Posted On March 13, 2018

From Whose Interpretation Comes No Prophecy? (2 Peter 1:20)

by | Mar 13, 2018 | Theology

bible with thick-framed eyeglasses lying atop

2 Peter 1:20 is a difficult verse to interpret, as it has many things going on which don’t easily translate into English. Moreover, one’s own theological leanings and the choices of Bible translators may cause an average reader immediately to prefer a certain interpretation without even becoming aware of an interpretation problem. Moreover, this interpretation problem has a few dimensions to it because several words in the original language could be taken two or more ways.

The Difficulties

It may be fair to say that the “hinge” on which the interpretation problem rotates is the referent of ἰδίας (idias). Generally translated “one’s own,” we must ask the question of who this “one” is: the prophet who records Scripture, a reader of Scripture, or the prophecy itself.[1]  Various translations convey various solutions within the translation itself. Even the usually formal NASB makes an interpretive decision here.

ESV — knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.

CSB17 —Above all, you know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation,

NASB95 — But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,

NET — Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination,

NIV2011— Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.

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

Second, ἐπιλύσεως (epiluseōs) is a hapax legomenon[2] within the New Testament, though the use of ἐπιλύω (epiluō) in Mark 4:34 appears to be a potential parallel. This word group originally referred to “a setting free from something,” but it later came to be “the act or process of explaining, explanation, interpretation.[3] Michael Green argues for authentication (as in that of the Holy Spirit).[4]

Third, γίνεται (ginetai) is an interpretation issue which most translations gloss over. NASB, again breaking from its usual “formal” method, places “a matter” in italics to indicate a gloss for readability. NET and NIV2011—more strictly to the general use of the word—translate “comes about” and “came about,” respectively.

Proposed Solutions

Although there are more interpretations than we can examine here, we can examine the three most often supported. As we stated before that ἰδίας (idias) appears to be the hinge on which the interpretations vary, we will examine the three options for ἰδίας (idias) and how the surrounding context is affected.

First, if ἰδίας (idias) refers to the prophet who wrote the Scripture, then the verse argues that Scripture came about not by the interpretation (alternatively, imagination[5]) of the prophet but rather by the movement of the Holy Spirit. Interpreters with strong affection for the doctrine of inspiration will be inclined to choose this option, as it meshes well with the description of inspiration in the following verse. This understanding comes out explicitly in some translations.[6] Though this meshes well with 1:21, it makes for a more difficult time with γίνεται, as it can no longer be understood in the most common progressive present force (i.e. “is coming about.”)[7] While some also raise concern that ἐπίλυσις (epilusis, “interpretation”) gets stretched here, this usage fits the general semantic domain. Moreover, in the case of such a word of which we only have one usage in the entire New Testament, deference should be given to the immediate context of the word’s usage.

Second, if ἰδίας (idias) refers to the individual reader of scripture, then ἐπιλύσεως (epiluseōs) now refers to the individual interpretation of the reader, and γίνεται (ginetai, “comes about”) retains its common progressive present force. Roman Catholic apologists, in particular, have a certain incentive towards this option in that it appears to reject individuals’ interpretation of Scripture.[8] If verse 20 simply stood alone, this understanding would appear to make the most grammatical sense. However, the conjunction γὰρ (gar, “for”) in v. 21 indicates reason, and it does not mesh well to say, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from private interpretation because the Holy Spirit moved Scripture’s human authors.” (contra Schreiner[9])

Third, if ἰδίας (idias) refers to the prophecy itself, the same issue as the “individual reader” interpretation occurs in verse 21.

I conclude that Peter is referring to the prophets who wrote the Scripture. Not only does it mesh best with its immediate context in verse 21, but it also provides the most solid basis for Peter’s assertions beginning in chapter 2. In short, real prophecy—such as Scripture—comes from God Himself. False prophecy comes from the sensuality (2:2) and greed (2:3) of these false prophets. Translated for this interpretation, we should take this and the following verse as “knowing this first: that no prophecy of Scripture comes from the prophet’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but by the Holy Spirit men spoke from God.”

[1] Note on 2 Pet 1:20 in The NET Bible, 1st ed. Accordance ed. (Biblical Studies Press, 2009).

[2] A word that appears only once, which means it’s more difficult to figure out what the word means.

[3] BDAG, 375.

[4] Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. Leon Morris, 2nd ed. Accordance ed., The Tyndale New Testament commentaries 18 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Intervarsity Press, 1987), 111.

[5] 2 Pet 1:20, NET.

[6] CSB, NET, NIV2011, NLT.

[7] See Daniel B Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Accordance ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 518.

[8] Note on 2 Pet 1:20 in The NET Bible, 1st ed. Accordance ed. (Biblical Studies Press, 2009).

[9] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Logos ed., The New American Commentary 37 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 322–323.

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