Second Peter 1:20 says, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.” Actually, 2 Peter 1:20 emphasizes the source of Old Testament prophecies, not who has the right to interpret the Bible today.
Some Bible versions do not make this clear. The NAS, for example, says that prophecy is not “a matter of one’s own interpretation,” and the KJV says Scripture is not “of any private interpretation.” However, Peter was not writing about how we should read or interpret God’s Word; he was writing about how God gave us His Word in the first place. In order to persuade his readers to pay attention to the gospel, Peter affirmed that his words were God’s words—just as much as the Old Testament prophecies were.
Peter’s meaning in verse 20 is further explained by the context: “We did not follow cleverly devised stories . . . but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. . . . We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven. . . . We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable. . . . No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will” (2 Peter 1:16–21).
Notice that Peter’s main point is not how to read and understand God’s messages. Instead, he explains the authoritative origin and source of those prophecies. It was God Himself who communicated them through His chosen spokesmen. The prophets (and Peter) did not write thoughts that they cooked up out of their own minds, but they passed on truth that came directly from God. As Peter puts it, they “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (verse 21).
Peter’s intent was to urge his readers to take his message about Jesus seriously, as he says in verse 19, “You [therefore] will do well to pay attention to [God’s message through me], as to a light shining in a dark place.” Peter’s account of Jesus was straight from God.
Since the Bible’s words express God’s thoughts, not man’s, it is important that we respect them enough to study them and grasp what He wants us to understand as we are interpreting Scripture.
Second Peter 1:10–11 says, “Brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (KJV). The clear command is to “make your calling and election sure,” or, as the NIV puts it, “make every effort to confirm your calling and election.”
A believer’s “calling” is God’s drawing him to salvation. Peter alludes to this calling earlier in the same chapter when he speaks of God “who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). A believer’s “election” is God’s selection of him to be saved from before time began. The doctrine of election or predestination is taught elsewhere in the Bible, too (see Romans 8:29–30; Ephesians 1:5, 11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; and 2 Timothy 2:10). God is the one who calls and elects, so the believer’s calling and election are already “sure” from God’s point of view; therefore, the command for believers to diligently make their calling and election sure must refer to the believers’ point of view. God wants us to have assurance of our salvation, and the best way to do that is to be pursuing godly virtues and actively growing in the Christian life.
Second Peter 1:5–7 lists godly qualities that believers should add to their faith—goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. Those qualities are the “these things” of verse 10, and the reader is urged thereby to “make your calling and election sure.” In doing “these things,” one will never stumble and is promised “a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom” (verse 11).
On the surface 2 Peter 1 seems to affirm that one’s salvation depends on having the qualities listed in verses 5–7. On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that Peter is addressing those who already have “faith,” which he lists as the first (and foundational) quality. Also, Peter presumes that some of those who did not demonstrate these qualities had in fact been saved, for “whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins” (2 Peter 1:9). So, being cleansed from past sin does not automatically mean a person will grow in goodness, knowledge, etc., but, if he doesn’t “possess these qualities in increasing measure” (verse 8), he is spiritually myopic and forgetful of God’s grace.
Let’s examine the command to “make your calling and election sure” within the context of what Peter says before that:
1:3. The readers’ “godly life” is somehow being threatened by their circumstances, and we know from Peter’s previous epistle that they have been suffering (1 Peter 1:6); the apostle is therefore providing reassurance that they have all the resources they need to persevere within their knowledge of God (the One who called them).
1:4. Peter adds that God’s “glory and goodness” entails “very great and precious promises” through which his readers “may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” God’s goal is to produce a holy people for Himself (see 1 Peter 1:15–16). Believers should have the same goal to become that holy people.
1:5–7. It is clear that Peter presumes that his readers have already exercised faith and that these qualities are to be added to their faith. These same virtues allow believers to participate in the divine nature (verse 4) and thus distinguish themselves as a holy people. In his epistle, James explains how these qualities “add” to faith and enable one to become “a friend of God” (James 2:22–23).
1:8. Here is mentioned a fruitful “knowledge” of Christ (compare verse 3) that will enable believers to display God’s character effectively. This comes through maintaining a close relationship with Christ—Jesus called it “abiding” in Him (John 15).
1:9. When the qualities listed in verses 5–7 are not present in a believer, it betrays the fact that he’s forgotten his true identity in Christ. Believers have been “cleansed from . . . past sins,” and we must not forget it. By persisting in sin, believers are “blinded” to their new identity as a holy people for God (compare 1 Peter 4:1–6 and Romans 6:1–2).
1:10. In light of all that comes before, we should see the exhortation to “make your calling and election sure” as a call to “shore up” our righteous character as a holy people. The compound verb translated “to make sure” can mean either to “verify” (in the sense of assuring oneself of something that may not be true) or to “guarantee” or “protect” something that is already true. It is the latter meaning in view here: we are told to “shore up” our “calling and election” to be holy as God is holy by exhibiting the list of behaviors in verses 5–7, so we do not “fall” (compare 2 Peter 3:17) into past sinful behavior (see 1 Peter 4:1–6).
1:11. Those who successfully display the qualities in verses 5–7 are the ones who are assured of their salvation and can go through this world confident that they will “receive a rich welcome” as friends of God and co-heirs with Christ.
In summary, to make one’s calling and election sure is to live out the Christian life in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is to do more than simply pay lip service to Christ. Those who profess salvation but never grow in their walk with God will suffer a lack of assurance, always wondering if they are really saved or not. Those who grow ever more like Christ will be “sure” of their calling and election. They will know they have eternal life (see 1 John 5:13); they will be living testimonies of the power of God to change lives.