Throughout 5,000 years of recorded human history virtually every culture has had some kind of myths regarding the supernatural world. In fact, Judaism and later Christianity, also sprang from a group of stories about the supernatural world and its impact on Israeli society. All of the ancient religious myths have fallen into obscurity, but Judaism and Christianity remain. Yet here is a surprise that most Christians don’t think about.
The Bible has all the markings of an ancient myth.
Now, for purposes of clarity let me define what I mean by a religious myth. A religious myth, in one definition, is a story or group of stories about gods, goddesses, or other supernatural beings that help shape a culture, but from a historical and factual perspective are not true. Myths are not true. They are religious folklore. They have value in that they can teach certain principles a society holds, but they are not, by definition, true accounts of real world events. What may surprise many Christians is that Christianity and Judaism have all of the markings of ancient religious myths—with two important exceptions.
How do we know the Bible isn't a myth?
Virtually all religious myths have five common elements. It doesn’t matter if these myths are ancient, such as the early Akkadian or Babylonian myths, the Greek and Roman myths, or even some of the modern religious myths of our day (which I’ll touch on in a moment).
These five characteristics are:
1.) Gods and/or goddesses
2.) Supernatural humans otherwise known as demigods
3.) Its stories are regarded as true accounts of the remote past
4.) They explain how society or the world began, sometimes including how the cosmos began
5.) They help establish what becomes the customs and culture of a people
It may surprise you, but the Bible, as a collection of religious narratives and accounts has all five of these elements. So how do we know that the Bible isn’t a myth like every other failed religious tradition through history? Aside from the archeological and historical evidences for its personalities, what traits does the Bible have that classify it as a history-based faith rather than myth?
Myth stories are always about past events that have no real-world tie to the people or society it is contemporary with. But there are two elements of biblical accounts that place the Bible outside the realm of religious myth.
1.) The Bible has a chain of events in real history that demonstrate its narratives are something other than made-up stories
2.) The stories in the Bible were contemporary to the people who heard them, read them, and lived them
First, a chain of events, referred to above, means that the Bible records a series of stories about history that flow chronologically from one to the next to outline not a few stories about key characters, but a long chain of events covering centuries of real-world history. We see this from the writings of Moses all the way through the return of Judah from Babylonian exile. This is an unbroken string of history from the exodus from Egypt to the time of Joshua as Moses’ successor, to a series of governors (judges), to a series of kings in Israel and Judah, to the exiles to Assyria and Babylon, ending with the return of Judah to the Promised Land seventy years later and a short series of follow up events after that. In fact, this chain of events unfolds a period of history lasting around 1,100 years. Since these accounts make up an unbroken chain of events we have the ability to look back into historical documents and the through archeology to confirm the existence of the people, places, and events that are described in the Bible (Here’s a website that list numerous archeological finds corroborating many of the Bible’s key figures, places, and events). Traditionally, religious myths do not do this.
Second, the stories of the Bible were contemporary to the people who heard them, read them, and lived them. This is not true of religious myths. For instance, Moses wrote his accounts about the exodus from Egypt while the Israelites were in the desert with him. He wrote about something that they all saw and experienced. His stories were contemporary to his readers. The Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes were written contemporary to the people who first read them (authored by David and Solomon). The prophet Jeremiah wrote God's judgments and they were given to King Jehoiakim who burned them as he read them (Jeremiah 36). Jeremiah’s stories were contemporary to the society he lived in. Daniel read the scroll of Jeremiah about his present day situation though he was only separated from Jeremiah by a few decades (Daniel 9:1-2).
The Gospels have the same characteristics, as does the book of Acts and Paul's letters. These documents were not written hundreds of years later about an ancient past, but were written contemporary to the people who lived when the events themselves happened (though many of their readers were separated by distance if little by time).
These two characteristics of the Bible’s accounts place the Bible outside the realm of all other early religious myths, making the Bible a category of its own. In fact, even in modern times there are stories that we might classify as myth because they have all of the five before-mentioned elements yet lack the two qualifying elements that testify to the Bible’s historical reliability. Consider these interesting ideas.
Under the above definition modern cults like Mormonism and Watchtower can be understood as modern myths. They fit the definition above and have zero evidentiary support through history and archeology. In fact, they also have archeological and historical evidences against their claims, making them modern myths.
Many modern people disregard the Bible’s accounts because they either have an anti-supernatural worldview or they have simply never read the Bible or studied its claims in the light of historical real-world events. Our post-modern, atheistic society automatically closes the door on these possibilities and dismisses the Bible not realizing that their own worldview doesn’t hold up to evidentiary scrutiny.
The Bible is not a myth, nor does it fall under the category of being a series of myths. The Bible is unique and falls under a class by itself for its accuracy, truthfulness, and ability to change lives through its testimony. What else should we expect from a God who lives and works in and through the real world we live in? It is, after all, not possible for God to work in the world and not leave any evidence that he is the one doing the things that he has done.
Tom Terry is a ministry media specialist with Cru. He can be reached through his website at www.thomasterry.com.