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5 Reasons Why Christians Mythologize Genesis 1-11

5 Reasons Why Christians Mythologize Genesis 1-11

by Mike Duran · 29 comments

Adam and Eve 1I believe that mythologizing the early chapters of the Book of Genesis has serious theological ramifications. Nevertheless, I seem to be part of a growing minority.  Nowadays, more and more professing evangelicals seem to have little problem viewing the biblical creation event and early Christian history as a myth. But why?

The going theory follows this line of reasoning:

a.) There are many Ancient Near-Eastern creation stories

b.) Many of these stories predate the Book of Genesis

c.) These stories are clearly myths

d.) The Book of Genesis contains strong parallels to some of these myths

e.) Therefore, the Book of Genesis is a myth

It should be noted that most Christians who believe along these lines do not employ the term “myth” to mean fable or falsehood. Progressive theologian Peter Enns, in his controversial 2005 book, Inspiration and Incarnation, refers to myth as a particular kind of genre:

“…myth is an ancient, pre-modern, pre-scientific way of addressing ultimate meaning and origins in the form of stories: Who are we ? Where do we come from?”

So what actually separates the biblical account of creation from pagan myths? According to this approach, I’m assuming it’s the story’s proximity toultimate meaning.” But what truth and meaning are we looking to affirm in Genesis 1-11? The truth that God miraculously created Man? The truth that Woman was made from Man? The truth that Man succumbed to the devil’s temptation? The truth that we were expelled from Paradise for our moral failings? If Genesis is myth representing fact, as some like to say, what facts was it based on?

This hermeneutical mushiness leads to lots of colorful theories. For instance, those professing Christians who do not believe Adam and Eve were literal individuals have offered these possibilities:

  • Adam and Eve were a gene pool
  • Adam and Eve were a tribe of hominids
  • Adam and Eve were actual primates

Point being, mythologizing Genesis gives one the freedom to tinker with other aspects of the story.

There are currently a number of positions taken by postmodern religionists (and others) which find their root in a deconstructed creation account. In other words, mythologizing Genesis is necessary to sustain a certain interpretation.

What I am coming to believe is that for many Genesis Mythers, presuppositions precede exegesis. They embrace a certain position or ideology and THEN approach Scripture. In this case, viewing Genesis as less than actual helps them reach the appropriate conclusion.

Here’s 5 reasons why some Christians mythologize Genesis:

  1. It allows them to retain belief in biological evolution. One can hold to a literal reading of Genesis and still allow for some degree of evolutionary processes. Nevertheless, for many Genesis Mythers, seeing the biblical account as a tall tale is a precursor to believing humans once had tails.
  2. It allows them to maintain a materialistic worldview. Of course, miracles happen throughout the Bible. But making Noah, the Garden of Eden, and a talking serpent simply story devices helps one profess belief in the Bible while scoffing at the supernatural.
  3. It takes Man off the hook. Because the concept of Original sin is rooted in the account of the Fall of Man, mythologizing the story undermines a belief in the depravity of man. It’s hard to be a humanist if your family tree is diseased.
  4. It allows for the subversion of male hierarchy. This is why many (most?) egalitarians conveniently approach Genesis as myth. If Man was really created first, if Eve wasn’t really made from Man to be his “helpmeet,” then Christian feminists have some ‘splaining to do.
  5. It undermines the authority of the Bible. This may be the ultimate goal of the Genesis Myther: to de-claw Scripture. Find a problematic verse? Mythologize it. Ultimately, the Bible becomes less of a lion and more of a kitten.

Do all those who mythologize Genesis do so to undermine Scripture or maintain a non-traditional position? Of course not! But the more I interact with professing believers, the more I wonder that being a Genesis Myther isn’t a convenient way of believing whatever the heck they want.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

christopher clack March 31, 2014 at 9:27 AM

but Mike don’t you
” embrace a certain position or ideology and THEN approach Scripture.”
as well

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 4:30 AM

Absolutely. However, that’ “position” could be to let the Scripture speak for itself.

