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 to be 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 lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you 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.
A friend I met a number of years ago when our church hosted a Prison Fellowship Discipleship Seminar will graduate soon from Wheaton Bible College. Chuck and I frequently talk on the phone, and as we finish our conversation, he ends by saying, “Appreciate ya’.”
These two words convey a lot more meaning to me than they would to others. We might say they are a “he-man’s way” of expressing brotherly love. But they are also a reminder of the depth of our relationship which has developed over the years. Our friendship began with a shopping trip to buy a pair of shoes while he was on furlough. This led to a number of conversations related to biblical decision-making. Our friendship grew over the months as we talked nearly once a week when Chuck called from prison where he was still incarcerated. Our bond grew as I attended his mother’s funeral and made several trips to visit him in Chicago. Though only two words, they bring tears to my eyes or to his, and sometimes to both.
In our text, Peter says only a few words about Paul, but I can assure you they are but the tip of the iceberg. We could easily pass by them almost unnoticed, but we would be overlooking so much. Some time ago, a liberal school of thought sought to show that Paul and Peter were arch rivals, and that the New Testament must be understood in light of their polarizing conflict. Our text might seem to put the final nail in the coffin of such a theory, but this is hardly the case. Some consider these words spoken of Paul in 2 Peter 3 as proof this was not the “real Peter” who wrote this epistle, but someone else writing as though they were Peter.
Our contention is that the Peter of the gospels is the author of both 1 and 2 Peter. Our conviction also is that Peter’s words reflect not only Paul’s apostolic authority, but also Peter’s acknowledgment of the tremendous impact Paul had on the church and on the gospel.
Having come to the final verses of 2 Peter (2 Peter 3:13-18), our study of these verses will be carried out in three parts:
(1) Peter’s endorsement of Paul’s writings
(2) Peter’s warning of Scripture twisters
(3) Peter’s final exhortations
This particular lesson focuses on Peter’s endorsement of Paul and his epistles. We will seek to show that the Peter of the Gospels, and even the Peter of the Book of Acts, would not write the things concerning Paul written in these closing verses of his second epistle. We will also see that Paul profoundly influenced not only Peter but the rest of the apostles as well, and that his ministry played a major role in the definition and declaration of the gospel from New Testament days until now.
From the very beginning, tt was obvious that Peter would play a key role in the Gospels and a key role as a disciple of our Lord (see John 1:42). Peter was one of the three in the inner circle of our Lord (Peter, James, and John). They were privileged to participate in things from which the others were excluded (see Matthew 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37). If the three were set apart from the rest of the twelve, Peter was even set apart from James and John, due to his “great confession.” Peter would play a crucial role in the establishment of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18-19).75 John’s reaction to the “unauthorized” ministry of one who was not one of the twelve may well reflect Peter’s sentiments (see Mark 9:38). Even Peter’s words in John 21:20-21, his last exposure in the Gospel of John, seem to reveal a competitive spirit with respect to his fellow-disciples. One can hardly envision this Peter of the Gospels welcoming Paul into the circle of the apostles with open arms.
The Book of Acts portrays a very interesting relationship between Peter and Paul. While Peter is prominent in the first part of Acts, Paul clearly dominates the latter portion of the book. Peter is to Paul in Acts what John the Baptist is to Jesus in the Gospels. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
In Acts 1, Jesus instructed His disciples to wait until the promise of the Spirit had come before they left Jerusalem (1:2). It was Peter who took the initiative to fill the vacancy among the apostles by selecting a new apostle from those in their midst—from the candidates they put forward (Acts 1:15f.). One cannot say with certainty the selection of Matthias was wrong, but one certainly can say that Paul had far more impact as an apostle than Matthias did.
In Acts 2, filled with the Spirit, Peter stepped forward to preach the sermon at Pentecost (2:14f.). In chapters 3-5, Peter and John are the dominant personalities among the apostles. In Acts 6, things begin to change as the leadership of the church begins to shift from the “native Hebrews” (those Jews born in Israel) to the “Hellenistic Jews” (those Jews born elsewhere whose native language and culture was “foreign”). A rift develops between these two factions of Judaism in Acts 6 due to the perception at least that the Hellenistic Jewish widows were getting second-class treatment compared to the native Hebrew widows (Acts 6:1).
When tensions reached the boiling point, the apostles were forced to intervene. The apostles understood their primary calling to be “prayer and the ministry of the word” (6:4). To devote most of their energies to the care and feeding of the widows was to fail to fulfil their stewardship as apostles. They thus charged the congregation of believers to select seven men of high character and ability who would oversee this matter, leaving the apostles free to devote themselves to the priority they had been given.
