"Men Spoke From God"
2 Peter 1:19-21
(Delivered Sunday, June 27, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)
One of the things that I love and appreciate about our church family and its leaders is the devotion that is shown to the authority of the Bible. I don't need to tell you that - sadly - that's an unusual thing in a church today. More and more churches, it seems, are allowing their grip on the authority of God's word to become compromised - or to slip away altogether. We should thank God, then, that He has given us a church that seeks to uphold God's word! May He enable us to do so more and more in the years to come!
I heard a story long ago; and it made a significant impression on me early in my Christian life. Apparently, an unbelieving CBS news reporter had interviewed the noted Bible teacher and pastor John MacArthur. And after the interview, the reporter told Dr. MacArthur, "I think I can finally see the difference now between a true Christian and a false Christian. A true Christian is really into studying the Bible." I went so far as to write that story down in one of the blank pages of my old Bible. I believe that the unbelieving reporter stumbled upon a very true evaluation of one of the most important aspects of a true Christian - not the only one, but certainly a very important one. And it makes me appreciate my church family more; because I know you to be a group of believers who have a high regard for God's word.
I felt led this morning to take a break from our usual study, and to spend some time together reaffirming our sense of the Bible's great value to us. I would like us to look together at what the Bible says about itself. And for this reason, I invite you to turn to the first chapter of the little New Testament book of 2 Peter. My hope and prayer is that, as a result of our looking at this passage together, all of us will be encouraged by what Peter tells us about the reliability of the Bible as God's authoritative word to mankind; and that we'll all become even more motivated - in the power of the Holy Spirit - to read it daily, study it diligently, and obey it faithfully.
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The first chapter of 2 Peter is very informative. It shows us something of Peter's motivation in having written his letter. After opening his letter with an important exhortation to his brothers and sisters in Christ to build upon the foundation of their faith, he tells them,
For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ has showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you will always have a reminder of these things after my decease (2 Peter 1:12-15).
Many years prior to this time, while our Savior still walked this earth, He had told Peter that there would come a time when he would pay the ultimate price for his faith. Jesus told him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish" (John 21:18). And then the Bible tells us, "This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God" (v. 19). Historical tradition tells us that Peter was eventually martyred for his faith - crucified "upside-down" (at his own request) so as not to be crucified in the same manner as His precious Lord; whom he at one time denied, but for whom he then at last gave his life.
Peter was, by the time he had written this second letter, an old man - perhaps in his seventies. He knew that the time was coming soon for him to 'put off the tent' of his body - which was his way of speaking of his impending death. And knowing that his time on earth was growing short, he wanted to take advantage of every possible opportunity to remind his brothers and sisters in Christ of the things that they needed to know. In fact, to ensure that they had these things always before themselves long after he was gone, he felt led to write them down.
One of the great needs in faithful Christian living is to "remember" the things we've been taught. Peter knew this need of ours well; and so, as a result, he put things down in writing so those things could be read, and re-read, and copied, and studied by the Body of Christ. Near the end of his first letter, he told his readers, "By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand" (1 Pet. 5:12). And near the end of his second letter, he similarly says, "Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandments of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior" (2 Pet. 3:1-2). Peter wrote to remind! How glad we should be that the Holy Spirit led Peter to write these things down; because, as a result, we have the same, permanent "reminders" before us and are talking about them even today.
Now in this second letter, Peter wished to assure his readers that they were not following after some clever, humanly-created 'myths' and 'fairy tales' in entrusting their eternity to simple faith in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Peter told them, "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (2 Pet. 1:16). And to demonstrate that this was so, he points back to the experience he and some of the other apostles had with Jesus on what we've come to know as the Mount of Transfiguration:
For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain (vv. 17-18).
