Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through 1 Peter in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- David Dunham opened our series by looking at 1 Peter 1:1-2.
- Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:3-9.
- Today Dave looked at 1 Peter 1:10-12.
1 Peter 1:10-12, “10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”
Peter Reflects on the Character of Scripture
Although Peter’s first epistle has no publication date, conservative scholars agree that Peter was an older man, living in Rome around 62-65 A.D., when he wrote his first epistle. Peter wrote, therefore, from a lifetime of wisdom and conviction. He had experienced everything, including the trials and suffering described in the letter. As a young man he had walked with Jesus every day for three years. Nonetheless, as Peter writes, he does not cite his experience as the source of his knowledge and authority. He does not promote himself as a man who has seen it all from the beginning. He first cites his God-given role as an apostle. 1 Peter 1:1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” Jesus appointed the apostles to “be with him” (Mark 3:14), to put His words into their ears, and to witness everything from Jesus’ baptism to His resurrection (Acts 1:22). Jesus chose Peter to witness His deeds, to remember His words, and to declare what everything signified. He was God’s authoritative spokesman and representative.
Peter is at ease with authority. He does not remind his readers of his years with the Lord, or of the singular events he witnessed. He knows that the Holy Spirit speaks through him, but he makes the point subtly in 1 Peter 1:12, implicitly counting himself among “those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit.” Still, Peter knows that Jesus has commissioned him to present the story of Christ and its implications. In 1 Peter 1:10-12, he explains how god speaks and why God’s prophets (and apostles) speak with His authority.
The first segment of Peter states the theme of all Scripture. 1 Peter 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” Peter closes the unity by saying in 1 Peter 1:9, “The goal of your faith is the salvation of your souls.” Peter could have moved directly to his next theme, the holy conduct of God’s people. Instead he pauses to explain the role of Scripture in their salvation. Most of the people reading 1 Peter first heard of Jesus through Peter or another preacher who had a connection to the apostolic band. Yet these men did not speak on their own authority. They “preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12). Peter wanted to prepare his readers to grow through Scripture, both from the Old Testament and from the New Testament accounts of the suffering and glory of Christ (1 Peter 1:11).
Paul knew that his writings were authoritative. He said things such as “This is the rule I lay down in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17b; 15:3). He said that if anyone preaches a gospel that differs from the one he preached, “let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Tim. 1:15). John knew that the Spirit guided him to remember, understand, and record the words and deeds of Jesus (John 2:22; 12:16; 14:26; 20:30-31). Writing around 65-68 A.D., Paul quotes a saying of Jesus that is recorded in Luke and already calls it “Scripture.” He says, “For the Scripture says,… ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:18; Luke 10:7). So Peter joins John and Paul as New Testament writers who attest to the divine origin of their books and letters.
First Peter 1:10-12 also says several things about the character of Scripture. 1 Peter 1:10-12, “10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” First, salvation is the theme of Scripture: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets… spoke.”
Second, God called and appointed spokesmen to record His Word—the prophets in the Old Testament (“the prophets, who spoke”) and the apostles such as Peter in the New Testament. Paul agrees, saying, “the mystery of Christ has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4-5). If the prophets “searched intently,” they longed to discover what the Spirit was saying. Like Luke, who “carefully investigated” the life of Christ (Luke 1:3), the prophets were (ordinarily) active, not passive, agents of revelation. To be sure, the Lord sometimes told His prophets to write down exactly what He said (Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2; 36:2, 28; Ezekiel 43:11; Hab. 2:2). Indeed, God Himself rewrote the Decalogue on two stone tablets (Exodus 34:1). The Lord can use any means He wishes to ensure that we receive His inspired Word, but this passage accents the active participation of the prophets.
Third, Scripture’s theme is God’s grace, given for humanity. The prophets “spoke of the grace that was to come to you” (1 Peter 1:10).
Fourth, the word came by inspiration of God’s Spirit and yet in such a way that the prophets and apostles were active, too. The prophets “searched intently and with the greatest care” (1 Peter 1:10). Yet God directed them, for the prophets were “trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing” (1 Peter 1:11).
