Friday, January 18, 2013

2 Peter 1:20: One’s own (private) interpretation

I know it's been a while since I've posted, but I've been very busy with my teaching duties in my local fellowship.

There seems to be many who appeal to 2 Peter 1:20 when a person has a different view of Scripture that others do.  Many folk’s get this from the KJV’s rendering of this verse.

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. KJV

Of course, the problem with isolating this verse is that when one removes it from its context, it can mean anything.  In reality, verse 20 is explained by verse 21.  How?  Why?

Verse 21 has the explanatory word γὰρ (for) which means that Peter is now going to explain what he means by what he wrote in Verse 20.  So, to keep the discussion around the KJV, let’s look at the KJV’s rendering of verse 21.

21 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. KJV

First and foremost, “holy men” is not in the Greek, even in the Textus Receptus.  Nevertheless, the verse is still a good translation from the Greek.  Now the question is “how does verse 21 explain verse 20 in this KJV rendering?  Quite frankly, it doesn’t.  So, if it doesn’t explain verse 20, then what’s wrong?  Is there a problem with what Peter is trying to say?

The reality is that verse 20 is a terrible translation.  It’s terrible because it came about by early Catholic teaching that the lay people can’t understand Scripture, so therefore, only the priest can explain it to the lay people.  This idea also carried over to the translators of the KJV of the Bible, and has influenced a great deal of Christian churches who still use the KJV.  Let’s take a closer look at verse 20.

The verse’s translation hinges on what ἰδίας (private in KJV) means.  It actually means “one’s own”.  There are times in the NT where it is used as “private”, but it is often used with another word to bring this out.  For instance, in Galatians 2:2 it is used for Paul’s private meeting with Peter, James, and John.  There it is κατ᾿ ἰδίαν (according to one’s own).

So, in verse 20 who is “one’s own” referring to?  In the KJV, it seems that it is the “reader” of the prophecy that is view.  Therefore, the KJV translators translated the passage to mean that.  But if verse 21 explains verse 20, then how can “one’s own” be the person reading the prophecy?  It just can’t!  “One’s own” here is referring to the prophets who spoke the prophecy.  They didn’t come up with the prophecies on their own.  Which was probably what Peter’s opponents were saying.  Peter’s context up onto verse 20 has been that the prophecies in the OT prove what the Apostles are now preaching about Jesus.  Those prophecies were ὡς λύχνῳ φαίνοντι ἐν αὐχμηρῷ τόπῳ (like a lamp shining in a gloomy place).

Here is my translation of the passage along with the NIV11 and the NET which have it right.

20 Knowing this first, that every prophecy in Scripture doesn’t come from one’s own explanation.  21 For prophecy wasn’t ever brought into being by a human’s will, but it was brought into being as the humans (prophets), being carried by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God. My Translation*

20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. NIV11

20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. NET

κατά KJV!

* I translate προφητεία γραφῆς as an objective genitive (Scripture), thus “prophecy in Scripture.  The NLT does the same.