Q: What documents or decisions have
led the Church to say that many of
the incidents described in the Bible are
demonstrative myths? In a broader sense,
how has the Church come to this conclusion?
How can someone know which incidents
are fact and which are myth?
A: The Bible is always true in the
sense that it conveys the revelation
that God wishes to share with us.
The Bible, however, does not present
itself as a written transcript of what
you would have seen if you had been
present during each of the events
If that were the case, then one of
the two creation accounts (Genesis
1:1—2:4a or Genesis 2:4b-25) would
have to be considered inaccurate.
Because the final editor of the Book of
Genesis considered each of them as
true in its own way, they are part of that
One meaning of myth is something
that is false. For example, unicorns exist
in art but no one has ever seen one in
real life. In that sense, they are false.
The first definition of myth in Webster's
10th Collegiate Dictionary reads,
"a usually traditional story of ostensibly
historical events that serves to
unfold part of the worldview of a people
or explain a practice, belief, or natural
Because 21st-century Westerners usually
pride themselves on being realistic
and scientific, they often consider false
whatever cannot be weighed, measured
or otherwise described externally. Such
linear reasoning is sometimes called
Useful as left-brain thinking is, right-brain thinking believes that there can
be a deep truth best conveyed through
poetry, song, dance, sculpture or similar
expressions. According to this
approach, even a fictional story can
convey a deep truth. Wouldn't the
parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke
10:29-37) be true in terms of God's self-revelation
even if someone could prove
that Jesus was not describing an actual
People sometimes think that God's
self-revelation can occur only through
facts capable of being independently
verified. Everything else can be dismissed
The late John L. McKenzie, S.J., in his
Dictionary of the Bible (first published in
1965) called myth "an essential part
of the patterns of human thought and
discourse which can never be entirely
replaced by logical discourse, particularly
in those questions for which logical
discourse fails to render an answer
which satisfies the mind."
He goes on to quote Millar Burrows
who described myth as "a symbolic,
approximate expression of truth which
the human mind cannot perceive
sharply and completely but only
glimpse vaguely, and therefore cannot
adequately or accurately express....Myth implies, not falsehood, but truth;
not primitive, naïve misunderstanding
but an insight more profound than scientific
description and logical analysis
can ever achieve. The language of myth
in this sense is consciously inadequate,
being simply the nearest we can come
to a formulation of what we see very
Trying to categorize all biblical stories
as either scientifically verifiable or myths is an impossible task. Scripture is not a
scientific textbook that needs corrections
based on newer and more reliable
On the other hand, has any left-brain
thinker explained better than the
Book of Genesis does why there is evil
in the world? Has a linear, left-brain
approach provided a better explanation
than the Gospels do of who Jesus
was and why he matters to us?
Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on
Divine Revelation is the most official,
recent summary of the Catholic
Church's faith about what the Bible is
and how it should be interpreted.
In heaven, people who dismiss the
entire Bible as myth and those who
think every detail is historically verifiable
will both be surprised by God's
Q: I recently read online the Book of
James, also called the Protoevangelium
of James. It describes how St.
Joseph was selected as Mary's husband
and Mary's early childhood.
Is the Book of James approved by the
Church? If so, why isn't it in the Bible? I realize
that this writing differs from the New Testament's Letter of James.
A: This writing is not in the Bible
because the whole Christian
community did not see its faith
reflected there, as it did in the Gospels
of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The
term Protoevangelium (first Gospel) suggests
that its contents record events
prior to the four Gospels in the New
In fact, internal evidence indicates
that this writing uses the Gospels of
Matthew and Luke, as well as Old Testament
and non-biblical traditions. The
Infancy Gospel of James was already
known to the Scripture scholar Origen.
One scholar dates it about 100 years
before Origen's death in 254.
The author of the Infancy Gospel
of James identifies himself as the
"brother of the Lord" mentioned elsewhere
in the New Testament. From
other sources, we know that this James
was martyred in 62 A.D.—well before
the Gospels of Matthew and Luke
reached their final form. The author
harmonized details from Matthew and
Luke instead of allowing those texts to
reflect very different authors.
Ron Cameron has edited The Other
Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts (Westminster Press, 1982), which gives
background on other apocryphal
gospels not found in the New Testament.
Q: If God knows everything, including
what we will do in the future,
how can human beings be truly free? In
that case, has God predestined some people
to salvation and others to damnation?
A: Human beings must talk about
past, present and future. We
cannot relate to time in any other way.
Thus, we easily assume that God exists
in time and relates to time the same
way. The question of predestination,
however, presumes that God relates to
time in two ways simultaneously:
everything is eternally present and yet
everything unfolds in the past-presentfuture
God, however, existed before the cosmos,
our planet, human beings and
even human time were created. The
Scriptures in many places speak of God
as existing in human time, starting
with the creation of Adam. After telling
him not to eat of the tree of life (Genesis
2:16-17), God creates Eve and then
Adam and Eve break that commandment
and immediately are ashamed of
doing so (3:1-7). Later they encounter
God, who makes clothes for them and
expels them from the Garden of Eden
One consequence of assuming that
God exists in human time is the idea
that the Son of God became a human
being only because of Adam and Eve's
sin—in effect, that Jesus was some kind
of Plan B. Challenging that assumption,
Blessed John Duns Scotus (d.
1308) and other theologians have said
that Jesus' Incarnation was always
Psalm 90 affirms, "A thousand years
in your [God's] eyes are merely a yesterday"
(verse 4). This idea is repeated
in 2 Peter 3:8, "But do not ignore this
one fact, beloved, that with the Lord
one day is like a thousand years and a
thousand years like one day."
We frequently speak of God as acting
in human time, but that is a limit. The
Creator who made human time cannot
possibly be limited by it.
God has given us human freedom
because, without it, we could not love.
The story of Adam and Eve suggests
that sin's first casualty is a willingness
to accept responsibility for our actions.
Adam blames Eve, who blames the serpent.
God created human freedom and
continues to respect it. The explanation
that God has predestined all our actions
creates more problems than it solves
because it contradicts several parts of
Scripture and our experience.
Q: When I was a child 80 years ago, statues in Catholic churches were
covered in purple during Holy Week. During Holy Week this year,
my parish covered its statues with red cloth. Is that supposed to
represent Jesus' blood shed for our sins? Why the change?
A: Covering statues and crucifixes in churches during Holy
Week continues to be the custom in many places but is not
a universal requirement. One exception is the cross that is
unveiled during the Good Friday liturgy.
Although purple is considered a penitential color, the Church uses red
vestments on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday.
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