Scripture: Myth or History?

It goes without saying that our contemporary worldview as modern Americans is vastly different than that of ancient people.  One difference which summarizes countless smaller distinctions is the fact that our modern way of thinking is entirely materialistic.  This is even true of religious people.

Miracle occupies an ever-narrowing band of phenomena for which no possible naturalistic explanation is possible.  God stands outside and completely separate from history.  The great events of salvation history cannot be considered to be historical because their spiritual elements do not match the materialistic definition which we have given to history.  Possibly no discipline has been more negatively impacted by this change in worldview than the interpretation of scripture in general and the Old Testament in particular.

This overall shift to a materialistic view of the world began after the trauma inflicted upon Europe by the 30 years war and accelerated through the period of the enlightenment.  In the United States in particular, however, it has been further complicated by the fundamentalist movement of the early 20th century.  In response to modern challenges to the accuracy of the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, evangelical Protestants undertook a defense of the historicity of the scriptures.  This historicity, however, was argued according to the modern, materialistic definition of history.

A very literal reading of the scriptures was used to compose dates for events and then archaeological expeditions were undertaken to prove those dates accurate.  Any variance between Biblical passages was treated as a problem that must be resolved, sometimes through arcane and downright bizarre argumentation, in order to preserve the value of scripture.

There are, obviously, countless problems with the fundamentalist approach.  It treats its own reconstructions and explanations (such as dates) with equal dogmatism to the words of the scriptures themselves.  It pays no attention to the varied genres of the scriptures.  It ignores the understanding of history held by the authors and readers of scripture themselves.

Unfortunately, the response to the excesses and errors of a fundamentalist approach did not, by and large, question its basic presuppositions.  As modern people, the other side still shared a materialist definition of reality and history.  Rather than trying to push the square peg of the text of scripture through the round hole of modern historiography, they, by and large, took the approach of denying the value of the scriptures as history in toto.

The scriptures were taken to be religious literature to be interpreted poetically and allegorically.  What is recorded there, particularly in the Old Testament, is myth rather than history and so has no correspondence to space/time reality which is purely material.  Thus, a false dichotomy was created.  One must either take the fundamentalist approach of defending the modern-style historicity of every jot and tittle of the Biblical text, or one must treat it as a series of spiritual parables which convey moral lessons or feelings about God.

Even where more subtle approaches are taken, this dichotomy prevails.  Any given portion of the scriptures is either poetry or prose, myth or history, literal or figurative.

That this is the result of particular internecine Protestant debates is demonstrated by the fact that this is not the approach taken by historians to any other ancient text.  Modern historians, of course, share a modern view of history.  Yet when reading, for example, in Herodotus that Zeus himself appeared in the heavens during a naval battle against Persian forces and hurled thunderbolts to destroy their ships, they do not dismiss the historian’s entire account as mythology — quite the opposite. While denying the existence of Zeus, they accept the basic history of the event and conjecture that there was likely a thunderstorm during the battle which ancient people interpreted as a supernatural element of the event. 

Before the rise of fundamentalism, this was also the primary approach to the scriptures by modern interpreters.  The supernatural elements were merely reinterpreted or removed while the basic historicity of the account was maintained.  Ultimately, however, this approach to scripture is no better since, once again, it is subjecting an ancient text to a modern worldview.  However, this approach would at least have the virtue of being a correct approach if its basic materialist presuppositions were true and there were no spiritual component of reality.

Unfortunately, this dichotomous approach has, to a large extent, been inherited by American Orthodox thinkers and writers on the scriptures.  On one hand, there are those who have adopted various approaches to the historicity of the text from Protestant fundamentalism (such as young-earth creationism) and insist upon these particular approaches with the same dogmatism that they insist upon the actual dogmas of the Orthodox Church.

Others, encouraged by the perception that the fathers interpreted the scriptures primarily allegorically (though allegory in their thinking is rather poorly defined as to method) will treat all or part of particularly the Old Testament as “myth” (with that latter term likewise poorly defined).

For those in the latter camp, anyone seeing historical value in these texts is a fundamentalist trying to import evangelical Protestant concepts into Orthodoxy.  For those in the former camp, anyone not holding to their literal constructions is clearly a wild-eyed liberal who distorts the scriptures and is importing concepts from the most progressive elements of Protestantism into Orthodoxy.

Again, this is a false dichotomy grounded in an equally false set of materialist presuppositions.  Ironically, these are presuppositions concerning the relationship of material and spiritual reality, creation visible and invisible, which no Orthodox Christian would accept when presented to them directly.

