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Monday, June 05, 2017

Genesis as Myth

It is popular among the "Christian Left" (I refer to the group that leans "left" in religious terms, not necessarily political) to argue that Genesis is not to be taken as historical narrative, but as myth. Now, to be clear, they don't (generally) say that to demean Scripture. It's not "myth" as in "fantasy" or "fiction", but more at "metaphor" and "teaching stories." "Myth" might refer to false beliefs or it might refer to traditional stories explaining some natural or social phenomenon, but they are not to be taken as actual historical events. "So," they would say, "we can learn a lot from Genesis, but you can't actually believe that Adam or Noah or Abraham or the like actually existed. No 'Creation', no 'Flood', no patriarchs. Just stories from which we can glean some principles."

You'd think this wouldn't be a big problem, really. Sure, some wish to discount Genesis entirely as the other use of the term, "myth" -- false stories. But if they're saying, "It's true, just not literally true", what harm can there be? Some hold that all of Genesis is myth. Others argue that it's just, say, the first 11 chapters or so. Why? Well, that first part is the part of Creation and Noah's Flood and that contradicts current science, I suppose. Turns out it might be more harm than you might think.

The writing style of the book of Genesis is the same from beginning to end, the same as the book of Exodus, Leviticus, and so on through Deuteronomy. None of it is presented in a "myth" or "legend" style, but as historical narrative. Mind you, that's not proof. Every fictional story is presented as historical narrative, too. But there is a substantial difference with the "Fiction" section of the bookstore and Genesis as fiction in the Bible. The question would be "Where does it end?" Since it's all written in the same style and bears no "breakpoint" -- no place that says, "Here we step into historical narrative where what went before was clearly mythical prose" -- there is no way to terminate the myth and take up history. So while we eliminate Creation, Noah and the Flood, we also remove Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Tower of Babel. We also find that Israel's slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the Ten Commandments, and all that occurred between Egypt and the Promised Land would also likely be classified as myth. That "pro-life" idea that Man is made in God's image? Right out the door. Myth. Original sin? Mere legend. The Creation? Well, Science certainly knows better than Scripture on that point.

Another problem is the problem of the view of Genesis in Church history. The Church in general has always seen Genesis as historical, not mythical. This puts the Church in all its history and all its orthodoxy as pretty stupid. Certainly not led by the Holy Spirit into truth.

A worse problem is a comparison of how the rest of Scripture takes the first five books in general and Genesis in particular. As it turns out, there are no references to Genesis in the rest of Scripture that regard it as myth. All take it as history. Luke traces Jesus's lineage to Adam (Luke 3:38). Paul refers to Adam as a person as real as Christ (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:45-49)). He quotes Gen 2:24 as a mystery that refers to Christ's union with the Church (Eph 5:31-32). The author of Hebrews speaks of Abel, Enoch, and Noah (from the first 11 chapters of Genesis) and goes on to include Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, all from Genesis (Heb 11:4-22). In what sense could these people be examples of faith if they never actually existed? "These people (who were never real) demonstrate how faith works (in a way that never actually was)." Hebrews also compares Jesus to Melchizedek (Heb 7:11-17). Peter compares baptism to Noah's Flood (1 Peter 3:18-20) and offers Noah (in detail -- "with seven others") as warning of God's hatred of evil (2 Peter 2:4-11) along with other Genesis events. Jude lists Enoch as the seventh from Adam (Jude 1:14) and confirms that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for sexual immorality and unnatural desire (Jude 1:7). There is no doubt that the New Testament authors regard Genesis, especially the first 11 chapters, as actual events. As it turns out, the foundation of Scripture is Genesis in general and chapters 1-11 in particular, providing us with God as Creator, the Sin of Man, and the original Promise of a Savior -- the Gospel -- in the first 3 chapters alone.

The worst problem, however, would be the problem of Jesus. You see, Jesus seemed to take all of that stuff as real events.

Jesus referred to Genesis 1:27 as agreed-upon fact and quoted Genesis 2:24 in regards to marriage (Matt 19:6) and regarded Moses commands as real (Matt 19:7-8). He referenced "the blood of righteous Abel" (Matt 23:33-35), concurring with the Genesis account of Cain's murder of his brother, right alongside "the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah", the guy who wrote the book of Zechariah (Zech 1:1), so clearly Jesus regarded these as equally historical figures. Jesus said the time of His literal return would be compared to the time of Noah's Flood (Matt 24:37).

In one New Testament event, Jesus took the Sadducees to task when they tried to trip Him up (Mark 12:18-27). They tried to show how stupid it is to believe in life after death by pointing to levirate marriage laws, ending with "In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be?" Jesus didn't answer their (foolish) question but took apart their foolish denial of the concept of resurrection. "You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God," He said. To demonstrate that there was life after death, Jesus pointed to God's claim, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." He concluded, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong." (Mark 12:27) If Genesis is myth, on what basis does Jesus have an argument. The retort would simply be, "Don't be so simple-minded, Jesus. That stuff wasn't real; it was just mythical."

