I received quite the broadside from a Biblical fundamentalist this morning. He had asked whether I thought the Bible had copied from pagan myths regarding the Flood and Creation. Then he was obviously displeased with my answer that I did not believe the early chapters of Genesis were directly copied from Egyptian and Mesopotamian myths but they certainly shared certain common elements based on a common Ancient Near Eastern culture. His reply was scathing and typical:

“Do you really believe that the God of the bible lies to men, tells them fairytales as if they were fact, when they actually aren´t, borrows myths from pagans etc.? I can´t believe that you´re so open in that regard, Dave. Is Christ then a borrowing from pagan Gods and myths, too?? (There are some similarities, you know). Where does that leave us? I´m glad that I can trust my God and His word to be 100% accurate contentwise, without having to bow down to modern-day Western bible criticism and pseudo-scientific wisdom of this age. And it becomes even more clear to me, why God chooses childlike faith over worldly wisdom. Blessed be those who trust in God and not the mumbling of the scientific community; of mortals who throw away their ideas and change their minds in every decade. But I shouldn´t start another discussion like that, right?

btw: I´m not sorry, if this sounds sarcastic…Its supposed to be.”

It truly saddens me to see this kind of knee-jerk anti-intellectualism in sincere Christians. They seldom take time to understand what scientists or biblical critics are actually saying or how newly dicovered facts can be worked into faith without overturning it. Instead, they seem to invent some wild caricature of what scholars and scientists are saying and attack that as if it were what is being proposed. Well, being just dumb enough to respond, I did (perhaps this will help you when dealing with the same type of thinking):

“It is not that God lies, God meets us where we are at as in the Incarnation.

The reason we were given the Bible was to teach us true doctrines and right virtuous God-pleasing behavior. It is clear that Scripture is chock full of ancient ideas on science, history, cosmology, biology, geography, etc. And that’s OK, apparently God could not have cared a less about correcting the ancient human authors’ views on these things so long as He got across “the one thing needful” (viz. what we needed to know for our salvation).

The literalist approach you seem to be describing is something new in Christianity (a little over a century old) and held by only a small segment of believers (Protestant fundamentalists). Historically from the beginning Christians have been comfortable with both literal and metaphorical approaches to Scripture.

Origen exemplified the ante-Nicene approach by saying Scripture had a body, soul, and spirit corresponding to literal, moral, and allegorical interpretations. Each passage had at least one and sometimes all three meanings.

Later, Bl. Augustine developed what medieval Christians would call the Quadriga comparing the interpretation of Scripture to a four-horsed chariot: each passage could be one or more of these senses- literal, allegorical, tropological (moral), or anagogical (symbolically predictive of future things). He also cautioned us to temper our literal interpretations in view of science and to not make Scripture or the Faith look ridiculous by defending interpretations at odds with scientifically established facts.

We should not take the Bible literally, we should take it literarily. It is the only way to correctly make senses of Scripture. We need to approach the Bible in its ancient context and try to see it as the original audience would have and not as modern Western 21st century men do- the Bible was written for us but not originally to us after all.

It is not that the ancient authors copied the surrounding pagan myths but there were ubiquitous themes in the air around them so to speak that they drew from and sanctified with God’s Spirit moving them to tell us what we really need to know for our spiritual well-being.

This two-part article explains this idea better than I have:

Part 1 | Part 2

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