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Overview > Is the New Testament reliable? > Internal Evidence Test > Does the New Testament contain myths?

Does the NT contain myths?

Summary
  1. We can conclude that the NT doesn't contain myth

    • The style is not that of myth. Unlike myth the NT has no overblown, spectacular, childish exaggerated events. Unlike myth it has psychological depth, and remarkable character depth and development. Unlike myth it is not verbose, in fact it has an economy of words. It is full of indications of eyewitness description.

    • To be a myth, the writers of the Gospels must have invented the new genre of realistic fantasy 19 centuries before it was reinvented in the 20th century.

    • There is not enough time for myths and legends to have been developed and incorporated into the Gospels. Several generations have to pass before the added mythological elements can be mistakenly believed as fact - instead there is only twenty years (50 AD's) before we find documented information about Jesus - containing all the main claims of Christianity!

    • There is no evidence of the earlier 'non-mythic' layer

    • The accounts include dozens details that could not have been known by someone not living in that time and place, and there are no second-century anachronisms.

    • Who invented the myth and with what motivated. For until the edict of Milan in AD 313, Christians were persecuted and killed for their beliefs.

    • First-century Jews and Christians were not prone to believe myths

    • Eyewitness testimony would have refuted any myths

    • The Bibliographical test has shown that we have accurate copies of the original documents i.e. mythic / additional elements were not added over time

    • The writers specifically claim that they are not telling myths. If this is not true, then the writings must be a 'lie' not 'myth'

If the church and New Testament writers did not deliberately lie or create Gospel fictions, perhaps their accounts of Jesus are myth. They are neither literally true nor literally false, but rather spiritually or symbolically true.

We now examine arguments and reasons why we can conclude that the New Testament does not contain myths.

  • The style of the New Testament is not the style of myth, but that of real, though unscientific, eyewitness description. [1 p. 163]

Any literary scholar who knows and appreciates myths can verify this. Unlike myths, the NT contains no overblown, spectacular, childishly exaggerated events. [1 p. 189]

Unlike myths, the NT has psychological depth. Myths involve spectacular external events and do not add much internal depth of character. The character depth and development of everyone in the Gospels - especially Jesus, is remarkable. [1 p. 189]

Unlike Myths, the NT is not verbose. Myths are verbose; the Gospels have an incredible economy of words. [1 p. 189]

In the New Testament documents, there are also indications of eyewitness description. For example the detail of Jesus writing in the sand when asked whether to stone the adulteress or not (John 8:6). Why is the detail there? It accomplishes nothing. The only explanation is that the writer saw it. The Gospels are full of these little details, both of external observation and internal feelings that are found only in eyewitness descriptions or modern realistic fiction. [1 p. 189]

It may be worthwhile to take a quick look, for purposes of comparison, at the closest thing we have around the time of the Gospels to an attempt at a realistic fantasy. This is the story of Apollonius of Tyana, written around A.D. 220 by Flavius Philostratus. There is some evidence that a sage named Apollonius may really have lived, and thus Philostratus's work is a real example of what some have thought the Gospel's to be: a fictionalized account of the life of a real sage and teacher, introducing miraculous elements to build up the prestige of the central figure. It therefore gives us a good look at what a real example of a fictionalized biography would look like; written at a time and place not too far removed from those in which the Gospels were written. [1 p. 190]

When examining this writing, the first thing we notice is the fairy-tale atmosphere. There is a rather nice little vampire story. There are animal stories about, for instance, snakes in India big enough to drag off and eat an elephant. The sage wanders from country to country and wherever he goes he is likely to be entertained by the king or emperor, who holds long conversations with him and sends him on his way with camels and precious stones. [1 p. 190]

Here is a typical passage about healing miracles: "A woman who had had seven miscarriages was cured through the prayers of her husband, as follows. The Wise Man told the husband, when his wife was in labor, to bring a live rabbit under his cloak to the place where she was, walk around her and immediately release the rabbit; for she would lose her womb as well as her baby if the rabbit was not immediately driven away." [1 p. 190]

The point is that this is what you get when the imagination goes to work. Once the boundaries of fact are crossed, we wander into 'fairyland'. But the New Testament documents are set firmly in the real Palestine of the first century, and the little details are not picturesque inventions but the real details that only an eyewitness or a skilled realistic novelist can give. [1 p. 190]

  • To be a myth, the writers of the Gospels must have invented the new genre of realistic fantasy nineteen centuries before it was reinvented in the 20th century.

If the details found in the Gospels were invented, then a first-century tax collector (Matthew), a "young man" (Mark), a doctor (Luke), and a fisherman (John) all independently invented a new genre of realistic fantasy! [1 p. 189]

  • There is not enough time for myths and legends to have been developed and incorporated into the Gospels.

Classical historians suggest that one or more generations need to pass before a myth can prevail. [10] In fact, the early proponents of this theory claimed that the New Testament had to have been written after AD 150 for the myth to have taken hold. [1 p. 163] Several generations have to pass before the added mythological elements can be mistakenly believed as facts. [1 p. 190]

However, there is only a twenty-year interval before we find documented information about Jesus. Paul's letters, which affirm all the main claims of the Gospels such as Christ's divinity and resurrection from the dead, were written in the 50's AD! [10] This is a far cry from the one or more generations required by historians for myth to develop, be accepted and replace the true historical account.

