As a young follower of Christ I struggled to understand the relation between reason and faith. One particularly troublesome passage was the first chapter of 2 Peter. In this passage, Peter writes about his experience with James and John where they witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. Then in verse 19, he writes, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy…”
This passage seemed to teach that a Christian should trust the Bible even more than physical evidence. According to that view, Peter was essentially saying that on the one hand you have empirical proof, and on the other hand you have the Bible. And of course, the Bible is “more sure” than even his eyewitness experience. That would mean Peter was supporting a fideistic type of faith. However, that would violate both reason and other scriptural passages.
Recently I realized that I had completely misunderstood what Peter is saying. He is not saying that the word of prophecy was more sure than his eyewitness encounter. He is actually saying that the word of prophecy is more sure as a result of his eyewitness encounter. Peter is saying that we have the prophetic word made more certain as a result of his experience. This understanding is supported by three arguments.
The first reason comes from Greek grammar. The word order in the original language places the emphasis on bebaioteron, meaning more certain, sure, firm, or valid. However, this word is not written in the adjective position, but predicate. The only definite article in the Greek proceeds “prophetic word.” Literally, we have more sure the prophetic word. In the predicate position, the adjective (more sure) is often rendered after the noun. (See translation in the Spanish Reina Valera, etc.) While that may not be necessary, the text should not be misunderstood as if bebaioteron were in the adjectival position because it is not. The meaning of this sentence is not that the prophetic word is more sure than the experiences of seeing it fulfilled, but because of those experiences.
As such, Warren Wiersbe gives the correct sense of the text in his Bible Exposition Commentary. He writes, “Peter was not suggesting that the Bible is more certain than the experience he had on the Mount of Transfiguration. His experience was real and true, and the record in the Bible is dependable. As we have seen, the Transfiguration was a demonstration of the promise given in the prophetic Word; and this promise now has added certainty because of what Peter experienced. The Transfiguration experience corroborated the prophetic promises” (p. 444).
Secondly, it would seem strange for Peter to contrast the Old Testament prophecies with the transfiguration. His argument in the preceding passage shows that he considers the transfiguration adequate evidence to conclude that the message of Christ is not a cunningly devised myth (verse 16). As Thomas Schreiner notes, Peter is not at all suggesting that his experience was deficient in comparison to the Old Testament prophecies (1, 2, Peter, Jude. p. 320).
Thirdly, it is dangerous to claim that a person should ignore empirical evidence if it contradicts a specific interpretation of scripture. With that type of thinking, no cult member would have any hope of finding the truth. It may be possible for someone to incorrectly argue that the Bible teaches a flat earth (“four corners of the earth” in Revelation 7:1) or a geocentric solar system (the sun “stood still” in Joshua 10:13). In fact, in earlier ages, some people have. Yet it is obvious that scientific discoveries have relevance to how these passages are understood.
Few Christians would claim that their interpretation of scripture has never been mistaken. In fact, all people that I personally know who study the Bible regularly could give examples where they were wrong in what they thought a passage was saying. I certainly can. If no empirical data can change how a person interprets a passage, it is doubtful that any exegetical data will either. Serious Bible students understand the difference between an infallible scripture and an infallible interpretation.
In conclusion, despite my earlier misunderstanding, Peter’s message in this passage is clear. The incredible experience of the transfiguration served to make more certain the prophetic message of redemption. Based on the fact that these prophecies have already started to be fulfilled, we should pay close attention to what scripture says. It truly comes from God.