I believe the apostles did the right thing. They would have failed to fulfill their stewardship as apostles had they allowed the care of the widows to consume their time and energies. They were right to concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word. But it is ironic that the apostles were not on the cutting edge of fulfilling the Great Commission. The apostles were not the ones who first took the gospel to the Gentiles, even though it seems that Jesus’ words could require nothing else:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
The seven were chosen and appointed to oversee the care of the widows so the apostles could pray and preach the word. And yet the apostles were not those on the cutting edge of evangelism, especially among the non-Jews (i.e. Samaritans and Gentiles). Indeed, two of the seven men selected to free up the apostles to minister the word were the ones who played a major role in carrying the gospel to the Gentiles. Stephen’s preaching was powerfully underscored by the signs and wonders God performed through him (6:8-10), and his death was the catalyst which brought about a great persecution against the saints in Jerusalem, prompting all except the apostles to flee the city (Acts 8:1).
After Stephen’s death and the scattering of the saints, evangelism began to take place among the Samaritans and the Gentiles. Even this was not due to the efforts or encouragement of the apostles. It was through the zeal of a few noble saints who could not keep the faith to themselves:
19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and [began] speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).
Philip, one the seven “deacons” selected in Acts 6 (verse 5), began to emerge as an evangelist (see Acts 21:8) and was used of God to win large numbers of the Samaritans to faith in Christ (Acts 8:5-13). In response to the salvation of the Samaritans, the Jerusalem apostles sent Peter and John to Samaria, where they laid hands on the believers who received the Holy Spirit (8:14-17). Philip then was directed to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch, bringing about an ever wider spread of the gospel—this time to a man who was clearly a Gentile God-fearer.
Luke records in Acts 9 the salvation of a prominent Hellenistic Jew named Saul. Three times in the Book of Acts Saul’s conversion is reported: the first time in the third person (Acts 9), the second and third times in the first person (Acts 22, 26). In Acts 22, Paul (formerly Saul) gives his personal testimony to his fellow-Israelites and in chapter 26, he testifies of his conversion before the Agrippa. In so doing, Paul fulfills the purpose of God for him revealed at the time of his salvation:
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
From this point on in the Book of Acts, Peter’s presence declines, and Paul becomes prominent. It was not from Jerusalem that the purposeful evangelization of the Gentiles was commenced, but from Antioch. And the leadership and initiative was not from the Jerusalem apostles, but from men like Barnabas and Paul and other Hellenistic Jews (see Acts 13:1f.).
This is not to say God let the native Hebrew apostles off the hook that easily. Contrary to his preferences and prejudices, Peter will play a crucial part in God’s purpose to involve the apostles in Jerusalem in the evangelism of Gentiles. And so in Acts 10, God orchestrated the visions of Cornelius and Peter, compelling Peter to go to the house of this Gentile where he then preached the gospel. God gave Cornelius and those gathered there faith to believe and baptized them with His Spirit, just as He had done with the Jews in Jerusalem at Pentecost (see Acts 11:17). Peter could do nothing else than to baptize them with water (Acts 10:47-48).
When the Jewish church leaders in Jerusalem (which had to include some of the apostles, directly or indirectly) heard of Peter’s actions regarding Cornelius and the salvation of these Gentiles, they did not rejoice—they were incensed. How dare Peter preach to the Gentiles and share salvation with them! He was summarily called on the carpet to explain his actions.
Peter’s explanation of the events leading up to his visit to the home of Cornelius, along with his description of what took place as he preached, was too convincing and compelling for the Jerusalem Jewish church leaders to deny. They acknowledged with some measure of surprise that God was actually saving Gentiles as well as Jews. This should not have come to them as new revelation. As Paul will demonstrate in Romans 9-11, the Old Testament clearly foretold this, and so did our Lord. What else could our Lord have meant by these words:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The surprise of the Jerusalem Jewish saints is more an indication of their racial and religious biases than of genuine ignorance. The Jews had forgotten they were “stewards” of the gospel of God’s grace—not its owners. This mentality carried over into the church so that even Christian Jews (if we dare use such an expression) felt a kind of smug superiority to Gentile believers.
Even the apostles were infected with this “superiority complex” and reticent to accept that God had indeed chosen to save Gentiles as well as Jews. But even when they reluctantly acknowledged the truth, only a handful of unknown Hellenistic Jews actually shared their faith with Gentiles (Acts 11:19-21). Only after Gentile saints came to faith (no thanks to the Jerusalem Jews and even the apostles, save Peter) did the apostles respond by sending Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:22-26). It was the Hellenistic Jews like Philip, Paul, and Barnabas who were on the cutting edge of Gentile evangelism. It was from the Gentile church of Antioch and not Jerusalem that world-wide evangelism was purposefully begun (Acts 13:1-3).
