The Inspiration of Scripture (1) – Understanding 2 Peter 1:12-2114 min read


            In any conversation about the Bible, one’s presuppositions about inspiration (the God-breathed nature of Scripture) will always come to the fore. Whether it is authority, accuracy, preservation, infallibility or any pivotal aspect of Scripture, the fact of Scripture’s divine origin must and will define our view on every one of them. Scripture is what it is, because it is from God.

An Exposition of 2 Peter 1:12-21

            In the first half of 2 Peter 1, the apostle had focused the believers upon the idea of fruitfulness in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. He reminded the believers that “His Divine power has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (v. 3) and that we have become “partakers of the Divine nature” (v. 4). Such empowered the believers to live fruitfully (v.5-7), as mentioned, on the basis of knowing Christ (v. 8). The believers needed to be reminded of this, because there was the danger of being short-sighted – forgetting their purification from sins, their calling, and their election (v. 9-10). Rather than short-sightedness, there needed to be a focus upon virtuous living and the prospect of an eternal kingdom (v. 11); only by this would there be spiritual consistency.

            The Christian’s Obligation to Doctrine: Remembrance (12-15). Verses 1-11 give us the content of Peter’s “reminder” to the believers, which he brings up in verse 12, “Wherefore I will not be negligent to always remind you of these things, though you know them, and be established in the present truth.” Thus, he begins our section by introducing the Christian’s obligation to doctrine: remembrance. Even though Peter’s audience was established in the truth, there was an ever-present danger of spiritual lethargy when it came to the truth they possessed. The flesh has a habit of undoing progress for God. Thus, doctrine must not only be learned, but it must be maintained. Hence, we have the desire of Peter to stir up the believers by reminding them of what they had. This was his desire even until the end of his life, in hope that after his death there would still be consistency in doctrine and practice, based on the believers’ recollection of truth.

            Doctrine, while in some aspects it must be constantly learned, is an unchanging body of truth which must be held and passed down in its entirety generation to generation. Thus, Biblical truth is not simply about learning, but about guarding and enjoying. It is the world that needs “some new thing” (Acts 17) to entertain its mental aspirations. The Christian is a different kind of person altogether. He delights in what he already knows. He remembers what he already has learned. While it is foreign to the mind of man to have a consistent body of doctrine, this is the foundation of Christianity.

            The Historical Grounding of Doctrine (16-18). Having emphasized the need to accurately recall doctrine, Peter continues by affirming that doctrine is rooted in historical reality. Rather than doctrine being a mere collection of ideas rooted in human intuition, it is teaching rooted in reality. This lent weight to the unbending establishment in the truth which Peter so passionately wished on his readers.

            Thus, to root his teaching on Christ’s power and coming, he expands on his experience of seeing a preview of Christ’s Kingdom glory, commonly known as the Transfiguration. What he relayed to the believers is exactly what he saw, nothing less. Yet, rather than expand on what he saw, he focused on what he heard, probably to emphasize the oral aspect of God’s revelation as he led up to his great statement on Biblical inspiration. What did he hear exactly? He heard testimony to Christ’s honour and glory given by the Father in that moment. God declared without hesitancy: “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased!” Peter’s recollection is associated with a specific memory (“we heard”) with specific details (what God said and where He said it from), a specific location (“in the holy mount”), and a specific companion (“with Him”). Peter’s doctrine was rooted in historical reality that had no lack of clarity.

            This passage is vital in understanding why Christians must so veraciously cling to doctrine. It is not merely because they want to. It is not merely because it is an attractive body of ideas. Christians hold to doctrine, because it is real! Human’s don’t own truth; truth is outside of us, something objective. Thus, when doctrine is tied to history, it ceases to be an idea; rather it is reality. J. Gresham Machen’s words are worth repeating: “’Christ died’ – that is history. ‘Christ died for our sins’ – that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.”[1] He said earlier, “…the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words, it was based upon doctrine.” Rejoice, dear Christian, that our doctrine is not merely a set of ideas: our doctrine is reality seen through divine lenses. We can be confident: “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.”

