The Bible: written by mere men?
A commonly misunderstood verse reveals that God is the ultimate author of Scripture
In 2 Peter 1:20, we read, “ … no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” This significant passage can help us to defend the Bible against the claim that it is merely a human—and therefore fallible—book. Unfortunately, this verse is often misunderstood and thus misapplied.
Some incorrectly take this verse to mean that the Bible contains no hidden, personalized messages to individuals—the kind which are ‘discovered’ only by detaching words from their context. Although it is true that the Bible’s words must be understood according to their original meaning and are always intended to benefit a wider audience,1 such things are not what this verse is talking about. Others take Peter to mean that individual Christians can’t interpret Scripture properly without the help of the clergy. Not so—this is taught neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture. Rather, a careful reading shows that this verse is not even addressing how we should read the Bible at all.
Part of the confusion has to do with the term “interpretation”. Typically, when we use the word “interpretation”, we refer to the process of reading the Bible and trying to discern its meaning. Peter’s words, however, are not about people who read the Bible; they’re about those who wrote the Bible. They’re about how Scripture came to be, not how we should understand it.
This is evident from the very next verse, which says: “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” (2 Peter 1:21). It was God who initiated the production of Scripture, and the Holy Spirit guided the human authors as they wrote. So, what verses 20 and 21 are both communicating is that the Bible did not come about because any human being, acting alone, used his own discernment and wisdom to interpret the world around him and generate a prophetic text based on his own insight. No, it was God who originated and oversaw the production of Scripture, employing human authors as His vessels. Even though it was men who “spoke”, God was in control of the whole process. The prophetic words were “from God” and the men “were carried along” by His Spirit, leaving no room for the message to be corrupted by human influence.
Because this is what the Bible claims, critics can’t simply dismiss the Bible’s truth or authority by pointing out that it was written by men. Nobody denies that the Bible had human authors, but the Bible itself insists that God superintended everything they wrote—thereby producing a book without error. In addition to being written by men, the Bible claims to be “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and that’s why we can trust it.2 When rightly understood, 2 Peter 1:20–21 teaches us that while God used people and their personalities as instruments to inscribe His Word, the end result is exactly what God Himself wanted to say. The Bible wasn’t written by someone’s “private interpretation” (KJV); it is God’s Word—and that’s why it will never fail.