Praying 2 Peter 1:19-21 “Affirming the Apostolic Message, Part 2: The Certainty of Scripture”

And so we have as certain the prophetic word, which you are doing well to pay attention to as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever carried from man’s will, but men carried by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.


These verses continue Peter’s defense of his premise: The return of Jesus Christ is a verified fact. As a good student of the Scriptures (Deut. 19:15), Peter brings forth two witnesses for his defense. In vv. 16-18 he introduced what he and the apostles saw concerning the transfigured Lord, a display and foretaste of Christ’s glorious, physical, and future return to reign and rule. By appealing to the facts of history, Jesus Himself stands as the first witness in Peter’s defense. Here he introduces his second witness, the Old Testament Scriptures. Rather than working against each other, the revelation of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels affirm all that the prophets predicted and so work together to affirm the certainty of Christ’s return. As he presents the Old Testament as his second witness, Peter explains three vital principles that every believer must understand regarding the Old Testament Scriptures. Every believer must understand (1) the relationship the Old Testament has with the New Testament (v. 19), (2) the method by which we approach the Old Testament (v. 20) and (3) the source from which we receive the Old Testament (v. 21)


The Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments (v. 19)


Peter makes a link between what he just stated in vv. 16-18 with the use of καὶ (and/so). It is therefore necessary that we follow his train of thought and keep his point of the Transfiguration in view while reading these words regarding the prophetic word (προφητικὸν λόγον). The first question that must be answered is whether Peter pits the prophetic word against the witnessed Transfiguration or uses both the prophetic word and the Transfiguration to advance his argument. Another consideration that will prove helpful is to determine who Peter means by “we” in this verse. Is it the same “we” referred to in vv. 16-18 (i.e., the apostles) or does he have someone else in mind? We will consider both these questions (and others) as we dive into the text.


Peter first establishes a connection between what the apostles saw and the Scriptures that predicted this event (v. 19a). Then, he provides encouragement to his readers to keep searching these same Scriptures so long as they are of use (v. 19b).


The Gospels Affirm the Prophets (v. 19a)

And so we have as certain the prophetic word


This statement has been understood in a variety of ways. In conservative circles, this text has been used to fight against the error of continuationists (the error of teaching that the miraculous gifts such as prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues still exist in the church today). The argument goes something like this: Peter points to the marvelous experience he enjoyed on the mountain where our Lord was Transfigured but then calls the prophetic word, the Scriptures, even more sure and certain than his subjective experience.[1] It is right to applaud the fight against the continuationists error, but that cannot be the meaning of the text here. Neither the context nor the grammar will allow for such an understanding.

Grammatically speaking, this interpretation demands that the first-person plural “we have” (ἔχομεν) no longer addresses Peter and the apostles like the other first-person plurals in vv. 16-18, (we made known/ἐγνωρίσαμεν; we became [witnesses]/γενηθέντες; we ourselves heard/ἡμεῖς ἠκούσαμεν) but now includes Peter with his readers. This understanding makes the rest of this passage awkward and fails to account for Peter’s second person address to his readers later in this same verse. In the span of a few words, Peter will have to separate himself from his readers when he commends their actions (you do well – καλῶς ποιεῖτε) and again when he points forward to the dawning of the day and the morning star in your (ὑμῶν) hearts. It is therefore best to understand Peter’s “we” as addressing the same “we” as vv. 16-18, Peter with the apostles.


Contextually, the idea that Peter exalts objective Scripture over subjective experience of the Transfiguration undermines his entire argument for several reasons. First, his presentation of the Transfiguration is not subjective, but objective. He points to the facts of history as to what was said and who said them. His personal and subjective interpretation is never mentioned. Second, his argument does not flow from lesser (subjective experience) to greater (objective Scripture), but from a recent event to past revelation, both of which point to a future reality. Peter presents two witnesses of equal value, worth, and validity. Finally, by saying that Peter is exalting Scripture over personal experience here fails to account for the fact that the personal experience in question has already been inscripturated. Matthew’s gospel is close to a quarter of a century old at this point and is undoubtedly known in detail to Peter’s audience. If the above interpretation is correct, then Peter must be understood as saying that the Old Testament Scriptures are surer than the more recent gospel accounts. Thankfully, there is a better answer. Peter does not pit the Transfiguration against the Scriptures. Rather, he states that the Transfiguration confirms everything that the prophets wrote.


