Genre Crisis: Is the Bible Mythological?

Apr 15, 2014 | Wes Hynd

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Nathan Phelps, son of the infamous and recently deceased Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, share his story of growing up in a hate-filled, religious environment. It was a sad story, and I am not surprised that such an upbringing, with no real foundation for any of the beliefs he was taught, caused Nathan to walk away from his belief in God. Still, it saddened me further to hear him say that while he agrees with many of the moral teachings of the Bible, it is essentially a fictional storybook.

It is becoming a widespread belief today that the Bible, along with other “holy books,” is simply a bunch of stories. In fact, many take the position which Nathan Phelps takes: that the Bible is full of great moral teachings, but is itself a work of mythology not unlike stories of Zeus and Thor. Many intellectuals have a hard time with stories like Noah and the flood or the resurrection of Jesus, and so naturally these stories cannot be true.

While it’s true that these stories cannot be true naturally, I think that’s actually precisely the point. A collection of books which claims to be the Word of God could not be true unless it were supernatural, after all. Which means the real question is not whether these stories are believable (since if the supernatural exists, anything is possible). The real question is whether there is any evidence to support the historical validity of these books. After all, we are not actually talking about one book here. We are in fact talking about 66 different historical documents written by some 40 different authors over a span of more than 1,500 years. Each one would have to be assessed individually, or at least with its contemporaries, in order to determine that the entire Bible is just a bunch of stories.

So let me ask you this. Why do we believe any historical documents in antiquity? For one thing, we look for details we can confirm as accurate, such as real historical figures, events and geographical locations. So how does the Bible compare in this area?

Dr. Nelson Glueck is considered to have been one of the greatest archaeologists to have ever lived, credited with over 1,500 archaeological discoveries. In his book Rivers in the Desert (1959), Glueck said “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries.” This is an impressive statement for a leading archaeologist to make, one which should not be taken lightly.

By 1958, Donald Wiseman, an archaeologist and Professor of Assyriology at the University of London, stated that there were over 25,000 archaeological discoveries which had confirmed the accuracy and truthfulness of the Bible.[1] Of course, that was in 1958. In 1961, a stone was discovered with an inscription referencing Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea. In 1993, a stone was discovered referencing David, the King of Israel. Time Magazine wrote “The skeptics’ claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend” (Dec. 18, 1995). The ruins of Nineveh, King Hezekiah’s tunnel, the ruins of the Hittite civilization, the ancient ruins of Babylon, the Pool of Siloam, Jacob’s Well, the Pool of Bethesda and Herod’s palace are among other significant recent discoveries which have authenticated Biblical historical references, in addition to the previous 25,000. All this has been done while less than one per cent of the ground in Israel has actually been excavated. There are still many more discoveries to be made.

It would seem that the books of the Bible have not proved to be fictional storybooks or works of mythology at all, but to the contrary, have only been authenticated by archaeology up to this point. Of course, this does not automatically mean that we should accept all of the Bible immediately, but it does mean that we should give it serious consideration. One might suggest that the authors of the Bible still mythologized real historical figures and events. However, the portraits they paint of these historical figures, and in some cases of themselves, are most certainly not always favourable. For example, accounts of the beloved King David include details of his adulterous encounter with a married woman and subsequent murder of her husband. Not very flattering for such a well-loved and respected king. In other cases of historical exaggeration, such as with the Greek historian Herodotus, there are clear motives and bias. It is hard to see any such motives or intent to exaggerate or deceive here.

Regardless of whether one believes the Bible is the Word of God, it must be acknowledged that it is not merely a work of fiction. There are real historical figures, events and geographical locations recorded in its pages.

There are other good reasons for trusting the Bible. In a few weeks, we’ll look at the Bible’s claims to have fulfilled prophecies.

Why do you trust or distrust the Bible?


[1] Donald J. Wiseman, “Archaeological Confirmation of the Old Testament,” Carl F.H. Henry, ed., Revelation and the Bible. Contemporary Evangelical Thought. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958: 301.

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About the Author

Wes Hynd

Wes has been involved with Power to Change as a student and on staff for 10 years, including one year on STINT in Panama. Currently, he works with students at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University and loves to get students excited about living a life of passionate commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Wes is married to Nadine and enjoys playing soccer, listening to music and talking about deep philosophical questions. He is also a Toronto Maple Leafs fan (do with that what you will).

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