I got your attention, didn’t I?
The Bible is a myth, in the truest sense of the word. Usually when we think of the word, images of fairy tales and urban legends come to mind. But in literary terms, a myth is a story that explains the origin or purpose of a group of people. It is the overarching explanation of why that group exists and what it should be working towards.
Myths teach us about what it means to be human through stories of heroism, friendship and fidelity, and sacrifice for the greatest of causes. Myths teach us the ideals that are valued in our culture. They tell us how to best orient our lives.
The Bible has been called the Great Myth and the True Myth. What that means is that the Bible is the great drama that explains who God is, who we are, what our purpose is, and how we ought to orient our lives. Sometimes we forget that, technically speaking, the Bible is largely narrative, or story. And all of Scripture is part of the epic of God and his work in the world.
Why is this important?
Unlike in ancient times, when people were oriented towards story and drama as vehicles for discerning Truth, the contemporary person tends to expect truth to come almost exclusively in the form of propositional statements. From math and science to human longing and love, we seem to prefer to process truth in decontextualized forms. In other words, rather than listen to a story about true friendship to understand the dynamics of it, we expect to learn about it through a list of attributes or a psychological study published in a scholarly journal.
This may or may not be problematic, as a matter of course. But it is certainly problematic when we approach the Bible as a textbook or even a systematic theology book and look for direct propositional truth statements supporting every facet of our faith. Even when we find a propositional statement (He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Romans 4:25), we endanger our understanding of it when we divorce it from the larger narratives of Scripture, and the Narrative of Scripture, which is God’s redemptive plan for his fallen creation.
Using the example passage above, we would not only miss the nuance of the this sublime theological declaration but would also likely misinterpret it. The background of Genesis 3, both in the Fall of humanity and the promise of a seed, inform why Jesus was willing to die for our sins and how devastating our sinful state was to the creation God so dearly loves. The testing of Abraham with his only son Isaac gives us a picture of God’s willingness to step into our deepest pain and provide an escape from death. The Levitical system, with it’s substitutionary sacrifices, is crucial to understanding how it is that Jesus’ death would do anything for our sin. God’s heart for his wayward bride, Israel (shown throughout the Prophets), makes clear the depth of his desire for our redemption. The life of Jesus displays his qualifications as a substitute, both in his miraculous birth as the God-man and his sinless life.
Even as I write this, I’m struck by the utter impossibility to conveying the profundity and nuance of these truths in this propositional manner. Thank goodness we have a reliable and true Myth to engage our minds, our imaginations, and our emotions for the glory of God and the hope of our salvation.