Peter was there, along with his fellow disciples James and John (Matthew 16:28-17:9). Jesus took them personally along with Him up the mountain; and there, before their very eyes, Jesus was transformed. It was as if His humanity was pealed back for a moment, and His divine majesty was revealed to them - shining forth in radiant glory. Peter never forgot what he saw. And having seen this, Peter was able to write to his fellow believers and say, "Listen; I know that we're not passing on a fable to you. I know that it is true experientially! I saw with my own two eyes the glory of our Savior's majesty! And I heard with my own two ears the Father say, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'!"
Now, Peter could have spent his whole letter writing about just that experience alone. He could have built a powerful case for our believing the gospel on the basis of his remarkable experience - on the basis of what he himself saw and heard. But he doesn't do that. Instead, please notice that he turns our attention to the word of Scripture. He says,
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (vv. 19-21).
Dear brothers and sisters; do you see it? Peter is here pointing our attention - not to the authority of his own experience, as great and as reliable and as noteworthy as that experience was - but to the authority of the Scriptures! Peter doesn't want us to hang our hopes on what he himself experienced, but on what God Himself has already testified in the pages of His own word. And to help us to appreciate the greater authority of God's word, Peter - under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - tells us some very important things about the nature of the Scriptures.
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As we look a little closer at this passage, I'd like for us to begin with verse 20 - at the phrase, "knowing this first". The meaning of those words is that what he tells us there is of first importance to his argument. This points us to what Peter considers to be primary. It points out to us what we need to understand before we can have other things correct in our minds. So first, he tells us about . . .
1. ITS DIVINE SOURCE (vv. 20-21a).
He writes, ". . . Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation . . ."
The word "interpretation" here means "a loosening" or "a liberation" of something. And metaphorically, it means, 'an interpretation of something that is obscure'. In this case, it would speak of someone who revealed or explained a truth in the spiritual realms that would otherwise be unavailable to us. Like a wrapped package, such a person would, as it were, "unloose" the wrapping and "liberate" what was otherwise obscured from our view; and thus explain or "interpret" its meaning to us. And Peter tells us that, when it comes to the Scriptures, no prophecy of Scripture is ever a matter of one's own personal interpretation.
There have been several different ways people have understood these words throughout history. One way - sadly - has been to say that no one but the experts in the church are qualified to read, or study, or interpret the Scriptures. It's a matter only for scholars and the religious professionals; and never for the private man or woman to do. But we praise God that, historically, the Reformation freed us from such an idea. As the apostle John taught, every believer has been given the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit; and "the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you and you do not need that anyone teach you . . ." (1 John 2:27). We praise God that the most common believer among us, indwelt and taught by the Holy Spirit, and applying sound principles of interpretation, is more qualified to interpret the Bible than an unbelieving scholar.
In a sense very much related to this, others have understood Peter to be saying that we should only interpret the Scriptures by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, no prophecy of Scripture is ever a matter of one's "private interpretation" in the sense that they sit down, read the Bible in the power of their own resources in the power of human reasoning alone - without relying on the Holy Spirit, and accurately interpret what God has said. And of course, this is true. The apostle Paul has taught us elsewhere that the truths of God's word
. . . are revealed to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:10-12).
But as true as that may be, it isn't what Peter is speaking of when he speaks of "private interpretation". He isn't speaking of the method of interpreting the Scriptures, but rather of the very source from which those Scriptures come in the first place. They are not in any respect the product of one's own efforts to search out and discovering hidden truth, and then reveal it to us in carefully written essays. They are not the product of human creativity, insight and invention at all. We know this because of what Peter says next: ". . .knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man . . ."
The human authors of the books we have in the Bible were not men who decided - all on their own volition - to sit in a room somewhere and write great works of religious insight from the unseen realms. The prophecy - the 'forth-telling of divine truth - that is found in the pages of Scripture was not something that has its origin in the will of man, or that was a product of mere human creativity. A man cannot discover such truth to write about apart from those truths being revealed to him by God, and by his being guided by God in his writing. As Paul wrote;
. . . We speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written:
Paul is quoting from Isaiah 64:4; and his point is that the things that are revealed in Scripture are not even available to human minds. Similarly, he goes on to say;
. . . The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (vv. 13-14).
