What’s the Deal with Genesis 1-3? | Myth or Fiction?

Is Genesis, chapters 1-3 really true? Did God really create everything? Or, is it mythology, with talking snakes and a tree of knowledge and a God who walks? To use a concept by C.S. Lewis, I would say it is “true myth.”

When we talk about myth in the Genesis Creation story context, we are not talking about “fiction.” Rather the literary genre of myth is simply a symbol filled story about a reality that is beyond our comprehension. What we must keep in mind, is that no one actually saw the Creation of the Universe. But, through ancient writers, who possessed a rich and accurate oral tradition, we have a Creation Story that sets against a constrasting backdrop of lesser creation story accounts (such as the Enuma Elish Babylonian creation story where the gods are fighting, one is slain, and man is created out of the discarded god-material).

So, in Genesis 1 through 3, we have an author who is not writing primarily as a historian, who is preoccupied with a strict chronological time-line. The author is not writing as a scientist, who is preoccupied with how everything came into existence from a physics standpoint alone. What we have is an author, who is endeavoring to answer the question of Who it is that stands behind the work of unwitnessed creation.

The author organizes the Creation Story along the metaphoric lines of a work week. We work six days and rest; God worked six days and rested. This suggests that the writer himself is nested within an organized social structure when this Creation Story was written. It comes well after the fact of Creation, but through an oral tradition, the Creation story was preserved by a community of people who would not allow inaccuracies into the story.

Genesis 1-3 is a Creation Story that explains what happened from a distinctively monotheistic, Hebrew frame of reference. But allow for the freedom of the writer to borrow from the literary genre of myth to tell the story; allow the author to use symbols that point to a reality beyond our human comprehension.

Let’s grant that there really was an Adam and Eve; that there really was a talking snake; that there really was a tree of life and of the knowledge of good and evil. But, let’s not stop there. Let’s make the application in light of true myth. That Adam and Eve stand for all of us; that the talking snake represents something very evil in our world; that the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents a choice that we always have to make. You see, we have all been created by God and are in His image. We all face a force and personality of evil in our world. We all have a free-will choice to make regarding God and our relationship with Him. In Adam and Eve, we all sinned even. That put in the very same place, you and I would have done exactly the same thing.

Don’t bog down on literal days versus periods of unspecified time. Don’t bog down on whether or not the talking snake is real. Don’t bog down on why God even placed a tree in the Garden to be tempted with. Rather, look to the realities that these Creation Story details point to. Our universe came from God, who made man in His image with free will. Man chose to disobey at the prompting of an evil presence and the entire creation fell under a curse. But even in this, there is hope planted for a New Adam who would restore a sabotaged creation (Genesis 3:15), One who would come that would thwart any serpentine attempts to de-create our lives (Paul calls Jesus Christ the Second Adam in Romans).

Genesis 1-3 is true myth, but not fiction. It points to realities beyond our human comprehension, like all mythological stories do. Only this mythological story is true.



Filed under Atheism, Atheist, Christian Worldview, Creation, Eden, Free Will, Genesis 1-3, Larger Story, Myth, The Fall

9 responses to “What’s the Deal with Genesis 1-3? | Myth or Fiction?

  1. More often then not, the true myth position is an attempt for unity by ambiguity. It tries to minimizes offense to old-earth creationists who want to say there is a degree of literalness. It also tries to minimize offense to ancient historians who see echos of the Enuma Elish and hence question how anything literal could be both intended and true.

    I just get the feeling that no matter what I disagree with, you could spin it as not understanding your position, so I have to tread carefully.

    The “I don’t know” position on a literal Adam doesn’t solve the problem. If Genesis doesn’t say whether or not he existed, then Luke 3 traces Jesus’ origin to a myth. But to say Genesis says Adam existed is very difficult to argue in light of what you know about the Enuma Elisha. You have to pick your poison.

  2. Myth as literary genre is the key here. Can a Biblical writer utilize a genre concurrent with his time and the people’s understanding of that genre in such a way that truth can be communicated? I would answer “Yes.”

    In doing so, Moses (whom I do consider to be the Pentateuchal author – and we won’t get into all the editors of his work), shows the superiority of the Biblical Creation story. He uses metaphors and motifs (which point to reality) familiar to his readers, and familiar to even what some would call pagan people groups. They would have read the Creation story according to archetypal patterns of mythology circulating in their times. When however they encountered this story, the Biblical story, they would see some very important and sharp distinctions: there is only One God; Man was created in His image, etc…

    Gen. 1-3 is accurate and real, but it looks, sounds, and feels like myth. Only in this case, true myth with a real Adam and Eve in a real garden, beset by a real tempter, with a real option to either choose evil or obedience. But it set up in a mythological pattern. Luke is right to trace the genealogy back to a real Adam because there was one.