In reality, the Old Testament historical texts are of the genre of mythic history.  This term is not an oxymoron as there is no innate contradiction between myth and history.  Myth constitutes the story of the spiritual reality which accompanies and underlies events in the material world.  Mythic history, therefore, tells the entire story of an event.  Myth as such speaks of beings and events in the invisible, spiritual world. History in the modern sense speaks of people and events in the material world.  Mythic history explains the union of both and makes the events of history participable through ritual.

If, for example, myth and history are separable in the death and resurrection of Christ, the Christian faith collapses.  If what “really happened” historically is that Jesus died on a Roman cross and then two days later came back to life on the one hand and then on another we speak of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, of his descent into Hades and its harrowing, and of his spiritual body as myth, then Baptism and the Eucharist are incapable of bringing us into a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. 

This dichotomy forms a sort of historiographic Nestorianism that severs the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.  If this cannot be argued without destructive results in the case of this central piece of mythic history then it is likewise invalid and destructive when applied to any other element of mythic history from Genesis to Revelation.

The nature of allegorical interpretation then becomes deformed by those who hold to an ahistorical interpretation of scripture or portions thereof.  Allegory becomes a means of partially bridging the gap which they themselves have created between the text and history.  Because there is no objective referent to the text, allegory becomes untethered and can be used to derive nearly any proposed lesson, thought, or teaching. This is not how the fathers used allegory.

The fathers utilized allegory as a means of the application of texts, otherwise seemingly irrelevant, to their present hearers and readers.  For example, St. Gregory the Dialogist says in a homily that the three steps leading up to the altar in the Jerusalem temple represent faith, hope, and love, which are required to approach God in worship.  In doing so, he in no way argues that there were not actually three steps leading up to the altar.  Rather, he is taking a text which correctly communicates a historical detail and making that detail relevant to hearers thousands of miles and hundreds of years away from that detail.

Relatedly, many of the examples of allegorical interpretation cited by these partisans are, in fact, not examples of allegorical interpretation at all.  In significant cases, these examples of supposed ahistorical allegory are, in fact, quite literal interpretations of mythic history.

If one name is associated with the allegorical interpretation of the scriptures more than any other, it is that of Origen.  One place in which Origen is commonly invoked by modern ahistorical interpreters of scripture is the book of Joshua.  When the book of Joshua is read from the materialistic perspective of modern history, it is found to be morally objectionable, because it appears to describe one ethnic group of people committing genocide against another.

Origen, nearly prophetically, states at the beginning of his commentary on the book that if it did not have the character (figura) of spiritual warfare, it would be rightly rejected.  Based on this, modern interpreters profess an (at best) agnosticism regarding whether any of the events of the book of Joshua had actually happened.  Instead, they argue, it is an extended parable about spiritual warfare.

This, however, is not at all what Origen meant.  Rather, upon careful reading of the text in multiple versions and languages, he had noted that the places in which a city or region is to be totally destroyed and all of its people and livestock killed are those places populated by demonic giant clans.  Therefore, the events described had the character of spiritual warfare.  They described spiritual warfare which had taken place in the then already distant past and applied what the scriptures described about these events to spiritual warfare in the lives of Origen’s hearers.  It is, therefore, a literal interpretation.

As a side note, St. Jerome cribbed much of his early commentaries from those of Origen and yet he is rarely, if ever, considered to have been a proponent of allegorical interpretation.  The break with Origen happened not because St. Jerome changed exegetical method, but because St. Jerome joined in the widespread repudiation and condemnation of Origen over the heresy of universalism which swept through the church in the late 4th century.

Throughout the historical scriptures, God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels, powers, principalities, the devil, Satan, the gods of the nations, demons, giants, cherubim and seraphim, the heavenly host, and all other manner of spiritual beings interact with human persons within time and space history.  Spiritual events and events within the material creation occur in relation to one another and interact with one another. Reality, as all ancient people knew and the Orthodox Church teaches, is composed of creation visible and invisible, of the world of spirits and the world of flesh. 

When the scriptures describe the history of our creation and redemption and look forward to our ultimate destiny, they describe reality and human life, in both of these worlds, in their totality.  They call us, rather than attempting to reframe the scriptures and tradition of the church within the context of the things which we as modern people “now know,” to reframe our own understanding of our lives, our personal histories, and the world as we encounter it in terms of the fullness of God’s creation and the reality of Jesus Christ himself.  The scriptures have the power to and ought to transform the way in which we interpret everything else — not vice versa.


  1. I confess to be a bit confused by this article. On the one hand at the beginning you seem to declare that demanding a belief in the literal history of the OT is a vestige of Protestant fundamentalism, while at the end you state that these things really did occur within time and space.
    I understand your point that “myth” and “history “are not exclusive, and that allegorical understandings of literal historical events can provide further understanding and spiritual enlightenment. However, I don’t understand your position on whether the OT stories really did happen, as history, in the way that they are described.
    I am an Orthodox (and Christian) inquirer, and I’ll admit that I’m attracted to a view of OT historicity that at least is open to the OT containing events that either did not actually happen, or did not actually happen in that way. Can you help me better understand your position here?

