Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Interpreting the Bible, Part 1

The One and Only Interpretation

In many sectors of American religion, the worst accusation that one can level against an opponent is to allege that he believes his is "the one and only interpretation of the Bible." Such a person, the rhetoric goes, is the epitome of hubris, putting himself in the place of God. It's a great line of argumentation to play toward a people incredulous of metanarratives.

Unfortunately, it is an argument that reinforces a deadly evil in contemporary American thought rather than correcting it. The concept of "the one and only interpretation of the Bible" is itself soundly biblical:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (II Peter 1:20-21, NASB)

So, to deny the existence of "the one and only interpretation of the Bible" or to run away from "the one and only interpretation of the Bible" is to contradict the Bible. Every passage of the Bible means precisely what God intended for it to mean—nothing more and nothing less. Although I believe that the "book" in view here is the Book of Revelation, surely the concluding words of the Bible give us some impression of how God feels about the addition to or subtraction from what God has spoken:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, NASB)

From that passage I deduce at least this: God does care whether we subtract from His message or add to it. Does this apply only to manipulation of the words of the text, or does it not also apply to the denial that those words actually, objectively, mean anything?

In the task of biblical interpretation, "the one and only interpretation" of a passage is a foundational concept. Indeed, it is the mission. The ten-dollar seminary word for the task of interpreting the Bible is hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the quest for "the one and only interpretation" of the passage. Any time that it does not result in "the one and only interpretation" of a passage, hermeneutics has failed. The Bible is not about our diversity; it is about God's singular revealed truth.

"The one and only interpretation" of the Bible or of a biblical passage does not mean that every passage is monolithic. God is capable of metaphor, subtlety, and even double-entendre. It means not that any passage can have only one meaning (Isaiah 7:10-16, for example), but that there is one and only one right opinion, however complex it might be, as to what any given passage means—God's opinion of what He intended to say.

Next segment: Hermeneutics and the phrase "I don't know."


Anonymous said...

An excellent and timely post for me, personally. We had a discussion about this the other night. Many of our people took the approach that "it doesn't make sense" or "we can't know" or we can only understand a few basic things about Revelation. But it is a slippery slope into making those statements about any passage in question or which you find widespread disagreement.

Of course, at some level I do believe that the Word is living and active and while it means only what God intended then and now for it to mean - the Holy Spirit applies it in a variety of ways to a variety of people in differing circumstances.

But then, Satan and evil Spirits also try to help people apply Scriptures much like Satan did with Jesus.

Good thoughts, looking forward to the next installment.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Good post, Bart. I especially like this sentence: "The Bible is not about our diversity; it is about God's singular revealed truth." Last night I started reading God-breathed: The divine inspiration of the Bible by Louis Gaussen. Gaussen held a high view of the Scriptures and inspiration and I think it will be a very good read.

Alan Cross said...

Good post, Bart. I agree with your main statements, although I don't know exactly how you intend to apply this. While the Bible is absolute in its meaning, we are very fallible in how we interpret that meaning - Southern Baptists and slavery/racism is a prime example. Of course, we were wrong in how we interpreted God's meaning for Scripture. 50 years ago, W.A. Criswell said that black people who were pushing for integration were "dying from the neck up" in their dirty shirts. Ten years later, he admitted he was wrong. The problem is not that the Bible is not clear, but that we have a great deal of pride in OUR interpretation of what Scripture says because we read inerrant Scripture through a fallen perspective. It's not that truth cannot be known, but rather, is the primary perpesctive being held the Biblical one, or is it one informed by the larger culture? We have not done a very good job of discerning the difference over the years, so some have a little bit of timidity when statements are made on some issues (PPL for instance) that are absolute and eliminate people from participation based on an interpretation.

There are obviously many other examples to use for this through the ages - I just picked race as the one that most clearly applies to us as Southern Baptists. If our error on that matter does anything, it should continue to humble us.

