08 May 2013

Not as Loose

by Frank Turk

I am travelling this week and out of time to make an original post. This one below is a revision of a post from the best blog in the history of bandwidth, from 2005 -- back when Blogs were carried around by pony express, and Phil Johnson noticed that blog as a pontentially-dangerous source of content for this blog. Enjoy.

This post is about a word that is in-play in a debate about a book by Prof. Peter Enns titled Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005) which also makes an appearance in some form in the Crossan/White debate from 2005: myth.

Prof. Enns' book uses the word in this way: "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?" (50) That is to say, if I may be so bold as to paraphrase Prof. Enns, narratives which demonstrate truth as art but not necessarily as empirical truth.

At any rate, this word "myth" is an interesting one. Somehow saying that the Bible contains "myths" and therefore we have some liberty or obligation (depending on how the argument is being phrased) to read it less-rigidly than we would a history book or newspaper apparently makes one's hermeneutical approach better. For example, Prof. Enns uses this word (as I have read in John Armstrong's counter-review of the work) not to denigrate Scripture but the patch up the home-job Evangelicals and Protestants have made over the years in reading the interpretations of the OT made by the NT.

This criticism/approach comes from the neighborhood in which "modernity" and Enlightenment epistemology are seen (by some) as the low-point of intellectual wrestling in the West or (by others) as a rigid filter which is incompatible with the worldview and epistemology of the culture(s) in which the Bible was written, causing those who are stuck in "modernity" to miss the point of ancient texts pretty significantly.

To those in that neighborhood who have stumbled onto this blog, I say, "welcome to the other side of the tracks."

One of the major assumptions of your criticism ("you" being those critical of "enlightenment" mojo) is that Peter, Paul and the other fellows writing the NT didn't view text the way an Enlightenment reader would view text. If you're going to try to make me answer yes or no to the question, "Did Peter, Paul and the other fellows writing the NT view text the way an Enlightenment reader would view text?", I admit I'd have to answer "no". But their view of text was not as loose as your critical opinion demands, either.

Now: how do I come to that conclusion? It comes back to that little word "myth" – a word we can find in the NT 5 times.

Now, of course, unless we want to veer into the dark swamp of KJVOism, the word "myth" does not actually appear in the NT: the word "muthos" does. And it appears in the following 5 verses:

1Tim 1:4
1Tim 4:7
2Tim 4:4
Tit 1:14
2Pet 1:16

Now here's my theory: if we can determine what the writers of these verses meant in context by using the word "muthos", we can have some insight into their view of the epistemology of language and their view of how to handle texts.

We're going to look at each passage individually, then take a look at the cumulative effect at the end. It is my (yet to be substantiated) thesis that the way Paul and Peter use this word in these passages undercuts the view of "myth" being proposed actively by some quarters today.


MTHudson said...

I believe this post will launch a wave of ' your muthos' jokes like: Your muthos is so fat that its girth can accommodate anything within, but admits no room for anything without!

MTHudson said...

By the by - Attn Readers Of This Post: If you're still looking for the 'payoff' after multiple readings, it's in going and reading the five listed verses of scripture in context. The Bible is a slam-dunk.

Robert said...

Enns throws out the word prescientific without even thinking about the fact that science only exists because of God. He has it all backwards right at the root.

Anonymous said...

I hear a lot of new Christian writers say things like the Flood, Balaam and the talking donkey, Jonah and the whale, are not literal, and even go so far to call them myths or just "stories". To which I say: Don't be surprised when your people start asking you if the Resurrection should be interpreted literally. We have this new view where every miracle before and after the Resurrection was just a "story".

Michael Coughlin said...

This is why I have often theorized that Jesus was in the grave 3 billion years. Or at least 3,000 since a day is like a thousand years.

But God owns the cattle on a thousand hills? But I know he actually owns all the cattle. So maybe a thousand really means infinity. or maybe it means he only owns cattle on 1 hill, since a thousand is like a day to the Lord.

Maybe the best strategy would be to follow in MTHudson footsteps and just read the scriptures offered.