[#] A small but interesting word (1)

For those of you who have not downloaded the MP3 or bought the DVD of the Crossan/White debate, you should do so right now. I have to admit that I do not think James White "won" the debate on technical grounds, he did something much greater: he exposed Crossan's view of the Bible and of the Gospel itself to a very stark white light. It is an instructive exercise in practical apologetics and in worldview thinking.

However, this post is not a review of that debate. This post is about a word that is in-play in that debate and in a new book by Prof. Peter Enns (HT:TheBantyRooster) titled Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2005) which also makes an appearance in some form in the Crossan/White debate: myth.

Prof. Enns' book uses the word in this way: "an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?" (50) That is to say, if I may be so bold as to paraphrase Prof. Enns, narratives which demonstrate truth as art but not necessarily as empirical truth. Interesting, isn't it, that this is exactly what the Catholic bishops in the UK were saying about the Bible last week? Yes, I thought you would see it that way.*

At any rate, this word "myth" is an interesting one. Somehow saying that the Bible contains "myths" and therefore we have some liberty or obligation (depending on how the argument is being phrased) to read it less-rigidly than we would a history book or newspaper apparently makes one's hermeneutical approach better. For example, Prof. Enns uses this word (as I have read in John Armstrong's counter-review of the work) not to denigrate Scripture but the patch up the home-job Evangelicals and Protestants have made over the years in reading the interpretations of the OT made by the NT.

This criticism/approach comes from the neighborhood in which "modernity" and Enlightenment epistemology are seen (by some) as the low-point of intellectual wrestling in the West or (by others) as a rigid filter which is incompatible with the worldview and epistemology of the culture(s) in which the Bible was written, causing those who are stuck in "modernity" to miss the point of ancient texts pretty significantly.

To those in that neighborhood who have stumbled onto the blog, I say, "welcome to the other side of the tracks." I have a problem with this assertion, and in the next 5 or six installments on the blog I'm going to spell them out. All the rest are subsequent to the major point in question, so I might as well start there.

One of the major assumptions of your criticism ("you" being those critical of "enlightenment" mojo) is that Peter, Paul and the other fellows writing the NT didn't view text the way an Enlightenment reader would view text. If you're going to try to make me answer yes or no to the question, "Did Peter, Paul and the other fellows writing the NT view text the way an Enlightenment reader would view text?", I admit I'd have to answer "no". But their view of text was not as loose as your critical opinion demands, either.

Now how do I come to that conclusion? It comes back to that little word "myth" – a word we can find in the NT 5 times.

Now, of course, unless we want to veer into the dark swamp of KJVOism, the word "myth" does not actually appear in the NT: the word "muthos" does. And it appears in the following 5 verses:

1Tim 1:4
1Tim 4:7
2Tim 4:4
Tit 1:14
2Pet 1:16

Now here's my theory: if we can determine what the writers of these verses meant in context by using the word "muthos", we can have some insight into their view of the epistemology of language and their view of how to handle texts.

We're going to look at each passage individually, then take a look at the cumulative effect at the end. It is my (yet to be substantiated) thesis that the way Paul and Peter use this word in these passages undercuts the view of "myth" being proposed actively by some quarters today.

Say tuned.

This series has other parts: 1 [2][3][4]

*NOTE: I'm not claiming Catholic conspiracy here. Keep your shirt on.