November 24, 2002
What does it mean that the Bible is inspired by God? The apostle Peter testified to the authority of the Scriptures in both the New Testament’s eyewitness accounts of Jesus and the writings of Old Testament prophets who were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Alistair Begg exhorts us to trust fully in the sufficiency of the Bible, relying on its revealed truth as our means to meet God and grow in our faith.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Two Peter chapter 1. I’m going to read from verse 12:
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
“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. 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.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
“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. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
O God our Father and before whom the angels bow in worship and in praise, what a mystery that we, the children of men, mere mortals, would be able to take your name upon our lips and that we would be able to sing the praise of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that we would learn what it means to stand in his love, to live in his power, to be identified with him in the fellowship of his sufferings, so that the thing that makes it obvious that we belong to Christ is not how phenomenally powerful we are but actually our very weakness, so that in the obvious nature of our weakness, the power of the Lord Jesus may be evident in us and through us.
We recognize tonight, gracious God, that even the message of the gospel is “foolishness to those who are perishing.” The idea that the death of this man upon a cross so long ago and so far away should prove to be the pivotal event of human history, should provide the only sacrifice for sin, should open up the only door of entry into heaven is scorned and abused and rejected. But to those “who are being saved it is the power of God.” It encourages us on this Sunday evening, as we think of all the challenges that are before us, as we identify the dilemmas that we face and the disappointments that we’ve known. To be able to retreat and advance, to take our stand upon this solid rock, makes all the difference. And we thank you that we have recourse to the Bible in order that it might speak into our lives, guarding us and guiding us and keeping us. And as we study the Bible together in these moments, we pray that the Spirit of God will be our teacher, helper. For the sake of the Lord Jesus we ask it. Amen.
Sunday evenings, we’ve been in this little letter—three chapters in 2 Peter—and we’re back there again this evening. And we have reached 1:12, which some—very few, I fear—will remember is where we actually began. And the reason we began at the twelfth verse rather than at the first verse was because we said that this little section—12, 13, and 14—is the key into the letter itself. It is the opening of the understanding of our minds to what Peter is doing in the letter. It’s paraphrased for us by Peterson when he says, paraphrasing these verses, 12 and following, “Even though you’re up-to-date on all this truth and practice it inside and out, I’m not going to let up for a minute in calling you to attention before it. … I know that I’m to die soon; …. And so I am especially eager that you have all of this down in black and white so that after I die, you’ll have it for ready reference.” It’s quite a helpful paraphrase, I think you will agree. What is Peter doing? He’s says, “Well, I’m writing all this material down, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that when I’m no longer around, when I no longer have the opportunity,” he says, “to be your preacher and to be your teacher, you will have it all down in black and white, and you will be able to refer to it, and it will be to you a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.”
Now, having said that and having noted that earlier, we now come to verse 16, where he’s urging upon his readers the basis of certainty and security in living the Christian life. It’s important that they understand, especially in light of the false teachers, to which we’ll come in chapter 2… If you let your eye scan forward to the first verse of chapter 2: “There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you … secretly introduc[ing] destructive heresies” and so on. In light of that, Peter feels it important to make sure that what he is conveying to his readers was not some kind of clever invention, it was not a result of going away and dreaming up some scheme, but rather, they were eyewitnesses, he says, along with others, and they could not be more sure about what it was they had seen and they had heard.
And so it is that verses 16 and 17 are simply a statement of the fact that what Peter is conveying is an eyewitness account. Those of you who come from the realm of law, and particularly those of you who do criminal work, know just what a tremendous help it is in the course of prosecuting a case to be able to call an eyewitness account and how the evidence from hearsay is not as strong and not as helpful in securing a verdict. So Peter says, “What we are offering to you here is an eyewitness account.”
Of course, this is what Peter had been doing from the very beginning. Back in Acts, as Luke records it for us, when he had stood up on the day of Pentecost and preached to the gathered crowd in Jerusalem with great effectiveness and power, he said to the crowd on that day, “God has raised this Jesus to life,” and then he added, “and we are all witnesses [to] the fact.” “We are all witnesses [to] the fact.” And indeed, some who were listening were also part of the observing crowd.
