Scripture or Experience, Which Matters Most?
HE Apostle Peter witnessed Jesus’s glory and heard the voice of God the Father. Mark’s gospel records that Peter was also joined by James and John. When they all became speechless due to fear, Peter decided to fill the awkward silence by saying something stupid (Mark 9:6). That was nothing new. But in Peter’s letters, Peter places the focus on Scripture, not on how powerful it was to see and hear everything they witnessed on the mountainside.
It is easy to make our experience the focus of our relationship with God. To be clear, if you have a relationship with God through faith in Christ, you will have experiences with God. The big issue, however, is what is primary. Do you use Scripture to evaluate experience, or do you use your experience to evaluate Scripture?
Look at how Peter describes his experience in 2 Peter 1:16-21
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. For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, â€œThis is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleasedâ€, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And 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, 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.
Peter tells his readers his death is imminent and that he wants to remind them of what matters most. That sets the backdrop for his testimony here. But after describing how mind-blowing it must have been to be eyewitnesses to this whole thing, he says something remarkable, “And we have something more sure . . .”
What can be more sure than a mountain top worship service with Jesus in all his glory where you hear the very voice of God the Father?
Glad you asked. It’s almost like Peter (or more correctly the Holy Spirit through Peter) anticipated that question. Here’s Peter’s answer: Scripture. The prophetic word is more certain than our experience.
For full disclosure, Bible translators have waffled on how to best translate this passage. Some translators take the verse to say that Peter’s experience made more certain the prophecy. His experience affirmed, or validated, Scripture. But that doesn’t seem to fit Peter’s argument where he goes on in this passage to emphasize the trustworthiness of God’s inspired Word. Translations like the newest edition of the ESV and the NASB go this route making the verse read that the experience makes more sure the prophetic word.
The UK edition of the ESV, the King James Version, and others, place the emphasis where Peter’s argument is directed, that the more sure thing is Scripture itself. I think this better fits the shape of the text. I like how New Testament scholar Kenneth S. Wuest translates the passage, “And we have the prophetic word as a surer foundation, to which you are doing well to pay attention, as to a lamp which is shining in a squalid place, until day dawns and a morning star arises in your hearts.”
Translation issues aside, the question still needs to be considered. Will you use your experience to interpret Scripture, or use Scripture to interpret your experience? The New Testament shows us how the first century disciples did it. They used Scripture to make sense of their experience (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The first followers of Jesus understood even the crucifixion and the resurrection through the lens of Old Testament Scriptures. It was a big deal that Jesus died and rose again, but the first disciples didn’t separate the historical event from the Scriptures.
This is important because you will forever second guess your experiences. You may misunderstand them. You may remember them wrongly. You may even forget them. But don’t fear, you have something more certain. You have a stronger foundation than your experience, you have the Word of God. That’s a firm foundation for your faith and for your soul. The center of faith is Jesus. Make no doubt. But like the first disciples, it is Jesus “according to the Scriptures.”
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