ON PROPHECY – 2 PETER 1:19-21

on prophecy

“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, 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. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:19–21)

As accurate as they were in declaring the truth, God did not merely depend on the oral, eyewitness accounts of the apostles. Through the agency of the Holy Spirit He superintended the recording of those experiences and thoughts in the inspired revelation of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter’s reply to those who would question the validity of his experiences is that believers have even a better source—the prophetic word made more sure—the Word of God. Some commentators contend the phrase indicates that the apostles’ experiences validated the Scripture, that glimpsing Jesus’ kingdom glory on the Mount of Transfiguration somehow confirmed the prophets’ predictions concerning His second coming. That is a possible interpretation, but the phrase’s literal rendering, “we have more sure the prophetic word,” recommends another interpretation.

That is, as reliable and helpful as Peter’s experience was, the prophetic word of Scripture is more sure. Throughout redemptive history, God Himself has repeatedly emphasized that His inspired Word is inerrant, infallible, and the all-sufficient source of truth, which does not require human confirmation (Pss. 19:7; 119:160; John 17:17; 1 Cor. 2:10–14; 1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Prov. 6:23; Dan. 10:21, NKJV).

We in verse 19 generically refers to all believers. As a group they possess the Word, the source of God’s truth that is far more reliable than their collective experience, even as apostles. Second Corinthians 12:1 is a helpful example of the limitations of human experience as a source of truth:

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” The apostle Paul desired to defend his apostleship, but he appears to admit that personal visions and experiences—even of heaven—are not helpful, not substantial as means of defending God’s truth. That is because they are unverifiable, unrepeatable, and incomprehensible (vv. 2–4). Paul actually preferred to defend his apostleship with his suffering rather than with his supernatural visions (vv. 5–10). When the New Testament writers wrote about Christ and His promised return, they confirmed the truth of Old Testament Scripture (cf. Matt. 4: 12–16; 12:19–20; 21:1–5; Luke 4:16–21; Rom. 15:3; Heb. 5:5–6; 1 Peter 2:6–7, 22; Rev. 19:10).

Thus, it was not the apostles’ experience but the inspired and inscripturated record of Christ’s life and words, penned by the Spirit directed authors and contained in the New Testament, which validated the Old. That validation fit the Jews’ beliefs regarding the supremacy of written revelation, as Michael Green explains:

The Jews always preferred prophecy to the voice from heaven. Indeed they regarded the latter, the bath qōl, “daughter of the voice”, as an inferior substitute for revelation, since the days of prophecy had ceased. And as for the apostles, it is hard to overemphasize their regard for the Old Testament. One of their most powerful arguments for the truth of Christianity was the argument from prophecy (see the speeches in Acts, Rom. XV, I Peter II, or the whole of Heb. or Rev). In the word of God written, they sought absolute assurance, like their Master, for whom “it is written” sufficed to clinch an argument…. [Peter] is saying “If you don’t believe me, go to the Scriptures”.

“The question”, says Calvin, “is not whether the prophets are more trustworthy than the gospel.” It is simply that “since the Jews were in no doubt that everything that the prophets taught came from God, it is no wonder that Peter says that their word is ‘more sure’’”.

The expression the prophetic word in Peter’s day embraced the entire Old Testament. The expression extends beyond the passages of predictive prophecy to include all the inspired Word, which in general anticipated the coming of Messiah, as Paul made clear when he wrote:

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 16:25–27)

Jesus Himself affirmed that reality, saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39; cf. Luke 24:27, 44–45). While the Lord was primarily speaking of Old Testament Scripture, the words are not limited to that. Scripture is Scripture, and what is true of the Old Testament is also true of New Testament Scripture (cf. 2 Peter 3:15–16, in which Peter calls the writings of Paul Scripture).

Peter asserts that his readers would do well to pay attention to the prophetic word. If they were going to be exposed to the subtle errors of the false teachers, it was imperative that they know and carefully heed Scripture so that they could reject false teachings (Ps. 17:4; Acts 18:28; Eph. 6:11, 17; cf. Matt. 4:4; 22:29; 1 Cor. 10:11; Rev. 22:19).