It would seem also that Peter’s concern to refute these heretical teachings is just in line with what Paul does when he is challenged in 2 Corinthians. And on that occasion, he says similar things: “We didn’t come to you with secret and shameful ways. We didn’t use deception,” he says. “We didn’t try and use any hocus-pocus, no funny things.” May I just say to you in passing: Every time somebody offers you a book that is “the key to the Bible,” it isn’t. Every time somebody offers you “the real explanation,” it isn’t. Every time somebody suggests that by means of delving into this funny little realm, you will be able to discover the real nature of things that by and large men and women have been unable to ferret out, then just be done with it before you even start. Because the Bible is absolutely plain and straightforward, and all that is true and all that is necessary is contained for us in the Scriptures—not a line that is irrelevant, nothing out that needs to be in, all here for us. And if you would read nothing else, then just read your Bibles.
And what Peter is referring to here is actually the transfiguration, which some of us will remember having dealt with when we studied in the early chapters of Luke. And you needn’t turn to it, but let me refresh your memory. In Luke, chapter 9—it’s also, I think, in Matthew 17—but in Luke 9, we have the record of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John and going up to a mountain to pray. And you may remember the account:
As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed … his clothes became … bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, [namely,] Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. [And] Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. [And] as the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let[’s] put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses … one for Elijah.”
Luke says, “He did[n’t] [really] know what he was saying.” And
while he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. [And] a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” [And] when the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. [And] the disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
You can understand why not. It’s a tall story, isn’t it? “Well, just earlier today, we were up on a mountain, and a great cloud came down, and guess who was there? Moses and Elijah!” The people are going, “Hey, wait a minute. Steady on now, Peter, James, and John. Such flights of fancy are really quite incredible.” And so, in the immediacy of it, they don’t tell anyone.
Now says Peter, “We did[n’t] follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of [the] Lord Jesus … we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” It’s not speculation. It’s not invention. Because the transfiguration there in Luke 9 was something of a preview for what it’s going to be like when the Lord Jesus returns: the manifestation of glory, the appearance of the Old Testament saints in the company of the New Testament disciples, the kingly Son in all of his honor, and the presence of the divine Father. And in that moment, they were given just a little sneak preview of what is going to happen when, finally, in this great denouement, the Lord Jesus Christ wraps it all up for us. And Peter’s message, he tells us, was based upon what he and his fellow apostles both saw and heard. You’ll notice the verbs; they’re very important: “This is what we saw,” and verse 18: “We ourselves heard this voice.”
Now, when you think about this, they were eyewitnesses both of the transfiguration, and they were eyewitnesses of his bodily resurrection, thus allowing them to say in verse 17, “He received honor and glory from God the Father—and we are able to speak about the issue of honor and glory.” Verse 18: “We ourselves heard [the] voice that came from heaven when we were with him.” “When we were with him.” And the voice that comes, directs their attention from the construction of shelters to the Lord Jesus himself, the word of the prophets pointing to he who was both the Messianic King and the Suffering Servant. When you read through the Acts of the Apostles, you find that this is a recurring theme. When Peter is in the home of Cornelius and he is explaining what’s going on, he says of Jesus, “All the prophets testify about him.” In other words, “Just go and read your Bible.” “Just go and read your Bible.”
Now, that’s 16, 17, and 18; 19, 20, and 21, he speaks to the issue of the certainty of the prophetic word. “First of all,” he says, “I want you to know that we were eyewitnesses. We’re not making this stuff up. Secondly, I want you to know that the Word of God is absolutely certain.” We have this enigmatic statement in verse 19 about which commentators dispute: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain.” What does it mean, “made more certain”? Is Peter saying that the word of the Old Testament prophet has become more certain as a result of having been confirmed in the transfiguration? Or does he mean that the Old Testament Scriptures are confirming the apostolic testimony that they bring? Actually, it doesn’t matter a great deal. Commentators are divided. It’s not a main thing. It’s not a plain thing.
Calvin was the most help to me. This is what he said: “The authority of the Word of God is the same as it was in the beginning, and then it was given further confirmation than before by the advent of [the Lord Jesus] Christ.” So the Old Testament word was the Word of God. With the arrival of the Lord Jesus, the Old Testament suddenly comes into full bloom. Suddenly, the prophetic passages about the King, about the Servant, about the Lord of Glory, they’re all there before the gaze of people. And Christ in his life, in his death, in his transfiguration, in his resurrection, in his ascension is confirming all the words spoken by these Old Testament writers.
