Kevin DeYoung explains from 2 Peter 1 what the Bible says about itself
Whatever Peter, James, and John saw on the mountain, and whatever it portended about the second coming of Christ and the last judgment, these things only confirmed what the prophetic word had already made sure (v. 19). You cannot put more confidence in your Bible than Peter put in his.
Notice three truths these verses teach us about the nature of Scripture.
Scripture is the Word of God. This may sound like a redundant statement, but the is says something important. Some Christians, influenced by neo-orthodox theologians like Karl Barth, are hesitant to say the Bible is the Word of God. Instead, they argue that the Bible contains the Word of God, or becomes the Word of God. Neo-orthodox thinking attempts to distance claims of inspiration from the written words on the pages of Scripture. This distinction, however, would have been foreign to Peter, for all the lofty claims he makes about the ‘prophetic word’ are made with reference to the written words of Scripture.
Peter uses three different terms to refer to the Word of God in these verses: the ‘prophetic word’ (v.19), ‘prophecy of Scripture’ (v.20), and ‘prophecy’ (v.21). They all mention prophecy and are used interchangeably. Importantly, for our considerations, the Greek word in verse 20 for Scripture is graphe, which refers to something that has been written down. Peter has in mind for verse 20 not just oral traditions or a speech event, but a written text. Peter’s view of inspiration cannot be limited to prophetic speech or a preaching event; it includes the pages of Scripture.
And not just the prophetic parts about the second coming. The whole Old Testament is in view. Just as ‘the Law and the Prophets’ can be a general designation for the Old Testament (cf. Matthew 7.12), so can the law or the prophets separately. No Jew would make a distinction that some parts of Scripture were truer parts than others (cf. 2 Timothy 3.16). Whatever is true of the law is true of the prophets, and vice versa. The ‘prophetic word’ is simply a way of referring to inscripturated revelation.
All of this matters because it means the authority of God’s word resides in the written text – the words, the sentences, the paragraphs – of Scripture. Some people don’t like written texts and propositions because they imply a stable, fixed meaning, and people don’t want truth to be fixed. They would rather have inspiration be more subjective, more internal, more experiential. But according to 2 Peter 1.19-21, the inspiration of holy Scripture is an objective reality outside of us.
None of this is to suggest that inspiration leads us away from the subjective, internal, or experiential. Quite the contrary. We are to ‘pay attention’ to the inspired Scriptures as to ‘a lamp shining in a dark place’ (v.19). We immerse ourselves in Scripture so that the morning star, Christ himself, would rise in our hearts. The goal of revelation is not information only, but affection, worship, and obedience. Christ in us will be realised only as we drink deeply of the Bible, which is God’s Word outside of us.
Human but divine
The Word of God is no less divine because it is given through human instrumentality. Many claim that conservative Christians hold to a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration. Evangelicals, it is said, believe the writers of the Bible were passive instruments who merely recorded what they were given by rote from heaven. It’s true that older theologians sometimes spoke of the Scriptures as being so flawless that it’s as if they were given by dictation. The metaphor (probably more misleading than helpful) was meant to underscore the Bible’s perfection, but it was not meant to describe the actual process whereby the authors of the Bible wrote their inspired texts. Rather, 2 Peter 1.21 teaches, as evangelicals have emphasised, that men spoke (and wrote) as they were ‘carried along’ by the Holy Spirit.
The phrase ‘concursive operation’ is often used to describe the process of inspiration, meaning that God used the intellect, skills, and personality of fallible men to write down what was divine and infallible. The Bible is, in one sense, both a human and a divine book. But this in no way implies any fallibility in the Scriptures. The dual authorship of Scripture does not necessitate imperfection any more than the two natures of Christ mean our Saviour must have sinned.
The verb ‘carried’ in verse 21 suggests an assured outcome, one that is carried out and guaranteed by another. The words from heaven (vv.17-18) and the words from the prophets (v.21) ultimately came from the same place: God.
B.B. Warfield explains: ‘The term here used [for carried/borne] is a very specific one. It is not to be confounded with guiding, or directing, or controlling, or even leading in the full sense of that word. What is ‘borne’ is taken up by the ‘bearer’ and conveyed by the ‘bearer’s’ power, not its own, to the ‘bearer’s’ goal, not its own. The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by his power to the goal of his choosing.’1
The Bible is without error. The Scriptures do not come from human interpretation (2 Peter 1.20). The ideas did not spring forth from the confused mind of man. More than that, Peter testifies that no prophecy was ever produced by the ‘will of man’ (v.21). The ultimate authorship of Scripture, Peter informs us, is God himself.
There are many texts we could use to show that the Bible is without error, but here’s the simplest argument: Scripture did not come from the will of man; it came from God. And if it is God’s Word then it must all be true, for in him there can be no error or deceit.
Inerrancy means the Word of God always stands over us and we never stand over the Word of God. When we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s Word. We claim the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. When we deny the complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures – in its claims with regard to history; its teachings on the material world; its miracles; in the tiniest ‘jots and tittles’ of all that it affirms – then we are forced to accept one of two conclusions: either Scripture is not all from God, or God is not always dependable. To make either statement is to affirm a sub-Christian point of view. These conclusions do not express a proper submission to the Father, do not work for our joy in Christ, and do not bring honour to the Spirit, who carried along the men to speak the prophetic word and to author God’s holy book.
Heart of our faith
Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool’s errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine is at the heart of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God’s Word is to commit the sin of unbelief. Finding a halfway house, where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not, is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible’s own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet.
How are we to believe in a God who can do the unimaginable and forgive our trespasses, conquer our sins, and give us hope in a dark world if we cannot believe that this God created the world out of nothing, gave the virgin a child, and raised his Son on the third day? ‘One cannot doubt the Bible’, J. I. Packer warns, ‘without far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness – that is, the inerrancy – of holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God.’2