No Private Interpretation?

Have you ever had someone tell you that you should not study the Bible in the privacy of your own home because “Peter said the Scriptures were of no private interpretation”? I have.

In my opinion, people often say things like this because they want to be the authority on Scripture interpretation and/or they don’t want others to interpret Scripture by themselves. I guess they expect us to believe everything someone preaches or teaches without question.

The first problem with this scenario is that this quote is often taken out of context. Here is what the Scriptures say:

Second Peter 1:19-21 says, “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

First, this passage is talking about prophecy of Scripture and not Scripture in general. Second, the word for “interpretation” comes from the Greek word epilusis which can also mean “source” or “origin.” In verse 21, Peter further explains that the source of prophecy is not the will of man but the Ruach HaKodesh. To translate epiluseos as “interpretation” does not make sense when combined with verse 21; translating it as “source” or “origin” does.

Don’t forget, Peter had been with Yeshua, the Messiah; he saw many of the Messianic prophecies fulfilled before his very eyes. These prophecies accurately prophesied Yeshua’s first coming; their fulfillments are found in the gospels. They were accurately fulfilled because the source of the prophecies was the Ruach HaKodesh. The remaining Messianic prophecies will be fulfilled in the future just as accurately because their origin is the Ruach HaKodesh too.

Second Peter 2 continues this discussion by mentioning false prophets and teachers who do not rely on the Ruach HaKodesh; they speak from their own wills. Peter warns us that false prophets and teachers existed in the past and others like them will exist in the future. Peter said they would bring in destructive heresies; these are beliefs or opinions that don’t agree with the official beliefs or teachings of God. This is different from the official beliefs of “the church.”

I think many of us have come to realize that heresies did in deed arise over the centuries, and we find ourselves trying to get back to orthodoxy (true belief/faith). This is the main reason for the Hebraic Roots movement. Unfortunately, in an effort to learn the truth, even more strange beliefs have cropped up among those in Hebraic Roots circles. This is dangerous and can be destructive. We must be aggressively on the lookout for false teachers by examining their fruit. False teachers often have Jezebel spirits that are arrogant, prideful, manipulative, controlling, and verbally abusive; they often demand you believe what they teach without question while appearing to be righteous and holy. They confront and attempt to crush those who question or oppose their teachings.

How do we deal with the possibility of false teaching? Certainly, we have to be very careful as we learn the culture of Biblical times and use that as a backdrop to interpret Scripture. More importantly, we need to follow the example of the Bereans.

Acts 17:10-13 says, “Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.”

Like the Bereans, we need to study the Scriptures in the original languages as much as we can to see if a teaching is consistent with the majority of Scripture. This is necessary because Bible translators sometimes incorrectly translated the Scriptures into our heart language because they:

  • Were biased by false doctrines that have been held for centuries;
  • Lacked a complete knowledge of Torah or Hebraic cultural background.

If this is not bad enough, they have also kept phrases or portions of the text that were added by other translators to the Greek text centuries ago (i.e. 1 John 5:7). We must ask the Ruach HaKodesh to reveal these additions to us, and to help us verify that they truly are additions. Once we know certain phrases are complete additions to the Greek text, we can’t allow their presence to influence our beliefs.

As you behave like a Berean, you will occasionally discover translation errors or places where translation could be improved so things are consistent with Torah and Hebraic culture. Besides 2 Timothy 1:20, another example of this would be Matthew 28:1 where the word “Sabbath” should have been translated in the plural as it is in the Greek. That would allow people to realize more easily that 3 full days and nights had passed since the death and burial of Yeshua. He most likely died on a Wednesday [on Preparation Day] and was buried just before the beginning of the first High Sabbath of Unleavened Bread. He rose from the dead long before sunrise on Sunday [on the Day of Firstfruits], which began just after the close of the weekly Sabbath. With all the Bible translations available, you’d think one would have the courage to translate the word Sabbath in the plural as it is written in the Greek.

As we study the Scriptures, we need to ask the Ruach HaKodesh to reveal possible translation errors and bias to us. Remember John 16:13: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” The Ruach will be guiding us according to the Father’s authority which should always match Torah.

We need to make sure we are properly interpreting Torah by checking the Hebrew and/or Greek when we see something elsewhere in Scripture that appears to contradict Torah or when we feel the Spirit is trying to get us to see something. This will require at least a minimum of Hebrew and Greek knowledge and tools to get the job accomplished.

Get together with others who are studying the same Scriptures you are and compare notes and thoughts. If you can share your thoughts and ideas without arguing, you can sharpen one another and it can be very satisfying. Allow the Ruach to guide you all together into truth as you bounce possibilities off each other.

Consider inductive language learning; this is easier to grasp than how you’d learn in a traditional seminary class. I suggest Learn Biblical Hebrew AND Learn Biblical Greek by John Dobson; his books have a CD that goes with them. I have not used Zola’s Introduction to Hebrew by John Parsons, but it has been used by a couple of people I know; this book is recommended by www.Hebrew4Christians.com. This web site is also a good starting place to learn plenty of Hebrew but its grammar section has not yet been completed for several years. I also recommend Animated Hebrew which has lectures based on Allen Ross’s book, Biblical Hebrew. Charles Grebe does a great job teaching Hebrew on this site. See http://www.animatedhebrew.com/lectures/index.html as well as the home page for other resources. In addition, consider Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide to Hebrew (by Van Pelt) and the similar book for Greek (by Mounce). These have considerably condensed the grammar of what you’d get in a seminary course.

In my opinion, Biblical languages can be elephants to digest, but don’t be afraid of them. If you have to, learn in layers; digest what you can and get an overall picture of the languages first. In other words, get functional. Keep going back to build vocabulary, add more grammar, and learn verb paradigms. Over time, your knowledge will grow and things will become clearer.

You might want to get one or more Bible Software programs and learn how to use them. If that’s not in your budget, at least have an inter-linear Bible in a font size you can read, a concordance, regular Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and Greek and Hebrew analytical lexicons (to determine parts of speech and verb constructions).  Download various free pdf versions if you need to.  Just learn how to use them and keep them nearby as handy references.

Finally, don’t let anyone tell you not to study the Scriptures! Meditate on them day and night!

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