Let me be clear: some things are obviously very clear, however, so I am not trying to say that we can't agree on ANYTHING. You and I agree on far more than we disagree on primarily because the Bible is very clear on those issues. When we disagree, I think that the Bible is clear on my perspective, and you think it is clear on your perspective. The difference between us comes in that I am willing to give on some issues that I do not believe are of primary significance when it comes to cooperation for missions. You have a different standard on which issues you are willing to compromise on (I don't think that you believe that everyone has to completely agree with you on EVERY issue to cooperate with you - Calvinism is a prime example). So, the real question becomes, which issues are we willing to compromise on and which are we not? How do we figure that out? What is the basis for our cooperation in a fairly diverse SBC? The IMB changed the rules on the two policies and people balked because they had once been within the lines of cooperation and now they were not. Who gets to decide this?

Anyway, I liked your post. You just got me thinking about application and how it works practically. Clearly, a consensus is needed on Biblical belief. Once that consensus exists, then how do you go about changing it?

Bart Barber said...


I agree that the one and only interpretation of a passage can present multiple compatible applications in different people's lives. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" has only one meaning, but there might be 1000 ways that the living and active Word of God would reveal to you your own temptation to bear false witness.

Bart Barber said...

R. L.,

Thanks for giving us not only the book, but also the link! You are a treasure, brother.

Jonathon said...

Dr. Barber,

This may be off topic, but it has to do with interpreting Scripture. I recently had lunch with Dr. Moore at Southern and Dr. Graeme Goldsworthy, and listened as there was a discussion on Biblical Theology. There seems to be, in this branch of evangelicalism, a differing view on the interpretation of Scripture. I believe, Dr. Goldsworthy, and Dr. Moore, would probably say that prophecy fulfillment does not have to be literal. He calls it the problem of buying into literalism when that is not what you find the apostles doing.

Anyway, I am just trying to wrap my head around all this and would love to hear your opinion of Biblical Theology and how it relates to the interpretation of prophecy.

That may be a response you would rather not put on here....but, I am persistent so here is my

Ray said...

Interesting take on 2 Peter 1:16-20. I just taught 2 Peter and most commentators see this as referring to the whole corpus of "OT" prophecy concerning the coming of the son.

Dave Miller said...

A pastor friend (a charismatic, but I won't tell if you don't) once said something like this to me.

We must have the faith that the Bible does speak clearly and can be interpreted correctly, and devote ourselves to Bible Study until we come up with that proper interpretation.

We must also maintain the humility to realize that none of us has reached that perfect place of hermeneutical excellence yet. I may, on further study, come to realize that my current interpretations are inadequate, flawed, or downright wrong.

Bart Barber said...


You are a treasure, too. Feel free to wait until I apply wrongly to disagree. :-)

I'm glad that you brought up past mistakes in interpretation. The only way that there can be any such thing as a mistake in interpretation is if one presumes the very point that I am making. Only if there is a right interpretation can there be wrong ones.

Also, I think that it is important to acknowledge that there are questions not addressed by the Bible at all. Is barking like a dog an exercise of spiritual worship? The folks at Cane Ridge apparently thought so. I do not. The Bible does not address the question at all, except one apply something akin to the famous "regulative principle." But I'm not broaching the topic of how to handle those questions not directly addressed by the Bible—I'm merely saying that, where the Bible speaks, there is one and only one correct interpretation of what it means.

Amanda Jo said...

All I can say is "Wow"! Tomorrow night I begin a study with the women's ministry at my church on how to study the Bible - correctly! We're actually going through John MacArthur's book How to Study the Bible.

So many times in Bible study we hear people say "What does this passage mean to you?" I don't think people realize that we're getting everything wrong by asking that question. It's exactly as you said: not about the diversity, it's about what God is actually saying - taken in context.

Great post!

Bart Barber said...


When in doubt, I always try to agree with Dr. Moore.


Prophetic passages are often replete with literary devices. Although I would caution that the apostles were empowered to do things that we cannot do, I agree with the observation that these men have offered. I'll even go so far as to illustrate.

The Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah have received multifaceted hermeneutical treatment. Some have argued that these passages refer to Israel, for example. We now know, and we know with absolute certainty, that they speak of Christ. If someone wishes to advance a theory that, like Isaiah 7, these passages were crafted by God to have dual-meaning, then I'll listen to that. But the one and only interpretation of these passages involves (and involves prominently and primarily) the work of Christ on the cross.