The words of truth written in the Bible are not the product of human ingenuity and creativity, or the result of human study and searching. In fact, Peter even tells us that some of God's prophets, whose books we have in the Scriptures, wrote without fully understanding the meaning of the things they were writing. They received a message from God which they, themselves, afterward "inquired and searched carefully" to understand (1 Peter 1:10).
Now these words of Peter affirm to us that the Bible is a divine book. This is true of all the works of Scripture that we have in our Bible. The Scriptures are "inspired by God" - that is, "God-breathed". They have their ultimate source, not in man, but in God. As the apostle Paul affirmed, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
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And so, Peter here affirms the divine source of the Scriptures. It was given by inspiration of God; not by the private interpretation of man. But this leads us to the question of how this was done. It's obvious, whatever else we may say, that the Bible was written by the hands of men. How were the Scriptures, which were clearly written by men, thus "divine" in origin? This leads us, next, to what Peter says about the divine word of Scripture and ...
2. ITS HUMAN INVOLVEMENT (vv. 21b).
Note that Peter tells us what God's method of inspiration was. He said, ". . . For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
The word "moved" that Peter here uses is one that means "to bear" or "to carry along". It's the same word that is used, in a very picturesque way, to describe a ship that was being tossed at sea and carried along by the winds and waves. In Acts 27:15, Luke says that the ship that he and Paul were in was caught in the wind and was allowed to "drive" or "be driven". It's the picture of something being borne along and carried by another force. Peter is saying that the prophetic writers of Scripture wrote in such a way as to be borne along and carried along in their writing by the work of another - that is, by the Holy Spirit.
Now we need to be very careful to understand what concepts of inspiration are not true of Scripture. First, the Scriptures are not a product of what we might call "natural inspiration". This kind of "inspiration" would be what we would mean when we speak of a great human product of art, or a great human work of literature, or a great human piece of music. We would say, for example, that Shakespeare's works were works of great "inspiration"; but this is not what we would mean of Scripture. The human writers of Scripture were not "inspired" in this sense, because that would be the same thing as saying that the Scriptures were a strictly human product - truly remarkable works, but created without any involvement of God at all. And to say that would be to ignore what the Bible testifies of itself.
Second, we would not mean any idea of a "partial inspiration" - that is that God may have been involved in the process of men writing the Scriptures, but only partially so; and that, as a result, the Scriptures are a mixture of divine revelation and human error.
There are three ways that this idea has shown up in recent history. First, there is the idea that the Scriptures are a human product that "contains" the word of God along with the imperfect writings of men - that is, that the Bible is reliable when it speaks of spiritual issues and matters of faith, because those are the things God wants said; but that the same Bible is unreliable when it speaks of matters of history or science, because those are merely the faulty, time-bound reasoning of men. If this were true, of course, then we could never know for sure that the spiritual matters that (supposedly) God spoke in the Bible were true, because they are so couched in (supposedly) so many errors of fact and history and science that we couldn't know which was which.
Another idea related to this one is the idea that the Scriptures are a human product that, though containing errors and faults, "becomes" the word of God by His grace - that is, that He condescends to use an imperfect product of mankind in order to reveal some hint of truth, and that it "becomes" the word of God in the experience of the reader by the fact that God condescends to use it. If this were the case, however, we could never know for sure whether God was really speaking to us in the pages of Scripture, or that we were speaking to ourselves whatever it was that we wanted to hear, and were simply thinking it was God!
A third idea is that God simply inspired the "ideas" that we find in the Bible; and allowed the human writers to put those ideas in their own words and in their own imperfect way. Thus, God's perfect truth would be imperfectly communicated to us through imperfect expressions. And again, we'd never know for sure where the imperfect expressions of men ended, and where God's perfect truth began! All three of those ideas are concepts of "partial inspiration"; and they are false representations of what the Bible means when it speaks of itself as being "inspired by God". No matter how one looks at it, such ideas would leave us with an unreliable, imperfect revelation from God.
