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Adam and Eve, History or Myth?

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January 13, 2010 Tags: Adam, the Fall, and Sin

Today's video features N.T. Wright. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

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.

For more conversations about science and religion, be sure to visit our new "Conversations" section, accessible through our Audio/Video page or on our YouTube channel.

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.

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John Warren - #19223

June 27th 2010

What do politics or the Atlantic Ocean have to do with the way one views Genesis 1-3?  Either it’s true or it’s not, in the USA, England, Cameroon, or Tibet.  Once you decide that God is not a liar at a basic level (i.e., words) you can then move onto the overtones, or the way the Creation Story resembles the Tabernacle/Temple cult, and be highly blessed by it.  I am amazed at how, at the end, he can turn it around on those who take Scripture at face value and say that they do disservice to the text by not understanding it correctly.  But NT Wright is actually serving (wittingly or unwittingly) to undermine it’s credibility (if that were possible), by sophisticatedly calling into question the straightforward meaning of the words.  I’m also amazed at how facilely he lumps those who try to take God at face value with one-dimensional dualists.  Pretty insulting.  There was a lot of strawmanism going on in this man who’s so respected by millions.

I have no problem with the Power of Myth, and I do not see Myth as necessarily contrary to Fact.  I just believe in God’s power more than NT Wright does, because I believe He can write His Great Story, in the amazing way only He can, with actual facts.  That’s much more powerful.

Jon Garvey - #22316

July 18th 2010

“What do politics or the Atlantic Ocean have to do with the way one views Genesis 1-3?  Either it’s true or it’s not, in the USA, England, Cameroon, or Tibet.  Once you decide that God is not a liar at a basic level (i.e., words) you can then move onto the overtones,”

Just looked the editorial in today’s “New York Times”. I gather it’s considered quite a reliable purveyor of truth that side of the Atlantic. The heading is “How can Obama rebound?”

Now, I guess it either represents truth or not, but I’d have to say that over here we’re not overly concerned with whether our politicians bounce, but about their policies.

Which is to say that words are never “just” words, even in straight journalism, but always carry a cultural weighting. In the case of the NYT headline, unless a foreigner looks at the cultural overtones first, he’ll never have a clear idea of what the words actually mean. In the Bible God does indeed write his great story with actual facts, but also uses a lot of metaphor, poetic description (sometimes in parallel with facts, as in the Song of Deborah), parable and even peculiarly Jewish genres like apocalyptic. They’re not the overtones, but the message itself.

Jon Garvey - #22317

July 18th 2010

Incidentally, there is an amusing illustration of a modern mythical cosmogeny (in graphic form) on this very site: see the illustration here: http://biologos.org/questions/ages-of-the-earth-and-universe/

The picture is fairly typical of what you see in textbooks on prehistory, and would appear to suggest that evolutionists believe the world to be a spiral with a river or ocean running down the middle. Is this picture a true representation of scientific opinion (whether or not you subscribe to their views)? Is it supposed to be literally true? Well, yes, but only if you have the cultural keys in your mind to translate the picture into the right ideas. I dare say if you showed it to an ancient Hebrew or Babylonian he would wonder what on earth led us to such a grotesquely distorted view of the world.

Trent - #25060

August 7th 2010

Dr. James Willingham

Bless you for your conversion!
I am praying that this happens to more atheists that they may recieve christ!

Elizabeth Howland - #39022

November 8th 2010

Our Creator, our Father’s kid Jesus died, three days later was alive then left through the sky without a plane and this is literal truth. 

Recently I realized “Oh, of course Noah’s ark is fact, Jonah in a fish? sure, why not? Of course it’s true!  I believed a dead kid came alive—of course, why not believe ALL the bible is true!”

Long winded definitions that appeal to people’s intellect not their heart harmed me but worse hurt Him.  Knowing Him in my heart but doubting His words as FACT or picking, choosing what I believed in the bible as true in my intellect limited me knowing Him, desiring to grasp His love and showing His love to others for years. 

My brilliant Chinese friends, international respected professor and speaker on international developmental finances and his wife by their faith, devotion, love relationship with Him mattered and I wanted to love Him as they love Him. 

“Jesus Christ is my Savior!  He loves me!”  I get it!  Now get it!  I believed Jesus is my Savior, He died and rose on the cross for my sins—but only now that I quit thinking, arguing and saw of course the bible truths are all facts I love Him and pray to bring Glory to His name not because of what I know about Him, but I know Him.

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