I remember the first time I sprained my ankle playing basketball. I had been free of injury and flying high until it happened. Initially the pain of a first ankle sprain was excruciating. But what was worse was the aftereffect. Not knowing what I was supposed to do, I tried to put weight on it, only to feel even worse pain. Without my feet under me I was left with a feeling of uncertainty.
In a similar way, without a foundation for our faith we will have nothing more than uncertainty. And the Scriptures are that foundation. Not only do we find in Scripture beautiful literature and glorious descriptions of God, but also we find them to be the foundation that gives our faith, hope, and love certainty in this life. You need to know why you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God to the world, as I showed in our last article; you need to know why they are authoritative for doctrine and living.
To demonstrate how the biblical authors themselves saw their message and writings as the foundation for certainty, I’d like to explore 2 Peter 1:16–21 with you. In these verses we learn this fact: The most certain thing we have in this life is the Word of God. This is in direct contradiction to the claim of Pope Paul VI, who decreed at the Second Vatican Council in 1965:
. . . it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.1
Note the context of 2 Peter 1 that leads to the conclusion that Scripture alone is our foundation. Peter opens by saying that God’s power has granted to us all we need for life and godliness (v. 3). He has granted what we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, who calls us to His own glory and excellence (v. 3). By this glory and excellence He grants to us His precious and very great promises (v. 4). Through these promises we become partakers of God’s divine nature (v. 4), which means becoming creaturely partakers of the Creator’s holiness. We see this as Peter goes on to say that we have escaped from the corruption of the world (v. 4). This is why he exhorts us to all the godly virtues (vv. 5–9), saying if we do not grow in them, we have forgotten that we were cleansed from our former sins (v. 9). And this is why we must make our calling and election sure (vv. 10–11). Verses 12–15 bring this all to a summary: as his time on earth draws to a close, Peter says he writes to give the assurance that we have received the truth. Second Peter 1:3–15, then, is Peter’s final assurance that those who read his final letter have been established in the truth of God’s precious and great promises. He then goes on prove that having been established in the truth, we can be certain of God’s promised truth (vv. 16–21).
The Certainty of Peter’s Eyewitness
Peter first describes the certainty of his eyewitness to Jesus Christ: “For 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” (v. 16). The certainty that he can offer is the certainty of one who lived with Jesus for the three years of His public ministry. Peter was chosen by Jesus. Peter walked with Jesus. Peter ate with Jesus. Peter heard Jesus teach as one with authority. Peter was there for Jesus’ astonishing signs and wonders. Peter was there when Jesus was betrayed. Peter sadly was there denying the Lord even as the Lord was on trial. Peter saw the Lord risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15). Peter saw the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. Peter ate with the Lord after the resurrection. Peter was taught by Jesus for forty days before the ascension. In verse 16, Peter particularly points out that he was there at the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus’ glory was revealed and Moses and Elijah appeared (Matt. 17): “he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory” (v. 17a).
Peter could not have been any more certain for himself that he was not following “cleverly devised myths” but was established in the truth of God’s precious and great promises because he saw the “majesty” of Jesus Christ revealed before his very eyes. And he wants us to have that same assurance.
The Certainty of Peter’s Ear Witness
We don’t doubt that those who saw Julius Caesar or George Washington and then wrote down what they saw were telling the truth. But Peter goes on to write of another source of his certainty: his ear witness. He not only saw Jesus from a distance but also heard Him as a close friend. And not only did he see Jesus transfigured in glory, but also he heard the voice of God the Father from heaven, testifying about the truth of who Jesus was: “‘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” (vv. 17b–18). Peter’s fellow disciple, John, described the firsthand knowledge of Jesus in similar terms: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1).
Peter heard God. He heard a distinct voice. He heard distinct words. He heard a distinct testimony about the Jesus he was following, listening to, and believing in. And he wanted his hearers—us—to know this certain sound of the voice of our heavenly Father.
The Supracertainty of the Prophets’ Fulfilled Witness
The objection to this could obviously be, “But that’s what Peter experienced or thought he experienced.” And if that was all there was, we would be left uncertain and wondering how we could distinguish Peter’s experience from Siddhartha Gautama’s (the Buddha), Muhammad’s, or Joseph Smith’s. Why should I trust what Peter experienced?
