Sunday, 1 March 2020
… as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:16
In the previous verse, Peter noted Paul and “the wisdom given to him” by which he wrote to these same people that Peter was writing to. He now says, “as also in all his epistles.” This same wisdom that was conveyed to the Jews through the epistle specifically directed to them (which is certainly the book of Hebrews, as already noted is to be found in all of his epistles. Peter is standing on the surety that Paul’s letters carry the very wisdom of God, and that they convey accurate, reliable truth concerning the gospel, proper doctrine, and contextual reliability.
This is especially important to understand, because Paul had personally challenged Peter concerning faulty doctrine at one point. But this isn’t something that was lightly brushed over, nor was it something found in a non-apostolic writing. Rather, it is something found in one of the very letters Peter is now referring to, Galatians. The entire account of Peter’s departure from the truth is laid out – openly and fully – for any to read. Peter confirms that Paul’s doctrine in this is correct, and that what Peter had done was “to be blamed,” as Paul states in Galatians 2:11.
Understanding this, Peter continues with, “speaking in them of these things.” The substance of the letters which Peter presented is the same substance of the letters of Paul. It is a way of saying that the content of their letters, though unique in style, was in complete harmony concerning content. For example, Peter wrote of the return of Christ, and so did Paul. Peter wrote about the gospel, and so did Paul. Peter wrote about the inspiration of Scripture, and so did Paul. These men were not writing two gospels, or two sets of promises – one to Jew and one to Gentile. Rather, they were writing one message which then fit into the same overall message of the Bible.
Peter then acknowledges concerning Paul’s letters, “in which are some things hard to understand.” Here, Peter uses a word unique in Scripture. It is a compound word from “difficult” and “understanding.” The things Paul wrote about are hard to mentally grasp and process. Capturing their true meaning, and mentally perceiving how what he says then fits into the greater context of the Bible, is a mentally challenging task.
Anyone who has read commentaries on Paul’s letters must acknowledge this is true. For example, the idea of the rapture is debated heavily to this day. Will there be a rapture? When will it occur? What is the sequence of events if it is to occur? Something which is written about by Paul, in only a few verses of his writings, cannot be easily agreed upon. How much more his extremely complicated doctrines! Peter acknowledges that what Paul says must be carefully contemplated. However, he next says, “which untaught and unstable people twist.”
Both words are only found in Peter’s writings. The first is only found here. It signifies “unlearned” or “ignorant.” The second is found in 2 Peter 2:14 and then here. It signifies “not established.” Literally, it is a person who does not have a staff to lean on, and thus he cannot be trusted because he is unsteady.
This statement of Peter, from two thousand years ago, has been proven throughout church history. Further, with the advent of the internet, this has bloomed into a worldwide and daily occurrence. The saying, “everyone is a specialist in the Bible, but almost nobody knows his Bible” is true. People who are both ignorant of the context of the Bible, and those who are completely unstable in their doctrine, make constant claims of spiritual insight into the meaning of various passages, usually completely ripping them out of context.
Unfortunately, these supposed teachers then pass on their uninformed teachings to others who, likewise, don’t search out the context of what is being said. From there, entire denominations bloom into large apostasy fests. Eventually, the Bible itself – when shown to contradict what these heretics teach – is dismissed as secondary to the supposed experiential knowledge of these adherents. Sound doctrine, and a right understanding of what is being conveyed, is subordinated to sensationalism. But such teachers twist the meaning and purpose of Scripture “to their own destruction.”
Bad doctrine is sin. How much more if it is intentional. People twist Paul’s words for profit, for sexual exploitation, for political motives, and on and on. Whatever agenda someone has, even if he dismisses the words of the Bible in every other aspect of his life, will cite Paul’s words out of their intended context in order to justify some unholy stand. But this isn’t unique to Paul’s writings. Peter notes that they do this, “as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
To such people, Scripture is a means of satisfying earthly desires, lusts, and agendas. It is one large body of “pick and choose” in order to justify the unjustifiable. Context has no meaning, and the intent of what is said is irrelevant. All that matters is that an agenda can be satisfied with the precious word of God.
And that is exactly what Peter says Paul’s letters are. In connecting Paul’s letters to “the rest of the Scriptures,” he is elevating what Paul has written to the full authority of all other Scripture. Thus, what these untaught and unstable people are doing is manipulating the very words of God. No person can do this and go unpunished. This is why James was so careful to say, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”
If sincere teachers of the word will be judged for their incorrect analyses and teachings, how much more severe will be the punishment upon those who purposefully twist God’s word for their own perverse agendas!
The word Peter used above, which is translated as “twist,” is also unique in Scripture. It literally speaks of an instrument of torture. A person would be put on a rack, and his body would be “twisted” or “dislocated.” Imagine how these people tear apart and abuse God’s precious and sacred word. Now imagine how God will punish them for what they have done. Theirs will be a punishment which we cannot even imagine. But it is as certain to come as is the fact that God is holy, and He cherishes and protects His sacred word.
Life application: Paul’s epistles are authoritative for the church – there is no missing this. What Paul writes has the same weight as if Jesus Himself were speaking. This is confirmed in Acts 9:15 –
“Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”
Jesus said that Paul is His “chosen vessel.” Therefore, what Paul writes is on the same level as all of God’s words breathed out in the pages of the Bible. In his letters, he speaks of the mysteries long hidden by God, but now revealed in Jesus Christ. He provides doctrine for the church which must be taken in proper context and with an understanding of how God is dealing with the world during the church age. Unfortunately, “unstable people” – and also those who haven’t taken time to rightly divide God’s word – twist what is given and confuse those who are seeking the truth.
The lure of profit, fame, and power are strong enticements for the depraved mind. Far too many churches today diminish the authority and power of Paul’s words because they aren’t politically correct, but to reject what He writes is to reject the authority of Jesus Christ who chose Paul to be His messenger.
If your denomination, church, or pastor speaks ill of Paul’s doctrine, or of any part of the word of God, find another place to worship. Such teachings are in no way honoring to the Lord.
Lord God, because the words of the apostles carry the same weight as if You had spoken them directly to us, help us to understand them properly and to follow them obediently. We often find it hard to follow what they intend for us to understand, and we need our spiritual eyes opened. Provide us, Lord, with sound teachers who will properly explain them to us. Amen.