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christopher clack April 1, 2014 at 5:40 AM

and how exactly can it, scripture , speak for it self?

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 6:55 PM

Chris and Stuart, of course historical and literary context are important, as are genre. But, as with any historic document, if it claims to be written by a person, about a subject, we take it at face value unless something, internal or external evidence, doesn’t corroborate. There really is a limited amount of interpretations that are reasonably possible to any section of Scripture. Verses DO and DON’T mean something.

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StuartB April 1, 2014 at 7:40 AM

What does that look like? Does that look like you picking up the Bible, reading it, and saying “what I just read is exactly true”? Assuming your basic reading comprehension and the Holy Spirit is adequate enough to understand precisely what is being said?

Or do things like authorship come into play? Original audience? Genre? Parallel writings? Should a brief passage written hundreds if not thousands of years later influence earlier writings? Should Genesis be read in isolation? Are there other stories and motifs that are very similar to Genesis? To whom was Genesis written, for what purpose, read by whom…etc?

You are absolutely right, reading Genesis “as myth” has some serious theological implications. And often those implications are insurmountable for many. But theology and theological systems are not necessarily truth. They can be broken and revised.

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Thea van Diepen March 31, 2014 at 10:11 AM

Mike, you may find the book “The Bible Among the Myths” very interesting. First of all, it defines the term myth in a highly accurate way, unlike the definition you quoted and the definition generally used, and then it goes on to discuss what the ramifications of that definition are. Then it talks about the Bible, and where it stands on the various different points discussed in relation to myth. It’s a fascinating book, and it definitely helped me to understand mythology better, as I’d never been able to understand the background principle behind it.

To quibble with your fourth point, it is entirely possible to subvert “the male hierarchy”, as you put it, without mythologizing Genesis. Yes, Adam was created first and, yes, Eve was made from his rib. But she was made as a partner, as one like him. Nowhere in the account of her creation was the expectation that he be the leader and she the follower. That came after, as part of the curse resulting from the Fall.

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StuartB March 31, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Which, arguably, post Gospel we should see a restore at least in the church of the equality between man and woman. It’s putting back what was wrong.

Yet it seems we prefer the fallen version of things.

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 4:39 AM

Thea and Stuart, I don’t want to get too much into arguing this point. However, the New Testament appears to base a hierarchical order upon the created order (Man first, Women from Man) pre-Fall. Like Paul’s admonition concerning women teaching, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;b she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (I Tim. 2:12-13) and Eph. 5:23 “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” which, again seems to affirm a created order principle. In the Genesis text, some suggest that Man being forbidden to eat from the tree and (apparently) passing the command onto his wife, and then being held accountable for the act afterwards, is indication of Adam’s post-Fall authority. As well as other stuff. Finally, I totally agree that one can oppose a patriarchal order and NOT be a Genesis Myther.

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StuartB March 31, 2014 at 10:17 AM

There’s no such thing as a “plain reading of the text”. Not with Genesis at least. But anyways…

I was actually thinking about this yesterday in the movie theatre while watching the new 300 movie. There’s a sequence where someone tells the story of how Xerxes became the “god king”, how his father was slain in battle, how he was set free to wander into the desert before “making a pack with darkness”, submerging himself in a pool and reemerging as this gold covered, 7 foot tall god king.

And it struck me how easy it is to mythologize stories. Granted, this was a movie, fiction talking about real humans, but even within the fiction, another myth was being woven. How a regular prince was transformed into this gigantic, golden, physically perfect specimen. But even here, we know that what is being narrated did not strictly happen, yet did happen at the same time, and is still as true as a second by second account of what happened to him. The end result is the same, and both stories are equally true. In one story, he submerged himself in a pool and emerged a god. In another…more mundane, found some inner truth or went mad, shaved his head, got pierced with gold rings, ritually purified himself, made some vows, whatever.

Myths can be utterly true, especially to those who wrote them and told them for centuries.

