Can we personally interpret Scripture? – 2 Peter 1:20

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2 PETER 1:20: “…no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation.”

MORMON ARGUMENT:

The Mormon Church claims that its “prophets” and “apostles” have been ordained to the “Melchizedek” and “Aaronic” Priesthoods. Mormons assert that these “priesthoods” grant the Mormon Church the “authority” to receive new “revelations” from God and to “interpret” current revelation as proclaimed in their Scriptures (The KJV Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price). In an attempt to establish the concept that a Christian cannot understand Scripture apart from the teachings of their Church, Mormons often quote 2 Peter 1:20 which states: “…no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”

BIBLICAL RESPONSE:

In order to properly understand 2 Peter 1:20, we must examine the context of this passage:

  1. Verse 19 speaks of the fact that we have received the “sure word of prophecy.” This establishes the idea that this passage is referring to the “prophetic” portions of “Scripture” as they are contained in the Old Testament (i.e, the writings of Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc). It is to these prophetic books that Peter is referring when he addressed the “prophecy of the scripture” at verse 20.
  2. Verse 21 explains how this “word of prophecy” “…came not…by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” This verse explains what Peter meant when he said that “no prophecy of Scripture” is of any “private interpretation.” He is speaking about the origin of the “prophecy” —explaining how it came into being by the Holy Ghost and not by any one individual’s “private interpretation” of what he thought the “prophecy” should say.

It is evident by the context of this passage that 2 Peter 1:20 is not condemning the diligent, careful analysis of God’s Word which leads to accurate, exegetical interpretation of Scripture, but is rather speaking of the origin of the prophetic passages as not being of any “private interpretation.”

  • Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”—2 Timothy 2:15
  • “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”—Acts 17:11
  • Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”—1 Thessalonians 5:21

If it is wrong to derive a personal conclusion about the meaning of Scriptural passages (i.e., “interpret” Scripture), how can a Christian “rightly divide the word of truth,” “prove all things” and determine “that which is good,” and “search the scriptures daily” to evaluate “whether” these things we are receiving are true? Indeed, 2 Peter 1:20 is not a passage condemning the personal study and interpretation of Scripture, but is strictly speaking about Scripture’s origin.

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