Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: μυθος

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/m/m-u-th-o-sfin.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The familiar noun μυθος (muthos) means story (hence the English word myth), and marks one of the handful of major milestones in the development of man's celebrated sapience. We humans think in words, and although we like to believe that our consciousness is an innate part of us, it really isn't. Our consciousness runs on words and narration and is as synthetic as our clothes. Our naked ancestors spun them.

Between the very first formation of words (from pointing at visible things and imitating other people's grunted expressions) and the formation of a writing system sits the crucially important phase of the development of narration, which are verbal molecules (structures that consist of atoms that are words). Narration requires a separation between narrator and audience (that's a principle pertaining to the second day of creation), plus the formation of an idea of a mental (i.e. non-physical) stage upon which a story may unfold (that's a third day thing), plus such amazing inventions as future and past tenses (animals literally have no past and future, only a present), modal verbs (could, should or would but ... didn't) and of course commonly recognized expressions, broken symmetries, metaphors and self-similarities (see for narrative fractals our article on the noun αστηρ, aster, star).

Just like today, back in the Stone Age it was very rare to have an original story teller in one's tribe, and that is why the first myths lasted so very long and showed so very little variations. The earliest myths were carried around by bards, and literally had the same function as the earliest cave paintings: they taught people a standard of vocabulary and a hitherto unfamiliar depth and complexity of thought — but collective thought. Myths gave large language basins a common cultural identity, and individuals the ability to expand the narrative of their own identity relative to the identity of their community. These founding myths sounded to common talkers like vast symphonies would have sounded to a local 19th century fiddler, but ultimately, these narrative symphonies generated a vast economy of babble in which common minds waxed like turnips and raised the mental and cognitive levels of mankind at large to modern levels.

Back then, entire cultures and language basins existed without ever having experienced the first spark of narration. And when some stranger, some foreigner, came along and taught the people the art of narration (more likely: when a freshly harvested slave saw his new owners sit around the campfire having fun telling stories), such a stranger would be hailed as the bringer of the greatest of gifts, namely the gift of mind: the gift that gave wings that gave the wielder the power to rise above the animal world.

Only after people had learned how to tell stories, they could create an economy of exchange, in which certain narrative elements became more popular than others and were honed into archetypes. From that same mechanism arose the first traces of scientific knowledge: knowledge that was true always and for everyone, that had been harvested like ore from the mountains of narration, and which has been purified in the fire of popular demand, until it was untouchable and perfect and utterly useful (Psalm 12:6; see our riveting article on Logos).

It's formally unclear where our word μυθος (muthos) comes from, but its emergence in the Greek language was probably helped along by the proximity of words like μουσα (mousa), muse, and μυστηριον (musterion), mystery. Here at Abarim Publications, however, we surmise that the art of narration was introduced to the Greek language basin along with the alphabet, which came from Greece's Semitic trading partners. We further surmise that our word μυθος (muthos) ultimately derives from the noun מתת (mattat), gift, from the verb נתן (natan), to give.

Our noun μυθος (muthos) occurs 5 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, consistently in the negative sense of a feature of text that is decidedly lower than Logos. But it needs to be remembered that narration serves science in precisely the same way in which the wise men paid homage to the infant Christ by bestowing upon him their gifts (Matthew 2:11). And Paul too emphasized that although there is only one Word of God, all texts are god-breathed and useful for edification (2 Timothy 3:16) — and that includes all sorts of extra-Biblical legends such as the story of Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:9), and The Mandalorian and Masha and the Bear and such.


The noun παροιμια (paroimia) means proverb, saying or commonly recognized figure of speech and is obviously of a similar reality as the word μυθος (muthos) discussed above. It's not simply something someone once said, but rather something that everybody has been repeating: a communally accepted trope or wisdom, quite like an inn of meaning that was built beside the path of common discourse (the title of Ivo Andric' famous book Signs by the Roadside cleverly applies this word).

In practice our word is similar to the noun παραβολη (parabole), parable, but technically the difference is that a parable tells a familiar story in a new way, whereas our noun παροιμια (paroimia) testifies of the popularity of a therefore well-known expression.

Our noun consists of the familiar prefix παρα (para), meaning near or nearby, and the less common (and unused in the New Testament) noun οιμος (hoimos), meaning way or path (from the Proto-Indo-European root "weyh-", to rush or chase; hence also the Latin via), which was also applied to the progression of a song. This latter noun obviously relates to the familiar noun οδος (hodos), meaning road. Since a path forms organically from many feet walking the same way (in exactly the same way that a statement becomes a proverb), and a road is built (usually on a path) by deliberation, our words οιμος (hoimos) and οδος (hodos) relate exactly the way παροιμια (paroimia), popular statement, relates to λογος (logos), scientific statement.

Our noun παροιμια (paroimia), saying or figure of speech, occurs 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance. The evangelist John applies this word to some of the sayings of Jesus, which implies that these particular sayings were indeed not parables (a new application of an existing story) but rather statements that everybody routinely fired off but not fully comprehended.

(A perhaps comparable phenomenon is the teary-eyed singing of "Auld Lang Syne," whose meaning only very few bellowers are actually familiar with. Then, stop-gaps like "Goodness" or "Goodness Gracious" all literally evoke the Deity, which isn't always clear to everyone. And who would have figured that Santa Claus personifies satan? Or that love is not a feeling? Or that the Bible contains the entire universe? As the man said: Imagine what you will know tomorrow.)