Dear Radio Friends,
Although there were many errors prevalent in the church at the time of the Reformation in the 1500s, the fundamental error was one leveled against the Scripture. The Scripture, it was declared by the Church, in itself is not sufficient for presenting God’s people with the totality of truth. Although it is inspired, it is does not contain all truth. Neither is it the highest of authority in the lives of God’s people. For that authority we must rely on the Church of Rome—its bishops and its pope. They speak infallible truth too, at times truth that supersedes the truth of the Bible. Besides, the bishops and the pope alone have the right to interpret the Bible in the way they choose.
All of this is a denial of what the Bible teaches us about itself. We want to examine one of the passages of the Bible that proves to us the authority and sufficiency of Scripture as the standard of truth. We read in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 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.” This passage teaches us of the great sola Scriptura of the Reformation. We believe in Scripture alone! All that which is taught by the church is subject to Scripture. Every church ordinance and every confession she writes must be rooted and grounded in Scripture. These ordinances and confessions are not infallible or inerrant, however. The Scriptures alone are infallible. Bearing that in mind we ought to take a moment to place the verses we consider today within their context.
You see, Peter, understanding that it would not be long before he died, was interested in leaving behind for God’s people an objective treatise on the truth concerning Jesus. Up to this point he had preached and taught the people the truth, but with this letter he would endeavor to write down what he taught in order that the churches might always have these things in remembrance.
This was Peter’s purpose in writing his two epistles. Likewise, Peter was deeply aware that he was recording for God’s saints the infallible Word of God. He states in verse 16, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter insists that what he now writes concerning the gospel was the truth—the objective truth on which a person could totally rely. So certain was Peter that he was in his letters recording God’s Word to His church that he could say that he and the other apostles had a more sure word of prophecy than the Old Testament Scriptures had!
We will explain this in a moment, but it is important to understand that Peter is writing in this chapter about the Scripture, that is, the writing of God’s Word. He expects God’s people to understand that, when they hold the Bible in their hand, they hold God’s Word. And that God’s people need no more than this Word to be led in the way of truth.
I. Prophecy of Scripture
To understand how these verses teach the inspiration of Scripture we need to be clear in our terminology. Otherwise, several different errors in the interpretation of this passage will occur. One such error is to think that Peter refers only to the prophecies contained in the Old Testament. He is not speaking of the Psalms and historical books of the Bible, but only of the prophecies of the prophets. Those who make this error have a very narrow conception of prophecy. They think of it only in terms of what the prophets spoke. But this is not true. The term “prophecy” in the verses we consider literally means “announce” or “make known.” And when used in the Bible it refers to one who announces or makes known hidden things by means of divine inspiration. As such it refers to those teachings that declare the purpose or will of God, and therefore it refers to the whole of the Old Testament. So Peter is simply explaining in these verses that the Old Testament is of no private interpretation, but men spoke their prophecy by means of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such prophecy came in old time. After all, it had been over 400 years since that Old Testament had been given to the church. The prophecies of old time, then, did not come about by the will of men, but what they spoke was indeed in its entirety the Word of God.
That leads to the second error to which one can be led if he does not rightly divide these verses we have before us. It is the contention of some that Peter in these verses is referring to some kind of oral tradition that had been passed down to the church. After all, holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. These verses refer to the Word spoken and not written. The prophets spoke infallibly, without error. Now the bishops and the pope speak infallibly without error. These verses refer not to the Bible as the written Word of God, but to the oral tradition of the church. But again, the obvious meaning of this passage points us in a different direction than this particular interpretation. It is obvious that Peter is here referring to the written Bible. It is obvious, in the first place, because in verse 20 Peter refers to the prophecy of the scripture. The term scripture literally means “writing.” Peter is referring not only to the prophecy that was spoken but also what was written. In the second place, Peter writes in verse 21 of the prophecy. He places the article “the” in front of the term prophecy. By doing so, Peter is not speaking about so many different prophecies that were spoken by various prophets. He refers to the one prophecy of the Old Testament Scripture. Holy men of old spoke the Word of God, but God made sure it was written in the record of the Old Testament Bible. This is the prophecy referred to in these verses.
