The Psychology of Scripture: A Brief Study of the Organic Thought-Pattern of 2 Peter

One cannot study the book of Second Peter without also encountering the book of Jude. A reading of 2 Peter 2 and the book of Jude seems to be an exercise in redundancy. Biblical scholars seek to determine who stole from whom. This endeavor is somewhat surprising since such scholars, on the whole, think that neither Peter nor Jude is responsible for the books that bear their names. In any event, most suppose that 2 Peter borrowed from Jude. On a rational level, this makes sense. Logically, it seems more likely that 2 Peter would be built upon the material of Jude than that Jude would be written independently after 2 Peter. After all, we know Jude wished to write about the subject of salvation (Jude 3); if Jude knew of 2 Peter’s existence it seems he could have just gone ahead and written about the subject on his heart and added at the end, a la Paul in Col. 4:16, an instruction to read 2 Peter.

In spite of this, there is good reason to believe that 2 Peter was written independently of Jude. Beyond the fact that 2 Peter 2 and Jude are not as similar as they initially seem[1]; an  intertextual reading of 2 Peter reveals the thought patterns of the author and the organic unity of his book.

The epistle of 2 Peter was occasioned by an influx of false teachers who denied the trustworthiness of the promise of the Lord’s return. While this only becomes transparent in chapter 3, Peter steadily builds his case throughout the letter. Christians are diligent to live a life of holiness because of the promise of a “richly provided…entrance into the eternal kingdom” of the Lord (1:11). The promise of this kingdom is not a “cleverly devised” myth, but was vouchsafed by the Transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain (1:16-18). The “prophetic word” is to be given attention, therefore, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (1:19).

This dawning day and rising star is taken to be a reference to the second coming of Christ. Peter comes by this vivid imagery the sunrise and morning star honestly. The prophet Malachi (4:1-2) warned that the Day of the Lord was coming “burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.” But that for those who feared the Lord, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” In anticipation of the birth of Jesus, this prophecy of Malachi was explicitly referenced by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:76-78). At his birth, Jesus’ appearance was known through “his star” (Matt. 2:2). Even now, believers are able to walk in wisdom because of the light of Christ shining on them (Eph. 5:14ff). In Revelation 2:28 Jesus himself uses the imagery when He promises to give the one who conquers, “the morning star.” At the conclusion of the book Jesus makes the identity of this morning star clear, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

But the first use of this imagery is found all the way back in Numbers 24:17: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” This comes from Balaam’s fourth and final oracle. This seemingly passing allusion to the account of Balaam actually sets the agenda for the rest of 2 Peter.

Immediately following the echoing of Balaam’s words Peter addresses the source, or origin, of Scripture: “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). According to Peter, no man sat down and thought to himself, “I think I will write some Scripture today.” Man does not have God’s word because man decided to write it. Man has God’s word because God decided to give it.

Is there any clearer example of this in Scripture than the Balaam episode? Here was a man who was being offered the riches of a kingdom to pronounce a curse on Israel yet he could only announce blessing. Balaam himself recognized the futility of trying to put words into God’s mouth. The constant refrain in Numbers 22-24 is that a prophet can only speak what God puts in his mouth (Num 22:18,20,35,38; 23:3,8,12,20,26; 24:13). And just in case the point is missed, God demonstrates that he does not even need a man to give His word: if he so chooses He can use a donkey (Num. 22:28-30).

If all we knew of Balaam came from Numbers 22-24 we would have to view him as true prophet of the Lord. Balaam is a perfect example of Peter’s statement about the origin of Scripture: it comes from God not man. But Balaam was not all he appeared to be. Following the glorious predictions of Israel’s blessed future because of the coming Messiah, the people fall into idolatry and sexual immorality. This wickedness led to the death of 24,000 Israelites (Num. 25). It is only later that we discover that immorality and idolatry of Numbers 25 occurred because of the counsel of Balaam (Num. 31:15-16).