    1. It sounds like you’re still on the horns of the dilemma that I described in the piece. Namely that either something happened in a materialist sense where you could record it with a video camera if you had a time machine or it didn’t happen at all and is “just” myth. To try to clarify, the historical portions of the scriptures reflect the actual lived experience of the ancient people who participated in the events described. Ancient people, unlike modern people, were not materialists. They experienced reality in its fullness, both material and spiritual, and didn’t distinguish between the two. So the fact that something happened, for them, didn’t mean that it took place in a way observed with the physical senses and subject to scientific inquiry.
      To give a hopefully helpful example, Christ’s descent into Hades actually happened. It is an event that took place. Events in both the spiritual world and the physical world have taken place since that were a consequence of the event of his descent into Hades. It can, therefore, be said to be historical. But no one saw Christ’s harrowing of Hades with their physical senses. It is not something that can be discussed in terms of modern, materialist definitions of history. But it happened. And subsequent material events took place because of it.
      The same is true of the creation of the world, life in the garden, the expulsion from Paradise, etc. In some cases the scriptures describe purely material events. In some cases they describe purely spiritual events. In many cases, they describe both in relationship to each other. But all of these are events which have taken place within God’s creation which contains both visible and invisible, spiritual and material elements. Human persons are a combination of spiritual and physical and belong to both elements of creation. These two are drawn together within the human person.
      Modern man has cut himself off from anything beyond the material. When attempts are made to interpret the scriptures from that perspective, results are poor because the authors, editors, and copyists of the scriptures participated in reality in its fullness. So to interpret the scriptures correctly, and to live as an Orthodox Christian rather than as a modern man, we need to reawaken our spiritual senses and begin to experience the world in its full dimensions. The scriptures can help us do that.

      1. I agree that I am stuck in this dilemma you have described. I’d like to get out of it. 🙂 In that light, I hope that you’ll indulge me and help me figure out how the approach you describe is similar and different from my current understanding.

        You said:

        “In some cases the scriptures describe purely material events. In some cases they describe purely spiritual events. In many cases, they describe both in relationship to each other. But all of these are events which have taken place within God’s creation which contains both visible and invisible, spiritual and material elements.”

        Let’s take an event like the Tower of Babel. In my mind, this is clearly an event that, as described in the OT, is both spiritual and material. That is, it describe the people of Babel building a physical tower, and subsequently the diversity of tongues and the separation into the various nations.

        But the event is also highly spiritual: it highlights (as many Genesis stories do) how man is constantly seeking to make himself God, and on his own terms. And it highlights that this approach also ends in disorder and chaos. For this reason I love this story.

        When you say, “the historical portions of the scriptures reflect the actual lived experience of the ancient people who participated in the events described,” can you help me understand what you mean in terms of the story of the Tower? Was there a tower? Was this truly the origin of the diversity of languages? Or am I still asking the wrong questions?

        I’ll admit that it seems to me, regardless of how one reads the scriptures, there either was or was not an actual tower. And either diverse languages developed naturally over millennia (as linguists claim) or happened instantly at the tower (according to the OT). I neither case, I can’t see how it can be both, if that makes sense.

        I’m open to the stories being much more than “just myth,” but I’m trying to understand how it fits in with newer scientific understandings of human history, which seem to be conclusions based on a lot of evidence.

        1. So, taking the tower of Babel as an example, what happened there isn’t only discussed in Genesis 11 (and really also 10) but also in Deuteronomy 32 which describes what happened when Yahweh divided the nations (v. 8ff). The story in Genesis 11 is describing the building of a ziggurat, which was a human recreation of the mountain of God. In Mesopotamian belief , the construction of a ziggurat would allow the priest king to climb up and interact with the gods. It would also draw down one of the gods into the temple to inhabit his or her image. This would allow the god then to be manipulated and invoked to do what the king wanted.

          So, on the material level, Gen 11 is the story of the building of a ziggurat (most scholars agree its Etemenanki, the great ziggurat in Babylon). The remains are still there. On a spiritual level, the story is telling us that this represented an attempt by humans to attempt to control and manipulate God. In response to this hubris, he punished them by dividing humanity into all of the nations (70) listed in Gen 10. More importantly for the ongoing narrative in the scriptures, he assigned those nations to lesser spiritual beings for their governance (Deut 32:8). Those spiritual beings became corrupt and began to be worshipped by the people they had been assigned to shepherd as the gods of the nations. Later they would be judged (Ps 82) and thrown down by a victorious resurrected Christ. And their positions in the heavenly court are taken by the glorified saints.

