BIBLE INTERPRETATION:
NEW THOUGHT

In a tradition of interpretation going back to Theagenes, Philo, Clement, and Swedenborg, among others (see below) the New Thought movement generally has adopted a non-literal, symbolic, "metaphysical" type of interpretation. In this, people and places in the Bible are understood as standing for beliefs and conditions in our own lives. The best known book on this topic in the New Thought movement is Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore's Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, the use of which is found throughout most of New Thought.

People who wish to study this topic might well consider the following.

I. DEFINITIONS

MYTH. A usu. traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. PARABLE [a usu. short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle], ALLEGORY [(from allegorein, to speak figuratively) the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; . . . a symbolic representation]. (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary)

Traditionally, a story belonging to any culture that is derived from primitive beliefs, presenting supernatural episodes to explain cosmic forces and the natural order. Regardless of the culture in which they originate, myths are generally concerned with the same themes and motifs: creation, divinity, the significance of life and death, natural phenomena, and the adventures of mythical heroes. (Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, 3rd ed.)

LEGEND, MYTH, FABLE refer to stories handed down from earlier times, often by word of mouth. A LEGEND is a story associated with a people or a nation; it is usually concerned with a real person, place or event and is popularly believed to have some basis in fact: the legend of King Arthur. A MYTH is one of a class of purportedly historical stories that attempt to explain some belief, practice, or natural phenomenon; the characters are usu. gods or heroes: the Greek myth about Demeter. A FABLE is a fictitious story intended to teach a moral lesson; the characters are usu. animals: the fable about the fox and the grapes. (Random House Webster's College Dictionary)

II. ALTERNATIVES IN DEALING WITH MYTHS

1. UNREFLECTIVE ACCEPTANCE.

2. REFLECTIVE ACCEPTANCE, or partial acceptance, as in Plato's recognition that myths could supplement philosophy with regard to matters, such as the world of becoming, about which there cannot be philosophical precision. This seems to fall short of demythologization, or it might be called implicit demythologization, rather than explicit demythologization.

3. REJECTION. Total rejection of myths, (the approach of the earliest philosophers [Thales et al.]), scientists, historians, and other scholars, substituting for myths what are taken to be literal truths. As to how much of a rejection there can be, there are views that it is:
(1) Possible. Obviously, most of those named here believed that it is possible to reject, at least in the form of demythologizing.
(2) Impossible. Paul Tillich held that a myth can be replaced only by another myth, but that a myth can be broken (recognized as a myth) or unbroken (acceptedas literal truth, not recognized as myth). There can be remythologizing, but not demythologizing.

4. DEMYTHOLOGIZATION. Attempting to translate a myth into literal truth, getting at the essence of a myth by separating its lasting truth from its mode of presentation, considered literally true by believers in the myth, but not literally true by more detached observers of the myth.

III. STAGES OF DEMYTHOLOGIZATION

1. Demythologizing Greek Myths:

Greek mystery religions, to the extent that they explained myths as revealing personal immortality
Theagenes
The Sophists
The Stoics
Anna Kingsford
2. Demythologizing Old Testament:
Aristobulus
Philo
Cabalists
3. Demythologizing New Testament:
Rudolf Bultmann
4. Demythologizing the whole Bible or portions thereof,irrespective of which Testament:
The Gnostics
Clement
Origen
Augustine
Swedenborg
Quimby
New Thoughters
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Created Oct. 16, 1995
by Alan Anderson
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Latest update June 3, 1998