2 Peter 1:16-19


The Sunday before Lent is always devoted to the Transfiguration of Jesus. Oddly enough, those who recorded it in the Gospels were not witnesses of the Transfiguration: Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36. Peter and John were witnesses. In verse 18 of our text Peter plainly refers to the Transfiguration. And John alludes to it at John 1:14, though he is likely not limiting his words to the Transfiguration.

2 Peter 1:16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Strictly speaking this verse is a complex sentence with a double subordinate clause. The main clause is "we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ." The first subordinate clause precedes these words and the second follows them. The first subordinate clause tells us on what their knowledge did NOT rest and the second tells us on what it DID rest.

"Cleverly invented stories" could be also translated "cleverly devised tales."

Rienecker: The word 'stories' stood for mythical stories about gods, the creation of the world, miraculous happenings, etc. Apparently the mockers of 2 Peter 3:3 spoke of the Christian hope of the glories to come as resting on fictitious prophecies.

Somewhat like the Communists making fun of heaven with the words "pie in the sky." These stories were typical of those the heathen held respecting their gods.

By the way, Bengel points out that in this Epistle the words refer to erroneous teaching, here and at 2:2-15. This Epistle stressed the power and second coming of Christ. Note that both nouns have only on article. Look at Luke 21:37: "They will see the Son of man coming on a cloud with power and great glory." Look at Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39 for the word "power."

Lenski: 'Power and Parousia' constitute one idea, 'power' bringing out the thought of the omnipotent might involved in the Lord's second coming.

The last word in verse 16 is translated "majesty" which clearly denotes His divinity.

Rienecker: The divine majesty as revealed in the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Lenski does not agree with that. He is of the opinion that verse 16 is broader in application. He writes: "All the apostles were 'eyewitnesses of his majesty.'" and then quotes John 1:14 as a parallel to 2 Peter 1:16. Stoeckhardt, Bengel, and Kretzmann agree with Rienecker that verse 16 is speaking of the Transfiguration only.

Bengel: The Transfiguration on the mountain typifies the revelation of glory on the last day; and the whole testimony of the apostles contemplates this revelation, Acts 10:42.
Stoeckhardt: That Christ will return in glory is no myth which men have dreamed up . . . . They themselves had already been privileged to see some of His glorious majesty . . . . And His glorification at that time is a surety to Christians that they some time later shall be partakers of His glory. For that reason He also chose witnesses, so that they might rejoice in this wonderful revelation . . . . The Transfiguration is but the prelude to His heavenly glory in which He is now enveloped at the right hand of God, as He rules the world.

In the words preceding our text Peter tells us that Jesus knew that He would soon die. And so He held everlasting life before the eyes of His hearers to inspire them.

2 Peter 1:17 For he received honor 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."

If one accepts Lenski's thought that verse 16 is general, not limited to the Transfiguration, then "for" here means: "for example." But if one limits verse 16 to the Transfiguration, "for" is explanatory "you see." Actually all of verse 17 in the Greek is only a subordinate clause without a main clause. Therefore, Stoeckhardt, considering this verse an anacoluthon, suggests that one add: "there we saw and heard what I have just mentioned," though he states that no essential thought has been omitted. Lenski agrees with this idea.

By the way, verses 16-18 speak of the  incarnate  Christ. Note the combination of "honor and glory" with reference to Christ in Hebrews 2: 7 and 9. There it is said twice, once in prophecy and again fulfillment, that God "crowned Jesus with glory and honor." Back to our text.

With the word "received" Peter is not saying that the incarnate Christ did not fully have this honor and glory before the Transfiguration. He had this honor and glory from the moment of conception, or rather we should say that they were attributed to His human nature, because as the eternal God, Jesus already had this honor and glory.

At the beginning of the verse we have "God" and at the end of the verse we have "majestic glory," denoting the Father in both instances. Why? To equate the "glory" of the Son with that of the Father. The Father honored the incarnate Son by what He said of Him.

Stoeckhardt: The divine glory shone through His human form.
Kretzmann: Jesus, the poor, despised Prophet of Nazareth was invested with honor and glory from His heavenly Father Himself.

On three occasions the Father publicly announced approval of His Son's person and work:

  1. at His baptism,

  2. at the Transfiguration,

  3. and shortly before He dies, John 12:28.

Not only did God love the whole world in all its misery but He also sent His beloved Son. What the Father said reads literally: "My Son, my Beloved, is this One." This denotes far more than merely liking Him. It denotes a relationship of never abandoning Him. Jesus is my Substitute. I am not God's son as is Jesus, but God says of me, through Christ: "You are My child, My beloved."

Lenski: The Father's good pleasure and choice refer to the Son in his incarnation and his redemptive work.

2 Peter 1:18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

This verse constitutes a complex sentence. The final words "when we were with Him on the holy mountain" constitute the subordinate clause. Therefore the antecedent of "we" must be Peter, James, and John.

Bengel remarks that the words "from heaven" mean "from God."

The mountain is called "holy" not because of what it was but because of what happened there. Jerusalem is called "the holy city" not because of what it is but because of what happened there. In a Christmas carol, the night when Jesus was born is called "Oh holy night" not because of itself but because of what happened then. The word "holy" must always be interpreted in its own context.

Lenski: This is he whom Peter has truly named in verses 1, 2, 11, whose Parousia will come in spite of all scoffers, for whom Peter's readers are to wait with unshakable assurance.

2 Peter 1:19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, 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.

This verse is the most difficult in our text. We summarize the various views.