Fifth, while the prophets understandably inquired after the timing of God’s work, Peter stresses the content of God’s work and message, which he summarizes as “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:11). Peter returns to the suffering and glory of Christ in 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:1; and 1 Peter 5:9. The Gospels also describe Jesus’ birth, teachings, encounters, travels, and miracles. But the suffering and glory, especially the death and resurrection, of Christ are central to His work and to our relationship with Him. Peter commands believers to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). In His suffering on the cross, Jesus bore our sin and offered us forgiveness (1 Peter 2:20-25; Luke 24:25-27, 45-47). “He suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). Further, Peter’s churches were in travail and needed to identify with Christ in His suffering. If they did so, they could endure and so share in his glory. We must stand “9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:9-10).
For Jesus, this “eternal glory in Christ” began with His resurrection (1 Peter 5:10; 1Peter 1:3). It continued in His ascent to heaven (1 Peter 3:22) and in His present reign at the right hand of the Father, where all powers are subjected to Him (1 Peter 3:22b). Peter’s churches will share in that glory (1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:9).
So, then, the prophets foretold this salvation, Jesus accomplished it, and the Spirit led Peter and the apostles to describe it. The pattern is prediction of salvation, the fulfillment of salvation, and the interpretation of saving events. Like all the rest of Scripture, Peter’s letter provides moral guidance, but it isn’t essentially a moral guide. Scripture contains a great many things, but in essence is describes our creation in God’s image, our rebellion and its catastrophic consequences, and then God’s plan for restoration, announced by the prophets, and accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Before Him we must repent, and in Him we must believe. Every other theme is secondary.
This leads to an interpretive key for reading the Old Testament. God reveals His plan of redemption gradually, not instantaneously. God even reveals part of His ethical will gradually (Matthew 19:3-9). The Lord revealed His redemptive plan and his ethical norms step by step so that His people had time to grow into them. Christian leaders can learn from this: if we hope to persuade or change others, we too, may wish to introduce new ideas and laws gradually so that our people have time to comprehend and truly accept them.
The prophets did not discover everything they longed to know. Yet they acquiesced in God’s decision to reveal what He chose, for “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:12). What angels and prophets never fully saw had now been revealed. Peter further describes the nature of Scripture in his second epistle in 2 Peter 1:20, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.”
So Peter teaches that Scripture is at once the work of the prophets who “Searched intently” and the Word of God “for no prophecy never had its origin in the will of man.” Rather, “men spoke from God” (that is, the Father) as the Holy Spirit carried them along. At times, God delivered oracles to the prophets, who wrote what they saw and heard (Isa. 13:1; 15:1; 17:1). But ordinarily the Bible’s human authors did not simply take dictation. Scripture has a dual authorship. Luke, drawing on “eyewitness and servants of the word,” could write an orderly accounts of the work of Christ because he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:2-3). Paul wrote “with the wisdom that God gave him,” straining with all his skills to apply his gospel to the challenges of his churches. Yet the Spirit so guided his work that Peter casually notes that Paul’s letters, like “the other Scriptures,” can be hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16).
So Peter agrees with the prophets and with Paul that Scripture is “inspired” or, more accurately, “God-breathed” (theopneustos), as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16. When we say that Scripture is God-breathed, we mean that our sixty-six books are the very words of the triune God. Scripture is a collective term for what we call the Old and New Testaments (Matthew 26:54-56; Luke 24:27-45; John 5:39; Acts 17:2, 11; Romans 1:2; 15:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Paul notes that Scripture is “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul asserts that all Scripture does these four things—history and prophecy, doctrinal and moral instruction, even the genealogies. The four uses of Scripture fall into two classes—creed and conduct. Scripture teaches what to believe and how to behave. The word teaching is didaskalia, which in Paul almost always means “doctrinal instruction.” Rebuking, elegmon, belongs to a word family that commonly has the sense of correcting or pointing out a mistake, whether moral or doctrinal. Thus, training in the truth will lead to correction of false ideas. But doctrine is practical tool, and false teaching leads to sin. So Scripture also corrects wrongdoing. It trains us in righteousness and prepares us for good works.
We say that Scripture is inspired because it proceeds from the mouth of God, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, and from the work of His chosen apostles and prophets. Because God is truth and always tells the truth, His “word is truth” (John 17:17). If it is true, it contains no errors. It is inerrant. Because God stands behind His Word, it will never fail. It is infallible. God pledges that His Word is the truth about Himself and His salvation, and the guide to the church’s faith and practice.