And so Peter adds a climactic reason for certainty that is not subjective but objective. After all that Peter says so certainly about his certain experience and peculiar experience as an apostle, there was something “more sure” (v. 19) that gives us total confidence that we have been established in the truth of God’s promises: the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets.
This term, “more fully confirmed” or “more sure” (bebaioteron), is vivid. The New International Version and the New American Standard Bible translate it as “made more sure,” but “made” is not in the Greek text. The point Peter is making is that the Old Testament Scriptures are more certain, more sure; they are not made so.2 This word is used in several places in the New Testament. In Hebrews 6:19 it is used of an anchor for our souls. In 2 Corinthians 1:7 it is used of our hope. In Romans 4:16 it is used of the promise to Abraham that he was justified by faith. In Hebrews 3:6 and Hebrews 3:14 it is used of our confidence. And here in 2 Peter 1:10 it is used of making our calling and election sure.
Notice what Peter is saying. The prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament that pointed forward to Jesus Christ hundreds and thousands of years before His birth are more certain than the “cleverly devised myths,” Peter’s apostolic eyewitness, and even the testimony of God Himself on the Mount of Transfiguration. What Peter is saying is that in comparison with the prophetic word in the Old Testament as it was promised, we now have the total certainty and confidence that those prophecies have been fulfilled in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me give an example of the narrative of how these promises have come true in Jesus Christ. In the midst of humanity’s sin and the Lord’s pronounced curse, the Lord promised the advent of a coming Savior who would be born of woman and would crush the head of the serpent who introduced sin and death (Gen. 3:8–15). Then, after subsequent generations the Lord was then pleased to choose one of Shem’s descendants—Abram—through whom to bring this one promised seed of the woman, who would bless the families of the all the peoples on the face of the earth (Gen. 22:15–18). Hundreds of years later a promise was given that this son would be born of a virgin and called Immanuel, “God with us” (Isa. 7:10–14). The offspring of Eve, of Sarah, and of the virgin would be a king (Isa. 9:2–7). This promised king would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2–5a). And the list goes on and on!
We have “something more sure”—the prophetic word in its fulfillment and confirmation. This is why Martin Luther said of this passage: “A prophet eminently should be he who preaches Jesus Christ. Therefore, although many prophets in the Old Testament have foretold things to come, yet they came and were sent by God for this reason especially: that they should foretell of Christ.”3
What is said of the prophets in particular is true of the Word of God in general, as a part of the whole. The Old Testament prophesied the coming of the Lord, and the New Testament is the chronicle of the coming of the Lord. This is why one writer said, “The written Word, believed to be the Lord’s mind, is the surest ground for faith to rest upon of any that ever has been or can be given to sinners who are subject to forgetfulness, jealousies and mistakes.”4
What certainty! What confidence! What assurance we have that God has spoken! God has spoken in the prophecies, poems, and epistles of our Old and New Testaments. Put this in the context of the aforementioned quote from the Roman pope. Rome says that Peter was the first pope. And popes have said Scripture plus tradition are equal sources of authority for believers. If so, why does Peter say that the Scriptures are the surest foundation that we have been established in the truth? Why does he not say we should believe his personal eyewitness to Jesus’ transfiguration is all that is needed? Why does he not say his word as pope is all that we need?
Because of certainty of the Word taught here, Peter tells us to “pay attention” to these words “as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (v. 19). For how long? Until the coming of Jesus Christ again: “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (v. 19). As John Calvin said, “All are immersed in darkness who do not look to the light of the Word. Therefore unless you want to cast yourself of your own accord into a labyrinth, you must take the utmost care not to deviate even a hair’s breadth from the direction of the Word.”5
Are you feeling confident as a believer at this moment? There is obviously a lot of uncertainty politically, morally, economically, and in every other way in the world. Yet in the midst of it all we can know for certain that God has spoken. And the Word He has spoken through prophets and apostles is sure. Since this Word is sure, your faith should and must continue to be sure.
1. Dei Verbum, 2.9, found at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html.
2. See Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 269.
3. Martin Luther, Commentary on Peter and Jude, ed. John N. Lenker (1904; repr., Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1990), 247.
4. Alexander Nisbet, 1 and 2 Peter (1982; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1995), 239.
5. John Calvin, Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St Peter, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 12:342.
Rev. Daniel Hyde
is the pastor of the Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad/Oceanside, CA.