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.