Revelation and Human Volition

Though a gospel-denying heretic, Gordon H. Clark makes some interesting (and I think, accurate) comments on 2 Peter 1:20-21:

“1:20, 21 Knowing this first [of all], that no prophecy of Scripture comes into being by idias epiluseos, for no prophecy was ever brought by the will of man, but men who were borne [along] by the Holy Ghost spoke from God.

The difficulty that makes the King James translation unintelligible centers in the word epiluseos. This word translated interpretation in the King James, American Revised Version, Revised Standard Version, and, in a sense, the New English Bible, can stand closer scrutiny. It seems to be a hapax legomenon. Souter’s Pocket Lexicon gives simply solution, explanation, interpretation — no more. Liddell and Scott have also release  and discharge. The verb has two main sets of meanings: (1) loose, untie, set free, release; and (2) solve, explain, confute.

Strachan makes the remarkable translation, ‘No prophecy is of such a nature as to be capable of a particular interpretation.’ This means either that no prophecy has any particular meaning and is therefore meaningless, or that a general rule, such as ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ cannot be applied to any particular case of theft. This too makes the Old Testament meaningless.

If, however, something less stupid can be extracted from Strachan’s words, it will founder on the fact that 1:21 is not a proper reason for the assertion. Whatever 1:20 means, it must be such that 1:21 explains it. No translator can defend his translation without showing that 1:21 is a logical reason for 1:20. Verse 21 must be a premise from which 1:20 follows.

The New English Bible gives and makes more explicit the traditional rendering: ‘No one can interpret any prophecy of Scripture by himself.’ Presumably the reason is that the interpretation of one commentator must be checked by another until a consensus of the church is obtained. But however wise it may be for commentators to consider the arguments of other commentators, such a view of 1:20 makes very poor sense. The passage does not deal with the ability of Christians to interpret the Scripture. Its main idea is the Scripture’s divine authority. The following verse, given as an explanation of the assertion, makes this absolutely clear. The reason there is no idias epiluseos of prophecy is that prophecy did not come by the will of man, ever. Isaiah did not get out of bed one morning and say, I have decided to write some prophecies today. Revelations are not the results of human volition. On the contrary, God picked Isaiah up and carried him along; and, so supported, Isaiah spoke words from God.

Therefore 1:20 should be translated, ‘No written prophecy ever came into being by any individual’s setting it free [or, more literally] by private release. Because …,’ etc. Peter is asserting the complete absence of human initiative in revelation. Revelation is initiated by God. Therefore since God revealed the message to Moses or Isaiah, it must be true and therefore authoritative.

Facing imminent death Peter wants his readers never to forget it” (Gordon H. Clark, A Commentary on First and Second Peter, pp. 191-193; underlining mine–CD).

The apostle Peter was borne along by God the Holy Spirit to write:

“For this reason I will not neglect to cause you to remember always concerning these things, though [you] know and have been confirmed in the present truth.” (2 Peter 1:12)

Pointing out and repeating the obvious is not tedious or superfluous, but rather is necessary and safe (cf. Philippians 3:1).  It is right and good to stir up, stimulate, or arouse “by a reminder” those already “confirmed in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12-13, 15).

In verses 16-19 Peter contrasts the sources and authorities of “fables having been cleverly devised” (v. 16) and the “established prophetic Word, in which you do well to pay attention” (v.19).  What authority do cleverly devised fables have?  Do we need to give heed to fables?  Does not every cleverly devised fable come into being or find its source in the mind of man?  man’s volition or initiative?

The striking contrast to the non-authoritative fables is that “every prophecy of Scripture” finds its source and authority in the mind of God.  The holy men of God were “borne along by [the] Holy Spirit,” NOT to give their own autonomous interpretations of reality, but to speak the prophetic Words of the true and living God.

“… knowing this first, that every prophecy of Scripture did not come into being of [its] own interpretation; for prophecy was not at any time borne by [the] will of man, but being borne along by [the] Holy Spirit, holy men of God spoke.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)