In the case of the Suffering Servant passages, one sees a pretty literal rendering of the prophecy. On the other hand, the interpretation of "out of Egypt I have called my son" in the New Testament is an interpretation that I could not have reached in 100 BC by any rational human facility. By 100 AD we know for certain that the one and only interpretation of that phrase involves the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from Herod.

That's not that much of an issue for us, because the coming of Jesus clarified that matter, and we have the benefit of the culmination of revelation in the New Testament Christ. Even if the one and only interpretation surprises us, the fact remains that God knows all along precisely what He meant to say.

Bart Barber said...


I'm not disagreeing with that. However, just as we take New Testament statements about the nature of Old Testament scripture and extrapolate them throughout the canon, I am willing to take Peter's comments here as an insight into the nature of how God reveals Himself.

Bart Barber said...


Thanks, and may you have a great Bible study!

Bart Barber said...


Indeed, in my very next post I hope to treat something of our human limitations in interpretation.

Alan Cross said...

Thank you, Bart. If you apply me being a trasure wrongly, I'll just be charitable. :)

Again, I am not really disagreeing with you. For example, as you know, I believe you to be dead wrong on the ppl issue. I am not offering any mamby pamby "what seems right to you" argument. So, on that level, I agree with you. I think this also applied to the "unrepetant sinners" statement applied to Presbyterians. I agree with you re: the proper mode of baptism. I agree that Presbyterians are wrong. Our difference comes in how that it is applied. With baptism, I am willing to separate. With varying views on ppl, I am not. One is related to salvation and church membership, the other is not. So, lest we become schismatics and violate the very Scripture that we hold dear by unnecessarily dividing the Body of Christ, we must hold our interpretations of the clear meaning of Scripture humbly.

I'll leave it with that lest anyone be confused by my comments and think that I want to talk about ppl or infant baptism. Your post, with which I basically agree, is in view here.

Steve Young said...

I am looking forward to your posts. The error of the kind of liberalism that crept into the SBC before the CR began at this very point. You have rightly said that there is one primary interpretation. Our task is to seek that, and then make application. Those with less confidence in the Bible said that you cannot be sure that you have reached the right interpretation, so do not even try, just find the application.
And that is the problem - you cannot be sure that your application is biblical if you have not determined a text's interpretation. Or to shorten a little - "You cannot say what a text means (application) until you have discovered what it meant (interpretation)."
I do not believe that I am always correct in my interpretation, but I do believe there is one correct interpretation.
Steve Young

Ben Macklin said...

Bart -

So Bart, why not ask our luminaries to publish the one, finished set of commentaries on Scriptural interpretation and be done with hermeneutics class?

Your friend,

Ben Macklin

Bart Barber said...


Don't feel threatened, my brother. Although the idea of a right answer would be a coup de grace for a great many systematic theologians, it need not constitute a fatal blow to the enterprise in its entirety.


Ben Macklin said...

Bart -

Agreed. Still, all of us have multiple commentaries with multiple nuances of interpretation. Is wine really wine, or is it grape juice (fruit of the vine in SWBTS lingo). You and I know that hermeneutics is deeply effected by theological presuppositions that we can NEVER completely escape from. So if there is one, right interpretation, can we know that we've arrived at "it" with certainty and finality?


Good discussion, Bart. Reminds me of the good old days.

Bart Barber said...


Hang around for part 2.

Chris Johnson said...

Brother Bart,

Thanks for the post. I believe you are dead in your conclusion. We need to search for the real meaning, so that the Holy Spirit can apply that to our understanding, revealing our sanctification.

Good stuff,

Chris Johnson said...

oops,...I meant to say "that you are dead right"...not just dead :)


Ron P. said...


As usual, you have provided us with a great post. I wish Christians were more concerned with what the Bible has to say and not with what we want it to say.

Looking forward to the rest of the posts.

Ron P.

Ben Macklin said...

Bart -

I travel to Austin tonight after church services to the land where no late 20th century technology exists, my mother's house, so I probably won't be in the discussion for pt. 2.

Nevertheless, the crucial question in hermeneutics is: which passages control the discussion? I'm sure you'll take that into consideration in your next post. Zondervan's "Counterpoint Series" illustrates the variety of views held within conservative Christian traditions. I think what rubs people the wrong way is the flattening of the contours of faith to the point where uncritical affirmation of propostional "facts" of one's own interpretation substitutes for living, active, faith. Belief (faith) certainly does become static and institutionalized, even in individuals. Many people whose primary source of security is found in what they own or posess, feel threatened when their own interpretation is challenged, and even undermined.

