The Study of the Bible
by James T. Bartsch

God's Self-Revelation in the Scriptures

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Inspiration of Scripture
 by WordExplain


A.            The Necessity of Inspiration. It is clear from reading the Bible that God is a communicator. There is communication within the Godhead (Gen. 1:26; Matt. 26:36; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 11:1; John 17:1). God created a whole order of beings called angels, whose name in both Hebrew and Greek means “messenger.” At selected times, angels have appeared in order to communicate a message from God to certain people (Gen. 19:1-29; Luke 1:11-20, 26-38; 2:8-15). God sent His Son to be incarnated in human flesh, and He is called the Word (logos) of God (John 1:1-3, 14). God has ordained a whole order of human beings called prophets, through whom He has communicated His message to man in oral form (Deut. 34:10; 2 Kings 20:1; 2 Chron. 36:12; Hag. 1:1; Acts 21:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:19-21; 3:5; 4:11-12). It should not surprise us that God would want to leave us certain written documents from among all the prophecies of His prophets (Ex. 17:14; 34:27; Jer. 30:2; 1 Cor. 14:37; Rev. 1:10-11; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5). And if God wished to leave a written record of His communications to man, it should not surprise us that He would wish to leave an accurate record. Inspiration is necessary in order for God to communicate in writing to mankind accurately. If we cannot be assured that the Bible is inspired of God, then we have no guarantee of its accuracy. If the Bible is merely the word of men, we are in serious trouble, for men are fallible. The inspiration of Scripture has to do with the accurate transmission of God’s communication of His words to man in written form. Properly speaking, the term inspiration refers not to prophets, but to the written record of prophets. The prophets are not said to be inspired, but what they wrote is said to be inspired. Let us formulate a definition of inspiration.

B.            The Definition of Inspiration.

1.               James T. Bartsch, WordExplain Glossary. “All Scripture is ‘God-breathed’,” a literal translation of the Greek word theopneustos coined by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16.  God guided the authors of Scripture so that the words of Scripture they penned were exactly those that God wished.  This is true regardless of the method by which God manifested Himself, whether by dream, by vision, by oral communication, by dictation, or by other unspecified revelation.

2.               Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology. Inspiration may be defined as the Holy Spirit’s superintending over the writers so that while writing according to their own styles and personalities, the result was God’s Word written – authoritative, trustworthy, and free from error in the original autographs.

3.               Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948), p. 131. “Inspiration is, therefore, usually defined as a supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Spirit of God, by virtue of which their writings are given Divine trustworthiness.”

4.               Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 27. “Inspiration is a superintendence of God the Holy Spirit over the writers of the Scriptures, as a result of which these Scriptures possess Divine authority and trustworthiness and, possessing such Divine authority and trustworthiness, are free from error.”

5.               Charles C. Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody, 1972), p. 38. “Inspiration is . . . God’s superintendence of the human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs.”

C.           Semantics and Inspiration. There are groups of people who wish to consider themselves as orthodox and even evangelical when it comes to their view of Scripture. Yet they have developed a certain skepticism with regard to the accuracy of the Bible in regard to matters of history and science. They have continued to use the word “inspiration” with regard to the Scriptures, yet they have assigned a different meaning to the word. Fuller Theological Seminary, for example, explicitly applies inspiration to what it terms as “redemptive history” (see Fuller’s Statement of Faith, Article II). This “redemptive history” or “salvation history” (in German, heilsgeschichte), Fuller maintains, “is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” “Scripture,” Fuller asserts in Article III, “is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure. All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Notice carefully what is omitted. Because Fuller as an institution does not believe that inspiration extends to matters of history and science, it arbitrarily limits inspiration’s infallibility to matters of “faith and practice.” As long ago as 1972, Charles Ryrie captured the difficulty conservatives have faced in trying to express the traditional view of inspiration (Ryrie, p. 40):

Not many years ago all one had to say to affirm his belief in the full inspiration of the Bible was that he believed it was “the Word of God.” Then it became necessary to add “the inspired Word of God.” Later he had to include “the verbally, inspired Word of God.” Then came the necessity to say “the plenary, verbally, infallible, inspired Word of God.” Today one has to say “the plenary, verbally, infallible, inspired, and inerrant-in-the-original-manuscripts Word of God.” And even then, he may not communicate clearly!

