The Expository Files.

No Prophecy of Scripture is of Private Interpretation

2 Peter 1:20 

The Text: ...Knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation.

The Meaning Given To It: Our Catholic friends, as well as others, have used this verse to allege that an individual cannot, by themselves, understand or interpret the scriptures (see The Faith Of Millions, pp. 152-153). Rather, we need special assistance which, in the case of the Catholic, would be the Catholic Church.

The Context: Peter is determined to continually recall certain truths to the minds of those to whom he wrote, vss. 12-15. He and other apostles did not adhere to carefully planned fairy-tales when they spoke of Jesus, for they had been eye-witnesses of all that Jesus did in proving his Deity, vss. 16-18 (see also 1 John 1:1-4). Next, Peter says that the words they spoke had been made "more sure" and the readers would do well to take heed to them, vs. 19. Then, in our text, Peter explains why the word of prophecy was "more sure" and how it became such.

The Meaning: First let it be observed that this verse cannot be saying that scripture cannot be understood because such a statement would involve a logical dilemma: it is illogical to try and prove by scripture that scripture cannot be understood. For, if we can understand our verse to teach a particular truth then we prove by our assertion that scripture can be understood. Besides this, Paul very clearly stated that what he wrote could be understood, Eph. 3:1-4.

When we observe this verse in the above-outlined context and notice the appearance of a very big little word in the verse following it, the meaning should be apparent. Vs. 21 begins with the word "for"---one of the "biggest" (in terms of significance) in all the Bible. Peter, in vs. 21, explains what he means in vs. 20: "For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit." It should be clear that Peter is not discussing the interpretation or understanding of scripture but, rather, its origin. The apostles and prophets did not invent myths and write these down. The origin of their message was God, not their own wills, minds, or imaginations. "We received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God", 1 Cor. 2:12.

By  David Smitherman 
From Expository Files 4.1; January 1997