And so, Peter does what every pastor who wants to be faithful must do—namely, turn men and women constantly back to the Bible. “There is a natural craving,” says Dick Lucas, on the part of men and women “for a voice from heaven.” If you move in Christian circles at all, you will meet people all the time, and they tell you, “Well, I heard a voice from heaven,” or “I’m listening for a voice from heaven,” or “I have a voice from heaven that I want to speak to you,” and so on. I’m always trying my best to be respectful of such insights. But the fact of the matter is that there has been a voice from heaven, and it was given, but it wasn’t given to us. It was given to them. Verse 18: “We heard the voice that came from heaven.” The apostles heard the voice. The apostles then, under the strength of the voice that they heard, wrote down under the direction of the Holy Spirit so that we in the twenty-first century don’t need to sit around waiting for a voice from heaven, because we have the word of the prophets made more certain in the Bible.
So again, if you’re on the receiving end of people suggesting to you that they chased down here and chased down there—“It’s far more exciting over at Mr. So-and-So’s place, because if you go to X, you just get the Bible, but if you go to Y, you get a voice from heaven, you know. If you go to X, you just hear the same old stuff, but if you go to Y, the fellow over there has a red telephone, and he is able to give you the voice. It’s coming directly through him, and in a moment, you can hear all of this fresh insight and special revelation and unique understandings.” Run from it as fast and as furiously as you can! You will eventually end up totally nuts. Stick with your Bible. Stick with your Bible. You heard it here.
Because you and myself, both of us together, are susceptible to the people who would come making bold claims and full of fictitious anecdotes, to whom we’ll come in chapter 2. “Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” They “will exploit you.” “Put your hand over your heart and send the money now to the number, the address that is given to you when you call this number at the bottom of the screen. Put your hand over your heart and say this. Buy this little potion and pour it on your head, or pour it on your eggs, or pour it somewhere, and everything will suddenly take on a new light. Sow your seed. Name your thought. Claim your power. Find yourself.” It gushes at us, flushes at us all the time. And Peter’s readers were susceptible to this kind of thing, and so, my dear friends, are you and I.
And the answer then and the answer tonight to those who are quick to suggest that the Spirit of God is speaking a fresh message through these individuals is to return to the certainty, the authority, and the sufficiency of the Bible. The certainty, authority, and sufficiency of the Bible. We ought to be alarmed on every occasion when people gather for praise and pay scant attention to the Bible. We ought to be deeply alarmed when evangelistic outreaches are convened with no thought to the Bible at all. We ought to be really concerned when you can attend events and hear pleasant stories from individuals who’ve dreamt up little anecdotes to tickle the ears of the people when they gather and send them away with ideas about striking individuals and remarkable instances. No, no. Give me the good old boring stuff, I say, every time. Let me live for Christ with this straightforward material. Let us establish in our day the kind of heritage that some of us enjoyed.
In a book describing the scene of Scottish Presbyterians in the nineteenth century, this is what the writer says: “Every man and every woman, nay, almost every child, carried his pocket-Bible to church, and not only looked out the text, but verified each citation,” checking to see if the pastor was any good at all. “And as the preaching was in great part of the expository kind, the necessary consequence was, that the whole population became intimately acquainted with the structure of every book of the Bible, and were able to recall every passage with its appropriate accompanying truths.” Now, that is a labor of great intensity. And it’s a two-way street, my dear ones. Do you know how many hours it takes me to prepare this material? Do you think you can just grab it in an instant out of nowhere? Half of you are half-asleep half the time, ill-prepared to listen, stonyhearted in your appreciation, minds going in every direction, interested in the this and the that and the next thing. How do I know? Because I know my own heart.
Do we think that we can impact a generation, leave a legacy of children and grandchildren that will believe and stand for the truth, who will live for Christ and name his name? If you think about the declension of the last quarter of a century in our lifetime, if it simply continues at the exponential rate of decline that we have observed, what possibility is there? Therefore, these things are not matters of marginal importance. They are absolutely crucial. No wonder Peter says, “I’m about to die, and I’m going to make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. Don’t forget this,” he says. “Don’t forget that the Bible is absolutely sufficient. Don’t forget that the Bible has the last word on every subject. Don’t forget that the Bible is true, even when it is unpalatable to contemporary culture. Don’t worry. Stand firm.”
In many quarters, the call to “recall the words spoken in the past” is replaced by a call to pay attention to the prophetic word spoken in the present. When we get to chapter 3, if we ever do, he says, “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” And when our focus is somewhere other than the Bible, the result is all too quickly a loss of confidence or a diminished interest in the Bible.