            The Christian’s Basis of Doctrine: The God-Given Prophetic Word (19-21). After establishing his teaching in a historical eyewitness account, he says something staggering: “We have also the prophetic word made more sure.” In other words: yes, the believers were to remember doctrine faithfully, yes they were to appreciate that doctrine is rooted in reality, and yet they needed something surer than an eyewitness account. They needed the God Whose voice Peter heard to speak to them. Thus, the “prophetic word,” or the Word of God given by means of prophecy, held far more weight in validating truth than even an eyewitness account. Peter actually believed that God was speaking, and if God was truly speaking, then His word held infinitely more weight than Peter’s as a mere eyewitness. So then, we have verse 19 presenting Scripture as the Christian’s sufficient source of confidence:

  1. The Supremacy of Scripture. We have already seen this in the phrase “a prophetic word made more sure.” If Christianity really believed the Bible to be God’s Word, surely doctrine would be approached differently. If the Bible is God’s Word, it is all true, it is all authoritative, and it is as God intended it to be. Yet we constantly find Christians appealing to “reliable historical documents” as the basis for their belief, rather than the fact that God has spoken. And rather than appealing to Scripture as the sufficient authority, many have pushed for Christianized philosophy, Christianized psychology, Christianized politics, and unfounded organized religion. Yet none of these are from God. Do we really believe that the God of the Bible is the God of reality as well? Then why does this false dichotomy exist between what the Word says and how we interpret reality? Scripture must remain supreme.
  2. The Profitability of Scripture. Because the Word of God is the surest foundation, it is the foundation which we are most profited by. It is “the prophetic word… unto which you do well that you pay attention.” What does it mean to pay attention? Is it not to be thoughtful about our steps? Is it not to be detailed in our actions? Is it not to be committed to a pattern? When Scripture calls us to “take heed,” it calls us to obey every part of it. This will affect every aspect of life, meaning God’s hand will be upon life’s minutest fringes. How could God, Who is “for us,” be involved in every aspect of our lives and not bring the greatest profit in them? What more could we want? The only thing that would want more is our flesh, and it only has corruption as its end. The person wholly guided by Scripture is one of utmost quality – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Because God designed reality, His prescription for how to live in it will never cease to yield high-quality results.
  3. The Illumination of Scripture. Showing its profitability, Scripture acts as a light in a dark place. Interestingly, the word for “dark” in the original goes beyond mere darkness. It connotes the idea of being dirty, murky, obscure, dry, and thus dark from neglect. It is not merely darkness that affects the eyes, but darkness that can be sensed and felt in a way. Applied to Scripture’s illumination, the principle is quite general in its scope. It is the answer for darkness, both of the mind and of the heart. Do we need light concerning doctrine? Scripture is the answer. Do we need light to expose evil? Scripture is the answer. Without light, we have no direction, we have no warnings, we have no way of differentiating between good and evil,  and we have no means of understanding. We need the Scriptures!
  4. The Anticipation of Scripture. But this source of illumination only anticipates a day of greater light, when the Lord is revealed personally, of which Peter caught a glimpse on the mountain. Many would claim to “love Jesus” while rejecting a passion for the Scriptures, as if God was frivolous when handing to us “the faith” embodied in Scripture. This is inconsistent, because the day of His full revelation is still coming. Meanwhile, God has purposefully given us something to cling to, as we await a full knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Let us ever await His coming, but at the same time get into the book.

             Having established the setting in verses 1-20, we now come to Peter’s key statements on the nature of inspiration. Only by understanding its nature could Peter’s audience have true confidence in Scripture – confidence that had ground and meaning. Many believe Scripture out of convenience; we only derive true confidence from it, however, when we understand what it is.

            So then, the primacy of inspiration is established at the beginning when Peter says, “knowing this first…” Why does the believer maintain strength while anticipating the Lord’s return? Why does the believer trust the prophetic word more than eyewitness testimony? Because he holds inspiration dear to his heart. The supernatural origin of Scripture is easy to claim nominally; sadly, this is probably the condition of most professing Christians. But this claim is only meaningful when it is believed and acted upon. If we grasped inspiration properly, we would believe the authority of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, the infallibility of Scripture, and the power of Scripture. If we don’t really see these core tenets being established in our lives, we don’t really understand or believe the true God-breathed nature of Scripture.

            He continues by emphasizing that inspiration is total. Though he uses a negative to express this truth, it is expressed nonetheless: “No prophecy of the Scripture is from one’s own interpretation.” Conversely, one could say, “Every prophecy of Scripture is not of one’s own interpretation.” Peter uses the word “prophecy” to tell us that God spoken and the word “Scripture” to tell us that His words have been written. He uses them together to tell us that the full written body of revealed truth is wholly of divine origin. If a written document is not fully God-breathed, it is not Scripture; and if it is not Scripture, it is not God-breathed. Inspiration is total.

