Thursday, April 12, 2012

No Private Interpretation?

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 2 Peter 1:20

There are many sources of Bible knowledge for Christians in America today. Books abound, both old and new. There is Christian radio, and sermons and Sunday School lessons. But my favorite source is a little house converted into a Bible Shop, located on Oak Street.

How is it that such an obscure location could surpass churches I have attended, most preachers I have heard, and the output of many theological seminaries? The answer is a mystery to me. Maybe because its inhabitants were free to think for themselves? Or maybe I am just prejudiced because I love them?

It was some time ago when we were gathered in the front room at Oak Street discussing the varied interpretations of scriptures that we all thought could be plainly understood.

Gary asked the question that started it all off. "I keep hearing people read 2 Peter 1:20, and then taking off on a moral of some kind, like in a sermon, but never giving a reason for their interpretation. As if we all understood the
meaning of this passage. So why bother to analyze it? And they shorten it down too, they say 'no scripture is of any private interpretation.' Not that it changes the meaning, I guess, but it is careless."

Joy's eyes lit up. "When I was a Catholic," she said, "we were taught that Peter was forbidding laymen to interpret the Bible for themselves. You could not interpret the Bible privately, is what that passage meant."

"You can see what they were afraid of," said Gary. "I mean look what happened when Martin Luther started interpreting the Bible for himself and telling others they had a right to interpret the Bible for themselves, too."

"Anyway, that's what we were told," said Joy.

"Gotta do what you're told!" said Sue standing at attention and snapping a salute.

"Look, Sue, I said that was when I was a Catholic!" Joy responded.

"Yeah, and now that you're a Baptist you have to follow your preacher's interpretation." said Gary. “No more popes, just preachers."

Joy was taken aback. "Listen, you two, I think for myself. No preacher tells me how I have to believe!"

Gary would not give up. "When is the last time you disagreed with your preacher, Joy?"

"I would if I thought he was wrong, but he has the knowledge and training. I respect that."

"Sounds like what Catholics say about the Pope," taunted Gary

Sue was enjoying this exchange. It was fun for her to see Joy on the defensive. She and Gary had become bolder recently and Joy had not let it happen without commenting. "It's the influence of Glen. That's what it is," she had said. "He's a renegade."

"He's a Protestant!” said Gary. "Don't you wish you were?"

Glen had been listening to this exchange from his seat by the little table with the coffee urn. He drained the last drop from his cup and dropped it into the wastebasket.

"You've been beating up on the Catholic misinterpretation of 2 Peter 1:20," he said. "Let's give equal time to the Protestant misinterpretation. It's only fair. We have all heard of the practice in the old days of the Catholic Church of chaining the Bible to the pulpit so the ordinary people could not get ahold of it.

"Well, the Catholics did put their Bibles on chains at one time. How many people know that now they encourage their people to read the Bible? A lot has changed since Luther's day, maybe because of Luther, but praise God, it
has changed, at least in that regard.

"But while Protestants are bragging that they are free to interpret as they wish, there are millions of them that have chains on their brains!"

"Chains on their brains!" Sue clapped her hands. "Chains on their brains, I like that."

Glen stopped. He had to laugh at himself, and at Sue. "Did I actually say that?" he said.

Gary smiled weakly; he didn't like to be upstaged by Sue. "How do Protestants have chains on them?" he asked.

"Chains of laziness," said Glen. "A preacher has to prepare a sermon or someone has to prepare a Sunday School lesson on Saturday night to give the next morning. No time to do much original thinking. Just put together some things you've heard, things everybody knows," Glen emphasized.

"As for this passage, I would say Catholics 1, Protestants 1, at half time. Why can't people get it right, why don't they look at the scriptures and read what it says? How many of us have heard a part of one verse taken out of context and used as the basis for a major doctrine?"

Joy was puzzled. "If Catholics are wrong in saying laymen must not interpret Scripture on their own, or privately, I mean based on 2 Peter 1:20, how are Protestants wrong? They don't say you can't interpret the scriptures on your own?"

"The Protestants put a whole different slant on it," said Glen. "Gary, what does the New Scofield say concerning 2 Peter 1:20?"

Gary was already there. He didn't look too happy as he read the note from the New Scofield. "'Any private interpretation" might read "its own interpretation" i.e. not isolated from what the Scripture states elsewhere.'"

"That's it,” said Glen. "I've heard McGee quote that, or refer to it, as if it was so profound. My favorite Bible teacher and my favorite Bible, the one I use! And they're both saying about the dumbest thing I have ever heard! They are saying this verse means no scripture can be interpreted by itself.

"The Catholics say ‘private interpretation’ means no individual can interpret on their own. The Protestants say ‘private interpretation’ means no scripture can stand on
its own."

"I'm not sure where you're going,” said Joy, "I always believed the second idea was right."

Glen thought a second. "When Jesus said 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.' John 14:6. Can that Scripture stand alone? Can anyone misunderstand it except by choice?'

"I see what you're saying," said Joy, thoughtfully, " but then what does 2 Peter 1:20 mean?"

"We can let the Bible answer that," said Glen. "The next verse explains it, I think. But why don't we see what other translations say? It's not that the King James isn't right, it's just that modern people are too lazy or too scared to learn to ride a two-wheeler. They need training wheels, sometimes. Gary, what does the NIV say?"

Joy stiffened when she heard NIV, New International Version. She sold them. You had to, to survive as a book store, but she thought the King James was the one and only Bible to follow.

Gary turned to a shelf behind the counter. It contained Bibles of all sorts, even one from the Watchtower Society. He pulled out an NIV and found 2 Peter 1:20. "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.”

"Now we're getting there!" said Glen. "Peter is talking about how scripture comes about. What is its source? Not how, or by whom it should be understood. I wonder how the Living Bible translates it?"

Sue walked to the back room and opened her large purse which was hanging on the hall tree with her coat. She lifted out her own copy of the New Living Translation and began to read.

"Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet's own understanding."

"That's good too, isn't it?" said Glen. "New Living also talks of the origin of the scriptures."

"Ever heard of this one?" said Gary. He pulled out a copy of The Message. "It's a really different Bible, it's kind of liberal or New Agey from what I can see".

He read, "The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it's not something concocted in the human heart."

"It gets better and better doesn't it!" said Glen. "Now let's do what everyone needs to do. Read the next verse to help us interpret the earlier one."

"Keep on reading!" said Sue.

Gary read 2 Peter 1:21. "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."

"There it is," said Glen. "’Private interpretation’ means ‘personal opinion’. The Bible writers didn't think of these ideas on their own. The Holy Spirit spoke to and through them. See what happens when we let 2 Peter 1:21 explain 2 Peter 1:20?”

"Isn't it ironic?" said Joy. “The writers of the Scofield note, and a lot of others, make the mistake they warned against! They say you can't interpret a Scripture by itself, and then they do it!"

"Good point, Joy," said Glen.

Sue had a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "I always thought "no private interpretation" meant that only sergeants could interpret it. And maybe corporals."

Joy put her head down into her hands.

"See, see!" said Gary. "That's what happens when you let laymen interpret the Bible!"

"I'd like to see the Pope handle that one," said Glen.

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