Now, we might be apt to question whether what Peter states here applies to the New Testament Scripture as well. After all, he seems only to be speaking about the prophecy that came in old time, that is in the Old Testament. But when we take these verses in context we find that Peter has in mind most definitely the New Testament Scriptures as well. In verse 19 he speaks of himself and the other apostles. We read, “we have a more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.” In other words, in comparison to the Old Testament prophecy, the apostles give us a more sure word of prophecy. That does not mean that the prophecy of the Old Testament was questionable or faulty. It was infallible. What Peter is saying is simply that the prophecy of the Old Testament was always in types and shadows and pointed God’s people ahead to the Messiah. But the Old Testament Scripture could not give the full knowledge of who that Messiah was and what He would do to save from sin. New Testament prophecy, on the other hand, now gives God’s people the complete picture. The apostles saw the glory of Christ as the Son of God. They heard him teach. He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. They in turn were able to speak and write infallibly concerning the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. They could direct God’s people, in their writings, directly to Christ and His fulfillment of the Old Testament Scripture.
When Peter writes, then, in verse 20 of our text, that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation,” he was referring to all of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments alike. Peter recognized his writings as such. He also recognized the apostle Paul’s writings as such in II Peter 3:15, 16. Paul himself recognizes the same about his letters in Galatians 1:8. The apostle John writes the same about his letter in II John:10. The point we are trying to make here, beloved saints, is that the entire Bible—the writings of the Old and New Testaments—are prophecy, that is, they make known hidden things by divine inspiration. The Scripture—all of Scripture as a whole—reveals to you and me the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. They provide for us an objective record of everything God has chosen to reveal to His people. Everything we need to know about God, man, Christ, salvation, and so on is contained in the prophecy of Scripture. The Bible is objective truth!
II. Scripture’s Author
Peter also teaches us in clear terms who the author of the Bible is. He explains that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Now, to understand this we need to understand first the whole truth of inspiration. The term inspiration is used by Paul when writing to Timothy. In II Timothy 3:16 Paul explains to Timothy that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God.” That phrase “inspiration of God” is only one word in the original language and it means literally, “God-breathed.” All prophecy of Scripture is God-breathed. The idea is that God breathed His Word into the hearts and minds of men in order that when they wrote the Scripture they would record His Word. It is exactly that truth of inspiration that Peter explains for us in the verses we consider today. Holy men of God—not just any man, but believing men, men in whom God had worked by His grace and who were sanctified and set specifically apart for this purpose—these men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. They were moved.
Sounds like feelings, does it not. Men were moved to write the Bible. Sounds like what we hear so much of in the charismatic movement of today, the Spirit moves someone.
But that is not the idea of this term “moved.” It actually means that these men were carried along by the Spirit. Just as a ship is carried along by the currents or waves of the ocean, so the Spirit moved holy men. It was not that these men had some “out-of-mind” or “out-of-spirit” experience by which the Holy Spirit filled them with what He wanted them to say. They were not lost in some kind of trance, although it is true that in the Old Testament a few of the prophets did receive dreams and visions. But never did the writers of Scripture record words that they were not aware of or that defied human logic. The Scriptures are logical. Holy men recorded them using their reason and their understanding. But these men were in their writings borne along, carried by the Holy Spirit. He so illumined their hearts and minds that they recorded exactly what the Spirit wanted them to.
Neither can we say that these men were like mere computers, into which the Holy Spirit typed in the data and they simply were used to print it out. These were men who took pen in hand to write about what they saw and heard. The writings of Scripture have on them the imprint of each of its authors. Their particular personalities can be seen. Their personal experiences in life are oftentimes related to us. They wrote in their own personal time and place in history. But everything they recorded in writing was borne along by the Holy Spirit, so directed by the Spirit that it was infallibly recorded for us. The Bible contains what the Spirit says to the churches. The author of the Bible is, therefore, God. Technically, of course, we can say that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible, but the Spirit is God. The function of the Holy Spirit, however, is to make known, to reveal, to enlighten a person’s mind to the things of the kingdom of God. Holy men set aside by God for the work of writing the Bible were carried along by the Spirit so that when they wrote the Bible it was God’s Word. That is not hard to understand. The truth of the inspiration of the Bible is really quite simple to understand.
