February 19, 2023
2 Peter 1:16-21
Many of you know that one of my favorite things to do is hunting. Strange though it may sound, one of my favorite parts of the hunting experience is “walking in” in the dark. I try to leave the house about an hour and a half before sunrise. I use a red light headlamp to avoid spooking anything nearby. This one is pretty bright, as far as red lights go, but I can still only see ten, maybe 20 feet. If I’m on a hard path to follow, I often go out before the season and put “trail markers,” little reflective tacks along the way. When I get to my spot, I’ll climb up into a tree and settle in to wait for daylight. And that’s an interesting experience, too. Slowly, bit by bit, you can see a little more. Ten feet. Twenty feet. Thirty feet. Until finally, the sun rises above the horizon and you can see everything. Including, hopefully, some deer. I never thought about any real spiritual significance to that experience until I reflected on this passage.
2 Peter is the last words of one of the key leaders in the early Church for several decades. Peter is one of the last people alive who knew Jesus “in person,” one of the last to see Jesus’ ministry with his own eyes.
In these last words, he encourages the Church to stand firm and remember what he has taught them. He was not “making up clever stories.” The Greek word here is “MYTHOS,” myths. It’s a word used to describe fanciful tales with no basis in reality. Think of the “Greek myths” that many of us learned about in school: Prometheus, Icarus, the Minotaur, Pandora’s Box, the Medusa, Sisyphus, and so on. Peter says, “No, we are talking about things we saw with our own eyes.” And one of those things was the Transfiguration, Jesus’ power and glory revealed on the mountain.
Peter calls Jesus Lord. One of the earliest Christian confessions is simply, “Jesus is Lord.” It’s simple but profound. First century Jewish people used the word Lord for God because they did not speak the divine name, Yahweh. To say Jesus is Lord is to say that he is divine; he is God.
The Transfiguration is meant to be a foretaste of the last great promise of God: Christ will return on the Day of the Lord, and he will usher in the New Creation. That is not a myth. But even in the first century, there were some who suggested it was. And certainly today there are many who say that very thing. But we are encouraged to live in the light of God’s revelation until the Day dawns.
Morning was used as a picture of the Day of the Lord at least as far back as the prophet Malachi. Peter says, “Pay attention to the words of the prophets (that is, the words of Scripture), as they are light in the darkness until the Day dawns and the Morning Star appears.”
Morning star here is a picture of Jesus. The Morning Star, of course, is the planet Venus, which is seen in the morning sky just before the Sun rises. Well, it’s seen just before sunrise when it’s on that side of the Sun from our perspective. When it’s on the other side of the Sun, then Venus is the Evening Star. Just as the Morning Star is the herald of a new day, so Jesus is the herald of a new age. His first coming and his Transfiguration are a sign of the Day that is to come. Just as the Morning Star gives us assurance that sunrise is coming, so Jesus’ first coming is an assurance that his second is also coming.
And though the Day is not here yet, we have God’s Word, the Scriptures, as a “little light” until the true light comes. We may not see everything yet, but we are not blind as we walk this path.
“The Holy Spirit moved the prophets to speak from God.” This happened in numerous ways that we can see when we read about the prophets of the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes they just heard directly from God. Other times they experienced a sign, dream, or vision, which was interpreted by the Holy Spirit.
When we say the prophets were inspired, we don’t mean that the writers of Scripture were rendered meaningless. Their individuality is still there. We can tell differences between the letters of Paul and the letters of John or the letters of Peter, for example. At least in most cases. There are some examples of “ecstatic utterances,” people speaking completely under the control of the Spirit.
Because Scripture is inspired, then we can say some other things about it:
Scripture is necessary. We need revelation from God in order to know God. We can’t apprehend God on our own. Our sinful minds would not find him. We would just make idols, gods in our own image. God must reveal himself for us to know him. And he has in Scripture and in his Son Jesus Christ.
Second, Scripture is sufficient. It teaches us what we need to know in order to know God. Does Scripture teach us everything we might WANT to know? No, it doesn’t. But it does teach us what we NEED to know to have relationship with God and do his will.
Third, Scripture is authoritative. God’s Word is the foundation of our understanding of God. It is our highest authority, the one against which we hold up all other thoughts.
And Scripture is infallible. If we read God’s word humbly, and if we depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we read it, then it will not fail to lead us to the truth. That’s the meaning of the word infallible, it does not fail in its appointed task.
Let’s talk for a minute about the other “I” word: Inerrancy. Some people say the Bible is inerrant, meaning it contains no errors at all, not just in matters of faith, but also in matters of history, science, mathematics, and so on. So, for example, those who believe in inerrancy typically say that God created the world in seven literal, 24 hour long days. Because there can’t be any errors. Those can’t be “symbolic” days or anything like that. Is the Bible inerrant?
I would not say that it is. It’s not a hill I’m going to die on, but that’s where I have come down on the question, at this time. I think the Scriptures are meant to lead us to God, not to answer questions on every other subject.
But I think there’s one more thing to say about Scripture here. In verse 20, many translators think that what Peter is saying is, “No prophecy in Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” In other words, we should not rely on private interpretation of God’s Word. Interpretation is done with the help of the Holy Spirit and with the Church, the community of faith. The early Church Father, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in North Africa said, “No one can have God for a Father who does not also have the Church for a mother.”
Scripture should be interpreted by the community of faith. We call the collected interpretation of Scripture by the Church down through the centuries tradition. And tradition is essential to understanding Scripture. When we seek to understand Scripture, our most important resources are what God’s Spirit says and what Christians have understood it to mean for centuries. When we read the Bible, we should do so prayerfully, leaning on the Spirit. And we should read what others have understood it to mean. When I prepare for a sermon, prayer and reading about what others have said on a text are the two most important tools in my box. Because if a text means something different to you than it has meant to Christians over the last 2000 years, it is very likely that YOU are wrong, not everyone else!
God’s promises are true. And we should stand on them. We may not see the whole picture yet, but we are not blind. We have light to guide us on the right path.