Edification Does Not Require Intelligibility (Part 2)

Following up on a prior post in the same vein, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Peter. A fisherman from Galilee who walked with our Lord, the master teacher, for 3 years. Peter was with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration and preached at Pentecost. Yet with these overflowing credentials Peter proclaims that the Apostle Paul, an Apostle born out of due time and least among the Apostles, has put forward things hard to be understood.

The Apostle Peter writes in his second epistle,

“And also in all his [Paul’s] 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 3:16

As I noted in my prior post, Mark Ward is fond of saying that “Edification requires intelligibility.” I went on to point out that “intelligible” means, “able to be understood.” Here the Apostle Peter by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit proclaims that the Apostle Paul writes things that are “hard to be understood.” And what is Peter’s critique of these “hard to be understood” things?

Albert Barnes observes in his Notes on the Whole Bible,

“Things pertaining to high and difficult subjects, and which are not easy to be comprehended. Peter does not call in question the truth of what Paul had written; he does not intimate that he himself would differ from him. His language is rather that which a man would use who regarded the writings to which he referred as true, and what he says here is an honorable testimony to the authority of Paul.”

Albert Barnes, Notes on the Whole Bible, 2 Peter 3:16.

Barnes begins by pointing out what Peter is not doing. Peter is not questioning Paul’s words though He is eminently capable of choosing different words. Nor is Peter employing his office as an Apostle to withstand Paul to the face because, “Edification requires intelligibility and sometimes Paul is unintelligible to people.” Seeing that 1 Corinthians is currently regarded as one of the earliest if not the earliest written book of the NT, Peter could have said, “Paul in your first letter to the Corinthian Church, you said ‘except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken [14:9]?’ And now here you are writing things hard to be understood even by me. Paul, you are doing the very thing you tell other people not to do.'”

This would have been the perfect time for Peter to withstand Paul to the face for contradicting his own message to the fledgling church. Paul declares himself to speak in tongues more than all in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:18) and commands that people speaking in tongues ought speak words “easy to be understood” (1 Cor. 14:9). Yet, according to Peter, he [Paul] insists on writing things hard to be understood (2 Peter 3:16).

So Ward has either got to run with the idea that Paul is contradicting his own command in inspired Scripture or he is going to need to nuance his position a bit more. Maybe something like, Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 is talking about foreign languages via the sign gifts and Peter is talking about things that will need study and with that study understanding will come. The former talks about unlearned foreign languages and the latter is things you need to learn in your own language or through a teacher.

So when TR/KJV folks encourage their brothers in Christ to study, read, get the dictionary out, get out the lexicon, and use the online study helps, are they not simply falling in line with the Apostle Peter here? This won’t be the first time you will need study helps. In fact, the brightest and most able among us still use study helps in understanding the Bible. You know why? Because some places in Scripture are hard to be understood.

Indeed, as Barnes points out,

“… those portions of the writings of Paul, for anything that appears to the contrary, are just as ‘hard to be understood’ now.”

Albert Barnes, Notes on the Whole Bible, 2 Peter 3:16.

Peter goes on to tell us what happens when certain people, certain unlearned and unstable people come in contact with Paul’s hard to be understood writings. That is, Peter tells us that the unlearned and unstable twist, contort, and torture the words of Paul. Who exactly are the unlearned? The word Peter uses ἀμαθής means “ignorant”, or those who cannot or will not learn. How about the unstable? Who are they? Peter uses the word ἀστήρικτος meaning those who are not established in the faith, who lack proper moorings.

So those who will not or cannot learn and also those who lack proper moorings in the faith, take Paul’s hard to be understood words, and wrest, twist, and torture them. What again is Peter’s response? Does he call Paul to change his words for the sake of the unlearned and unstable? Does he exhort Paul to be consistent with his command in 1 Corinthians 14? Wouldn’t it better if Paul would simply use more easily understood words? I mean, doesn’t he know that he is speaking to the poor, the wretched, and the slave of the region? How many of Paul’s recipients in Corinth or Galatia or Philippi were steeped in Jewish ritual and tradition or had Paul’s education and upbringing? Even the Apostle Peter who walked with the Lord for three years calls Paul’s writings hard to be understood, how much more so a temple prostitute in Ephesus, and yet Paul persists in his hard-to-be-understood writing.

In sum, 1.) simply because something is hard to be understood does not mean it needs to be changed or abandoned. Rather, for the Apostles Peter and Paul, the expectation was that the reader, the Christian would change which is exactly what we have been saying. Study not only to grow in your theological education but to grow in your literary, grammatical, syntactical, and linguistic education as well. 2.) As it currently stands, Mark Ward’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:9 seems to give rise to a contradiction in Scripture via 2 Peter 3:16. In the former Paul commands things easy to be understood and in the latter Peter observes that Paul goes against that command by offering things that are hard to be understood.

In conclusion, I leave you with words from the Westminster Confession 1.7,

“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear to all.”

Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.7.

If Ward is going to start calling himself a Reformed Baptist, he may need to brush up on the Perspicuity of Scripture and its relationship to intelligibility and edification.

For the Church, whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. So read, study, and investigate the Scriptures with all your might. Some of your study will be hard, but the fruit of that labor will satisfy your very soul. Beyond that, the blessing and unity resulting from a standard sacred text among the English-speaking church far outweighs the difficulties we all face from time to time in the study of God’s word.

5 thoughts on “Edification Does Not Require Intelligibility (Part 2)

  1. I’ve been studying John 16. The Lord Jesus spoke to the disciples in “proverbs”, but promised he would speak more plainly in the future. Later in the passage, the disciples implored Jesus to speak more plainly. Where do we get the idea that we are entitled to have all scriptural truths delivered to us on a platter?

    Even with a completed Bible in hand, I struggle to understand some parts of the scriptures. But I derive much pleasure in meditating on it, and especially in those moments when a previously obscure truth suddenly becomes plain.

    I found my way here through Kent Brandenburg’s blog. It has been very edifying. Thanks for writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Chris. I totally agree. Indeed, meditating on the Scritpures is essential to Christian growth. Meditating often entails that there is kernel to be grasped which is not immediately recognizable to a given person’s heart and mind. Yet in the very act of meditation, even before one arrives at that kernel, is itself edification.


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