So far as Luke’s account is concerned, the “first missionary journey” was completely independent of the church in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God spoke to and through the leaders of the church at Antioch, and Barnabas and Paul were sent out (Acts 13:1-4). It was not as though Paul and Barnabas were neglecting the unsaved Jews, because they always sought to preach “to the Jew first,” and then to the Greeks (Romans 1:16). It was only as a result of the rejection of the gospel by the Jews that Paul and Barnabas focused their attention on Gentile evangelism (Acts 13:44-52).
The salvation of many Gentiles brought about a problem so serious that the Jewish leaders of the Jerusalem church, which included both the apostles and the elders, could not ignore it. Some unbelieving Jews opposed the preaching of the gospel; others sought to distort the gospel by insisting that Gentile converts be forced to submit to the Law of Moses as indicated by circumcision.
1 And some men came down from Judea and [began] teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, [the brethren] determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue (Acts 15:1-2).
At the end of their first missionary journey while Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, some Jews came down from Judea insisting the only way a Gentile could be saved was to convert to Judaism, as well as to trust in Christ. They insisted the only way a Gentile could enter into the blessings of the kingdom of God was to become a Jew, that is, a Jewish proselyte.
We know the Jerusalem Council decided that “keeping the Law” was impossible for the Jews and that striving to do the works of the Law could only condemn and not save (Acts 15:10-11). Gentile saints were therefore not required to be circumcised nor to keep the Law. The only requirements of the Gentile believers were these:
28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:28-29).
It is most interesting to note who played the dominant role as this decision was reached. According to Luke’s account, Peter was the first to speak. His argument is allotted five verses (7-11) by Luke. James spoke last, and he is the one who proposes the verdict which the council should reach. The account of his participation takes nine verses (13-21). James, the half-brother of our Lord, was not one of the twelve apostles. James, the apostle, was put to death by Herod earlier as recorded by Luke in Acts 12. And yet James is the one who seems to carry the greatest weight among the Jerusalem brethren.
How much weight did Paul carry among these Jerusalem Jewish saints? Very, very little. The participation of Paul and Barnabas is recorded in but one verse (12) in this chapter. And you will notice here the order of the two apostles to the Gentiles is listed in the reverse: “Barnabas and Paul.” This is also the order of the two names in verse 25, part of the text of the letter the Council sent out to the Gentile churches.
Why “Barnabas and Paul” rather than “Paul and Barnabas?” The order of these two names reflects the ranking of these two men in the minds of the speakers (or writers). In Acts 13:1, when the leaders of the church in Antioch were listed, Barnabas was named first and Paul last. This should come as no surprise. The apostles in Jerusalem were about as attracted to Paul as a cat to a dog. As an unbeliever, Paul was an extremist and hardly less as a Christian. The apostles were hesitant to accept him as a new believer (Acts 9:26). They seem hesitant to accept him as a leader, let alone as a peer. His input to the Jerusalem Council was not that of a spiritual heavyweight. There, it was James who carried the day.
The Jerusalem Council did endorse Barnabas and Saul and disassociate themselves with those who had gone out to Antioch insisting that Gentile converts be circumcised. Nevertheless, the pressure applied by these lobbying legalizers never completely subsides. Their presence is somehow always lingering in Jerusalem in particular, but also even in the Gentile churches.
In Acts 21, Paul returns to Jerusalem bringing with him some representatives from the Gentile churches who carried contributions for the poor from grateful believers who had come to faith in Christ. The church leaders received Paul pleasantly; among them were James and all the elders (Acts 21:18). They rejoiced at the report Paul gave of his ministry among the Gentiles (verse 19), but they were very quick to turn the subject to the concerns of the more legalistic brethren, based upon false reports of his teaching and ministry (verses 20-21). They urged Paul to take their advice, and in so doing to put the minds of the more legalistic brethren at ease. As you know from the Scriptures, it did not produce the desired result. Instead, it led to a riot and ultimately took Paul, in chains, to stand before Caesar in Rome.
My concern here is James and the elders seem to have had too much interest in pacifying those who tended toward legalism. They are willing to take the initiative in dealing with Paul, but not so willing to take on the legalists, indeed, even the Jewish heretics such as we saw in Acts 15:1. The best that can be said of the Jerusalem church is they were on the lagging edge of Gentile evangelism, and they seemed to drag their feet in dealing decisively with the error of the legalists with whom they seemed to be too closely associated.