  3. In your opinion, is Michael Behe’s position consistent with Genesis? He thinks man is descended from apes, but that a Designer guided the process. (I’m not aware of if he has made this explicit, but I suppose he means something like divinely inspired mutations + natural selection.)

    Perhaps once two offspring of ape-men were sufficiently evolved to be human, God named them Adam and Eve and put them in a garden. Then mitochondrial Eve would be just as scientists say, but mitochondrial Eve would not be the biblical Eve. Do you think this is consistent with Genesis?

  4. I honestly have not read Behe’s argument, but if it is as you speak, I don’t think it is consistent with Genesis. It surprises me that Behe would hold such a view though. But then again, I don’t know him very well.

    I do not believe that we have descended from apes. Imago dei – the image of God in man makes human beings distinct. They have never evolved from a lower life form. While both humans and animals are “living souls” (nephesh), only man is made in imago dei. No animal made a suitable “help-meet” for Adam; God responded with Eve.

  5. I should mention that man sharing a common ancestor with animals is Behe’s position, and the reconciliation is purely my elaboration. I’m not aware of him having discussed the biblical implications.

    Not that you disagreed with me, but Behesaid this directly.

    “I want to be explicit about what I am, and am not, questioning. The word “evolution” carries many associations. Usually it means common descent — the idea that all organisms living and dead are related by common ancestry. I have no quarrel with the idea of common descent, and continue to think it explains similarities among species. By itself, however, common descent doesn’t explain the vast differences among species.”

    Because you hold this to be unbiblical, I find this to be inconsistent with the position that Genesis does not discuss “how” God created. Certainly you see vastly less how than young-earth creationists and a bit less than most old-earth creationists, but there still is some “how” in your interpretation of Genesis.

  6. Perhaps you are right in seeing more “how” than I do. But “the how” of creation was not a priority of the Genesis author. It was more about a “Who” and if you look at the Pentateuch as narrative, and one coherent, consistent literary work – you will find a polemic offered, standing against idolatry (many separate gods who some how created) in this opening chapter of Genesis.

    Interestingly, the Bible really never substantiates or proves the existence of God (in terms of one single book or chapter that states “OK, now we will prove that God exists.”); it merely assumes it, in an almost “How could you even think otherwise?” kind of assumption. But it is the work of science to help us explain the how, but not biased, atheistic science.

    God created, which means He obviously exists; now, lets explore how he went about it as opposed to, let’s explain it all without Him, which is what you get in modern day evolutionary theory many times.

  7. >But “the how” of creation was not a priority of the Genesis author.

    I certainly agree. Which is why I don’t see why you care if man was created from dust or from apes. I just don’t see how you can call Genesis of myth of any kind, and still look to it for part of the how. (Of course, the biblical possibility of the theory of common descent and evolution doesn’t mean you have to think it actually happened.)

    >But it is the work of science to help us explain the how, but not biased, atheistic science.

    There is a big difference between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism – evolution depends on the former only.

    In studying weather patterns or embryonic development, you would intuitively accept methodological naturalism. If two meteorologists are studying a storm, one a Christian and the other an atheist, there is no reason to think they will do anything differently. Both will leave God out of the equations and base predictions on natural laws. This isn’t due to some kind of anti-God bias, but simply because the equations work without God and even when the equations don’t work, adding a God-parameter isn’t a useful means of predicting the behavior of the universe or learning about what went on in the past. Evolutionary biologists due to same, regardless of their belief/non-belief in God.

    The problem is that God doesn’t want us to put him to the test. Through this command, he has excluded himself from science, which depends on predictions and tests.

  8. Pingback: 2010 in review | Spiritual Questions Blog

  9. Oni-Link

    Hi again Joey

    I think that whether its a myth or not is besides the point, i think the content alone is enough to make us question it as truth, and i dont mean that from a phyical point of view, i mean that but simply looking at the logic of the situation

    God knows and sees all, even knowing what will happen in the future and able to see all that happened in the past, (please correct me if im wrong on any of this), therefore by putting the snake and the tree in the garden, or even just the tree, didnt he know that they would eat from it?

    my point is that he engineered the situation for those events to take place, yet later we have a contradiction where he seems to have “left” only to find out the fruit was taken, which he is angry at, despite knowing (cos he’s god, after all) it was going to happen anyway

    I know this is kind of off topic but im curious to hear your thoughts on the matter



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