Gospel Hypothesis 5: The contents of Scripture

While we’re talking about Scriptures, it’s also worth pointing out that the Gospel Hypothesis and the Myth Hypothesis imply different things about the actual contents of any Scriptures that might arise. The Gospel Hypothesis implies that God’s Word ought to be perfect, since God is perfect. It ought to reflect a level of knowledge consistent with the perfect knowledge of its Author, and it ought to have the same timeless, unchanging perspective of an eternal deity. By contrast, the Myth Hypothesis implies a Bible that reflects its human origins, and records all the ignorance, superstition, and cultural biases of the people that produced it.

Granted, believers are always going to find ways of interpreting Scripture to work around such blemishes as failed prophecies, barbaric cultural values, and changing doctrines. The point is not that believers can’t come up with rationalizations for the all-too-human foibles of the ancient prophets. The point is that their work-arounds can never be as simple as the Myth Hypothesis is. The Gospel Hypothesis has to explain it, but the Myth Hypothesis predicts it.

Take Genesis, for example. The people who originally invented the story were ignorant about some pretty fundamental things, including the connection between the sun and daylight. (Hey, it’s day even on cloudy days when the sun’s not out, right?) So three days and nights go by before it even occurs to God to create the sun. That’s precisely the kind of mistake you’d expect to find in a story invented by people who were speaking from their own uninformed experience, as the Myth Hypothesis implies the story’s authors would have to be.

Or take the fact that the very first verse of the Bible, literally translated, says, “In the beginning, Gods created the heavens and the earth.” It’s very bizarre to suppose that Jewish monotheists would have decided to name their God by the plural form of the word for “a god.” That would be like Fred Phelps deciding to name God “The Gayfather.” When you’re surrounded by what you see as false doctrine, you don’t name your God after the false doctrine you’re trying to combat!

On the other hand, if you’ve got a polytheistic nation that has just suffered a major defeat and been exiled to a foreign country where a new monotheistic religion is coming into vogue, it would be only natural for the defeated people to absorb some of the culture—including the religion—of their conquerors. What we call the Old Testament today consists of the books and stories that the exiled Jews brought back from Persia, and these Jews didn’t speak Hebrew. When they came back, the scribes had to translate the Hebrew Pentateuch for them so they could understand the words. What better time for a Hebrew word meaning “gods” to be repurposed as just “Elohim,” a name?

The traditional explanation is that the plural form is intended as some kind of honorific, even though (a) believers today don’t actually honor God by calling Him “Gods,” (b) nobody else in the Bible is ever honored by being referred to in the third person plural, and (c) when you’re trying to combat false doctrine, you don’t suddenly decide that false doctrine is the best way to honor for someone!

Of course, you can come up with rationalizations for those discrepancies as well, but the point is that you’ll never find an explanation as simple as the one that says the Jews originally had polytheistic creation myths that were “corrected” by their monotheistic descendants. And there are lots of similar examples as well. The Bible, as a recording of what ancient people believed at the time their Scriptures were being written and/or edited, is a record of changing beliefs, values and practices.

In Exodus 21, for example, God gives fathers instructions on how to sell their daughters as sex slaves, a practice that has, shall we say, mostly gone out of style among traditional believers. In the Old Testament, God promises to forgive people their sins in exchange for animal sacrifices, but then later decides not to accept those sacrifices if the people’s hearts aren’t right, and by the New Testament has decided that even when they got everything right, those sacrifices still weren’t enough to justify Him keeping His original promise unless Jesus himself was sacrificed—even though human sacrifice, before and after the Cross, is forbidden. The clear and correct will of God in one generation becomes the inadequate understanding of the next, and generation by generation the fossil layers accumulate.

Believers have spent thousands of years building up a huge collection of explanations to account for all these discrepancies, but that’s kind of the point: they need a huge collection of explanations. The Myth Hypothesis does not, because it has nothing to explain. Such discrepancies are exactly what we ought to be finding if the Myth Hypothesis is true.

So like Mark Twain said, tell the truth—it’s easier. The Gospel Hypothesis can’t stand on its own, but the Myth Hypothesis can, because it corresponds to the simple truth.


  1. sc_69fc3053efe3b6d2893944ca582d740c says

    There is another hypothesis, with an existent God, that fits the facts.

    That He is a case of arrested development, insecure, given to temper tantrums, and a child abuser that tells his victims that he loves them while torturing them. Inconsistent and petty, the same behaviour will lead to kisses one day, whippings the next. For justification, he claims “Might makes Right”, that “I created you, so I can destroy you.” and insists upon constant worship.

  2. Owlmirror says

    What better time for a Hebrew word meaning “gods” to be repurposed as just “Elohim,” a name?

    I am pretty sure that the E document existed before the exile.

    I’ve been thinking about phrase “the bible is not a science book”, and it occurred to me that a response to that might be that no, the bible is not a science book, because science is the result of an honest and careful self-correcting inquiry into reality, and the bible shows no sign of being the result of anything like that. However, I think one could honestly say that the bible was intended by its authors as having the same general intent as that of science; that is, to explain things that the authors saw around them. by making it the actions of the God they worshipped, and expanding “[Our] God did it” it into a sort of narrative that appealed to their intuitions and sense of story.

    It occurs to me that all (or most) myth may be from a similar desire to explain reality as the result of the actions of persons with emotions and desires.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      I am pretty sure that the E document existed before the exile.

      That wouldn’t surprise me. It would also not surprise me to find that a document identified primarily by its constant use of the word “gods” (plural) turned out to be a document that was originally about plural gods, and only became a collection of monotheistic stories when it was adapted for use as scripture by a cadre of monotheistic editors.

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