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Second Peter & Its Reference to Paul  

Let's Begin by Reading Second Peter 3:14-17

 

In the King James, this passage reads: 

14 Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless

15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood [in Greek, dysnoetas], which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. (2 Peter 3:15-17 KJV.)

 

Many suppose this supports Paul. However, it speaks several negatives:

1. This speaks of "brother" Paul, not "apostle Paul" in verse 15.

2. In the same verse, it says Paul spoke with "wisdom given unto him," not inspiration.

 

Thus, in the early church, when Paul is quoted, it is not "the Bible" tells us, or "Paul by the Holy Spirit said," as we incessantly are told today. Instead, in the early church, for example, Origen speaks differently that instead we "hear" Paul who "proclaims these things 'according to the wisdom given him in ministry'...," quoting Second Peter. This is Origen writing around 200 AD found in  Homolies on Genesis & Exodus, Book 8 (Editor Ronald Heine, 2010) page. 316.

 

What does Speaking by Wisdom Signify?

 

In the concept of holy scripture in the Bible that cannot be denied without making yourself an apostate, saying someone spoke by wisdom is the same as saying they did not speak by inspiration direct from God. You could not accept word-for-word what they were saying as true. In fact, in Jeremiah 34:11-22, we learn that unless one says "Yahweh says," we were to reject even what a prophet like Jeremiah commands. God commends the Rechabites for refusing to obey Jeremiah's commands that lacked any direct quote from God Yahweh.

 

What About Jesus? Why Must We Obey Him?

 

The only exception in the Bible is when God promised "the Prophet" would come, and we must "listen to" him, or otherwise be held "accountable" to Yahweh for disobeying "the Prophet." This is in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. Apostle Peter quotes this passage in Acts 3:22-23 in his second evangelical sermon, and says Jesus was "the prophet" of Deuteronomy 18. Peter says this means -- and we quote --God commands "you listen to everything [the Prophet] tells you." End of quote. See Peter 3:22-23, in particular verse 23. 

How would we know Jesus is The Prophet?

 

Well, Yahweh twice speaks over Jesus from Heaven in front of multiple witnesses calling him his "beloved Son" and says "listen to him." See for example Mark 9:7.

 

This "listen to him" statement by Yahweh over Jesus is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 18:15-19. This repeats the unique trait of The Prophet -- He alone speaks with constant inspiration because of this prior mark on Him directly upon him from Yahweh. 

 

Who Else Says Paul Spoke Only with Wisdom?

 

Likewise, Polycarp (born 69 AD, died 155 AD) talks about Paul only speaking with wisdom.

Who is Polycarp?

He was an early enthusiastic supporter of Paul's doctrines. However, listen in this famous quote whether inspiration or wisdom is the source of Paul's words - quote:

"For neither am I, nor is any other like unto me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who when he came among you taught face to face with the men of that day the word which concerneth truth carefully and surely; who also, when he was absent, wrote a letter unto you, into the which if ye look diligently, ye shall be able to be builded up unto the faith given to you...."

 

This quote is in the work by Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer entitled The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891) at page 178.

The same authors quote Polycarp as continuing, and saying that - we quote - "when absent, [Paul] wrote letters to them," and "if they studied them, they would find edification."  See page 593 of their 1885 edition.

Edification is what you can get from C.S. Lewis. Edification implies the person is not speaking by  inspiration, but solely by wisdom.

 

Please also note that Polycarp in the quote above says - we quote again -- that "he cannot follow" the wisdom of Paul.

 

What explains this deficiency in Paul's writings?

 

The answer comes from our third observation about this passage of 2 Peter 3:14-17. 

 

#3. In the KJV, it says Paul speaks sometimes things "hard to be understood." This is more correctly translated as that Paul speaks some "nonsensical" things or things "destructive of good sense." The Greek word is "dysnoetas." Let's see why by examining that word carefullly.

