The Bible: Myth or History?

Excerpts taken from Handbook of Catholic Apologetics:

The bottom line is miracles, especially the Resurrection: Did they really happen or not? If the Resurrection really did happen, then the assumption that “miracles don’t happen” is refuted; in that case, the miracle stories in the Bible can be history, not myth.

It’s very difficult to prove the authority of Scripture first to the unbeliever b/c they will not accept the use of any special standards or assumptions or attitudes toward Scripture at the outset, since they clearly beg the question. You must first prove that Scripture deserves such special treatment as the Word of God, and you must prove this without presupposing it, without giving Scripture special treatment. Otherwise you argue in a circle, assuming what you need to prove.

If we used the same critical standards on other ancient literature that modernists use on the Bible, we would doubt every single fact we know today about every single writer and event before the Middle Ages. If modernists applied to the Bible the same standards that historians and textual scholars apply to secular literature of ancient times, the biblical records would be accepted as some of the most reliable and credible of all ancient documents. Modernists impose a modern world view into the texts & judges the texts on the basis of that world view – fudging the data by subtracting miracles & the supernatural – to conform to the theory – which is the fundamental fallacy of bad science.

8 BASIC PRINCIPLES OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

1. Use common standards, methods, and approachessame as you would use for any other book. This is the only way of making contact with unbelievers.

2. Read of the author’s intended meaning look at everything, including yourself and your views, through the author’s eyes.

3. Separate interpretation from belief until you know what the author’s words mean to him, you cannot either agree or disagree with him, b/c there is as yet no “him” in your mind, only you.

4. Interpret a book according to its genre – thus we should first find out what that literary form is. There are different principles that govern the interpretation of poverty versus law, parable versus biography, science versus religion, myth versus history. A crucial example of this confusion is comparing Darwin and Moses, or whoever wrote Genesis. In order for Genesis and On the Origin of Species to conflict, they must meet (If Genesis were science for example), and they do not. Darwin does not ask who created species or why but only how they appeared. His answer is evolution by natural selection. Genesis tells us who created (God) and why (goodness) but not how.

5. Know when to interpret the Bible literally vs. symbolically – when the Biblical author claims he saw something in the external world with his own eyes, or that someone else did and told him, then we are to interpret it literally. On the other hand, when a thing is not visible to the eye, we cannot interpret it literally. Examples are objects in question that have a invisible nature (God or the soul), or when the author claims to have only seen it in a dream or vision, and sometimes when the author makes it up like a parable. Also, some passages can be rightly interpreted both literally and symbolically. Like Exodus for example – it really happened but also paralleled the story of Christ. Too many see the symbolic-literal issue as either-or when in fact it can sometimes be both-and.

6. Know which stories are historical – the 3 possibilities are: literal history, non-literal history, and fiction (parable, fable, myth, etc.) Modern history is usually literal. Traditional history is often non-literal. Fictions are not historical at all. Some biblical stories are literal history – like the court history of kings of Israel. Some are non-literal history – like the creation story and the fall in Genesis 1-3. And some stories are literary fictions – for example, the parables, perhaps Jonah, probably Job.

  • The Fall in Genesis 3 is a crucial example b/c [1] if the fall is not historical at all, then its effects – suffering and death – are also not historical. [2] If Adam’s fall didn’t really happen, then Christ’s salvation need not have really happened either. [3] And if the Fall didn’t really happen in history, then God rather than humanity is to blame for sin, for God must have then created us as sinner rather than innocents.
  • The same is true of the creation poems in Genesis 1 & 2. Creation really happened; God really did design and create the universe and all its ordered species. But these chapters cannot possibly be literal eyewitness descriptions, for there were no eyes before there were humans. So it’s historical but not literal.

7. Don’t separate religious vs. historical questions – Christianity is not a set of timeless truths but a faith in a historical person and historical events, the most important of which were miraculous: God’s creation, lawgiving and prophet inspiring, and Christ’s Incarnation, death and Resurrection. There is little that is absolutely new or distinctive in Christian ethics. Most of the radical ethical sayings in the Sermon on the Mount can be found in other religions. The main difference is that they are not connected with “the kingdom of God” as they are in Jesus’ teaching. But this kingdom, though spiritual, is historical. It happens. Christ brings it about.

8. Historical proximity increases historical reliability – The closer a source is to the events it describes, the more likely it is to be reliable, all other things being equal. There is an implicit but astonishing arrogance in the idea that all the apostles, all the Church Fathers and all the millions of ordinary Christians were fundamentally mistaken about Christ for twenty centuries, and only a few theologians, sitting at their desk, in a very different culture, twenty centuries later, finally understood him.

Contradictions in the Bible? The Bible can well be infallible in all its teachings, its message, even while being fallible in incidental details like these. Also, these minor contradictions can all be explained as only apparent. We must not impose our modern standards of accuracy on material that was never intended to have it. It is a bad literary criticism to exaggerate the importance of details for which the ancient author was in all likelihood unwilling to vouch.

Science is like the study of the inner ecology of a fishbowl; the Bible is like a letter from the person who set up the fishbowl. Far from being logically exclusive, the two ideas of creation & evolution easily include each other, or at least suggest each other. There is no logical contradiction between the Bible’s claim that the human soul is “breathed” into us from God, and evolution’s claim that our body evolved from lower forms.

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