D.           False Views of Inspiration.

1.               Inspiration is not to be used in the sense that an artist is inspired to paint a beautiful sunset, or a poet is inspired to write a particular poem.

2.               Inspiration is not to be used in the sense that the concepts are inspired but the words are not.

3.               Inspiration is not to be used in the sense that only salvation history is inspired and that the Bible is thus infallible only in matters of faith and practice, but the rest of the Bible is not inspired, and therefore not infallible.

4.               Inspiration is not to be used in the sense that it is a witness to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, but not that the Bible is the Word of God written. (This is the Neoorthodox, or Barthian view.)

E.            The Biblical View of Inspiration: Verbal Plenary. By “verbal” we mean that the very words of Scripture are inspired. By “plenary” we mean that all the words of Scripture are inspired. There are two key Scriptures that accurately convey the Bible’s own view of inspiration.

1.               The Fact and Implications of Inspiration: The first of these key Scriptures is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Here is the present author’s literal translation from the Greek text. Supplied words are placed in brackets: “All Scripture [is] God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for ‘child-training’ in [the sphere of] righteousness, in order that the man of God might be qualified, for every good work having been equipped.” Several observations are in order:

a.               All Scripture is God-breathed. All of Scripture, the complete corpus of sacred writing, is God-breathed, or inspired. There is no part of Scripture that is more or less God-breathed than another part. Paul had just written to Timothy that he, Timothy, had from childhood “known the sacred writings (grammata, pl. of gramma) which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). By this Paul no doubt referred to the Old Testament. But then he proceeded to say that all Scripture (graphe) is God-breathed, and thereby all of it is profitable. By this he meant more than merely the Old Testament, as we shall explain in a moment. But let us begin with the Old Testament. If all of Scripture is God-breathed, then the early chapters of Genesis (Gen. 1-11), which liberal scholars classify as myth-not-based-in-reality, is just as God-breathed as is the ultimate chapter on the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). And the book of Ecclesiastes is just as inspired as the Gospels. And the words of Moses and Joshua and Samuel and Ezra and Nehemiah in the historical portions of the Old Testament are just as inspired as the “red letter” words of Jesus in the Gospels. And the recordings of all the prophets are just as inspired as the writings of Paul. All of Scripture is God-breathed. And to mean that (only) the “redemptive history” of the Bible is inspired and infallible in matters of faith and practice simply has no basis in fact. All of Scripture is God-breathed. All of Scripture is inspired.

b.               All Scripture is God-breathed. We have already stated that when Paul wrote Timothy that Timothy from childhood had known the sacred writings (grammata) which were able to make him wise in the area of salvation, he was referring to the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3:15). But when Paul wrote that that all Scripture (graphe) is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), he included the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 5:18, for example, Paul wrote, “For the Scripture (graphe) says,” and then he proceeded to quote from both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7. In so doing he designated both the Old Testament and the New Testament as Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter placed Paul’s writings within the category of Scriptures (graphas, pl. of graphe). So all Scripture means all of it, from Genesis to Chronicles (the order of the Hebrew Bible) and from Matthew to Revelation. There is no part of Scripture that is not God-breathed.