I speak to you, loved ones, out of the authority of Scripture and out of the reality of my own experience. I’ve been tempted by these things. These things have appealed to me. Many of my friends with whom I studied theology have gone down a very different road from my own. And I simply believe that I’m fairly ordinary, and so you may be a little like me.
And some of you come out of a context where you say that the words that are spoken prophetically out in the congregation are okay because they’re not making any addition to the Bible, and therefore, that’s fine. Well, is it fine? I’m not so sure that it is. Because if any word spoken by anyone in any context makes no addition to the Bible, then it is extraneous to the sufficiency of the Scriptures. And the fact that it doesn’t add to the canon of Scripture by the lips of those who declare it does not answer the question as to whether they believe that it adds to the canon of living. In other words, “We’re not adding to the Bible,” they say; “however, this word is very important.” Why is it very important if you have a sufficient Scripture? It’s very important because in their minds they say that it adds to the canon of our living. If it does, then the Bible is insufficient.
And that is what Peter is addressing, and he’s addressing it in the light of false teachers and destructive heresies and people who follow “shameful ways” and “bring the way of truth into disrepute.” The task of the pastor is to ensure that his congregation is anchored to the Word of God and grounded in the work of Christ. There will never be any other divine light by which the people of God are to be led than by the Scriptures. Eventually, the day will dawn—and this is the allusion here in verse 19 to the dayspring rising, “the morning star ris[ing] in your hearts”—eventually the day will dawn when external revelation and inward illumination will combine, and we will know fully even as we are known. First Corinthians 13, I’m sure, is an allusion to that.
And so, in the interim it’s important that we understand verse 20: that the Scriptures are not the product of the personal insights of the prophets themselves. That’s what some people believe. And if that were the case, then we could simply view the words of the prophets as limited by human fallibility—in which case, then, we could overturn what was previously written on account of fresh insights. In other words, if Isaiah was just a kind of bright guy living six hundred years BC and came up with a bunch of stuff that he wrote down—it’s kind of helpful: a little bit of poetry, a little bit of history, a little bit of maxim for life—if that was all it was, then six hundred years BC to 2000 AD is a long time, and we could safely say, “Well, of course, we know so much more now than some old guy 600 BC knew. I mean, goodness gracious! They thought the world was flat. They didn’t know anything. They thought the earth was flat. They didn’t know anything at all. But all we know now will allow us then simply to overturn it.”
No, no, no, no, not for a moment. Because the word that Isaiah spoke was the Word of God. He spoke the Word of God. Therefore, it is not up for grabs to be investigated, to be overturned. The Old Testament prophet wasn’t volunteering his ideas or his perceptions only to be corrected then by a more scholarly successor. You know, “Well, here’s the best that I can do,” says Isaiah. “Have a great life. See you around somewhere,” fully understanding that someone’s going to come along after and say, “Well, we don’t really bother with that anymore.” No. They weren’t volunteering the best of their ideas. The prophetic word remains forever God’s Word.
So when you read the Bible—listen!—when you read the Bible, all of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, you’re not reading the words of some ancient who speaks for himself, but you are reading the words of the living God himself. You say, “Are you crazy? Are you telling me that this is what you believe about the Bible?” Loved ones, it’s not an issue of what I believe about the Bible. It’s an issue of what the Bible testifies about itself. What I believe about it has to be brought to bear under the guidance of the Scriptures themselves. Look, verse 21: “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man.” Well, what did it have its origin in? “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Like ships carried along by the wind, the prophets raised their sails, so to speak. They were obedient. They were receptive. They were not automatons. They were not dictating machines. They were dealing with the reality of their own history. They were speaking from the uniqueness of their personality; that’s why you see the ebb and flow within the Scriptures itself. But as they raised the sails of their personality and their lives and their availability, it is the Holy Spirit of God that fills their sails, carries them along in the direction of his choosing, in order to provide fulfillment of his purpose and all that is necessary for his people.
So the doctrine of inspiration is simply this: that the Holy Spirit took real men with differing personalities from a variety of social settings, and the Holy Spirit cooperated with them while revealing himself through them. Calvin, again: these men “dared nothing by themselves but only in obedience to the guidance of the Spirit who held sway over their lips as in His own temple.”
