Why Does Peter Say that the Writings of Paul Are "Hard to Be Understood"?

Editor's Note: This article was generated by machine translation, so our staff cautions the reader about possible inaccuracies that may have resulted from this. However, it was deemed worthwhile to still publish such a piece because of the intrinsic value of the message - which remains evident even in its translated form.

The fourteen epistles of the apostle Paul represent nearly half of the New Testament. Paul formulated many of the most important tenets of Christian doctrine, such as his words about the church as the body of Christ or his famous "hymn of love," in which Paul says that love is above all gifts and virtues. And at the same time, the other chief apostle, Peter, calls his writings hard to be understood... How can this be? Let's look into it. To understand what Peter meant, it is worth reading the entire passage. Here it is:

"Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:13-16)

The apostle Peter clearly does not mean to belittle, criticize, or make fun of Paul. It is not without reason that he calls him his beloved brother, full of wisdom, and puts his letters on a par with the divinely inspired books of the Old Testament, which at that time were called the Scriptures (Greek γραφὰς)! But why are Paul's letters hard to be understood in some places?

1 - To better understand Paul, you need to understand who he was and to whom he was addressing

The apostle Paul was an educated man. In his early youth he had been sent from Tarsus (the city where he was born) to study the wisdom of Jewish law in Jerusalem, to one of the most famous and wise legal scholars of his day, Gamaliel. The same one who once advised the chief priests not to waste their energy fighting the apostles: ...depart from these men and leave them: for if this enterprise and this work be of men, it will be ruined; but if it be of God, you cannot ruin it; beware lest you also be opposed to God (Acts 5:38, 39).

Paul says in one of his letters that in the recent past he has been an inordinate zealot for the fatherly ... traditions (Gal 1:14). He even persecuted Christians, considering them harmful sectarians who had broken away from the right faith, which Paul himself knew thoroughly. When the Lord revealed to him the true state of affairs, Paul began zealously preaching Christ, and his preaching was different from that of Peter and many other apostles, who were called to preach from their simple occupation, fishing. In contrast, Paul studied theology and was familiar with the book culture of his day. And one can't help but feel that when reading his epistles.

Although Paul did not seek to speak in complicated terms, the logic of his thought and style of speech could be perceived by his simpler contemporaries as something complicated. The point is that the Apostle Paul most often did not give out ready-made truths to his hearers, but reasoned with them, much as the Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato had done in their day. Thus there were misunderstandings. People who were not so sophisticated could pick up on one of his ideas, but the Apostle used them as a starting point, only to jump off of it and come to a different conclusion through reasoning. It happened, for example, with the phrase: when sin multiplied, grace began to abound (Rom 5:20). Some, without listening to the apostle to the end, took this as permission to sin, saying that this would be even better, since God would be "compelled" to send more of His grace into the world. But Paul only made this point so that he could build on it and come to an entirely different conclusion!

Paul's message was thus directed primarily to people who lived in Gentile lands and had been brought up in Hellenic culture with its poetry, oratory, and tradition of philosophical dialogue. First of all, he addressed his sermon to the Jews who lived "in the dispersion," that is, outside of Palestine. But the next people he addressed (often after the Jews had indignantly expelled him from their synagogues) were Gentiles. And for them, the Apostle Paul's style of reasoning was more or less familiar.

2 - Many of the things the apostle Paul touched on were not just complex, but fundamentally inexplicable in human language

The Lord gave Paul extraordinary, as the apostle himself says, revelations, but the extent of what he perceived exceeded his ability to put it into words.

Here is how Paul himself describes it in one of his letters: "I know a man in Christ, who fourteen years ago (whether in the body - I do not know, whether out of the body - I do not know: God knows) was exalted to the third heaven. And I know of such a man (only I do not know whether in the body or out of the body: God knows), that he was caught up into heaven and heard unspeakable words, which cannot be retold by man (2 Cor 12:2-4).

The reality of the kingdom of heaven is impossible to describe-we simply do not have the words for it. The apostle repeatedly testified to this. For example, of the blessedness of being near to God, he speaks in deliberately stingy words: eyes have not seen it, ears have not heard it, and it has not come to a man's heart what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9). Although God revealed it to the chosen apostles by His Spirit, it is impossible to communicate this revelation to others in words they can understand: for no one knows God's things except by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:10, 11). And since he does not know, he cannot perceive. Paul compares the cognitive possibilities of earthly man in the spiritual realm with dim, hardly transparent glass: something can be seen through it, but it is guesswork rather than certain; and the true reality of the spiritual world will become clear only after the transition into that reality (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). And it is absolutely impossible to express it in words, except in isolated, perhaps not quite intelligible phrases and metaphors, like the fact that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

3 - To understand the Scriptures, you must not just read them, but study them

This is what the Lord Jesus Christ Himself calls Christians to do: Study the Scriptures, for you think by them you have eternal life; and they testify of Me (Jn 5:39).

It is impossible to read this or that message once and think that you have understood all the main things in it, and what you have not understood is not important. For two thousand years, the Church has been pondering Scripture, and the fathers have devoted thousands of pages to the interpretation of the biblical books (and Paul's epistles as well). Reading all this literature, both biblical and saintly, is a definite chore, but without at least some effort, it is strange to complain about the vagueness of the syllable or the thought of any particular biblical writer.

To understand Paul's epistles, one's spiritual experience, the depth of one's involvement in the life of the Church, is also crucial (perhaps even key). The same unity of spirit in the union of the world (Eph 4:3) of which the apostle himself writes. For the more one is immersed in the life of the Church, the more clearly Christianity is revealed to him. The more meanings the Lord shows him. As an example, let's take the apostle Peter, a simple man, a fisherman, who followed Christ for three and a half years, listening to Him, wondering, but at first he didn't realize much. But as Peter remained with Christ at all times, he came to understand more and more. When many of the disciples leave Christ, confused by his call to commune with the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, Peter cries out: Lord! To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68). When Christ asks the disciples who they think he is, Peter immediately answers, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). After Pentecost and receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Peter becomes a theologian himself. In spite of the gulf between him and Paul as far as education is concerned, he himself seems to understand very well what he is writing about, and he calls his letters unintelligible only to the ignorant and unauthorized.

Some of the apostle Paul's statements are indeed difficult to understand. But this forced obscurity in some passages is more than made up for by the many crucial and clearly articulated truths that are available to us in his epistles. It was Paul who defined the Kingdom of God as righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). It is because of the "apostle of tongues" that we know that in human nature, renewed by Baptism, there is no Greek or Jew, no circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but all and in all is Christ (Col 3:11). Belonging to Christ erases all earthly and temporal distinctions between people; they are only governed by the law of love.

And it was Paul who left the world a sublime "hymn of love," which he called the totality of perfection (Col 3:14): If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am a ringing brass or a sounding cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries, and have all knowledge and all faith, so that I can move mountains and have no love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions and give my body to be burned, and have no love, I have no use for it. Love is patient, merciful, love is not jealous, love is not vaunted, is not proud, is not disorderly, does not seek its own, is not angry, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; it covers everything, believes everything, hopes for everything, endures everything. Love never fails... (1 Cor 13:1-8).

And the vagueness of some of the apostle Paul's statements. It only emphasizes that his epistles are not slender theological treatises with impeccable logic of reasoning and clear-cut concepts. They are letters and records of speeches of a living man who loved God very much and received from Him the greatest revelations. And who endeavored with all his might to communicate the inexplicable things he had seen and learned to others, because he desired most of all that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).

Source: foma.ru (Russian)

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