In this post I want to turn to 2 Peter 1:20-21 and share a few thoughts on how this passage dovetails with my views on 2 Tim 3:16. Here’s the passage (ESV):
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 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.
I’m with the majority (I suspect) that would argue that “prophecy” here refers to any sort of utterance from a prophetic (or apostolic) figure that wound up getting recorded in Scripture. (Though the passage says “spoke” it can be applied to the production of Scripture since what was spoken was often written or written about). No argument there. The passage makes it clear that no part of the Scripture was produced ONLY of human origin. No argument there, either, as readers will know. In my post on 2 Tim 3:16, I argued that the immediate source of Scripture was the human writers, while the ultimate source was God. I also argued that the former could not exist or function without the latter. The divine element, though not immediate, is primary.
I think the issue for some in this text might be that some would imagine Peter’s statement that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” to be in conflict with my position. It doesn’t, and I hope I can clearly explain why.
Those who don’t take my view would likely argue that Peter’s statement looks a lot like total control of the authors by the Spirit in producing the Scripture. They might like the standard proof-text for this idea obtained by searching for the lemma behind “carried” (φερω): Acts 27:15, 17. In Acts 27, the ship in which Paul, his fellow prisoners, and their captors was on was said to have been “driven” (φερω) by the wind in these two verses. It is argued by extension that, as the ship was totally controlled by the wind and moved wherever it blew, so the human authors were totally controlled by the Spirit. For those like the authors of the Westminster (seminary) addendum, who want to deny human decision in authorship and word choice (they deny anthropopneustos), this description would apparently suggest that the human authors were incapacitated by the Spirit in some way so that what they produced was only theopneustos and in no sense anthropopneustos. Remember, in that view, the Scriptures can originate ONLY from God.
This is fallacious reasoning that uses selective reference to the lexicon to prop itself up.
The analogy between the ship and the human writers is flawed. There are little incongruities, like the fact that a ship doesn’t have a brain, a will, or self awareness. Then there is the recurring problem of how a total overtaking of the authors is not to be equated with either a dictation view of Scripture’s origin, or an automatic writing view. The description sounds a lot like automatic writing to me, where the author is overtaken by an entity (in this case the Holy Spirit) so that what he writes is not his own, but is only reflective of the mind and will of the controlling agent. It is as though the author’s mind goes blank, or perhaps doesn’t go blank but is utterly controlled by the agent, so that not a single word of what is produced can be attributed to the human being. Remember, we must deny anthropopneustos in this view. Now, while I think the X-Files was the television event of my lifetime, I don’t want Fox Mulder doing my NT exegesis. This sounds a lot like something he would suggest. It would be very easy for me to note the use of φερω in Mark 15:22 where the object of the verb is Jesus: “And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).” I don’t think we want to argue that Jesus was “driven” by ONLY his captors to the cross. No, he was there by the will of his Father and his own decision to submit to the Father. (We’ll see more examples below of how φερω should not be construed as utter control).
I believe 2 Peter 1:20-21 clearly gives us both elements of inspiration, the human and the divine. I would argue that, like 2 Tim 3:16, this passage lets us know that the human element was not exclusive or primary but does not deny the human element. 2 Peter 1:20-21 does not suggest the human element was not real, nor does it assert that the human element had nothing to do with the results. The divine does not erase the human or make the human unnecessary. In reality, if the dictation or automatic writing view were the truth, it is that view which would indeed make the human element superfluous, save that the Spirit needed a body to use (which is the essence of automatic writing). No, God could have become embodied to directly dictate (“man to man” as it were) or to write himself. He didn’t choose either.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the verb φερω. When it is used where one intelligent being with will and self-awareness (the subject) is acting upon another intelligent being with will and self-awareness (the object), the subject’s action does not nullify, erase, or otherwise obliterate the intelligence, will, and self awareness of the object. Some cases in point:
Mark 1:32 – That evening at sundown they brought (φερω) to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.
Mark 7:32 – And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
Are we to conclude that φερω “by definition” is to be understood as it is used in Acts 27:15, 17 of the mindless, lifeless ship? Did people have to compel the blind, lame, and deaf to go see Jesus so they could be healed? Were all these incidents situations where the will of the object had to be subdued so the object became passive? This reasoning is, of course, silly. And I’d add that arguing that this verb ITSELF rules out all other external decision-making capabilities of the prophetic figures in 2 Peter 1:20-21 because of the analogy of the ship in Acts 27:15, 17 is plain old sophistry. We don’t need to play such games.
So how do I understand “carried along” (φερω) here? The same way I understand it in the above examples: assistance. As I expressed in my previous post, “God was in the process” any way he desired to be, and by any means. I don’t rule out direct influence, such as a supernatural appearance to a writer, but if and when such instances happened, they didn’t make God the immediate source of the Scriptures as a whole (or even at all). If we take a larger, providential view of the Spirit’s assistance to the writers, that could occur via the Spirit creating the circumstances for a particular conversation to occur, where the writer was influenced in some way to write something. It could mean bringing a source of information to a writer (a person or book). It might mean that the Spirit used the Old Testament itself to move a writer to write something. The means were varied and broad. The end was that Scripture was the product of human writers assisted by the Spirit. The divine element doesn’t lose credit in this view; it actually becomes bigger and more far-reaching in the way it plays out.
There is simply no need to divorce the product of the process from human authors. So why do so many want it that way?