2 Peter 1:19-21Context
1:19 Moreover, 1 we 2 possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. 3 You do well if you pay attention 4 to this 5 as you would 6 to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star 7 rises in your hearts. 8 1:20 Above all, you do well if you recognize 9 this: 10 No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 11 1:21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men 12 carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
1 tn Grk “and.” The use of καί (kai) is of course quite elastic. Only the context can determine if it is adversative, continuative, transitional, etc.
2 sn We in v. 19 is apparently an inclusive “we” (the author and his audience). Such shifts in the first person plural are quite common in epistolary literature (cf., e.g., 2 Cor 10-13, passim).
3 tn The comparative adjective βεβαιότερον (bebaioteron) is the complement to the object τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον (ton profhtikon logon). As such, the construction almost surely has the force “The prophetic word is (more certain/altogether certain) – and this is something that we all have.” Many scholars prefer to read the construction as saying “we have the prophetic word made more sure,” but such a nuance is unparalleled in object-complement constructions (when the construction has this force, ποιέω [poiew] is present [as in 2 Pet 1:10]). The meaning, as construed in the translation, is that the Bible (in this case, the OT) that these believers had in their hands was a thoroughly reliable guide. Whether it was more certain than was even Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration depends on whether the adjective should be taken as a true comparative (“more certain”) or as an elative (“very certain, altogether certain”). Some would categorically object to any experience functioning as a confirmation of the scriptures and hence would tend to give the adjective a comparative force. Yet the author labors to show that his gospel is trustworthy precisely because he was an eyewitness of this great event. Further, to say that the OT scriptures (the most likely meaning of “the prophetic word”) were more trustworthy an authority than an apostle’s own experience of Christ is both to misconstrue how prophecy took place in the OT (did not the prophets have visions or other experiences?) and to deny the final revelation of God in Christ (cf. Heb 1:2). In sum, since syntactically the meaning that “we have confirmed the prophetic word by our experience” is improbable, and since contextually the meaning that “we have something that is a more reliable authority than experience, namely, the Bible” is unlikely, we are left with the meaning “we have a very reliable authority, the Old Testament, as a witness to Christ’s return.” No comparison is thus explicitly made. This fits both the context and normal syntax quite well. The introductory καί (kai) suggests that the author is adding to his argument. He makes the statement that Christ will return, and backs it up with two points: (1) Peter himself (as well as the other apostles) was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, which is a precursor to the Parousia; and (2) the Gentile believers, who were not on the Mount of Transfiguration, nevertheless have the Old Testament, a wholly reliable authority that also promises the return of Christ.
4 tn Grk “paying attention” (the adverbial participle is either conditional [“if you pay attention”] or instrumental [“by paying attention”]; though there is difference in translation, there is virtually no difference in application). On a lexical level, “pay attention to” (προσέχω [prosecw]) does not, in a context such as this, mean merely observe or notice, but follow, give heed to, obey.
5 tn “To this” is a relative pronoun in Greek. The second half of v. 19 is thus a relative clause. Literally it reads “to which you do well if you pay attention.”
6 tn Grk “as”; ὡς (Jws) clauses after imperatives or implied commands (as here) make a comparison of what should be true (imperative) to what is true (indicative). This is the case even when the verb of the ὡς clause is only implied. Cf. Matt 6:10 (“may your will be done on earth as [it is] in heaven”); 10:16 (“be wise as serpents [are], and be as gentle as doves [are]”); 22:39 (“love your neighbor as [you already do] love yourself”).
7 sn The reference to the morning star constitutes a double entendre. First, the term was normally used to refer to Venus. But the author of course has a metaphorical meaning in mind, as is obvious from the place where the morning star is to rise – “in your hearts.” Most commentators see an allusion to Num 24:17 (“a star shall rise out of Jacob”) in Peter’s words. Early Christian exegesis saw in that passage a prophecy about Christ’s coming. Hence, in this verse Peter tells his audience to heed the OT scriptures which predict the return of Christ, then alludes to one of the passages that does this very thing, all the while running the theme of light on a parallel track. In addition, it may be significant that Peter’s choice of terms here is not the same as is found in the LXX. He has used a Hellenistic word that was sometimes used of emperors and deities, perhaps as a further polemic against the paganism of his day.
