The Bible and Mythology

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What are we to think of the Bible? What are we to think of Christianity? Is it truth or fiction? Is it myth or reality? Did someone dream all this up, or is the Bible the record of things that actually happened in the course of human history? What are we to think of the Bible? Who is telling the truth? Who are you going to believe?

1.  Myths

The world is full of myths, and Vanuatu has its own rich collection of myths. Myths are stories that people make up to explain various aspects of life and to express worldview, how we see and interpret the world. There are myths about the world and the creation of the sea. There are myths to explain where man and woman came from. Some myths are about the islands and how they came to be populated. There are myths that try to explain good and evil. Other myths have to do with how man and woman are to relate to one another and to each other’s families. There are myths about children and the consequences of disobedience. There are myths about the afterlife, what happens to a person and where he goes when he dies.

So myths are stories which attempt to explain life and its meaning. They often share wisdom as to how we should live and relate to others and to the world around us. Myths are meant for teaching so that the wisdom can be transmitted from one generation to another.

All cultures have their myths or their folklore. We could talk about the gods of Greek mythology, or Roman mythology, or Hindu or Chinese mythology. Various cultures interpret life with myths and symbols. All peoples everywhere have their stories that have been told and passed down as they search for meaning and try to explain the meaning of life.

1.1.              The Search for Meaning

Why is there this universal attempt on the part of all peoples everywhere to explain the meaning of life? Why do we search for meaning?

The Christian worldview not only explains the meaning of life and existence. It also tells us why we search for meaning and significance. The Bible tells us that we were created in the image of God with the capacity to know Him. God has placed in our hearts a longing for meaning and significance. Look around at the animal kingdom. Animals do not search the heavens to try to understand life and its meaning. They do not contemplate the universe or try to gain understanding. But the book of Ecclesiastes says that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV). Saint Augustine lived in the fourth century after Christ. In his famous book Confessions, he prayed to God, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” There is a huge vacuum in the heart of everyone, an emptiness that must be filled.

People everywhere search for meaning. So all cultures have their myths, their stories, their attempts to explain ultimate meaning.

1.2.               Christianity and Mythology

So how is Christianity any different from the mythologies of the world? The Bible is full of stories, so how is it different from the stories of any other culture?

Precisely in this: Christianity is not based on myths but on reality. The Bible is not based on someone’s philosophy about the meaning of life. It is not based on someone’s enlightenment or revelation. Christianity did not come out of someone’s dream or visions. In fact, the Bible specifically warns us about people who through their visions would lead us away from Christ:

 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it (Colossians 2:18-19 NLT).

The Bible is not based on someone’s ideas or dreams or visions or revelations about God. It is based on events that actually happened in human history. Christianity is based on the firm conviction that everything in the Bible including

  • the creation of the universe
  • the worldwide Flood
  • the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land by the Israelites
  • the miracles of Elijah and Elisha
  • the virgin birth of Jesus Christ
  • his miracles such as walking on water
  • his resurrection
  • and his ascension

The Bible is recorded history. All of these stories are literally and completely true. They really happened in the course of human history. They took place in time and space.

This is what the Apostle Peter, an eyewitness and disciple of Jesus Christ said,

2 Peter 1:16 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Peter insists that Christianity is not based on myths, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, but on actual events that were verified by human eyewitnesses. The Bible is not the story of gods and goddesses and their activities in the heavens. It is the story of what God has done in human history here on earth.

2.  The Bible and Mythology

2.1.               The Bible Is the Story of God

At the risk of being repetitive, the Bible is God’s story. It is the story of God creating the entire vast universe and the earth in six days by his infinite wisdom, intelligence, and power. God created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living soul. God took a rib from Adam’s side and fashioned Eve, the mother of all people everywhere.

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and when they sinned, God drove them out of the garden, but promised that he would send a Savior who would be born of a woman (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4-5). God dealt with Cain when Cain killed his brother Abel. Sixteen hundred years after the creation, when the earth became so full of violence that God could tolerate it no longer, he sent the Flood and destroyed sinful humanity with the exception of Noah and his family who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. When Noah’s descendants refused to populate the earth but decided to make a name for themselves by building a city to the heavens, God confused their languages at Babel so that even today we have 115 languages here in Vanuatu alone.

