocentrists, so why shouldn't we make the same allowance for the Bible writers.
It is not sufficient answer to say that "experts in Hebrew" chose the word "bird". Hebrew experts aren't experts in animal biology. The KJV chose "bird" and apparently no one sees a need to change it -- though they ought to. I am wondering if those who make this objection are seriously proposing that when the Hebrews used this word, they actually had in mind the modern classification scheme which defines "bird" as a warm-blooded creature of a certain class who had feathers.
Nor will it do to argue that the "Word of God should be perfect at all times and in all circumstances." If this is how "perfection" is to be understood -- if the Bible is supposed to be prepared for our every change in natural understanding of unalterable data -- then all we'd have to do to make the Bible "wrong" is change our terminology on things.
In other words, if the Bible says, "the sky is blue," we can change our definition of what is "blue" and then say that the Bible is wrong. So would it be seriously suggested that the Bible might have to say, for example:
This is what the Lord says: "The sky is blue -- although Joe Padooski, living in 1874 AD, will define this as others would define 'green' and he will call the color in question 'Fred'."
Those who make this sort of complaint don't want answers. The objection has no legitimacy.
What about Deut. 14:11? It uses a different word - tsippowr.
A close look at the word in question shows that tsippowr isn't even related to the list that follows it, except in the most general sense. The word comes from tsaphar, a word that means to skip about or even to depart early (cf. Judges 7:3). The reference is obviously to the sort of bird that skips around on the ground and would be easy pickin's for the peasant diet (Strong's lists the sparrow in its definition).
Such would not describe ANY of the animals in the list afterwards (hence the adversarial "but" in 14:12) and the return in 14:20 is to the more general category of 'owph (owner of a wing) of which both the listed members AND the tsippwor would be part. Note that the two words are reflective of different categories in Gen. 7:14, in the same way that "cattle" are from "beasts".
A reader added this point: Bible critics think so much about the Class level that they forget that according to their own Scientific Classification chart, animals must be grouped by Phylum first. Thus:
Phylum: Chordata: (11:13-19) / Phylum: Arthropoda (11:20-23)
The above (13-19) is the logical, taxonomic grouping of the bat with the bird. Now, we divide by Class:
Class: Reptilia (13-19-) / Class: Mammalia (-19)
With regards to this, Leviticus is in accordance with the Scientific Classification chart.