The Solid Foundation (2 Peter 1:19-21)
If you’re going to base your entire life on something, you want to know that it is solid. If you’re going to stake your eternity on that same thing, you really want to be sure that it is the truth. It would be utterly tragic to spend your life on a path that you thought led to heaven, only to find out too late that you were wrong!
As Christians, we build our lives and stake our eternity on the truth of God’s Word. But, how can we know that it’s true? How can we be sure that it isn’t just a collection of quaint writings from a bunch of Jewish guys who lived thousands of years ago?
And, since even Christians interpret the Bible in so many different ways, how can we know that our interpretation is correct? Even some who claim to be evangelical Christians say that we cannot know the exact meaning of Scripture. They would say that if you claim to know what the Bible says, you are dogmatic and arrogant. To claim that your view is the only right view is divisive. Are they right? Can we know for sure that what the Bible says is true and that we are correct in our understanding of it?
As we’ve seen, Peter knows that he is about to die (1:14). He wants to leave his readers with a solid foundation so that after he is gone, they will not be led astray by false teachers, who are already plaguing the churches. That solid foundation is the revealed Word of God. The central focus of all Scripture is the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1:16-18, Peter boldly states that the apostles were not following cleverly devised tales when they made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus. Rather, the experience that they had on the mount of transfiguration, when they saw Jesus’ majesty and glory, was a prophetic glimpse of the truth that He is coming again in power and glory to reign. The apostolic witness to Jesus Christ, which we now have in the New Testament, is one leg of the foundation of our faith.
The other leg is (v. 19), “we have the prophetic word made
Since we have the solid foundation of God’s inspired Word, we must pay careful attention to it and interpret it correctly.
Ironically, these verses challenge us with some difficult interpretive issues, so I will try to explain the text as we work through it, so that we can apply it correctly.
1. We have the solid foundation of God’s Word (1:19a).
We not only have the apostolic witness to Jesus as they saw Him on the mount of transfiguration (1:16-18), but also (v. 19 in Greek begins with “and”) “we have the prophetic word made more sure.” “We” refers first to the apostles (as in 1:16-18), and by extension to the church. In the context of the Lord’s coming (v. 16), the “prophetic word” refers to the Old Testament prophecies relating to “the day of the Lord,” the day of judgment and salvation (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude [Broadman], p.319). By extension, it applies to all of the Old Testament, since the Scriptures all tie together. But the idea is that the Old Testament prophecies about the coming day of the Lord are confirmed and clarified by the transfiguration, where the disciples saw a prophetic preview of Jesus in His glory.
But, what does Peter mean when he says “more sure”? Some follow the King James Version, which translates, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy ….” The idea is that the written word is more sure than the disciples’ experience on the mount of transfiguration was.
For example, John MacArthur (The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible Updated edition [Nelson Bibles], p. 1924; also, see, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Peter & Jude [Moody Publishers], pp. 61-62) argues that the Greek word order favors that translation. He thinks that Peter is saying that Scripture ranks even above his experience of seeing the transfigured Christ. He states (Study Bible, ibid.), “the Word of God is a more reliable verification of the teachings about the person, atonement, and second coming of Christ than even the genuine first hand experiences of the apostles themselves.”
While I greatly respect John MacArthur, I have to agree here with Thomas Schreiner, who argues (p. 320), “this would subvert the argument in vv. 16-18, for Peter then would be suggesting that his appeal to the transfiguration is not quite convincing, so he needed something better, namely, the Old Testament Scriptures. But vv. 16-18 demonstrate that Peter believed that the transfiguration was decisive proof for his view, not questionable in the least.”
So it seems preferable to understand that Peter is saying that the Old Testament prophets gave us a sure word about Christ. They predicted His sufferings and the glory that would follow. But the apostles did not understand how it all fit together until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then Jesus explained how it was necessary for Him “to suffer these things and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:27; see, also vv. 44-45). The three disciples then recalled their experience on the mount of transfiguration, where seeing Jesus’ glory was a prophetic glimpse of His coming again. So in this sense, the Old Testament prophetic word was made more sure. The transfiguration confirmed and clarified the truth that was there, but which they did not understand until after that experience.
Before we leave this point, consider for a moment just some of the prophetic Scriptures with regard to Jesus Christ. I have heard that there are over 300 prophecies about Christ in the Old Testament, but let’s take just a few: The Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14), of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), of the lineage of David (2 Sam. 7:16), in the city of Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). His ministry would be introduced by a forerunner, who would speak in the spirit and power of Elijah (Mal. 3:1; 4:5; Isa. 40:3-5). This was fulfilled, of course, in John the Baptist. Other prophecies speak of His ministry (Isa. 42:1-4; 61:1-2), His miracles (Isa. 35:5-6), and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey (Zech. 9:9).
