First and Second Peter were written in a time of severe trial for the early Christian Church. In contrast to 1 Peter, where the problem is persecution from the outside world and the not-too-subtle lure of the old way of life, in 2 Peter the threat is internal. False teachers have infiltrated the church and threaten to rip it apart.
First Peter is like an incredible cathedral of amazing theology spiraling ever upward, resolving challenging problems of how to relate to the outside world, how to interact with one another in the household of God, and how to be conscious of God in daily life. Second Peter, on the other hand, is straight and direct, facing the challenge of false teachers in the church. Its outline is simple: chapter 1, how to stay in the faith; chapter 2, where the false teachers have gone wrong; chapter 3, answers to the false teachers’ positions.
The passage of for study in this articledeals with the interrelationship between the Word of God and personal experience:
“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16-21).1
We Were Eyewitnesses
Peter begins in a rather interesting way: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 16). It would be like someone coming home and saying, “I was not driving fast when I came down Main Street.” You know that there has to be a story he will tell with some drama involved and that he wants to give his explanation of what happened. This seems to be the same pattern in 2 Peter 1:16. Peter was obviously being accused of doing the very thing he affirms he and his colleagues were not doing. Thus, the words that follow will give his defense against the accusations of the false teachers while, at the same time, present his teaching.
Peter is apparently being accused of disseminating “cleverly devised myths.” The Greek term is translated “myth” along with the verb, which means “to make wise, to devise craftily.” In the ancient world, myth could simply mean a story or narrative as contrasted with reason or argument.2 It is clear in the context of 2 Peter 1, however, that the term is being used to describe something that is not true, but not only that. Peter’s opponents are making an accusation that he is deceptive. It is not just made-up stories he is telling; it is made-up stories that were carefully crafted—tall tales slyly woven (in a “made wise” way—we might say “slick”) and fashioned to catch the gullible. The false teachers are accusing Peter and his associates of telling lies to trick people.
But how could Peter be referring to the Second Coming when he depicts his experience as an “eyewitness” account? What he goes on to describe is the Transfiguration. It is worthwhile noting that each of the Synoptic Gospel accounts of this event is preceded by a reference in some form to “‘some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power’” (Mark 9:1). Interpreters have taken these words of Jesus in a variety of ways, but the way that seems to make the most sense (and parallels 2 Peter 1:16 to 21) is that Jesus is referring to His transfiguration as the event where “some standing here” will see the kingdom of God come in power, and that the Transfiguration itself is a foretaste of the final consummation of the kingdom when Christ returns the second time.
Peter extends the “we” section into verse 19, and here we meet a pivotal interpretation of the passage. It is valuable to compare the translation of the first part of the verse in several versions to see the three different ways the verse is taken:
● “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (ESV).
● “We have also a more sure word of prophecy” (KJV).
● “In addition, we have a most reliable prophetic word” (CEB).
The ESV translation suggests that the personal experience of the Transfiguration in some way makes the prophetic writings more secure. The KJV translation suggests that the prophetic writings themselves are more secure than the personal experience of the Transfiguration. The CEB translation suggests that the prophetic writings and the Transfiguration stand side by side as the bulwarks of Peter’s message.
The adjective translated “firm, strong, secure” would mean “more firm, stronger, more secure.” Richard Bauckham points out, however, that this adjective used with the verb have typically means “to have a firm hold on something.”3 The other concept to be added here is that Koine Greek sometimes used a comparative adjective as a superlative. (“More secure” could be used to mean “most secure.”) If that were the case here, the meaning would be “to have very firm hold on something” or “to place very firm reliance on something.”
The predicate position of the adjective would normally require a predicate translation, similar to that of the ESV (“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed”) and contrary to that of the KJV (“We have also a more sure word of prophecy”), which clearly has an attributive position translation. However, the fact that secure is combined with more leads to the translation, as Bauckham has suggested, “to have very firm hold on something.