          But none of that would have been visible to a time traveler with a video camera, who would have seen the early ascension of Babylon as a world capital collapse and the growth of various nations with their own languages, cultures, and gods. But it is a vital part of the reality of what was happening nonetheless.

  2. Thank you for this article. Quite a bit to think about here! I especially appreciated how you showed how this manner of reading Scripture is essential to understanding the Gospel.
    I wonder if it might not be along a similar vein to think of the Scriptures as an icon; depicting a historical event or person, but in a way that reveals the spiritual truth that would not have been perceived by the physical senses? Alternately, the Scriptures are all apocalyptic, “pulling back the veil” on the events recorded?
    If you have ever read *A Canticle for Leibowitz*, I think of the spiritual history recorded there of the great war that leads to the nuclear armageddon. This history describes God as giving these great weapons to the princes of the world as a test (which they obviously failed) and so on. What struck me was how no one in the 20th Century would have thought to describe M.A.D. and nuclear proliferation in this way, as having anything to do with God, and, yet, looking back at this time from a “post-apocalypse” world, it makes sense that a person of faith might perceive things in this way, might have had such a reality revealed to them.
    Anyway, would you say any of this is, perhaps, on the right track or have I gone off base somewhere?

  3. Thank you Fr. Stephen for this extremely helpful post. I am sharing with friends, because this helps to clear away a lot of the fuzzy thinking that pervades so much of American Orthodoxy.
    Could you comment on the theory, which I have heard a lot within contemporary Orthodox circles, that to even inquire whether something is historically true in a fact-based sense, is immediately to collude with the assumptions of our post-Enlightenment moment? Accordingly (so I am told), fact-based questions concerning past historical phenomenon would have been incoherent within the more holistic mindset of ancients.
    In The Confessions Book 1, Chapter 13 , St. Augustine tells how there was a debate about whether Aeneas had really come to Carthage as Virgil relates. “For if I ask them if it is true, as the poet says, that Aeneas once came to Carthage, the unlearned will reply that they do not know and the learned will deny that it is true.” He then goes on to draw spiritual lessons from Virgil’s poem that are, in his reading, more important that the purely historical questions. Whatever we might say about this, it shows that people in the ancient world were clearly able to ask fact-based historical questions about historical realities.
    If we move to more relevant contemporary questions, like whether the historical Adam actually existed, or whether there was really a flood, there may be any number of reasons why the ancients did not wrestle with those particular questions in the same way that we do, but such reasons cannot include the supposition that they lacked the conceptual categories for asking fact-based questions about historical truth.

    1. This is a case of the misinterpretation of data. There is something there in the ancient worldview that they’re hitting on, they’re just running with it in the wrong direction. For example, there is no word in ancient Greek that corresponds to the English word “fact.” And if you read much Plato or Aristotle you’ll see that they didn’t believe history could ever be the subject of knowledge, only opinion. But these are epistemological fine-tuning, not an inability to say whether some event happened or not or some person actually existed. Essentially, the ancients believed that there was certain knowledge (episteme) which could be known for certain because it could be mathematically or logical demonstrated to be necessarily true. If you disbelieve that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides, I can prove that to you in real time. There was, however, a great deal of other knowledge (most of human knowledge) that fell into the realm of ‘opinion’ (doxa). And that’s not quite opinion in the modern sense, but more opinion in the sense that you go to another doctor to get a second opinion. Its the result of educated judgments but can’t be demonstrated. I can’t prove to you in real time what strategies Caesar used to conquer Gaul. But I can read the available sources and then make a judgment as to what Plato called “the likely story.” If you ask another historian, though, who has read the same sources, his judgment may be different from mine in various ways and we can have a discussion as to which is a better explanation.

      So, the debate St. Augustine mentions regarding Virgil is a discussion as to whether the story of Aeneas and DIdo is describing actual events which occurred or whether it is an edifying fiction. None of the Fathers take the position that the scriptures are edifying fiction. In fact, the proponents of this mistaken view try to play this card precisely on texts which they don’t find edifying. Allow me to submit that if Joshua is a fictional story of genocide intended for edification, that is worse than if it is recording actual ancient events and attempting to describe their spiritual significance. If Judges is not the description of Israel, without a king, gradually descending into wickedness, ignorance, and madness, but is fiction, then it is essentially Game of Thrones inserted into the scriptures and would seem to serve no purpose other than titillation.