This means that the Scripture came not by the will of man. Neither is the Bible of any private interpretation. These phrases in the verses we consider are revealing! Men did not sit down and reason to themselves: I have something good to say. I think it is a matter of wisdom, so I am going to commit it to writing. Then I am going to pass it off as if it is the Word of God. Neither did the holy writers decide to write down in their own words what they believed the Holy Spirit was conveying to them. The prophecy of Scripture did not come about by the will of men. What we have written in the Bible is not what men felt was the truth. It was not their aim or goal to speak on behalf of God. That was not the intent of the writers of Scripture.
There are those who believe in the dynamic equivalence theory of inspiration. This theory maintains that the Holy Spirit inspired the thoughts of these men but they put those thoughts in their own words. They “interpreted” what the Spirit put in their minds and wrote down in the best way possible what the Spirit spoke to them. Those who maintain this theory argue that this is the only way we can explain the imprint of individual men on their writings. Otherwise, men become merely machines or computers, and no longer thinking, willing creatures. But the passage before us is clear: no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. Not one of the writers of Scripture had his own private or individual agenda in recording the Word. The writers did not interpret their thoughts in their own words. And translators of the Bible that play footloose and fancy-free with the translation, as if they know better how to say it than did the prophets and apostles are wrong. The truth of inspiration requires of every faithful translator the literal use of the Greek and Hebrew texts.
The Holy Spirit led the minds and the pens of each of the writers to record exactly what He wanted them to. Moses wrote the Pentateuch when God dictated to him what he should write. The prophets could rightfully announce, “Thus saith the Lord.” The apostles were deeply aware that they recorded the truth. But little did they know that the Spirit guided them to speak and put down in writing what God wanted for us to read—word for word. That is why we can claim that the Bible is indeed the standard of all faith. It is the rule according to which we judge all things. It speaks to us of right living and sinful living. It teaches us truth and informs us what is false doctrine. Always and ever, we as believers must turn to the Word of God and in every instance ask: “What says the Scripture?”
III. Blessed Knowledge
The Bible is a wonderful treasure, dear listener. In it God reveals Himself to His people as the God of their salvation in Jesus Christ. If it were not for the Bible, we would still be lost in the darkness of our sin. Peter writes in verse 19, “whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” In the Word of God the darkness of unbelief is dispelled. In it we find the light of salvation and the knowledge of all things spiritual. It is a precious treasure that we ought not take for granted.
“Knowing this first,” Peter writes at the very beginning of verse 20. This we must know above and before all things: the Bible is the Word of God to us. This truth is foundational. But it is striking that the knowledge of the truth of the inspiration of Scripture is a work of God’s grace in our hearts. Unbelief does not recognize the Bible as the Word of God. Neither will it bow before that Word in obedience. This is the widespread disease of our world and country. And it is becoming that way in the Christian church of today too.
Those yet lost in the darkness of sin cannot see or understand the things of the kingdom of heaven, even though they are plainly recorded in the Scripture. They cannot see or understand because the Spirit of this world has blinded their eyes. They refuse to believe. They use every argument they can to undermine and deride the Word of God. That is why so many are ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Unbelief prevails in our world and in much of the church.
But for those in whom God has worked by that Spirit, the testimony of the Spirit within meets with the testimony of the Spirit without and they believe. Do you believe the Bible alone is God’s Word to us? Do you love to hear what the Spirit says to us on the pages of Scripture? Then we must read it and study it because it is a precious treasure. Do not argue that you believe something if you cannot back it up with Scripture. Do not argue something right that the Scripture teaches us is wrong. Do not argue that something is wrong if the Bible teaches it is right. Here in the Bible we hold the Word of truth. And know this first! Know your Scripture first, then you will determine what is right and wrong. It is not a little thing that God has given us to believe that the Bible is inspired. This knowledge belongs to the powerful work of our Savior in our salvation. Those who are saved will also believe that God’s Word is their infallible guide in life. They will not choose to ignore it to follow in their sin. As much as they are thankful for their salvation, so much are they thankful for the Word of God. Children of the light, know this first: God gave the Word. Blessed knowledge!