Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"No ... scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation"

2 Peter 1:19-21

19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Checkmark 2 Peter 1:20 as one of the top ten misused verses in the Bible!

Many preachers toss this verse around like they know what it means. They cite it and move on before anybody has a chance to look very closely at it. It is played like a secret weapon in a game of cards. If two people have a disagreement over a Bible verse and one of them approaches the disagreement like it is some sort of a debate, he will rattle off 2 Peter 1:20. Since he quoted it first, his interpretation in the dispute is deemed correct against his "opponent." If the second person questions how 2 Peter 1:20 is being used, the higher-ground arguer is likely to interrupt, "Don't you accept this verse? Don't you believe the Bible? Do you believe the Bible is inspired?" The meaning behind those questions is, "I believe this verse. You don't. I believe the Bible. You don't. I believe the Bible is inspired. You don't. I believe in God. You don't."

No serious Bible scholar would invoke 2 Peter 1:20 with that meaning; although the comment by the Expositor's Abridged commentary below dances pretty close.

Various views:
Expositor's Abridged Commentary (Zondervan):
No prophecy is to be interpreted by any individual in an arbitrary way--so either the church must interpret prophecy, the interpretation must be that intended by the Holy Spirit, or the individual's interpretation is not to be "private" but according to the analogy of faith.

In other words, according to the Expositor's Abridged Commentary, don't study the Bible alone. Include resources approved by your church... or ask God for divine guidance, consistent with 2 Peter 3:16. Alternatively, it is wrong to keep secret what you have learned. The comment sounds to me like any disagreement about what the Bible says is settled by the preacher or by church edict. Preachers may approve of this meaning because it is usually the preacher who invokes 2 Peter 1:20 against a regular layman Bible reader. Second Peter 1:20 is invoked with the meaning that, in all Bible questions, the preacher is right. I don't think that's what the Expositor's commentator meant; but he does get kind of close to that meaning.
NKJV Study Bible (Nelson)
Although some have taken this phrase to mean that no individual Christian has the right to interpret prophecy for himself or herself, the context and the Greek word for interpretation indicates another meaning for the verse. The Greek word for interpretation can also mean “origin.” In the context of v. 21, it is clear that Peter is speaking of Scripture’s “origin” from God Himself and not the credentials of the one who interprets it. There is no private source for the Bible; the prophets did not supply their own solutions or explanations to the mysteries of life. Rather, God spoke through them; He alone is responsible for what is written in Scripture.
The above interpretation makes a lot of sense. I am personally suspicious of the view that scripture descended directly from God. The way scripture reads to me is that God gave the inspired writers the necessary wisdom to properly supply solutions and explanations to the mysteries of life. Nevertheless, this interpretation has coherence working for it. Oh, and the interpretation rejects the view that whomever cites the verse first is right.
New Interpreter's One vol. Commentary (Abingdon):
He and other traditional Christian teachers appealed to the Scriptures to support their view of the eschatological parousia of Christ. The false teachers dispute this interpretation of Scripture. The author responds that this interpretation is not merely a matter of private, idiosyncratic interpretation, but is confirmed by a revelatory experience that revealed Jesus as God's Son enthroned in heavenly glory, the one who will come as eschatological judge and savior. The church may be assured of seeing the glory of Christ in the future, because the glory of the exalted Christ has already been seen in the past.
This explanation makes a lot of sense in a larger context. There were false teachers who were conscripting scripture to the service of supporting their own pet doctrines. Their false teaching brought themselves personal gain (2 Peter 2:3). In particular, they are "denying the Master who brought them [the teachings?]." The false teaching really smells specific and relates to the nature of Christ.

The motif of twisting scripture to get it to say what you want it to say is consistent with 2 Peter 3:15-16 with respect to how some were twisting what Paul wrote. It is also the meaning of what Luke's Jesus said about the lawyers.

Luke 11:45-52 (reworked with a different thrust by Matthew 23:13, 29-33):
45 One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too."
46 And he said, "Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.
47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed.
48 So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs.
49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, "I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,'
50 so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world,
51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation.
52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering." (NRSV)
Luke's Jesus had a pointed meaning behind the charge of building the tombs of the prophets. He meant that the lawyers not only entombed the prophets but they also entombed the teachings of the prophets by obfuscating their witness with complex interpretations. It is a back-door method of censoring the prophets after their deaths.

I think the best lesson, the "take-home" at this point, is that 2 Peter 1:20 is not a verse to toss around like an ace-of-spades that wins every argument every time. It is not real clear what it means and is thus not useful as a proof text for anything. Invoking it in a debate is totally lame.

Incidentally, and this is important, Arguing with somebody about the Bible is not the path to sound doctrine. It is a common tactic with the older generations, and might have once been moderately effective. Arguing falls flat with Generation X and Millennials. Find a better way to persuade. Better yet, find a better path to  self satisfaction than by declaring yourself right all the time.

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