This is my contribution to a blogchain that invites bloggers to weigh in on a monthly topic for discussion. This month’s topic asks the question: WHAT IF some or all of the Bible narrative is not necessarily true history, but is myth of one sort or another. What sort of effect would that knowledge have on your faith? What effect might it have on the larger church? How would it change you? Would it change you and how you view the world?
Myth as World View
Myth. If you speak of it in relation to religion, many people run. Why? At the heart, they fear it may threaten the foundation of their faith in the Bible. If the foundation they stand on is shown to be shaky, that brings uncertainty into the picture and they might have to stand on faith instead of stories. Imagine that.
First, let’s de-mythologize the word “myth.” Look it up in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary and you’ll see it’s given two opposing meanings. One is the common belief that a myth is an unfounded or false notion. Yet the other definition says a myth can be this:
“a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.”
When scholarly Biblicists use the word “myth,” this is usually what they mean.
If some of the Bible narratives are myths in this scholarly and italicized sense – then the Old Testament and New Testament are entirely myth. The stories explain both the Judaic world view about God and the Christian world view about God. Myth is a perfect description of any story that comes out of tradition, from your own family stories to a nation’s story about itself. Myth explains why we believe what we believe and do what we do as people of faith. There’s nothing to fear when you understand myth in this sense.
Myth as Fabricated Story
With that said, I presume the question being asked assumes the definition of myth to be an unfounded or fabricated story. What if some of the stories in the Bible are not totally accurate or inerrant – how would it impact your faith?
Having resolved in my mind that the words translated from Aramaic to Greek to English in the Bible may not be the meaning the biblical writers intended for their audiences, I am able to live my life on faith in the goodness of God rather than on the printed words.
Did you read the book or see the movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis? The king of beasts, Aslan, bargained to exchange his own life for Edmund’s. Is this story fact or a fabricated fable? It’s definitely not fact. Yet it’s not an unfounded story either. It has a strong allegorical point to make – God is good. God is self-sacrificial for the sake of others.
If you think it’s just a cartoon presented for entertainment alone, you won’t receive anything other than momentary pleasure. If you believe the underlying notion that points to a God of goodness and love, you can live with greater peace about the afterlife than those who don’t believe it. Non-historical stories like this help children to believe goodness is stronger than evil.
Aesop’s Fables are non-factual stories written to help people live moral and decent lives. They are fabricated stories told for a purpose. Jesus’s parables are not “historical fact.” They are myths, fabricated stories, to teach important notions about God. They are founded in truth without being historical.
Judaic and Christian World Views
My issue with some stories in the Old Testament is that they describe a God who is not always loving. They represent the world view of a nation who had never encountered a representative image of God. If they were correct in their perception of the Creator, it would be inconsistent with their theology that Yahweh would offer his own son on behalf of sinners. This might be why many Jews did not convert to Christianity.
In the Hebrew Testament, the people of Israel explained their understanding of God and natural phenomena in a way that made sense to them. There’s nothing wrong with that. People of all faith traditions do this when bad things happen to decent people. Yet, it seems many Christians of this century assume they must believe everything that the ancestors before Jesus believed was true about God and the world.
The New Testament indicates Jesus came to reveal the truth about God. This does not require us to believe everything the people before Jesus believed about a God they hadn’t seen, touched, or heard.
Religion based solely on the historical truth of its writings requires faith in nothing more than the authors of those writings. If you learn a little about translation and word definitions, you recognize that words can have different meanings – like the word “myth.” Meaning depends upon the one who speaks/writes the words. It also means that translators can choose definitions to fit their own conceptions about God.
Jesus said things that opposed what Moses said. Who are you going to believe? You have to make a choice as to which person was speaking truth.
Jesus is the foundation, the rock, on which Christianity stands rather than the whole of the explanations (factual and/or projected) of the nation from which he arose and the witnesses to his life. You can’t combine a Jewish perspective of God and a Christian perspective of God and get them to match. The foundations are different.
Maybe that’s one of the problems in Christianity today. We stand with one foot in the Old Testament and one foot in the New Testament. Some have made a choice to stand on Christ alone. In doing that, we don’t negate or throw out the Hebrew Scriptures. There is too much wisdom and guidance in them. They are the stories of a people and their understanding of God’s intervention in their lives. They use their Scriptures in an attempt to become better people. God bless them for it.
The Church’s World View
What effect might it have on the larger church if the Bible contains stories that recognized as honest human perception rather than the “word of the Lord?” Personally, I think the church would be set free to become more like Christ and less like the Pharisees who promoted ritual and Mosaic law.
The Bible (in English) as unmitigated fact is the closest thing to idolatry we have today. The degree of idolatry isn’t as great as Islam’s worship of the Qur’an, but worship of “the words” in the Bible above compassion for the living is still idolatry. The day I stopped paying homage to the Bible and started honoring the goodness of God revealed in Christ was the day I became a disciple of Christ and turned my focus to feeding His lambs.
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Jesus revealed the goodness of God as reported by eye witnesses in the stories (myths – in the scholarly sense) of the New Testament.
The website where others are responding to this topic is http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/ .
Other blogs on this topic:
- K.W. Leslie – When People Believe Christianity Is A Myth
- Jeremy Myers – What If The Bible Is a Myth?
- David Derbyshire – What If Genesis Is A Creation Myth?
- Bud Brown – What if Paul was wrong about the life of Christ living in me?
- Chris Jefferies – What If … Creation Was A Myth?
- Paul W. Meier – Is The Bible A Myth?
- Phil Lancaster – What If the Bible Were A Myth
- Carol Kuniholm – What If Newness Was The Norm