8 sn The phrase in your hearts is sometimes considered an inappropriate image for the parousia, since the coming of Christ will be visible to all. But Peter’s point has to do with full comprehension of the revelation of Christ, something only believers will experience. Further, his use of light imagery is doing double-duty, suggesting two things at once (i.e., internal guidance to truth or illumination, and OT prophecy about Christ’s return) and hence can not be expected to be consistent with every point he wishes to make.
9 tn Grk “knowing this [to be] foremost.” Τοῦτο πρῶτον (touto prwton) constitute the object and complement of γινώσκοντες (ginwskonte"). The participle is dependent on the main verb in v. 19 (“you do well [if you pay attention]”), probably in a conditional usage. An alternative is to take it imperativally: “Above all, know this.” In this rendering, πρῶτον is functioning adverbially. Only here and 2 Pet 3:3 is τοῦτο πρῶτον found in the NT, making a decision more difficult.
10 tn The ὅτι (Joti) clause is appositional (“know this, that”). English usage can use the colon with the same force.
11 tn Verse 20 is variously interpreted. There are three key terms here that help decide both the interpretation and the translation. As well, the relation to v. 21 informs the meaning of this verse. (1) The term “comes about” (γίνεται [ginetai]) is often translated “is a matter” as in “is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” But the progressive force for this verb is far more common. (2) The adjective ἰδίας (idias) has been understood to mean (a) one’s own (i.e., the reader’s own), (b) its own (i.e., the particular prophecy’s own), or (c) the prophet’s own. Catholic scholarship has tended to see the reference to the reader (in the sense that no individual reader can understand scripture, but needs the interpretations handed down by the Church), while older Protestant scholarship has tended to see the reference to the individual passage being prophesied (and hence the Reformation doctrine of analogia fidei [analogy of faith], or scripture interpreting scripture). But neither of these views satisfactorily addresses the relationship of v. 20 to v. 21, nor do they do full justice to the meaning of γίνεται. (3) The meaning of ἐπίλυσις (epilusi") is difficult to determine, since it is a biblical hapax legomenon. Though it is sometimes used in the sense of interpretation in extra-biblical Greek, this is by no means a necessary sense. The basic idea of the word is unfolding, which can either indicate an explanation or a creation. It sometimes has the force of solution or even spell, both of which meanings could easily accommodate a prophetic utterance of some sort. Further, even the meaning explanation or interpretation easily fits a prophetic utterance, for prophets often, if not usually, explained visions and dreams. There is no instance of this word referring to the interpretation of scripture, however, suggesting that if interpretation is the meaning, it is the prophet’s interpretation of his own vision. (4) The γάρ (gar) at the beginning of v. 21 gives the basis for the truth of the proposition in v. 20. The connection that makes the most satisfactory sense is that prophets did not invent their own prophecies (v. 20), for their impulse for prophesying came from God (v. 21).
sn No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination. 2 Pet 1:20-21, then, form an inclusio with v. 16: The Christian’s faith and hope are not based on cleverly concocted fables but on the sure Word of God – one which the prophets, prompted by the Spirit of God, spoke. Peter’s point is the same as is found elsewhere in the NT, i.e., that human prophets did not originate the message, but they did convey it, using their own personalities in the process.
12 tn If, as seems probable, the “prophecy” mentioned here is to be identified with the “prophecy of scripture” mentioned in the previous verse, then the Greek term ἄνθρωποι (anqrwpoi, “men”) would refer specifically to the human authors of scripture, who (as far as we know) were all men. Thus “men” has been used here in the translation. If, on the other hand, the “prophecy” mentioned in the present verse is not limited to scripture but refers to oral prophecy as well, then women would be included, since Joel 2:20 specifically mentions “sons and daughters” as having the ability to prophesy, and the NT clearly mentions prophetesses (Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9).