Myth?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

I "met" Tim last year when I was looking for commentaries on Galatians and sent him an email from LibraryThing.com. We sort of "met" again today and started discussing about church planting. He and his wife is planting a church in Clarksville, Tennessee. Check it out here.

He asked me if I have read anything before about how the Gospel functions as a myth or as a symbolic universe. I jumped at the reference of the Gospel as a myth. But before I went berating over it, I had to check the dictionary.

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University, 2004), other than it being "a widely held but false belief; a fictitious person or thing; an exaggerated and idealised concept of a person or thing," it also mean "a traditional story concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon and typically involving supernatural beings or events." Now, what a stark difference between the two possible meanings! One an absolutely false belief while the other is actually history.

If we take a look at Dictionary.com:

  • Random House Unabridged Dictionary (Random House, Inc. 2006) gives only the first meaning, i.e. false belief
  • American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) gives a wider definition, which I can't quite differentiate between false or history
  • Online Etymology Dictionary (Douglas Harper, 2001) states that the general sense of "untrue story, rumour" began as early as 1840
  • WordNet 3.0 (Princeton University, 2006) has it as "a traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people"
This is new to me. I have always taken it along the line of false belief. With such a difference in the array of definitions, when do you take it as a false story and when do you take it as a traditional story accepted as history? It is significant when we use it to talk about the Gospel.

pearlie

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3 comment(s)

  1. In my lit classes in high school, we defined a myth as a tale widely accepted as false without evidence that it is such. I think many people look at the Bible in this way.

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  2. Depending on what field you're in (literature, anthropology, etc.), myth could take on different definitions. It could sometimes mean a classical story (like a legend), created forms of belief, sometimes even metaphor.

    Myths and archetypes are usually linked; archetypes are universal symbolic patterns, and some people take myths as those archetypal stories that explain the nature of the world and life. For example, stories of origins (Genesis?!), or the story of the hero making a journey to overcome the odds.

    I think we have to be careful in employing the language of myth when talking about the gospel or the Bible (you don't want to downplay that it is history and grounded in space-time after all), but at the same time some people get too scared that we've become thoroughly liberal when we sometimes employ such categories.

    I don't have it at the moment, but I seem to remember Frederic Buechner's essay "The Gospel as Fairy Tale" being stimulating.

    Enough verbosity from me... :)

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  3. Thanks for enlightening me, BK - that was informative.

    BK, Missy - therefore I am still in the opinion that for the sake of the ordinary man in the street, we need to be careful using such multiple terms on the bible.

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