You may not be aware of this, but there are many well educated people that make a living teaching theology. Theology: “the study of God.” Furthermore, many of these professors teach and profess the idea of “demythologizing the bible.”
The term “demythologize” isn’t particular to theology. The word means to take out the mythology out of a story to only see the essential element. For example, Jack and Beanstalk has a moral to the story; the essential element is that one should be brave in the face of adversity, etc. When the story becomes “essential” the other elements of the story, (by default) become unessential.
A theologian named Bultmann introduced the idea of taking away the “mythological” elements of the New Testament, (and the scripture in general), to get to the essential part of the story. For example, like Jack and the Beanstalk, it doesn’t matter in the parables if the elements of the story are true; what is the essential take away? In the parables, the bottom line of the story is the essential; the moral of the story, the action needed part of the story.
With this in mind, the modern mindset can more easily navigate through the text of scripture. One doesn’t become encumbered with the burden of the depth of any text, but can get to the bottom line. Therefore, when we read about Jesus healing the man who had scales on his eyes, we have a new enlightenment of the text that when Jesus told him to go wash, and his eyes were opened. In our old way of reading scripture, we were to accept that Jesus had miracle working power, and the man was actually blind, and Jesus actually healed Him. In the new “demythologized” text, we are enlightened to understand that the man most likely wasn’t blind, but had some kind of build up on his eyes, and so Jesus sent him to wash his face, but let the man think he’d had a miraculous healing.
Are you confused yet?
One has to work harder at making the obvious obscure.
One of the many challenges of demythologizing the scriptures is that it goes too far. Jesus didn’t multiply the loaves and fishes, he just showed compassion and so the people there got out the food they were hiding, and they shared with one another…that’s an actual theory. There are several prime targets of this so-called interpretation methodology:
- creation account is not be trusted, including Adam and Eve. these are to be viewed as moral lessons.
- noah and the ark. general moral idea. the details of story are unimportant.
- jonah in the whale.
This makes Jesus an unreliable witness. Jesus affirmed all of the above biblical accounts. In Revelation Jesus is called “the faithful witness.” John also records that Jesus, (the logos of God), was there “in the beginning,” therefore, and eyewitness account of creation.
Here’s the greatest challenge of “demythologizing” the bible: John 3;16 can’t be trustworthy either. If only the moral teachings of the bible are important, then Christ didn’t actually suffer and die on the cross for our sins, He wasn’t buried in a borrowed grave, He didn’t rise from the dead three days later, He didn’t appear to the disciples for 40 days following the elaborate ruse, He didn’t ascend to heaven, He didn’t sit down at the right hand of God, He didn’t send the Holy Spirit, and He isn’t coming back again. There is no eternal life for those who have put their faith in God, and there is no eternal punishment for the wicked who have not put their faith in God.
Paul addresses most of this in I Corinthians 15, addressing an apologetic for the resurrection. “If Christ be not risen…” he begins, and concludes with, “…but now Christ is risen from the dead.”
The bible isn’t a dead book of ancient moral stories, it is the living word! By faith, we enter the text and believe the whole of scripture, in its historic, contextual, and applicable truth. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, created a construct of faith that became known as the “quadrilateral.” Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience are the four elements of this approach to faith and theology.
Here’s something ironic: the literalist and the demythologist are similar in their mindset toward the bible. The literalist / fundamentalist and the demythologist read the bible through the same lens, with different outcomes. Its a scientific method: read this, conclude this.
The Bible is the foundation of our faith. It isn’t the end of our faith. God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, enters into the story with us.
End of part one.