If Acts’ description of the relationship between Paul and Peter and the other disciples/apostles, leaves us troubled concerning the apostles’ response to the Jewish heretics and the all too closely related legalistic Jewish Christians, Paul’s words in Galatians 1 and 2 do little to give us comfort concerning this situation. Indeed, Paul’s description of his relationship with the apostles and church leaders in Jerusalem may make us even more uneasy.
When Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, he spoke first of those who are like the false teachers of 2 Peter 2 and 3 in that their “gospel” is not the true gospel, and their destiny does not seem to be heaven:
6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is [really] not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
So much for those who preach or hold to a “different gospel,” but what of the apostles in Jerusalem? How does Paul speak of them? An unbiased reading of Galatians 1 and 2 would lead us to say Paul did not speak of them with reverential awe. They were not “heavyweights” to him as seen in his words concerning them:
6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter [had been] to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in [his] apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we [might go] to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 [They] only [asked] us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do (Galatians 2:6-10).
Paul had little contact with the apostles or with the Jerusalem church leaders, especially in the early years after his conversion (Galatians 1:17-19). He was saved and “discipled” independently of them. His contacts with them were few and far between and of short duration. When he and Barnabas did go up to Jerusalem after 14 years, they took Titus with them. Those whom Paul calls “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4) sought to compel Paul to have Titus circumcised. Paul refused, because it was clear they believed in a salvation by works and not by grace. Where were the apostles and church leaders while all this debate was taking place? They seem strangely silent. Paul seems to have to stand alone, along with Barnabas and Titus, in his confrontation with these legalistic Jewish heretics. I am puzzled that the Jerusalem Jewish saints do not seem to take a prominent role in this conflict.
Even the endorsement of Paul’s ministry seems tongue-in-cheek and less than whole-hearted. Paul is given the “right hand of fellowship” by Peter, “James” (the half-brother of our Lord and prominent leader in the Jerusalem church), and John, but this is as one who is the “apostle to the Gentiles” (2:8). Peter, on the other hand, is regarded as the “apostle to the Jews,” or more accurately, the “apostle to the circumcised” (2:7).
I am not sure I see so great a distinction between the ministries of Peter and Paul that I would want to characterize Peter as the “apostle to the circumcised” and Paul as the “apostle to the uncircumcised.” Paul always preached to the Jews first and then the Gentiles. Up to the end of the Book of Acts, Paul persists in seeking to reach lost Jews for Christ. Conversely, Peter does not just preach to Jews in Acts. His preaching in Acts 2-5 is surely more directed toward the Jews, because he was living among Jews and speaking to them. But in his preaching to the household of Cornelius, his ministry is to Gentiles. And in his writing to the saints in his two epistles, Peter is ministering to many Gentiles.
I fear the distinction of Peter as the “apostle to the circumcision” and Paul as the “apostle to the Gentiles” is equivalent to the Supreme Court decision which established what has become known as the policy of “separate but equal” (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1898). The high court ruled that so long as the quality of education was the same, whites could be educated in all-white schools, while blacks could be taught in all-black schools. This decision sanctioned segregated schools, so long as the schools were “equal.” It was finally struck down by a 1954 ruling of the high court (Brown v. the School Board of Topeka). Separate, but equal, was simply not good enough.
I believe this is precisely the policy the Jerusalem saints (including their leaders) wanted. They wanted Jewish churches and Gentile churches. They wanted apostles for the Jews and apostles for the Gentiles. In some ways the Jerusalem saints and their leaders seem to be more tolerant of the false brethren than they do of their Gentile brethren, or of men like Paul and Barnabas and others who preach to the Gentiles.
Look at what happens in the last half of Galatians 2.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he [began] to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-13).
Peter came to Antioch, the Gentile church which had become the launching pad of Gentile evangelism. Paul was there as well, along with Barnabas and others. When Peter first arrived, he associated freely with the Gentile saints, eating his meals with them. And then “certain men from James” arrived. These were of the circumcision party. Whether they were legalistic Christians or “false brethren” (cf. Galatians 2:4) is not altogether clear. They do seem to have come from Jerusalem, from the church, and “from James.” Once again James and the Jerusalem church leaders seem to be closely and not uncomfortably (to them) associated with those who distort the gospel.
With the arrival of these men “from James,” Peter’s conduct suddenly changed. He distanced himself from the Gentile believers, and this “out of fear for the party of the circumcision” (2:12). Can you imagine this? Peter was afraid of what these Jewish visitors thought! He was so intimidated by them that he acted hypocritically. He would rather offend his Gentile brethren than offend these legalists who might not even be saints. And by his actions, Peter influenced others to do likewise. Even a man like Barnabas was drawn into this disaster.