There is another characteristic of the passage that militates against a result usage in 2 Peter 1:19. The apostle has been stressing the importance of his eyewitness experience in 1:16‑18. If the “and” at the beginning of verse 19 presents a result, it means that the Transfiguration experience is more important than the prophetic Scriptures in confirmatory authority. Then the opening line of verse 19 should be translated “And so we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed.”
After this first phrase of verse 19, however, Peter immediately turns around and tells his readers to pay special attention to the prophetic Word (“to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place”). If Peter is telling his readers that personal experience trumps the words of Scripture at the beginning of verse 19, why then tell them to pay special attention to Scripture in the last half of verse 19? Why not instead tell them to focus on personal experience?
For these reasons, it seems more logical to take the CEB type of translation as the likely meaning of verse 19: “In addition, we have a most reliable prophetic word.” That is to say, the apostles’ personal experience of the Transfiguration and the prophetic words of the prophets in the Old Testament support each other in bringing security and guidance to the believers.
You Should Pay Attention
Peter then transmits this assurance to those he is writing to and teaching. Here in verse 19b is where the “you” references begin. “In addition, we have a most reliable prophetic word, and you would do well to pay attention to it, just as you would to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (vs. 19, CEB, italics supplied). The readers are called on to take special notice of the Scriptures. The verb has the connotation of being concerned with something, devoting oneself to it. Peter desires an extension of the apostles’ experience to the community of believers. As the Transfiguration imbued the apostles’ experience of the Old Testament prophecies with renewed vigor, so the connection of the believers with the apostles’ experience is to bring them to a living experience of the Scriptures as well.
The Greek word translated as “morning star” referred in the ancient world to the planet Venus when it shone brightly in the morning sky before sunrise. It was the harbinger of the coming dawn. Terrance Callan suggests that the morning star might be just another way of talking about the second coming by expressing one idea through two terms (the coming of the Day and the Day Star).4
But one would hardly speak of the Second Coming as something occurring in the believer’s heart, some type of spiritual enlightenment, if you will. Second Peter 3 disavows any concept like that. Instead, the morning star, as harbinger of the dawn, more likely represents the believer’s hope and trust in that great day, the return of our Lord. The three lights work together. The prophetic lamp of the Scriptures shines into our hearts and creates the morning star hope for the coming great and glorious day of our Lord’s return.
They Spoke From God
The apostle does not end his discourse in 2 Peter 1 by talking either about his own experience or that of his readers. Instead he describes the experience of the prophets who received the message from God. The apostle begins with the emphatic “knowing this first of all,” which returns to the Christian teaching language of instruction. The teaching the readers had received before is underscored.
What the readers are to focus on is the message God has sent in Scripture: “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). The key phrase for understanding verse 20 is “someone’s own interpretation.” Two fairly divergent explanations of these words predominate in scholarship. The minority view is that the reference is to the ruling out of personal interpretation, that interpretation of Scripture is a function of the community of faith. The majority view is that “someone’s own” refers to the prophet himself and makes reference in particular to the type of explanation of visions and dreams given by angels in books like Daniel, Amos, and Zechariah. According to this viewpoint, both the revelation of the dream/vision and the interpretation of it are from God. Thus there are no logical seams or cracks through which the false teachers’ deceptions can gain ground.
20b Because every prophecy of Scripture is not of one’s own interpretation,
21 For not by human will was the prophecy carried formerly
21 For not by human will was the prophecy carried formerly
But by the Holy Spirit carried, people spoke from God.
The chiastic structure of the first pair illustrates how “not of one’s own interpretation” parallels “not by human will.” This parallelism is consistent with Bauckham’s argumentation that the reference to “one’s own interpretation” refers to the prophet’s interpretation of the vision he has received. That is to say, both the vision and the interpretation of that vision in the prophet’s writings come from God, not from the prophet himself.