Balaam appeared to be a true prophet of the Lord, only speaking what the Lord commanded him. Yet he could not hide his true nature: Balaam had a heart of greed and immorality. It is therefore not surprising to see Peter turn to the subject of false prophets.

False prophets deny the Master who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1): just like Balaam said he could only bless the people the Lord blessed and then instructed how that blessing could be thwarted. False prophets use sensuality to blaspheme the way of truth (2:2): just like Balaam taught the Moabites to lead the Israelites away from God though sexual immorality. False prophets are motivated by greed (2:3): just like Balaam who could not turn down the riches offered to him.

Peter then launches into an extended recounting of Old Testament examples of God judging the apostate (2:4-14). The culminating example of God’s condemnation, and the template of all false teachers to follow, is Balaam: “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing” (2:15).

Finally, in 2 Peter 3:4, we discover that the substance of the false teaching was a denial of the Lord’s coming. Not only was this the substance of their teaching, it was the reason for their immorality. In this we see the close connection between theology and morality. If Christ is not returning to judge all unrighteousness why not eat drink and be merry? False teachers ignore God’s working in the past and deny his working in the future (3:5-7). There is therefore no reason to live a life of holiness and godliness (3:11).

At the root of it all, this was the cause of Balaam’s sin. What else could be behind a man who in one breath could proclaim the coming of a king who would crush the heads of Moab and then advise Moab on how to undo God’s people? Balaam obviously did not believe the word he had just spoken. Balaam could not wait for God’s promise, but needed immediate gratification. In this, he set the example for false teachers to this day (3:11-13).

Peter was not a lazy copier or sloppy incorporator of the letter from Jude. Peter had thought long and hard about the account of Balaam. Peter had meditated on what really went wrong with Balaam. Peter saw that the Balaam incident was not an isolated event, but a pattern for all future apostasy. From beginning to end, 2 Peter demonstrates the mind of an author who had carefully pondered the Old Testament Scriptures and was able to apply those Scriptures to the life of the church. In many ways, 2 Peter is an apostolic sermon on Numbers 22-24. Peter did not need to borrow from Jude: he had a mind saturated with Scripture.


[1] See the concise summary in Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1983), 53-54.

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Studies in 2 Peter: 2 Peter 1:5-11 John Calvin models bad interpretation of Scripture

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-11

 

After outlining the riches of God’s gracious gifts to his children in 1:1-4, Peter transitions naturally to our response to those gifts. God has given us faith, everything we need for life and godliness, and precious and very great promises. What are believers to do in return?

John Calvin comments,

…[Scripture] plainly testifies, that right feelings are formed in us by God, and are rendered by him effectual. It testifies also that all our progress and perseverance are from God. Besides it expressly declares that wisdom, love, patience, are the gifts of God and the Spirit. When, therefore, the Apostle requires these things, he by no means asserts that they are in our power, but only shows what we ought to have, and what ought to be done.

In so commenting, Calvin demonstrates the ever-present danger of letting one’s theology control interpretation of Scripture rather than allowing Scripture inform one’s theology. There are several problems with Calvin’s interpretation.

If Calvin is to be believed here, we should wait for God to make us feel like obeying before we obey. This, in fact, is how many Christians live and it is backwards from the Scriptural teaching. In Genesis 3, God asked Cain why he was so angry and then told him that if he did right then right emotions would follow. God did not tell Cain to feel like obeying, and then obey. He told Cain to obey and then he would feel right. God does form right feeling in us, but he does it after we obey not before.

Secondly, Calvin seems to ignore the repeated and clear emphasis of Peter that this is something God’s people are to do. They are to “make every effort;” to be “all the more diligent;” and to “practice these things.” Peter gives no indication that God’s people are to pray that God would simply grant these things as he had the gifts listed in verses 1-4. This is, in fact, the precise opposite of Peter’s instruction. Christians are not to respond to gifts of God’s grace like a Pippen asking for more. Peter is fighting against La-Z-Boy Christians. Calvin is fluffing the cushion.