Paul had just written that he was no man-pleaser (1:10f.). He would not be intimidated or awe struck by those who “were of high reputation” (2:6). Publicly, Paul rebuked Peter face to face. He accused Peter of hypocrisy. I doubt Peter was surprised by this charge. But Paul pressed this error to its ultimate and most despicable roots—it was a denial of the gospel.
The gospel declares all men to be sinners, under the wrath of God and doomed to eternal punishment. The Law saves no one by law-keeping but condemns Jew and Gentile alike. When men are saved, they are saved by faith in Christ, apart from good works. The Jews can claim no merit, they can take no credit, with respect to their salvation, and thus they are no better than Gentile saints. The gospel makes equals of every saint, for the only righteousness which will get a man to heaven is Christ’s righteousness, received by faith, apart from works.
The Jews thought that being Jews made them better than Gentiles. They looked upon Gentiles as sinners and upon themselves as saints (2:15). They therefore thought they had the right to establish standards for the Gentiles who would be saved. And the standard they set was to be circumcised as a symbol of their commitment to keep the Law.
When Peter withdrew his fellowship from the Gentile saints and associated himself only with the Jews, he identified himself with the error they embraced and the self-righteousness in which they gloried. And in so doing, Peter functionally denied the very gospel by which he and every other Jew was saved. To be saved, Gentiles do not have to embrace Judaism with its self-righteousness through law-keeping. To be saved, Jews cannot embrace self-righteousness through law-keeping, but must trust only in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter, the “rock,” the disciple who was one of the three disciples most intimately associated with the Master, the one who preached the gospel so clearly and forcefully to the Jews at Pentecost and who also preached to the Gentiles at the home of Cornelius, now denies that very gospel. And he is rebuked by Paul for doing so.
Paul’s relationship with Peter was not the same as his relationships with men like Barnabas or Timothy. Even though these two men travelled in different circles, Peter and Paul did encounter one another from time to time. But there were other links between these two men as well. For example, Silvanus was Peter’s amanuensis (1 Peter 5:12), but he was also Paul’s travelling companion (2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; see also Acts 15:22, 40).
From Peter’s words in our text, we may infer that Paul’s writings were already being collected. Peter indicates that he is familiar with Paul’s writings, and his mention of Paul and his epistles is far from casual. Indeed, they have a very clear purpose. We could sum up Peter’s words concerning Paul and his letters with the following statements:
(1) As Peter has been speaking of those who are false teachers, his words here are intended to inform us Paul is not to be considered one of them.
(2) Peter’s words indicate he wants us to regard Paul as more than a mere teacher: Paul is an apostle like he and the other disciples (or apostles) chosen by our Lord.
(3) Since Paul is an apostle, his epistles are the inspired Word of God. They are Scripture, on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures and the New Testament Scriptures as well. If Paul’s epistles are distorted by false teachers, it is not his fault. His words are twisted by false teachers just as the rest of the Scriptures are (verse 16).
(4) All of Paul’s collected epistles are the inspired Word of God. Peter speaks not of one of Paul’s letters, but of “all his letters” (verse 16).
(5) The teachings of Paul do not disagree with those of Peter or the other apostles. Paul writes just as also Peter has written. These men are both in agreement in what they have written on many matters. There is a harmony and a consistency between Paul’s epistles and the rest of Scripture, as there most certainly must be (see also 3:2).
(6) Paul’s writings are inspired and authoritative in matters where he goes beyond that revealed by the other apostles, through whom God also revealed Scripture. While each author of a book in the Bible must be consistent with previous revelation, each one also makes a unique contribution to the Bible as a whole. Because we believe in progressive revelation, we expect later inspired writings to go beyond that revealed by earlier writers. There is a world of difference between going against previous Scripture and going beyond it. Paul’s writings are completely consistent with the Old Testament Scriptures and with the New Testament Scriptures, but Paul was also privileged to reveal things which were not clear until this point in time.
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 [to be specific], that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power (Ephesians 3:1-7).
(7) Paul’s writings are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, though hard to swallow, even for the other apostles. This principle is derived not only from the history of Peter and Paul outlined previously, but from these words of Peter in our text:
15 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 (emphasis mine).
For a long time, I have understood Peter’s phrase, “some things hard to understand,”76 to refer to some perplexing texts which are hard to interpret like this one:
29 Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them (1 Corinthians 15:29, emphasis mine)?
