In answer to this question concerning the meaning of the quotation from II Peter 1 (raised in the last issue), we may notice that our Confession does not answer this question directly, seeing that it quotes only from verse 21. But in order to understand this quotation we should view it in its context, and then must ask as to the meaning of the statement that “No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”
As suggested, there are those who interpret this expression as merely laying down a rule for the interpretation of Scripture. In that case the text means that after a prophecy of the Scripture has been given, it is still impossible to understand that prophecy and to interpret the Scripture without the guidance of the Spirit of God. Even after the prophecy has once been given, it cannot be left to man to interpret it. Thus, when God revealed His will prophetically through the revelatory dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker, and through the two dreams of Pharaoh himself, it was still necessary that someone by the guidance of the Spirit interpret those dreams. There was a Word of God in those dreams. But that Word of God requires, interpretation. And that interpretation is not private; it is not of Joseph himself. But it is from God and by the Holy Ghost operating in Joseph. Thus it is today too, according to these interpreters of the text in II Peter 1. We have the Scriptures. And in those Scriptures we have prophecy, the Word of God. But that prophecy is not a matter of private interpretation. No, those Scriptures can be understood and interpreted only under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, who leads the church into all the truth.
Now, while the foregoing is true, and constitutes a fundamental principle for the interpretation of Scripture; and while we may even say that this principle follows from and is rooted in the truth that Scripture is the Word of God; nevertheless this cannot possibly be the meaning of the apostle Peter’s words in this passage. Then he would not have stated in verse 21 that “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.” For, notice, this statement is a reason for what he states in vs. 20, namely, that no Scripture prophecy is of any private interpretation. Besides, in the whole passage the apostle is concerned with the proposition that the apostolic word is not a cunningly devised fable, but the truth declared and interpreted by eye-witnesses of the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He wants to answer the question: whence is prophecy? What is the origin of the prophetic word? Who is the author of the “more sure word of prophecy”? Why can he be so dogmatically certain that this word of prophecy is “more sure”?
To these questions the apostle gives the only possible answer: no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.
To understand this we must bear in mind that in Scripture we are confronted with facts, realities, but also with the meaning and significance of those facts, that is, their interpretation. Both of these axe conveyed to us by prophecy, that is, by Scripture. And it is with “interpretation” in this sense that the text is concerned here, that is, not with the interpretation of the prophetic words after they have been spoken and after they have been written down in the Holy Scriptures, but with the prophets’ words themselves, with the interpretation of facts, events, realities that is given in prophecy. Thus, for example, the Scriptures record for us the reality, the event of the cross of Christ. The cross is a historical event. But that cross was God’s Self-revelation. It is a Word of God. And therefore God’s people must know not only that the event of the cross of Christ took place some nineteen hundred years ago. And they must not only know that the cross, or Christ crucified, is the Word of God. They must know too the contents of that speech of God. They must know the meaning and significance of the cross. They must know what actually took place at the cross. And the text under consideration tells us that this meaning and significance of the historical event of the cross—or any other event—is not of any private interpretation. It is not of mere men. That is a matter of prophecy.
And how is all this possible? Whence is the infallible record both elf the event and the significance of the event? Is it perhaps the case that God spoke in and by various events of history, and that He left the interpretation of that speech to men, fallible men? Or is it true that God both revealed Himself in a given historical event, a divine action, that is, realized His own Word, and at the same time caused that Word to be spoken in human language, and thus interpreted and explained His acts?
The text quoted by our Confession gives the answer, first of all, negatively: “this Word of God (the prophecy) came not in old time by the will of man.”
Notice the import of this simple and perfectly clear statement of Scripture. Prophecy, that is, the written or spoken record of both the event and the interpretation of that event, came not by the will of man. Neither in the old dispensation, when the prophets (and the historians, and the lawgiver, and the poets) spoke and wrote, nor in the new dispensation, when the apostles were eye-witnesses of the Word made flesh, did the prophetic word come into existence by the will of man. This means, therefore, that Scripture and our Confession deny completely and without any reservation the so-called human factor in Scripture as far as the origin and the nature of Holy Writ are concerned. If it had been a matter of the will of man, there would never have been, there could never have been, any prophecy whatsoever. There is no element, no part, no form, no word of that prophecy that is partially or wholly to be attributed to the will of man. The test states flatly: “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man.”