Thirdly, Calvin ends on an utterly hopeless note: “he by no means asserts that they are in our power, but only shows what we ought to have, and what ought to be done.” What a soul-devastating word! God knows you can’t do it, but this is what he expects from you. God has become something like Michelangelo telling a five year old to paint the Sistine Chapel. God has become a peddler of impossibilities.

Thankfully, for as wrong as Calvin is here, he is too good of an interpreter to completely blow it. In his comments on verse 8, Calvin writes, “But he would not have the faithful to be only taught patience, godliness, temperance, love; but he requires a continual progress to be made as to these endowments, and that justly, for we are as yet far off from the goal. We ought, therefore, always to make advances, so that God’s gifts may continually increase in us.”

There is a tension in reading Scripture. Scripture is one, it is unified, and it does not disagree with itself. But sometimes it might disagree with us. We must not allow what we think we know from some places in Scripture to neuter what other places in Scripture. Just because we know Jesus is God, we cannot discount those passages that teach his limitations as a man (hunger, thirst, weariness, death). In a similar fashion, though we joyfully acknowledge God’s complete control over all things, we cannot ignore the passages that teach man has something to do.

Studies in 2 Peter: 2 Peter 1:1-4 The Gracious Gifts of God

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:1-4 ESV)

Peter begins his second epistle at the best place to begin: with God. In these four introductory verses, Peter focuses our attention on the gracious nature of our giving God. As we enter into the study of this letter we are to concentrate on three foundational gifts of God.

First, we have obtained faith by the righteousness of Jesus Christ who is God and Savior.[1] Believers have been given faith- it is not something they worked up from within themselves (Eph. 2:8-9). They did not obtain faith through their own efforts or strength, but through God’s favor alone (Calvin). This faith has fallen to believers by the righteousness of Christ who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).

Secondly, believers are given everything they need for life and godliness. Believers have not just been given new life, but are given everything they need to sustain this new life. Often this verse is used to teach dependence upon Scripture: this is an unfortunate leap.

Knowledge is an important theme in 2 Peter. Already in verse 2 the apostle states that grace and peace are multiplied to us in the knowledge of God and Jesus. In verse 3, we find everything we need for life and godliness in the knowledge of God. Knowledge is to be added to our faith to prevent us from becoming ineffective, unfruitful, nearsighted, and blind (1:5-9). Peter wrote this letter to keep certain things in the mind of believers (1:12, 13, 15). He is not a propagator of myth, but of knowable truth (1:16). Believers must know the true nature of Scripture in order to stand against irrational false teachers who forsake what they once knew to be true (1:20; 2:12, 21). While these false teachers are deliberately ignorant of the judgment of God, believers must not be ignorant of the patience of God (3:5, 8). Knowing the destiny of all creation (3:17) and that God knows how to deliver the righteous (2:9) arms the believer to grow into even greater grace and knowledge of Jesus our Lord and Savior (3:18).

Scripture is obviously an indispensible element in our knowledge of God: Peter teaches as much in 1:19-21. Yet we must be careful to say what the Holy Spirit says and not what we think preaches better. Peter does not say we have been given everything we need for life and godliness in Scripture. Everything we need for life and godliness comes from knowing the one who called us to his own glory and excellence. It is not from knowing data, even inspired and inerrant data, that we find everything we need for life and godliness. We find everything in knowing a person. Eternal life does not come from knowing Scripture, but from knowing God and Christ (John 17:3). Godliness does not come from knowing Scripture, but from knowing Jesus in his death and resurrection (Phil. 3:8-12).

It is all well and good to say that God is not known apart from Scripture. That is true. But when we say everything we need for life and godliness is in Scripture, we can miss knowing the God of Scripture. Biblical faith and biblical knowledge are not primarily intellectual in nature but are primarily personal in nature.

