Peter is probably referring here to the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. Peter, James, and John were eyewitnesses to that event, and it confirmed to them the prophecies made of old. He then urges us to press forward in faith knowing that the guarantee of the prophecies in God's Word is that they originated in God, not in men. The prophets spoke or wrote as God motivated them by His Holy Spirit. God's very words came through them to us. The Scriptures are not the invention of creative and imaginative men. They are not fairy tales, and we can trust them right on up to the return of Christ and our resurrection because the reputation and power of God are their surety.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Promises Are Sure!
It is from verse 20 in particular that we derive the principle that the Bible interprets itself. This means that somewhere within the pages of Scripture, the timing, the location, the characters, and the symbols employed in symbolic texts like parables and prophecies are explained or defined. It is our job to search them out.
When we add the following three vital verses to our understanding of this principle, however, we end up with a very significant corollary:
» For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)
» Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
» Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
Each of these verses proclaims God as constant, consistent, unchanging. It is this quality of God—that He is faithful to what He is—that allows us to trust Him. We can have confidence in God and His Word because He never changes! Could we rely upon a double-minded God (see James 1:6-8)? Could we have faith in a Being who constantly blew hot and cold? Never! With our God, though, we need not fear inconsistency.
Thus, if God is constant and His Word interprets itself, the corollary principle is that the Bible's interpretation of its symbols is consistent. This must be true! If the Bible gave us two contradictory interpretations of a symbol, how could we ever feel confident that we understood its meaning? This corollary underscores II Peter 1:19, where the apostle informs us that "the prophetic word [is] more sure" than even eyewitness accounts! We can have confidence in our understanding of the prophecies and parables if the symbols we interpret match what we understand in other areas of Scripture. Otherwise, we could never be sure!
This means that every symbol from Genesis to Revelation is consistent in its interpretation. If a rose means something in one part of the Bible, it will mean the same elsewhere, though the context may modify it slightly. If God is consistent, His Word—His revelation of Himself to us—must also therefore be consistent.
This conclusion may raise some questions. How can that be? How can, for instance, a lion represent Satan in I Peter 5:8 and Jesus Christ in Revelation 5:5? Is that not contradictory? Not at all! Our understanding is correct, but the meaning we give to the symbol is wrong. We have defined it too narrowly.
A study of the symbol of the lion brings out several characteristics the Bible emphasizes: It represents strength, predatory ferocity, majesty, and leadership. The lion is the symbol of a ruler, a king, and often a very fierce and powerful one. These are the general meanings of the symbol based on a lion's traits. They help us to comprehend what God wants us to focus on in the context. Thus, a lion can represent both Satan and Jesus because they both have a lion's characteristics.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy
This warning is very instructive. First, Peter assures us that biblical prophecy is "more sure" than even eyewitness testimony (verses 16-18)! When God speaks, whatever He foretells WILL happen! God's Word will not return to Him empty; it will accomplish what God sends it to do (Isaiah 55:11).
The apostle also says we would "do well to heed" it. Prophecy is vital to our growth! It strengthens our faith in God, teaches us how He works, and gives us a guide to His purpose for humanity. Until Christ returns, we need to study the prophecies to understand where we are and what God is doing.
Then Peter sounds his warning note: Do not presume to believe that your particular understanding of prophecy is THE correct one! He says this is the "first" rule of studying prophecy; it is something we must arm ourselves with at the outset. We must be humble enough to realize that our interpretation of prophecy is probably WRONG!
God's thoughts are far higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9); He does not think as humans do. Though we are surely growing in forming His mind in us (I Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 4:13, 15; Philippians 2:5; II Peter 3:18), we still have a very long way to go! Paul puts it another way: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then [in the resurrection] face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (I Corinthians 13:12). Or, as he quotes Isaiah in I Corinthians 2:9, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him."
We, in this fleshly form, with our limited minds and perspectives, just do not know it all yet!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
No Private Interpretation
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Peter 1:20:
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
1 Thessalonians 5:21