‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ – 2 Peter chapter 1, verse 16.
Peter’s second letter speaks of the truth of Jesus Christ—and Peter’s message is as instructive to us today as it was to those who originally heard it. In this letter Peter confidently proclaims the lordship of Christ, rebutting the notion that the power of Jesus is just a cleverly contrived myth. Peter bears witness to a faith that is historic and real—not mythical but factual.
I want to share three reasons why we can have the same confidence as Peter in saying ‘we do not follow cleverly devised myths’.
A true story
The Christian faith celebrates true historic events, and they must be treated as such.
Philosophically speaking, if a story is presented as fictitious, then it is most unwise and illogical to present it as a fact (though facts may be used). The same goes for a story presented as an historical account (as the gospel narratives and epistles are)—we may say that it is presented as fact but it was really fictitious; such an assertion would require facts to substantiate this assertion. If we are not careful it could be that we are smuggling in our own underlying assumptions that the supernatural or metaphysical could not possibly exist.
The Jesus Seminar (a group of critics formed in 1985) does not present Jesus as a myth; their idea is that the Jesus we know today was ‘cleverly devised’, and thus was a myth, he was, however, a good moral prophet (so they say).
Another example is a statement Richard Dawkins—the famed atheist and author of The God Delusion—made during a debate with the Christian apologist John Lennox in 2008: ‘I take it back, Jesus did exist and most historians acknowledge this, but so what’.
We must understand the implications of affirming the statement ‘Jesus existed’—namely time and history contain vestiges of Jesus’ existence. We can’t have our cake and eat it; we can’t say Jesus existed and then call it myth. We can’t say Jesus existed; but who he has been presented as is mythical—not without some evidence that substantiates this claim.
Testimony from those who don’t believe
We do not follow cleverly devised myths, because even the stones cry out (Luke chapter 19, verse 40); in other words, there is credible testimony from those who don’t believe.
Flavius Josephus a Roman historian who wrote Against Apion and Antiquities of the Jews says:
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
With this example in mind, how can we call what Peter exalts ‘cleverly invented myths’?
John Warwick Montgomery writes that ‘To be sceptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well-attested bibliographically as the New Testament’.
Eyewitness testimony speaks loudly
Biographical information on Jesus in the New Testament was not put down or cleverly contrived, but was based on eyewitness testimony.
Consider what John Warwick Montgomery notes about the pre-Christian Roman dramatist Plautus ‘one eyewitness is worth more than ten purveyors of hearsay; those who only hear about things say what they have heard, but those see know the score’.
What do these eyewitnesses have to say?
In his first letter the Apostle John writes:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.
(1 John chapter 1, verses 1–2)
Similarly, the Apostle Paul writes to the believers in Corinth:
… And that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep...
(1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 5–6)
Lastly, Luke writes:
In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.
(Luke chapter 1 verses 1–3).
I conclude by putting this to you, that we do not follow cleverly devised myths, because that option has simply not been given to us: he is either Lord of all or not at all, as CS Lewis said in Mere Christianity, ‘but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to’. We have come to know this Lord, not through stories cleverly devised, but through objective sources passed down to us for all to see and follow since that is what these truths calls us to do. Follow this God as did our forebears as they beheld his majesty.
Paul Lewis is a Staff Worker for Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship in Kingston Jamaica, where he also resides. He has aspirations of becoming a Christian Apologist and he loves reading especially topics like: History, Philosophy and Theology. You can follow him on twitter @VeritasDeiVinci