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2 Peter 1:20-21 says the following (in the NASB):

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

This verse is a favorite go-to text for Christians who want to prove that all Scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that it is not open to personal interpretation. I agree with the latter two assertions, but what I'm wondering is: Is that what Peter was saying here?

When Peter says "no prophecy of Scripture," what does he mean?

  • Is he saying "no part of Scripture"?

  • Is he saying "no prophecy recorded in Scripture"?

  • Something else?

To clarify again: I am not asking if all Scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit, or if it is open to personal interpretation. I am not even asking if all Scripture could be considered "prophecy" by some definition of the word. I am asking what Peter was actually referring to when he said this.

If there are numerous legitimate options exegetically, I would favor an answer that says this (as opposed to taking a hard stand on one legitimate possibility.)

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3 Answers 3

The phrase "of Scripture" here is intended to distinguish between prophecies belonging to Scripture and prophecies belonging to the false prophets who are excoriated beginning in 2 Peter 2:1.

The genitive "of Scripture" can be taken to mean:

  • "prophecy about Scripture" (similar to the form "a prophecy of Jesus' death")
  • "prophecy belonging to Scripture" (similar to "a prophecy of Isaiah")
  • "prophecy consisting of Scripture" (similar to "a prophecy of harsh words")

The first option is clearly not in view. The other two options, meanwhile, essentially boil down to one in this case: a prophecy that is Scripture is said to belong to Scripture and vice versa.

It would be rash, of course, to conclude that "prophecy" here is then being distinguished from other parts of Scripture. That's not the point at all. The intent is to distinguish the prophetic message that is Scripture (and therefore of God) with the prophetic messages of the false prophets.

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Thanks! To clarify, then, you are saying that Peter's point is that prophecy that belongs to Scripture is more trustworthy than prophecy that comes from a false prophet -- is that correct? So then the verse is not necessarily saying that all Scripture is prophecy, and it is not saying that not all Scripture is prophecy -- that question is not addressed at all by the passage in question. Is that correct? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '13 at 17:02
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@Jas3.1 Yes. I do think Peter considered Moses and the Psalms as part of the "prophetic message"; but the concern in 2 Peter isn't to identify types of Scripture, but to identify types of prophecy (those that are credible because they have their origin in God, and those that are not credible because they do not). –  Soldarnal Jul 7 '13 at 3:35

Soldarnal's points are spot on. Context is always important in interpreting Scripture, or any other writing for that matter!

Peter is surely contrasting true prophecies, on the one hand, and false prophecies on the other. In other words, Peter is contrasting the "cleverly devised tales" of the false prophets vis a vis two things: 1) the eyewitness testimony of himself, James and James' brother John (Mt 17:1); and more importantly, since eyewitness testimony can be faulty, 2) the prophetic word.

To Peter, who was present at the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus that came on the heels of Jesus' appearance to Cleopas and the other disciple on their way to Emmaus (Lk 24), he would undoubtedly have remembered the words of our Lord Jesus who said,

"These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

What was fulfilled? Prophecies concerning Jesus! This, I believe, is what Peter was referring to when he said,

"But know this first of all [the second of all being his eyewitness testimony], that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

Peter was referring to what the disciples on the way to Emmaus described as

". . . the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures."

While the holy Scriptures comprise more than just the prophecies of Jesus, as important and crucial as they are, those prophecies are the primary focus of Peter in chapter one of his second epistle.

Just as an aside, a good question to ask is, "Did the disciples on the road to Emmaus neglect to mention the 'Psalms' as being part of Jesus' Bible lesson (Roman numeral III in His lecture, so to speak!), or did the phrase 'in all the Scriptures' kind of 'cover' the Psalms (or 'Writings')? Or did 'beginning with Moses and with all the Prophets' mean just that--in other words, Jesus continued His lesson with the 'Writings'"? Another good question to ponder is "To what appearance of our Lord to Peter were Cleopas and the other disciple referring in Luke 24:34?"

In conclusion, then, I suggest the prophecies that in Jesus' words "must be fulfilled" were the prophecies that Peter had in the back of his mind as he wrote his second epistle.

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Thank you. So just for the sake of clarification, this verse gives us no indication as to whether or not all Scripture counts as "prophecy," correct? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '13 at 17:12
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I'm sure Peter considered all Scripture to be God's Word, but in context (there's that word again!) he is thinking specifically of the prophecies concerning his Lord, and not the narrative and historical sections of the OT Scripture, which although important in the grand scheme of things are of lesser importance than the prophecies concerning our Lord and their ultimate fulfillment in all that He said and did while here on Planet Earth. –  rhetorician Jul 5 '13 at 17:19
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@Jas 3.1: While not all Scripture counts as "prophecy"-- otherwise, why would Jesus speak of a tri-partite division of Scripture (Lk 24:44), through the expository teaching Jesus gave to Cleopas and the other disciple on Emmaus Road He interpreted [< Gk diermeneuo, interpreted;from hermēneus, interpreter, and related to hermeneutics, the science/art of interpretation] "the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures" (24:27). I suggest Jesus' primary focus was prophecy, but He likely included many other Scriptures that involved the typology of the tabernacle and much more (see He 8:5)! –  rhetorician Jul 5 '13 at 20:33
    
Point taken. Thanks. (My motivation for seeking a solid answer to this question will be more evident when I get around to posting my follow-up question.) –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '13 at 20:37

Biblical prophecy is not foretelling the future, although it may include those elements, it really is more a message from God. We may also talk about rhema as opposed to logos. We may read the Bible and it may be words, or logos, but if it becomes rhema, it turns into a message from God to us, or we may say we just got a prophecy.

The way I understand 2 Peter 1:20 is in the light of 1:21. Peter is saying that if you read the scriptures by your own interpretation, that's not a prophecy; rather, if God interprets it for you, that would be a prophecy. His reasoning is that God was inspiring it in the first place, it did not come from human intelligence; therefore, interpreting it by human intelligence also does nothing, only God's interpretation turns it into a prophecy, or a relevant message.

Consider this: Einstein dictates a message to his secretary about the theory of relativism. This message is then sent to others who will either try to interpret it by their own intelligence, call the secretary for an explanation, or call up Einstein and ask for an interpretation.

Peter is saying that God encrypted the prophecy into the scriptures as He inspired men to write. You need God's encryption key to decode the message.

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