Why did the Bible categorize bats as birds?

Author: BibleAsk Team

Bats in the Bible

In the modern classification system of biological taxonomy, bats are categorized as mammals, not birds. However, in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, bats are indeed referred to as birds. This apparent discrepancy between scientific classification and biblical terminology has led to questions and discussions regarding the accuracy and meaning of such categorization. In this exploration, we will delve into the reasons why the Bible categorizes bats as birds, drawing upon key passages from the Bible to discern their significance and implications.

Biblical Terminology

The classification of bats as birds in the Bible can be understood in the context of ancient Hebrew terminology and cultural perspectives. In the Hebrew language, the word used for “bird” is עוֹף (oph), which encompasses a broader range of flying creatures, including birds, bats, and flying insects. This semantic range reflects the ancient Hebrew understanding of creatures that fly through the air, without necessarily adhering to modern scientific classifications.

Cultural Context

In ancient Near Eastern cultures, including ancient Israelite society, people did not possess the scientific knowledge or taxonomic systems that characterize modern biological classification. Instead, their understanding of the natural world was shaped by observation, tradition, and religious beliefs. Birds, bats, and flying insects were often grouped together based on shared characteristics such as flight and habitat.

Scriptural References

Several passages in the Bible categorize bats as birds, reflecting the cultural context and linguistic conventions of ancient Israel. Leviticus 11:13-19 provides a list of birds that are considered unclean for consumption, including the bat: “And these you shall regard as an abomination among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard, the kite, and the falcon after its kind; every raven after its kind, the ostrich, the short-eared owl, the sea gull, and the hawk after its kind; the little owl, the fisher owl, and the screech owl; the white owl, the jackdaw, and the carrion vulture; the stork, the heron after its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.” (Leviticus 11:13-19 NKJV).

Similarly, in Deuteronomy 14:11-18, a similar list of unclean birds includes the bat: “the clean bird and the unclean you may eat. You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to the alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner; for you are a holy people to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses” (Deuteronomy 14:11-18 NKJV).

Legal Implications

The categorization of bats as birds in the Bible has legal implications within the context of religious laws and rituals. In the Levitical code, certain animals are designated as clean or unclean for consumption, with specific dietary restrictions placed on the Israelites. By including bats in the list of unclean birds, the biblical authors sought to delineate the boundaries of acceptable dietary practices and reinforce religious purity.

Harmony with Modern Science

Despite the apparent discrepancy between biblical categorization and modern scientific classification, there is no inherent conflict between the two. Modern science provides a systematic framework for understanding the natural world based on empirical evidence and rigorous inquiry, while the Bible offers spiritual insights and moral teachings that transcend scientific knowledge. Both perspectives can coexist harmoniously, each contributing to a holistic understanding of reality.


In conclusion, the categorization of bats as birds in the Bible reflects ancient cultural perspectives and linguistic conventions, rather than scientific classification. Understanding the biblical context and interpretive considerations can help reconcile apparent discrepancies between scripture and modern science. Ultimately, the inclusion of bats in the category of birds serves dietary purposes within the framework of ancient Israelite society and Biblical instructions.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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