      I rarely defend Origen because he was, in the final judgment of the church, a heretic (chiefly surrounding his universalism). But because he is so often invoked in these discussions, he should at least be invoked rightly. Origen believed that there were material and spiritual meanings and a moral application to everything in the scriptures. He compared these to body, soul, and spirit of a human person. You need all three to be a living being. If you read his anti-Gnostic comments in his exegesis, he is very clear that they run afoul because they reject the physical, material meaning of the scriptures. He also compares this to the incarnation for the same reason. He sees Jewish exegesis as neglecting the spiritual dimensions of the text and Gnostic exegesis as neglecting the material and physical, parallel to the Ebionites and the Docetists. The arguments you are describing are more in line with the latter camp than with Origen, despite their citations. And of course, they are completely out of keeping with Christian Orthdooxy.

      1. So based on your comments about Joshua and Judges you’re still in the camp that would say there has to be some historical reality beneath those stories, however you wish to frame that. We would the have to deny all the conclusions of modern scholars that there is no archaeological evidence to back up a consequent of Israel as described in Joshua. Is that correct?

        1. I’m not sure what ‘has to be’ means here in this context. Something is true or it isn’t. But ‘truth’ goes well beyond the modern materialist definition.

          As to ‘all the conclusions of modern scholars,’ the picture is more complex than what you’re painting. As I mention in the original piece, the debate is framed around certain fundamentalist presuppositions around dating. So, for example, the exodus and the conquest had to have taken place in one of two time periods and if there’s no evidence of it in either of those time periods, then it must have never happened. This is a manufactured false dilemma. And Old Testament scholars are all over the map on these issues.

          Btw, the most popular view of the conquest in contemporary scholarship is that a group of Canaanite peasants led a Marxist revolt against their Canaanite kings. Do I reject that? Yeah. Yeah, I do.

          1. I was very specific in the way I asked my question. I agree that ‘truth’ is larger than the general modern conception of it. At the same time, you seem to be critical of those who would allegorize much of the OT at the expense of some kind of historical substrate. I’m trying to get at what you think that historical substrate need contain at a minimum.

            When I referenced modern scholarship I was intentionally focusing on a limited, specific point. I am fully aware of the numerous modern interpretations of the exodus and conquest of Canaan. Yet, modern archeology can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that no such exodus/conquest occurred in the manner or scale described in Scripture. I’m not sure why you focus on the dating because that really isn’t the issue here. It isn’t as though archeologists are looking for it at the wrong times and there is somewhere in time the exodus could ‘hide’.

            Now if you mean that for every story there must be some kind of historical substrate in the sense of events that inspired the final story, many historians would also agree with you. Then the question is how far do you take that? Must we assert that Moses was a historical person? Could we assert that he is a conglomeration of multiple historical persons? Can we accept the basic premise of the Documentary Hypothesis, or do we need to maintain that Moses wrote the Pentateuch?

            Please do not dismiss those questions by charging me with playing into a “false dilemma.” I agree fully that the Scriptures are true and that the modern definition of truth is too often limited. Nevertheless, there is nothing illegitimate about the questions I have posed. To conclude, for instance, that the exodus did not historically happen in the way the Bible describes is not to say that there are not historical reasons for why it was written (e.g. collective memory of Egypt’s oppression). You’ve established you disagree with the total literalism of Protestant fundamentalists and disagree with those who would interpret the OT in a wholly allegorical way, I’m just trying to establish what manner of historical substrate you then see as necessary.

          2. The relevance of the dating is that there is substantial evidence for the presence of Asiatics in Egypt and their departure, but it’s about 150 years “too early” according to the early and late dates of the Exodus as proposed by the wooden literalists. The rest of your “question” is not answerable in the general way in which you ask it. I answered another question here about the tower of Babel as a specific event. But there’s not a ‘percentage’ of historicity for every OT story that you seem to be looking for. At any rate, my post is not proposing a compromise position. My post is proposing that mythic history is real history. Spiritual events are actual events, not flights of fancy or allegory.

            Beyond clarification of my point or answering honest questions, however, I’m not interested in arguing on the internet. I have no idea who you are. If you have some kind of credentials, then this isn’t the forum or the mode to have this discussion. If you don’t, and you’re just some combox edgelord somewhere, then this is a waste of everyone’s time. Either way, I’m not going to argue here.

