2 Peter 1:16-21 (NIV)
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.
19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Much of what we know about history is garnered from the recorded words of the ancients through to modern times. History is often transmitted orally and visually through architecture and art. Songs and poems can fill in some historical detail and a better sense of the past. Archaeology also informs us of facts in regard to history.
The Old Testament began as oral history, the collation and recording of which is accredited to Moses (as we have it in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).
Mixed with the history is theological interpretation inspired by the Holy Spirit concerning God at work in the World. From the Old Testament we can glean much of the sense of the past, the present and the future.
The Gospels and pastoral letters in the New Testament which followed the Old contain the eyewitness account Jesus and the Early Church as reported by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles and other witnesses inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.
We are blessed with a wealth of material which confirms the truth of the Biblical account of history and God’s interaction with humanity.
Peter, one of the Apostles and an eyewitness of much of the life and ministry of Jesus, takes the event of the Transfiguration we heard about in today’s Gospel reading St Matthew chapter 17:1-9 to help us understand the truth of what God has revealed. Through this prophetic event St Peter points us to Jesus second coming in glory.
We can believe this prophesy because of the events of the past having been fulfilled as God declared through the earlier prophets – in particular Moses and Elijah.
Our Christian faith comes out of history – none of the facts of which have been disproved by those who doubt, who are sceptics and atheists. The events described in the Bible are not myths and legends.
There is support for the Biblical narrative in nature, archaeology, recorded history and the biographies of the Saints throughout the ages.
You, yourselves are witnesses to the truth of the Biblical narrative and the Gospel it contains. Otherwise, why are you here today? You have faith which has been given to you by God’s Holy Spirit and as St Paul says, 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. You, too are carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter, along with James and John saw with their own eyes the “majesty” (that is the glory) of God when He revealed Jesus on the mountain in that glory. This was not merely a visual experience, the voice of God Himself was heard speaking His own Word as previously declared in Psalm 2:7 (ESV):
7 I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are My Son;
today I have begotten you.
(N.B. In the Lectionary, Psalm 2 happens to be the alternative Psalm for today.)
And Isaiah 42:1 (ESV):
42 Behold My servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen, in whom My soul delights;
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
This justice was brought forth by Jesus’ death and resurrection and delivered to the world through the Prophets and Apostles and now brought forth through us as Jesus’ disciples.
It is not our message to do as we wish with, but Jesus’ message to be shared exactly as He has given it to us.
Peter reminds us that the prophetic Word of God cannot be privately interpreted (it is not a revelation secret to one, or selected individuals, and cannot be wrongly interpreted.
For example, if you suddenly come up with what you think is a totally new insight from the Word of God which contradicts the acknowledged teaching of the Scriptures by the Church universal then it is most likely that the devil is leading you down the garden path to hell – away from Jesus.
The interpretation of the Scriptures belongs to the Church not an individual. The Holy Spirit reveals to the Church what the teaching of God is for us.
We have these teaching summarised in our church’s confessional writings such as the Book of Concord of 1580 which frequently references the Scriptures and the Early Church Fathers (those who were close to the Apostles in time and teaching).
Any new teaching which varies from what has been handed down by the Prophets and Apostles should be viewed with the utmost scepticism and cross checked against what other parts of Scripture teach.
Remember Jesus said, when He commanded that the Apostles in Matthew 28:19–20 (ESV) to “go”, to “make disciples”, to “Baptise” and:
…, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. …
This does not mean that we can pick and choose, change and adapt what God has revealed as truth.
When Peter wrote about 68 AD to reassure the Church of the truth of the teachings he and the other Apostles were sharing, the Old Testament cannon had been accepted for more than 400 years and most of the New Testament had been recorded and shared widely.
Peter clarifies that the teachings handed down were not an individual’s own interpretations of events. He clearly says:
…but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
As the Rev Dr Michael Eschelbach says,
“Surely God is capable of communicating to us by means that are clear, a message that can be verified. The breadth of Scripture, the languages, the cross references, and witness of nature all work together to provide certainty. For example some argue that the Bible does not teach that the Son of God is truly God. John 1:1 (John 1:1 (ESV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ) and 1:14 (John 1:14 (ESV) 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.) teach clearly that Jesus is the Son of God and true God in very simple language. Some till argue against the established rules of Greek. Now what can be done? What happens when we compare Psalm 23 with John 10? Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and Jesus in John 10 says “I am the Good Shepherd” (emphasis added). Jesus’ assertion is unmistakable, and we have the reaction of the educated Jewish religious leaders as confirmation. They wanted to stone Jesus to death because, they argued, He was clearly asserting that He was God (John 10:30-33).
One of the problems with Biblical interpretation in the world today is that people are unwilling or unable to make the time to test what Scripture actually says, checking out all that is known about the text in question.
Interpretation is also challenged by the thinking of the age in which we live. The pre-suppositions of the modern era often cloud our thinking about Scripture and we impose a modern non-Biblical world view on the Scripture.
It is always good to have a reputable Bible Dictionary at hand, a commentary or two and a number of translations of the Scripture to help us discern what God clearly says through His Word.
It is always good and helpful to listen to and study Scripture with others who believe God’s Word to be truth. That’s why we preach to the converted and share Bible Studies together, so that we can grow in our understanding of God’s grace and truth and more easily share this truth with those who do not yet believe and who have not yet tested the Word of God.
C.S Lewis came to faith by testing the Scriptures as did Lee Strobel, a former journalist and atheist sceptic. J. Warner Wallace, who wrote Cold Case Christianity, was a homicide detective and former atheist, who, in order to disprove the Biblical narrative carried out a forensic investigation – he came to faith as a result of the evidence for the truth of Scripture. “The startling case for Christianity was as convincing as any case he’d ever worked as a detective.”
Our task as Christians is to help others hear this truth so God’s Holy Spirit can convict them of the truth.