Now, it could be that Genesis is myth. And you can certainly take it that way if you wish. However, if you do, you will also need to discard all the New Testament authors who did not as mistaken, realize that the Church has no claim to the leading of the Holy Spirit into truth, and that Jesus was wrong ... many times. In other words, if Genesis is myth, so is Christianity, and not in a "traditional story explaining some phenomenon" way -- in a "false beliefs" way.


Neil said...

Great summary. The "Christian" Left preys on those who are ignorant of the Bible and they actually discourage them from reading it. Because, as you noted, if you read the text it is obviously not to be taken as they describe it.

And superb citation of Mark 12:24. That explains volumes about them. Mark 12:24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?"

David said...

I've always had a hard time with the argument that because the New Testament authors reference Old Testament stories, then they must be true. It would be like referencing the moral tales of the Iliad. Just because they're referenced, doesn't mean they are literal history. They are simply stories that were in the cultural consciousness of the intended audience. I, of course, do believe they are literal history. I just struggle with the assertion that there references in the New Testament can ONLY mean they are literal history. Referencing fiction that everyone understands doesn't make it fact.

Stan said...

It wouldn't mean they were literal history if the author or speaker referenced them as myth. "That guy had the strength of the fabled Hercules" would be a reference to a myth. None of the references from people in the New Testament indicate, hint, imply, or otherwise give any reason to believe that they believed they were referencing myth. As an example, there would be ZERO reason for Jude to mention that Enoch was the seventh in a mythical line (Jude 1:14) to make his point. The author of Hebrews drawing a line between "the righteous blood of Abel" (mythical character) to "the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah" (historical character) makes no sense. Further, all of Jewish history (for Old Testament references) and Church history understood them to be referencing historical, not mythical characters. (That is, all of Jewish and Church history understood the texts to be historical and all of them considered the references to them to be a reference to historical characters.)

Does that help?

Craig said...

I know that this isn't proof, but I can't help but think that there have been some pretty darn smart folks over the past couple thousand years. It just seems like if Genesis was really myth that one of these folks would have figured it out long ago. I find it hard to believe that something this profound would have escaped discovery this long. Then when you add to that, the fact that even the proponents can't make an effective, objective case it just seem likely.

I've also thought that it's a false equivalency to compare the Bible to other ancient texts, but maybe that's me being parochial.

Stan said...

Big fingers hit "Delete" on this when my intention was to publish. So I've recovered it and put it here. It's from David.

Not really. Whether or not they were historical figures doesn't alter the veracity of the example. A moral example taken from Star Wars is just as equal an example from WW2. I don't disagree that the Genesis accounts are factual, I just can't see how others referencing the Old Testament can only mean they were actual events or that they even believed they were. Not to say they weren't actual events and they didn't believe they were actual events, just the claim that the fact that they are referenced had no other interpretation than, "they believed they were real". If in a thousand years, someone sees a writing that references Harry Potter, they'd have no way of knowing, strictly from that reference, whether or not Harry Potter were real. There is plenty of evidence outside of just those writings that prove Genesis to be a true account, and there's no reason to believe the writers didn't believe they were true based on all the other evidence. I just struggle with the claim that the only conclusion is that they believed they were true, only in regards to the writings themselves. That's my hang up. They certainly believed they were true stories, but that they did believe can't be the ONLY explanation simply from the texts alone.

Stan said...

Okay, let's look again at the texts.

"Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." (Jude 1:5-7) Now, what you're saying is that this text has no marks of authenticity, that the reference to "the Lord" and "angels who did not keep their own domain" and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah -- all in the same thought -- are all equal in reality. That is, "Jesus is real and the angels ... well, perhaps ... and, no, not Sodom and Gomorrah, but the idea regarding punishment is certainly valid."

"It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, 'Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.'" (Jud 1:14-15) The "these men" in view are the "certain persons have crept in unnoticed" (Jude 1:4), the false teachers. They have "gone the way of Cain" (who never existed, but we know what that means) and "rushed headlong into the error of Balaam." (Jude 1:11) Jude says that Enoch (who never existed -- mere myth), and gives us his actual position in history from a mythical man named Adam, prophesied. Now, he didn't actually prophesy, mind you, because he was a myth. So the judgment he spoke of was just from an illustrative fable.

Seriously, does that actually make some sense to you? I mean, I can see how some references to a lesson to this story -- say, for instance, one of Jesus's parables -- teach something without actually being real events, but surely this stuff cannot possibly be regarded as "myth" and make any sense. It loses all substance in this case. And we end up deleting half of Jude's book.

