The Mythical Use Of The Bible By Evangelicals -- By: Henry F. Lazenby

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:4 (Dec 1991)
Article: The Mythical Use Of The Bible By Evangelicals
Author: Henry F. Lazenby

The Mythical Use Of The Bible By Evangelicals

Henry F. Lazenby*

To speak of a mythical use of the Bible by evangelicals might sound heretical to some people. Thoughts of Zeus, Greek mythology, and Rudolf Bultmann immediately spring to mind. This is because the words “myth,” “mythical,” and “mythologizing” are often considered synonymous with “fairy tale,” “fictional,” and “storytelling.”1 From this standpoint a myth is not real but simply make-believe. As a result, when a demythologizing of the Biblical writings is attempted either by evangelicals or nonevangelicals the desire is to eliminate any hint of myths or mythologizing in the interpretation of those writings. For nonevangelicals this demythologizing is done in order to remove the supposed fictional stories from the Bible and identify those ideas or teachings that are acceptable from a modern scientific point of view.2 For evangelicals the purpose of demythologizing is not to remove these stories but to demonstrate that they are not fictional in character but should be treated as empirical truth.

Before charges of liberalism are hurled because controversial terms are used, a clarification is necessary concerning what these words denote in the present discussion. In this paper “myth,” “mythical” and “mythologizing” are terms used to describe the nonempirical reality and activity of God in an empirical context. The distinction between nonempirical and empirical is necessary to indicate the two different types of reality that are involved when one speaks of the physical world of human beings and the sacred world of God, who exists outside three-dimensional space and time limitations. Employing terms like myth, mythical, or mythologizing is the most appropriate way to recognize this distinction when interpreting Biblical texts that refer to God. As John Knox has noted:

One might conceivably make a purely logical or metaphysical definition of the word “God” or one might affirm the bare fact of God’s reality without the use of any imaginary story or picture; but one could not go beyond such abstract statements and try to say something about any action of God, or about God’s relation to the world, or about his concrete meaning for us without

*Henry Lazenby is professor of systematic theology at Oxford Graduate School in Dayton, Tennessee.

resort to mythological speech—that is, without employing images from our human experience which, by definition, cannot strictly or literally apply.3


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