A Brief Discussion of 2 Peter 1:20-21

Often people throw around 2 Peter 1:20-21 to try to counter another person's "interpretation" of scripture. Here are some things to think about relating to this scriptural passage.

Poster name: "unlimited" Post date: October 2005.

Paul what do you think the verse in 2 Peter 1:20-21 means?

Paul's response.

Ah, yes. Let's look at this:

2 Peter 1:20-21 (KJV) Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

We could read this, as many people do, and think that from the ambiguous wording we are being told that the readers of the scriptures aren't supposed to privately interpret the scriptures. I think that most of us would heartily agree with this sentiment, whether or not Peter meant it this way. But look at the context:

  1. The prior material is Peter talking about how we have promises from God and that these records aren't fables.
  2. Then he says that the prophets weren't speaking from their own knowledge or "private interpretation."
  3. Then he says that the prophets were inspired when they wrote what they did.
This translation (the scripture writers didn't write their "private interpretations") is supported by the KJV, NIV, NLT, Wey NT, MKJV, LITV, Douay-Rheims, and other versions.

The idea that the reader isn't supposed to "privately interpret" scripture is supported by the NASB, CEV, TEV, RSV, BBE, ASV, and other versions.

But the context lends itself better to the writer than the reader being the one not doing the "interpretting." After all, the word "of" most often tells us a source or ownership, so saying the "prophecies aren't of private interpretation" works perfectly well if we are meaning that they didn't come from private interpretations. Think of it as "the prophecies aren't of (from) private interpretation, the prophecies are of (from) God."

But if we assume that the passage is telling us Bible readers not to privately interpret scripture, what do we do? The stock response from everyone is that we are each using the Holy Spirit to "interpret" and therefore our interpretation isn't private (and by implication, the other guy's interpretation is private). And since I've never met anyone who ever claimed that he was privately interpretting the scripture, this verse doesn't help us when we hear someone else. It may serve as a warning to ourselves, but it isn't applicable outside our own experience.

If the charge is to the reader, the best explanation is that since the prophecy came to "holy men of God" who were "moved by the Holy Ghost", then the interpretation today should come not from the Bible reader but from similar men: holy men of God. Who do you propose as candidates for these "holy men of God" who can reliably interpret the scripture by the Holy Ghost?