II Peter is written to Saints who are threatened with being overcome by False teachers and false teaching. As you consider the New Testament this is a theme that is played out relentlessly. Peter’s concern is to protect the little flock while at the same time articulate the truth.
Because that is the context in which the book is set it has an apologetical feel about it. Peter is concerned for God’s people and he is seeking to lay a foundation for them that they can always return to in terms of the truth. In every age among every people, the Christian faith has to make its way against all competitors and detractors and so it must defend itself by explaining why it is true and the other is false.
This means in a Christian Church, you are going to get heavy doses of dogma and apologetics. This is the truth and why. This isn’t the truth and this is why it isn’t. This is what Peter is doing here. He is giving them the truth.
“The childish mind that hates the discipline of dogma is usually, at the same time, addicted to entertainment. Dogma is ‘boring’, but finger-painting your own creed is fun.”
— David Wells
The particular error that Peter is fighting here is the Church’s oldest heresy and one that we still contend with today in one form or another. It is the error of Gnosticism. Gnosticism was a faith system that wore the outer garments of Christianity. However, what those garments covered was a mixture of Greek platonic philosophy which denied the importance of the corporeal, embraced a kind of Zen – everything is ONE Oriental philosophy as well as emphasizing esoteric “incantational like” knowledge rather than faith in Christ.
That this is the case can be seen in the Epistle. In this Epistle, Peter fights against a Gnostic-inspired immorality. Believing the body to be inherently unimportant and so insignificant to our real selves Gnosticism encouraged and excused the pursuit of the immoral excess (2:13-19). There was also in Gnosticism a dismissal of authority as we see here (2:10).
So, in light of all this Peter is seeking to burnish his bonafides – credentials in terms of what he is communicating to them. He starts off here by saying,
For WE did not follow cunningly devised fables (myths)
By starting with the Pronoun “We” Peter demonstrates that he see’s himself as part of an Apostolic company communicating reliable truths. Peter does not hold a private opinion.
There also may be an implicit charge here against the Gnostic leaders who did indeed follow cunningly devised fables.
(Read with emphasis on WE)
Gnosticism was characterized by the manure of secret knowledge piled high in terms of its legends, incantations, different levels of spiritual authorities, etc.
The word itself, “Muthos” may have developed from “mueo,” which means to be “initiated or instructed” in the mystery religions of Greece or Rome. The noun “musterion” is related also, “a secretive hidden bit of information.”
These ancient myths or fables may have had reference to the appearances of the gods upon earth, or to those of the Gnostics as to the emanation of the aeons, or to the Gnostic myth of the Sophia.
In our own context, such cunningly devised fables would include hermeneutics that presuppose the supernatural isn’t true. Fables that would reinterpret Christianity through the lens of some kind of humanism. An embrace of the idea that all is one. The necessity to embrace an unqualified and ill-defined concept of love. The Brotherhood of all men and the Fatherhood of God over all men. Cunningly devised fables remain with us today just as much of a threat as they were in the 1st century.
In our own context here is a concrete cunningly devised fable related to creation,
“Once upon a time in an act of extravagant expansive love overflowing from that divine community there appeared from nothing a pinpoint of probability smaller than a proton and this was the egg of the universe. In this egg God packed all the potential for the universe He planned, all matter, all energy, all life, all being, and the laws by which it would unfold. The egg exploded. Only God knows how. And the universe expanded a trillion trillion times and it gradually cooled into what we call matter.”
Well, it is this type of thing that Peter is contesting.
The issue quickly becomes one of credibility and authority and Peter spends some time on those issues. He insists that he has not deceived them regarding his teaching of the coming and power of Christ (16). This is something that is denied by the myth-makers.
So, Peter spends a wee bit of time seeking to lay a foundation for his credibility.
I.) Appeal to First Hand Testimony to Sustain Credibility
II Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
Here we find an appeal to the facts. Peter was a first-hand witness and he appeals to what he saw.
Most commentators believe that when Peter refers to the “making known to you the power and coming of our Lord Christ,” that he is referring to the second coming of Christ. It is true that the word there used (parousia) for coming typically points to the second coming in the NT. Also there is the fact that this second coming was an issue (I Peter 3:3-4) However, I’m going to agree instead with the few scholars who see this as a reference of Christ’s first coming. It fits the context better in my estimation.
Here are these saints. They have been stirred up and troubled as to the truth of who the Lord Jesus Christ was. Many of these Gnostics redefined or deleted the divinity of Christ. Peter parries that thrust by saying, “Don’t you believe it. We were eyewitnesses of the divinity of Christ.
This appeal to their own first-hand testimony to sustain credibility in their witness was not uncommon in the New Testament. Indeed, one of the requirements for being an Apostle is that one had witnessed Christ.