c.               All Scripture is God-breathed. Paul here coined a word, theopneustos. It is a combination of the word theos, meaning God, and a derivative of  pneo, meaning to breathe. Together they constitute the feminine (to correspond with the feminine “Scripture,” graphe) singular adjective, God-breathed, or God-spirated, usually translated “inspired by God.” It means that, though humans were, in every case, used by God in writing down the words of Scripture, it was God who breathed them out. Many years ago the great Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer spoke to the faculty and students of Dallas Theological Seminary in the cavernous sanctuary of Gaston Ave. Baptist Church in Dallas. He thundered out, “God has spoken; and he has not stammered in His speech!” Most, if not all, non-conservative scholars have an anti-supernatural bias in their studies and their writings. They will not accept a historical statement in the Bible as having any validity on its own. They will not accept its veracity or grounding in reality unless it can be corroborated by archaeology somewhere or by some secular historian. They do not believe the Bible is the word of God to man, but merely the word of man about God. And since man is fallible, they reason, the Bible is fallible. But they do not have the same view of Scripture as Christ and the Apostles. In short, they believe God has spoken, but that He has stammered in His speech. Christ and the Apostles would agree with Dr. Schaeffer. Whatever God has breathed out cannot and does not have error. God tells no lies, for He cannot (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18).

d.               All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable in four specific areas. Since all of Scripture is God-breathed, all of Scripture is profitable. One can read through the most pedestrian genealogy in Scripture and, with a practiced eye, ferret out gems of timeless truth. What would we possibly know about the origins of our world, our universe, and our own human existence and early history without the revelation found in the opening chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-11)? Modern evolution and modern history are powerless to give any trustworthy insight about those matters. What would we know about the origins of God’s chosen nation, Israel, outside the Pentateuch? How complete would our knowledge of the relentless justice and judgment of God without the prophets? Wouldn’t our understanding of worship be severely hampered if we not have the Book of Psalms? Wouldn’t our knowledge about the Messiah be incomplete without from the Gospels? What would we know about the Church apart from the Epistles? And what would we know about the future apart from the prophets, the Gospels, and the Apocalypse? Different parts of the Bible serve different purposes, but anywhere in Scripture one can find profit.

1)              All Scripture is profitable for teaching. The Bible is ultimately and supremely informative. It gives us insights about history, geography, God, angels, heaven, hell, redemption, perdition, Christian living, and a host of other subjects. The word Paul used here (2 Tim. 3:16) is didaskalia. Of the 21 uses in the New Testament, the NASB translates didaskalia as doctrine(s) twelve times and as teaching(s) eight times. Sometimes the precepts of men are erroneously taught as doctrines (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7), and they are correctly labeled as “the commandments and teachings (didaskalias) of men” (Col. 2:22). Demons and deceitful spirits push their own doctrines [through false teachers and false prophets], causing some to fall away from the faith in later times (1 Tim. 4:1). But Paul everywhere pushed “sound doctrine” in the churches and among his protégés, even though listeners might not be able to tolerate it (2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1). Titus was to exhibit “purity in doctrine” (Tit. 2:7), which Paul also identified as “the doctrine of God our Savior” (Tit. 2:10), “our doctrine” (1 Tim. 6:1), and “the doctrine conforming to godliness,” which is in agreement with “sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and which were in disagreement with “anyone” who “advocates a different doctrine” (heterodidaskalei) (1 Tim. 6:3). Christ gave gifted people to His church, including apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors-and-teachers (didaskalous) (Eph. 4:11). This he did in order that mature Christians would thus not be “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). So the believer gifted in teaching (didaskwn) was to focus on his ministry of teaching (didaskalia) (Rom. 12:7). Paul singled out a very specific list of aberrant people and behaviors that were “contrary to sound teaching” (didaskalia1 Tim. 1:10), including the following, all of whom were legitimate targets for the appropriate use of the law of Moses – those who are lawless, rebellious, ungodly, sinners, unholy, profane, killers of fathers or mothers, murderers, immoral, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, and perjurers (1 Tim. 1:8-10). The “sound teaching” of which Paul spoke would correspond favorably with “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11). In Paul’s absence, he instructed Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (didaskalia) (1 Tim. 4:13). Timothy was to “pay close attention” both to himself and to (lit.) “the teaching” (te didaskalia) (1 Tim. 4:16). If he persevered in these things he would “ensure salvation” both for himself and his listeners. Elders who ruled well “were to be considered worthy of double honor,” especially those who toiled (lit. “in word and teaching”) “at preaching and teaching” (didaskalia) (1 Tim. 5:17, NASB). Paul characterized Timothy as someone who had followed his (Paul’s) teaching (didaskalia) (2 Tim. 3:10). Unlike the doctrines or teaching of mere men (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7; Col. 2:22), who could be influenced by deceitful spirits and demons (1 Tim. 4:1), Paul held out “all Scripture” as being unique. All or every Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for teaching or doctrine (didaskalia) (2 Tim. 3:16).

