Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Some Things Are Difficult to Understand (3:14-16)
14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 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.
Drawing his epistle to a close with his characteristic form of address (“beloved”), St. Peter once again urges his readers to be diligent to live a holy life. The Greek words he uses for “without spot” and “blameless” (aspiloi and amometoi) are direct opposites of spiloi and momoi (“stains” and “blemishes”) that he had used earlier to describe the false teachers. Note that he also urges them to be in peace, and to be patient (v.15). Patience like that of our Lord leads to salvation.
St. Peter then does something unusual for a biblical writer: he appeals to the message of another biblical writer. Peter knew Paul well, and he had both heard his teaching and read at least some of his epistles. Though some then and now have tried to say that the two apostles had a different gospel, or that they were somehow opposed to each other all their lives, this is not true. As St. Peter affirms here, his message is in essence the same of that of St. Paul, even though they may word the message a little differently at times.
St. Peter makes three statements about St. Paul’s writings. First, he says that St. Paul wrote them “according to the wisdom given to him.” In other words, St. Paul’s epistles were no ordinary epistles. They are a product of wisdom given to him from above.
Second, St. Peter affirms that St. Paul’s epistles contain “some things hard to understand.” How true this is! When we are tempted to get frustrated about our inability to understand some of the things St. Paul wrote, let us take comfort in the fact that even St. Peter, who spent three years with our Lord and received teaching from him after the resurrection, also struggled to understand some of what St. Paul wrote. St. Peter goes on to say that the difficulty of St. Paul’s writing has led to “untaught and unstable” people, i.e., the false teachers he had condemned earlier, to twist them. Listen to what FF has to say about this:
“…these false teachers twist St. Paul’s teaching even as they twist the Old Testament Scriptures. In what way they twist Paul’s writings, we do not know. Perhaps they misuse his words ‘All things are lawful for me’…to support their immoral behavior. Perhaps they misuse his saying about being raised up with Christ…to support their view that the resurrection is already past, and that a physical resurrection oat the Second Coming is not to be expected. Certainly they are adept at twisting his words” (137).
The third thing St. Paul says is that people twist St. Paul's writings. FF elaborates: “The word rendered twist is the Greek strebloo, used for wrenching in torture. The false teachers and Gnostics deal with any authoritative writings as they will, reading their own improbable myths into them, in utter disregard of the apostolic interpretations. Such interpretations lead only to their own destruction” (137).
Finally, note that St. Peter’s use of the phrase “the rest of the Scriptures.” FF denies that St. Peter is asserting that Paul’s epistles are part of the Scriptures, but only that St. Paul’s epistles are being twisted in the same way that the OT Scriptures are. I disagree. If that were what St. Peter was saying, why didn’t he just say people twist “the Scriptures”? Why say “the rest of the Scriptures”? To me, this is clear evidence that St. Peter (at the very least) placed St. Paul’s writings on the same level as the OT writings. To be sure, the Church as a whole would not declare them to be so until much later. But for Peter, St. Paul’s writings are just as authoritative as the OT scriptures.