This appeal to first hand testimony is consistently used in the NT to undergird the authority of the Apostles. Peter uses it Acts 10 also
39 We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the [ad]land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a [ae]cross.40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, 41 not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
The Apostle John appeals to the same thing in his Epistle,
I John 1:1
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,
Paul makes this appeal,
I Cor. 15:5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to [c]James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as [d]to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
In all these cases credibility is added to the teaching by an appeal to their first-hand witness testimony. Peter and the Apostles can write to their people that they saw… they touched … they heard. All of that was intended to lend credibility to their case.
And 2000 years later it adds credibility to our faith still. Enemies realize the credibility that is bound up with these first hand Aposotlic accounts and so they seek to deconstruct them. The enemies say things like
“The Apostles had a mass hallucination brought on by their inability to cope with the destruction of their expectation.”
“The early Church created a faith and dogma out of what believed to be true even though we know that it couldn’t be true.”
Peter makes his appeal to the Transfiguration event which he witnessed the age to come slip over into this present age.
From this, he relates the highlights of the Transfiguration account. However Peter uses a phrase here that is not found in the Transfiguration accounts,
“When we were with Him on the Holy Mountain.”
This may simply be the case where the Mountain is seen as Holy because that is where the Transfiguration occurred. However, the phrasing as OT legs.
In the OT “The Holy Mountain,” is the phrase used to describe Mt. Zion. Mt. Zion was the locale which God has chose for His own dwelling and as we learn in Psalm 2 it is the place from which God’s Messiah rules,
“But as for Me, I have [d]installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
So, Peter gives us here the Transfiguration account with the addition of the phrase “holy Mountain,” and in doing so he may be subtly drawing our attention to Jesus as the One who rules in God’s name. As such we find a combination of both the Divinity of Christ in Peter’s reference but also an emphasis on Jesus as God’s great King assigned to rule in the affairs of men.
Jesus is not whom the false teachers, then or now, say he is. He is very God of very God who has been placed on God’s Holy Mountain for the purpose of ruling the Nations according to His Law word. And false teachers, both then and now, would be wise to cease with their disrespect and kiss the son lest they perish in the way.
But behind this appeal to experience to sustain credibility there is a prior appeal and that is the,
II.) Appeal to Scripture to Sustain Credibility
“The Prophetic word confirmed.”
You see what Peter is saying here is that their experience confirmed that which they had owned as “prophetic.”
This prophetic message or word referred to here is probably a broad generalization that inclusive of all of God’s inscripturated Revelation.
And so the appeal to Peter’s audience is that their teaching is rooted in Scripture and not primarily their own experience although not surprisingly their experience confirms Scripture’s testimony.
The Scriptures had spoken of God’s coming Messiah. Jesus Himself read Scripture as pointing to Himself on the Road to Emmaus and by that work altered the Disciples interpretation of their experience so that they moved from downcast to those whose hearts burned within them.
Scripture is what made sense of the Life of Christ and Scripture is the means by which we are to interpret our experience. Yes, Peter had these eye witness experiences but those eye witness experiences were informed by what Scripture taught.
This combination of experience being interpreted by Scripture is uniformly seen not only here and in the Emmaus account but elsewhere in Scripture as well,
3 For I delivered to you [b]as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;
There is a principle here that we have mentioned before and that is our understanding of reality is not based primarily upon our experience of reality but rather our understanding and experiencing of reality is absed upon God’s Word. Our experiences of reality must be regulated and reinterpreted through God’s Word. In short I will believe Scripture above what my lying eyes might want to tell me.
This entails a high view of the authority of the OT Scriptures because when Peter speaks of the Prophetic word it is the OT Scripture to which he is appealing.
To the contrary some might insist that the text’s movement from recalling the Transfiguration to claiming that the Scripture is now “more fully confirmed” could be taken as a basis for seeking certain experiences or historical events which would “prove” the truth of Scripture. That would be a misunderstanding of 2 Peter’s argument.
Instead, Scripture as a whole points us not to proofs and signs, but to Jesus himself as God’s coming King, as God’s promise for the world. claims that this way of hearing Scripture coheres with the apostles’ own experience, but its truth does not depend on that experience. We ourselves probably won’t hear voices booming from heaven, but our proclamation too is rooted in the conjunction between Scripture’s witness and what we have experienced: in the Word proclaimed, and in mercy received, and in God’s glory glimpsed in the midst of community and service to our neighbors.
God’s speech is the focus in the first part of this passage. At the end, the author returns to consider again how God has spoken, this time as the Spirit moved the writers of Scripture. From beginning to end, then, this is a text centered on the claim that God addresses us, first in Jesus, and then in Scripture read and proclaimed as pointing to Jesus. Isn’t that what we still hope, and in our more courageous moments even believe? In preaching the gospel, in speaking for justice, in words of comfort and love and shared pain, we too are being carried along by the Spirit, not into our own private, idiosyncratic viewpoints, but into the dawning light of God for the world.
Though the words belong to an ancient letter, they seem so contemporary and modern.
In part that is because of the issue that drives them — it’s about authority, credibility, and trust. “We were not following cleverly reasoned myths…” (2 Peter 1:16).