As all Christian leaders know, these traits make it essential to read Scripture in public worship and in private, as a guide to daily life. Leaders might not realize that most people, even in the church, read the Bible sporadically. Many hardly read the Bible outside of worship services. Sadly, even many church leaders read the Bible only occasionally. Christian leaders tend to address this through straight exhortations, “You need to read the Bible more!” We should extol the virtues of reading and meditation, but we should also teach people how to read and meditate more fruitfully.
Church leaders should read and expound the Bible in public worship. We can use biblical texts for confessions of faith, confessions of sin, and assurances of pardon. We can sing the Scriptures, including the Psalms. We can have Old Testament and New Testament readings. Sermons should feature the reading and faithful exposition of Scripture. Pastors can preach through whole books of Scripture, lest they focus on favorite topics and miss the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
Finally, let’s remember that however valuable private reading and public teaching are, disciples also grow through study and discussion in small groups. We should be thankful that we have so many ways to hear or read excellent teaching, but we also need to seek the truth actively. For many people, the best way to do that is in a small group. Jesus and the apostles followed this practice.
Peter mentions the Spirit twice, so let’s remember that he illumines minds and opens hearts to His truth. Pastors and Bible study leaders see this in surprising ways. We study, plan, and prepare to preach, but most of us also diverge from our notes at times. Sometimes a thought comes to us spontaneously, and we say it, with surprising results.
No teacher living today has a status like that of the apostle. Jesus chose and trained them, and the Spirit moved in them. Peter followed Jesus, but after the resurrection, Jesus also studied, ministered, and spoke with other apostles (Galatians 2:1-10). In this way, he spent years preparing to write. Yet alongside Peter’s human activities, the Spirit kept pointing him to Christ and carried him along so that his errors fell away as he wrote (1 Peter 1:11; 2 Peter 1:21). Peter wrote what he knew, yet he wrote better than he knew.
The Reliability of the New Testament
The Bible doesn’t ask us to accept these claims as a matter of blind faith. There are reasons to believe that the Bible is reliable, reasons that should gain the respect of any open-minded person, especially if he is trained in evaluating historical evidence. A wide literature shows how historical remains, such as stone inscriptions and archaeological artifacts, verify the Bible’s historical accounts. Evangelicals have written masterly defenses of the reliability of the Gospels and Acts.
Scripture shows that Jesus prepared Peter, the disciples, and other New Testament writers for their work. Jesus appointed the apostles to “be with him” and to witness everything (Mark 3:14; Matt. 17:5; Acts 1:22). Some people treasured events and remembered them (Luke 2:19; 22:61; 24:8). Others did careful research. Luke knew that many accounts of Jesus’ life. He consulted “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4). Similarly, Paul studied for fourteen years in Arabia and consulted with no one before he became the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-2:10). John relates that Jesus performed “many miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples” (John 20:30; 21:25). His gospel did not hold them all, but they present enough evidence “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Finally Peter said, “For 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.” (2 Peter 1:16). But as we affirm the reliability of the New Testament, we have more than the claims of the apostles. There are objective, historical reasons to believe that the apostles recorded events accurately. We will consider five of them now.
First, we can trust their record of Jesus words because memorization was essential to education in Israel (and other lands). Jewish students were expected to memorize every word of their teachers. Teachers repeated their main ideas again and again until students knew them by heart. Since the ancients lacked opportunity to retrieve data from sources we have today, they developed superior skill in memorization. Jesus’ disciples treasured his words, and because He was an itinerant preacher, they heard His teaching many times. Beyond that the Israelites sometimes took notes on the teachings of their rabbis.
Second, ancient Greeks and Romans had standards for historical writing. Herodotus, called the father of history, was roundly criticized, five hundred years before the New Testament, for putting unsubstantiated fables and tales into his accounts. Around 400 B.C., Thucydides said that he confined himself to factual reports of contemporary political and military events, based on firsthand eyewitness accounts, although he admitted that he sometimes summarized the main points of a speech as best he could.
Both secular people and believers knew the difference between history and fabrication. An elder was deprived of his office for embellishing the history of Peter, even though the embellishment was edifying. Early Christians were aware of fabrication, guarded against it, and punished it, even if the content was orthodox and the author well intended.