The adjective βέβαιος describes something as being reliable, unwavering, abiding, valid or certain. Peter has already used this term to describe his readers’ sure calling and election (1:10). The result of the Transfiguration was to cement in the apostle’s minds the validity of all the Old Testament Scriptures say concerning Yhwh’s Messiah.[2] The event is not pitted against previous revelation but is here said to confirm that same revelation. The Old Testament prophets predicted Yhwh coming in glory to rule as Davidic king over Israel and the nations. All that Peter and the apostles saw and heard that day on the holy mountain confirmed that. “The transfiguration, then, is not conceived as more or less reliable than the prophetic word. It provides a confirmatory interpretation of that word., and this interpretation was granted to Peter and the other apostles.[3] In other words, the gospel accounts confirm the Old Testament prophets.


Both the Old & New Testaments Prepare Believers for Christ’s Return (v. 19bc)


After announcing the certainty of the Old Testament Scriptures and the complete compatibility they share with New Testament revelation, Peter continues by commending his readers for their strict attention to the Scripture (v. 19b) and then points to the day when this perfect Scripture will become obsolete (v. 19c). As such, Peter states that the Old Testament prophets and their New Testament confirmation work as a perfect, if not temporary, guide.


Scripture as Our Perfect Guide (v. 19b)

“Which you are doing well to pay attention to as a light shining in a dark place”


There is no reason to take the indicative “you do well” (καλῶς ποιεῖτε) as an exhortation. Peter is stating a fact. The present tense indicative with the complementary participle (προσέχοντες) commends these readers that they are currently doing well as they pay attention to the prophetic word (προφητικὸν λόγον) of the Old Testament Scriptures. Peter’s words picture the churches of Asia Minor as “actively turning their minds to the prophetic word as an object of personal interest and faith.”[4] The reason this is a good thing and they do well (καλῶς) by searching the Scriptures is the fact that these same Scriptures are akin to a lamp shining in a dark place.


The Old Testament has several examples of God’s Word being compared to a lamp/λύχνος (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23) and several others making the comparison directly to God Himself (2 Sam. 22:29; Ps. 18:28). The recorded word of God, not any human person, is the light in a dark place. The church does well in paying close attention to what is written while they remain in this dark world. There is no other light available to guide them so long as the domain of darkness persists. But the day of Christ’s kingdom will soon dawn!


Scripture as Our Temporary Guide (v. 19c)

“Until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”


It is important to note the preposition ἕως as a marker of time. There is a point when the light of Scripture is no longer necessary because there will come a point in time when the world is no longer covered in darkness. The dawning of the day (ἡμέρα διαυγάσῃ) reflects Zacharias’ song in Luke. 1:76-79. Offering praise to God on account of the birth of his son (John the Baptist) he says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because the tender mercy of our God with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (NASB). Zacharias of course alludes to Malachi 4:2: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall” (NASB). In other words, this dawning day refers to the day of Christ’s return. He is called the “Sunrise from on high” and the “Sun of righteousness.” This is confirmed by the mention of the morning star.


The beginning of this thread connects to Numbers 24:17 (“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down the sons of Sheth.” NASB) and runs through Revelation 2:26-8 (“He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.” NASB) only to conclude in Revelation 22:16 (“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” NASB). Jesus Christ is this morning star. The morning star is a reference to either Venus or Saturn, a brilliant light on the horizon that announces dawn is not far off. It is He who begins the dawning of this day when darkness will be dispelled, and He will guide His people. On this day, there will no longer be a need for a light, for He will be our light (Jer. 31:31-34; Rev. 22:5). We will no longer have need of the blessed and most holy Scriptures because we will have Him! “One treasures a love letter while the beloved is absent, but once he or she is present, the letter is laid aside and exchanged for the personal contact.[5] The Scriptures are a perfect guide and lamp, but they are a temporary guide. When the King brings in the dawn of His kingdom, there will no longer be a need for a lamp for we will have the Son.