Thirdly, believers have been given precious and very great promises. By “very great” Peter is not speaking of the amount of promises, but their value (cf. NASB “precious and magnificent promises”). The promises Peter explicitly are those centering on God’s promise of the return of Jesus and the renewal of creation (2 Peter 3:4, 9, 13). How is it that through the promises of God we share in his nature and escape the corruption of sin? Peter answers that question in 3:11, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” Living in the light and knowledge of God’s promise to send his Son to punish wickedness and reward righteousness; to destroy that which is corrupted by sin and replace it with that which is perfect; motivates the believer to let go of the things of the world and pursue the things of the new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells (3:13, cf. 2 Cor. 7:1; Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3).

In these four verses Peter outlines how the gifts of God encompass the entirety of a believer’s existence. God has granted us faith- the genesis of eternal life. God has granted us everything for life and godliness- the sustaining of eternal life. God has given us precious and magnificent promises- carrying us through to the enjoyment of eternal life.


[1] It is debated among some whether or not the phrase “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” attributes deity to Jesus. There is nothing textually that indicates Peter might mean anything else. Any refusal to acknowledge that this text calls Jesus “God” is not textually, grammatically, or contextually based: it is prejudicially based. As Charles Bigg comments, “If the author intended to distinguish two persons, he has expressed himself with singular inaccuracy.” 2 Peter 1:1 identifies Jesus as God.

Studies in 2 Peter: Petrine Pairs

We have begun studying the book of 2 Peter on Wednesday nights. A striking feature is Peter’s reliance on doubles.

1:1- The author is Simeon Peter. He is a servant and apostle. By servant he identifies himself with his reader; and by apostle he identifies himself with his Lord: Jesus Christ. This Jesus Christ is both God and Savior.

1:2- Grace and Peace are multiplied to all believers through knowing God and Jesus.

1:3- In this knowledge we have everything we need for life and godliness because of the glory and excellence of the one who called us.

1:4- In his glory and excellence he has given to us precious and very great promises.

1:8- The supplementing of our faith prevents us from being ineffective or unfruitful.

1:10- By doing these things we make our calling and election sure.

1:16- Continuance in the faith is motivated by the hope of the power and coming of the Lord.

1:17- This Jesus is not a mere myth, but received honor and glory from God the Father who spoke by the Majestic Glory proclaiming Jesus to be his beloved Son.

1:19- The prophetic word is lamp to be headed until the day dawns and the morning star rises.

2:1- We must heed the Scriptures because there will be false prophets and false teachers.

2:3- They are under divine decrees of condemnation and destruction.

2:10- These false teachers delight in defiling passion and despising authority. They are bold and willful.

2:11- Angels, though greater in might and power, are not so bold.

2:12- False teachers are irrational animals, creatures of instinct. There only purpose for being is to be caught and destroyed.

2:13- They are blots and blemishes.

2:14- Their eyes and hearts are full of sin.

2:17- They are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm.

2:22- They are dogs and pigs.

3:2- The safeguard against such false teachers is to remember the predictions and commandments of the holy prophets and apostles which they gave through the Lord and Savior.

 3:7- We are to remember that the same word that created and judged the heaven and earth by water is being preserved until the day of judgment and destruction by fire.

 3:10- By this fire the earth will be burned up and dissolved exposing both the earth and the works done on it.

3:11- Considering the fate of this earth, holiness and godliness should characterize our life.

3:12- We are waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. On this great day the heavens and heavenly bodies will be set on fire and dissolved.

3:14- As we wait for this day we should seek to be without spot or blemish and to be at peace.

3:16- The ignorant and unstable twist the Scriptures.

3:18- But believers grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ who is Lord and Savior. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

 

Did Early Church Fathers Believe in a Literal Six Day Creation?

It is noted by some that the early church included nothing about the nature of the days of creation in any of her early creeds. This is interpreted to mean that there was no established teaching and that latitude was given to different interpretations. This attitude is based on a deficient recognition of the nature and genesis of the church’s creeds. The earliest creeds were meant as outlines of the faith and their specificity was directly tied to doctrines under attack. The Creed of Nicaea says little about the Father and the Spirit, but much about the Son. Why? Because heretics were attacking the truth about Jesus. The creeds do not mention the nature of the days of creation. Why? Because the issue was never under dispute.

