17 May 2014

2 Peter 3:14-18

“There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (v. 16b)


This would seem to a particularly challenging passage for, say, someone writing a series of Bible study notes. Peter, in the final paragraphs of what he quite possibly knew would be his final letter to the churches, is issuing a grave warning against false prophets, false teachers and "scoffers" who will try to lead the people astray in his absence. In this verse 16, he warns explicitly against those who would twist the words in Paul's letters to suit their own diabolical ends - twisting Paul's invitation to freedom in Christ to entice people into sin.

Peter probably wrote this brief letter from Rome, sometime around AD 64-67, whilst he was in prison. He believed that his death would come soon (2 Peter 1:14) and that his time left on earth would be short. In this situation, most people would be thinking about their legacy and those they will leave behind.

But Peter, from his prison cell, is determined to use his remaining time and energy to remind his followers of what he has taught them, and particularly the truth and importance of God's prophetic word. The warning against those who twist the words of Christian teaching "to their own destruction" is particularly challenging to those of us who, 2,000 years later, seek to interpret the Bible as a way of getting to know God. Many people still find Paul's letters "hard to understand" - especially those sections that seem completely out of keeping with today's cultural context. There is a fine and difficult line to walk between having an intelligent, interrogative relationship with the Scriptures, and falling into the trap of ignoring some passages and twisting others because they do not suit our own beliefs. This, Peter warns, will lead to "destruction".

The Greek word 'graphē'- translated here as "scriptures" - occurs 51 times in the New Testament, and only twice (once in the verse above) does it refer to works that weren't already included in the Old Testament canon - the 'Bible' that already existed in Jesus' time on earth. This implies that even in the early Church, people already viewed the letters of Peter and Paul as containing the Word of God.

Peter signs off by urging his followers to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 18). We shouldn't, then, be afraid of knowledge - of investigating and interpreting the Scriptures, rather than taking them on face value. But it's important to ask God for wisdom in doing so, to pray without ceasing and to do so alongside other people, to ensure that we are not "carried away with the error of the lawless" (v. 17).

To Ponder

  • To what extent is it ever possible (or wise) to dismiss parts of the Bible as 'a product of its time'?
  • What would you write in what you thought to be your final letter to your church?

Bible notes author

The Revd Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates is a presbyter, currently serving in four churches in the North Kent Circuit. Previously, she worked for seven years in a variety of guises for the Connexional Team. She enjoys baking, cycling and reading Agatha Christie books (but not usually at the same time).

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