            But what should we make of this phrase “from one’s own interpretation”? The first question that must be dealt with is, whose interpretation is this speaking of – ours or the prophets’? At this point in his letter, Peter is not concerned with hermeneutics so much as he is the divine origin of Scripture; it would make no sense for Peter to speak of how we interpret Scripture today. So then, it must be the prophets’ interpretation that he is speaking of. Today, there are two kinds of interpretation on the part of an author: (1) his own interpretation of his surroundings, which he is trying to convey through writing, (2) his intended meaning of his text of which he himself holds the prime understanding. So with Scripture, the issue at stake is whose mind is being put forward. The authors of Scripture, while they understood what they wrote and were deliberate in their writing, were not writing to be “authors” to prove their own point; rather they were writing as channels of the mind of another. So then, we find that inspiration excludes the mind of man from being the essence of its message. A quote from Matthew Henry’s Commentary explains the concept well:

“Observe, No scripture prophecy is of private interpretation (or a man’s own proper opinion, an explication of his own mind), but the revelation of the mind of God. This was the difference between the prophets of the Lord and the false prophets who have been in the world. The prophets of the Lord did not speak nor do any thing of their own mind, as Moses, the chief of them, says expressly (Num. 16:28), ‘I have not done any of the works (nor delivered any of the statutes and ordinances) of my own mind.’ But false prophets ‘speak a vision of their own heart, not out of the mouth of the Lord,’ (Jer. 23:16).”

            Further, inspiration is consistent in its nature, not only in its breadth (all of Scripture) but in its length (for all time), for our passage says “No prophecy was ever made by the will of man.” As a general principle, Scripture does not (present) find its origin in the mind of man, but as a historical reality it never came (past) from the natural impulse of man. Scripture is wholly of God throughout. Scripture will never cease to be of God. And the qualification for true Scripture will never be less than God-breathed prophetic utterances.

            Following the previous thoughts, inspiration excludes the will of man as its origin and basis. We saw that inspiration as to its nature was both total and timeless. Now we see that inspiration as to its origin is neither of man’s mind nor of his will. Peter says, “Prophecy was never brought forth by the will of man.” He does not mean that the prophets and Scripture writers spoke from God against their will; rather he shows that the human element cannot be credited for Scripture’s origin, since man would naturally have no inclination toward anything Scripture stands for as a revelation from God. Just as Scripture is not a collection of man’s ideas, so it is not a document made to achieve man’s purposes. As Mr. Chafer has so ably pointed out, “Man could not have produced the Bible even if he wanted to.” After all, how could a unified document penned by 40 different authors over 16 different centuries that gives all the glory and supremacy to God while effacing the glory of man be a product of man’s purpose and design? It is conceivable for a collection of religious ideals to be penned by man. It is conceivable for changeable philosophies to be penned by man. But a book like the Bible? Man could not, and he would not produce that.

            Up to this point we have seen only negatives – what inspiration is not – but the final phrase of our passage tells us what inspiration is: “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Rather than speaking their own ideas, men spoke from God. Rather than advancing their own purposes, they were borne along by the Holy Spirit. This clause tells us what inspiration looks like: “men spoke from God.” It tells us how inspiration was achieved, “they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

  1. What inspiration looks like. Because Scripture always started as a historical reality or an oral body of truth, Peter emphasizes the fact that men spoke from God rather than wrote from God. But they are essentially synonymous, because each is a communication expressed by words, whether received by the ear or by the eye. Essentially then, inspiration is God speaking through words which we possess in written form. It is the breath of God recorded. Thus, we expect any inspired text to intrinsically possess divine authority, establish coherently a God-centered worldview, show consistency with honestly-evaluated extra-biblical observations since God created all reality, and exhibit the same power that brought the worlds into existence.
  2. How inspiration was achieved. How did God give us an inspired text? Through men influenced perfectly by the Holy Spirit. The phrase used by the text is the same used for the beginning of verse 21 – “No prophecy was ever brought  by the will of man.” Thus we read, “They were borne along by the Holy Spirit.” So then, the idea of inspiration is that men were borne along by the Holy Spirit. This implies two things: (1) the direction was fully that of the Spirit’s (2) the strength was fully that of the Spirit’s. And yet the men were truly used in all their unique styles and heartfelt burdens. How exactly was this achieved? We cannot understand it of our own wisdom. Rather, we trust the Divine record that God has provided a perfect written revelation of His heart, mind, and Person.


[1]    Page 27, Christianity and Liberalism published by Eerdmans.