Tuesday, March 31, 2009

II Peter 1:20-21 “What does it mean to you?”

The Bible is a complex book. Actually, that may be the understatement of the new millennium. Written thousands of years ago by people who lived in cultures that were very different from our own, it is not an easy book for us to understand even with a few dozen English translations. To understand the Bible takes work—hard work. You don’t have to be some genius or have a whole bunch of initials after your last name to be able to study the Bible, but you do have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and put forth effort. Peter writes in these verses some statements that should be considered paramount as one begins to study the Bible. The first question to ask about the Bible is not “What does this mean to you?”

The first question that we should ask, not about a specific text but about the Bible as a whole, is “Where did this book come from?” Friend, until you get that question answered and answered correctly you will be wasting your time trying to study the Bible. The Bible makes some pretty strong claims about itself and its truthfulness. Ultimately, though, all its claims rest on the fact that it came from God Himself. Peter tells us in verse twenty that we need to “know this first of all”. The Bible is the divine revelation of God and understanding that it is supernatural in origin is of prime importance. Of course, some liberal theologians would concede that the Bible “contains” the word of God. In other words, some of what is in the Bible is inspired, but not all of it. You have to dig through the uninspired stuff to find the inspired word of God. However, Peter refutes such an absurd by plainly stating that “no prophecy of scripture is of one’s own interpretation”.

Peter’s statement, therefore, covers the entire Bible not just parts of it. No one can say “Ok, I’ll give you that this is inspired and inerrant, but that passage certainly isn’t”. Sorry, liberal pundits. The entire Bible, all 66 books of it, is inerrant, infallible, and inspired. Furthermore, the Bible doesn’t represent the mere opinions of the men who wrote it in any place whatsoever. The words that we have handed down to us as scripture did not originate with any man and were not the author’s ideas. Peter says that the words of scripture are not “of one’s own interpretation”. This phrase has been interpreted by Bible scholars in different ways. Some folks believe that it means you must interpret scripture with scripture—that you can’t take a verse out of context. I would affirm that be true but I’m not sure that’s what Peter had in mind here. Other scholars say that the right to interpret scripture is not a private right and scripture must be interpreted by the church. However, since I’m not catholic I respectfully disagree with that statement. I believe the idea that Peter is trying to convey is that no scripture was ever written because some man discovered the truth for himself. The word translated “interpretation” is the Greek word “epilusis” (1955). The word has the meaning of untying something or loosening it. In other words, no person was able to write scripture because they unloosed the truth. The origin of scripture is not in the mind of man but rather it has its genesis in the mind of Almighty God. Therefore, as Peter writes in verse 21, we can be sure that we are hearing from God not from men when we read scripture because “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will”.

How, then, did God get the words of scripture to us through these men? That is a reasonable question. If we’re to assume that the words we read are not just the ideas of the author the question that begs to be asked is “How did the words get from God to the parchment through the human author?” Peter answers that question in verse 21 when he says “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”. The Greek word “phero” (5342) is translated “moved” in this sentence. The word means to carry a ship along by means of the wind which would be an appropriate analogy considering that Peter says that the Holy Sprit moved these men. The verb is in the present tense which means they were continually carried along presumably while they were writing scripture. Again, this emphasizes the fact that the total of what the men wrote was scripture—not just parts of it. Secondly, the verb is in the passive voice which means the men did not initiate the action of being borne along but rather they were acted upon by an outside force, the Holy Spirit.

However, they were not mindless drones who wrote scripture in some sort of trance and were not conscious during the process. In fact, God used these human authors and their individual personalities to produce the exact words He intended to give us. Peter writes that these men “spoke”—they were the human instruments through which God produced His perfect revelation. The verb is in the active voice which means they carried out the action—they were the penmen for the scripture (or they dictated it to someone who wrote it down for them). However, they didn’t speak what they wanted to say or what the audience might want to hear. They spoke “from God”. While they each had different perspectives, personalities, and styles of writing, God was able to use those differences to have these men speak the exact words that He intended for us to hear.

Let us praise God for loving us so much that He revealed Himself in a book. By doing so, He made His message unchanging. In a world where so many people want to deny the truth, we who know the truth of scripture should proclaim it faithfully and boldly because it is not of human origin but it came from God. Because it came from God, our question should never be "What does this scripture mean to me" but rather "What does this scripture mean?"

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