God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and renewed the promise that his many times great-grandson, who would be Jesus Christ, would be the source of blessing for all peoples everywhere. God sent the descendants of Jacob into Egypt and later delivered them from slavery by the hand of Moses in the Exodus. God opened the Red Sea so that six million Israelites crossed over on dry land. God drowned the Egyptian army in their attempt to recapture the Israelites. God made a covenant with the Israelites when he gave them the Law. God gave them manna in the wilderness and water from the Rock. God led them into the promised land of Canaan and made the walls of Jericho fall at the sound of the trumpets and the shout of the people. God raised up judges to deliver his people from their enemies. God sent prophets and set up kings. God renewed his promises of the coming Messiah and promised a new covenant. God judged his people for their sin and sent them into exile in Babylon. God raised up Cyrus, the Persian emperor, who allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem.

Galatians 4:4-5 ESV But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

We read in Acts 2:23-24 that when

this Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [and the Jews] crucified and killed [him] by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

The Bible is not the story of gods or of God doing imaginary things in the heavens. It is the story of God doing great things on earth. Human history is God’s story. History is his-story.

  • The Exodus
  • The Conquest of Canaan
  • The Exile
  • The Return
  • The Incarnation of Christ
  • The Death of Christ
  • The Resurrection of Christ

2.2.               The Historicity of the Bible

Over and over again, the Bible insists on the historical reality of these events. So once again, Peter says,

2 Peter 1:16 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

The New Living Translation puts it this way in…

2 Peter 1:16-18 NLT For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

The Apostle John, another disciple of Jesus, the one who leaned on Jesus the night before the crucifixion, wrote this:

1 John 1:1-4 NLT We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

On that fateful night before the crucifixion, Jesus said this to his apostles,

John 15:27 ESV And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Luke tells us in his Gospel, in the opening verses of Luke,

Luke 1:1-4 NLT Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.

Luke tells us again, in his second volume, the Book of Acts,

Acts 1:3 NLT During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive…

When the religious authorities were disturbed that the apostles were preaching about the resurrection, they threatened them and warned “them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again” (Acts 4:17).

Acts 4:19-20 NLT But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

These men who had lived with Jesus Christ for three years, these men who had walked the roads of Israel with the Master, who had seen him

  • Make the deaf to hear
  • Make the dumb to speak
  • Make the blind to see
  • Make the lame to walk
  • Raise the dead to life again
  • Calm the storm and cast out demons with a word

They all insist on the absolute reality of these events.

The Apostle Paul insisted that the Christian faith is verifiable and falsifiable. He insisted that you could prove it true or false based on one single event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives a list of people who had witnessed the resurrection of Christ: Peter, James, and the other apostles. But his most interesting reference is to other followers:

1 Corinthians 15:6 NLT After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.

Paul is writing less than 25 years after the resurrection of Christ. Some scholars think that this was the appearance in Galilee that had been announced ahead of time on three different occasions by angels and by Jesus himself (Matthew 28:7, 10; Mark 14:28). Now, less than 25 years after the resurrection, Paul tells us that more than 500 people saw the resurrected Christ at one time and he adds this very interesting remark: “most of whom are still alive.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, most of the witnesses to the resurrection were still alive. Paul is telling the Corinthians that the facts of the resurrection could still be verified by living witnesses. Paul says in effect, “If you have any doubts about this, check with the living witnesses. Hundreds of them are still alive and they will tell you that Jesus was really raised from the dead.”

Now this is utterly important in Christianity. Our faith stands or falls on the literal reality of this event. Paul goes on to say this to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 15:14-19 NLT And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God– for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave… 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

This is no myth, Paul says. This is not a “kastom” story. This is absolutely and utterly true.

Acts 17:30-31 NLT “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

2.3.               Real People, Real Places, Real Events

As we read through the Bible, we read of real people and real places. Archaeological evidence has identified many of the people mentioned in the Bible. We could list the names of 50 rulers mentioned in the Old Testament: Egyptian Pharaohs, kings if the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, and the emperors of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. In the same way, archaeological research has found extra-biblical evidence (evidence outside the Bible) for the existence of the Caesars of Rome, the Herods of Israel, governors, and many other people mentioned in the New Testament. The Bible itself is archaeological evidence that has been preserved and passed down through the centuries. The Bible is history.