This is not to say that there was necessarily absolute unanimity in the church about the time of creation. It is only to say that a lack of inclusion in creedal statements is more likely to indicate lack of dispute than license to believe multiple things.

Did the early church consider the 6 days of Genesis 1-2 literally or in some figurative/spiritual/allegorical way? Consider the following statements:

 The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: “And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.” Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.” This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifies, saying, “Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years” (Psa. 90:4; 2Pe. 3:8). Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. “And He rested on the seventh day.” This means: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day. (Epistle of Barnabas, II.15)

 For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: “Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works” (Gen. 2:2). This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years (2 Pe. 3:8); and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.28.3)

But that we may not leave our subject at this point undemonstrated, we are obliged to discuss the matter of the times, of which a man should not speak hastily, because they are a light to him. For as the times are noted from the foundation of the world, and reckoned from Adam, they set clearly before us the matter with which our inquiry deals. For the first appearance of our Lord in the flesh took place in Bethlehem, under Augustus, in the year 5500; and He suffered in the thirty-third year. And 6,000 years must be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day “on which God rested from all His works.” For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they “shall reign with Christ,” when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years” (Psa. 90:4). Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled. And they are not yet fulfilled, as John says: “five are fallen; one is,” that is, the sixth; “the other is not yet come” (Rev. 17:10). (Hippolytus, Exegetical Fragments on Daniel, II.4)

 For since in six days God made the heaven and the earth, and finished the whole world, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He had made, and blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (Gen. 2:1), so by a figure in the seventh month, when the fruits of the earth have been gathered in, we are commanded to keep the feast to the Lord, which signifies that, when this world shall be terminated at the seventh thousand years, when God shall have completed the world, He shall rejoice in us (Psa. 104:31). (Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, IV.9)

 Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six thousandth year is not yet completed, and that when this number is completed the consummation must take place, and the condition of human affairs be remodeled for the better, the proof of which must first be related, that the matter itself may be plain. God completed the world and this admirable work of nature in the space of six days, as is contained in the secrets of Holy Scripture, and consecrated the seventh day, on which He had rested from His works. But this is the Sabbath-day, which in the language of the Hebrews received its name from the number, whence the seventh is the legitimate and complete number. For there are seven days, by the revolutions of which in order the circles of years are made up; and there are seven stars which do not set, and seven luminaries which are called planets,whose differing and unequal movements are believed to cause the varieties of circumstances and times. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, VII.14)

 To me, as I meditate and consider in my mind concerning the creation of this world in which we are kept enclosed, even such is the rapidity of that creation; as is contained in the book of Moses, which he wrote about its creation, and which is called Genesis. God produced that entire mass for the adornment of His majesty in six days; on the seventh to which He consecrated it . . . with a blessing. For this reason, therefore, because in the septenary number of days both heavenly and earthly things are ordered, in place of the beginning I will consider of this seventh day after the principle of all matters pertaining to the number of seven; and as far as I shall be able, I will endeavor to portray the day of the divine power to that consummation. . . . And in Matthew we read, that it is written Isaiah also and the rest of his colleagues broke the Sabbath (Mat. 12:5) – that that true and just Sabbath should be observed in the seventh millenary of years. Wherefore to those seven days the Lord attributed to each a thousand years; for thus went the warning: “In Thine eyes, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day” (Psa. 90:4). Therefore in the eyes of the Lord each thousand of years is ordained, for I find that the Lord’s eyes are seven (Zec. 4:10). Wherefore, as I have narrated, that true Sabbath will be in the seventh millenary of years, when Christ with His elect shall reign. Moreover, the seven heavens agree with those days; for thus we are warned: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the powers of them by the spirit of His mouth. (Victorinus, On the Creation of the World)

 Each of these men believed the world was created in six days. “Days” meaning what it means pretty much everywhere except, according to some, in Genesis chapters one and two: 24 hours. You say, “But wait a minute! All of those guys said the history of the world would be 6,000 years. What kind of exegesis is that!?!”

