Myth and Meaning (That Won’t Last?)

N.T.Wright has made a brief video over at Biologos where he discusses “myth” in relation to Genesis 1-3.  He (as many others I’ve read) suggest that “myth” is a perfectly acceptable term referring to something which is true even if not historical in the sense of a strictly historical account (he even says those who reject “myth” in relation to Genesis should “lighten up” since the meaning is what really matters in the account).  “Myth” therefore suggests some greater meaning behind the “history” of the text.  It is meaning-laden and not simply a recounting of events.  While it is certainly true that the portions of Scripture purporting historical accounts indeed convey more meaning that goes beyond a simple recounting of events, yet does greater meaning imply lack of historical veracity?  This notion seems (all too) often to be applied to Genesis (but only the first 11 chapters), but not to other portions of Scripture like the Gospels.  I find this phenomenon fascinating and disturbing at the same time. 

Kudos to those who can (inconsistently) hold to such views and maintain their faith in the historicity of the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus and see this same essential belief as non-essential regarding the very creation of the world and the fall into sin.  If the “meaning” is all that matters and not the “fact” or historicity of an event then why do they still hold to such concerning Jesus?  Because this is considered essential to faith in the revelation given.  Why then do they deny the historicity of Genesis 1-11?  Because they have “evidence” that tells them otherwise (i.e., the geological record, apparent age of the cosmos, etc.).  But doesn’t the “evidence” also tell us that people are not born of virgins?  Doesn’t the “evidence” also tell us that the dead stay dead (especially after being assured of death and being buried)?  I’m not sure why the “evidence” concerning beginnings should be deemed more credible (considering it is completely impossible to reproduce and therefore belongs more to philosophical science than experiential) than the evidence concerning how people are born and die? 

While I would never say that anyone who denies the clear statements of Genesis as referring to historical events (albeit events of great meaning) cannot be saved…but if such foundational doctrines as creation, the imaging of God, human origins, and the beginning of sin and death can be dismissed as simply meaningful (i.e. “myth”) and not historical, then where will that leave those who follow in our footsteps and no longer care to hold to other “meaningful” events as indeed historical (i.e., the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus).  Will such “meaning” last in the face of rejecting the historicity of the events?  Only time will tell…

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4 thoughts on “Myth and Meaning (That Won’t Last?)

  1. I would be interested in hearing how you feel they should be read in the light of the 'scientific' evidence that we do have. I confess to being confused as to how to read them, as history or allegory (is that the right word) – their message is clear but how I convey or explain them to a non-believer I find less than easy

  2. I would not refer to the creation account in Genesis as "allegory", but neither would I refer to it simply as "history". While it is certainly "history" it is not history in the modern sense of a simple reporting of events. It is filled with theological meaning which was actually the way that ALL historiography was carried out in ancient days — just see the works of writers like Herodotus, Josephus, Tacitus. The Scriptures report history, but do so in light of the revelation of God. It is not essential to just report what happened…it is (more often than not) explicitly interpreted with great meaning. The "evidence" of science is always interpreted as well and the preconceptions brought to the interpretation of the data determine the outcome of the conclusions. I personally call non-believers to believe in the "meaning" of Genesis (and the rest of Scripture) without necessarily bringing up the arguments for historicity, but with believers I bring up the issue of historicity (because they have already believed the meaning…or at least some of the meaning). I do however simply treat these passages as historical even when speaking with non-believers, but do not specifically argue for it as such. I do however regularly question the modern interpretations of the scientific data; these interpretations are not raw data, but only commonly assumed understandings based preconceptions of uniformitarianism and some form of evolutionary theory. I find such to be highly suspect in light of the wider reading of Scripture (such things as: the coming of death for humanity; the maturity of the created world; the imaging of God; and the chronological genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11). Not sure if that answers your question or not. I actually intend to do more blogging on this issue over the next two years as I work on my Master's thesis ("The Meaning of 'Day' in Genesis One"). Feel free to ask for clarification about anything that isn't clear or you find questionable/disagreeable. Perhaps you even have a different understanding than what I've presented here…I'd be happy to hear it and discuss it further. Blessings to you!

  3. A man after my own heart in this area! Thanks for this post. I must have missed it whe I read the one about poo. :)I too find it hard to understand how someone can claim historicity when it comes to Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, but consider the creation narrative to be merely a story to convey theological truths. Its seems inconsistent to me as well.

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