by John Hutton.
One of the great characters in the Bible is the Apostle Peter who played a very important part in the early church and the spread of the Gospel. In this article I particularly want to look at his attitude to God’s Word, the Scriptures, in his last letter.
When Peter wrote his last letter, he was aware that his life and ministry were coming to an end:
“Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.”(2 Pet. 1:14).
Peter also knew that the time was coming when the truth would be ignored and men would preach their own doctrines even to the point of “denying the Lord that bought them”:
“But there were false prophets also among the people [O.T.], even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” (2 Pet. 2:1).
Paul knew the same thing and warned the Church at Ephesus:
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30).
It is not the subject of this article, but the point needs to be made, that during the period of time covered by the Book of Acts, believers were expecting the Lord’s quick return. Because of this expectation, Peter said that the false teachers would “bring upon themselves swift destruction”. As the Lord’s return was postponed by Israel’s failure to repent and the “Revelation of the Mystery” in Ephesians 3, it follows that the work of these false prophets has continued for 2000 years.
Two important points need to be made. Firstly, the false ones were believers, or pretending to be believers, and secondly, they would be successful:
“And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you…” (2 Peter 2:2-3).
If this pernicious work has been going on for 2000 years, is it any wonder that Christendom is in such disagreement as to what its various parts believe, even to the point of denying the Deity of Christ, the credibility of the Bible and the reliability of other fundamental doctrines.
Knowing what would happen after his death, Peter says some things about the Scriptures that we would be wise to heed.
As an Israelite, the Apostle Peter would have been brought up with a very special regard for the Scriptures. The Israelites were the guardians of God’s Word and I have read that they would even die for its safety and integrity, so it will be to our advantage to learn from those things what Peter says about the Old Testament in his last letter.
Experience versus God’s Word
Peter was one of those three privileged disciples who were present at the Transfiguration of Christ. (Matt. 17:1-8). What an experience that must have been and he talks about it in verses 16-18 of 2 Peter 1.
“..we …were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.”
Peter saw His majesty; he heard the voice of God and witnessed to others what he saw. Could anyone doubt him?
These were experiences of Peter and any experience can be doubted by someone else, and even by the one who had the experience. For all the wonder of Peter’s experience, he had something that was more dependable.
He told his readers in 2 Peter that he and they had something that was more sure than even that great experience of his – the word of prophecy.
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19).
The oracles of God were more trustworthy to Peter than experience, however great that experience was.
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place… (2 Peter 1:19).
The time was coming, and came, when Scripture was ignored and “an experience” was “more sure”. It seems to me that it is so, even today.
The next verse of chapter one tells us that no prophecy was the invention, creation, or interpretation of the prophet.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20). Why? “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21).
In Acts chapter 27, we are given an account of part of Paul’s journey to Rome. Paul was put aboard a ship whose Master had decided, despite warnings from Paul, to make for Phenice. On the way a great wind blew against the ship which could make no headway, so they allowed the ship to go where the wind blew it.
“And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive (were driven along – NIV)”. (Acts 27:15).
Things got much worse. Ropes were tied right around the ship to keep it together and to save the sails and rigging, the sails were let down.
“Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail (lowered the tackle – Nestlé) and so were driven.” (Acts 27:17).
Things got even worse, the ship was lightened and the tackle was cast overboard. For two weeks the boat was shunted helplessly up and down the coast.
“But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country.” (Acts 27:27).
Have you ever been in, or witnessed, a sailing ship that was helpless against the wind. Thankfully, most of us never have, but we will probably have seen such an event on TV or at the movies and been able to get something of the helplessness of those on board the ship. Most certainly we have read historical accounts of sailing ships having to lower their sails and be blown wherever the wind decided. After the storm the ship would sometimes be hundreds of kilometres off course. Some ‘new lands’ were discovered in this way.
Such winds are an irresistible force and the ship on which Paul was being taken to Rome was at the mercy of such an irresistible force.
The phrases ‘let her drive’ in Acts 27:15, ‘so were driven’ in 27:17 and ‘were driven up and down” in 27:27 are translations of the Greek word phero. That same word ‘phero’ is translated ‘moved’ in 2 Peter 1:21, “…holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
The prophets did not write what they wanted to write, or interpret events as they saw them. They were moved by an irresistible force and could write nothing other than what the Holy Spirit told them.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. (God-breathed)”. 2 Tim. 3:16.
Although written by men, the words used in the Bible are God’s words and we can have nothing but confidence in them. The Bible is a ‘sure word’ whose author is God Himself and Peter had more confidence in the written Word of God than his own experience at the Transfiguration, however great that must have been.
What about the New Testament?
So far Peter has been referring to the Old Testament Prophets. What about the New Testament writings? Are they Scripture? At the end of his last epistle Peter mentions the Apostle Paul:
“And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest [twist], as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Peter was acknowledging the fact that Paul’s epistles were not always easy to understand, but that did not absolve his readers from putting them aside and ignoring them or twisting the meaning because that was what unstable and unlearned men had done with all the other Scripture. Most importantly, Peter is saying that the Epistles of Paul are Scripture. ”Other Scripture”! – What “other Scripture”? The “other Scripture” is the O.T., which the Epistles of Paul are being compared with. If Paul’s writings are Scripture, surely the other books and Epistles, which form the N.T., are Scripture as well.
Let us mind what the Apostle Peter had to say about God’s Word and be careful that we do not twist the words of God so that they mean what we want them to. The two great safeguards against doing so are to “Rightly Divide the Word of Truth” and to “Compare spiritual with spiritual”.