There is a third concept that is not true of biblical inspiration; although I hesitate to even bother bringing it up, because almost no scholar who affirmed the divine authorship of the Bible has actually historically believed it. I only bring it up because we who believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures are often accused of holding to it. It's a concept we might call "mechanical inspiration". This would be the idea that God somehow simply "dictated" the thoughts and words of the writers of the Bible, and the writers were nothing more than 'sanctified typewriters' who mechanically wrote down what they were told - perhaps in some kind of trance - without any personal involvement.
What is the correct idea of inspiration? Look carefully at what Peter says. It's really a remarkably balanced statement. We see that the human writers truly "spoke". They were not uninvolved in the process, or even only partially involved, but were 100% involved. You can observe this by simply reading what they wrote, and by comparing the different writers with one another. Isaiah does not write like Ezekiel; nor does Daniel write like Jeremiah. Moses has his unique touch and speaks of his own experiences and history, and so does King David - but Moses writes matter-of-factly, and David writes emotionally and sensitively. John the fisherman is quiet and profound; while Peter is bold and unpolished. Paul is scholarly and systematic - sometimes not even finishing his sentences in the Greek! Luke writes like a physician; drawing from the writings of others as if he were writing a thesis paper, and making careful observations about health issues as he tells his story! Each of the individual writers displays his own individual personality and style in his writing. And they were all 100% involved in what they wrote. Their works were, undeniably, the products of men.
But their works were also 100% the product of God as well. They wrote what they wrote - drawing upon their own thoughts, and using their own styles and choices of words - but the whole while being perfectly "borne along" and "moved" in the process by the Holy Spirit. And He ensured that the things they wrote, and the words they used, and the ideas they conveyed, were all exactly what God wanted written - so that they taught the truth God wanted taught, and were protected from error in what they wrote. Paul explained it this way: "These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches,but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Cor. 2:13).
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Before we leave this point, let me mention just a couple of implications of this. First this means that God has condescended - in great love - to give us a book of His own revealed truth that has a profoundly human "feel" to it. In the past, I have tried to read portions of Einstein's "The Theory of Relativity"; and, of course, I couldn't make any sense of it at all. It was all way over my head. Can you imagine what it would be like to receive truth from God as it is conceived in His mind? Can you imagine trying to convey those truths in human words? How merciful He is to have given us a book that He Himself directed; a book of His truth that we can understand because it was given to us through men like us! He didn't give it to us to confuse us; but so that we could truly and faithfully think His thoughts after Him. He meant for it to be understood and lived.
Second, the fact that the Holy Spirit so superintended the process, and so moved the writers along as they wrote, assures us that this is a complete revelation. Jesus told His disciples, ". . . When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come" (John 16:13). All truth that we need for life and for godly conduct - all truth - is given us in the Scriptures. It is a complete revelation; sufficient for all our needs.
And third, the nature of inspiration should guide us in our method of interpretation. Because it is a fully human book as well as fully divine, we should interpret the Bible as a book that God wrote through men. That is to say, we should interpret the meaning of what the Bible says in a way that is naturally in keeping with the way men write and speak. We should understand literally that which is clearly meant to be taken literally; and we should understand figuratively what which is clearly meant to be taken figuratively. We should take what the Bible says in its natural, historical, grammatical, and contextual, normal meaning; because that's the way men speak, and because God spoke through men.
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Now, that's the thing that Peter said was to be taken as of first importance - that it is a divine book, written by God through men who were borne along by the Holy Spirit in their writing. This leads us, now, to a secondary matter; that is, what Peter says about the Scriptures with reference to . . .
3. ITS CONFIRMATION (v. 19a).
Do you remember that he was speaking about his experience of seeing the Lord Jesus Christ manifested in the glory of His majesty on the mountain? Do you remember how Peter said that he and the apostles were not presenting "cunningly devised fables" to us, but were eyewitnesses to these things? He then says, in verse 19, "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed . . ." The Bible is a divinely authoritative book; but now Peter says it is "confirmed".
