As It Was In The Days Of Noah (30): 2 Peter 1:16–21 (Part 1)

16For 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. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV). 16Οὐ γὰρ σεσοφισμένοις μύθοις ἐξακολουθήσαντες ἐγνωρίσαμεν ὑμῖν τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δύναμιν καὶ παρουσίαν ἀλλʼ ἐπόπται γενηθέντες τῆς ἐκείνου μεγαλειότητος.17λαβὼν γὰρ παρὰ θεοῦ πατρὸς τιμὴν καὶ δόξαν φωνῆς ἐνεχθείσης αὐτῷ τοιᾶσδε ὑπὸ τῆς μεγαλοπρεποῦς δόξης· ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός μου οὗτός ἐστιν ⸄εἰς ὃν ἐγὼ εὐδόκησα,18καὶ ταύτην τὴν φωνὴν ἡμεῖς ἠκούσαμεν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἐνεχθεῖσαν σὺν αὐτῷ ὄντες ἐν τῷ ἁγίῳ ὄρει. 19καὶ ἔχομεν βεβαιότερον τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον, ᾧ καλῶς ποιεῖτε προσέχοντες ὡς λύχνῳ φαίνοντι ἐν αὐχμηρῷ τόπῳ, ἕως οὗ ἡμέρα διαυγάσῃ καὶ φωσφόρος ἀνατείλῃ ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, 20τοῦτο πρῶτον γινώσκοντες ὅτι πᾶσα ⸂προφητεία γραφῆς⸃ ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως οὐ γίνεται·21οὐ γὰρ θελήματι ἀνθρώπου ἠνέχθη προφητεία ποτέ, ἀλλʼ ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι ἐλάλησαν ⸄ἀπὸ θεοῦ⸅ ἄνθρωποι. (Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft).

Verse 16: “Cleverly devised myths.”

In considering the origins of idolatry, Calvin considers some theories by some pagan writers (profanos scriptores—unhappily translated in the Battles edition as “secular writers”) and the pervasiveness of idolatry even among the covenant people under the types and shadows and he concludes, “hence we may gather that human nature is a perpetual workshop of idols.”1 A corollary to our propensity to idols is our propensity to myths. To be sure, there are myths that are wonderfully told and worthy of our attention, but the myths to which the apostle Peter refers here are pernicious (i.e., they have a harmful effect). There are many such myths about today. As I write, university students and professional agitators have taken over college and university campuses across the USA. More than a few of them sound and act like Nazis, demanding the death or extermination of Jews and the destruction of the nation of Israel. Listening to and reading interviews with the protestors (especially ill-informed university students), it is clear their heads are as full of myths about “the Jews” and alleged “Jewish conspiracies” as any idiot Brownshirt under the Third Reich. Conspiracy theories generally form a class of myth that is incredibly widespread. The so-called information age has apparently made us more stupid and foolish.

In these ways our time is remarkably like that of the time and place in which and to which the apostle Peter wrote. The ancient world abounded with “cleverly devised” myths. First there were the classical myths, which students used to study in school but which now are mostly (and lately poorly) mediated to us through the superhero movies of our age. Most of the intellectuals of the ancient world, by the mid-first century AD knew that the myths were false. The Greek philosophers had critiqued them quite thoroughly. The Romans mostly insisted on affirming them for the sake of conformity in order to preserve order. There were other clever myths aimed already at weakening or destroying the Christian faith. One of those was the myth that Jesus was not truly human, that he only appeared to be human. We call this docetism, from the Greek verb δοκειν (to appear). The apostle John addresses this myth directly in his epistles. Some of the Greeks distinguished between that which is immaterial (or spirit) and that which is material (matter). These denied the reality of the material and affirmed that only spirit is real. For example, Plato, in The Republic (c. 370s BC), distinguishes between what we perceive with our senses (the shadows; σκια) and truth that we know through the “upward journey of the soul” to the light.2

In the second century AD (100s), ideas and myths such as these and others would be synthesized and developed into Gnosticism, the greatest heresy of the period and one of the most profound threats to the early post-apostolic church. Allan Bloom and Peter Jones are among those who have been calling attention to the widespread effects of Gnosticism in American life.3 Gnosticism is perhaps the “cleverly designed myth” par excellence. It says that up is down and down is up. In the (Gnostic) Gospel of Thomas, Satan is the hero. In the (Gnostic) Gospel of Judas, he is the hero. The effects of Gnosticism on the American mind are among the principal causes of the insanity that we see about us today, where human sexuality and biology is openly denied, where some seek to make us say that males are to be regarded as females and vice versa.

Divine Power Versus Self-Salvation

Verse 16: “The power and the coming.”

We should remember that by contrasting the truth he wrote and taught to the churches of Asia Minor with “cleverly devised myths,” Peter’s intention is to highlight the difference in quality between his doctrine of Christian virtue, which flows from the free grace of new life, true faith, and union with Christ, and the inferior theology and piety contained within and produced by myths. According to the Christian religion, it is God who has given us faith (2 Pet 1:1). By his “divine power” he has “granted us all things that pertain to life and piety” (2 Pet 1:3). He has made us, as it were, partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4). What the myth peddlers are selling is an ersatz religion of secret insight (not to say full-blown Gnosticism). What Peter offered to them freely was the “power and coming (δύναμιν καὶ παρουσίαν) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:16).

