Thursday, April 8, 2010

no cleverly devised myth

2 Peter 1:16-18 (ESV)
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. [17] For 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," [18] we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths.” Already the charge is being leveled, “this is just mythical mumbo jumbo. No one ever rises from the dead.” Well that is the thought. And today people try to find parallels in Greek myths, and other mythical traditions. Yet scholarship is more and more leaning in the direction that these myths were being altered to mimic the story of Christ’s resurrection rather than the other way around. The charge is leveled and Peter answers it. Of course if you don’t believe him you don’t believe him. But notice he is saying we.
Peter isn’t relying solely on his own witness, but we. If it was just him one might say it was an hallucination. But he says we, and other people do not participate in another’s hallucination. They saw Jesus together, and this is not a cleverly devised myth. They don’t present it as such, and don’t expect it to be believed as such. They don’t mean to be giving you one of those really awful Easter sermons that talk about Jesus living in your heart. He only lives in your heart if he actually lives.
And the story isn’t all that clever, but it is true. It is reliable. Jesus lives, He is risen.


Rev. Daniel Robert Skillman said...

One of the greatest assaults on the Christian faith today comes from those who say that the earliest Church DID follow cleverly devised myths, creating stories of Jesus out of the Old Testament (or perhaps inventing them out of whole cloth through syncretistic involvement with Greco Roman myths and mystery religions) in order to carry the Abrahamic faith through the Roman occupation, and later the actual destruction of Jerusalem by those pagans, into a new post-Israel era. The story of Jesus was essentially an answer to a crisis in the life of God (Jack Miles).

The Shammaite Pharisees had an answer to that crisis: Strict observance of the Torah, particularly the Sabbath and kosher laws, coupled with militant resistance, often terroristic in nature, and when possible taking the form of open, armed rebellion. The famous 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus, had his own surprising answer to that crisis. The Jewish God went over to the Romans, and so the Jews should accept their occupiers and adapt. The Christians had yet another surprising answer. They spiritualized and universalized the faith using Jesus as their icon. The land, the temple, the Torah, their very ethnicity didn’t matter in the same way that they once did. (A cynic would argue that those things didn’t matter any more because they couldn’t matter any more.) What mattered was living justly and lovingly while embracing people of all nationalities, as Jesus had done. When Jesus died on the cross, he died in the place of Israel, taking Israel’s former way of thinking of God and their religion with him. When he rose from the dead (purely metaphor) he rose with a new conception of God and a new way of thinking of this God’s religion. This, in a sense, kept the God of Abraham alive. Thus, the crisis was averted. Jesus died and rose again in order to save God and Israel from the fate of death.

[continued below...]

Rev. Daniel Robert Skillman said...

[...continued from above]

There are those who argue that Jesus never existed, at least not in any way close to the figure that the Gospels portray. As historical thinkers, we are bound to judge any account improbable if it finds no analogy in our present experience. The resurrection of Jesus is THE case in point. Look, they say, we weren’t there. Could Jesus have risen from the dead? Well, that is astonishingly improbable. But even allowing that it is possible, a huge concession, that doesn’t mean that we should believe it. Just to take one example, it was said that the son of Zeus killed the Hydra, and we don’t believe that. We recognize that story for what it is, a myth. When we come to the story of Jesus, we see similar mythic elements. We should conclude that it is most probably a myth too.

To take another tact, when studying the Gospels an important test of historical authenticity is the criterion of dissimilarity. If a saying of Jesus could have easily come from the antedated Jewish culture in which he lived or the early Church that followed, then it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty that Jesus did in fact utter that saying. He might have, but who can say? What is more probable? At the least, it seems we must remain agnostic. When we take into account the discipline of form criticism, and we realize that the Church preserved sayings of Jesus because they were useful to it, the lines between what Jesus said and what the early church said (or said he said) become blurred indeed. After this, what material is left out of which we might construct a historical Jesus? Going this route, I’m afraid, not much.

We might object and say, that’s not fair. But we must not beg the question. We want to know if there was an historical Jesus and then what he said and did. If in our search for Jesus’ most probably authentic words and deeds we discover that all are dubious, that none of them probably happened (only that they might have happened), we must not shy away from the conclusion to which that leads us. Perhaps there was no historical Jesus (at least as the Gospels present him) at all. What we cannot do is say, “Hey, this doesn’t leave us with enough data to say anything about Jesus, so we need a new method!” That presupposes the answer to the question we asked in the first place.

Look, I’m not saying that I believe any of the stuff above. I’m not presenting my own views. But these are views that are taken seriously in academia. These are the views that dominate the mainstream culture and media. And these are the views that require responses if Christianity is to continue to hold any intellectual credibility in the world.

That’s one reason why I appreciate your blog so much. You touch on these issues from time to time. You place them front and center, and don’t shy away from them. Thanks, pastor.

Steve Martin said...

They saw him raise the dead. They looked right into his eyes.

And yet they did not believe.

No one can believe except they be compelled by the Holy Spirit to do so.

Now...speaking of cleverly devised about those golden plates?

Bror Erickson said...

"Now...speaking of cleverly devised about those golden plates?"
not sure how clever they are, but does prove the old adage about suckers being born.

Jonathan said...

Nothing is clever about the plates, just foolish. How could Slick Joe translate the plates while his face was buried in a hat as he's gazing at a rock? And he supposedly had witnesses, too.