Does 2 Peter 1:20 teach that it's impossible to understand the Bible without the help of a minister?
The "Iglesia Ni Cristo" teaches that people cannot understand the Bible without the help of an ordained minister. One of the verses they use to support their claim is 2 Peter 1:20. Does this verse really teach that it's impossible to understand the Bible without a minister?
2 Peter 1:20 (ESV) - 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
When we look at this verse and its surrounding context, we see that is not what the verse is teaching at all.
The verse is teaching that scriptural truth is absolute truth.
The first mistake in using this verse as the INC does is that it assumes that all of scripture is in focus. The verse speaks specifically of prophecy, and not of scripture in general. What Peter says actually does apply to all scripture, but there is a reason he mentions prophecy. Because prophecy is intentionally mysterious, many are tempted to think that prophecy is something that is personal to each individual, free to be understood how anyone wants. In the next verse we see why that is the case:
2 Peter 1:21 (ESV) - 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.
Peter points out that prophecy (like all scripture) was written by the Holy Spirit and therefore has an absolute meaning. Peter is not saying that we cannot understand scripture on our own. He is saying that our interpretations are not to be personal truths because they were not authored as personal truths.
Peter teaches that those who have authority to infallibly interpret prophecy are eyewitnesses of Jesus.
Once again, the specific issue at hand is the interpretation of prophecy. Didactic teaching and historical narrative were written to be immediately understood. Prophecy is often written to be mysterious and only a few have the authority to perfectly interpret that prophecy. Peter explains who those are:
2 Peter 1:16-19 (ESV) - 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
In order to authoritatively interpret prophecy, one must be an eyewitness of Christ. Only those who were companions of Jesus received divine explanations of prophecy from our Lord. We are to read and understand what they say about the prophecies concerning the Messiah and other prophetic writings.
Neither Felix Y Manalo nor the current INC administration were companions of Jesus. Therefore, the INC does not have the authority to claim an infallible understanding of any prophecy if that prophesies meaning was not revealed by the authors of the New Testament.
Peter does not teach us that we cannot understand the Bible. Rather, he teaches that scripture has an absolute meaning instead of a personal one. Additionally, he teaches that prophecy is to be interpreted by Christ, and only those who were companions of Christ have the authority to infallibly share such revelation.
The INC misuses this verse to teach something that is not true and discourages people from trying to understand the Bible. The INC also claims an authority it does not have, as no INC minister was ever witness to Christ.