|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
The literal meaning of the Greek is actually more forceful than that used by the King James and New King James translators. It has to do with the essential nature of inspired Scripture.
A reader writes:
In your article, What Is Rationalism & Why Is It Dangerous? 2 Peter 1:19 is quoted as saying, 'And so we have the prophetic word confirmed' [NKJV]. The King James Version, however, uses the wording, 'We have also a more sure word of prophecy.' While the KJV wording seems to support the conclusion that the Word of God is more certain than what men (even the apostles) saw and heard; the wording of the other version does not. Which version is the better translation of the Greek?
The KJV and NKJV translators, while they touch on two different aspects of the truth, both somewhat obscure the precise meaning. Some editions of the NKJV come closer in a footnote where they give the alternate rendering, "We also have the more sure prophetic word." But even that does not give the full force of the Greek, which literally reads, "and we have more certain the prophetic word." Below is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on these verses several years ago, that may be helpful:
Peter is making two points. His first point, in chapter one verses 16 through 19, concerns the witness and testimony of the Apostles. They saw Jesus Christ with their own eyes. They saw all the Old Testament prophecies about His first coming fulfilled. And Peter himself, along with James and John, was on the mountain as we read in the Gospel accounts. They saw Jesus Christ transfigured before them. They heard the voice of God the Father from Heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." In other words, Peter is saying, the facts verify prophecy.
But then in verses 20 and 21 he goes on to say that there is something even more important - something even more important than an eyewitness account - something we must understand first. And that is the nature of prophecy itself. And not only the nature of prophecy, but also the nature of Scripture as a whole. Notice how Peter says it - "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture..." Prophecy is a part of Scripture, so what is true of prophecy is true of Scripture as a whole. "Knowing this first," he says, "that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
How you look at those two verses determines what kind of religion you are going to have - God-centered, and therefore true, or man-centered, and therefore false. All the way through church history, these two verses are at the center of every division that we encounter between the orthodox and the heretic. The great division between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism hinges on these verses. The great division between authentic Biblical Christianity and every other kind of religion in the world, every false religion, hinges on these verses. These are key verses in the Word of God.
Now many churches, and many cults, look at verse 20 by itself. They lift it out of context. Rome...looks at verse 20 and says that it means that it is wrong for anyone to interpret the Bible for himself. Only the church can interpret the Scriptures. "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation." Period. Protestantism, on the other hand, claims the universal priesthood of all believers, not just a certain class of men who are called priests. But Rome declares that it is dangerous for church members to try to understand the Bible for themselves. So there is only one safe thing to do. Go to the church. Go to the priest. And the ironic thing is that when men go to seminary to become priests, the thing they don't study very much is the Bible itself. Instead, they spend years studying church tradition.
It all comes down to this: Do you believe that the church has to interpret the Bible according to its traditions or some other standard, or do you believe that the Bible itself is the final authority? And do you believe that the church, rather than standing in judgment over the Word of God, must be judged by the Word of God?
Now as I said, the Roman Catholic church and many cults take verse 20 by itself - "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation." Period. They stop there. But that's not the complete thought. Verses 20 and 21 form a single thought, and verse 20 is not complete without verse 21.
The word "for" at the beginning of verse 21 links the two verses together. "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." Verse 21 explains verse 20.
We also need to take a closer look at some of the words that are used here in our English Bibles. In some cases, it's difficult for translators to find a concise way of saying in English all that is said in the original. And this is one of those places.
The Authorized Version and the New King James both use the word "is" in verse 20. "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation." Some other versions render it "comes" or "came about." Those words are closer to the original, but still not quite enough. In the original language, the word actually speaks of how Scripture "originated", or "came into existence".
Another word we need to understand more carefully in verse 20 is the word "interpretation". This is the only place in the entire Bible where this particular Greek word is used. The word in the original language has to do with "determination" - the way in which something is determined to be true or not true. So the idea of verse 20 is this: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture originated as the result of any private determination of what is true or not true."
In fact, it would be closer to the original language to say it like this: "Knowing this first, no prophecy of Scripture originated in the human writer's own personal determination of what is true or not true." And if we say it like that, we see better how it connects to verse 21: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture originated in the human writer's own personal determination of what is true or not true, for this reason, verse 21 - prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
And as we see it in this light, it connects us back to what Peter has already said in verse 19: "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed..." Why should we pay attention to Scripture? Why should we study it? Why should we meditate on it? Why should we base our lives, and the life of the church, and our hope for eternity, on this Book?
The answer is that Scripture is not a mere collection of the words and ideas of men. It did not originate in man's understanding of things. The Bible is not the record of man's views, man's perspectives, or man's interpretation of events. Man did not decide what is true and what is not true. "Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."