Your friend,


P.S. remember me when you come into your SBC kingdom. lol!

Bart Barber said...


The great thing about blogging is that, whatever I write for part 2, it will be here when you return.

Oh yeah...and there's only room for one King in the church.


Todd Nelson said...

Bart, I agree with the point of your post and find it concisely expressed in the maxim, "One meaning, many applications."

I also appreciate the comments by Alan, Dave, and Ben on being fallible interpreters and the need to have some hermeneutical humility.

I hope you'll address "author's intent" as the standard or goal to which we strive in finding the right meaning of a text. Sorry if I'm jumping the gun.

I look forward to your post on our human limitations as interpreters. We are all limited to some degree by our presuppositions which result from our experiences and our culture.

Years ago I researched the idea of doing Bible study and theology from a cross-cultural perspective. Missions prof Charles Kraft of Fuller Seminary published a treatise on the subject in 1979, Christianity in Culture. I think he makes a good case that, without input from other cultural perspectives (and the disciplines of communication science and cultural anthropology--his fields), a mono-cultural view of Scripture typically relies on "plain readings" that may or may not be correct.

While I do believe in the perspecuity of Scripture, I am also keenly aware of how we can be over-confident in the rightness of our unchallenged reading.

In my research on liberal and conservative hermeneutics, I concluded that liberals don't take the Bible seriously enough (duh), but many conservatives don't take culture seriously enough. What's needed is a humble approach to interpreting Scripture that takes into account, not only historical-grammatical principles, but various cultural or ethnic perspectives. It's also important for the interpreter to be self-aware of his or her own cultural presuppositions (another 'duh'.)

Of course, one moment of illumination from the Holy Spirit can give any of us, scholar or blue-collar, confidence in our interpretation and conviction about the application to our own lives. And He knows how to keep us humble, too -- even if we don't have cross-cultural experience.

Greg Welty said...


I'm not disputing your main point here. But what I'm wondering is why you think it follows from 2Pe 1:20-21. Peter is not explaining how we are to interpret Scripture. Rather, he is explaining the origination of Scripture itself. These are two very different things. Explaining how a book got produced is not the same thing as explaining how it should be interpreted.

First, he doesn't say that the *meaning* of Scripture isn't by our interpretation. Rather, his point is that no *prophecy* of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation.

Second, and as the immediate grounding for the claim above, Peter speaks about *how Scripture was produced*. Negatively, "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will." Positively, "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

Peter's main idea here, as I understand it, has to do with the production of Scripture itself. Some might say that a bunch of men looked at the world the best they could, and then came up with their own interpretation of the world, and wrote it down for us. The Bible then is the record of human interpretations of the world. (Perhaps, for instance, its predictions of future events were grounded in the writer's best interpretation of what was going on in the world at the time of writing.) By way of contrast, Peter expressly denies this view. Scripture is not "a matter of one's own interpretation" of the world. Indeed, it is not ultimately reducible to "an act of human will." Rather, the Scriptural writers were *inspired by God*. It is God himself who guided them in their writings -- nay, "moved them" to write what they did. The Bible is not their own (subjective and fallible) interpretation of the world.

Notice that at no point in the text does Peter ever raise the issue of *interpreting Scripture*. Rather, he is giving an account of how Scripture was produced. This is probably why 2Pe 1:20-21 is a *locus classicus* on the doctrine of Scriptural inspiration. To shoehorn it into a theory of hermeneutics seems odd to me.

Read the text again. Doesn't it seem more about how Scripture was produced, rather than how Scripture is to be interpreted?

Bart Barber said...


As it applies to the meaning of the text, is there a difference between the production of a prophecy and its eventual reception and interpretation?

Bart Barber said...

In other words, does it mean one thing at its production and another when it is received? The point is that a passage of scripture is formed according to the one intention of God, rather than by an act of human will, and that God's interpretation of the passage is the one and only interpretation of the passage.

I have used the passage as I have because both production and reception cohere with regard to the meaning of the text, IMHO.

