1 Peter 1:16-21 (ESV)
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, 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, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
In the latter part of the First Century I think there must have been quite a scramble on the part of the leaders of the church as to where authority lay. Not just who was going to be “in charge” of the church, but the whole question of what voices the church should listen to was up for grabs.
We look at the Bible as a completed whole. They did not. Was Peter conscious when he wrote his two letters that they were going to be part of the canon of Scripture? I doubt it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have felt the need to defend his position.
There is something very important that we can learn about how to think about the Bible when we read this text. Peter begins by debunking what he calls “cleverly devised myths.” So one test of Scripture was going to need to be that of the eyewitness account. That’s why there is no Gospel According to Timothy. The reason is that he was not an eyewitness to the life and resurrection of Jesus. We do have letters that attest to Timothy as a co-author with Paul, however.
One might say that verses 17 and 18 are a fragment of a Gospel of Peter (and yes, there is an apocryphal book by that name), since Peter is attesting as an eyewitness to one of the major events of Jesus’ life, the Transfiguration.
As certain as Peter is about what he saw on that mountain and what the meaning of it was, he is about to demonstrate that there is something that takes precedent even over an eyewitness account. Still, don’t miss the point he makes in his “gospel” account. He has established that Jesus is the Son of God, nothing less. He has also established the Trinity, though in the first statement only two persons are named.
Peter now places a huge weight of authority on the action of the Holy Spirit (adding the third person of the Trinity) and establishes a test for one whole area of Scripture: prophecy. When he says, “we have something more sure, the prophetic word,” he is placing the word of a prophet on par with the voice on the mount of Transfiguration.
But let us not make the grand mistake of thinking that Peter is opening up the floodgates and saying that anything claiming to be a prophecy should be listened to. All voices are not equal. And everything claiming to be from God isn’t. Many ‘prophetic writings’ were rejected by the early church. And the Book of Mormon is not from God. The Bhagavad Gita is not from God. The Koran is not from God. Period. We must not even say they are inspired writings or that they are of any greater value than, say, a Hemmingway novel.
How do we know this? Peter has established the test for us. The prophecies of the Old Testament, many of which predicted the coming, birth, life, torture, execution, and resurrection of Christ is vivid detail, not to mention their complete reliability in terms of future events in Israel, are to be taken as the source. Any prophecy that does not agree with these prophecies, is what Peter calls a cleverly devised myth.
The early church rejected as heretical the Gospel of Peter, first because it was probably written after Peter’s death but claims to be from his pen. Second, because it seemed to support Docetism (the idea that Jesus only appeared to be a man, but was in fact a pure spirit, and therefore could not actually die). They also rejected it because the text did not agree with the authentic gospels in some rather major points. For years the church only knew such a gospel had existed based on the writings of the Early Fathers who rejected it. An actual text was only uncovered in the late 1800s, and it is fragmentary – only the Passion narrative survives.
When you, 21st Century reader, approach the New Testament, remember this test. And remember that the highest-level stuff we have here is the prophecies (ie. 2 Peter 3:10-12; Matthew 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, etc.), not the commentaries on Christian behavior (as in the writings of Paul), not the history (as in The Acts of the Apostles). This is to say that all Scripture, while “God breathed,” is not prophecy, nor should it be treated as such. The best description I can think of for the whole of the canon is that it is the revelation of God in his character and his works. But the prophecies! These are the very voice of God the Father.