Third, some events are unforgettable. Memorable events emblazon themselves on the minds of witnesses. Think of the disciples when Jesus calmed the storms at sea, when Jesus called the risen Lazarus, still wrapped in grave clothes, out of his tomb with the thunder of command. Imagine the moment they saw the risen Christ. These events burned themselves into the disciples’ memories. They could never forget them. Yet even if one disciple did forget something, he could consult others.
Fourth, living witnesses had a role. The New Testament names little-known Roman officials such as Pilate and Gallio, whose identities are verified by secular accounts, but they also name ordinary people. The four Gospels cite specific events that occurred in name towns. For example, Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus, who used to beg outside Jericho on the road to Jerusalem (Mark 10:46). When Jesus raised Lazarus, he was in a small town near Jerusalem named Bethany (John 11:1). When Jesus stumbled under the cross, Simon of Crene, father of Alexander and Rufus, carried it for him (Mark 15:21). As Richard Bauckham argues in his meticulous study, these are real people, known to the church, known in their towns.[i] The Gospels would have been instantly discredited if fabricated stories reached such towns as Jericho and Bethany where the Gospels say they occurred. But the Gospels were not discredited. No they were received as Scripture everywhere they went. The book of Acts also gives officials specific title sand places them in specific cities.
Fifth, the witnesses sealed their testimony with their lives. It is true that people will die for a lie. This happens most readily when people are duped. Sometimes a person will die for what he or she knows to be a lie—if that lie brought the person great benefits. But the disciples gained no earthly benefits from their testimony to Jesus. They suffered very kind of abuse, and almost all eventually died for their testimony. Yet the disciples staked their lives to Jesus to the end. None moved on to a second career. None recanted to save his skin. They all lived and died for their testimony about Jesus because they knew it was true.
I hope you believe the Bible is God’s Word, the sure guide to faith and life. But even if you don’t, there are reasons to believe it is reliable, reasons to warrant a careful reading. Yet Scripture can be hard to understand, as Peter himself says when describing Paul’s letter. How can we gain from reading Scripture?
How Should We Read the Bible
First, we read the Bible seriously. This means that we take the Bible literally when it expects us to do so, but we read it metaphorically when appropriate. Peter expects us to take it literally when he reports that Jesus performed miracles, died on the cross, and rose again. The Bible also uses metaphors. Second Chronicles 16:9 says that “the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth.” This does not mean that God literally has eyes that rapidly run over the land. Jesus uses hyperbole, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:30). We see no battalions of one-handed Christians. But we do take our sin seriously, and take action to remove it from our lives.
Second, we read holistically. That is, we don’t snatch isolated statements from the Bible and find meaning that the authors never intended. We let the Bible’s grand themes guide us. Jesus declared that Scripture’s theme is His person and work.
Luke 24:44-47, “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
The promises give us hope of a Redeemer; the law reveals our need of a Redeemer. The history of Israel shows that no one is faithful and so teaches us to long for the faithful, Jesus. The leadership structures of Israel also lead us to Christ. He is the Great Prophet, revealing God to the world. He is the Great High Priest, offering the final sacrifice. He is the Great king, protecting His people from their foes.
Third, we read the Bible personally. We take the Bible to heart instead of using it to condemn others. How often preachers hear this, “Wonderful message, Pastor; I wish my friend had come to hear it. She really needs it.” Yes, the friend probably does need to hear it, but did you hear it? Let’s apply God’s Word to ourselves.
Finally, we should read the Bible meditatively. It’s good to listen to teachers and preachers, whether live or through a convenient medium, but at some point, if someone wants to grow as a Christian, he or she must became an active reader, carefully contemplating everything the word says. We must also read it with godly goals. Dr. Donald Carson notes, “We human beings are a strange lot. We hear high moral injunctions and glimpse just a little the genuine beauty of perfect holiness, and then prostitute the vision by dreaming about the way others would hold us in high esteem if we were like that. The demand for genuine perfection loses itself in the lesser goal of external piety; the goal of pleasing the Father is traded for its pygmy cousin, the goal of pleasing men.”[ii]
So let us read meditatively, to apply Scripture to ourselves, that we might repent and believe and grow in godliness. Let us read for real history, for sound doctrine, and for the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior.
[i] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the eyewitnesses: The Gospel as eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 39-66).
[ii] D.A. Carson, the Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 55.