I am reading Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules For Life, and there's this part where he says, with the Bible as subject, that (emphasis added):

It's a truly emergent document—a selected, sequenced and finally coherent story written by no one and everyone over many thousands of years.

I don't feel like the usual meaning I know for "emergent" is appropriate, since the Bible is of course not emergent, but has been around and revered for thousand or hundreds of years.

Since the author keeps saying how useful the Bible is for understanding our morals and our world I thought it could mean that it is emergent because it emerges very often in many fields of interest, but I don't feel like that's it.

On Google's dictionary there's "PHILOSOPHY. an emergent property," but it doesn't really help me.

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    Saying something is an emergent phenomenon is all the rage lately. In your context, when Peterson says the Bible is an "emergent document", he just means it's been produced by many different hands over many generations, but few if any of those "joint authors" had any idea what the eventual product would be. Don't overthink it, though. He's just riffing off the idea that something like consciousness is an "emergent phenomenon" that couldn't be predicted by just examining (biological or silicon) neural networks. Jul 25, 2023 at 15:05

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, dictionaries don't seem to have great definitions for this use of this word, perhaps because, as FumbleFingers noted in a comment, this use is somewhat new. (One could perhaps call it "emergent"!)

In this context, calling something "emergent" means that it arose in an unplanned way, without direction from a single authority. That is why Peterson says that although the Bible is "a selected, sequenced and finally coherent story", it was actually "written by no one and everyone over many thousands of years". The fact that it has now remained stable for a long time is irrelevant; Peterson is talking about how it first arose.

I checked a few definitions, and the closest that I could find was from Collins:

  1. arising unexpectedly or as a new or improved development
  1. arising casually or unexpectedly

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