I no longer believe this is what Peter actually meant. Peter also had obscure texts in his writings which cause students of Scripture to scratch their heads (such as 1 Peter 3:18-22). It is true that cultists attempt to build doctrines on their interpretation of such texts. But I am more inclined to think Peter means that false teachers distort the texts they do not like, ones they do not want to understand at face value so they can avoid changing their thinking and their lifestyle.
We often find it impossible to understand those things we do not like or do not want to acknowledge as true. For example, when a husband (like myself) finds it impossible to “understand my wife’s point of view,” it is not really because she has failed to communicate clearly, but because I am not receptive to the message. My wife is completely clear, and I am totally stubborn. Much of the communication gap between opposing viewpoints, between mates, between generations, is simply a refusal to hear the other side for fear we might have to admit it is true or we might have to change.
Some say, “I cannot understand how a God of love would condemn anyone to hell.” What they really mean is: “I don’t want to believe in a literal hell. Its existence would take much of the pleasure out of my sin, because I would know that someday I will have to pay the price. Therefore I refuse to believe in hell, and any passage in Scripture which says there is a hell is too vague, too obscure, or inconsistent with too many other texts.”
What might one find “hard to understand,” or rather, “hard to accept” in Paul’s writings? The answer is simple: the mystery of the union of Jew and Greek, in Christ, without distinction. Here is the truth which God revealed through Paul to the church (including the at least initially reluctant and later forgetful apostles):
11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Is this not the truth the “false brethren” (Galatians 2:3-5)—legalists whose salvation is not absolutely clear (Acts 15:1-2)—and even some of the Jerusalem church’s Jewish giants (Acts 10-11; Galatians 2:11-13)—were reticent to receive?
Peter’s words are most significant. The apostles (certainly including Peter) were reluctant to believe that Paul was saved (Acts 9). And certainly they were reluctant to believe that Gentiles should be evangelized (Acts 10-11). They were less than zealous to initiate the preaching of the gospel to Gentiles—even after they acknowledged God’s purpose was to save the Gentiles, and even after the Lord’s commission to do so (see Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).
By his words in 2 Peter 3, Peter indicates that Paul is not one of the “false teachers” described in his second epistle, and that Paul is an apostle, an apostle whom God independently saved and “discipled,” apart from the other apostles the Lord had chosen as His disciples. He is declaring to his readers that Paul’s epistles are the inspired Word of God.
But in addition, Peter is admitting he was wrong, and Paul was right. Paul was right in his teaching in Ephesians 2 and 3. Paul was right in his definition of the gospel and of the relationship between Israel and the church (see all of Romans, especially chapters 9-11). Paul was right to rebuke Peter for his hypocrisy in Galatians 2. Peter learned much from Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and so can his readers.
It is one thing to admit we are wrong and another person is right, which Peter does in effect by his words in our text. But Peter goes even further to say that he and Paul were not enemies. Indeed, Peter looks upon Paul as a brother—and ever further still—Paul is a beloved brother. Paul is regarded as such by Peter, and he should be so regarded by all the saints. Paul is (or should be) our beloved brother.
Paul was God’s chosen instrument to define, proclaim, and protect the gospel. Paul was God’s divine provision to offset the prejudices and even the sins of the other apostles. It was Paul who was ordained to write the clearest definition of the gospel in the Word of God, as found in the Book of Romans. Paul was raised up to offset the legalism not only of the heretics but also of the Jerusalem Jewish church leaders, including the apostles.
Paul was the perfect counterpart to Peter and the other apostles. Peter and the other disciples were Galileans who naturally tended toward provincialism. Paul was a well-travelled man of the world, a man who knew more than one language or culture. Peter and the others were “untrained and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13), while Paul was a man of great learning. So great was his learning that Festus said, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad” (Acts 26:24). Peter and the other Galilean disciples were not a part of the Jewish religious hierarchy; Paul was one of the most devout, the most dedicated, the most prominent and the most promising leaders of the Pharisees. They were outside the religious system; Paul was from within. Who could better critique Judaism than this “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5)? What a perfect balance Paul was to the other apostles.
Even though we have come this far, we are only just beginning to grasp the point Peter strives to make with its implications. Remember, this is Peter’s closing punch line—words which have much to say to us. Consider the following ways Peter’s reference here to Paul applies to the church and to individual saints. Here, as J. Vernon McGee used to say, the “rubber meets the road.”
(1) The principle of human fallibility. Neither Peter, nor his fellow-disciples, nor Paul, were infallible. All of the Jerusalem disciples seem to be racially biased with respect to the Gentiles and far too tolerant of the errors and even heresies Jewish legalists sought to impose of the church.
