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Doctrinal Matters: Difficult Passages

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Inspiration, not Interpretation

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

From time to time, certain religious leaders in the “Christian” world refer to the above passage in order to defend the idea that man cannot understand the Bible on his own. Because they believe the Bible is not to be interpreted privately, proponents of this idea teach that the Bible cannot be understood properly without the instruction of the “clergy.” Thus, they say, little good will come from private, personal study of the Scriptures.

A casual reading of 2 Peter 1:20—with little concern for the context in which the passage is found—might very well lead one to understand the verse in such a manner. However, a closer examination of this passage reveals that it has no reference at all to those who read the Scriptures, but refers instead to those who wrote the Scriptures. By studying the context of the passage, one learns that the passage is discussing how the Scriptures came into existence, not how they are to be “interpreted.”

Continuing the thought from verse 20 to verse 21, we read: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (emp. added). That little word “for” in verse 21 connects the two thoughts. The English word “for” derives from the Greek conjunction gar. Strong’s Greek-Hebrew Dictionary (1994) indicates that this word is a “primary particle” that assigns “a reason” and is used in argument for “explanation” or “intensification.” The reason that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” is because “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (emp. added). The word “for” connects the two thoughts. Peter is saying that the prophets did not invent what they wrote; rather, they were guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). No doubt this is why the NIV reads: “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20, emp. added)—not the reader’s interpretation.

Furthermore, according to Mounce’s Analytical Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (1993), the Greek word epilusis (translated “interpretation” in 2 Peter 1:20) means primarily “a loosing” or “liberation.” The stem (or “root” as we say in English class) of epilusis is luo, and means literally “to loosen, unbind, or unfasten.” Therefore, “no prophecy of Scripture” ever was released, loosed, or given out by the prophets’ own inventions. They did not put their own construction upon God’s message; instead, the Holy Spirit guided them. Obviously, then, this passage has no reference to present-day interpreters of the text, but rather to those who wrote it—i.e., the prophets or apostles (cf. Ephesians 3:5).

Some religious groups maintain the position that “you can’t understand the Bible on your own” in an attempt to deprive the average person from enjoying the blessings of privately reading, studying, and learning God’s will. For several hundred years, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church kept the Bible out of the “laity’s” hands, because those who composed that hierarchy were concerned that the average person might read and study the Bible on their own and learn that the Catholic Church practices many things that the Bible does not teach. Even as late as 1816, Pope Pius VII (in De Versionibus S. Scriptura, September 3) said:

I declare that the associations formed in the major part of Europe to translate and diffuse the law of God into the common tongues, provoke horror within me and they tend to undercut the Christian faith down to its foundations. It is necessary to destroy this pest and reveal the evil designs of these manipulators.

Such comments reveal that the leaders of the Catholic Church were fearful that the “laity” would “come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) and throw off the corrupt teachings of the Catholic Church.

Although some will continue to use 2 Peter 1:20-21 to teach that we must have a “priest” or “pastor” to interpret the Scriptures for us, an in-depth and logical examination of these verses reveals otherwise. The fact remains, God has given us a book that we can understand and obey (cf. Ephesians 3:4).




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