Christianity is a power religion but not a religion of human power. The power of the Christian religion is God the Son incarnate, who became incarnate for us sinners, who obeyed as our substitute, who was crucified, dead, buried, raised, and who has ascended to the right hand of the Father. Further, he is coming again, when he will display his power openly for all to see. This language is one of the reasons we should see the Noahic paradigm as central to 1 and 2 Peter. In both, he is saying, in effect, “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be when the Son of Man comes” (Luke 17:26). Like Noah, we too have found free favor in the eyes of God (Gen 6:8). Like Noah, we too are in a gracious covenant with God (Gen 6:18). Indeed, he has wonderfully included us in the same covenant of grace. Like him, we are in a world that has become overwhelmingly hostile to the God and Creator of all things, and the Redeemer of his elect; but he has placed us in Christ, the ark of salvation, who is coming again to judge the nations and save his church once for all.

Witnesses of His Power and Glory

We know what sort of power Peter has in mind since he tells us in the last part of verse 16 and in verse 17. He testifies that he and the other disciples were “witnesses” (ἐπόπται) of his royal majesty (μεγαλειότητος). Peter here testifies to physical sense experience he had in the world. He is not speaking subjectively, as though what he saw he only saw or experienced subjectively—as though it was “true for him,” as people say. Rather, he is making a claim about a fact. He and other rational people saw something. What did they see? Matthew tells us:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matt 17:1–8)

No one in the narrative is recorded as having fallen asleep. This is not a dream. It is not a subjective experience. Jesus went up the mountain and they saw him transfigured. What does it mean to say that Jesus was transfigured? Hywel Jones explains:

It was a change in Jesus’ body, temporary but actual. It affected his “face” and not only his clothes with “glory.” He did not effect the change himself as he had in the bodies of other human beings. It happened as he was praying to his Father. He had just spoken of being the Messiah (the “Son of Man”) who would die, rise and come again and the Transfiguration was his Father’s confirmation of that to him and to his disciples. His earthly human-ness became suffused by the splendor of Deity in advance of his horrific disfigurement on the Cross. It was between his birth and death which is why its place is in the Gospels.4

The glory with which our Lord was affected was the glory that he had with the Father from eternity (John 17:5). It was both a foretaste of the glory to which he would be restored in his ascension and a foretaste of the consummation of our glorification.5

There he received the honor and glory (τιμὴν καὶ δόξαν) from the Father. Peter and the disciples were witness of a vestige of the relationship between the unbegotten Father and his only and eternally begotten Son. The voice (φωνῆς) or the sound they heard was carried (ἐνεχθείσης) to him “by the majestic glory.” That is an allusion to the glory-cloud of the Old Testament: “And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud” (Ex 16:10).6 The Holy Spirit is that glory-cloud.7 Believers should rest assured that Jesus is the Mediator and Savior. The Father expressed his approval of the Son in public for us to hear.

Verse 18: “We ourselves heard this voice.”

Peter confirms the objectivity of his report. Again, he did not hear the sound metaphorically. Sound waves struck his eardrums.

The gospel message he preached to the churches of Asia Minor, the truths that he has written in his gospel, in his epistles, and in the Revelation are a revelation of the Word, who was in the beginning, who became incarnate, and dwelt among us, and whom John and others saw and touched (John 1:1–3, 14; 1 John 1:1–3). The incarnation is the exact opposite of a cleverly devised myth. The incarnation is the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:21–24). Sinners that we are by nature, we run to myths, idols, and lies—to anything but the truth. But the Truth, the Way, and the Life (John 14:6) has come to us. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (1 Cor 1:18).

Notes

  1. “Unde colligere licet, hominis ingenium perpetuam, ut ita loquar, esse idolorum fabricam.” Joannis Calvini, Opera Selecta, ed, Petrus Barth and William Nisel (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1967) 3.96.28–30; Institutio, 1.11.8.
  2. Republic, 515, 517 in Plato, Republic, ed. Chris Emlyn-Jones and William Preddy, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 109, 117.
  3. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987); Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back: An Old Heresy for the New Age (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1992).
  4. See R. Scott Clark, “An Interview With Hywel Jones On Transfiguration And Transformation.”
  5. See Hywel R. Jones, Transfiguration and Transformation (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2021).
  6. Translation revised from the ESV.
  7. Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980). This volume was reprinted by the author in 1986.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


RESOURCES

Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
USA
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


One comment

  1. Thank you Dr. Clark.

    I needed ‘As It Was In The Days Of Noah (30): 2 Peter 1:16–21 (Part 1)’ this morning to clarify cleverly devised myths.

Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are welcome but must observe the moral law. Comments that are profane, deny the gospel, advance positions contrary to the Reformed confession, or irritate the management are subject to deletion. Anonymous comments, posted without permission, are forbidden.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.