Peter has called his two witnesses: the revelation of Jesus Christ in the Gospels and the Old Testament prophets. The Gospels (and by implication the whole New Testament) confirm what the prophets have said long ago. But how should we interpret those prophets?


The Method of Understanding Scripture (v. 20)

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation.


Grammatically, the participle knowing (γινώσκοντες) links back to the indicative ποιεῖτε (you do) and the encouragement offered to the readers. They do well as they pay attention to the Scriptures knowing this (τοῦτο) first of all. Peter uses the verbal cognate of γνῶσις (vv. 5&6) to indicate what the readers know to be factually true. There are many things Christians must know and conceive, but here we read what is of first importance in regard to the Christian attitude toward Scripture.[6] Here is the starting place in searching the Scriptures.


A very wooden and literal translation of what follows would be something like “all prophecy of Scripture one’s own interpretation not become” (πᾶσα προφητεία γραφῆς ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως οὐ γίνεται). There are two general ways to interpret this following phrase. The first understands this verse as addressing the source of Scripture. By taking the genitive ἐπιλύσεως (interpretation) as a genitive of means (no prophecy of Scripture comes by one’s own interpretation) this explanation closely ties the revelation given to the prophet and the correct interpretation of that revelation. For example, when Yhwh showed Amos a vision of a plumb line, He asked the prophet what he saw and then explained to him the meaning of the vision (Amos 7:7-9). Thus, with the revelation of Scripture comes the correct interpretation[7] and so neither the revelation nor the interpretation comes by means of the individual.[8] This view would prevent the idea of a prophecy coming about by means of one’s own desires or premeditated interpretation. The problem with this view is that there are many visions where the prophets did not require such an explanation. In the above example, Amos was given two visions before the vision of the plumb line (vv. 1-6). Neither of these visions were explained to Amos and yet he understood them perfectly well. This unlikely understanding has long been used as a smoke screen by continuationists to defend their contemporary “prophetic utterances” in that God provides the church with both visions and the proper interpretation.[9]


The second view (1) takes seriously the term translated “interpretation”, (2) the grammar of the verse, and (3) the larger context in which the verse is found. First, this is the only place in the New Testament where the noun ἐπίλυσις (interpretation) is found. Yet, the verbal cognate (ἐπιλύω) appears in Mk. 4:34 and Acts 19:39 where the idea is clearly of explanation or interpretation. The translation of ἐπιλύσεως as “interpretation” is beyond dispute.[10]Peter is not addressing the source of Scripture (where Scripture comes from), a topic which he addresses in the next verse, but the manner of understanding, explaining, and interpreting Scripture. Second, the genitive ἐπιλύσεως (interpretation) is not a genitive of means (a rare construction in the New Testament[11]) but an ablative genitive of source. “It is not the interpretation of anyone that governs the prophecy, but the prophecy governs the interpretation.”[12] Finally, the context favors the view of interpretation being Peter’s objective. In v. 16 he defended himself against the accusation that he and the apostles fabricated the doctrine of the power and coming of Christ. After proving that Christ’s transfiguration proved and confirmed the Old Testament prophecies, he here states that Scripture cannot be interpreted willy nilly. There is only ever one single interpretation to any given text of Scripture and Peter claims that the apostles (“we”) have already provided that interpretation. Plainly stated, Christians are not at liberty to interpret Scripture however they choose. The prophets govern the way in which their prophecies are to be interpreted and the apostles have articulated that interpretation for us. “Peter’s argument, then, is that the readers must pay attention to the prophetic word as it is interpreted by the apostles, for the Old Testament prophecies are not a matter of personal interpretation but have been authoritatively interpreted by the apostles.[13]


Now that the means of interpretation are set right, Peter moves on to discuss the reason why prophecy has such a strict interpretation. The source of Scripture drives the means of understanding.


