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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Fable

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In the NT (Authorized Version and Revised Version ) ‘fable’ is the translation of μῦθος. But it is not the myth charged with high moral teaching as in Plato, for both word and thing have degenerated into the expression of fantastic, false, and profitless opinions, μῦθος is opposed to the historic story (λόγος) or to actual fact (ἀλήθεια); cf. article ‘Fable’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , vol. i. This is seen in the references: 1 Timothy 1:4 ‘Neither to give heed to fables … the which minister questionings rather than a dispensation of God’ [Revised Version ]; 1 Timothy 4:7 ‘profane and old wives’ fables’; 2 Timothy 4:4 ‘turn aside unto fables’; Titus 1:14 ‘not giving heed to Jewish fables’; 2 Peter 1:16 ‘We did not follow cunningly devised fables.’

The Pastoral Epistles give a vivid picture of the state of religious feeling in Ephesus, and the Roman Province of Asia generally, in the years a.d. 60-70. It was a favourable soil for the rank growth of the fables and curiously wrought embellishments of OT history, mention of which we find in the Pastorals. There is no difference of opinion as to their origin. They were Jewish, and the Gnosticism supposed to be found in them is as yet incipient and hardly conscious of itself.

For an explanation of the origin of those fables we must turn to the accretions of legend and allegory that grew up in the Jewish mind round the great scenes and personages of the OT. It was said that an oral law, ‘the law that is on the lip,’ supplementary to the written law, had also been given on Sinai, and handed down by teachers from Moses through the centuries. This was added to and illustrated by the teaching of the Rabbis, and in course of time became a supplement to the written law of the Pentateuch-a supplement so ponderous that often the text was overlaid and almost buried in the commentary. To this our Lord made reference when He asked ‘Why do ye also transgress the commandment of Cod because of your traditions?’ (Matthew 15:3). These rank growths, in deference to which they ‘paid tithes of mint and anise and cummin and left undone mercy and faith,’ had run riot in the Asian Church. Men were turning back from the worship of ‘the King, eternal, incorruptible, invisible, the only God,’ to old wives’ fables, the profane and senile curiosities of people in their dotage. Jewish and heathen speculations had seduced their minds from the essential parts of the Christian faith.

We have specimens of these ‘feigned words’ in the numerous legends of the Talmud, the farfetched subtleties of Rabbinical teaching, and in the allegorizing of Philo. Timothy, therefore, was sent to recall the Church to the pure milk of the word, and to nourish it on ‘the words of the faith.’ ‘Such,’ says J. H. Newman, ‘was the conflict of Christianity with the old established Paganism; with the Oriental Mysteries, flitting wildly to and fro like spectres’ (Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878, p. 358). In 2 Peter 1:15 the writer is replying to a taunt by which the opponents of Christianity tried to turn the tables on the teachers of the Faith. These had denounced the religious fables with which men were deluding themselves, and to that the reply was a ‘tu quoque.’ The Christian doctrine, they said, was also built upon fable, and its preachers were Fraudulent and sophistical persons (σεσοφισμένοι) who for ambition or filthy lucre’s sake were exploiting the churches. To this the author of 2 Peter replica: ‘We did not follow cunningly devised fables,’ In proof of his religious certainty-certitudo veritatis-he writes, ‘we were eye-witness of his majesty’; and for certitudo salutis he adds, ‘we have the day-star rising in our hearts.’ The answer is still valid. Against the charge of following sophistical fables the modern apologetic turns to ‘the fact of Christ,’ and the heart stands up and answers, ‘I have felt.’

W. M. Grant.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fable'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/fable.html. 1906-1918.

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