The Bible is Christianity — 2 Peter 1:19 and Frank Turek’s View of Inerrancy

a house of cards (not the Netflix show)

Frank Turek wrote the other day that “Christianity would still be true even if the Bible [were] never written.” He goes on to clarify that the specific topic is having an inerrant Bible.

But some of us erroneously think that Christian beliefs cannot be sustained unless the Bible is without error.  That would mean that the Christian faith is a house of cards ready to collapse if one verse or reference in the New Testament is discovered to be false.

Although I think are good reasons to believe in an inerrant Bible, inerrancy is an unnecessarily high standard by which to establish the central event in Christianity—the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (which we celebrate this Sunday).  Christianity hinges on that historical event.  If Christ rose from the dead, then, game over, Christianity is true.  On the other hand, if he didn’t rise from the dead, then, as a first-century eyewitness by the name of Paul admitted, Christianity is false.

The article catches me at an odd moment. I only recently published a post here concerning interpretation of 2 Peter 1:20 in which I argued that Peter states that Scripture is “not a matter of the prophet’s own interpretation” rather than that of an individual reader or the prophecy itself. Moreover, I had begun working on a book chapter concerning the authority of Scripture. So let’s dig in a bit. I’ll supply my own translations herein.

Setting the Scene

16. For [we] did not follow craftily devised myths when we made known to you(p) the power and the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

17. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance was brought to him by the majestic Glory: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”

18. we ourselves heard this utterance from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

19. And we have also a most sure prophetic word, to which you do well to give heed as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Most people who express a measure of interest in the Jesus story, even at just the literary level, will readily state that they would be interested to climb into a time machine and see what the historical Jesus was really like. The Apostles obviously had this privilege sans the time machine. Purely from a historical perspective (rather than just a religious one), if you’re wanting to learn about what Jesus was about from that time period, common sense serves to tell us that we should read things written by Jesus’ own eyewitnesses. In this particular account, Peter recalls the transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1–9; Mark 9:2–10; Luke 9:28–37), in which shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus visibly appeared to His disciples in his full, divine glory.

To Peter, his personal experience of Jesus’ transfiguration is far and above any “craftily devised myths,” and for good reason. But Peter doesn’t stop there. He goes on to describe and uphold the nature of Scripture.

20. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of the prophet’s own imagination,

21. for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God, being driven by the Holy Spirit.

Comparing Translations

But there exists an interpretational dispute in verse 19, and like the one in verse 20, the decisions of translators manifest in their texts.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

So 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.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, 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.

Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

and we possess as more reliable the prophetic word, to which you do well if you* pay attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,

We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts;

We haue also a most sure worde of the Prophets, to the which ye doe well that yee take heede, as vnto a light that shineth in a darke place, vntill the day dawne, and the day starre arise in your hearts.

Interpretive Options

Three options have manifested themselves most clearly in the translations above, though there are a few more floating out there.

Option 1: The Transfiguration Experience Confirms the Scripture

Under this view, Peter states that the transfiguration confirms or makes us more sure of was given in the Old Testament. Kenneth Gangel, for example, writes that “God’s voice on the mountain made the word of the prophets…more certain because the transfiguration pictured the fulfillment of their words. Both the prophets and the transfiguration pointed to Jesus’ kingdom on earth.” [1] This is the predominant option among the translations consulted.

Option 2: The Scripture is Even More Reliable than Peter’s Firsthand Transfiguration Experience

This option finds its home in the good old KJV. MacArthur writes concerning a translation of the first option.

This translation could indicate that the eyewitness account of Christ’s majesty at the Transfiguration confirmed the Scriptures. However, the Gr. word order is crucial in that it does not say that. It says, “And we have more sure the prophetic word.” That original arrangement of the sentence supports the interpretation that Peter is ranking Scripture over experience. The prophetic message (Scripture) is more complete, more permanent, and more authoritative than the experience of anyone. More specifically, the Word of God is a more reliable verification of the teachings about the person, atonement, and second coming of Christ than even the genuine firsthand experiences of the apostles themselves. [2]

While we may find ourselves most inclined towards options that most strongly uphold the standing of Scripture (so we ought), we also must caution against forcing a view upon the text, especially in a situation in which we’re responding to a view such as Turek’s.

Option 3: The Scripture is as Reliable as Peter’s Transfiguration Experience

This option manifests in the NET, NIV2011, and Geneva translations. The NET notes opine that the adjective βεβαιότερον (bebioteron) conveys not comparison in either direction but elation, i.e. simply describing the “prophetic word” as “altogether reliable” without stating that one is more reliable than the other. In other words, it’s high praise for both the transfiguration and Scripture without ranking one against the other. Against option 1, “Many scholars prefer to read the construction as saying ‘we have the prophetic word made more sure,’ but such a nuance is unparalleled in object-complement constructions (when the construction has this force, ποιέω [poieō] is present [as in 2 Pet 1:10]).”