Because of the nature of the original text, there are two possible ways of taking this statement. One way is to take Peter as saying that, even though he has an 'eyewitness' experience to point to, he rests his confidence on something even more sure and reliable. He has the testimony of Scripture itself. This is, in fact, how some translations understand Peter's words. The King James Version, for example, has Peter saying, "We have also a more sure word of prophecy . . ."; that is, we have something to rest our faith on that is more sure than his own eyewitness experience. Similarly, the English Standard Version translates it, "And we have something more sure, the prophetic word . . ."
Another possible way understand these words is to take Peter as saying that the prophecy of Scripture is confirmed or "made more sure" by the fact that it has now been fulfilled. By the fact that it is fulfilled, such prophecy is naturally more sure than it was when it was still awaiting fulfillment. And the prophecies regarding the glory and majesty of Jesus were certainly made "more sure" by the fact that Peter and his fellow disciples saw with their own eyes that it had come to pass - just as the Scriptures promised. And so, if the promises regarding Jesus have clearly been fulfilled before us, we should place our fullest possible confidence in what the Scriptures say about all that it affirms to us - as a revelation from God that has been made "more sure". This is the understanding that some other translations have taken. The New International Version, for example, says, "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain . . ." Likewise, the New American Standard Version translates it "So we have the prophetic word made more sure . . ." And that's how it's being translated in the version that I'm using right now, the New King James Version: "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed . . ."
So which is the correct interpretation? I'll admit that I struggled with this one. But I've decided to interpret Peter's words as if they were written by a man - since they were. They were written by a very sensible man, in fact. I take it that, when trying to understand what Peter meant in a hard to understand passage, a good clue to his meaning could be found in a similar passage that was easier to understand. So, when I turn to 1 Peter 1; and to his comments about what the prophets of old wrote while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter said,
Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow (vv. 10-11).
Peter is telling us that, in times past, the prophets didn't fully understand the meaning of the things God was telling them. They were writing about future events concerning Christ; and at the time they wrote - when these things were yet unfulfilled - they remained somewhat obscure to them.
But now, Peter tells us that these things have become clear through the fact of their having been fulfilled and now declared through the preaching of the gospel. He goes on to say,
To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which have now been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven - things which angels desire to look into (v. 12).
Therefore, I take it that Peter means that God's prophetic word - though reliable and sure throughout all time - is made "more sure" by the fact that it was fulfilled before the eyes of witnesses. And these witnesses - the apostles - have preached these things to us in the power of the same Holy Spirit that gave the message to the prophets of old in the first place. Therefore, we can - and should - place an even greater confidence in it, because we stand in the privilege position of viewing these prophetic words of Scripture from the standpoint of fulfillment!
We can fully trust these words because we now can know for certain that they were the words of men who spoke from God!
* * * * * * * * * *What, then, do we do about all this? This leads us, finally, to . . .
4. OUR PROPER RESPONSE TO IT (v. 19b).
Peter writes of this prophetic word confirmed, "which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts . . ."
The "morning star" was the star that heralded the coming sunrise. It indicated that dawn was about to break. And so, in this dark and obscure world, we have a light that shines - a light that has been "confirmed", a light that we can trust fully. And as we heed it - that is, as we believe the Scriptures, and trust them, and study them so as to allow ourselves to be illumined by them under the care of the Holy Spirit - we will be readying ourselves for that day when Jesus comes. At that time, the glory of His majesty will be fully revealed - not just partially and temporarily, as it was on the mountain; but fully! It will be as the difference between nighttime and the breaking of dawn! As Paul wrote of himself and the other apostles,
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I hope that all of this encourages you to faithfully read the Bible. I hope you will feed from the word of God every day; that you will study it and seek, by the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to understand it and know it well. I hope you will make it your daily source of nourishment. You can absolutely trust it as God's own word that will lead you to life in Christ; and thus to becoming sharers of His own eternal glory.
You can be sure that this is so, because, in the pages of Scripture - as Peter has told us - men spoke from God.
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