The Source of Scripture (v. 21)


That the source of Scripture is of importance to Peter’s argument is not disputed. Yet, it is here, rather than in v. 20, that Peter takes up this discussion. The initial γὰρ provides grounds or the reason for v. 20. The apostolic interpretation can be trusted because the Scripture does not come from or originate with them, but from God by the Holy Spirit. Peter answers the question of source by first declaring where it does not come from and then discloses where Scripture does come from.


Scripture isn’t Natural Derived (v. 21a)

For no prophecy was ever carried from man’s will


Literally and woodenly translated comes the idea that no will of man ever carried any prophecy. The will, desire, passions (θέλημα) of man has no place in the realm of prophecy. The prophets never spoke according to their desires. They never prophesied according to what they wanted to happen. Jeremiah wept over his prophecies because he did not desire the destruction of Jerusalem nor the hardheartedness of Judah. Yet, he prophesied anyway. Isaiah was killed because his prophecies were undesirable. Yet, he prophesied anyway. Jonah just plain didn’t want to utter the word which God gave him. Yet, reluctantly, he prophesied anyway. There was never a prophecy of Scripture that came as a result of natural desire.


Scripture is Supernaturally Derived (v. 21b)

But men carried by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.


Here is a repetition of φέρω (carried/made) from earlier in this verse, but also from vv. 17&18. The voice of God carried (ἐνεχθείσης) honor and glory to the Son (v. 17). This voice was carried (ἐνεχθεῖσαν) from heaven (v. 18). No prophecy was carried (ἠνέχθη) by human desire (v. 21a), but men were carried (φερόμενοι) by the Holy Spirit (v. 21b). The term has been used to describe the way wind carries a ship under sail across the sea. Here Peter not only discloses the source of Scripture (God), but the agent through whom Scripture comes (the Holy Spirit). This is a verse to memorize in affirmation of the inerrant inspiration of Holy Scripture. The third person of the trinity, God the Holy Spirit, carried and moved these men to write and speak words that came directly from God the Father. The trinity is still in view given the larger context for these words concern the power and coming of God the Son.


Summary


The New Testament does not reinterpret the Old Testament but serves to confirm all that the Old Testament prophets have already written. As such, the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is certain. Until His coming, when He will replace the lamp of Scripture entirely, we would do well to continue paying attention to the prophets. Yet, we are not at liberty to interpret the prophets how we desire. Prophecy drives interpretation and never the other way around. The apostles were given to the church for just this purpose. This single meaning and interpretation is necessary because these words come directly from God the Father by the agency of God the Holy Spirit.


Conclusion


If we are to understand the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must pay attention to the prophets and how the apostles interpreted them. We are not at liberty to invent an eschatology that fits our fancy but are compelled, by the very nature of Scripture’s source (God), agency (the Holy Spirit), and content (Jesus Christ) to submit to this holy text. We do well in this submission and study. Yet that implies that the opposite is also true. If there is blessing in submission to the text of Scripture, then there is a curse in foisting an independent understanding upon the text. Woe to those who read their Bibles in a way foreign to the prophets’ intention and the apostles interpretation. May we pay strict attention to this holy lamp until the Sun comes in power to reveal all darkness.


Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] John MacArthur, 2 Peter & Jude, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Series (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2005), p. 61-2. [2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 292-3. [3] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 319-20. [4] D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 78-9. [5] Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006), p. 210. [6] Lenski, p 296. [7] Davids, p. 211-2. [8] Schreiner, p. 322. [9] Davids, p. 212. [10] Lenski, p. 297. [11] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 125. [12] Lenski, p. 297. [13] Schreiner, p. 323.

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