There are, then, three locations where God was active in bringing the message. One location was the experience of the apostles at the Transfiguration. The voice of God carried the message of honor (2 Peter 1:17, 18). Another location was the giving of the vision and interpretation to the Old Testament prophet. The vision and interpretation were not the prophet’s invention; they came from God (vs. 20). And finally, the third location was the inspiration of the prophet to speak the message. The Holy Spirit carried the people, that is, the prophets, when they spoke from God (vs. 21).
The first was a personal revelation of Christ’s glory, the second was a revelation of the vision and message of Scripture, and the third was the inspiration of the prophets to be able to write the message in a reliable manner to express the will of God. This third step is an expression of the incarnational character of Scripture—people spoke from God. Humans did the speaking, but the message and its inspiration were from God. The Word of God “became flesh” in the human words of the prophets.
Lessons for the Scholar Today
How is the scholar to balance the tension between faith commitment and scholarly objectivity? It is clear that 2 Peter 1:16 to 21 teaches the tight interconnection between the apostles’ experience of the Transfiguration and the prophetic Scriptures, as well as the revelatory and inspired nature of those writings. For those who have accepted the Scriptures as the Word of God, these statements in 2 Peter 1 teach that this holy Word must be handled carefully, thoughtfully, always with its divine origin in mind. This does not mean covering over questions or data that are challenging, just that all these queries are placed within a framework of hope and trust.
For those in scholarly life and research, the concept of “we” comes in three steps. First is our own background and personal experience in character development, ethical, and spiritual life—the integrity of who we have become as we approach research. This step parallels Peter’s insistence that he and his fellow apostles were not deceptive in their teaching (vs. 16). Objectivity in scholarship requires ethical standards of honesty and reliability in carrying out and reporting research findings.
The second step in the “we” is personal observation—seeing, hearing, touching, if you will, the truths encountered; the data of studies; the pottery fragments, tablets, and inscriptions uncovered. These are our eyewitness experiences. Just as the Transfiguration modified how the apostles understood the ministry of Jesus and the prophecies of the Old Testament, so research opens new vistas, new ways of seeing old truths. It is a new way of looking at the world, a new set of questions.
This change in who we are and how we understand, so tied to our experience, impacts how we do research. There may be complete agreement on a particular methodological approach to a passage, yet arrival at different results in research. This does not prove the methodology false. More often it illustrates the way in which differing personal backgrounds affect use of the methodology. Interesting and helpful complementary understandings of the data can arise from such research and interaction.
But there is never just a “we.” There is always a “you” whom the scholar faces and relates to, even as Peter addressed the “you” of his second letter. These are those not of our guild who are impacted by our research. It is here that the “we” and the “you” intersect. Personal experience of research in these sacred truths must inspire with their power and joy.
Finally, the “they” for scholars, as for Peter, are the prophets and apostles and their writings, the text of Scripture, which always stands apart from us and critiques our lives. According to Peter it is these writings that are the incarnated and reliable Word of God. In this light, it is not so much that scholars critique the Bible but that it is the evaluator of the scholar’s experience and practice. In the community of faith scholars place themselves under its molding influence.
“We,” “you,” and “they.” Scholars seek to understand the Bible’s message and prophetic voice through the varied methods of scholarship in which they have been trained. They must share what they find with those they serve, not covering things over or making the evidence fit preconceived ideas (from either the right or the left). The goal is not some sterile, stand-apart, away-from-the-life-of-the-church sort of investigation. It must be remembered that scholars, along with all Christians, are the experiment upon which the Word in its power works—which means really believing and tasting that the Lord is good, knowing on a personal level the reality of the ancient truths. It is then that these scholars are, in the truest sense, scholars of the Seventh‑day Adventist Church.
Tom Shepherd, Ph.D., Dr.P.H., is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Seventh‑day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, where he is also the Director of the Ph.D. in Religion and Th.D. programs.
NOTES AND REFERENCES