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Stuart, the problems I have with this approach — “what is being narrated did not strictly happen, yet did happen at the same time” — is that it’s conveniently wishy-washy. So what “did happen”? Can we never know? And if the text is really just a mythological rendering, how can we know for sure what the actual truth is the author is trying to convey. I mean, one could use this approach to interpret the text to mean ANYTHING. If there’s no hard facts to support this narrative, why not just believe it’s an account of space aliens seeding earth with biological life in their image? What’s really stopping someone from that interpretation? Another huge thing is Jesus’ reference to Genesis characters and events as REAL not myth, for instance, He mentions Adam and Eve, Noah, etc. This appears to ground Genesis in historical fact, not fable.

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StuartB April 1, 2014 at 7:45 AM

Alternatively, Jesus and later Paul were using commonly known stories to make some very important points. Paul at least had no first hand knowledge about any of them apart from scripture, and I have my doubts about Jesus somehow “supernaturally” having first hand knowledge as well, as that puts the fully God/fully man thing into question.

What if Job didn’t exist? We still have the Book of Job, it’s still profitable for doctrine etc, and we’re meant to read it and learn from it. The actual reality of Job would matter little. Same with Esther. Same with Adam to an extent.

Wishy-washy may be true, but asking “so what did happen” is probably the wrong approach. Does it really matter “what did happen”? Here’s what happened as told to us by God through the Holy Spirit and the authors. That’s what matters. It’s not an either-or thing, hard fact or mythological pishposh.

Although the ancient aliens thing is pretty cool. Because aliens.

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StuartB April 1, 2014 at 7:49 AM

I wish I could find where it was originally said, but one of the writers on Internet Monk made a great point that modern creationism is a modernist, post-enlightenment reading onto the text. It’s a product of the Industrial Revolution, Bible as blueprint and roadmap, and not indicative of what the original authors intended.

It really is the flipside of the coin to Late Great Planet Earth type dispensationalism…

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jed March 31, 2014 at 12:08 PM

“2. It allows them to maintain a materialistic worldview. Of course, miracles happen throughout the Bible. But making Noah, the Garden of Eden, and a talking serpent simply story devices helps one profess belief in the Bible while scoffing at the supernatural.”

Mike, I chuckle a bit at point number two, over the irony that the *opposite* may be equally true, that we may be proceeding from a Materialistic world view in formulating this assumption.

Is it not our primary, unrecognized, and generally not admitted Materialistic orientation that causes us to reject “Truths” that are not grounded in Aristotlean logic and empiricism? Of truthfulness, we demand, “Yes, but did it *actually* happen?”

What I mean by this, is that, since we have been steeped in the Materialist, empirical world-view of the Age, we insist that God’s communication, and hence, His Revealed Text, must also conform to this standard, in order for us to even begin to respect its “truthfulness”.

If the Truths that God wishes us to apprehend are ultimately of a Spiritual nature, and not a Material one, perhaps we are employing the wrong adopted model. Perhaps this becomes a case of “Can’t get there from here”.

In the end, this is *our* problem to resolve, and not God’s, who has no such empirical or epistemological ‘hang-ups’ over His reality that He has created and suffused with life….

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 5:07 AM

Jed, I think you’re missing it here: “If the Truths that God wishes us to apprehend are ultimately of a Spiritual nature, and not a Material one, perhaps we are employing the wrong adopted model.”

The truths God wishes to reveal may indeed be spiritual, but they are often rooted in historical realities. One of the biggest being the actual physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Are you prepared to say that Jesus’ Resurrection was NOT an actual Material fact? If not, why not? Well then, just trace the logic back from there to His Material miracles, His Material birth, His Material lineage, etc. etc.

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jed April 1, 2014 at 4:28 PM

@Mike:

You just changed the subject from the historicity of the Genesis account of Creation to the historicity of the Gospel accounts of the life, death, and resurrection.

Don’t you know that it is disingenuous of you to shift attention by changing the subject that you, yourself, initiated? Do you even care? Isn’t that a ‘Liberal’ debate style, to constantly change the subject at hand rather than address a particular point directly?

I do not deny the historicity of the fulfillment of Messiah; but am I the only one who sees a huge difference in the tone, literary style, and even intent of the Genesis creation narrative vs. the straightforward eye-witness tone of the Gospel accounts??

