2 Peter 1:20 states “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” This verse teaches us important truths about properly interpreting the Bible.
The Source of Scripture is God, Not Man
This verse makes it clear that Scripture ultimately comes from God, not from human interpretation or invention. The prophets and apostles who wrote the various books of the Bible were moved by the Holy Spirit to write God’s words, not their own (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). Scripture comes from God through the divine inspiration of its human authors.
Therefore, we should be careful not to treat Scripture as if it is just a human book written by smart religious people. The Bible is uniquely God’s Word, not merely man’s opinions. This should shape how we interpret it – with humility and care, realizing we are handling the very words of God.
Private Interpretation is Discouraged
This verse also warns against “private interpretation.” Some people treat biblical interpretation as a free-for-all, where anyone can make the Bible say whatever they want it to. But 2 Peter 1:20 discourages this individualistic approach.
We should be submitted to the global church when interpreting Scripture, not detached on our own. It is arrogant to think our personal interpretations are always right while 2,000 years of church history, scholarship, and teaching is wrong. Biblical interpretation should happen in community, accountable to the historic teachings of the church.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
While individual interpretations are discouraged, this does not negate the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding us to understand Scripture. As 1 John 2:27 states, we have no need for any human to teach us, because the anointing of the Holy Spirit teaches us all things. The Spirit who inspired the Word can illuminate our understanding of it.
Therefore, we should prayerfully rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us into biblical truth. Human teaching has its place, but the Spirit is the ultimate interpreter of God’s Word. We interpret best when submitted to both the global church and the internal leading of the Spirit.
The Unity of Scripture
2 Peter 1:20 also assumes the unity of Scripture. If each verse or passage could mean anything we want it to, Scripture would be fragmented and contradictory. But since God is its ultimate source, we should interpret each passage in light of the whole counsel of God.
Letting Scripture interpret Scripture allows difficult verses to be clarified by clearer ones. We should interpret passages in ways consistent with the rest of biblical revelation. Scripture’s unity points us toward interpretations that cohere with the entire canon.
The Need for Careful Study
Biblical interpretation is not easy. Since Scripture’s source is divine, we should proceed humbly and carefully as we seek to understand it. Simply picking appealing or convenient meanings for passages is dangerous.
Interpreting well takes prayer, wisdom, knowledge of the original languages, concern for authorial intent, respect for church history, and submission to other parts of Scripture. We should engage in the diligent study 2 Timothy 2:15 encourages so we can interpret passages accurately.
2 Peter 1:20 provides this guidance for biblical interpretation:
- Remember Scripture’s divine inspiration
- Avoid private or individualistic interpretation
- Depend on the Holy Spirit’s illumination
- Consider the unity of Scripture
- Study passages thoroughly and carefully
Following these principles will steer us away from misinterpretation toward rightly understanding God’s Word.
Other Relevant Passages
Here are some other verses that can inform our approach to interpreting Scripture:
1 Corinthians 2:13-14
“And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” This passage reminds us that the Spirit enables us to understand Scripture.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” We should imitate the Bereans by carefully studying Scripture instead of hastily drawing conclusions.
2 Corinthians 4:2
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Don’t twist Scripture to fit an agenda – be honest with the text.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Scripture should interpret us even as we seek to interpret it!
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Our lives should align with our interpretations. Scripture should shape how we live when rightly understood.
Dangers of Misinterpretation
Mishandling Scripture has caused great damage throughout church history. Here are some dangers of misinterpretation that we can seek to avoid:
- Twisting verses to support false or harmful doctrines
- Ignoring passages that contradict one’s personal beliefs
- Divisive arguments and quarrels over disputable matters
- Establishing practices and traditions not supported by Scripture
- Justifying sin, unethical behavior, and oppression of others
- Bizarre, foolish, or speculative interpretations that discredit the faith
- Subjective interpretations that distract from Scripture’s true meaning
- Heretical teachings that spread due to the misuse of Scripture
We can guard against these dangers through careful study guided by prayer and dependence on the Spirit. Scripture is too precious to mishandle!
Principles for Wise Interpretation
Here are some wise principles to keep in mind when interpreting Scripture:
- Consider the context – historical, literary, cultural
- Note the genre – poetry, narrative, epistle, prophecy
- Look for authorial intent rather than subjective meanings
- Check your interpretations against the rest of Scripture
- Be aware of your personal biases that may influence interpretation
- Study the original language for deeper understanding
- Consider how church fathers and historic orthodoxy have interpreted the passage
- Discuss interpretations with other Bible students and scholars
- Make applications relevant for contemporary life and culture
No interpretation method is flawless, but these principles can help steer us toward wise, faithful, and discerning interpretations of God’s Word.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
While we should interpret Scripture carefully and intelligently, we must also depend on the Holy Spirit. Human reason alone cannot grasp the full riches of God’s Word. We need the Spirit’s illumination to rightly understand and apply Scripture.
We should pray for the Spirit’s guidance whenever we study the Bible. The Spirit empowers us to interpret, obey, and proclaim Scripture faithfully. We access the Bible’s life-changing power when we rely on the Spirit’s work in us as interpreters.
The Spirit also produces spiritual fruit in us as we abide in Christ. As we become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, and self-controlled, we will interpret and apply Scripture wisely.
The Goal: Becoming Like Christ
The purpose of biblical interpretation is not just information but transformation. The Bible is meant to shape our thinking, convict our hearts, guide our steps, and make us more like Jesus Christ.
If we have all knowledge but lack love, our interpretation is worthless. The goal is to encounter God through His Word and be conformed to Christ’s image. Interpretation, therefore, must lead to increased character, virtue, wisdom, and love.
2 Peter 1:20 reminds us that Scripture comes from the Spirit’s inspiration, not merely human interpretation. We should interpret it carefully and prayerfully, relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance and being submitted to the church. Wise interpretation requires effort, humility, and dependence on God.
Our aim should not just be knowledge but transformation into Christ’s likeness. Interpretation brings life when the Spirit fills both Scripture and its interpreters. God’s Word is too precious to mishandle – we must pursue accurate interpretation through the Spirit’s empowering.