The Holy Spirit (Part Nineteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

In our studies in the Holy Spirit, our current focus is about the Spirit and the Scriptures. How did the Spirit of God act through people to give God’s message in written form? Some might suppose that the Scripture writers wrote their own “spiritual journals” about their aspiration to know God. But even a cursory reading disproves that idle notion. The content of the Scriptures does not originate with mankind: for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man (NIV).

The apostle clearly teaches that the prophets did not concoct the Scriptures out of their own choices. They did not have superior insight from their human nature into the human predicament. They did not invent cleverly devised tales. In many passages, you can easily observe the artless words of an eyewitness to an event or those stating what they had been told by God. There is no effort to “clean up the text”. The heroic acts of the people of God are present right alongside their miserable failures. Think of David, Samson, Asa, and Peter, too! Instead, often the prophets wrote things that were beyond their knowledge, like Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus. At other times, they wrote what they did not even like. Listen to Jeremiah Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me, a man who incites dispute and conflict in all the land. I did not lend or borrow, yet everyone curses me (Jeremiah 15:10; CSB, cf. 20:7-18). Habakkuk had a similar experience. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Jonah has been called ‘the reluctant prophet”, and that is a charitable description.

The phrase for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man puts at least two necessary limits and clarifications on our thoughts about the Scriptures. “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men” (Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153). So though we might call it a joint product, both parties did not contribute to the written product in the same way. A chef and a server both contribute to a pleasant dining experience, but their participation is different. The Spirit spoke through people embedded in their place of history, human culture, and spiritual experience. The emotionally charged words of the human writers arose from their authentic, personal experience, but at the same time, the Spirit sovereignly spoke through their situation. Yes, this is mysterious.

Let’s put this another way. The apostles and prophets did not respond to cultural situations out of their own wills. Yet many argue contrary to this text in cases when the Word of God comes into direct conflict with one of the darling ideas of a godless and wicked culture, such as gender issues or various kinds of sexual immorality. Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the church is not because “he was anti-female,” which is a ridiculous statement anyway.  He did not speak out his desires, but he communicated God’s desires, which seek the peace, joy, and unity of his people.

In the light of these verses, we must all submit to God’s authority in his revealed word and bow before it. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). This is not a popular position to take in these lawless, anti-God, and anti-authority times, but it is God’s path. Notice how the Spirit commends the Scriptures to us. They are profitable. They convey God’s words to us. We can listen, understand, be transformed, and rejoice. Over the years I have discovered that popular restaurants can be the worst places to get a delicious meal, while neglected ones provide superb dining experiences. Evaluate everything for what it is, not for what the “people manipulators” tell you. Listen to what the Spirit has breathed out in the Scriptures and be thrilled.

Grace and peace, David