Alan Cross said...

I have read that passage the way that Greg explains it rather than the way that Bart does. I noticed that in my first reading of Bart's post, but it did not register with me as the point to bring up at the time. But, that disagreement was there. So, this is an excellent example of how the Word of God is inerrant, but our interpretations of the inerrant Word are not. We see things from different perspectives based on a wide variety of factors. Now, Bart might convince Greg of his position or vice versa. If one convinces the other, they will do so because of their ability to persuade or maybe because of the illumination of the Holy Spirit in regard to the text. While I can agree that the passage only means one thing and I can arrive at what I believe it to be saying without a great degree of difficulty, my problem comes when I try to get Bart to see the passage the same way that I do. How long do I wait for the Holy Spirit to work on him? What if he comes to a different conclusion? How do we agree to disagree? What are the issues that we can disagree on and yet still work together? How can we come to consensus without using human coercion?

These questions are important as we continue to define for this generation what it means to be a Baptist. Thanks for hosting this discussion, Bart.

Bart Barber said...


I think first we're going to have to establish that there is actually some difference in the way we understand the passage.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I agree with Greg that Peter (in 2 Peter 1) is explaining the origination of Scripture itself. But to me the point then follows that Scripture, inspired by God, has "one and only one" interpretation -- that which God meant. So I should not study Scripture to see what it means to me, how I feel about it, or even how it applies to my situation. I must begin with -- what did God say; what did God mean.

Alan Cross said...


I thought that was established through Greg's interaction with you. Did I read him wrong? It seemed like he was saying something different than you were. Yes, I look forward to seeing how you are both saying the same thing since a clear reading would imply that you differ.

Hermeneutics are amazing, no?

Bart Barber said...


I responded to Greg that I really didn't think there to be a difference between the two. In his initial comment, he stated that he agreed with my main point. I'm not sure that we're really saying anything different. I didn't offer any in-depth exegesis of 2 Peter in the OP. Perhaps, to avoid too much of a sidetrack here, I ought to do so now (even though I'm saying that this is not a big deal).

Does 2 Peter 1:20 assert that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of the prophet's own interpretation or that no prophecy is a matter of the reader's own interpretation? (BTW, I, of course, am saying that no prophecy is either a matter of the prophet's own interpretation or the reader's own interpretation. Further, I'm saying that the former necessarily includes the latter.)

But, to explore the matter. There are two key words in the sentence that are germane to the question: idias and epiluseos. The first (idias) is important because it gives us the English words "one's own" in the NASB. The word is a pronoun, and it is awkward and nonstandard to employ a pronoun prior to its antecedent. If idias is supposed to be standing in for something like "the prophet."

As it so happens, I'm teaching 2 Peter right now on Wednesday nights, so I've plowed this furrow recently. Hear what Richard Bauckham says (Word Biblical Commentary):

The question is whether [idias] means "one's own" or "the prophet's own," i.e. whether the epilusis ("interpretation") is that of the contemporary exegete or that of the original author of the prophecy. . . . A reference to the prophet's own interpretation is grammatically awkward, since the prophet has not been mentioned, and therefore most modern commentators and translator's prefer "one's own." (Bauckham, 229)

Now, Bauckham goes on to side with Greg, but he indicates that he is doing so as a matter of dissenting opinion rather than majority opinion.

If one takes v21 as the defense of the statement in v20 (as I do), then one comes to the conclusion that both Greg and Bart are correct. No prophecy of scripture is a matter of anyone's own interpretation (prophet and reader alike), because the origin of prophecy comes not out of the prophet's own volition but arises from the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Supporting this reading is the syntax one would expect to accompany idias. Mitigating against it is Bauckham's (and others') understanding of epilusis to refer more to the interpretation of a dream than the interpretation of a text, yet the TDNT under epilusis renders this very verse "No prophecy...ought to be expounded according to private interpretation."

So, I think that v20 says precisely what I am saying in this post. I think that v21 is saying precisely what Greg is arguing. I think that the arrangement of the argument is that Greg's point undergirds mine. Whether Greg understands v20 precisely as I do, I still wait to see whether he would concur that even his understanding of v20 (if it parts company from mine) necessarily implies precisely what I am saying.