But against option 2, the NET editors find that there is insufficient evidence to direct a comparison in the other direction, Scripture over Peter’s firsthand experience. “[T]he author labors to show that his gospel is trustworthy precisely because he was an eyewitness of this great event. Further, to say that the OT scriptures (the most likely meaning of “the prophetic word”) were more trustworthy an authority than an apostle’s own experience of Christ is both to misconstrue how prophecy took place in the OT (did not the prophets have visions or other experiences?) and to deny the final revelation of God in Christ (cf. Heb 1:2).” [2]

Calvin writes in support of this option:

For they who take the comparative for a positive, that is, “more sure,” for “sure,” do not sufficiently consider the whole context. The sense also is a forced one, when it is said to be “more sure,” because God really completed what he had promised concerning his Son. For the truth of the gospel is here simply proved by a twofold testimony, — that Christ had been highly approved by the solemn declaration of God, and, then, that all the prophecies of the prophets confirmed the same thing. [4]

All options considered, the third option appears best to meet the criteria of grammatical accuracy and proper correlation with the corpus of Scripture.

Erica Glon, Air Force District of Washington chief of community relations, carefully pulls a Jenga block Dec. 8 at the USO pizza party on Joint Base Andrews, Md. The pizza party had games and prizes for all servicemembers on JBA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Ruano)
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Furano

The Implications

Turek does not write ostensibly against inerrancy itself, but he improperly identifies the practical implications thereof.

But some of us erroneously think that Christian beliefs cannot be sustained unless the Bible is without error.  That would mean that the Christian faith is a house of cards ready to collapse if one verse or reference in the New Testament is discovered to be false.

The core issue here appears to be a matter of how one goes about determining whether the Bible is inerrant. One view, what I’ll call the inductive view, goes about attempting to use external evidence in order to show that the Bible is true in all of its contents to the degree that external evidence allows. The pitfalls here are significant. One pitfall is what Turek already pointed out perhaps unintentionally: that the doctrine is “a house of cards ready to collapse if one verse or reference in the New Testament is discovered to be false.” This would apply for the Old Testament as well, and the debate over Genesis 1–3 alone is already drawn out as is. The second pitfall is that scholars often will attempt to nuance a definition of inerrancy that sways from the very plain definition of “without error” when supposed historical inaccuracies are identified. One may define “inerrancy” only to apply to matters of doctrine, faith, and practice while excluding scientific and historical claims.

The other view of inerrancy is the deductive view, whereby biblical inerrancy is a necessary consequence of the nature of God and His inspiration of Scripture. Because Scripture is verbally and plenarily inspired, the necessary result thereof is that Scripture is inerrant. This view may be looked down upon because of its presuppositional nature, but to its credit, it is the view best supported by Scripture itself. 2 Peter 1:19–20 is one such instance therein. If either option 2 or option 3 as presented above is correct, then this passage alone presents an implied rejection of the inductive method. Because Scripture itself claims inerrancy, whether we find Scripture to be inerrant inductively may be interesting confirmatory evidence, but it is not evidence upon which we are free to base our belief, let alone the lack thereof when our hopes upon certain pieces of evidence appear not to be panning out.

[bctt tweet=”Biblical inerrancy is a necessary consequence of the nature of God.” username=”ThingsAboveBlog”]

But let us also consider a “worst case scenario” by adopting option 1 for a moment. Much of what may drive many of us to option 2 is the very sound theology that Scripture is superior to our own experience. Even if Peter does mean that his personal experience of the transfiguration confirmed what Scripture promised, that cannot be taken to mean that Scripture is superior to our own experience, including but not limited to our own investigation of external evidence for the resurrection. Because we obviously have not physically witnessed the resurrection, our superior, and yet altogether sufficient, source to know the resurrection today is Scripture itself. That said, I personally find the case for option 1 to be the weakest of the three.

We need not fret should we somehow find by external evidence that a fact claimed by Scripture appears to be incorrect. If we believe the God whom Scripture reveals, we can believe Scripture fully on its own accord. Furthermore, applied to the context of evangelism and apologetics, the very nature of Scripture obligates us to preach it to an unbelieving world for what it says it is, not for what we might think is most palatable in the current postmodern climate.

[1] Kenneth O. Gangel, “2 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 868.

[2] We may have encountered an error of editing here, as this quote is from the NIV2011 edition of the MacArthur Study Bible at least as it appears in Accordance, yet the NIV2011 translation does not convey what MacArthur is challenging. I believe MacArthur was actually writing about another translation here, and the editors failed to mark this to be worded with the NIV in mind. The argument is nonetheless a sound challenge against option #1 as presented above. John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), paragraph 25097.

[3] W. Hall Harris, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance ed. (Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005), paragraph 85398.

[4] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 99472.


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