Stephen Evans on Myth: An Impartial Arbitrator

Reading through C. Stephen Evans  The Historical Christ & The Jesus of Faith, I came across a well-detailed chapter on myth and historicity.  While Evan is addressing New Testament scholarship and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not the Old Testament narratives, his principles of interpretation are universally applicable and serve as an third party to moderate the polemics of Peter Enns and G.K. Beale.  (Note: I am not endorsing Evans carte blanche, especially his abberant inclusivism; I am merely using his discussion about myth and history as a heuristic device to help mediate the Beale-Enns debate).

In his third chapter, Evans highlights dangers about seeing myth(s) in the Bible, but he also provides legitimate grounds for using the term.  He does not categorically deny their use.  Instead, this philosopher from Baylor University discusses the opposing positions of  Soren Kierkegaard (anti myth) and C.S. Lewis (pro myth) to present a modest caution if and when the term is used.  Here is Evans conclusion:

There are good reasons, as I have noted, for avoiding the designation of the incarnational narrative as myth.  Too many people will understand myth as ruling out history, and even those who do not  think history is ruled out may see the historicity of the events as inessential and unimportant in relation to the mythical significance.  In most contexts it would be better to stress the fact that God’s saving acts constitute a narrative which possesses universal power and significance [CS Lewis’ approximate definition], without actually designating the story a myth [cf. Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative].

However, if one is speaking in a context where the terminology will not be misunderstood, it is legitimate to speak of the incarnational narrative [i.e. the virgin birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus] as a myth, following the example of CS Lewis, with the following proviso: the uniqueness of the narrative, its divine origin, and the essential significance of its historicity must be maintained (78)

With that proviso in mind, consider Enns definition of myth, “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?” (Inspiration & Incarnation, 50)  Sadly, even against Evans’ more receptive rubric, Enns definition contains none Evan’s qualifications.  Furthermore, as he lays out his case in I & I, Enns undermines each of these– he diminishes the uniquenesss of the biblical stories, he questions divine modes of revelation in exchange for more ‘evolutionary’ models, and he is critical of the ‘essential historicity” of the biblical accounts (see Beale for a full-fledged critique).  In short, his use of the term ‘myth’ lacks any necessary caveat that would distinguish his proposal from that of higher-critical and modernistic scholars.

In fairness to Peter Enns, I think he is trying to use myth with qualifications.  As the quote above indicates, he is seeking to define with specificity what myth is and is not; but clearly, his qualifications do not go far enough.  His mythological reading of Scripture  fails to assert historicity, uniqueness, and divine origin, which leaves the reader with a careless proposal and a faith-eroding hermeneutic.  

Sadly, it seems that for the sake of critical scholarship, or perhaps just for academic curiousity, he has willing to questioned essential truths about the Bible that will lead many souls to doubt God’s word, just as they have  in the past.  As Ecclesiastes refrains, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and Enns proposal reinforces that truth.  For in terms of Old Testament criticism, his proposals sound very similar to eighteenth century Enlightened scholars, who sound similar to second-century Gnostics, who sound like another pre-modern voice with a serpentine lisp… “Did God really say?”    The problem is not new, and neither is the answer: Contend for the Faith!  Renounce false teaching!

May we continue, with boldness and perseverance, to assert that the faith once for all delivered to the saints is True, Historical, Unique, and Divinely Inspired.  This is not a trifling thing, it is a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

One thought on “Stephen Evans on Myth: An Impartial Arbitrator

  1. “His mythological reading of Scripture fails to assert historicity, uniqueness, and divine origin, which leaves the reader with a careless proposal and a faith-eroding hermeneutic.”

    Actually Peter and others are trying to take seriousley the “historicity” via generic criticism. Abrstacting the Scriptures from their histoical context, presupposing how they “must look” is indeed more look, all the while rooted in a classic foundationalism epistomology is the view similiar to “eighteenth century Enlightened scholars”. An understanding of “myth” (or mytho-historical at times) does not deny divine origin anymore than the non-historical nature of Jesus’ parables.

    What if the tables are turned and itsyour beleifs that lead to a “faith-eroding hermeneutic”? What if critical scholarship can be helpful? Then Enns and Kenton Sparks and others may be building faith by truly understanding the nature of Scripture and revelation.

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