In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. One of our previous blog series, Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Places, strongly emphasizes those doctrines. The following entry from that series originally appeared on June 26, 2017. -ed.
Go with your gut.
That might be good advice when shopping for shoes online, but it’s not a reliable means for interpreting or understanding God’s Word. Too many people in the church today trust the inclinations of the upper abdomen to be the final arbiter that determines both when God is speaking and what He is saying.
As we saw last time, that is a dangerous approach—one that will likely lead to spiritual confusion and chaos. If we turn our faith into an entirely subjective exercise, we’re left with no reliable way to determine what is actually true.
Scripture very clearly addresses that issue. The apostle Peter settled the matter by proclaiming the authority and supremacy of Scripture when he wrote,
We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16–18).
Peter was describing an event that may have been the most spectacular spiritual experience of his life. This was the transfiguration of Christ, when our Lord appeared in His full glory. Peter heard the voice of God and saw Moses and Elijah face to face. Best of all, he got a preview of Christ in His glory.
This was not a dream or vision. It was not an impression in Peter’s mind, or a figment of his imagination. It was real life (“we did not follow cleverly devised tales”). He saw it with his own eyes (“we were eyewitnesses”). He heard the voice of God with his own ears (“we ourselves heard this utterance”). He was there in person with other apostolic eyewitnesses (“we were with Him”). There was nothing subjective about this experience.
Yet Peter goes on to say that even what he heard with his own ears and saw with his own eyes was not as authoritative as the eternal Word of God contained in Scripture:
We have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:19–21).
Peter is not saying that his eyewitness testimony makes the “prophecy of Scripture” more sure. He is saying that the written Word of God by its very nature is more sure than his own experience. This is confirmed by Peter’s argument in verses 20–21, where he establishes the authority and divine origin of every “prophecy of Scripture.”
The Greek word order in verse 19 also supports this as the true meaning of the text: “We have more sure the prophetic Word.” More sure than what? More sure than experience—even the valid, genuine, eyewitness experience of the apostles. Peter is saying that the written Word is an even more reliable source of truth than his own experience. To paraphrase Peter’s message to his readers, it is this: “James, John, and I saw Christ’s glory firsthand. But if you don’t believe us, there is one authority even more certain than our testimony: the written Word of God.”
The “we” at the beginning of verse 19 is generic, not emphatic. It means “you and I”; not “we who witnessed the Transfiguration.” Peter is saying, in effect, “All of us who are believers have a word of prophecy that is more sure than any voice from heaven. It is the ‘prophecy of Scripture’ (v. 20) which is more sure, more reliable, more authoritative than anyone’s experiences.”
That surely puts subjective impressions in their proper place. Remember, Peter’s experience was not subjective. What he saw and heard was real. Others experienced it with him. But Peter knew that the written Word of God is even more authoritative than the shared experience of three apostles.
Why would anyone seek truth in subjective impressions when we have such a sure Word? Peter admonishes his readers with the reminder that they would “do well to pay attention [to Scripture] as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (v. 19). The imagery here speaks of a single source of light, like a night light, shining in an otherwise dark place. Peter’s point is that we needn’t grope about in the dark in search of truth. Rather we should focus all our vision on the light cast by that single source—the written Word of God.
Moreover, we are to maintain that focus “until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” This phrase is admittedly difficult to understand, but we discover a clue in the fact that Revelation 22:16 refers to Christ as “the bright morning star.” He is the incarnate Word of God, the one who is light (John 8:12). The apostle John wrote, “When He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). And Paul wrote of that same day, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
This is what Peter seems to be saying: “In the midst of the darkness of this age, keep your eyes fixed on the lamp of Scripture—until that day when Christ returns and our knowledge of truth is made perfect—that day when the Morning Star Himself arises in our hearts and we are made like Him, to know as we are known.” It is a reference to the Second Coming, the only remaining revelation for which we wait.
Meanwhile, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, emphasis added). Those who turn aside from the lamp and grope in the darkness after subjective impressions open themselves up to deception, disappointment, spiritual failure, and all manner of confusion. But those who keep their hearts and minds fixed firmly on the lamplight of Scripture—they are the truly discerning ones. That is Peter’s message.
During the Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards wrote,
Why cannot we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure word of God, which we have in such abundance and clearness, now since the canon of Scripture is completed? Why should we desire to have any thing added to them by impulses from above? Why should we not rest in that standing rule that God has given to his church, which the apostle teaches us, is surer than a voice from heaven? And why should we desire to make the Scripture speak more to us than it does? Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976 reprint), 1:404.
Why indeed! Elsewhere Edwards penned this warning:
They who leave the sure word of prophecy—which God has given us as a light shining in a dark place—to follow such impressions and impulses, leave the guidance of the polar star to follow a Jack with a lantern. No wonder therefore that sometimes they are led into woeful extravagances. Jonathan Edwards, Jonathan Edwards: On Revival (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984), 141.
Surely the best advice of all comes from Scripture itself:
For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:3–6, emphasis added).
We don’t need to hear something fresh and unique from God—He has already spoken to us clearly and comprehensively through the Bible. God’s Word consistently testifies to its own sufficiency: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Moreover, Scripture never encourages us to look beyond its pages for another source of truth—it always calls our attention back to itself.
God’s people should want to hear from Him. But rather than chasing fanciful impressions and private revelations, that longing ought to prompt us to become eager students of His Word. He has already said everything He needs to say—it’s our job to strive to understand it.
(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)