I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people argue that Reformed theology is unbalanced because it is “so focused on Paul.” I remember Roman Catholic apologist Art Sippo rant on and on about developing a doctrine of justification from other sources, and quoting Peter’s statement that there are hard things to understand in Paul as grounds for his view. I’ve heard Mormons do the very same thing. The text says,
2 Peter 3:14-18 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
So today on the New Counter-Reformation Blog Mark Horne quotes the above and comments,
This is, as far as I know, the only Scriptural witness that a particular portion of Scripture is “hard to understand.” It would seem to me that, according to the analogy of faith, we should be interpreting Paul in light of the other Scriptures rather than the other way around.
Let’s consider this rather well-known writer’s thoughts for a moment. The text above is not, in fact, a warning that Paul’s writings are any more difficult or “hard” than say John or Hebrews or Luke. Peter calls Paul as a second witness to that which he is himself proclaiming, and obviously, he is expecting his audience to be aware of the writings of Paul and their contents. Why on earth make reference to a teaching in Paul’s writings if, in fact, you are implicitly teaching that his writings are to be subjected to a wider canon and they themselves, due to their difficulty, subjugated to an external interpretive grid? When he speaks of these difficult things, he immediately tells us that these things are twisted by “untaught and unstable men.” Is there anything in Scripture that cannot be twisted by untaught and unstable men? My brief experience of life has surely provided me with a litany of simple truths men can distort. And it seems to pass right by those who seek to misuse this text that Peter says, “as they do the rest of the Scriptures.” Anything in God’s Word is liable to twisting. But, if untaught and unstable men can distort these things, does it not logically follow that taught and stable men can handle these very same “difficult” things aright? Such would follow.
Peter then continues his exhortation to steadfastness and growth in grace by assuming his audience not only understood what Paul said, but did so well enough for him to base his exhortation upon that understanding!
Now, let us ponder for just a moment what is really being said here. Steve Schlissel of Messiah’s Congregation has accused many of us of over-reliance upon Romans and Galatians, as if one could draw an equal number of statements defining justification from each book of the New Testament, or an equal number from each author. Just a few moments of thought will reveal the error of such thinking. Let’s put it this way: can you define your ecclesiology from Luke? Can you tell us about the church officers, or the proper form of worship, or the over-all purpose of Christ’s Church, by reference to the gospel of Luke? Mark, perhaps? Why not? Because, obviously, they do not address these issues. You draw most heavily from those epistles that specifically address the divine truth under discussion (or attack). When dealing with the deity of Christ, a “disproportionate” number of verses will come from John and Colossians. Does this mean we have a “problem,” and should promote some form of “equal citation quotas” for all books of the New Testament regarding the deity of Christ? Surely not.
So there is a rather obvious reason why Romans and Galatians figure so prominently in the discussion of the doctrine of justification: it’s the same reason 1 Timothy and Titus figure so prominently in the discussion of the qualifications of the elders of the church: that’s where the Scriptures address the issue. Such seems so obvious, so basic, it should not have to be mentioned.
So why do we have to mention it? Because those who are drawing back from the clarity of the doctrine of justification (for a myriad of reasons) need to sow doubt and confusion in the minds of those they are seeking to sway to their views. When you are seeking to bring people from believing X to believing only a portion of X, you need to convince them that they were wrong in going “too far” in believing X in the first place. And hence the Counter Reformation in seeking to convince others to join their march to the camp on the west side of the Tiber (a camp they may well decide to make permanent) must seek to convince us that we have had too much confidence in the clarity of Scripture in the past. Ponder that one for a few moments, then listen once again to Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, and be encouraged in your stand for truth.