2)              All Scripture is profitable for rebuking. Paul used the word elegmon (accusative singular of elegmos). It is defined as the “process [of] rebuking, reproof, convicting” (Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament).This noun is a hapax legomenon, meaning this is the only time in the New Testament this word is used. Consequently, it is difficult to ascertain its meaning from this one usage. The corresponding verb (elegxw) from which it is derived, however, is used seventeen times. Five times it is translated “to convict;” five times it is translated “to reprove;” three times it is translated “to expose;” and once each time it is translated “to show [someone] his fault;” “to reprimand;” “to rebuke;” and “to refute.” (Go to a table detailing the NASB translations of the verb elegxw.) From these verbal uses, we can see that “rebuking” or “reproof” is a good translation. The point is that all of Scripture is profitable, or beneficial in rebuking or reproving the reader or hearer of his shortcomings in view of God’s Divine standards. God gave us His Word to rebuke and reprove us humans when we do the wrong thing. God’s Word is meant to give its hearers a guilty conscience when they violate God’s standards. All of Scripture is profitable to that end. The writer of the book of Hebrews captured something of the dynamic, supernatural power of the Word of God in a military metaphor, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

3)              All Scripture is profitable for correcting. Paul used here yet another hapax legomenon, epanorthwsis. We must look outside the New Testament for a definition of this word.

a)              In 1 Maccabees in the LXX, the people of Zion wrote a tribute to the sons of Mattathias the priest, for these had led Israel in fighting many battles against the encroaching Gentiles. In particular they praised Simon, who had “fortified Joppa, which is by the sea, and Gazara, which is on the borders of Azotus, where the enemy formerly dwelt. He settled Jews there, and provided in those cities whatever was necessary for their restoration” (1 Maccabees 14:34) (See also the New English Translation of the Septuagint, 1 Maccabees. 14:34 appears on p. 500.) The word restoration is the word epanorthwsis. We can see from this context that epanorthwsis means the correction of that which is deficient. Whereas elegxw means to bring a sense of guilt, epanorthwsis means to rectify that which was deficient. All of Scripture is profitable to rectify that which is deficient.

b)              We find in the LXX another usage of epanorthwsis in the book of 1 Esdras. Esdras (Ezra) was reluctant to request a military escort from King Artaxerxes of Persia as he and other Jewish exiles returned from Babylon to Israel. He was reluctant “for we had said to the king, ‘The strength of our Lord will be with those who seek after him for complete restoration’” (epanorthwsis) (1 Esdras 8:52 [p. 402]). In the context, Ezra was speaking of the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem and the temple service. So again, epanorthwsis  means to correct or restore that which is deficient. This demonstrates again that in 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul was declaring that all Scripture is profitable to correct or restore that which is deficient in a person’s life.

