What Does 2 Peter 1:21 Mean about Prophecy?
Prophecy is one of the most intriguing and mysterious gifts from God. It was used as a method of direct communication to the nation of Israel for over a thousand years, and in the church age it has been used to provide assurance of God’s sovereignty and to communicate His ultimate plan.
As Jewish people embraced Jesus as their Messiah, and as gentiles came to salvation, there was a lot of confusion about prophecy. The Holy Spirit led the Apostle Peter to address the nature of prophecy, and the importance of discernment when it comes to giving and interpreting prophecy. The Apostle wrote,
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
This verse is a good reminder that true prophecy comes from God, and that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore can be compared against fulfilled prophecy and Scripture to ensure its veracity.
What Is the Context of 2 Peter 1?
The epistle of 2 Peter was written toward the end of his life; he was in jail, and would be executed in 68 AD. In the letter, Peter is speaking to predominantly Jewish Christians, to whom he had spent most of ministry reaching after the ascension of Jesus Christ. He greets them at the beginning of the letter, reminds them of their salvation and sanctification, and then goes on to confirm the glory of Jesus Christ, encouraging them to cast aside doubt. It is in this encouragement that he affirmed that he saw the glorified Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, an event recorded in the Gospels (Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28–36), and that it has been confirmed through prophecy as well.
It is here that he wrote, “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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21). These statements are immediately followed by warnings about the dangers of false prophets.
Other topics addressed in this epistle include the second coming of Jesus Christ and being prepared for His return.
What Does This Verse Mean?
Even without context, this verse has a clear message for the believer: true prophecy always comes from God, inspired by the Holy Spirit just like Scripture, and so it will always be in agreement with the Bible and can be tested. Prophecy can be compared against the Bible to be proven or disproven. If a prophetic word is given, but it contradicts God’s law, contradicts something about the Father, the Son, or the Spirit, or changes the way Christians understand their salvation, it is probably not from God, since He never contradicts Himself.
Within the larger context, Peter affirmed the death, burial, resurrection, and glory of Jesus Christ both because of His own eye-witness testimony to the transfiguration, and because of later prophetic words spoken. All these prophecies and testimonies are in agreement, which helps affirm it is the truth.
The following paragraph addresses false prophets, who can be identified because what they say will contradict God’s Word.
What Is Prophecy?
Prophecy’s purpose has changed overtime. When God instituted His nation Israel, He chose to communicate to them through prophets, select men who spoke on God’s behalf to the nation.
When Israel split into two kingdoms, there were prophets for both nations. They spoke of the immediate future for the nation, and of the longer future. Some prophesied about the coming Messiah, and others got glimpses into the end of days. After Jesus’ ministry, there were a handful of people blessed to get glimpses into the far future, namely the Apostle John. Most prophecy seen in the New Testament, however, is personal, and is meant to affirm things on a more personal level. It is listed as an office of the church;
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Paul explained to the Church in Ephesus that when God calls people to the ministry, He equips them to serve, but to different roles, called offices. One of these offices is still that of the prophet. These prophets do not receive specific prophecy about God’s plan for the world, as that has already been laid out in the Book of Revelation.
Some denominations believe the office of prophet, and the gift of prophecy, is no longer given by the Holy Spirit. They also generally believe the gift of tongues is no longer in use. Other denominations believe that prophecy and tongues are still gifted to believers today. For those denominations, they believe that God speaks to individuals about His will for them personally, or for the will of that individual church. There are some differences across these denominations about how they believe prophecy can be used. Generally, there is consensus amongst healthy, Bible-based churches regardless of denomination that prophecy can never contradict the Bible.
Why Did God Choose Prophets to Speak Through?
Historically there were people whom God would speak to one-on-one. God would walk with Adam and Eve in the garden, but after the Fall of mankind due to sin, God could not appear to them the same way. Sinners cannot be in the presence of Holy God.
He found ways to communicate directly to other individuals such as Abraham and Moses. But even with these people, His presence was too much. His manifestation over the Ark of the Covenant – known as the Shekinah Glory – was so powerful that it's remnant would kill anyone who touched the ark. To communicate to the masses, God needed to speak to people who were set aside and consecrated to Him. Not everyone who lived the life of a prophet lived in a way that was glorifying to God, but God still used their frailty and failure for His glory.
How Does This Verse Teach Us to Tell the Difference between Real and Fake Prophecy?
For people today, whether their church practices prophecy or not, the idea of someone giving them a prophetic word, giving a glimpse into the mysterious future for assurance, is an appealing idea. Giving prophecy, if that is a gift given by the Holy Spirit and it is done correctly, is appropriate.
However, Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). False prophets will say things that contradict the teachings of Jesus, the Law, the Scriptures, and other prophecies from the Holy Spirit recorded in the Bible. One of the most common false prophecies given by deceivers, especially amongst cult leaders, is they can predict the End of Days, even though the Bible says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
Christians should always turn to the Bible and prayer first about whether or not a prophetic word is accurate. If anything someone says contradicts the Bible, or if the only way to make it affirm Scripture is by convoluted twisting of words, redefining things, or other dishonest tactics, it is false.
Prophecy can be a blessing if it is coming from the Holy Spirit, but it should never become a crutch for the Bible, for a good prayer life, and for a strong walk with God. There will always be the temptation to pursue it as a way to have faith, or to have assurance for the future, rather than having faith in Jesus Christ and trusting Him. Be wary of false prophets, and accept the blessing of prophecy as just that, a little blessing of affirmation from the Lord, and not a substitute for walking with Him day by day in hope and trust, and the believer will be in right accord with their Savior.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 John 4:1-3).
Grudem, Wayne. The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Wheaton: Crossway, 2000.
Moo, Douglas. The NIV Application Commentary 2 Peter, Jude. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Walvoord, John. Every Prophecy in the Bible Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2011.
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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.