Friday, November 16, 2012

The Bible And The Legend

I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this.   C. S. Lewis
I love this quote by CS Lewis. So many people dismiss the bible as legend. It is seen as the smart thing to do. The truth is it is just an intellectually fashionable thing to do. If you really scrutinize the notion of the bible as legend it does not hold up at all. What legends are said to have happened in a specific time and place? What legendary figures wander around the country-side for a few years, give a bunch of teachings on religion and morality, and then get executed? Then there are the stories. What legendary figures tell stories? They are the story.

Even Paul's story makes a very lousy legend. He starts out as a rich and respected individual. Then he meets Jesus. He eventually starts preaching. He runs into a lot of resistance. Sometime he leaves town and preaches somewhere else. He ends up in jail a lot. Eventually he is executed. He never has a legendary win but there are long explanations of his theology. I don't know of any legend that includes anything like that.

The other thing many people don't realize is that including realistic little details in fiction is a relatively recent phenomenon. It didn't happen until after the invention of the printing press. Before that copying stories was so expensive you reduced your word count to the bare minimum. Yet the bible contains many small details. They do indicate that it really happened. Someone might remember that there were 153 fish caught but is a fiction writer going to make up that number? No fiction written within 1000 years of that time period would make up details like that.

The other thing it shows is the care with which the bible was copied. Not only were the details recorded but they didn't get edited out. That indicates a desire to respect the text and make exact copies. They didn't do that with every work. Copying by hand they took shortcuts with a lot of texts but not with the scriptures.

It relates to another commonly-held but rarely-scrutinized belief. That people could have changed the scriptures and nobody would have noticed. Christianity was not a local thing. There were a lot of Christian communities spread over what is now France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Syria, Egypt, Cyprus, etc. If people were changing the scriptures they would be a mess. There would be no way to keep them in sync. If you tried to resolve the differences you would create no end of controversy. Yet we have no plethora of different scriptures and no evidence of controversy. So it is easy to say the scriptures might have been changed. It is not so easy to imagine a scenario where that would happen and no evidence would be left behind.


  1. Great quote of Lewis. Thanks for it!

  2. Thanks ... I agree with your awesome point... the bible is factual .. and mythical stories don't have facts to go with them, so they're NOT...thanks for writing this down,,, now I'm going to dwell on it, for I have soooo many beautiful people in my life who claim the bible is a myth...

  3. Thanks for the comment Debbie. There are actually some fictional stories that have some facts. Shakespeare In Love might be an example. The difference is more subtle. Yet CS Lewis was a professor of literature. So he knew how to analyze and compare genres. It is not that the bible has facts. It is the sorts of facts it includes. Not facts that fit a heroic narrative like a myth would.