Peter’s words in our text should certainly serve as a benchmark for assessing the truth of the doctrines claimed by the Roman Catholic Church regarding the pope. While I am no expert in the study of Catholicism, my understanding is that no Catholic leader would dare say the pope is sinless and his every word inerrant and authoritative. They would, however, say some statements have full divine authority. I do not believe this is true, and our text seems to support my conclusion. The next principle will suggest how God deals with the fallibility of men, including prominent church leaders.
(2) The principle of plurality. Why did our Lord choose twelve men to be his apostles? Why not just one apostle like Peter who could be the spokesman for God and a kind of pope? The answer, in part, is that one man cannot have full authority because he is a sinner like all other men. In the Book of Acts, when the church had to make critical decisions and declarations, it was never done by only one person, no matter who he was. All crucial decisions in Acts were made collectively, by a group.
In chapter 1, the filling of the vacancy of the twelfth apostle (rightly or wrongly) was one made by the whole group of one hundred and twenty (see Acts 1:15). In chapter 2, we are told that the church devoted themselves to “the apostles’ [plural] teaching” (verse 42), not the apostle’s [i.e. Peter’s] teaching. In chapter 5, Peter alone rebuked Ananias and Saphira for their deception, and they died, but there was no pronouncement of doctrine here, no precedent-setting action (so that this kind of sentence continued to be pronounced by an individual). It was, so to speak, an isolated event, rich with implications, but with no new doctrinal revelations. In Acts 6, the problem of the alleged preferential treatment of certain widows was handled by the apostles collectively, and in such as way as to involve the whole church (6:2, 5).
When Peter was divinely directed to the house of Cornelius where he preached the gospel, it would seem the whole church (or at least a good representation from the church) was present when Peter made his defense, accompanied by the six men who went with him and witnessed the salvation of these Gentiles (Acts 11:12, 18). When the church at Antioch was born, the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to minister to these new believers (11:22). When the Holy Spirit designated Barnabas and Paul as missionaries to the Gentile nations, His will was made known to the church leaders who collectively laid hands on them and sent them out (13:1-4).
The salvation of a large number of Gentiles and the birth of predominantly Gentile churches brought a defensive reaction from the Jewish brethren, who were Pharisees and had not yet renounced this as Paul had done (see Philippians 3:1ff.)—they insisted that Gentile converts be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 5).77 The process by which the decision of the so-called “Jerusalem Council” was reached included the entire congregation (15:22). The advice given to Paul in Acts 21 was that of James and all the elders (21:18).
The principle of plurality is necessary because individuals are fallible. Plurality is also necessary because of what we might call God’s spiritual “separation of power.” Our government recognizes that the concentration of power in any one institution or in any one individual is dangerous, given the sinfulness of men. God has practiced this separation of powers in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, there were prophets, priests, and kings. In the New Testament, spiritual gifts are spiritual abilities (powers) to accomplish vital spiritual tasks in the body of Christ. No one possesses all the gifts. No one is given all the power.
The church is not a mere collection of individuals. It is the body of Christ. There is “wholeness” only as all of the individual members of the body of Christ are a functional part of the church:
14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both [groups into] one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, [which is] the Law of commandments [contained] in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, [thus] establishing peace (Ephesians 2:14-15, emphasis mine).
11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13, emphasis mine).
Even those who possess the same gifts and similar callings are not given “full power,” but power to perform a portion of the task our Lord gave to His entire church. No one member of the church should dare think of himself independently of the rest of the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-21). Even those with the same spiritual gift each have a unique calling and role to play (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
The principle of plurality applies not only within a local church but also outside the local church. No one local church is likely to have all the spiritual gifts necessary for the on-going of its ministry or for the spread of the gospel. God may well intend to edify our church through the ministry of someone from outside our flock. We need to be on guard against isolationism and unnecessary fear of those outside our local congregation.
The principle of plurality can be seen at work in the twelve apostles. Jesus did not choose one apostle, but twelve. He instructed them that they would continue the word He had begun. He indicated to His twelve disciples that they would remember and record His words. Just how many of the twelve wrote any New Testament epistle? Only Matthew and John. Together these men were responsible for writing six books. Mark, Luke, James, Jude, and Peter (and, if not one of these men, the unnamed author of Hebrews) wrote the remaining New Testament works. The non-writing apostles no doubt supplied information for those who did write, and they bore witness to the truth of what the others wrote (see 1 Corinthians 15:5-7).