And if it does, I don't know that we have any sort of substantial disagreement here.

Steve Young said...

The discussion presently going on is exactly the kind of struggle that occurs when a person takes serious the Scripture and its "one meaning." It is very healthy. Although you and Greg have not reached absolute consensus, your serious search for the one meaning has you so close that neither of you believe that "the Bible is to be interpreted by the reader apart from authorial intent."

Greg Welty said...


> As it applies to the meaning of the text,
> is there a difference between the
> production of a prophecy and its eventual
> reception and interpretation?

Yes, there does seem to be a difference, because those who (subsequently) interpret the text are not the same people who produced the text. So yes, there is a difference between the production of a prophecy and its eventual interpretation. It's the difference between the apostles, and those of us who came later, who are not apostles. Unless we're totally screwed up in our doctrine of personal identity, I think Paul and me are different persons ;-)

However, what I think you're hinting at is that the doctrine of inspiration -- i.e., the Scriptures ultimately have God as their author -- has implications for hermeneutics. I think that's right, although I'm not sure that's what 2Pe 1:20-21 is teaching. I just don't find that text teaching us about hermeneutics. (One difficulty here is that 'epilusews' in v. 20 is a *hapax legomenon* in the NT. The more customary word used to refer to interpreting an oration or text is 'diermeneuw' (Lk 24:27; Ac 9:36; 1Co 12:30; 1Co 14:5, 13, 27).)

I agree with what you said in your initial post:

"It means not that any passage can have only one meaning (Isaiah 7:10-16, for example), but that there is one and only one right opinion, however complex it might be, as to what any given passage means — God's opinion of what He intended to say."

But although I agree with it, is this what 2Pe 1:20-21 is saying? Does the passage so much as refer to "God's opinion of what He intended to say?" Or does it rather refer to how God's sayings were produced in written form?

BTW, in the above quote you seem to allow for a text of Scripture having multiple meanings, as long as God intended it to have multiple meanings. Is that a fair construal of your view? (It's one to which I'm sympathetic.)

In your later comment, you write:

> (BTW, I, of course, am saying that no prophecy
> is *either* a matter of the prophet's own
> interpretation *or* the reader's own
> interpretation. Further, I'm saying that the
> former necessarily includes the latter.)

OK, I agree with you that this entailment is the most common-sense position to hold. Ordinarily, getting at the proper interpretation of a passage involves getting at what the author intended by the passage. And knowing that the author is (ultimately) God is therefore highly relevant to hermeneutics. (For instance, we can never interpret a text on the supposition that the author was mistaken, or that the author disagrees with another Scriptural author.)

Although I still don't think the text expressly teaches this entailment, I'm a big believer in anything that "by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" :-) And so, common-sense-wise, the divine authorship of Scripture (which is what 2Pe 2:20-21 is about) does seem to commit us to the meaning which the author intended (whether that meaning is complex, *sensus plenior*, etc., or simple). It's an objective meaning that isn't even partly constituted by our own subjective opinions.

BTW, I say "common-sense-wise" because, strictly speaking, it doesn't follow from the fact that so-and-so *authored* a passage, that therefore the meaning of the passage is what the *author* intended. I could write an obscure poem with haunting, evocative, but nevertheless ambiguous lines, and simply *stipulate* that the poem shall mean whatever the reader takes it to mean, and I might find great satisfaction launching such a literary work into the world. On this view, I authored the poem, but the readers determine its meaning (not even my stipulation determines "the meaning" of the poem). But although this is an abstract possibility, it is a wildly implausible account of what Scripture is, and so it deserves no further consideration. Common-sense needs to triumph in this venue.

Great material from Bauckham! (I find he's good on the book of Revelation as well :-) In defense of his minority opinion: while I agree that it's "grammatically awkward... to employ a pronoun prior to its antecedent," it strikes me as equally or even more awkward to have a pronoun with no antecedent whatsoever (which is what the majority of translations are trying to cover up with the "one's own" business :-)

What decides the issue for me is what is going on in the earlier portion of v. 20. Peter does not say: "The meaning of Scripture is not by one's own/the prophet's own interpretation..." Rather, he says, "no prophecy of Scripture is by one's own/the prophet's own interpretation..." Peter is not talking about the meaning of Scripture, and whether that meaning is determined by prophets or subsequent readers. He's not talking about the meaning of Scripture *at all*. Rather, he's talking about how "prophecies of Scripture" *came about*. How were they produced? That's my only point. And it doesn't depend on how we understand 'idias'; my point is neutral with respect to that issue, I think.