Indeed, I could provide quotations that do not use such disputable interpretive techniques. But the above quotations only strengthen the assertion that the church understood the days of Genesis 1-2 literally: as six, consecutive, 24-hour periods. Their interpretation was so literal that it carried over to their interpretation of Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. In the minds of the fathers, Peter is not just waxing poetically on the long-suffering patience of God but is giving a literal time-table for the Lord’s return. The foundation for such an expectation was a literal interpretation of the creation days of Genesis 1-2.

Whether or not the fathers were right in their interpretation of 2 Peter 3:8, they were united in their understanding of Genesis 1-2. The first seven days were just like all those that followed them: 24 hours.

2 Peter 1:16 The Coming of Jesus

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. 2 Peter 1:16

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, there are several interpretive disputes in 2 Peter 1:16-21. The first of these is what coming of Jesus Peter is talking about in verse 16 with the phrase, “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some commentators believe Peter is speaking of his first coming- the incarnation, life and ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Most, however, see “coming” as a reference to Jesus’ Second Coming. There are multiple reasons to accept the latter interpretation.

VOCABULARY
First, the word Peter uses for coming is parousia. When this word is used in reference to Jesus it is only used to refer to his Second Coming (Matt. 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:9; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8; James 5:7-8, 2 Peter 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28). The New Testament never uses this term to refer to the first coming of Jesus. That Peter himself uses the term twice in chapter 3 leads to the next observation…

CONTEXT
This verse is both preceded and followed with passages that focus on the return of Christ. Take out the personal aside in 1:12-15, Peter mentions the coming of Jesus immediately after speaking of “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11). The letter seems to be a response to the threat of false teachers, and the only real indication of the substance of their false teaching is a denial of the Second Coming (3:1-5). This criticism of the Second Coming even fits best in 1:16…

PLAUSIBILITY
In writing “we did not follow cleverly devised myths,” Peter certainly seems to be interacting with an accusation made by the false teachers. Conservative scholars agree that this book was likely written in the early 60’s A.D. In other words, within 30 years or so of the life of Jesus on earth. In A.D. 60, which coming of Jesus would more easily be associated with “cleverly devised myths”? Considering that in A.D. 60 there were still many people alive who could give first hand recollection of the life and ministry of Jesus, I would not think teaching concerning the first coming of Jesus could be successfully attacked in such a way. Even to this day, there is very little serious objection to the historical existence of Jesus. It seems far more plausible to me that false teachers could charge the doctrine of the Second Coming as being clever myth. After all, no evidence could be supplied for it; or, certainly not the kind of evidence that could be mustered for the first coming of Jesus. Or could it…

THEOLOGY
What was the significance of the Transfiguration? It is commonly noted that each of the Synoptic gospels describe the Transfiguration immediately after Jesus concludes teaching about his coming again in glory with the statement “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28; cf. Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). This poses quite a quandary for conservative commentators on Scripture. How could this statement in any way be true since all of those standing with Jesus have died, yet he has still not returned? Matthew, Mark, and Luke answer that question by immediately transitioning to their accounts of the Transfiguration. As one commentator notes, “The transfiguration scene is not a theophany to, nor an epiphany of, Jesus, but a proleptic vision of the exaltation of Jesus as kingly Son of Man granted to the disciples as eschatological witnesses.” In other words, the Transfiguration was the fulfillment of Jesus’ statement that some of those standing with him would not die until they had seen the kingdom. In the gospels, the Transfiguration is the guarantee of the Second Coming. It is probably less than coincidental that Peter himself follows the same pattern in this letter: from mention of the eternal kingdom in verse 12 to mention of the honor and glory of the Transfiguration.

For these reasons, it is best to see “coming” in 2 Peter 1:16 as a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus.

The Trinity in Scripture: 2 Peter 1:16-21 The Trinity in the Transfiguration and Revelation

Peter only has one reference to the Trinity in his second epistle, but what he lacks is quantity is more than made for in quality.

