The word of the day is “Spirit.” Today’s reading of 2 Peter 1:20-2:19 explains why the apostle could say that the word of prophecy is a trustworthy lamp to guide us in our dark world (2 Peter 1:19). He writes, “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” (vs. 20). Thus, the apostle confirms that the words of the prophets are wholly reliable. But is our reading of the same words equally dependable?
A Message Not from Human Persons
The apostle points out that we can trust the prophets’ word because their message did not come from men (vs. 21). This teaching clarifies what the apostle meant when he said, “no Scripture is of any private interpretation” (vs. 20). The Greek text says that the writing did not come “of one’s own.” The clearest meaning is that message was not the prophet’s own (Strong’s #2398). It came from somewhere or someone else.
So what was the source of the message? Peter writes, “…holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (vs. 21). This teaching magnifies the importance of the divine communication that the prophets delivered to us.
A Personal Letter from God
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk asked, “If an earthly king or emperor wrote you a letter, would you not read it with joy?” But, the saint observed, God, the King of Heaven has sent you such a personal letter. “To open and read this letter,” the saint added, would be to “enter into a personal conversation face-to-face with the living God. (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia. OCA Website). The saint’s point was that as such special communication from God, the Scriptures deserves our highest reverence, most focused attention, and most diligent study.
Note that the words of the prophets were not dictated word for word. Peter corrects this opinion when he says that the prophets were “moved,” by the Spirit (vs. 21). The Greek term translated as “moved” is derived from the idea of “being carried” (Strong’s #5324). That is, the prophets “conveyed” the message of the Holy Spirit in their writing. As different people carry a load in different ways—some in their hands, some on their heads, some on the backs, some in carts–so the prophets “transported” the Word of God through their own styles, personalities, and circumstance. As the apostle put it in Hebrews, the Almighty “spoke at various times and in various ways” before He spoke most definitively by His Son (Hebrews 1).
The Spirit and the Reading of Scripture
However, do you see a problem with the emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s role in the writing of the Scriptures? The question that this insight poses is how can we be sure to read these sacred messages correctly, much less completely? St. Paul confirms this difficulty, “For what man knows the things of a man except the Spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:11). If it is a challenge for us to understand one another as human beings, if the inner thoughts of even our loved ones are hidden from us, how can we know the mind of the Spirit of the Almighty and Holy God? The ways and will of the Lord are indeed beyond our human comprehension. We only know them as He reveals them to us. But what we do know by human understanding is like a bucket of water compared to the waters of the oceans.
Paul gives an answer to the question: “Now we have received, not the Spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” If the message of the prophets did not come from human beings, the understanding of that divine communication does not come from human persons either. It comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling and working in us to give understanding, wisdom, and insight.
Let me propose an analogy. St. Paul wrote about the Spirit and prayer: “…for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (1 Cor. 8:26). Perhaps the Spirit has the same relationship to our reading of the Holy Scriptures. As the Spirit prays in us, so the Spirit in us enables us to understand the Word of the Spirit coming from outside us.
Our thoughts lead to a critical question. If the key to understanding the Scriptures is in possession of the Holy Spirit, who possesses the Holy Spirit? We might quickly respond that baptism gives each of us the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And yet, it is not so simple, for how can we distinguish between the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and our own thoughts? We need someone to give us direction. Something besides ourselves is required that can use the Holy Scriptures in the way St. Paul outlines: “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This agent of the Truth of scriptures would give us a necessary check on our perception of the working of the Spirit within us.
I suggest that this guardian of the Truth is the Church that Paul calls, the pillar and ground of the Truth (1 Timothy3:15). The late, beloved Archpriest Thomas Hopko wrote, “Jesus Christ remains forever in His Church by the Holy Spirit to open men’s minds to understand the Bible (Jn 14.26, 16:13). Only within Christ’s Church, in the community of faith, of grace, and of truth, can men filled with the Holy Spirit understand the meaning and purpose of the Bible’s holy words” (Fr. Thomas Hopko, “The Interpretation of the Bible” Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of Christian Orthodox Archdiocese). I recommend this article to you at http://ww1.antiochian.org/interpretation-bible as well as the question of our discussion. How can we understand the Holy Scriptures correctly as well as faithfully?