Meta-physical truth is no less truth than empirical truth; you seem to have an inculcated preference for the one over the other.

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Jed, I didn’t intentionally shift from Genesis to Gospels to obfuscate. Your objection is based on a principle that doesn’t just have an application to Genesis, but to interpretive methods in general. You said, “…since we have been steeped in the Materialist, empirical world-view of the Age, we insist that God’s communication, and hence, His Revealed Text.” This seems like a general principle. You’re not limiting this approach to Genesis, correct?

Not sure I totally agree about the Gospel being that different a tone from Genesis. Historical figures and events are referenced in Genesis, just like they are in the Gospels. Later writers referenced those people and events as real, not imagined. Heck, Israel’s entire history is traced to three individuals (and their unique stories): Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So were they real or imagined? If imagined, when exactly in biblical history did REAL history start?

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Jill March 31, 2014 at 12:09 PM

You choose to look at human motivations rather than examining what Genesis is and proceeding from there.

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 5:10 AM

How do you know that? Couldn’t it be I’ve examined Genesis and THEN pondered why the interpretations vary so much?

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Tim George March 31, 2014 at 12:26 PM

My guess is that this approach allows one to defend “Noah” as a masterful retelling of the conflict between good and evil and hurl stink bombs at Ken Hamm without feeling guilty on either count.

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John W. Morehead March 31, 2014 at 3:24 PM

Yikes. So much to disagree with here. First, I don’t think you have an adequate understanding of myth in the ancient near eastern context, or the theological focus of Genesis 1 and 2 rather than it being concerned with material origins (our modern idea imposed on the text). Second, presuppositions always precede exegesis, including for young-earth, old-earth, and Intelligent Design advocates, just as much as for evolutionary creationists. Your point number 2 is way off base. Evolutionary creationists do not maintain a materialist worldview at odds with the idea of God as creator and a supernatural dimension. In fact, evolution is not necessarily wedded to godless materialism. Beyond that, humanity is still responsible for its evil and violence, so “man” is not “off the hook.” Finally, evolutionary creation and a belief in Genesis in an ANE context of myth for Israel does not undermine the authority of scripture. Unless of course, one assumes a literal hermeneutic is the only proper way to maintain such authority.

I was disappointed by this piece. Greater familiarity with other points of view as summarized in places like BioLogos and its contributors might have helped in the preparation of a more balanced and accurate critique.

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 4:28 AM

John, I follow BioLogos and read a lot of their stuff. So I’m pretty familiar with them and the POV I’m critiquing. Agree that “presuppositions always precede exegesis.” All exegesis. However, some presuppositions are more conducive to letting the text speak for itself rather than interjecting our own conclusions. I agree that not all “Evolutionary creationists… maintain a materialist worldview at odds with the idea of God as creator and a supernatural dimension.” Nevertheless, many do. Like Christian Palaeontologist Robert Asher in his debate with YECer Andy McIntosh on the Unbelievable podcast who confessed to not believing in the physical bodily Resurrection of Christ. Evolution may not be wedded to godless materialism, but it can easily be extrapolated to those ends. And some do. Also, embracing Genesis as myth does not, in all cases, undermine the authority of Scripture. But it surely can, and does for some. Finally, I’m guessing you are a Genesis Myther. Am I right?

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D.M. Dutcher March 31, 2014 at 4:50 PM

You’re right.

I’ve been guilty of thinking of it in mythological terms too. But you’re right about the issues; it’s very easy to get confused on things like original sin if you hold to the idea of a group of hominids, and a lot of it is more “we must justify evolution first, because it’s more correct than literal Genesis.”

I guess i’ll still hold a myth interpretation, but more because we simply can’t assume the nuts and bolts of creation, not because a literal adam or eve couldn’t exist.

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StuartB April 1, 2014 at 7:54 AM

Can we all mutually agree ahead of time that being a “Genesis Myther” does not mean anyone views the resurrection of Jesus as a myth as well? Can we end that tired rhetoric, deny the beginning, deny it all? It doesn’t serve us well and is a dishonest jab. No one is “picking and choosing” what is supernatural.

