Question: "What does it mean to follow cunningly devised fables (2 Peter 1:16)?"
Answer: In his second letter, Peter explains that Christians do not just believe cunningly devised fables: “We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16, NKJV). Peter and the other disciples didn’t concoct fables or myths; rather, they recorded what they saw and heard. Peter points out that they were actually there on the mountain when Christ was transfigured (or glorified), and they heard the Father affirm Christ, saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17–18, ESV).
Peter could lean on his own personal experience, as could the other disciples, to confidently say that Christians are not simply believing cunningly devised fables. However, Peter appeals to something even more reliable than their experience. Peter adds that the prophetic message is even more certain (2 Peter 1:19). God’s revelation in Scripture is an even more reliable and trustworthy way to know the truth about God. As reliable as Peter’s experience was, the written Word of God is even more trustworthy.
As Peter points out the certainty of prophecy in Scripture, he reminds his readers that the prophets themselves relied on God, not their own understanding (2 Peter 1:20). Peter explains that the prophecies were made not by human will, but by the Holy Spirit moving the writers. The prophets accurately recorded the Word of God (2 Peter 1:21).
Christians believe in actual historical events involving actual historical persons. They do not just believe cunningly devised fables. Peter helps us understand an important principle about interpreting the Bible. Readers don’t determine the meaning of the Bible; the Author does. Often people ask, “What does the text mean to me?” but Peter gives us a better question to ask: “What did God say?” The meaning of a passage isn’t different for one reader than for another, because it is from the Holy Spirit and recorded by the men He chose to speak through. Certainly, there are different applications based on a reader’s situation, but the meaning doesn’t change. It means what it says.
Because of the certainty and reliability of the Bible, Christians can have confidence that the Scriptures will accurately guide them (see Psalm 119:105). What they read in those pages is not a collection of cunningly devised fables. Jesus really did heal the sick, teach the multitudes, die, and rise again. These are facts of history.
Peter also reminds us that, even when we may be unsure of or doubt our experience, we can be sure of what God has said. We ought to shape our beliefs and understanding by what the Scriptures say. Without the certainty the Bible provides, we would not have a standard for discerning the truth from cunningly devised fables. As it is, we have “something completely reliable, and [we] will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in [our] hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). That message, Peter says, is even more reliable than our own experience.