Besides the historical figures that populate the Bible, there are the places: Ur, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tyre, Sidon, Moab, and literally hundreds of important places in the Bible. We know where they are. We can point to them on the map. Archaeologists have excavated these places and found evidence that the biblical record pointed to.

A number of years ago I had the privilege of going to the Middle East. I visited many of the places mentioned in the Bible. I stood by the Sea of Galilee and read the Beatitudes. I swam in the Jordan River. I visited places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Jacob’s well in Samaria. Outside of Israel we went to Egypt, Baalbek, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Rome. I stood on Mars Hill in Athens where the Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians. We visited five of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation, located in modern day Turkey. These are real places.

The Bible is not the product of someone’s vivid imagination. It did not come out of someone’s dream or vision. The Bible is about real people in real places. But it is more than that.

2.4.               Meta-Narrative

The Bible is not simply a collection of stories. The Bible is one great story with a beginning and an end. When we approach the Bible, we might wonder if it is possible to make any sense out of it. It was written by more than 30 different authors over a period of some 1,600 years, people living at different times in different contexts and cultures from Rome to the Euphrates River. How could there be anything coherent in such a collection of 66 books?

This is one thing that makes the Bible unique. It was not written by one man like the Quran or the Book of Mormon, but the different authors, from Moses to Matthew, from Jeremiah to John, were all inspired by the same Holy Spirit who was writing according to His plan.

If we compare the Bible with the scriptures of other religions, we see that the Quran, for example is a strange collection of disjointed pieces. It is impossible to find any order, progress or arrangement. The 114 Suras or chapters of the Quran are arranged according to length. The longer Suras are first and the shorter ones last. It is the same with the Zoroastrian and Buddhist Scriptures. There is no beginning, middle or end. They are collections of different materials that are loosely placed together.

The Bible is completely different.

From Genesis to Revelation we feel that this book is in a real sense a unity. It is not a collection of fragments, but has, as we say, an organic character. It has one connected story to tell from beginning to end; as we see something growing before our eyes; there is plan, purpose, progress; the end folds back on the beginning, and, when the whole is finished, we feel that here again… God has finished all his works, and behold, they are very good.[1]

The Bible has four great movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.

1.   Creation

God created everything from nothing. In six days God created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them. He created man to know God and to enjoy him forever.

2.   Fall

But man fell and with the Fall came the terrible consequences of sin and death. We live today with the consequences of our action in Adam. When Adam sinned, we all sinned. The image of God in us has not been destroyed, but just as Adam and Eve hid from God after their rebellion, we hide and want to go our own way.

3.    Redemption

God is the searching God. He came into the Garden in search of Adam. Jesus tells us that God is still searching for those who will worship him in spirit and truth. It is a terrible thing when mythology creeps into our worship of the one true God. It is terrible when someone introduces dreams and visions rather than holding to what God has revealed about himself in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. God is looking for those who will worship him in spirit and truth. We must fact the truth about ourselves and the truth about God. He is holy, righteous, loving, compassionate, all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere.

The story of Redemption begins when God himself comes seeking for man in the Garden. He promises a Savior. He calls Abraham and promises that the Savior would be his many times great grandson. He raised up the nation of Israel. He gave the Law which would be fulfilled by the Savior. He sent the prophets who told the people to get ready for the Savior. He sent the Savior who died and rose again to save us from our sins. That is the story of redemption.

4.   New Creation

The Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is coming back to make a new heavens and a new earth. What was lost in Eden, will be restored in the new earth.

This is not mythology. It is not someone’s wild dream. It is the message of nearly 40 different writers that God moved to write over a period of 1,600 years the precious Bible that has been entrusted to the Church of the Living God.

Conclusion

You can trust the Bible because you can trust the God of the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God. But there comes a warning with the biblical text: because it is the Word of God, you must not take from it; you must not add to it. The Bible concludes with this warning:

Revelation 22:18-19 ESV I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

 


[1]Daniel P. Fuller quoting James Orr in The Unity of the Bible, p. 22.

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