There are a few people today who will say that the Bible is full of myths, and excuse themselves from believing in Christ on that basis. This statement is interesting because the word, “myth,” could mean one of two things formally.
First, a myth could mean “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.” This would mean that most stories concerning the revolutionary war, the founding of Rome (Aeneid), and even stories concerning the founding of individual states would be considered to be myths or would fit into this myth genre. These stories are always past tense and may contain truth and fiction or may be entirely true or fictitious. In this case, the first 11 chapters of Genesis and the Resurrection narrative fall into the “Myth” genre, but that does not necessarily mean the stories in these accounts are fictitious.
Second, a myth could also be “a widely held but false belief or idea.” In this case, the phrase, “Sugar causes hyperactivity,” is a myth that both parents and children believe even though it is false. These myths are always present tense and always fictitious even though they are perceived to be the truth.
When stories in the Bible are referred to as myth, people are not usually using either of these formal definitions. Most are forming an entirely new, cultural hybrid definition of “myth.” This hybrid definition might be described this way: “A story that is believed by some to be true, but is unauthenticated and most definitely false.” This matches, more closely the definition of “legend.”
From the start, then, we can notice a linguistic problem to the accusation that the Bible is full of “myths.” It may be the case that scholars once identified the genre of myth in the Bible (which does not necessitate fiction), and that popular culture (which held an entirely different definition of the word) interpreted “myth” to mean what it did not. Because of this, people may have believed that the Bible was full of made-up, fictitious stories. It is entirely possible that there was a general lack of understanding and a misinterpretation due to linguistic morphology. This is not difficult for us to understand. If I were to ask any person today what I meant when I said, “That is incredible!” I would receive the answer, “You mean that whatever it is you are referring to is awesome or amazing.” This would not have been the case years ago when incredible was properly used to say that something was without credibility. A scholar today may use the word correctly to mean something is not credible, and popular culture might interpret the saying to mean that the scholar is amazed by something that he or she does not actually believe to be true.
Thus, we arrive at a very important lesson that we all can take a hold of: Before we assume to know what someone else means when they say something, we should strive first for understanding. Truly listening is important, and not many people do so.
When people say that the Bible is full of myths, then, we cannot really be sure what they mean. Because of this, I want to change the question for the sake of clarity. Are there any fictitious stories that are presented as truth in the Bible?
In Luke, chapter 7 and verses 41-50, we see Jesus tell the story of two men who owed a debt. One man owed a much larger debt than the other, but both debts were forgiven. Jesus used this as an illustration as He was talking with Peter to illustrate the idea that those who are forgiven more, have more love and appreciation toward the forgiver. I believe that the Bible is entirely accurate in its telling of the events, but the illustration Jesus’ used may be understood as a made-up scenario for the purpose of teaching. When we do find possible fictitious accounts in the text of Scripture, they seem to be illustrations used for the purpose of teaching and understood in light of the text of Scripture as such. Scripture doesn’t make those stories out to be true and literal. Nothing, though, that has been presented as truth in the text of Scripture has been proven to be fictitious on any grounds. Here, we might remember session 2, where we discovered that the Bible is most likely both authentic and reliable. If the Bible were to be removed as a historical source, so would virtually every other work of antiquity.
Moving forward, then, we might consider one of the stories in Scripture that has been accused of bing entirely fictional in nature: Noah’s Flood. In the text of Scripture, Noah’s flood is presented as historical narrative, though some claim it to be a made-up story. Here, we might remind ourselves of what we discussed in session 1, namely that it is near impossible to prove or disprove any historical event. All evidence is interpreted through the lens of one’s worldview. In Genesis, chapter 7, we read that Noah and his family entered the Ark. We read that all animals entered according to their kind. We read that all the mountains were covered under the whole of the heavens (and I checked the Hebrew to be sure it was the whole of the heavens or sky). It is specified by the text of Scripture to be a literal, global flood.
There are some seemingly reasonable objections to this story. First, that the ark could not have floated. In fact, scientists have produced scale models of the Ark and have put them through the a flood simulator. The models capsized. Ships that were built out of wood and were not as big as the Ark capsized on the ocean without a global flood phenomenon. Of course, this first objection only works for the materialist. Anyone who believes in any sort of spiritual realm can see that, in the context of Genesis 7, it is God who closed the door of the Ark. It is God who provided safety for Noah’s family. It is entirely possible for the God of the universe to carry the Ark, which was not sufficient by the abilities of Noah and his family. The story is about God’s deliverance, not the ability of any person.
Second, there is the claim that no archaeological evidence has been found. It is true that the ark has not yet been discovered (at least formally). This does not, though, mean that the story is fictitious. Third, fossil evidence is questionable. There have been mass fossil graveyards found, but multiple explanations exist as theories concerning their formation. It may have been a global flood, or something else.
Though there is no certain evidence in favor of a global flood, there is also no certain evidence that stands against a global flood. If the Bible, again, is both authentic and reliable (session 2), then we are reasonable in believing the story of the Great Flood. Is there any evidence in favor of this story, though?
One, there are fossils of sea creatures found far above sea level today. Again, this evidence is always interpreted through the lenses of a worldview and multiple theories exist to explain it. Two, the Black Sea is thought to have been fresh water at one time, and much lower. 7,000 year-old villages were found about 300 feet under the current sea level. Given the inexactness of the dating methods, this could have been around the time of the Flood, but still does not necessitate a world-wide flood event. Any interpretation of evidence is highly speculative on both sides of the debate. A world-wide flood cannot be absolutely proven empirically. The good new is: Neither can an ice age, an extinction event caused by a meteor, or the former existence of Pangea; all things that most scientists believe to have been. It is by speculation that evidence is interpreted through a worldview to determine past events.
This means the story of the Great Flood cannot be claimed by science to either be fiction or non-fiction. We are reasonable to believe that the story is entirely truthful.
On a further not, I have recently been looking into population genetics and the study is fascinating. If an equation is developed to predict human population that is based on current population trends world-wide (A.D. 0-2011), there would be about the number of people on the earth today as there are (around 8 billion) if Noah and his family were the only ones present on the earth according to the biblical timeframe. Furthermore, if Adam and Even lived 8,000-10,000 years ago, then the population of the earth just before the Great Flood would have been around 10 billion (which most experts agree is the max number of human inhabitants the earth can support.
This is also highly speculative (I just find it interesting), because natural disasters, baby booms and medicine cannot be measured accurately by the equation. The world, though, seems to look just how we might expect it to look if there truly was a world-wide flood. This is not the only explanation that might work.
What exactly does this mean for us? First, not everything can be proved or disproved empirically, but that does not make it fiction. Second, everyone accepts historical events on the basis of faith (yes, including the materialist). According to the historical narrative, God takes the matter of sin and human wickedness very seriously. That, my friends, is a message that we should pay very close attention to.
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Hamilton, Matthew B. Population genetics. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian belief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Ashton, John. In six days: why 50 scientists choose to believe in creation. Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.: New Holland, 1999.