The Relationship of the Testaments: Walt Kaiser on 1 Peter 1:10-12

What did the OT prophets know, and when did they know it?  

In the view of some Bible students, the OT prophets didn’t really understand what they were saying to the nation of Israel. Consequently, if even the prophets themselves didn’t know what they meant in their prophecies, who are we to think that we can read and understand their words apart from the light of NT revelation? To support this view, many point to 1 Peter 1:10-12, where the apostle Peter writes this:  

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into. (NKJV)  

The question is this: Does 1 Peter 1:10-12 indicate that the prophets wrote better than they knew? Does it demonstrate that they didn’t understand what they were saying, as so many people claim? Not so, according to one of my hermeneutical heroes, Walter Kaiser:  

Does this text teach that the writers of Scripture “wrote better than they knew”? Indeed it does not. On the contrary, it decisively affirms that the prophets spoke knowingly on five rather precise topics: 1) the Messiah, 2) his sufferings, 3) his glory, 4) the sequence of events (for example, suffering was followed by the Messiah’s glorification), and 5) that the salvation announced in those pre-Christian days was not limited to the prophets’ audiences, but it also included the readers of Peter’s day (v. 12).  

What they “enquired and searched diligently for” without any success was the time when these things would take place. The Greek phrase that gives the object of their searching was “what” [time] or “what manner of time” [eis tina e poion kairon] this salvation would be accomplished. In no case can the first interrogative “what” [tina] be translated as the RSV, NASB, the Berkeley, the Amplified, and the NEB footnote have it—“what person.” Greek grammarians such as A.T. Robertson; Blass, DeBrunner, and Funk; the lexicon by Baur, Arndt and Gingrich; and Moulton, along with such important commentaries as Charles Briggs and Edward Selwyn, are all emphatic on the point: tina and poion are “a tautology for emphasis” and both modify the word “time.” 

This passage does not teach that these men were curious and often ignorant of the exact meaning of what they wrote and predicted. Theirs was a not a search of the exact meaning of what they wrote; it was an inquiry into the temporal aspects of the subject, which went beyond what the wrote. 

To be sure, the OT prophets did not have the full picture, and the NT does indeed fill in details not provided in the Hebrew Scriptures. But the OT prophets knew what they were talking about, and we can too if we are careful to apply a grammatical-historical hermeneutic to their words, all the while recognizing that later revelation in the NT supplements rather than contradicts what God has said before.

6 responses to this post.

  1. […] Matt Waymeyer ( adds to their series on the relationship of the testaments with Walt Kaiser on 1 Peter 1:10-12. […]

  2. This

    brief piece came from the pen of Dan Wallace of DTS recently. Your response?

  3. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on March 26, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Even So,

    When I first studied this passage a year ago, I went back and forth between Kaiser’s view of the grammar and the one proposed by Wallace. But for the point I am trying to make here in this series, it doesn’t make any critical difference. Even if Peter is referring to both time and person (as Wallace suggests), this only means that the prophets didn’t know exactly who the Messiah was or when He would come; but it doesn’t mean the prophets were clueless about the meaning of what they wrote, as so many insist. So in the end, I think Wallace makes a good case for his exegesis, but I think he needs to strengthen the connection between his exegesis and his conclusion that “Peter seems to acknowledge that the OT prophets, at times, spoke better than they knew.”

    Blessings, J.D. I hope all is going well with you, your family, and your ministry!

  4. I think Wallace makes a good case for his exegesis, but I think he needs to strengthen the connection between his exegesis and his conclusion that “Peter seems to acknowledge that the OT prophets, at times, spoke better than they knew.”

    I agree that it doesn’t necessarily follow…thank you for engaging that, Matt, and blessings to you as well…

  5. Thanks for this Matt-

  6. […] Walt Kaiser on 1 Peter 1:10-12 […]

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