Nor must it be argued that the apostle is writing here of the spoken prophecy in distinction from written prophecy. The text includes both. For it states, “no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.”
This is important because all the various attempts to deny the truth of infallible inspiration must somehow introduce a human factor into the Scriptures. A fallible Scripture, of course, could not be the work of God, Who cannot lie and who cannot make a mistake and who cannot do anything imperfect. Any fallible element in the Scriptures must necessarily be the product of the will of man. And there have been various attempts to introduce such a human factor into the Scriptures. We may mention some of them:
1. There is the dualistic view, which distinguishes between the religio-ethical elements of Scripture and the historical parts, the latter of which are not inspired.
2. There is the so-called dynamic view, which attempts to teach that persons are inspired, and that too, fallibly, but the Scriptures are not inspired.
3. There is the view of so-called thought-inspiration, which attempts to maintain that God conveyed His thoughts to men, but left it to those men to cloak those thoughts in words-an impossible view, in the light of the fact that words are the vehicles of thoughts.
4. There is the dialectical, or Barthian, view, according to which the Bible is really nothing more than a human and fallible witness of God’s Word.
And so there have been various attempts to deny the absolutely divine character of Scripture.
I must mention in this connection a distinction that is sometimes used rather innocently, perhaps out of an attempt to escape the accusation that one believes in mechanical inspiration. I refer to those who want to concede that there is somehow a human factor in Scripture, or who even want to speak of God as the primary author of Holy Writ and men as the secondary authors. This is a very dangerous distinction that is sometimes used mistakenly by those who nevertheless want to maintain the idea of infallible inspiration. According to this view, men, together with their place, their circumstances, their personalities, their characters, and talents, their history, constitute the so-called human factor in the production of Scripture. They are secondary authors. But God is the primary author of Holy Writ, and the inspiration by the Holy Ghost constitutes the divine factor in the production of Scripture.
The danger of this view is evident. No matter how the so-called human factor is minimized, it is nevertheless a factor. And no matter how minor these so-called secondary authors are made out to be, they remain authors. And remember: a human factor and a human, though secondary, author are a fallible factor and author. And it is exactly along this line that you can begin to speak, as many do, of a human and a divine element in Scripture itself, i.e., in the contents of the Bible. If you stress emphatically enough that Paul’s individuality was not suppressed by the Holy Spirit, but used as the Holy Spirit found it, you will come to the conclusion that Paul and the Holy Spirit were co-laborers and co-authors in the production of his letters to the churches. And thus you will soon begin to differentiate between that which is of Paul’s authorship and that which is of the Holy Spirit’s authorship in his epistles. But then you have lost Scripture as the Word of God. Then you have denied that “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man.” For remember this: if Scripture is not in the most absolute and complete sense the Word of God, which did not come by the will of man, you no. longer have any guarantee that any part whatsoever is the Word of God.
Hence, our Confession, maintaining the simple truth of Scripture itself, denies this human factor completely. To be sure, there are human instruments who are employed in the production of Scripture. Isaiah wrote his. prophecy, Paul his epistles, John his Apocalypse. Indeed, the Scriptures are the record of the Word of God in our own, earthly, human language. But the Word that is recorded in the Scriptures in earthly, human language by human instruments came in no sense of the word by the will of man. Men spake. Men wrote. But what they spake and what they wrote is not of their own authorship, not of their own origination, not of their own production, not of their own interpretation, not of their own formulation.
This is even evident historically. For, first of all, in all the sacred writings none of these human instruments is on the foreground whatsoever. Critics of Scripture have attempted, for example, to single out the so-called human factors in the books of Moses. But this can never succeed. You can never distinguish in these books any factor that is of Moses rather than of God. And all the attempts to do so, and at the same time to multiply the human authors of these books, are so wantonly arbitrary that the critics cannot even agree among themselves. And, in the second place, so completely do the human instruments employed in the production of Scripture recede into the background, and thus fail completely to form a factor, however small, that many of them are either little known or altogether anonymous. Of several Old Testament books we can only speculate as to the identity of the human instrument. And of the books of which we know the human instrument we discern very little of their identity in the contents of their writings.
Hence, by faith we confess, negatively: “This Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man.” And, whatever else may be known or understood concerning the Scriptures, we maintain that they are in no sense the word of fallible man.