Rienecker: Peter is saying that the holy Scriptures are more certain than experience. 'Prophets' embraces the Old Testament as a whole and not simply the prophets proper.
Stoeckhardt:The prophetic Word is obviously the Old Testament. That, too, bears witness to the glory of the Son of God, to the future glory of Jesus Christ, to His kingdom of glory, to the Day of the Highest. All that essentially belongs to and is included in the Messianic prophecies. This prophetic Word is firmer, more certain, than what I have just reported that we have seen and heard on the holy mountain . . . . Their witness could be subject to mistake. It could be possible that their senses were deceived.

A second idea is expressed by Bengel.

Bengel: Undoubtedly the word of prophecy becomes surer from its fulfillment, Romans 15:8 . . . The word of prophecy was always firm of itself, but it became firmer to the apostles' hearers to whom the apostles were demonstrating the fulfillment completed in Jesus Christ, and were, moreover, drawing inferences from this for the future.

Kretzmann follows this line of reasoning.

Kretzmann: What Peter wants to impress upon them all is this, that the Gospel as taught by him and his fellow apostles was not only confirmed by the testimony of God from heaven, but also by all the prophecies of old.

A third idea is presented by Lenski.

Lenski: When they became eyewitnesses of his majesty, this their own experience with Christ made the entire prophetic Word more sure to them and so they made it known to all to whom they preached . . . After seeing Christ's majesty, the Old Testament prophecies were surer than ever to the apostles.

This third view is followed by NKJV, RSV, NASB, TEV, NIV, and NEB. One must admit that the majority of the translations follow Lenski's interpretation. One must also admit with Lenski that "more firm" is a predicate, not attribute, adjective. The words read: "We have more firm the prophetic Word" not "We have the more firm prophetic Word." This argument opposes the interpretation of Rienecker and Stoeckhardt.

"Dark place" is translated "dry and parched, dirty, dark, murky."

And now a question: Does "place" denote the human heart or the world? Bengel thinks it means the human heart of the enlightened which constantly needs more enlightenment. Rienecker, Stoeckhardt, and Kretzmann take it of the world.

Rienecker: The 'darksome place' is the world as it at the present time exists, which in the New Testament is regularly characterized as darkness.
Stoeckhardt: The 'dark place' is this world in which we live at the present time.

We think that is correct. We agree with Bengel who sees a contrast between "light" and "day." He says: "See how a lamp and the day differ!" Then he applies this thus: "Just so does the Old Testament light differ from the New Testament. See 1 John 2:8. Dawn burst the darkness. The day-star is Jesus Christ. Revelation 22:16."

Rienecker sees the word meaning "light bringing, light bringer, the morning star (i.e. the planet Venus)" as a fulfillment of Numbers 24:17 "There shall come a star out of Jacob," and he notes that the coming of the Messiah is also compared to the dawn in Malachi 4:2. But then he also adds:

Rienecker: The rising of the morning star in Christian hearts at the dawning of the day may mean the glow of anticipation in Christian hearts when 'the signs of the approaching day are manifest to Christians.'
Stoeckhardt: The Apostle refers to the prophecies of Scripture which treat of the last things, and the return of the Lord to the Father and the setting up of the kingdom of glory . . . Jesus Christ, the Morning Star, is, according to the context, the returning Christ . . . . It is the Day of Jesus Christ, of which the prophecy often speaks as the Day of the revelation of His glory. . . . The world may then see Him in His majesty and glory. However, this glory will then shine into the hearts of Christians so that they are glad and will lift up their hearts with joy, because their own glorification is now at hand. When once this Day has come, the prophetic Word is no longer needed. But until then the Christians are to heed this word.

Lenski agrees with this in essentials.

Lenski: The best commentary is Luke 21:28 and Matthew 24:32 . . . Both the dawning day and its accompanying day-star's appearing above the horizon are objective, and must be left so . . . These hearts will apprehend what is happening; the hearts of all other people will not apprehend. The approaching light will fill the hearts of the believers.

Note that the Epistle reading for this day is listed as 2 Peter 1:16-19 (20-21). That likely means that the main reason for choosing this pericope is the reference to the Transfiguration in verse 18. But one can see why they added the two verses in brackets. Note that verse 19 is followed by a comma, making verses 20-21 a part of verse 19.

We shall not add exegetical notes on verses 20-21 at this point but need to make a few observations. Peter notes in verse 20 that no Scripture passage is to be interpreted on the basis of one's own subjective ideas. He gives his main reason in verse 21. Prophecy did not originate with the will of human beings but was given to them and through them under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Note 2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is God-breathed.

In both of his Epistles Peter expresses deep concern that his hearers study the Word and adhere closely to it. In 2 Peter he warns about false prophets who will attempt to mislead the Christians.

Now let us look at our text once more: In verse 16 Peter stated that they had made known the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ not by following cleverly devised myths but rather by being eyewitnesses of Jesus' majesty. For three years the disciples had seen the God-man perform miracles and had heard Him speak the very Word of God. Very often the disciples betrayed their own ignorance about the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, at Matthew 16:21-23, when Jesus made the first announcement of His suffering, death, and resurrection, Peter objected and Jesus had to speak sharply to Peter. On the very day when He ascended into heaven, they asked a question, Acts 1:6, which betrayed faulty ideas about the kingdom. But Jesus had promised again and again in John 14-16 that He would send the Holy Spirit who would remind them of everything Jesus said and would lead them into all truth.

When Peter wrote his second Epistle he was an old man and was about to die. He looks back over his life since he became a disciple of Jesus and acknowledges that he had learned a lot. He and his fellow disciples have the Old Testament Word more firmly then they did before both because they saw it fulfilled and saw Jesus' actual glory by experience. That does not imply that the prophetic Word is more reliable than the apostolic Word.

The Word, which is absolutely certain and which came to us under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, causes us to lift up our heads, for our salvation draws near.

We have written these added paragraphs only because so many different ideas have been expressed about this text and we wished to give as simple an explanation as possible.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 71-75. Used with permission.

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