  4. You make a brief reference to young earth creationism which certainly does not endorse it. However, the rejection of evolution with its concomitant long ages is not an optional position for orthodox (small “o”) Christians. It is, rather, a necessary stand. Even if one holds to the historicity of a literal Adam and Eve in the context of evolutionary theory, this implies long ages of suffering and death prior to their arrival on the scene. Survival of the fittest also means non survival of the not so fit. The fossil record shows many examples of disease (e.g. bone cancer) and violent death (e.g. fossils of predator and prey in the very act of predation). Thus on the theistic evolutionary viewpoint, suffering and death are part of the divine “creation” process which led to the eventual evolution of humans, and not a consequence of sin as Scripture asserts. This completely undermines the Gospel. If God voluntarily chose a means of “creation” involving suffering and death (and He need not have so done since his omnipotence gave Him the options of instantaneous or rapid creation) then He could just as easily voluntarily choose to but an end to these sad conditions at any point. There would be no need for a “savior” – no need for Christ’s sacrifice. It is only because suffering and death are, in fact, a consequence of sin that a propitiation via the Cross is required to “trample down death by death”. Thus the evolutionary viewpoint cannot be reconciled with the Gospel. The fossils demonstrating disease and predation must have come into being at the time of the global flood of Noah, not prior to the sin of Adam and Eve.

    1. The context in which I was referring to YEC was that various forms of it have constructed dates for Old Testament events (such as the date of creation, the Exodus, etc.) which are not found in the Old Testament texts themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that in the realm of theory. But if those are treated as dogmatic, i.e. “unless you believe the Earth is 6,492 years old, you don’t believe the Bible!” then there’s a problem and we’ve entered fundamentalism. Beyond that, I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of interest in evolution debates. I lost most of my interest in the world after Nicea, and the rest of it by the 7th century.

      There are certainly teachings of scripture regarding creation that must be held by Orthodox Christians. The reality of a set of first human parents. That there was no human death before the expulsion from Paradise. But a materialist reading of Gen 1-3, even one aimed at affirming its woodenly literal truth, rather misses the point. If Gen 3 for you is Rudyard Kipling’s “Just-So” story about how snakes lost their legs, you’ve missed the boat.

      I’ve written about those early chapters of Genesis in a few places on my own blog. A couple of links below:

    2. Two thoughts on how evolution could work with Orthodoxy (and I reject evolution with a passion):
      One, if Adam and Eve were created to reverse the chaos already present on the earth but failed. This would fit well with Christ as New Adam.
      Reasons for this:
      1) Eden did not cover the whole Earth, it was to be expanded through their dominion. Wny dominate something already perfectly fine?
      2) Christ’s work initiates the global takeback of territory, real physical land, claimed by the gods/demons/etc. – after Babel
      3) Theosis versus Original Sin (and the entire system of theology it underlies), presumes gradataion, gradual movement into a place where the human imagers become one family with the spiritual family of God. Adam and Eve would grow into their vocation as Image Bearers. They were fallible, they were mortal with conditional immortality – they had to have access to the Tree of Life. Creation was not perfected in Eden, it was to be spread. Again, the point is movement towards a goal, not that they were already perfected. This will affect your view of the fall and all of your soteriology.
      So, you could have a special creation of Adam, or God giving consciousness to evolved creatures – provided that God intended Adam and Eve, and her offspring, to undo something already gone wrong. That they failed, Israel failed, but Messiah did not and that He alone can deliver from death, corruption, Satan.
      The serpent is already present on Earth when they are tempted. This could mean that the angelic fall had already taken place prior to their creation. I don’t think any of this is very in line with Tradition, but I think it could be workable upholding Christ’s work, fall as failure to become fully human, Christ as being everything Adam failed to be, and re-launching the Edenic vision God intended for Adam and Eve.
      I say all that after a lot of reflection, but I still reject evolution.

    3. I really, really appreciate hearing different perspectives. This topic (historicity of the scriptures, etc.) is one of my great barriers to becoming Christian, so I’m hoping to hear more from believers here about these questions.

      You say: “The fossils demonstrating disease and predation must have come into being at the time of the global flood of Noah, not prior to the sin of Adam and Eve.”

      I’m simply curious: what is it that convinces you that this is true? The consistency of the fossil record regarding evolution, carbon dating, etc., is remarkable. Evolution is a remarkable theory simply because, since its first proposal, the fossil record has repeatedly and consistently supported it. It’s the type of theory where you could say (back when it was proposed), “If this is true we should expect to find such-and-such in fossils” (such as transitory evolutionary states), and that is precisely what we have found over the intervening decades. The consistency of the evidence compels me to really consider that the theory is true.

      I also have a desire to simply trust scripture on these topics, and to trust Christian theology about such things as the origin of death, the need for a Savior, and so forth. But I don’t understand why I should trust the Hebrew scriptures to present a more accurate telling of man’s ancient history than the overwhelming data of fossil evidence. (I don’t have an issue relying on scripture to describe my spiritual state, or how to return to communion with God.)

      So I suppose my basic question is: where does your confidence in scripture as an accurate historical source come from? I’m honestly curious to know what was the process that convinced you that the scriptures are more accurate than the findings of archaeology/biology regarding things like: two primal parents for all humanity, fall of man and the origin of death, global flood, things like that.

