2 Peter 1:16-21
THE BROADER CONTEXT:
This book began by ascribing authorship to “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1)—and the author claiming to be an eyewitness to Christ’s majesty, by which he meant Jesus’ Transfiguration (1:16-19). However, the book was largely neglected by the early church, and was one of the last epistles admitted into the New Testament canon.
Biblical scholars today are divided. Some accept that Peter authored this book. Others believe that this book is pseudonymous (written under a false name). There are several reasons for believing that the book might have been written by someone other than Peter. For one thing, Peter’s ministry focused on Jews, but this book was written with Gentiles in mind. Also, the vocabulary, style, and contents of 1 Peter and 2 Peter are different.
When referring to the author, I will use Peter’s name—but with the understanding that the authorship of this book is uncertain.
There are a number of parallels between 2 Peter and the book of Jude, which has led scholars to think that the author of 2 Peter may have used Jude as a starting point.
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
Peter is writing to encourage Christians to live Godly lives (1:3) that they “may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust” (1:4). He encourages them to live according to a list of virtues that begins with faith, proceeds to moral excellence, and ends in brotherly affection and love (1:5-7). He assures them that if they will “do these things, (they) will never stumble” and will be “richly supplied with the entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (1:10-11).
In this scripture reading, Peter is addressing the problem of false teachers who are denying Christ’s Second Coming (3:4-7) and are accusing the apostles of fomenting “cunningly devised fables” (1:16). This heresy would remove an important incentive for Christians to live moral and ethical lives. If Christ isn’t coming again—if there is nothing beyond this life—people would be less motivated to live the kind of life that Christ would have them live. So Peter calls these Christians to look forward to “the day of the Lord, (which) will come as a thief in the night; in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (3:10). He calls them to prepare for that day by “holy living and godliness” (3:11).
Peter accuses his opponents of “having eyes full of adultery”—not being able to “cease from sin”—”enticing unsettled souls”—”having (hearts) trained in greed”—and being “children of cursing” (2:14-15). Peter characterizes them as “mockers”—”walking after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?'” (3:3-4).
2 PETER 1:16-18. EYEWITNESSES OF HIS MAJESTY
16 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 We heard this voice come out of heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables (Greek: mythos), when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 16a). A mythos (myth or fable) could be one of two things. (1) It could be a story that, while not historically true, nevertheless conveys an important truth or value. (2) Or it could be a fable or fairy tale—totally fictitious and having little value.
The false teachers are accusing the apostles of fomenting myths of the second kind—totally fictitious and having no value. In particular, they say that the apostles’ teaching about the Second Coming of Christ is a cunningly devised fable (see 3:4-7).
“but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (Greek: megaleiotes) (v. 16b). Peter is referring to Christ’s Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). The three eyewitnesses to this event were Peter, James, and John—Jesus’ inner circle—the disciples who were also with Jesus at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37).
What does the Transfiguration have to do with Christ’s Second Coming? Duane Watson says that the Transfiguration was a “proleptic vision of God’s installation of Jesus as God’s eschatological viceroy” (The New Interpreter’s Bible). A “proleptic vision” involves seeing something in advance of its happening—like reading tomorrow’s newspaper today—so Watson is saying that, at the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John got an early glimpse of Jesus’ Second Coming.
“eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Jewish law valued the testimony of witnesses. At least two witnesses were required to convict a person of any crime (Deuteronomy 19:15). For a death sentence to be executed required the corroboration of two or three witnesses—and the witnesses were required to take the lead in performing the execution (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). If a person were found to be a false witness, he would become subject to the penalty that he was trying to impose on the accused (Deuteronomy 19:16-19).
When the apostles needed to fill the apostolic office vacated by the death of Judas, their requirement was that the person chosen “have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us… (and must be) “a witness with us of his resurrection” (John 19:35; 21:24; Acts 1:21-22; see also Acts 4:20; 10:39; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 John 1:1-3; 1 Peter 5:1).
“For he received from God the Father honor (time) and glory (doxa), when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'” (v. 17). Peter pairs “God the Father” with “my beloved Son.”
God the father conferred honor and glory on the Son. The Greek word time (pronounced tim-AH) means honor or respect or reverence. Doxa means glory. Honor and glory are often found together in the New Testament (Romans 2:7, 10; Hebrews 2:7, 9; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 4:9, 11; 5:12-13). Because the Father conferred honor and glory on his Son, his Son is worthy of our highest praise.
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v. 17b). These words most nearly correspond to the words in Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; see also Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). All of the Synoptic accounts add the words, “Listen to him,” but Peter doesn’t include those words in this account.
We heard similar words at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).
These words bring to mind Psalm 2:6-7, a royal psalm honoring God’s anointed one, the king of Israel. God said to the enemies of the anointed one, “I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). Then God said to the anointed one, “You are my son. Today I have become your father” (Psalm 2:7). In other words, God was announcing the establishment of his kingdom to his anointed king—to Israel—and to the world. God’s kingdom at that point was Israel—God’s chosen people.