> Whether Greg understands v20 precisely
> as I do, I still wait to see whether
> he would concur that even his
> understanding of v20 (if it parts
> company from mine) *necessarily
> implies* precisely what I am saying.

Great way of putting the question. I've argued above that the text probably doesn't *necessarily imply* what you're saying. But on the other hand, it is *extremely implausible* that God intended Scripture to be some sort of reader-response poetry. To the extent that meaning is determined by authorial intent (a common-sense view that it is almost impossible to overturn), then the author of Scripture (God) fixes the meaning of Scripture, and our job is to discern *that* meaning with all of the tools at our disposal.

So, we're agreed that God's opinion of the meaning of the text is authoritative, and (ii) if someone disagrees with God's opinion on the matter, then they're wrong :-)

Steve Young: Amen to that.

Alan Cross: Hermeneutics and persuasion are distinct topics, it seems to me. And none of this has anything to do with Baptist unity. Every significant doctrine in the history of the church has had dissenters, those who claimed that the Scriptures didn't really teach it. Thus if, for the sake of Baptist unity, we designate a subset of doctrines in the BFM that we could 'rally around,' this would solve no problems. Any time you have a *text*, you are going to have disagreement, period. The only alternative to total doctrinal anarchy is to designate a set of doctrines as non-negotiable for membership in whatever group we're talking about, and to do this *despite* the fact that there will be dissenters no matter *which* set of doctrines we pick. The key to Christian unity is not to whittle down our systematic theology until we reach a core of 'obvious' doctrines from which no one will dissent. That is a mythical paradise. (And coercion has little to do with it. No one is forced to become a Southern Baptist, or join a Southern Baptist church, or enter into ministry among Southern Baptists, etc. The church doesn't have state power, or at least ought not to have it.)

Greg Welty said...

Reader's Digest Version:

I agree with Bart that God's authorship of Scripture is a good reason for thinking that "the meaning" of Scripture is whatever God intended it to mean.

I don't agree with Bart that this is a *necessary* entailment from the concept of "authorship".

And I don't agree with Bart that Peter is teaching this entailment in 2Pe 1:20-21.

Nevertheless, I think it is hard to deny the common-sense view that, in *most* cases (including the case of Scripture), authorial intent determines meaning.

Thus, I think I agree with Bart on one out of three things, but thankfully I agree with him about the most important thing, which is not how this particular text of Scripture should be interpreted, but rather on a general view of how we should approach the whole of Scripture.

Alan Cross said...


My issue has never been with what Baptists believe and teach. I am a Baptist - a very conservative one at that. I agreed with the goals of the CR. I am an inerrantist. My problem comes when a small group of people decide what all Baptists are supposed to believe if they want to be involved in the only foreign missions sending agency we have, these beliefs have NEVER been agreed upon by Baptists, and no one can do anything about it except form a political power bloc and win presidential elections for 10 years until the trustee boards turn over. That is a problem with enforcing one view of Scripture and it is also a problem with our polity. And, in this case, I think that hermeneutics and persuasion have everything to do with one another.


Thank you for the time you spent on your defense. I still agree with Greg on his perspective regarding that passage and also on the overall point of your post.

Greg Welty said...


I'm sympathetic to all of the concerns you've raised, my conservative, inerrantist brother in Christ. But you closed by saying:

"And, in this case, I think that hermeneutics and persuasion have everything to do with one another."

How so? I guess I don't see how recognizing the (obvious?) phenomenon that believers disagree with each other on a great many things, somehow selects for a particular view about, say, the revised IMB rules and whether they should have been passed.

I mean, how would that argument go?

"Sure, there is one objective meaning of every Bible passage, and its meaning doesn't depend on us. But believers disagree about the interpretation of various Bible passages. *Therefore*, doctrinal guidelines in SBC agencies should be passed by large groups of people, not small groups of people."

I know your argument isn't as crude and fallacious as that.

So spruce it up for me, will you? :-)