4)              All Scripture is profitable for child-training in [the sphere of] righteousness. The NASB text of 2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The word here translated training I have translated child-training. It is the word paideia, which occurs six times in the Greek New Testament, and whose lexical meaning is as follows: “(1) active, of rearing and guiding a child toward maturity training, instruction, discipline (Heb. 12:11); as including Christian discipline and instruction (Eph. 6:4); as God’s fatherly discipline of all believers discipline, punishment, correction (Heb. 12:5); (2) passive, of the result of such discipline training, improved behavior (Heb. 12:7)” (Friberg Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament). In the NASB, paideia is translated as follows: discipline (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5, 7, 8, 11); and training (2 Tim. 3:16). Paideia properly has to do with the proper upbringing of a child because it stems from the Greek word paidion, the diminutive of pais, the more generic word for child. Paidion is used repeatedly of the child Jesus in the account of the quest of the magi for Israel’s new-born King (Matt. 2:8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 20, 21). Based on what the magi had told him, Herod placed the upper limit of his destruction of male children (pais) at the age of two years (Matt. 2:16). The writer of Hebrews calls the infant Moses a paidion who was hidden for three months (Heb. 11:23). But paidion can also refer to children old enough to sit in the market place and call out to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn” (Matt. 11:16-17). The point we are making is this: paideia has to do with the normal process of transforming a self-centered and totally dependent infant into a responsible, self-reliant, well-mannered young person, and eventually, an adult. In the context of 2 Timothy 3:16, that is precisely that for which all Scripture is profitable – the transforming of infantile Christians (1 Pet. 2:2) into responsible, mature Christians who are others-focused and able to serve Jesus acceptably. Paul is obviously using paideia in a metaphorical sense. He is speaking of the “child-training” of Christians, not the child-training of small children. But it is an excellent metaphor. And all of Scripture is admirably fitted to transform new believers into responsible servants of the Messiah in the arena of righteousness. And all Scripture is admirably suited to transform unrighteous people, who are serving themselves and the prince of darkness, into righteous people who are serving others and the prince of light.

e.               All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable in four areas so that a man of God might be qualified (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The word Paul uses here is the adjective artios, which NASB translates as “adequate.” Since artios is a hapax legomenon, used only here in the NT and never in the LXX, we are left to extra-biblical sources to identify its meaning. Liddell and Scott give possible definitions of artios as follows: “complete, perfect of its kind, suitable, exactly fitled” (sic). A particularly appropriate translation is “well-suited for.” So all of Scripture is God-breathed and profitable in four specific areas so that a man of God might be qualified or well-suited or adequately prepared for some useful purpose. What is that purpose?

f.                The end result of all Scripture qualifying a man of God is that he has been equipped for every good work. God did not give Scripture to us merely that we might know more. The purpose of Scripture is that we might be thoroughly equipped to serve God in an infinite variety of good works (2 Tim. 3:17). This is the theme of Paul’s classic statement about grace in connection with salvation: It is by grace that we Christians have been saved through faith. And this whole process of salvation by grace through faith does not originate with us, but is rather a gift from God. Our salvation is not secured by human works, because God will have no braggarts in heaven. Rather, we are God’s workmanship, and we have been created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of good works, in which God has pre-ordained that we should walk and serve (Eph. 2:8-10). All Scripture [is] God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for ‘child-training’ in the [sphere of] righteousness, in order that the man of God might be qualified, for every good work having been equipped. (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2.               The Process of Inspiration. Another key passage about the Inspiration of Scripture is to be found in 2 Peter 1:20-21.

a.               An overview of the chapter (2 Peter 1). (See Growth in Christian Virtue, p. 1)

1)              After an opening introduction (2 Pet. 1:1-2),

2)              Peter spoke of God’s provisions for Christians’ growth (2 Pet. 1:3-4). These include the power of God and the true knowledge of God (2 Pet. 1:3), and the promises of God, by which we are able to partake of the Divine nature of God (2 Pet. 1:4).