Having offered that, I do wonder. You don't see it as compelling, yet affirm that the stories are not myth. Having denied the biblical reasons, on what possible basis would you affirm it?

Stan said...

Craig, you speak of the thing that drags at me every time. For all of time those who read and believed the Scriptures understood those texts to be historical, not merely mythic. There are no indicators to say, "This is myth and reality begins over here." All references to them appear to regard the texts as history, not fable. But the real kicker to me is how it is that all of them got it wrong? For thousands of years. It appears that we didn't really figure this out until ... what ... the great theologian Charles Darwin came along and figured it out for us. Seriously? It took thousands of years BC and 1800 years AD to finally figure out that everyone for all time was wrong and, lo and behold, it was just a fun little myth? No Adam. No Original Sin. No Creation. No Flood. No Cain and Abel. No Tower of Babel. And think of the wonderful lessons we learned from that long and boring myth of Genesis 5 with meaningless numbers of years and names of offspring. Whew! So glad that our modern scholars figured this out. I'm sure Paul and Jesus and Peter and Jude all would have benefited from this insight.

Craig said...

I think that it's magnified by the fact that the folks pushing this aren't even particularly well know or respected scholars. It seems like mostly a few random internet writers rather than actual scholars.

It's also interesting that even well known progressive scholars and authors don't buy this.

David said...

I believe that all biblical and extra-biblical evidence states that it is a factual account. I believe that the other authors of Scripture had no reason to believe it wasn't factual. I believe the grammar and syntax of Genesis matches that of those other books that are universally agreed as factual, and is thus factual. I believe that the Holy Spirit has kept the truth throughout history. I believe that the references from other biblical authors is proof that the Genesis account is factual. And, reading those references to kindly spelled out, there is no other conclusion that those writers believed it to be true. But not all of the references to gave, and the others you didn't, demand only one conclusion. I believe that in there entirety, they require one conclusion, but individual references don't necessitate only one conclusion. I hope that was clearer.

Stan said...

Yes, David, clearer. No, not all references require a historical understanding, but some do. And placed together it only leads to one conclusion.

Yes, Craig, I have yet to see a scholarly argument pointing out how this stuff is myth and that is historical and here's why. The only reason I can see for this maneuver is to try to avoid a collision with modern science. Not a scholarly approach. It looks more like cowardice.

Craig said...

I've never actually seen any sort of scholarships that demonstrates any sort of even remotely objective evidence to back up this theory. I've heard lots of "it sounds like...", as if that's even remotely an objective criteria to make substantial claims. I'd love to see any actual evidence or scholarly support for the "myth" myth.

Stan said...

The problem is made worse because the standard claim is "Genesis 1-11" but no farther. Why? What is substantively different in the language or presentation or ...? And isn't it interesting that the "Genesis is myth" folks rarely say, "It's my opinion", but rather suggest that anyone (like all of those throughout history) who believes it is not myth is a mindless idiot.

Stan said...

I frankly don't understand how anyone can read Luke 3:23-38 and conclude "The first 11 chapters of Genesis are a myth." Luke traces Jesus's lineage from Jesus backward. Luke is meticulous in this, offering proof of Christ's heritage. In verse 34 he gets to Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, those from Genesis 12 and following, but down in verse 36 he continues with "the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God." (Luke 3:36-37) There is no bifurcation, no lapse into myth, no hint that "son of Abraham" is qualitatively different than "son of Noah", "son of Seth", or "son of Adam". Finally, and perhaps most important, the last on that list is "the son of God". It is not possible to read the physician's listing of Jesus's genealogy and reasonably think "Yeah, but down there after Abraham is a shift to myth." Makes absolutely no sense.

The other killer, to me, is Genesis 5. Why would stories intended to be fictional but convey moral or spiritual truths bother with an extremely detailed genealogy from Adam to Noah? What possible purpose does that serve? It does serve to scream "I'm not just telling fables; I'm telling history." There would be no other possible purpose for such a listing complete with timelines in a myth.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

When Jesus referred to Adam and Eve in regards to marriage, and to Noah, the context was obviously historical and not myth. That would certainly say Genesis is historical.

Craig said...

There is certainly a desire to arbitrarily assign genres to different sections of the OT seemingly for the purpose of manipulating the text to suit the individual making the one doing the assigning.

I've done several searches for Genesis as myth and have found very little of substance, I've also done aearches to try to determine a specific point where the recording of history changed, again no specifics. Although there is plenty of evidence of cultures accurately recording history much earlier than the dates claimed.

Stan said...

Well, Craig, if you want a "scholarly" version, it's easy. Just Google "Creation myth" and go to the Wikipedia article. It's all there using "all scholars agree" and "anyone who believes this stuff is real is an idiot" kind of language. I'm sure you'll agree that Wikipedia is a definitive work, right?

Craig said...

I guess looking past Wikipedia was my mistake.