To make his point even more direct, Peter offered a simple metaphor, comparing God’s Word to a lamp shining in a dark place. That figure of speech recalls the psalmist’s familiar words, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105; cf. v. 130; 43:3; Prov 6:23). Dark (auchmēros) is the meaning that came from the original idea of this word, “dry,” or “parched,” then “dirty,” or “murky.” The phrase dark place encompasses the murky blackness of the fallen world that prevents people from seeing the truth until the lamp of divine revelation shines forth. Thus Peter likens Scripture to a lantern that provides light to a dark and sinful world. The calendar of redemptive history moves toward a day God has designated for the glorious event when Jesus Christ returns in full, blazing splendor and majesty (Matt. 24:30; 25:31; Titus 2:13; Rev. 1:7; cf. Col. 3:4). When that day dawns, Christ will terminate the temporary earthly night of sin and spiritual darkness, returning in glory to establish His kingdom. The apostle John describes this in Revelation 19:11–16:

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

The bittersweet event marks the climax of God’s salvation purpose and His judgment on the wicked (cf. Isa. 2:12; 13:6; Zeph. 1:14; 1 Cor. 1:8; 3:13; 4:5; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:7; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Peter 2:12).

Morning star (phōsphoros), which literally means “light bringer,” was the name for the planet Venus, which precedes the morning sun in the sky, and is used here for Christ, whose coming inaugurates the promised millennial kingdom and the establishment of His kingdom.

Scripture in several places refers to Christ as a star (Num. 24:17; Rev. 2:28; 22:16; cf. Matt. 2:2). Peter adds the fact that the star arises in believers’ hearts. Christ will return in a blaze of physically visible, all-encompassing light that will affect everyone for blessing or cursing and change the millennial earth (3:10–13), eventually destroying the universe and replacing it with the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 20:11; 21:1). The reference to the hearts indicates His return will also transform believers into perfect reflections of the truth and righteousness of Christ and make them into the image of His glory (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:1–2). At His second coming, Christ will replace the perfect temporal revelation of Scripture with the perfect eternal revelation of His person. He will fulfill the written Word and write it forever on the hearts of the glorified saints.

From considering the end of Scripture, when it completely rules the perfected heart, Peter went back to the start of Scripture—its divine inspiration. As Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16); therefore, no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. The phrase is a matter of translates ginetai, which more precisely means “comes into being,” “originates,” or “arises.” No portion of the holy writings, Old Testament or New, came into existence in the manner all false prophecies did (cf. Jer. 14:14; 23:32; Ezek. 13:2). For example, the prophet Jeremiah explained how God viewed the false prophets of his time:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a  vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, “You will have peace”’; and as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’ But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? Behold, the storm of the Lord has gone forth in wrath, even a whirling tempest; it will swirl down on the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart; in the last days you will clearly understand it. I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds. “Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord. “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’” (Jer. 23:16–25; cf. Ezek. 13:3)

False prophets and teachers spoke of their own things, from their own ideas, but no true message from God ever arose from a human interpretation.

Interpretation (epiluseōs) is an unfortunate translation because in English it indicates how one understands Scripture, whereas the Greek noun is a genitive, indicating source. Thus, Peter is not referring to the explanation of the Scripture, but to its origin. The next statement in verse 21, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but (alla, “just the opposite,” “quite the contrary”) men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God, further supports the point of source. What human beings might think or want has absolutely nothing to do with divine prophecy.

Moved (pheromenoi) is a present passive participle that means “continually carried,” or “borne along.” Luke twice used this verb (Acts 27:15, 17) to describe how the wind blows a sailing ship across the waters. For Peter, it was as if the writers of Scripture raised their spiritual sails and allowed the Spirit to fill them with His powerful breath of revelation as they penned its divine words (cf. Luke 1:70).

When Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me saying” (Jer. 1:4), he spoke for all the Old Testament writers and, by extension, all the New Testament writers who followed them. The only one who knows the mind of God is the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:10–13; cf. John 15:26; Rom. 8:27; 11:34; cf. John 3:8), so only He could have inspired the Scripture.

If believers are going to stand against the errors of false teachers, they must seek to know, accept, and obey the totality of Scripture, even as the apostle Paul did in testifying before the Roman governor Felix, “But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they [the Jews] call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14, emphasis added).

(Source: John MacArthur, 2 Peter, MacArthur New Testament Commentary)

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