3)              Next, Peter wrote about the effort that we Christians must provide in our growth (2 Pet. 1:5-11). We must apply all diligence (2 Pet. 1:5) to add the following virtues: faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Pet. 1:5-7). If we possess these virtues and continue increasing in them we will be useful and fruitful in our knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 1:8), but if we lack these qualities, we will be “blind or short-sighted” (2 Pet. 1:9). So we are to be “all the more diligent to make certain” about God’s “calling and choosing” of us. As long as we practice these things, we will not stumble, and we will be supplied an abundant entry into Christ’s eternal kingdom (2 Pet. 1:10-11).

4)              In 2 Peter 1:12-18, Peter wrote about his own contribution to the growth of believers to whom he was writing. His contribution included the influence he was seeking to exert (probably through speaking, but more to the point here) by writing letters. His contribution also included a dramatic encounter he had with Jesus that had significant prophetic overtones.

a)              His present efforts, as long as he is alive, include stirring up their memory about what they had already been taught (2 Pet. 1:12-13).

b)              He is committing to writing the truths He wishes to remind them of so that after he has departed this life, they will still be able to remember them (2 Pet. 1:14-15).

c)               Next, Peter defended the veracity of the information he has conveyed and will yet convey to them. He and his fellow apostles did not conjure up cunning myths to pass on when they related the power (dunamis) and coming (parousia) of their Master, Jesus the Anointed King. Quite to the contrary, they were eyewitnesses of His great majesty (2 Pet. 1:16-18)! Peter proceeded to discuss his eyewitness account of Jesus’ miraculous and powerful transformation on the Mount of Transfiguration, which served as a preview of His future Second Coming in Power (Parousia) to rule the world as God’s promised Messiah (Matt. 16:28-17:9; Mark 9:1-9; Luke 9:27-36). A careful reading of the gospel accounts here listed reveals that the purpose of Peter, James, and John’s eyewitness of Jesus’ transformation was for them to view and later to report to others what Jesus’ Kingdom here on earth would actually look like. These gospel accounts reveal what will, from a Jewish point of view, take place in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom: the glorious Messiah, deceased Jewish saints from a bygone era, and Jewish believers in their natural bodies all will coexist in the same time/space/matter continuum in a utopian association on the present earth! (Note that this preview of Christ’s coming Kingdom took place on a high mountain on earth. No one was transported up to heaven or to a new earth.) Reporting on that event, Peter continued that Jesus, having received from God the Father honor and glory, was the recipient of a voice such as this by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased!” (2 Pet. 1:17). Lest anyone should misinterpret the event he had in mind, Peter continued, “and we [three apostles] ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Pet. 1:18).

5)              Just as Peter’s readers could count on the reliability of Peter’s eyewitness account of the preview of Christ’s Second Coming (Parousia), so also could they count on the reliability of prophetic Scriptures in general (2 Pet. 1:19-21). In this brief paragraph, the Apostle presented three ideas: 1) The prophetic word is utterly reliable and should be heeded (2 Pet. 1:19). 2) Prophetic Scripture is not a matter of one’s private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20). 3) Prophecy does not have a human origin, but rather, men borne along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Pet. 1:21). Let us examine carefully each of these three statements.

b.               Let us next examine the process by which Prophecy/Scripture has come into existence. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

1)              First, the prophetic word is even more reliable than an eyewitness account, and should be heeded (2 Pet. 1:19). Here is a literal translation: “And we have the prophetic word more certain, to which you are doing well in giving heed, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the light-bearing one rises in your hearts.”

a)              In this passage Peter uses one key word, or its equivalent, in each of these three verses. In 1:19 it is the adjective prophetic (prophetikos); in 1:20 and 21 it is the noun prophecy (propheteia), which occurs once in each verse. A prophecy is a message from God given directly to a prophet which he then communicates to man. Just as there are, in these three verses, three uses of the word prophecy or its equivalent, so also are there three synonymous references to communication. In 1:19 Peter speaks of “the prophetic (prophetikos) word” (logos). In 1:20 his phrase is “no prophecy (propheteia) of Scripture” (graphe). In 1:21 the words are “prophecy” (propheteia) and “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke (laleo) from God.”

