Aspects of Paul's theological argumentation, social ethics, and anthropology are based on a Mediterranean myth of the divine origin of the first man found in an earlier Babylonian account and a later Hebrew account; they seem to be related. The word "myth" (μῦθος, mythos) is basically translated as story or narrative, but the term can either be neutral or pejorative: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth. In the letters that virtually no one disputes as Pauline, the word "myth" does not appear. It only appears in the New Testament in the Pastoral Letters (1, 2 Timothy, and Titus), which most critical scholars attribute to a Pauline disciple, and in 2 Peter. In these four cases "myth" is used in a negative sense:
1 Timothy 4:7—"have nothing to do with godless and silly myths." (RSV)
2 Timothy 4:4—"and turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths." (RSV)
Titus 1:14—"instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth." (RSV)
2 Peter 1:16—"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (RSV)
These sentences clearly mark myth as misleading and untrue. Myth is not something that someone wanting to be "a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of good doctrine" would heed (1Timothy 4:6).
Nevertheless, here are two instances of Paul drawing on the Mediterranean myth of an original man who was fashioned by God.
In Romans 5:12-21 Paul asserts that all people are sinners because the sin of the first man (Genesis 3:1-13) passed into the entire human race, which is the reason that all people die (Romans 5:12; Genesis 2:17, 3:19)—although in the final analysis Paul blamed Eve for the wretched situation of the entire human race (2 Corinthians 11:3), as did one of Paul's later disciples (1 Timothy 2:13). The principle of passing Adam's sin into his descendants was set in Torah where God extended the sins of the fathers onto their descendants to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). Paul was clearly familiar with Torah (Romans 7:7 quoting Exodus 20:17; Romans 13:9 quoting Exodus 20:13-17), so it seems safe to assume that the principle of holding children culpable for the sins of their fathers was not lost on Paul. Hence, an act in mythical space and time before the beginning of historical time explains why people are sinners and why they die. Paul's ideas have no basis in fact or reason, but only in myth, so don't look for confirming evidence of sin in the human genome.
In a second example (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) Paul again draws on the Mediterranean myth of the first man, arguing that an act of coitus with a prostitute establishes an essential physical relationship with her; they in fact become "one body" as a result of coitus. To support his rationale he again quotes scripture appealing to the myth of the first man and his consort (Genesis 2:23-24) of whom it is written "they two shall become one flesh." In other words, as it happened in mythical space and time between the first couple Adam and Eve, so it is in historical space and time between a man and a prostitute. Coitus is not simply a casual physical moment between men and women; it is a deed that effectively alters the physical composition of the male body/flesh, for the female prostitute is incorporated as part of the male body (Genesis 2:23), and the two are essentially one, so Paul argues. Again, as in the first example, Paul's idea has no basis in fact or reason, but only in myth—so don't expect confirmation from a physical examination by your physician.
It is important to note that Paul's argument is not based on "Scripture," which only informs him of the myth. His argument turns on what putatively "happened" in the case of the mythical man Adam. It was the "event" (so to speak) and not the later writing about it that is authoritative for Paul's argument. The mythical man, Adam, was fashioned by the divine creator as male/female and then s/he was divided into different genders –male and female (Genesis 2:18-23). Subsequently the "union" between a man and his mate restores the original state of the first man (Genesis 2:24)—the two become one flesh.
Are the arguments of Paul invalidated because they are based on the "experiences" of a mythical man? It depends. Readers having a high view of Scripture will necessarily be compelled to accept his arguments that human beings are sinners and die because they are infected with the "germ" of Adam's sin. They will also be forced to accept his argument that coitus with a prostitute makes the male and the female essentially "one body" and would likely appeal to the "spiritual truth" of the statement to explain his argument.
Readers guided by reason, however will not be impressed by Paul's argument about Adam's sin infecting the human race, since a "theological truth" is not necessarily historical data; and there may be excellent reasons for not engaging the services of a prostitute, but not because of the "experience" of the mythical man on whom Paul bases his argument.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University