By Paul J. Casebolt
The apostle Peter said that in Pauls epistles there were “some things had to be understood” (2Peter 3:16)
I do not understand that Peter was paying Paul a “left-handed” compliment, and neither does Peter mean to discourage us from trying to understand divine revelation. He is simply stating some facts, and when we look at the context of his statements, it is easy to understand why some of Paul’s writings may be hard for some people to understand.
Peter had just made the statement that “the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (v. 15). In the earlier part of the chapter, Peter had been speaking of God’s longsuffering and how it could lead people to repentance and salvation. Consider the conditions under which Paul wrote on these things, including events which must precede the second coming of Christ.
At times, Paul had to explain the differences between the law of Moses and the law of Christ to fleshly Israelites who were rooted in traditions and customs which often contradicted the very law which they claimed to observe. They were so “high minded” because of the advantages which they had over the Gentiles, that they failed to benefit from those advantages (Rom. 3:1,2; 9:4,5). The Jew was so busy excluding the Gentile that he (the Jew) denied himself of those promises to be found in Christ and the gospel of the new covenant.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Gentile could not understand why God was longsuffering toward his people and suffered their manners through several instances of apostasy (cf. Jer. 50:7; Rom. 2:24). Neither could the Jew understand how that God’s longsuffering toward them should lead to the salvation of Gentiles, and ultimately to the salvation of the Jews themselves (Rom. 9:22-26).
The difficulty of the Jew to accept God’s longsuffering as a means of salvation for the Gentiles is seen in the objections of Peter’s Jewish brethren when he went to the Gen-tiles in Caesarea (Acts 11:1ff), in the objections at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15:5), and even in Peter’s own “dissimulation” (Gal. 2:12).
When Paul has to write through and around such prejudice and tradition, it is no wonder that some of his epistles may contain “things hard to be understood”not because the gospel is hard to understand, but it is hard to get it into hearts that are filled with prejudice and unbelief.
To the Jews who sought justification by the works of the law of Moses, it was hard to explain justification by faith not by faith only, but by an obedient faith which works by love. And it is still hard today to explain to souls steeped in the doctrines and commandments of men how that we can be saved by “grace through faith” and by works which make our faith perfect (Eph. 2:8-10; Jas. 2:14-26).
Circumstantial evidence may indicate that Paul is the author of the Hebrew epistle. But whether or not that is true, this epistle serves to explain why it is hard to explain some things to some people.
Concerning the priesthood of Christ, the writer said, “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11). The fault was not with the writer, but with the hearers. Jesus himself resorted to parables in his teaching because of blindness and hardness of heart (Matt. 13:13). I have no trouble explaining the joys and heartaches of a preacher to another preacher (or his family), but at times find it next to impossible to ex-plain those emotions to others.
And let us remember that Peter said there were “some things” hard to be understood, not all things. And the ones who wrested these things were unlearned and unstable readers who did the same thing with other Scriptures.
If we have an “honest and good heart” (Lk. 8:15), we can understand the “mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). And the more we “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of.. . Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18), the better we will understand.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14, p. 10
July 15, 1993