b)              In 2 Pet. 1:19, prophetic, an adjective, modifies the noun word (logos). Word (logos) represents a means of communication. Now it is not just any word, but the prophetic word (ton prophetikon logon) of which Peter writes. So Peter is speaking of the particular prophetic word which we believers possess, meaning Scripture. This is not merely the word from rabbis or teachers, but the word from prophets, who were guided by God’s Spirit to speak God’s truth without error or compromise. Peter is not here limiting “the prophetic word” to the predictive Scriptures, but rather, he speaks of a message which derives its origin directly from God, communicated to and then through a prophet. What makes a prophet a prophet is not that he predicts the future, but that he receives messages directly from God. So a prophet speaks on behalf of God. Some of that message may predict the future, but that is not what makes it prophetic. His message is prophetic because as a human prophet he was guided by the Spirit of God to speak precisely the message God wished him to speak. Not all prophetic messages have been recorded in Scripture, but every message in Scripture is prophetic because it originated from God through a prophet.

c)               Peter is saying here that, as reliable as his and James and John’s eyewitness testimony about Jesus’ parousia was (2 Pet. 1:16; Matt. 16:28-17:9; Mark 9:1-9; Luke 9:27-36), we Christians have communication even more certain – it is the prophetic word of God (meaning God’s messages that He communicated through prophets) and passed on in Scripture.

d)              His readers are doing well in giving heed to this prophetic word, which he compared to a lamp shining in a dark place (“a darkened heart and world” – Dr. Constable’s Notes on 2 Peter, 2008 Edition,  p. 20).

e)              This darkness will finally be dissipated by the dawning of the day and the arrival of the morning star (lit., the light-bearing one) as He rises in their hearts. For Church-Age believers, this most likely refers to the Rapture, the day when Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World (John 1:9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:46) returns to take believers to be with Him (John 14:2-3; 1 Thess. 4:15-17; Tit. 2:13). For those who subsequently become believers and who survive the ensuing Tribulation, that daybreak refers to Christ’s glorious and powerful return to judge and rule the earth in righteousness (Matt. 24:30; 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Rev. 1:7; 19:11-20:6).

2)              Second, every prophecy of Scripture is not a matter of a prophet’s own private explanation or interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20). To defuse a potential objection to the “more sure” nature of “the prophetic word,” Peter stated the following in this literal translation: “this first knowing, that every prophecy of Scripture of one’s own explanation does not come into being; …”

a)              It is true that the writers of Scripture were men. It is true that they used their own intellects, their own styles, and their own personalities when writing the sacred texts. But they were not merely men. They were prophets. As prophets they received from God messages which they were compelled to deliver to other people.

b)              And so the essence of the Scripture they wrote did not emanate from them. They did not originate the Word of God to man, God did so. They were the human conveyers of God’s Word, but not the human innovators of God’s Word.

c)               I once attended a meeting at which a group of men read the Bible and discussed it. At one point I began to discuss the power of Satan in our world. I commented that Satan had enormous power in this world, always limited by God, of course. As proof I cited the enormous power Satan wielded in the life of Job (Job 1-2). Satan had the power to manipulate certain Sabeans to steal Job’s oxen and donkeys and murder all but one of the attending servants (Job 1:14-15). He had the power to cause fire (lightning?) to descend from heaven and kill Job’s sheep and all but one of the attending servants (Job 1:16). He had the power to manipulate certain Chaldeans to steal Job’s camels and murder all but one of the attending servants (Job 1:17). He had the power to kill Job’s sons and daughters by means of a great wind (a tornado?) (Job 1:18-19). He had the power to smite Job with painful boils “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7). As I completed this litany, a man across the table commented, “But it’s just a story.” Taken aback, I replied, “But it’s a true story.” To which he responded, “But it’s just a story.” I let the conversation drop, but it was clear what his stance on this Scripture was. In his view, the first two chapters of the book of Job did not constitute truth from God accurately depicting a historical event in which God displayed to Satan, through a cosmic bet for all the world to witness, that His servant Job was a righteous man who would remain loyal to God no matter how much he suffered. No, this man had been taught that the first two chapters of Job were legend, or myth, with details that had grown through decades or perhaps centuries of story-telling. They served a useful purpose, in his view, no doubt, and that purpose was to be a legendary but non-historical backdrop for a discussion of believers and suffering and the sovereignty of God. But for all practical purposes, in his view, the first two chapters of Job are not the authoritative, accurate, and trustworthy word of God to man, but rather the embellished word of man about God and man and suffering.