Psalm 22, written hundreds of years before crucifixion was known as a means of execution, describes His death on the cross. That psalm also describes the taunts of His accusers (v. 8) and the soldiers casting lots for His garments (v. 18). Isaiah 53 also describes Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. It mentions specifically (v. 9) that His grave would be assigned with wicked men, yet that He would be with a rich man in His death. As you know, He was crucified between two criminals, but buried in the tomb of a rich man. All of these, plus many more prophecies, were specifically fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.
Years ago, a math professor named Peter Stoner wrote a little book, Science Speaks [Moody Press, 1963]. In it, he assigns probabilities to a number of biblical prophecies and then calculates the odds that these things could have happened by sheer chance. In one chapter, he takes just eight prophecies concerning Jesus Christ and uses very conservative estimates to determine how probable it is that anyone who might have lived from the time of those prophecies down to the present could have fulfilled them all. His answer is, 1 in 1017.
How big is that number? To illustrate, Professor Stoner says (pp. 106-107), take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover the entire state two feet deep. Now mark one of those silver dollars, stir it into the whole mix, blindfold a man and tell him he can go as far as he wants, but he has to pick just one. His chances of picking the marked silver dollar are the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing just these eight prophecies (apart from divine inspiration) and having them all come true in one man. He goes on to show that if you take 16 prophecies, the odds increase to 1 in 1045, an unimaginably huge number. It would involve a ball of silver dollars extending 30 times as far as from the earth to the sun! And that’s just 16 prophecies, not the 300 which Jesus fulfilled!
So Peter’s first point is, we have the solid foundation of the prophetic word, which was further confirmed by the apostles’ experience of seeing Jesus’ glory on the mount of transfiguration.
2. We must pay careful attention to God’s Word in view of the coming day of judgment (1:19b).
Peter continues (1:19b), “to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” The flow of thought from the context is, “Since the Old Testament prophets predict the power and glory of Christ in His coming and since our experience on the mount of transfiguration confirmed those prophecies, pay close attention to the Scriptures.”
Peter compares the Bible to a lamp shining in the darkness, much as Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” This is the only New Testament use of this Greek word for “dark.” It has the connotation of being not only dark, but also dirty or squalid. To navigate this dark, dirty world safely, you need the lamp of God’s Word.
Last fall, my son-in-law, his two boys, and I hiked to the end of the Lava Cave north of town. When you get beyond the entrance, it’s pitch black in there and there are a lot of places where the footing is uneven and there are low overhead rocks. Even with my headlamp, I hit my head hard on one of the rocks.
The Bible says that the world is like that. It is a morally dark place. There are many hazards where you can conk your head or fall into a pit. When we come to know Christ, the Bible becomes our light to show us how to live to please Him in view of His coming, so that we can avoid temptation and sin.
The day dawning (v. 19) refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ. That end time is called “the day of the Lord.” It
But, what does Peter mean when he says, “the morning star arises in your hearts”? This also refers to the coming of Christ, who calls Himself “the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16; see, also Rev. 2:28; Num. 24:17). But, what does Peter mean when he says that the morning star “arises in your hearts”? This almost sounds as if the second coming is not an objective, outwardly visible event, but rather an inward, subjective experience in believers’ hearts.
But Peter clearly believed in the objective, bodily, personal return of Christ. So he probably means that now, in the darkness, the prophetic word shines to illumine our path. But when Jesus, the morning star, returns, we will have the light of His presence so that we will no longer need the prophetic word. The One of whom the prophecies spoke will be with us personally, shining fully into our hearts. As Peter Davids writes (The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude [Eerdmans], p. 210), “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.”
Before we leave verse 19, let’s apply it by asking, “Are you paying attention to the lamp that is shining in the darkness?” Do you read the Word regularly to gain the light that you need to live in a manner pleasing to the Lord? Are you living in light of His coming, when we all will stand before Him to give an account of how we have lived (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10-12)? We have the solid foundation of God’s Word, but we must pay attention to it in view of the coming day that surely will dawn.
3. We must interpret the Word correctly, because it is not the word of man, but the inspired Word of God (1:20-21).
The NASB usually gives an almost literal rendering of the Greek text, but in verse 20 it errs. It adds the word “but” (which is not in the Greek at all) and begins a new sentence. The ESV gets it right by continuing the sentence from verse 19, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” Peter is explaining that we should pay close attention to Scripture by interpreting it correctly, because we are dealing with the inspired word of God to us through these human authors.
