2 Peter 1:19–The Prophetic Word more fully Confirmed?

A couple of weeks ago I was reading 2 Peter 1:16-21 from the NET translation. I appreciate the footnotes that accompany the translation because of the translator’s reasoning towards a translation. I hope that more translations in the future will follow suit and show its readers the issues in translation. I was particularly curious about the NET’s translation of 2 Peter 1:19a:

1:19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing.

This sparked my interest because of how some major translations have rendered this verse:

English Standard Version: And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed

New American Standard 1995: So we have the prophetic word made more sure

New International Version: And we have the word of the prophets made more certain

The NET footnote for 1:19a reads:

The comparative adjective βεβαιότερον is the complement to the object τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον. As such, the construction almost surely has the force “The prophetic word is (more certain/altogether certain) – and this is something that we all have.” 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 is present [as in 2 Pet 1:10]). The meaning, as construed in the translation, is that the Bible (in this case, the OT) that these believers had in their hands was a thoroughly reliable guide. Whether it was more certain than was even Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration depends on whether the adjective should be taken as a true comparative (“more certain”) or as an elative (“very certain, altogether certain”). Some would categorically object to any experience functioning as a confirmation of the scriptures and hence would tend to give the adjective a comparative force. Yet the 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). In sum, since syntactically the meaning that “we have confirmed the prophetic word by our experience” is improbable, and since contextually the meaning that “we have something that is a more reliable authority than experience, namely, the Bible” is unlikely, we are left with the meaning “we have a very reliable authority, the Old Testament, as a witness to Christ’s return.” No comparison is thus explicitly made. This fits both the context and normal syntax quite well. The introductory καί    suggests that the author is adding to his argument. He makes the statement that Christ will return, and backs it up with two points: (1) Peter himself (as well as the other apostles) was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, which is a precursor to the Parousia; and (2) the Gentile believers, who were not on the Mount of Transfiguration, nevertheless have the Old Testament, a wholly reliable authority that also promises the return of Christ.

I see a couple of things in play here worth noting: 1) is the actual syntax of the verse. What is actually possible in the construction. 2) contextual–what makes the most sense of the overall context of the letter. 3) theological–understanding the relationship between revelation as events and revelation of a text. I could be wrong here.

There are many things I pretend to be, but a Greek scholar is not one of them. I’m interested to see what others have to say. How would you translate καὶ ἔχομεν βεβαιότερον τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον? Why?

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3 thoughts on “2 Peter 1:19–The Prophetic Word more fully Confirmed?

  1. Luke, you sly dog…

    I actually wrote a paper on this very passage for Greek IV. It’s quite interesting to peruse the various english translations of this passage. There’s no general consensus on how to translate that phrase; it seems that almost every english version has a different wording (as you’ve noted). There were several textual commentaires that presented the adj as a comparative (as the NET footnote stated. Most impressive.)

    Also, I’m curious as to which text version of the ESV you used? Mine reads, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word…” (I think there are a few versions of the esv)

    This is essentially where I landed on translation. The author is indicating the importance of his eyewitness account of the transfiguration, but the emphasis for his audience is placed on this more sure prophetic word to which his readers must give their attention.
    I think this reading fits best in the context of 2 Peter (and even in the Catholic Epistles). The author warns against false teachers, showing their doom from the OT (noting those in Noah’s day, as well as Sodom and Gomorrah.)

    Chapter three again expresses this warning against false teachers (scoffers) who deny the eschatological message of the OT found in the creation and flood narratives, and thus deny the coming of the Lord and His new heavens and new earth.

    I’m with Peter…we must pay attention to this reliable and certain prophetic word.

    • Jonathan,

      Thanks for your response. I the ESV translation I used was the 2011 edition found in Logos. I just looked at my 2001 ESV and it says, “…something more sure, the prophetic word…” It is interesting that they changed the wording.

      I found the NET translator created too much of an either/or as a result of the adjective being a comparative instead of the emphasis being placed on the “sure” word for those not present at the transfiguration.

      -Luke

  2. This is the first interpretation of v.19 that does not seem to put his argument either like 1.) Apostles > OT = Very Sure, 2.) Apostles < OT = Very Sure, but instead, 3.) Apostles + OT = Very Sure

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