“Paul’s Epistles”—an admittedly ambitious title. What could be said about Paul’s epistles in the aggregate in these few paragraphs that would be worth saying?* The reality is that the Apostle Peter mentioned Paul’s epistles in a much briefer space than occurs here. That fact alone is noteworthy. No other New Testament writer received inspired comments from any other New Testament writer. And that Peter’s comments include a sort of admission by the ostensible leader of the twelve apostles should provoke us to take special note. Here are the Apostle Peter’s comments.
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, 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 (2 Pet. 3:15, 16).
1. Paul’s letters began circulating widely almost immediately. Paul was martyred by Nero no later than A.D. 67. Peter’s second epistle was penned no later than A.D. 68, perhaps only a year after Paul had written his last epistle, Second Timothy. Yet, already, Peter could speak of “all his letters” and his familiarity with their contents. This is a testament to the almost immediate and nearly universal recognition of the value and importance of the words Paul had penned.
2. Peter acknowledged that Paul’s epistles were inspired. It is remarkable and cannot be overemphasized that when Peter spoke of Paul’s letters as being distorted by some “as they do the rest of the Scripture,” he is testifying to his understanding that Paul’s preserved writings are bona fide parts of the eternal, God-breathed Scripture. They were pronounced to be the Word of God from the outset. God was careful to establish the authenticity of Paul’s writings from the very beginning of the New Testament church.
3. Paul’s epistles contain things that are difficult to understand. Peter admits that “some things” Paul wrote are hard to understand. Certainly not everything. The gospel, for example, is so plain and simple that a young child can grasp the essential truths recorded by Paul and be saved. But aspects of God’s character and work so thoroughly transcend our finite understanding that we cannot grasp their full meaning or significance—a fact that should provoke meditation and study, not frustration. And a fact that should cause rejoicing that we have a God who is infinitely superior to our little minds.
4. The untaught and unstable distort the Word of God given through Paul. In other words, Satan recognizes the special value of Paul’s inspired words and persistently seeks to undermine their authority by raising up false teachers who distort (a word used to describe the action of an instrument of torture) the truth found in Paul’s epistles. And although it is true that satanically-led false teachers may distort all Scripture, the critical value of Paul’s teaching makes it their special target. We must be wary.
5. Peter acknowledged Paul to be his “beloved brother.” Much of Christendom praises the gospels (properly so) while ignoring, if not condemning, Paul’s message. In doing so, they have Peter to contend with. Though at one point, Paul “opposed . . . [Peter] to his face” (Gal. 2:11), Peter loved Paul both for his righteous stand and his inspired words. A Christian who does not love Paul (i.e., his epistles) is a Christian in name only—regardless of how strongly he professes to love the Lord and the gospels.
We must read, study, and meditate on Paul’s portions of the inspired Word of God.
*I am indebted to a message by Charles Swindoll for some of the thoughts expressed here.
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