But with the coming of Jesus, we entered a new era. The anointed one of Psalm 2 was the king of Israel, but as the Messiah or Christ, Jesus became the anointed one—the new king—and the new kingdom became those who followed him, accepting him as king over their lives. Christ’s coronation came with his death and resurrection. His ascension served to confirm his kingship.
So when the Father announces, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” he is announcing one of two things: Either Jesus is already the king because he is God’s Son—or because Jesus is God’s beloved Son, God is now appointing Jesus as king. Either way, he intends to convey a connection between sonship and kingship.
“We heard this voice come out of heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain” (v. 18). Peter once again affirms that he was one of the three (Peter, James, and John) who heard the voice on the holy mountain.
The phrase “the holy mountain” is typically used for Mount Zion—Jerusalem (Psalm 48:1; 99:9; Isaiah 11:9; 27:13; 56:7, etc.). This is the only time that phrase is used in the New Testament.
However, we need not assume that the Transfiguration took place on Mount Zion. The identity of that mountain remains uncertain. Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon seem like the most likely candidates—but some scholars think that it might have been the Mount of Olives, which was on the outskirts of Jerusalem. But the Mount of Transfiguration was holy, not because of a connection with the Holy City, but because the Transfiguration took place there.
2 PETER 1:19-21. THE MORE SURE WORD OF PROPHECY
19 We have the more sure word of prophecy; and you do well that you heed it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the morning star arises in your hearts: 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. 21 For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit.
“We have the more sure word of prophecy” (Greek: ton prophetikon logon bebaioteron—the reliable prophetic word) (v. 19). “We” in this verse refers to the apostles, as it also did in verses 16-18. This is a key point. The apostles have been given “the more sure word of prophecy”—the reliable prophecy—and the prophecy that they received pointed to the Second Coming of Christ.
The Greek word bebaioteron refers to something that is certain or reliable—something that won’t fail under examination—something that won’t crumble underfoot.
This reliable and prophetic word is scripture—the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament (see v. 20). Peter could be referring to scripture in general—or more specifically to the words of the prophets—or even more particularly to the prophetic writings that anticipate the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 13:6, 9; 58:13; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Obadiah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7-8, 14, 18; 2:2-3; Malachi 4:5).
The Day of the Lord will be an eschatological (end of time) event that will bring judgment to the guilty and deliverance to the faithful. Jesus’ Second Coming clearly fits that model.
“and you do well that you heed it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (v. 19b). Peter tells these Christians that they will do well to heed scripture—prophetic scripture—scriptures that speak of the Day of the Lord. They will do well to heed them, because scriptures are as like a lamp shining in a dark place. They illuminate—reveal hazards—make it possible to walk without stumbling.
Both Old and New Testaments speak of scripture as a light or a lamp. The Psalmist says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105; see also Proverbs 6:23; 13:9). When Peter speaks of the prophetic writings as “a lamp shining in a dark place,” he is using a familiar scriptural metaphor.
“until the day dawns” (v. 19c). Once the day dawns, a lamp is no longer necessary. Once Christ comes again, scripture will no longer be required.
“and the morning star arises in your hearts” (v. 19d). Most scholars see this as an allusion to Numbers 24:17—”A star will come out of Jacob.” Jewish people understood that verse to be a messianic prophecy. Now Peter says that Jesus is that star.
The morning star is Venus, the brightest light (other than the moon) in the night sky. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “I am the root and the offspring of David; the Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16).
Peter uses the morning star as another metaphor similar to the lamp and the dawning of the new day. Once Christ has fully illuminated these Christians’ hearts, they will no longer be dependent on the prophetic word—the words of scripture.
“knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation” (Greek: idios propheteia) (v. 20). Peter’s opponents have interpreted the scriptures to fit their own understanding. They deny the reality of Christ’s Second Coming. Peter challenges the whole idea of private interpretation. No interpretation is reliable unless it comes as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, these false prophets are denying the reality of Christ’s Second Coming, so they are in conflict with the authoritative apostolic teaching that Christ will come again. Peter warns that the result of their false prophecies will be the destruction of the false prophets (3:16).
The danger of this kind of false interpretation is still with us. We are always tempted to determine what we believe and then to twist scripture to fit our beliefs.
“For no prophecy ever came by the will of man” (v. 21a). Just as no interpretation of prophecy is reliable unless given by the Holy Spirit, so also the promulgation of prophecy is unreliable when it comes “by the will of man.” Only God-given, Holy Spirit-inspired prophecy is dependable.
“but holy men of God spoke, being moved (Greek: phero) by the Holy Spirit” (v. 21b). The word phero means “to bring” or “to carry.” When it is used in the passive voice, as it is here, it means “to be moved or carried along.” Peter’s point is that valid prophecy isn’t something that humans invent. It is only as they are carried along by the Holy Spirit that they can promulgate valid prophecy.
This little book is only three chapters in length. Peter devotes the entire second chapter to talking harshly about the damage that false prophets do and the punishments that will be meted out to them.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan