Question: "What does 2 Peter 1:20 mean about interpreting Scripture?"
Answer: Second Peter 1:20 says, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.” Actually, this verse emphasizes the source of Old Testament prophecies, not who has the right to interpret the Bible today.
Some Bible versions do not make this clear. The NAS, for example, says that prophecy is not “a matter of one’s own interpretation,” and the KJV says Scripture is not “of any private interpretation.” However, Peter was not writing about how we should read or interpret God’s Word; he was writing about how God gave us His Word in the first place. In order to persuade his readers to pay attention to the gospel, Peter affirmed that his words were God’s words—just as much as the Old Testament prophecies were.
Peter’s meaning in verse 20 is further explained by the context: “We did not follow cleverly devised stories . . . but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. . . . We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven. . . . We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable. . . . No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will” (2 Peter 1:16–21).
Notice that Peter’s main point is not how to read and understand God’s messages. Instead, he explains the authoritative origin and source of those prophecies. It was God Himself who communicated them through His chosen spokesmen. The prophets (and Peter) did not write thoughts that they cooked up out of their own minds, but they passed on truth that came directly from God. As Peter puts it, they “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (verse 21).
Peter’s intent was to urge his readers to take his message about Jesus seriously, as he says in verse 19, “You [therefore] will do well to pay attention to [God’s message through me], as to a light shining in a dark place.” Peter’s account of Jesus was straight from God.
Since the Bible’s words express God’s thoughts, not man’s, it is important that we respect them enough to study them and grasp what He wants us to understand.