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Mike Duran April 1, 2014 at 7:17 PM

Stuart, I’d like to leave the door open for the possibility that the one can lead to the other. Of course, most of the people I know who view Genesis 1-11 as a myth DO hold to a literal Resurrection. However, there are those who mythologize both. In my comments to John above I mentioned a podcast debate between a Young Earth Creationist and a Christian Paleontologist who does NOT believe Adam and Eve were literal. The most startling admission in the debate, I thought, was when the Christian paleontologist admits to not believing in a literal Resurrection. So while I’d agree that believing one does not necessitate the other, there’s still the possibility of getting there from here. Podcast link

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StuartB April 2, 2014 at 9:25 AM

I’ll download the podcast and listen to it this evening (hopefully), but non-literal Revelation, would that make him a preterist? Or patrial preterist? Mythologize may be the wrong word here.

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Linda April 1, 2014 at 2:23 PM

As Mike stated, Adam and Eve are alluded to as a real and physical part of creation by Jesus in Mathew and Mark. Jesus quoted many other parts of Genesis as an accurate account of God the Father’s intervention in the affairs of man. I just did a quick online check, and to disregard Adam as a physical and historic person, one would have to disregard the accuracy of not only Genesis, but also these Biblical books which specifically reference Adam and/or Eve or a physical first man/first woman: Job, Joshua, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts of the Apostles, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Jude. So on what basis does one’s belief system permit this and still allow one to profess Bible-based Christianity?

There will always be roadblocks for those who choose to interpret the truthfulness of Scripture through the eyes of science or human logic or intelluctualism. Spiritually things are spiritually discerned: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Cor 2:14 NIV. In another example, Jesus said: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.” Matthew 11:25 NLT

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Arthur Besuden April 4, 2014 at 10:03 AM

I’d like to point out that the NT treats Adam and Eve as real people. Jesus’s genealogy in Luke goes back to Adam. It would be strange to claim that the NT stories are correct while the OT is a myth.

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Lyn Perry April 8, 2014 at 3:13 PM

Mike says: “…most of the people I know who view Genesis 1-11 as a myth DO hold to a literal Resurrection.”

I’m one who is okay with interpreting Gen 1-11 as myth and the resurrection as literal because of hermeneutics – the literary, historical-critical methodologies, including source, form, and redaction criticism. These are the standard, accepted interpretive – as well as exegetical as opposed to eisegetical – tools that Christians should consider when dealing with any particular passage. The 5 reasons mentioned above are not adequate grounding for believing Gen 1-11 is myth…but a tried and true hermeneutic is.

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DD April 15, 2014 at 5:19 PM

The Mythers are driven by a variation of reason one: Making Genesis another ANE myth makes the whole creation-evolution debate go away. It’s the path of easiest resistance. I always get hate mail when I state that, but they are practicing an extreme view similar to some types of creationists.

Mythers, by reading Genesis in only ANE terms, are implying God can’t put multiple layers of meaning in an inspired work. Sure, the Bible is full of cultural context, something we often ignore, but that doesn’t mean it is all that way. Just as Genesis doesn’t speak on many science issues, that doesn’t mean it is not applicable to any of science. The Bible is inspired by God or it isn’t.

The “ANE only” approach heads down a slippery slope, most likely unintentional, but a slope nonetheless. Some of this is encouraged by some dogmatic creationists in their “our way, or no way” beliefs. In other words, people see only a few options. Problem with this is that there are over a dozen different interpretations of Genesis among Christians (however, a handful are admittedly the most popular).

A lot of people are driven by drive-by theology. That is, they don’t really get into in-depth study and pick a theory that sounds good are comes from someone they trust. My recommendations: John C. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One gives a detailed view of the Myther/ANE/”Functional Cosmic Temple” view, but follow that up with C. John Collins’ critique in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Hugh Ross’ new Navigating Genesis pulls nearly all of the science and theology issues of the first eleven chapters of Genesis together and also addresses the Myther trend.

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