Posted by: alisonwalley | 13 September 2009

Illustration myths

You’ve heard of urban myths, but what about illustration myths? I’m sure this has been blogged on lots of times, but as usual for this blog, I’m looking at it from the angle of Bible reading notes.

Illustration myths are the equivalent in Christian circles of urban myths. You know, the stories that go round and round and no one quite knows where they come from but they keep being quoted so they must be true. Sometimes the two overlap. There’s the ‘space pen’ one which I’ve heard quoted in a sermon or two (if you’ve not heard of the space pen, just click the link or check out the Wikipedia article).

There are plenty of tired old sermon illustrations which should have been buried long ago, but still get brought out. And there are the quotes like “Preach the gospel by all means, and if you have to, use words.” Francis of Assisi is supposed to have said that one. But, if you really check some of these sayings out you’ll find that no one really knows. For the record, that particular quote probably turned up first a couple of centuries after St Francis died. Besides, could you really believe a man who is said to have preached even to birds, and certainly visited the Middle East to preach to the Islamic sultan of the time in order to convert him to Christianity, would have said such a thing?

Here’s where it links with the subject of this blog: these illustrations may get used in sermons, but also in ‘inspirational’ or ‘devotional’ Bible notes. The sort I’ve been arguing against the past few weeks.

I’ve found a good example recently, which has to do with the cedars of Lebanon. Now I lived in Lebanon for nine years and visited most of the remaining cedar areas. The oldest and most famous at Bsharre form a comparatively small grove, of massive trees, some well over 1,000 years old. Other areas are more wooded (as the photo, of the Barouk cedars) and have younger trees, which look more like firs. The wood of the cedar is scented and resinous, and it’s not surprising it was used by Solomon when building the temple in Jerusalem.


Now there are basically two types of cedars. In the Himalyas there’s the Deodar cedar, and around the Mediterranean there are varieties of the cedar of Lebanon. But, I was interested to find out, there are also ‘fire’ cedars, ‘little’ cedars, ‘humming’ cedars and ‘tall’ cedars. I know this must be true because I read it in some Bible reading notes. And when I checked on the web, I found the same on a number of sermon sites. Curiously, all these sites seem to say the same things about them in pretty much the same words. And, happily, all these cedars are examples for us of the sort of Christians we ought to be.

Where’s the original source for this? Well, I can’t tell you. It seems like someone had a bright idea and others copied it. It seems to me that whoever said/wrote it first, should sue everyone else over copyright of his (probably his) story. Because believe me, ‘little’ cedars and ‘tall’ cedars are the same, separated only by a few hundred years. Similarly the ‘fire’ and the ‘humming’, if they apply at all, which I rather doubt, are simply consequences of what the trees are like.

So, what makes people just repeat old or untrue illustrations? Can’t we honour God any better? I suggest that anytime you hear or read of an illustration that strikes you as a little old or odd, challenge it! Let’s be creative in finding ways to enthuse and encourage one another as we seek to serve God better.



  1. Amen!

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