Adam and Eve, History or Myth?
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles for evangelical Christians who are resistant to the idea of evolution is a literalist reading of scripture –– in particular, the text of Genesis 1-3, which details the creation of the earth and its inhabitants.
While most biblical scholars would likely advocate a literary reading of Genesis, as opposed to a literal one, the characterization of Genesis 1-3 as a “mythic” text can make some people uneasy. This is largely due to the fact that in our American culture, “myth” has become synonymous with “not true”. From its Greek origin, however, myth is simply defined as a story or legend that has cultural significance in explaining the hows and whys of human existence, using metaphorical language to express ideas beyond the realm of our five senses.
But to suggest that Genesis is both a mythic text as well as the “inerrant Word of God” may require a leap of faith for some.
British author, pastor, and theologian Rev. Dr. N.T. Wright suggests that the mythological part has been misunderstood and discarded by many evangelicals in favor of a reading based entirely on questions of historicity.
He argues that “to flatten that [the text of Genesis] out is to almost perversely avoid the real thrust of the narrative … we have to read Genesis for all its worth and to say either history or myth is a way of saying 'I’m not going to read this text for all its worth, I am just going to flatten it out so that it conforms to the cultural questions that my culture today is telling me to ask'.”
Many might wonder—but isn’t this pursuit of contemporary context a good thing? Not so, Wright replies, “I think that’s actually a form of being unfaithful to the text itself.”
In this video clip, Wright suggests that questions concerning the historicity of Genesis and the historicity of Adam and Eve get caught up in contemporary cultural issues and miss the larger story.
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.