“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 eye witnesses of his majesty… And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention.” (2 Peter 1:16, 19)
While some of us may think that the age of the early church was a golden age for Christianity, the apostles tell us that the authority of the Gospel message was challenged from the very beginning. Almost right away critics were asking, “How can we be sure about the Christian faith? Is there any way that we can know that God has truly spoken through Jesus Christ?” Many Jews and Greeks who heard the Gospel believed that it was nothing more than a collection of cleverly devised myths.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the apostles addressed this question. Peter in particular was concerned with the issue: “On what grounds do we believe and teach the Gospel?” His response is that a Christian is able to rely on two sources of religious authority. The first of these is the apostolic testimony – the message about the Person, events and truths that the apostles claimed to have seen, heard and touched. The second source of authority that he mentions is the prophetic Scriptures.
It may come as a surprise to some of us that the apostles do not ground the authority of the Christian faith in its wholesome and uplifting ideas or in the positive feelings that it can generate. The simple truth is that other cults and religions can have the same effect. Instead, the apostles use what we would commonly describe today as forensic or legal evidence. They rely on eye-witness accounts of particular events and support these accounts with things that they heard. This is the kind of evidence that we readily accept and is central to our whole judicial system. This is why we believe the miracles of Jesus: they are based on credible and corroborated eye-witness accounts.
However, Peter mentions an even more reliable source of religious authority which we tend to overlook today. He refers to the “prophetic word,” by which he means the entire Old Testament. Why is this more authoritative than even eye-witness testimony? The problem with eye-witness testimony is that time tends to weaken the memory, so that our recollection of an event or a conversation can become distorted over a period of time. Nevertheless, Peter reminds us that the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the recording of these significant events and statements provides a guarantee against even a faulty memory and the kinds of errors that naturally develop in second hand accounts of the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Peter realised that as wonderful as it might be for an individual to actually hear the voice of God, the certainty of it lasts only for a moment and only for that individual. For us today, when God does not speak audibly as in those days, we need a record in black and white where we can see exactly what was spoken. This is what the Bible provides. It gives us absolute certainty about the truth of the Gospel.