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Scripture as Divine Interpretation


One of the most abused portions of Scripture is a succint statement made by the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:20: "no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation." Several misconceptions have arisen from a misunderstanding of Peter's point. Some have argued that Peter means no Scripture can be interpreted as if the act of interpreting Scripture is a misguided enterprise. It is claimed that no Scripture is to be interpreted. Others have argued that Peter here only condemns an individualistic interpretation, but the church as a whole or as an institution can interpret Scripture. The individual, then, has no right to interpret Scripture. Both of these understandings of 2 Peter 1:20 miss the point of the text.

In the context, Peter is combating a heretical group which claimed that Jesus was not going to return as the apostles taught. They denied and mocked the second coming of Christ (2 Pet. 1:16; 3:4). Peter responded to this denial by affirming the eventuality of Christ's second coming. He demonstrated his affirmation by (1) his own eyewitness testimony, that is, he had seen the transfiguration of the Lord on the holy mount which was a proclamation of his coming glory (2 Pet. 1:17,18), and (2) the word of prophecy, that is, Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19).

The heretical response to these arguments was to deny Peter's eyewitness as a fable and to regard the prophetic word as
originating with the prophet's own imagination. Pagan prophecy came by means of a sign or an omen which was then interpreted by the human prophet to have a certain meaning. In the same way,
these heretical teachers apparently thought that Peter and the Old Testament prophets had misinterpreted the signs and omens regarding the second coming of Christ.

It is in this setting that Peter affirms that "no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretaion." There are three important points to be made here. First, "is" comes from the verb ginomai which means "comes about, derives from, or arises." Ginomai here conveys the idea of origin just as it does in John 1:3. No prophecy of Scripture ever arose from or
came from a "private interpretation."

Second, "private" translates the Greek term idion. This word may be literally translated "his own." The question is whether the reference is to the prophet's own or to our own (the contemporary reader) interpretation. The use of ginomai points us to the former. No prophecy is derived from the
prophet's own interpretation. In fact, this mode of expression was almost a technical phrase in first century Judaism. Note
these examples. Philo, Divine Things, 259: "For a prophet utters nothing this is his own (idion), but everything he utters belongs to another, since another is prompting him." Philo, On the Life of Moses, 1:281: "I [Baalam] say nothing that is my own (idion), but only what is prompted by the divine." Josephus, Antiquites of the Jews, 4:121: "For once
he [God] has entered, nothing within us is any longer our own." Thus, the idea is that prophecy does not originate within the prophet's own imagination or nterpretation. Only false prophets speak from their own hearts (cf. Jer. 23:16; Ez. 13:3).

Third, the term translated "interpretation" is epiluseos which is derived from a verb which has the primary meaning of
explaining or interpreting puzzles or mysterious statements. It is used in the Septuagint of Joseph's interpretations of dreams (cf. Gen. 40:8; 41:8,12). The question with which the text is concerned is from whence did these interpreations or explanations come? Peter affirms that they are not the prophet's own explanation, but an inspired, divinely given interpretation.

The point, then, is clear. The prophets of Scripture did not interpret dreams, signs and visions with their own imagination. On the contrary, they provided their audience with a divine interpretation. This is stated in 2 Peter 1:21: "For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit." Verse 21 gives the reason or basis of verse 20. The prophets did not speak out of their own imagination because their prohecies did not come by their own wills, but by the Holy Spirit who moved them.

2 Peter 2:20, then, says nothing about whether it is right or wrong to interpret Scripture. However, it is a strong affirmation of the divine origin of the Scripture. Scripture is not the product of human imaginations or fables. It is the product of God's saints as they were moved (literally, borne along)by the Holy Spirit.}

Further, Peter includes the writings of the apostle Paul in the category of Scripture along with the prophets of the Old Testament. In 2 Peter 3:16, he complains that many, particularly these heretics, twist the meanings of Paul in the same way they do the "other Scriptures." Paul's letters, then, come under the same characterization of Scripture given in 1:20-21. Paul's writings are also divine interpretations of God's redemptive work in history, just like the Old Testament prophets.

The covenantal messengers of the Old and New Testament are paralleled in this letter. In 2 Peter 3:2, Peter calls his readers to remember the "words spoken before by the holy prophets" and the commandments of the "apostles of the Lord." These are the two groups attacked in 1:16-21: the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles. They both teach the judgment of God in the second coming of Christ. They both are divine testimony to and interpretation of those events. Scripture, according to Peter, includes both the Old Testament and the writings of Paul (and by extension to written interpretations by other apostles). This is the "sure word" upon which Christians stand; and this is the "sure word" they must remember, understand and apply to their lives.

First appeared in Sound Doctrine 10.2 (April-December, 1985), 30. And a version also appeared as "Whatever the Bible says is Divine Testimony and Divine Interpretation," Gospel Advocate 138.6 (June 1996), 22-3.


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