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Handbook 21.1.7 on measuring the accuracy of a Bible translation

Rob Bowman

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I'm pretty sure you meant 2 Peter 1:20. To know that this is what the Bible teaches, we must actually read 2 Peter 1:20, think about what it is saying, and determine if 2 Peter 1:20 actually means that exegesis is not the proper way to interpret scripture. In other words, we must exegete 2 Peter 1:20, however informally, before we can know that it means what you say it means. Thus, your use of 2 Peter 1:20 to prove that exegesis is not the proper way to interpret scripture is self-defeating. It is like saying, "If you will just read this scripture in 2 Peter 1:20, you will see that reading scripture is not the proper way to interpret scripture."

Fortunately, this is not what 2 Peter 1:20 says. Let me quote what it actually says, allowing Peter to complete his thought by quoting verse 21 as well:

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21 KJV).

Peter explains in verse 21 what he has just said in verse 20. No prophecy of scripture is someone's private interpretation because that prophecy did not come by man's will, but as God's chosen human instruments were moved by the Holy Spirit. In other words, what verse 20 means is that the scriptures themselves are not private interpretations. Isaiah was not giving his own personal opinion of what events in Israel's history meant; these were not Isaiah's clever ideas, but God's revelation by the Holy Spirit through Isaiah.

NRSV (the Oxford Annotated edition) II Peter 1:20-21 "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." The footnote explains: "Since prophecy is inspired by the Spirit, its interpretation must be in accord with God's intention."

NJB at the same point has a note citing II Timothy 3:15-16 "suggests that the reading of scripture also is done under the guidance of the Spirit and the apostolic tradition." The note in Timothy says: "It is by assiduously studying scripture that the Christian nourishes faith and apostolic zeal." One can readily detect the source of that translation and notes: Roman Catholicism, which seems to lay the same emphasis on reading scripture that the LDS Church does.

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Much ado about nothing.

If the church is interested in doctrinal truth, it will clearly rely on those sources it believes to be true. I am awestruck that the statement could be confused with a normative approach to academic study and apologia.


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You wrote:

This has been an interesting discussion. Rob, here's a sincere question for you in response. Suppose a new ancient manuscript was discovered, say, one of the missing epistles from Paul, which proved to be authentic. Further, suppose he clearly delineates a doctrine which conflicts with one to which you currently subscribe. Would you be willing to modify your beliefs, to align with this new text? Why or why not?

Hypotheticals contrary to fact can be very tricky. In fact, they usually are.

My responsibility as a Christian is to conform my belief to the revelations from God that we have, not to hypothetical revelations that we don't have. If we had another epistle of Paul that we knew was not only written by him but intended to be regarded as authoritative revelation, then we would need to integrate its teaching into our theology, just as we do with the 66 books of the Bible we actually have. If this meant revising or refining our doctrine in some way, fine. How this would mean a departure from the theological principle I currently hold or in any way affect the way we interpret Scripture is beyond me. We would need to exegete this 67th book of the Bible, just as we do the current 66, and we would need to place it into the stream of biblical revelation and develop an understanding of how its teaching coheres with the rest of the Bible. The method would not change one iota.

The fact is that I'm "willing to modify my beliefs" right now, to align more closely to the teaching of the Scriptures I already recognize. I don't consider that process complete. I have much to learn from the Bible. So I would not need to adjust my attitude toward my current beliefs in the face of a 67th book of the Bible any more than I would if on a closer reading of 2 Thessalonians I decided that my eschatology needed to be revised.

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Even the Bible teaches that exegesis is not the proper way to interpret scripture (1 Peter 1:20). Any church or denomination that has God's truth and authorization will not only claim to be the only true Church, but will be based on the rock of revelation.

However, exegesis can be useful apologetically especially as I've found that the LDS Church is always supported by it when properly done. One may of course argue over what "properly" means, but that just forces one to go back to the fact that revelation trumps.


In order for your statement to make sense, one would have to know your definition of "exegesis."

(1) So, please fill in the blank: "By exegesis, I (bcspace) mean ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________."

(2) Then, one would have to know how 1 Peter 1:20 stands in opposition to your definition of "exegesis" in (1). What do you mean?

(3) Then, one has to ask how to reconcile your statements that "exegesis is not the proper way to interpret scripture" and "exegesis can be useful apologetically especially as I've found that the LDS Church is always supported by it when properly done."

This conjunction of propositions seems to border on the incoherent as it stands:

- "exegesis is not the proper way to interpret scripture"

- "exegesis [always supports the LDS Church] when properly done."

It would seem to be the case that in order for exegesis to be valid, it must support the claims of the LDS Church. And, if exegesis does not support the claims of the LDS Church, then it has been improperly done.

That is, the only proper exegesis is one that concludes to a predetermined interpretation--i.e., one that unfailingly supports the LDS Church.

Perhaps I'm mistaken. But, you might clear that up in your response to (1) above.

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