…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.
—2 Peter 1:20-21—
Some have misunderstood Peter’s statement in the text above. While it is true we do not get to have our own interpretations of God’s word (it is truth, and it has one meaning), that is not what Peter is saying here. The Common English Bible renders this well:
“Most important, you must know that no prophecy of Scripture represents the prophet’s own understanding of things.”
Peter is not speaking about our understanding, but rather the source of what the prophets said. A prophet of God did not speak from his own knowledge or experience; the word which were spoken were not the prophet’s words, but the words of God.
He explained, “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” How does that work?
Balaam, as an Example
Balaam was called by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. However, each time he went out to curse Israel, he blessed them, much to Balak’s dismay. He explained to the king,
“…have I any power at all to say anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak” (22:38).
“Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD has put in my mouth?” (23:12).
And yet again,
“Did I not tell you, saying, ‘All that the LORD speaks, that I must do’?” (23:26).
And once more,
“If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD, to do good or bad of my own will. What the LORD says, that I must speak.” (24:13).
The Bible doesn’t specifically identify Balaam’s ethnicity, but Numbers 22:5 (cf. Deuteronomy 23:4) reveal he lived in Pethor, which is a town along the Euphrates river in Mesopotamia. He was not an Israelite, nor is there any reason to think Balaam had any affinity for the people of Israel. In fact, he would He would eventually teach Balak how to cause Israel to sin (Numbers 31:16; cf. 25:1-9; Revelation 2:14). However, when Balaam rose to speak by way of prophecy, he was compelled by the Lord to speak God’s will, not his own. The prophets of God, even if they were wicked, “…spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
David as an Example
2 Samuel 23 reports the last words of David, presumably his last words spoken publicly or the last words uttered prophetically by the great king. In verse 2, we read: “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.” This agrees with both Peter and Balaam’s statements—the Spirit gave the message, not the prophet. In Acts 1:16, Peter spoke of the fall of Judas Iscariot, referring to prophecies given by David, and said, “…this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas…” David’s mouth was used, but the words were of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the prophets “…spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
Why Is This Important?
Peter’s affirmation is that we can have confidence in the message of Scripture. It is not the musings and reasonings of men, but is the Spirit-revealed word of God. Though it came through man, it is not man’s will, not is it of man—it is “…given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Now, it is one thing to say such things—it is another to demonstrate this to be true. That discussion is beyond the scope of this article, but would be an excellent topic for another occasion. In short, we need to see evidence which attests to the authenticity of the Bible as God’s word. The magnitude of evidence is wonderful. This evidence touches on areas such as the unity of the Bible message, despite it being written over 1500 years by 40 distinct writers; the historical and geographic accuracy of the Bible, and the prophetic precision of the Bible, as we can see prophecy after prophecy fulfilled. Without doubt, it is God’s word!