d)              2 Peter 1:20 demonstrates that this man’s view of the Word of God is neither accurate nor Biblical. Peter’s voice thunders at us from two millennia ago, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” The record of what Satan did in the life of Job did not emanate from man. It is the Word of God to man mediated accurately, in this case, through the human author of Job. If Job 1-2 does not accurately convey historical events, the credibility of the whole book has been eviscerated. We may as well rip Job from the canon of Scripture, for it has no greater value than the legends of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.

3)              Third, prophecy has never originated by the will of man, but men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Pet. 1:21). In this verse Peter further detailed the miraculous cooperation of human and Divine authors in the accurate conveying of God’s truth in Scripture. Here is a literal translation of this verse: for not by will of man was prophecy ever carried along, but by means of the Holy Spirit being carried along, spoke from Godmen.

a)              No matter what the man at the meeting believes (and a great many people throughout Christendom believe exactly as he does), no genuine prophecy ever originated from mere man. In fact, the Word of God explicitly denies what this man believes. No prophecy (propheteia) ever uttered by a Biblical (not a false) prophet was borne or carried along (phero) by the will of man. Prophecies, whether oral or written (the Scripture is prophecy (propheteia) recorded in writing), have never originated from man.

b)              Rather, Peter continued, it is by means of the Holy Spirit being carried along (phero), that they spoke from God – these men who are the authors of Scripture. I am reflecting the Greek word order, which represents the emphasis Peter chose to convey. Far from man being the originators of prophecy, quite the reverse is true. Since they were borne or carried along (phero) by the Holy Spirit, they spoke from God – these men. So in the emphasis of this text, the human agents decidedly do not come first, they come absolutely last! Prophecy originates from God, not from man! The human subjects were passively carried along by the Holy Spirit. So much so that what these men uttered, they spoke not from men, but from God! No clearer witness is needed as to the method by which prophecy, whether oral or written came into being. Prophecy, and thus Scripture (prophecy written down), is not a human creation, but it is a Divine speech. There is a Divine Author of Scripture, God Himself. Man is merely the human agent through whom God speaks accurately by His Spirit.

c)               One summer years ago my family and I attended an extended family reunion in the Seattle area. One day all of us drove in our cars to a ferry in Puget Sound. We drove aboard the ferry, parked our cars, and clambered up the stairs. Many of the women went to the fore deck of the ferry, while a number of us men went aft. In between us there was a very large cabin, capable of seating several hundred passengers. It had a mess, where one could purchase food. The children went everywhere, exploring the ship. After awhile we reached the island where we were to eat our picnic lunch. As we approached the landing, everyone scurried back into their cars. The ferry docked, the gangplank was extended, and we all drove off to our picnic. To me that aptly illustrates what happens in the writing of Scripture. Each one of us, according to our personalities, performed different activities during that ferry ride. Just so, each of the prophets of Scripture wrote according to their own personalities. But in the end, it was the captain of the ferry who deposited us all, unerringly, to the port and dock of his choice. Just so, the Holy Spirit unerringly has guided each of the human authors in such a way that what they ended up writing was exactly what God wanted to be said.

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Scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE

WordExplain by James T. Bartsch

(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.  Used by Permission.)

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Updated January 27, 2022