“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
The light of the transfiguration glows around Peter’s witness. It lights up his memory and fuels his metaphors. It confirms his testimony, but it also structures his teaching – lighting up the divide between true and false prophesy.
2 Peter’s assertion that Scripture does not come about through a prophet’s own interpretation does not mean that Scripture is not interpreted. 2 Peter has stark warnings for those whose interpretations of scripture have led the church astray, which means that proper scriptural interpretation is vital. What 2 Peter asserts, instead, is that Scripture is a God-given gift.
Scripture grows out of a personal encounter between a person of faith and a living Savior. It is a written response to the movement of Divine Spirit. Its promises are guaranteed – not because of the author’s holiness, inerrancy or perfection – but because a faithful God has met the author in the valleys and mountaintops of life. Peter gives a personal testimony, not about his own glory, but about the glory of Jesus revealed on the Mountain of Transfiguration. This is no idle story, he insists. It grows out of a moment that took his breath away. The light he saw can be trusted, whether it shines on a mountain or burns in the pages of Scripture.
But then Peter does something provocative. He starts talking about his testimony itself like a light. “Be attentive to this,” he says of his prophetic message, “as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” Trust this light of my testimony until you see the light for yourself – until the “day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (v. 19). Peter describes the light of the transfiguration as if it shines through creation like sun through a prism – through language and memory and human flesh. It changes everything it touches, making his ordinary testimony shine with Jesus’ reflected glory and our frailer hearts warm with revealed light.
In other words, Scripture is not a gift of the past. It is a gift of the present. It was written so that we might have our own mountaintop experience – so that we might see a revelation of Jesus’ face for ourselves. The purpose of Scripture is not only to awaken belief in Peter’s testimony of the transfigured Christ, but to awaken testimony of our own encounter.
So – if scriptural interpretation is not grounded in the hope and promise of a living, loving God who is powerful to save – then it has lost its way.
If it denies the value of elders in faith who hold up their testimonies like lamps in the darkness – then it wanders from the path.
Alternately, if it mistakes those lamps for the breaking dawn – then it has mistaken the Bible’s true aim.
Scripture is meant to reveal to us the person of Jesus so that we might be moved by the Holy Spirit ourselves. Finally, that is the measure of prophetic witness. Does it light up the face of Christ – God’s beloved – and place its trust in his promise? Does it move us to reflect that light to the world?
Four years ago this February, my aunt climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. She had been born in the mountain’s shadow and my grandfather, a Lutheran missionary, had climbed to the summit in 1948. The witness of my grandfather may have sparked her interest – but it was a personal invitation from God that compelled her. In her words, she felt God “whispering my name to climb this mountain and see Him at the top.” When she reached the peak, she would later reflect, “I felt wonder and majesty as the sun shone down on me. I was in awe… changed from within. I felt the very presence of God.” This kind of awe was Peter’s promise for those who climb the sometimes treacherous trails of Scripture with grit, attentive care, and trust: basking in the presence of a Person shining like the sun.