      Thank you in advance. I promise I’m not trolling, I’m interested in hearing perspectives.

      1. If you’re interested check out BioLogos. I think that there are ways that make evolution work – but it won’t really be evolution. The problem I have with theistic evolution is that it is indistinguishable from random evolution. If God guides evolution, it isn’t evolution as defined by evolution proponents. Any God-guided “evolution” is called Progressive Creationism. I’m not sure how theistic evolutionists believe in intentionality and randomness at the same time. But many of them are also Open Theists or into Process Theology.

        I have listened to the YEC/the Intelligent Designers/the materialist evolutionists and it just seems to me, and this is a subjective thing, that there are enough holes to poke in evolution to doubt it. I understand that philosophically there are flaws in the Intelligent Design proposition, but their criticisms of evolution shouldn’t be ignored. Throwing God into evolution helps nothing because evolution is random, God doesn’t get His hands dirty in the process and seems very deistic to me. But I would rather someone be a Christian professing belief in evolution who ignores the contradictions than an atheist of course.

        But the Scriptures (check out John Walton) as many have realized, are not textbooks, they are theology books with history, mythic history. I’ll tell you a personal mythic history: I was driving home late one night and had the windows up with my radio turned up. For some reason I decided, as I was going down a hill toward an intersection, to turn off the radio and roll down the window. Within 2 seconds I almost crashed into 2 cars that were chasing each other. If I hadn’t rolled down the window and turned off the radio I wouldn’t have heard them and wouldn’t have hit the brakes. God protected me. Now, that entire story is history but once I add God protected me, that’s mythic history. Is it a myth in the sense of Zeus and …, not really, but any invocation of God as giving purpose, value, protection, etc. – into a narrative is mythic history. That’s why C.S. Lewis called Christianity the True Myth.

        As it relates to Genesis, when you think of the context of Israel in Egypt (assuming that’s not under attack as well), and the theological messaging the author wanted to communicate – or even if it was an addition at a later time – what’s the messaging: God is Creator and Sovereign over all of the forces of nature. He is to be worshipped not “gods of Thunder”, not river deities, not fertility gods – on and on it goes. So, does there need to be a literal Adam and Eve for the Bible to work, technically no – though there is no reason to deny that they existed. Since Original Sin is not true the Gospel is not that Christ came to forgive by absorbing the wrath of God instead of punishing us eternally for our inherent depravity – undoing Original Sin, but that Christ came to be everything man failed to be, that death is not the original intention of God and was defeated by Christ, that beings not loyal to Yahweh are to be overcome, and that the vision of humanity growing into the likeness of God can be renewed after Christ’s defeat of our enemies, sins can be forgiven, etc.

        So often in the evolution debate, the real theological concern fueling it is Original Sin.

        “I’m honestly curious to know what was the process that convinced you the scriptures are more accurate than the findings of archaeology/biology regarding things like….”

        That is a statement not a question. You presume that there is a complete dichotomy between the two, but it is a false dichotomy.

        This is a book addressing Evangelicals and their definition of inerrancy, I found it helpful. It would help to Google “Norm Geisler innerancy” first.

      2. It is hard to know where to begin in responding to your question. I reject the claims that the fossil record provides any support for evolution and maintain that it fits the pattern we should expect from rapid deposition during the global flood. However, merely asserting our differences accomplishes nothing. I have spent many years studying these matters, and others, and it is not possible in a brief Internet post to go into the various arguments that have convinced me that the so called “findings” of modern (pseudo) science are the result of objective investigations of the relevant topics. For example, evolution is a complete non-starter, as a basic knowledge of information theory and genetics demonstrates. I can recommend the works of Werner Gitt and John Sanford (particularly his book, “Genetic Entropy”) for serious study in these areas.

        It is typically overlooked that modern secular science, ranging from topics as diverse as “higher” Biblical criticism through geology, biology, and physics is practiced from an (overt or covert) atheistic perspective, and this starting point controls the range of permissible theories. I myself am doing work in the philosophy of science with the goal of demonstrating this with respect to Einstein’s relativistic theories. For example, his argument for Special Relativity (the foundation for his later General Relativity upon which the Big Bang theory is based) can’t get off the ground without his tacit atheistic presupposition. Don’t be fooled by AE’s occasional quips referring to “god”. He was a militant atheist with respect to the existence of a personal God, using this term emotively in reference to the universe itself, His theories are based upon his atheism, and are thus not acceptable to a Christian.