In fact, a challenge was made in the 1800's to produce a single example anywhere in history of a great myth or legend arising around a historical figure and being generally believed within thirty years after that figure's death. No one has ever answered that challenge. [1 p. 191]

Apologists do not simply say that any legends should have "waited" a certain amount of time before forming. What they say is that it takes time for legends to be able to "stick", to earn the status truth and thus replace or supplement what was really true. [10]

Legends could arise, but they would then be countered by the hard facts and they would then die within a short period unless they were put together so late that it was impossible to check their validity by normal means. [10]

The so-called "legends" of Christianity (divinity claims, resurrection, etc.) were "invented" (as the sceptics say) so early that they therefore would still be in the squashable stage at their most critical period. But the fact that they were not squashed is testimony that they are not legends. [10]

In other words, they were not legends, and they were not invented - they actually happened! [10]

Additional Note 1[10]

As many sceptics often use other myth examples and compare them to the account of Jesus, here is a rough observation of the three basic stages in the progress of similar movements.

  1. Initial acceptance.

    This is where everyone gets excited and picks up on the new movement, for whatever reason. In this stage, the movement thrives and grows.

  2. Critical analysis.

    Also known as Disillusionment, Crash and Burn, etc. Call this the place where things get rough. It is where people discover that the movement is based on false premises, and it all goes downhill from there.

  3. Alteration for survival.

    In order to survive, the movement must change dramatically. This usually leads to a slow death and possibly total extermination. It is also the stage (very late) when legends are produced that cannot be contramanded by accessible methods of verification, precisely because they have been developed so late.

The key difference between other examples and Christianity is that Christianity survived Stage 2 above. Especially, when considering that its most basic claim, the Resurrection, could have been easily countermanded if it were false. [10]

All that had to be done was wheel the body of Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem, or take some other assertive action against the Apostles. As it is, the best that could apparently be done was say that the disciples stole the body, and that did not work. [10]

Additional Note 2

What about other cases where myths and legends of miracles developed around a religious founder - for example, Buddha and Muhammad? [1 p. 191]

Myths indeed developed, but at least two or three generations had to pass before such myths surfaced and were believed. This is in stark contrast to the "myths" of Jesus which go back to the very earliest time and documents. [1 p. 191] & [10]

 

  • There is no evidence of the earlier 'non-mythic' layer

If a mythic "layer" had been added later, we should find some evidence, at least indirectly and second-hand, of this earlier layer. An earlier layer where Jesus was not divine, did not claim divinity, performed no miracles, and did not rise from the dead. We find instead an absolute and total absence of any such evidence anywhere, either internal (in the New Testament texts themselves) or external, anywhere else, in Christian, anti-Christian, or non-Christian sources. [1 p. 191]

  • The accounts include dozens of little details of life in first-century Israel that could not have been known by someone not living in that time and place and there are no second-century anachronisms, either in language or content.[1 p. 163]

Here are some examples including specific details

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3)

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn (John 21:11)

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron (Luke 1:5)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (Luke 3:1)

  • Who invented this myth and with what motive?

Whether it was his first disciples or some later generation, no possible motive can account for this invention. For until the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, Christians were subject to persecution, often tortured and martyred, and hated and oppressed for their beliefs. No one invents an elaborate practical joke in order to be crucified, stoned or beheaded. [1 p. 164]

And if they didn't know they would be persecuted for their "myth" they would certainly give it up as soon as they were. Yet no one ever confessed that they made it all up - even when martyred. Some refused martyrdom, rejecting Christ and worshipping the emperor, to save their lives; but not one of these ever said Christ was a myth they had fabricated. They simply did what the emperor commanded them to do to save their lives. [1 p. 164]

  • First-century Jews and Christians were not prone to believe myths.

They were already more "demythologized" than any other people. The orthodox Jews were adamantly, even intolerantly, opposed to the polytheistic myths of paganism and to any attempts to reconcile their religion with others. Nor would anyone be less likely to confuse myth and fact than a Jew. [1 p. 164]

Imagine this: The transcendent God who for millennia had strictly forbidden his chosen people to confuse him with a creature as the pagans did - this Creator-God became a creature, a man-a crucified criminal. Hardly a myth that arises naturally in the Jewish mind. [1 p. 157]

If it was not the Jews but the Gentiles who started the myth, where did the myth come from in the New Testament? Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, twenty-five were written by Jews. [1 p. 157]

  • Eyewitness testimony would have refuted any myths

The myth could never have been believed as fact because it would have been refuted by eyewitness of the real Jesus. Eyewitnesses would not permit such creation and the gospel events were too well know for people to 'get away' with alteration. [1 p. 157] & [9]

  • Why has the "myth" continued to attract the brightest minds in history?[1]

For example, Paul of Tarsus, John the Evangelist, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, John Damascene, Origen, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Boethius, Erigena, Anselm, Abelard, Aquinas, Bonaventura, Scotus, Ockham, Nicholas of Cusa, Cajetan, Luther, Calvin, Kepler, Ignatius Loyola, Dante, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, Berkeley, Copernicus, Newton, Kierkegaard, Newmand, Pasteur, Jaspers, Marcel, Galileo, Tolstoy, Chesterton, Dostoyevsky, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and the list goes on. [1 p. 157]

  • The NT could not be myth misinterpreted and confused with fact because it specifically distinguishes the two and rejects the mythic interpretation. [1 p. 192]

Peter explicitly makes the point that the Gospel story is historical fact, not cleverly devised myths. (see 2 Peter 1:16)

Since it explicitly says it is not myth then if it is myth then it is a deliberate lie - not a myth i.e. once the New Testament distinguishes myth from fact, it becomes a lie if it is not a fact. [1 p. 192] This leads us to the previous section (Does the NT contain "Gospel Fictions" or lies?) where we adequately showed that the New Testament documents do not contain 'Gospel Fictions' or lies.

If the New Testament document do not contain myths, or fabricated accounts, then the only option left to us is that the New Testaments writers recorded accurate historical accounts of the life of Jesus. They were indeed telling the truth.

 



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