A. We must interpret the Word correctly (1:20).
But, again we must deal with some interpretive problems in order to understand verse 20. It has been interpreted in three main ways. First, the Roman Catholic Church uses verse 20 to teach that individuals are not permitted to interpret the Bible for themselves. Rather, they must depend on the official teaching of the church. The practical result of this has been that many Roman Catholics have never read or studied the Bible on their own. For many years, the Church opposed translating the Bible into the common languages of the people for fear that they would misinterpret it. So Catholics had to depend on the priests as the correct interpreters of Scripture. But this view reads into the text all sorts of things that are not there. The question is, is the church over the Word or is the Word over the church?
Second, some understand the verse to be referring not to the interpretation of Scripture, but rather to its origin. The NIV gives an interpretive translation, “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.” In favor of this view is that the word “is” (NASB) means, “comes” or “came about.” Also, verse 21 seems to support this view by further explaining how the prophets got their message. But, against this view is the meaning of the word “interpretation,” which only occurs here in the New Testament. It means to untie a knot or solve a puzzle. So it more likely refers to the proper interpretation of prophecy after it was given, not to originating the prophecy (Schreiner, p. 323).
The third view is that Peter is saying that
Peter puts this as a priority (“first of all”) because if Christ is coming again in judgment and His Word is the standard for judgment, then we’d better understand it correctly! You can’t stand before the judge after you’ve been driving 100 and say, “I didn’t understand that sign with the 25 on it!” Nor would it do to ask the judge, “What does 25 miles per hour mean to you? For me, 100 feels more like 25.” Sorry, but 25 mph is not a subjective feeling; it is an objective standard by which anyone may be judged.
I don’t have time to go in depth into the proper principles for interpreting the Bible, but I’ll quickly mention a few key things. First, we must always interpret a text in light of its context. Second, the Bible interprets itself, especially, individual authors interpret themselves. If you let Paul in context interpret Paul on justification by faith and James in context interpret James on justification by works, they do not contradict each other. Third, interpret the Bible based on grammatical, linguistic, and historical considerations. Words mean something and languages put words together in structured ways. We must seek to determine what the text meant to the original author and readers in their historical setting before we ask how it applies to us in our culture. So, Peter’s point is, we are not free to interpret the Word in any way that we please. Why not?
B. We must interpret the Word correctly because it is not our word, but the inspired Word of God (1:21).
Peter continues, “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The idea is, you are not free to interpret the Bible according to your feelings or to take or leave parts of it as you like, because (“for”) the Bible is the very word from God to us through these inspired men. It carries God’s authority and wisdom for how we should live. It is the word of the Sovereign of the universe, to whom we will give account. So we had better take care to understand it correctly and obey it completely!
Verse 21 is one of the key verses explaining the inspiration of Scripture. It shows that Scripture comes to us through human authors, but that they didn’t make it up themselves. Rather, they were moved or carried along by the Holy Spirit. The verb is used of the wind carrying along Paul’s ship in the storm at sea (Acts 27:15, 17). Charles Hodge gives one of the best explanations (Systematic Theology [Eerdmans], 1:154). He wrote, “inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will. They were in such a sense the organs of God, that what they said God said.”
While certain portions of Scripture were dictated directly by God, in most places He used the personalities and experiences of the authors to shape their language and message, but the final product is, as Hodge puts it, “what they said God said.” (See 2 Sam. 23:2; Jer. 23:16-22; Ezek. 13:2-3; Acts 28:25; Heb. 3:7; 10:15.) In the Old Testament alone, the writers refer to their writings as the words of God over 3,800 times (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1924).
Have you ever watched footage of when they want to take down an old skyscraper? Engineers put dynamite at strategic places in the foundation. When they set it off, the building implodes.
It’s not surprising that Satan relentlessly tries to blow up the foundation of our faith, which is the Word of God. His very first temptation challenged Eve (Gen. 3:1), “Indeed, has God said …?” He has attempted to bring down our faith through liberal theologians, who undermine its veracity. Our higher educational system (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded to train men in the Word) is now dominated by skeptics who sneer at God’s Word. Evolution, which (against all reason) is accepted as fact in our public educational system, does away with the need to submit to the Almighty Creator.
Yet, in spite of the attacks, the Word of God endures forever (1 Pet. 1:25). It gives us a solid foundation on which to build our lives and to stake our eternity. Make sure you pay attention to it by spending consistent time reading and studying it. Be careful to interpret it correctly. Walk by the light that it gives you to avoid the pitfalls in this dark world. Then you will rejoice when the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.
- Since Christians have so many different interpretations of the Word, how do we determine which are right and which are of primary importance?
- How would you answer a critic who pointed out supposed “contradictions” in the Word? What should you say?
- Roman Catholics contend that the Protestant “right of private interpretation of Scripture” has resulted in thousands of denominations, while their view has preserved the unity of the church. How would you answer this charge?
- How can we know that the Holy Spirit really inspired the authors of Scripture and that they weren’t just making it up?
(Ref: Steven J. Cole)