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. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “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. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21)

Commentators are divided on multiple points in this brief passage. Is “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” a reference to the Christ’s first appearance (incarnation and ministry) or his second appearance (return and reign)? What is more sure—the witness of what the apostles saw (NIV; NKJV; NLT; NASB) or the record of the Old Testament prophets (KJV; ESV)? Is it the origin or the interpretation of Scripture that Peter has in mind in verse 20? Yet in all their wrangling over these issues, I have not read a single commentator bring out the Trinity in this passage.

The ESV—more than any other translation—comes tantalizingly close to bringing out the connection. In verses 17 and 18 Peter speaks of a voice “borne” from heaven to earth at the Transfiguration of Jesus. This voice was of course that of the Father once again declaring his approval of his Son. Other translations simply use some form of “come” or simply leave it out (NLT in verse 18). But Peter did not use one of the common New Testament words for come (paraginomai or erchomai). Peter used the term phero. I believe he did so very intentionally and I believe he did so to highlight the work of the Trinity in revelation.

The use of “borne” in verses 17 is significant because it is unusual. Peter could have simply used a verb indicating speech—“God said.” The use of “borne” in verse 18 is significant because it is unnecessary: as some translations do, Peter could have left out the phrase entirely. But instead Peter twice uses the common term phero—the generic term meaning to bring, carry, move, bear something.

This highlights the strangeness of Peter’s expression. We speak of voices carrying, but never of carrying voices. Who carried the voice of the Father? Why does God’s voice need to be carried? The answer to such questions is revealed in verse 21.

Who carried the voice of the Father to the Son on the mount of transfiguration? The same person who carried the voice of the Father to prophets speaking God’s word: the Holy Spirit. In verse 21 Peter uses the same verb he used in verses 17 and 18—phero. Granted the imagery has changed a bit. In verses 17 and 18 the voice of God is carried while in verse 21 men are carried. But in both cases, the end result is the same. If it is not for the work of the Holy Spirit, man is not able to properly receive the word of God.

If the Holy Spirit had not given Peter, James, and John understanding on the holy mountain, they would not have comprehended the sound (cf. John 12:28-29; Acts 22:29). If the prophets had not been carried, they could not have spoken from God. At the Transfiguration and in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit had one objective: to declare to men the love of the Father for the Son (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12).

The Trinity in Scripture: Acts 3.

I do not see any clear references to the Trinity in Acts 3 by itself. Nevertheless, there is something that is foundational to an orthodox understanding of the Trinity.

And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
Acts 3:17-21

This first half of this chapter recounts the healing of the lame beggar at the gate of the temple. The second half of the chapter is Peter’s address to the astonished crowd. Verses 18 and 21 repeat the same idea with slightly differing terminology: the Old Testament prophets were speaking the words of God. Given the hundreds of times the phrase “the word of the Lord” appears in the Old Testament this is certainly no paradigm altering statement by Peter. It is unlikely faithful Jews would take issue with Peter’s assertion. But consider Peter’s words in each of his epistles:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
1 Peter 1:10-11
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:21

Acts 3 is an important text for Trinitarian studies because it teaches that the Holy Spirit is called God by the New Testament authors. In Acts 3, God moved and spoke through the prophets. In 1 & 2 Peter, the Holy Spirit moved and spoke through the prophets. Did Peter really think this way? Would he specifically call the Holy Spirit God? After all, the events of Acts and the writings of his epistles are separated by thirty years. Yet I do not think this was just a slip of the tongue. For in Acts 5 Peter calls refers to the Holy Spirit as God within the space of 30 seconds—not years (cf. Acts 5:3-4).

Bringing in Peter’s epistles as a cross reference to Acts 3 demonstrates that the apostle considered the Holy Spirit God. The three references also form more support for the co-operation of the Trinity. How exactly did the Old Testament prophets receive their message?

  • God foretold (Acts 3:18)
  • God spoke (Acts 3:21) 
  • Spirit of Christ . . . predicted (1 Peter 1:11)
  • Spoke from God . . . by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21)

The denial of Scripture is a denial of the Trinity. The denial of the Trinity is a denial of Scripture.