The last words of famous men—sometimes called their swan song—are often interesting in their own right, but when two swan songs coincide in their messages, we have something of extreme interest. What are these famous men both seeing, that we, who are left behind, need desperately to see as well?
Recently, in reading Second Peter, I was struck by its similarity to Second Timothy. Both letters are final statements (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Peter 1:12-15). Both letters are public statements, especially if we assume that Second Timothy is an open letter (cf. 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11). And both letters are apostolic statements. Indeed, in these two letters, we have the final statements of the two main leaders of the early church—Peter and Paul—who both give us what they want remembered as the church moves ahead into the future without them. As Peter states it, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15). Therefore, we must ask, What do these two apostles think is necessary as the church moves into post-apostolic times? For us today, this is a critical question. We live in exactly this kind of a church.
Strikingly, both letters emphasize the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. As some of the clearest statements in the New Testament on the divine inspiration of the words of the Bible, these apostolic testimonies deserve to be quoted in full. In Second Timothy, Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (3:16-17). In Second Peter, Peter writes, “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…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” (1:19-21). Both statements agree: If the church lacks apostles, the church does not lack the Bible. And the Bible is enough. Wow!
Specifically, both letters affirm the primacy of Old Testament Scripture. The apostle Paul tells even a pastor of the church (Timothy) that his knowledge of the Old Testament from childhood is sufficient for grounding his faith in Christ: “The sacred writings…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). For the apostle Peter, the solitary “lamp shining in a dark place” is the Old Testament “prophetic word.” Yes, the gospel witness of the apostle confirms this prophetic word (2 Peter 1:16-18). And yes, the apostolic life of faith also confirms the word (2 Timothy 3:10-11). But the grounding of the gospel remains “in accordance with the Scripture” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 5; cf. Isaiah 8:20). The apostles affirmed that the church’s faith is built upon the Bible—the OT prophetic word confirmed by the NT apostolic witness. What a legacy this united swan song gives!
Even more, both Peter and Paul affirm in their final days that the canon of Scripture now includes New Testament writings. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul quotes Luke immediately after Deuteronomy as being what “the Scripture [singular] says” (1 Timothy 5:18). In Second Peter, the apostle cites Paul’s letter in conjunction with “the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). These references are extremely important. Not only do we have apostolic sanction for the expansion of the Bible beyond the Old Testament to include New Testament documents, we also have testimony that the church has always regarded the gospels and the letter of Paul as Scripture. No council was needed. None has been found.
In debates with Roman Catholicism, whose popes are the alleged heirs of Peter and Paul, one wonders why this sufficiency of Scripture is not emphasized. Even if the authorship of these letters is denied, as liberal scholars often assert, both letters were received as Scripture; therefore, both letters give testimony to the early church’s view of the centrality of the Bible in post-apostolic times. In other words, tradition itself affirms the inspiration and sufficiency of the Bible for the post-apostolic church. Even creeds must follow the “pattern” of the apostles (2 Timothy 1:13).
Moreover, in debates with postmodern Christians, it is instructive to note that both letters affirm the verbal nature of revelation. The Holy Spirit inspired human words (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). Interestingly, both letters also affirm that the denial of Scripture is often due to human lust, which accumulates teachers after their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3-4; cf. 2 Peter 2:1-3)—what apologist Mark Coppenger has called “consequences have ideas.” In contrast, Paul charges Timothy to “reach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2) and Peter charges Christians to “pay attention” to this one light in a dark world. Truly, this charge is the united swan song of the Christ’s leading apostles. We truly “do well” to give it our full attention.