I have encountered a number of very sincere readers and lovers of the Bible who have been dissuaded from “interpreting” the Bible for themselves.
A teacher or other source of religious authority has taught them that they must not engage in “private interpretation” when they read the Bible.
Can this viewpoint possibly be correct? Let us look directly at the evidence.
This expression comes from the New Testament. It is found in the wording of 2 Peter 1:20,
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
Taken by itself, and wrongfully taken out of context, this verse has been misinterpreted to mean we must not interpret the Bible for ourselves. But such a claim violates the very first rule of correct interpretation: a verse or sentence must be read and understood in the light of its context–what comes immediately before and after it in the text.
So, here is the verse in its immediate context, taking in 2 Peter 1:19-21,
2Pe 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
2Pe 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
2Pe 1:21 For the 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.
Notice that Peter is writing about “a more sure word of prophecy,” 2 Peter 1:19. He encourages us to take careful heed to what has been written, “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.” Surely this comment by Peter indicates that the Bible is a light in a dark place, and therefore it is understandable.
Then Peter declares that no prophecy is of any “private interpretation.” This is the point at issue, the point in question.
Peter explains his meaning: he tells us that prophecy did not come “in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).
Therefore, a careful reader MUST conclude that Peter is NOT speaking or writing about what readers do as they read the Bible. Peter is discussing how God by means of His Holy Spirit inspired the writers to write not their own thoughts, not their private interpretation, but what they were moved by God Himself to write by the Holy Spirit.
If you carefully read the context of where the expression “private interpretation” is used (2 Peter 1:20, carefully consulting its context in 2 Peter 1:19-21), it should be clear that the text is not speaking of what the readers of Scripture do when reading the Bible, but speaks of how the Holy Spirit moved upon and directed the writers of Scripture when they wrote the Bible. To suggest otherwise indicates one’s own need for some instruction to improve basic reading comprehension skills.
Do not let the claim of mistaken interpreters of the Bible, as well as false teachers, that you must avoid all “private interpretation,” discourage you from benefiting from your own direct independent study of the Bible for yourself.
You can understand the Bible! God Himself said so:
Psa 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
Your questions or comments are welcome about this subject, or anything else I have written in this blog.