In a Scripture study I am involved in a rather spirited discussion was held on whether the Church teaches the Genesis, Chapters 1-11 are “myth” or “history.” What is the official position of the Church on this?
It is history.
It is Salvation History.
It is not the histroy of theology.
It is not social science history.
It is not the theology of history.
It is not myth.
Again, it is Salvation History.
Or, it is the History of Salvation.
The Catholic Church teaches in its document Dei Verbum that all scripture is sacred and is “the word of God.” Scripture was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and both Old and New Testaments are sacred and canonical. Therefore, scripture teaches solidly and without error. Dei Verbum also teaches that for interpreters of scripture to avoid error, attention must be paid to the literary forms used in the various books that make up the Bible. The importance of recognizing literary forms is that each form expresses truths in various and different ways (Dei Verbum 12:6-7).
To best address the issue of whether or not there is myth in the Bible we need to have a working definition for the literary form of myth. Myth is not to be understood as something that was once believed by a population to be true that has now been proven false. The literary form of myth is the telling of an imaginative story using symbols to explain things beyond our human understandings and comprehension. While a myth may be imaginative, it speaks and reveals the truths of the thing it is explaining. For the audience of a myth, the reality that it speaks of is so complex and beyond understanding that the only way to properly explain the situation in the context of the world the myth is created is through the use of imagination and symbols. ***Myth speaks about reality.
A fundamental question that myth has always attempted to answer is where did the earth come from and why are we here? Throughout human history, we have tried to explain the creation of the world through the limited means of our own understanding of time and space.
It may come as a surprise that our own stories of creation in Genesis can be seen as mythic in character. The stories of creation written by the ancient Israelites were not intended to mislead, but to convey the power of God’s love for his people. The stories the Israelites wrote on creation were made to show the relationship between God and humanity. Unlike other creation stories, the Israelites believed that God did not create man as an afterthought or by mistake, but created humanity in the “image and likeness” of himself (Genesis 1:26).
While the first two human beings may not have known themselves as Adam and Eve, the legacy of mankind continues in them. The church teaches the doctrine of Original Sin which came through the gift of choice. That choice was and continues to be one of selfishness, self-love, and turning away from our creator God for our own interests and self glorification.
Question: Genesis 1-11: Myth or History?
– Mark L. Chance.
To my fellow Catholics, here is the information you need.
Allow me to highlight a few parts by quoting them:
It is impossible to dismiss the events of Genesis I as a mere legend. They are accounts of real history even if they are told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use.
It is equally impermissable to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2-3) as a fiction.
The acount of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.
This is bedrock Church teaching, not to be ignored. I recommend listening to the Church and only the Church in regard to this matter.
A better question might be: “does it teach truth or not”? The word myth is not a synonym for fiction or falsehood. The term "myth’ describes the literary form of the story and does not address the truth or falsehood of the writing at all. It is perfectly normal for an author to teach absolute truths using myth, legend, poetry, or any other literary form. As mentioned above, *Dei Verbum *addresses some of this.
The main point here is not to confuse western societies use of scientific reproducibility and predictive power with truth. They resemble truth and we use them as truth in much of our lives but they really are no more real absolute truth than our court systems focus on justice is the same as truth. The sciences are as hampered by their approach to investigation as our court system is hampered by the admissibility of certain evidences.
Ever since the development of the philosophical argument known as the white raven experiment; scientist have known that they cannot even claim to be on a quest for truth in the absolute sense, because their methodology does not allow for a way to account for the observation of even one white raven. Therefore any theory put forward to explain why ravens are black is doomed to be merely extremely useful in its predictive power, but not as any statement of truth. Therefore science, in its effort to give us more control over our environment and make the world a better place, has focused on finding theories with the best predictive power. Theology is interested in absolute truth and so its version of events does not even have to provide predictive power if it explains deeper truths and leads us to the ultimate truth.
Science and theology end up truly such that they are not at odds. They simply use different tools to arrive at different usefulness. Creationism can be true and it does not bother scientists at all, because it does not offer predictive power and so is useless to them, while the theory they currently use to provide predictions can be replaced at any time by any other theory which provides more or better predictions. Evolution can provide better predictions and it is no threat to the truth. That is as long as everyone remembers the one proviso. Words like “truth” and “fact” do not mean the same thing to a scientist and a theologian.
shame on you Ed. You teach only a part of the truth. You have admitted as much and said you choose to listen to the church that you choose to listen to. You are obfuscating the truth. You know better, You have no right to mislead in this way. It is not Christian. There are many more instances of both JPII and Benedict both giving permission and agreeing that evolution is a reasonable working theory for explaining how life evolves. You know it and you continue to willfully try to distort the record.
I urge you Ed to read “In the Beginning…” by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. I beg you to read it. Your continued falsification here of the record got me to go read it, and indeed I am humbled. I thank you Ed. Our Pope said it just way better than I have ever been able to articulate. If this doesn’t convince you, then Ed., I’d really think about looking around. You simply don’t follow church teaching.
Benny 16 have spoken against literal (YEC) creationism I believe.
To me Genesis is a symbolic prophetic book with parts of literal history inside. That’s is the position of most catholics outside the US, in my opinion including the Pope.
Remember this is the Church of Gregor Mendel and George Lemaitre. Men of God and men of science.
Yes, the evidence fairly says that. Some now make it very clear its never been about evidence though. Its the evidence against “how i wish things were.”
A question of that form does not allow for “yes” - or for “no”
As to the q. itself, ISTM that:
*]Genesis 1-11 is “Primeval History”
*]Gen. 12-36 is saga (sort of)
*]Gen. 37-50 is novel (sort of)[/LIST]This ignores all the bits & pieces that don’t belong to those types of literature - it’s a book of very great variety, so it defies over-simple classifications. It’s history in the sense that it sets out a literary construction which gives a more or less consecutive account of Israel’s past - but this does not in any way imply that it is all factually accurate: sagas don’t need to be.
Maybe it’s least misleadingly thought of as a national epic, or something similar. Unless the entire Tanakh is a national epic…
Yes, my thoughts exactly!
Admittedly. A question based on a false dilemma, however, cannot expect an answer that fits its form.
– Mark L. Chance.