        1. Thanks for your reply. I’ll add it to my reading list.
          “For example, evolution is a complete non-starter, as a basic knowledge of information theory and genetics demonstrates.”
          I want to make sure I understand you here. You’re saying that there is positive evidence that makes evolution a falsified theory? If so, I’m curious how you explain the prevalence of its acceptance among experts in the field. (I don’t claim its acceptance is unanimous, but it’s an extreme majority.) Do these experts simply not know or understand this evidence as well as you do?
          I apologize for that blunt paragraph. I come from a Mormon background. Mormon apologists are often making similar claims (that secular experts are all wrong about something), when in literally every case I have studied in depth, it was the apologist that either misunderstood or misrepresented the data. I don’t claim that evolution is positively proven, but it seems far-fetched to claim that it has been disproven, but the secular experts have formed a conspiracy to continue pushing it.
          Whether Einsetein’s theory of Special Relativity was motivated by atheism or not has no bearing on whether it is true. Special relativity has been experimentally proven multiple times. I don’t see how Einstein’s atheism disproves relativity any more than Newton’s unorthodoxy disproves Newtonian physics.

        2. “It is typically overlooked that modern secular science, ranging from topics as diverse as “higher” Biblical criticism through geology, biology, and physics is practiced from an (overt or covert) atheistic perspective, and this starting point controls the range of permissible theories.”
          Recently I heard of a high school that wanted to teach comparative religion and to be fair and unbiased they hired an agnostic for the job. I thought, how nuts that anyone would consider an agnostic, or anyone for that matter, unbiased.
          The thing I appreciate most about my Reformed past is learning Presuppositional Apologetics from John Frame. If you subtract Total Depravity and Sola Scriptura from it (and ignore more complex doctrinal concepts like Communicable attributes – which Reformed folks would attribute to free will) – I think it’s very compatible with Orthodoxy.

          I just bought this and haven’t gotten through it but it looks very promising.

  5. You nailed it! Keep it up. This is why I find the word analogical preferable to allegorical. There is an analogy between our spiritual warfare that is real and the giant clans Joshua needed to wipe out, it is less fictional parable and more realistic analogy. Parables for Jesus were understood to correspond to real realities but the people who wish to force parable on the OT seem to need no reality except for the subjective experience of the author/community – which reduces parable the way it is used by Jesus to something else. Parables are analogical. Allegory, the way it is understood today needs no analogy and this is the mistake I believe.
    You are doing great work, God bless you for it Father,
    Matthew Lyon

  6. I grew up a fundamentalist, and gradually found my way to Orthodoxy. One thing I now understand is that the fundamentalist and the new atheist both use the same literal understanding of Scripture. This is why fundamentalists who study science often abandon the faith, as their understanding of inspiration forces them to choose between two sets of opposing facts.

  7. Fr Young,
    I understand what you’re saying regarding two levels of reality/history and basically agree. I’m wondering however if the use of mythic history is a happy way of expressing it. The word myth in most languages refers to tales of at best stories to illustrate a teaching or point. It usually refers to something fabricated. Could you not use another expression or simply explain what you did and avoid qualifying passages of Scripture as myths or mythic? That immediately calls to mind Bultmann et alter of the same kind.
    I also have a question that has been bothering me for a good while: is the existence of a real Adam and real Eve necessary? I think it is in view of Romans 5 and Paul’s teaching on redemption. But some Orthodox theologians see the story of the fall as a non-literal etiological story about human sin. Is that an acceptable opinion?

    1. I haven’t read the book in detail so I can’t comment in detail. But from excerpts and material I can find online, I think it suffers from the problem from which most contemporary work on this topic suffers. In approach, myth and the scriptures are approached as texts which are then subject to interpretation. It is assumed that ancient interpreters are performing the same task as modern interpreters just potentially using a different methodology.

      This excludes the element of religious experience. Unless you have made a pilgrimage to his shrine, offered sacrifices to his divine mother, and poured out their blood on the grave of Achilles with your extended family and community, you haven’t experienced the Illiad in the context in which it was heard sung by ancient people. Unless you’ve walked through Holy Week, culminating in the celebration of the Eucharist on Pascha, you haven’t experienced the Gospels in the way in which the fathers read and heard them. This isn’t just a different hermeneutic methodology, it is an entirely different context for the story now preserved as a text.

      Relatedly, the appropriation of these stories within classical philosophy has a similar spiritual context. Plato’s understanding of these stories, for example, is minimally colored by his sympathies toward later religious movements (such as Pythagoreanism) which challenged traditional modes of pagan worship. A central book of Aristotle’s metaphysics is the account of his noetic experience of the divine (that’s his own description).

      For good discussion of the relationship between ritual and myth, I’d recommend the work of Ithamar Gruenwald.

  8. What would you say to the view that, because the material world is in some sense fallen and corrupted (though not completely), any and all attempts to understand a literal material history just from modern historical methods is bound to be misleading at best and outright wrong at worst?

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