When we think about this, we have to recognize that acceptance of the Scriptures’ authority is, in the final analysis, an act of faith. But it is not, however, an act of faith that is contrary to reason. If you think about it, all of our personal experiences of God such as we know them tonight find their source in the revelation of Scripture. How do we have faith in a God? Because “faith come[s] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” How do we have food for the journey of the Christian life? By means of the Word of God—1 Peter 2:2: “In the same way that newborn babes desire milk, so you desire pure spiritual milk, thereby that you might grow up.” How are our lives made more like the Lord Jesus Christ? How are we sanctified? By the Word of God. Jesus in the High Priestly Prayer, John 17:17: “Sanctify them [in your] truth; your word is truth.” How do we grow in our knowledge of God? Through the Word of God. “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
So this is how we grow as Christians: in the presence of the people of God, under the teaching of the Word of God. And the Bible’s authority arises from the one who inspired and gave to us the Scriptures. The Bible is authoritative because it is the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word by which he rules his people. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks authoritatively to his church today, to the whole church, not by the contemporary utterances of inspired individuals but by the teaching and application of the inspired Scriptures given to us.
How I wish that you could understand and listen to this! This is so unbelievably crucial. We’re not focused on individuals who may have gifts. God can speak through Balaam’s donkey. He is not in need of any of our mouths. He chooses, in the mystery of his grace, to use any of us. Therefore, those of us who have been entrusted with the gifts of teaching the Bible need constantly to be saying to our congregations, “It is to the Lord we look. It is to the Bible we go.” And you need to be Berean, very Berean. Acts 17. When Paul preached, what did they do? They examined the Scriptures every day to see if these things were so. Now, my loved ones, if they did that when the apostle Paul preached, you’d better be doing it when you’re listening to preaching from this pulpit—therefore reminding all of us that we are under the Scriptures. We’re under the Scriptures, and we’re standing on the Scriptures, and we’re enclosed by the Scriptures. We don’t worship the Scriptures, but we worship Christ.
The heavens declare your glory, Lord;
In every star your wisdom shines.
But when our eyes behold your Word,
We read your name in fairer lines. …
Your noblest wonders here we view,
In souls renewed and sins forgiven;
Lord, cleanse my sins, my soul renew,
And make your Word my guide to heaven.
Isaac Watts in the seventeenth century. “What more can he say than to you he ha[s] said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”
It’s all about Christ, and it’s all about the Bible. And by means of this Bible, you may meet God. And by means of this Bible, you may feed and grow. By means of this Bible, you may be sanctified by the power of the Spirit. And by means of this Bible, you may find yourself safely guided into your eternal rest in the presence of the one who penned it for us, in order that we wouldn’t be left simply listening to the meanderings of a man’s mind, but we would be listening to the word of the prophets made more certain in the pages of Scripture itself.
Father, we pray tonight that through all of these words we may be reminded forcibly of the priority of the preeminence and sufficiency of the Bible itself. Surely, if Peter wanted to warn his readers against these ancient heresies, here we sit surrounded by so much that undermines, chips away at our sense of assurance and certainty in the Bible. And so we pray that you will deepen our faith in the Lord of the Word and in the Word of the Lord, that all of our vision may be Christ. For it’s in his name we pray. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV 1984).
 2 Peter 1:12–15 (MSG).
 Acts 2:32 (NIV 1984).
 2 Corinthians 4:2 (paraphrased).
 Luke 9:29–36 (NIV 1984). See also Matthew 17:1–9.
 Acts 10:43 (NIV 1984).
 John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St Peter, trans. William B. Johnston, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 340.
 Dick Lucas and Christopher Green, The Message of 2 Peter and Jude: The Promise of His Calling, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1995), 23.
 2 Peter 2:2–3 (NIV 1984).
 James W. Alexander, Thoughts on Preaching: Being Contributions to Homiletics (New York: Scribner, 1861), 292.
 2 Peter 3:2 (NIV 1984).
 See 1 Corinthians 13:12.
 John Calvin, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews and the First and Second Epistles of St Peter, trans. William B. Johnston, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 344.
 Romans 10:17 (KJV).
 1 Peter 2:2 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 1:1–2 (paraphrased).
 See Numbers 22:21–35.
 See Acts 17:11.
 Isaac Watts, “The Heavens Declare Thy Glory” (1719). Lyrics lightly altered.
 “How Firm a Foundation” (1787).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.