Is the Bible Myth or History?

As humans we learn, think, communicate, everything we do happens through stories to the very heart of who we are. I would argue this grows out of who God. Facts are important. Information is important, but fundamental to the human experience is story.  

The Bible is a story. More than half of the Bible is historical narrative, meaning real events that really happened told in story form. All the other kinds of writings in the Bible only makes sense in the larger context of what goes on in the historical narratives of the Bible. 

Consider what good stories have. A good story has a very clear theme that draws the reader along.  Good stories have conflict and resolution. A good story also has both diversity and unity. All kinds of different things going on that weave all together by the end of the story. And the most fundamental pieces of a good story: a beginning, a middle and an end. These are these are the basic pieces of any good story.  

The Bible as a whole tells such a story with all of these elements there. It’s a story of historical events. But the Bible is also a different kind of a narrative beyond just historical events. The Bible is a metanarrative, the big Story behind all other stories. A metanarrative is the story that helps all the other stories in life or in a culture or in society makes sense. 

Every culture, every religion such a metanarrative, a story about how the world is. All worldviews tell such a story that attempts to explain the world, even if those worldviews do not think they’re presenting it that way. 

metanarrative is the story that helps all the other stories in life or in a culture or in society makes sense.”

Another term for a metanarrative is myth. Critics of the Old Testament often will argue that Old Testament is just simply one myth among all the other myths of history of human history. There’s nothing any different about it. We also think of mythology from other cultures like ancient Greece or Rome. These, too, function as stories that sought to explain where a culture came from, how it worked, and why it was like it was.

We often hear “myth” and think of it as a story that isn’t true: a false tale. But a myth in the literary sense is a worldview that comes in the form of a narrated story. It’s a worldview. How does the world work? Why is it the way it is? Those answers presented in the form of a narrated story is a myth. 

In this discussion, metanarrative and myth are the same thing. What we’re talking about are stories that explain the way that a culture understands who it is, where it came from, how it works, and why it thinks the way it thinks. Every culture, every religion has some kind of an explanation to answer those basic things. And at the heart of every religion or every culture is a metanarrative, in other words, an explanation of that in story form of some kind  

You have all of these other myths and culture, all of them purporting to tell some kind of a story about how the world came to be the way it is. And in that sense, the Bible is myth. It is giving a story, a metanarrative about how the world came to be, why it is the way it is, and what’s going to happen with it. It explains reality. The difference is, C.S. Lewis famously contended, that the Bible is the myth that happens to also be factually true. It’s not merely just a story that explains the origins of the world and why the world works the way it is. It happens to be historical fact as well. 

“The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying god, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens at a particular date, in particular place, followed by definable historical consequences.”

C.S Lewis, God in the Dock

The Bible is radically different from all other myths of other religions and cultures. The Bible is doing both. It is offering to us a metanarrative, a broad, grand overarching story about where the how the world came into existence. What happened to it? Why it is the way it is, and what’s going to happen to it in the future. That’s a metanarrative.  But it’s also historical. It’s also real events. It’s also claiming to say, this is actually how it happened and, therefore, it is presenting reality itself. And that calls our attention. Because if the Bible in fact is that kind of story, we now have in front of us the explanation for all of reality in absolute concrete form. 

Well, we find similar stories in the Old Testament in other cultures. For example, versions of the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh or in other Mesopotamian cultures. We find flood stories in various ancient Egyptian meta narratives and mythologies, and therefore that means all these all of these ancient sources were borrowing from each other.  

What we’re dealing with as we study the Old Testament is not just a collection of biblical principles or theological truths. What we don’t want to do is just go through and mine facts and propositions,. Instead, God has come to us and said, let me let me show you reality itself in the form of a story. That invites us to enter into this story and understand and see all of the parts, all of the complexities. 

In its most basic form, we can reduce the story of the Bible down to three words: creation, fall, redemption. We need to unpack that a little bit more to give us a better structure for the narrative flow of the Bible story, so we can also look at the Bible in 6 simple Acts:

  • Act 1 – Creation, Genesis 1-3.
  • Act 2 – Fall, Genesis 4 through 11. 
  • Act 3 – Israel, Genesis 12 
  • Act 4 – Jesus, The Gospels
  • Act 5 – Church, book of Acts, letters of NT
  • Act 6 – New Creation, Revelation

That’s pretty simple, right? In one sense, the narrative of the Bible is a fairly basic structure to wrap our minds around. 

I want you to hold two things side by side as a part of this story. The first is the theme of CREATION-FALL-REDEMPTION.  It’s the story of God’s design in Creation, mankind’s rebellion against God – the Fall, and the story of what God is going to do about it – Redemption.

Lay alongside that the theme of KINGDOM. When Jesus goes about beginning his public ministry, he goes all around through Galilee, proclaiming and preaching, “Repent and believe, for the kingdom is at hand.” And Jesus himself talked about the kingdom more than any other topic. 

For more on the kingdom of God in the Bible’s big story as well as the four simple Ps that help us understand the theological summary of the Old Testament, listen to Journey Through the Old Testament Episode 3 on the RS Podcast using your favorite podcast platform or the player below.

 

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Further reading

What is the Old Testament?

The Old Testament, or the Hebrew scriptures, are 39 books inspired by God that make up 75% of the Bible. These books covers the history of humanity...

What is the “kingdom”?

National Geographic has this very interesting article about kingdoms. A kingdom is a piece of land that is ruled by a king or...

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