Commentary on 2 Peter 1:16-21

Notes (NET Translation)

1:16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ;  no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur.

“We” stands for the apostles generally. Peter need not be claiming to have personally founded the churches addressed (3:1-2). His point is that the addressed churches were founded on apostolic tradition and teaching. He focuses on the teaching concerning the return of Christ, which is picked up again in chapter 3. Apparently the opponents, by describing these teachings as “cleverly concocted fables,” doubted whether Christ would return (3:3-4). Peter responds by noting that the apostolic teaching is anchored in history (not fables or myths). He presupposes that all the apostles taught the same thing on this matter. He is not trying to prove the transfiguration happened; he is saying that the fact of the transfiguration (which the opponents presumably do not deny) anticipates the return of Christ (which the opponents deny).

1:17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.”

Verses 17-18 allude to Jesus’ transfiguration (Mt 17:1-13; Mk 9:2-13; Lk 9:28-36), which was witnessed by Peter, John, and James. The Greek wording in this verse is not identical to the wording in any of the Synoptic Gospels and may represent an independent tradition (Bauckham 205-210). The transfiguration anticipates Christ’s return in glory for it reveals that he had been inaugurated as the eschatological ruler.

God is called “Father” here (rather than some other title) because he will in the voice from heaven call Jesus “Son,” yet the following phrase is unusual in that it says “the voice came [lit. “was conveyed to him”] from the Majestic Glory.” Clearly, our author is designating a divine voice, but why does he do it in such a way? The term for “majestic” appears only here in the NT, but the root as a characteristic of God is common enough in the LXX (Deut 33:26; Pss 8:2; 20:6 [21:5]; 28:4 [29:4]; 67:35 [68:34]; 70:8 [71:8]; 95:6 [96:6]; 110:3 [111:3]; 144:5, 12 [145:5,12]). While the exact combination with “glory” does not appear there, majesty is associated with glory in Pss 20:6 [21:5]; 67:35 [68:34]; 70:8 [71:8]; 145:5, 12, the last two verses being very close to the structure found here. Our author, then, is using a circumlocution for the divine presence. Rather than say, “God spoke from his throne,” 2 Peter avoids speaking of the throne/abode of God and guards the divine transcendence by saying that a voice was brought to Jesus from “the Majestic Glory.” While many places refer to God’s voice as “a voice from heaven” or the equivalent (Dan 4:31; John 12:28; Rev 4:4; 11:12; 16:1), here, perhaps reflecting a reticence among some Jews (Matt 5:34; 23:22), the throne or abode of God is not directly mentioned. This also serves to tie in the glory given to Jesus with the source of glory, that is, God, and heightens the solemnity of the investiture, giving it a regal tone. (Davids 204)

1:18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

What made the mountain holy was the presence of God. This is probably an allusion to Psalm 2:6-9 (NET): “I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill. The king says, I will announce the Lord’s decree. He said to me: You are my son! This very day I have become your father! Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your personal property. You will break them with an iron scepter; you will smash them like a potter’s jar!” The references to sonship and judgment links the passage to the previous couple of verses as well. Peter both saw the transfiguration (1:16) and heard the voice (1:18).

1:19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

“We” still refers to the apostles and is contrasted with “you.” As the next verse makes clear with its mention of the “prophecy of scripture,” the “prophetic word” refers to the Old Testament prophecies, perhaps especially those that focus on salvation and judgment on the day of the Lord.

What this means, then, is that the apostolic preaching on the Parousia is here based on two things. First, it is based on eyewitness experience of seeing Jesus invested with honor by none other than God himself. Second, it is based on Scripture, which, as 2 Peter will go on to argue, stems from God, and thus has God’s honor behind it. Thus our author is arguing that to reject the Parousia is to impugn the honor of both Jesus and God. (Davids 208)

The day that dawns is the day of salvation and judgment. The prophetic word is a light in the present age (“a murky place”).

The day of the Lord is also described as the time when “the morning star rises in your hearts.” The “morning star” (phosphoros) was a name for Venus in the ancient world. The reference here is almost certainly to the coming of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Peter alluded to Num 24:17, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” The text goes on to say that God’s enemies will be crushed, which fits the eschatological cast of Peter’s writing and the judgment awaiting the opponents. Peter said that the morning star “rises” (anateile), while Num 24:17 in the Septuagint says a “star will arise” (astron anatelei) from Jacob (cf. Rev 22:16; T. Levi 18:3; T. Jud. 24:1-5; 1QM 11:6-7; CD 7:18-20). Some have detected an inconsistency within v. 19 since Venus as the morning star appears before the dawn, but we should not press the language into such a firm mold. Peter clearly saw the day of the Lord and the coming of the Lord as one event. It also seems strange that he spoke of the morning star that “rises in your hearts.” How could Jesus Christ arise in one’s heart? The objective event and the subjective experience seem to be confused. Bigg says that it refers to the joy that will be ours when the Lord returns. The language of illumination in the verse suggests another interpretation. When Jesus comes, we will not need the prophetic word to shine in a dark place — this sinful world. Then our hearts will be enlightened by the Morning Star himself, and that to which prophecy points will have arrived. It is not incompatible to speak of an eschatological event and its interior impact. Caulley rightly emphasizes that the knowledge of God that shines upon us in conversion (2 Cor 4:6) will reach its consummation at the second coming. (Schreiener 321-322)

1:20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 1:21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Scholars debate whether Peter is focused on the origin of prophecy or its interpretation. The Greek word translated “imagination” in the NET can also be translated “interpretation.” Are the opponents misinterpreting prophecy or doubting that the prophets were inspired by God? At the very least, the opponents are “false teachers” (2:1) who distort Scripture (3:16). But verse 21 makes the most sense in response to opponents who held that the prophets imagined/misinterpreted their prophecies. Peter is urging his readers to pay attention to the prophetic word because it was given by the Holy Spirit (Davids 212).

Bibliography

Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. Word Books, 1983.

Davids, Peter H. The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006.

Green, Gene. Jude & 2 Peter. Baker Academic, 2008.

Green, Michael. 2 Peter & Jude. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Holman Reference, 2003.

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