Even those men whom God chose to author Scripture are inter-dependent on the other authors of Scripture. Any Scripture must be consistent with the prophets and with the teachings of our Lord and His apostles (2 Peter 3:2). Those who were chosen to write Scripture reveal not only what is consistent with earlier texts of Scripture, and the writings of their inspired contemporaries (e.g. Daniel and Jeremiah, Daniel 9:2; Peter and Paul, 2 Peter 3:15-16), but they were also privileged to reveal that which goes beyond the writings of the others and yet remains fully consistent with Scripture. Paul was given the privilege of revealing the mystery of Christ and His church (Ephesians 2 and 3; 5:32). Paul’s writings are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, but they must be considered in the context of the whole Bible. Biblical revelation is both progressive (sequentially revealed over a long period of time) and plural (multiple authors).
The principle of plurality applies not only to the origination of Scripture (authorship) but also to its recognition and interpretation. The author of Scripture claims or implies his epistle is divinely inspired and authoritative (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 14:37-38). But recognition of the inspiration and authority of any book of the Bible requires more than just the author’s claim. (Many cultists claim their works are the inspired “word from God.”) The inspiration and authority of Scripture is a process that involves plurality. Surely the fact that Peter endorsed Paul’s epistles as Scripture lends weight to their recognition as such by the church.
Not only is the recognition of a certain work of Scripture a matter for a plurality, but its interpretation also calls for plurality. Having already stated that no Scripture is a matter of private interpretation, he indicates it should carry the weight of the collective study and contemplation of the church (1 Peter 1:20-21). The church collectively embracing an interpretation gives much more weight to that interpretation.
(3) Closely related to the principle of plurality is the principle of accountability. We see the principle of plurality applied to leadership in the Scriptures, having already shown that God used a plurality of leaders in both the Old Testament and the New. In the New Testament, when but one leader is dominant, and exclusively followed, this is rebuked (1 Corinthians 1). Following but one leader leads to trouble. Often a leader who has been given singular power will fall into error and sin, for he is also often considered above and beyond rebuke. But even Peter was not above rebuke, and his words concerning Paul reflect the impact of Paul’s words of admonition and correction.
Occasionally, a Christian leader loses sight of the principles of plurality and accountability and may say, “I get my orders from God.” This very pious sounding statement flies in the very face of Scripture. Ultimately, we are accountable to God, and there are times when we must obey God rather than men. But God has so structured His church that He also speaks to a saint through other saints. Those who claim to get direct orders only from God may find the source of their “guidance” other than divine.
(4) Putting the principle of submission in perspective. Just as the principle of plurality means no one individual’s authority is absolute, no one’s submission is absolute either. How often I have seen a Christian wife fail to rebuke her husband for sin, as the Scriptures instruct her, because her husband is in authority over her. When the Scriptures instruct us to correct a brother or sister overtaken by a fault (see Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 15:14; Galatians 6:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14), this does not mean only our peers. It means anyone. Our final authority is the Word of God. We dare not ignore sin in the name of submission. Paul sought to submit himself to the church leaders in Jerusalem, but he did not hesitate to rebuke Peter when his actions were a denial of the gospel.
Here Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:1-3 come into focus, and here Paul’s obedience to the council given him in Acts 21 makes sense. We are all to obey our leaders, to be in submission to those in authority, so long as there is no contradiction to a clear biblical imperative or truth. But we are not told to accept everything a leader says or does simply because they are a leader. They should be biblically and doctrinally right. When they are, we should obey them if at all possible. But when they are biblically wrong, we should speak out against the error as we refuse to go along.
Some differences among Christians, especially in regard to their understanding of the Scriptures, are not matters of great eternal importance. Where the gospel or other fundamental doctrines are not compromised and Christian morality is not adversely affected, differences over minor areas of truth should not be allowed to divide or undermine Christian unity (see Romans 14; Philippians 3:15; Titus 3:9). May God give us a repentant heart when we are corrected and a gracious spirit toward those He uses to point out our sin, just as He gave Peter toward Paul.
75 We understand the “rock” on which the church is built to be the “Rock” of Peter’s confession, the fact that the Lord Jesus is God’s promised Messiah. But this was surely not clear to Peter or to the disciples at the time Jesus revealed it to them in Matthew 16. Thus, Peter no doubt understood the Lord’s words in a way which gave him hope of a prominent role in the kingdom of God. Did this in any way prompt James and John to seek the place of prominence at our Lord’s right and left hand (see Matthew 20:20-28)?
77 I am tempted to think these legalistic brethren were a bit hypocritical as they seem to have strongly insisted that the Gentile converts be circumcised in order to be saved when they were in Antioch. But when they stood before the church in Jerusalem, they toned down their demands, insisting only that it was necessary to be circumcised and to observe the Law of Moses. But it was not said that this was necessary for salvation, as had been previously demanded.