 

In Greek, dysnoetas has two parts -- the prefix DYS and the word NOETAS. To determine its meaning, you simply have to know the meaning and purpose of each part.

 

Liddell & Scott - renown and premier authors of a Greek dictionary say Dys as a prefix  means - we quote --

"always [understood] with the notion of hard, bad, unlucky, etc., ... destroying the good sense of a word, or increasing its bad sense." 

 

This quote can be found at page 336, column two, top third, in their 1883 dictionary at this page link . 

Hence, we know at the outset that such a word as dysnoetas is intended in a pejorative sense. It has a negative uncomplimentary sense. Think for example of the word utopia - an ideal place, versus a dystopia -- a nightmarish world where one endures great suffering or injustice, typically such as a totalitarian world. See the definition at this link.

 

Then the conjoined word is NOETAS. It means SENSIBLE. See Francis E. Peter, Greek Philosophical Terms: An Historical Lexicon(1967) at 130 ("logoi noeton" = "sensible things"); 128 (noeton = "intelligible") Cf. NOETA = thought. 

 

Hence, DYSNOETAS means "nonsensical thoughts" or "unintelligible thoughts" to reflect that the writer lacks any sense to what he or she is writing.

 

What does that mean?

 

The problem is that writer's words simply don't make any good sense. They defy common sense.

 

Thus, it is clear the problem begins with Paul's fault by the word DYSNOETAS used by Apostle Peter, according to its traditional authorship.  Some of Paul's writings -- not all -- are said to suffer from DYSNOETAS.

 

What does that convey in English?

 

Well, the English translation as "difficult to understand" is ambiguous. Had Peter spoke in English, such words could support that the fault is solely our own, namely that we are not wise enough or knowledgeable enough to understand. But that is not what the Greek is conveying. In the Greek, if the reader misunderstands, the mistake began at least initially with the writer. The writer wrote in words destructive of good sense; they make bad sense; etc.

 

Hence, Second Peter is a criticism of Paul's content - his writing is sometimes lacking sense, with grave consequences -- a "lawless" life (2 Peter 3:17 NIV "lawless") and personal "destruction" of Paul's reader who gullibly reads what Paul writes. (More on that in a moment.) The English translation of "difficult to understand" is therefore incomplete, and potentially misleading. It lacks the full weight of the intended meaning of the word DYSNOETAS.

 

This is underscored because then Second Peter identifies a fault in the readers who do not know better when reading Paul. Second Peter then blames the readers in part for having an unstable ignorance. In other words, they are gullible, credulous, and not questioning what Paul means on the surface, etc. This proves again the meaning DYSNOETAS is Paul's fault. The reader's fault is they they are not "steadfast" in Christ's words, and fall into "lawlessness" -- the NIV correctly rendering "lawless" in 2 Pete 3:17 as what Peter says is where gullible readers end up, on the road to "destruction" -- again Peter's word, not mine. 

 

Of what were the readers ignorant and unstable about in particular?

 

In context, Peter likely means they are ignorant of Jesus' words about righteous law-abiding living where confessing Jesus as Lord is not enough.  Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 say many will call him "Lord, Lord" -- but work "anomia" - a Greek word meaning  law-lessness / negator of the  Law, but Jesus will say "I never knew you" -- in obvious disgust. Just like Jesus says in Revelation 3:1-3 that He will "spew out" of his mouth those Christians who have had "lukewarm works" at the judgment. For more on Anomia, see this link. For more on Revelation 3:1-3, see this link.

 

By contrast, Paul in Romans directly contradicts Jesus, saying - we quote -- you "shall be saved" if you "confess him as Lord with your mouth, and believing...God raised him from the dead." Paul clearly says that alone - quote - "shall save you." (Romans 10:9 NKJV) However, this makes no sense. It can only prevail by the ignorance of the reader not knowing Jesus says the opposite. Jesus says calling Him Lord, Lord, but working lawlessness -- such as trusting faith alone in facts about Jesus' resurrection and thereby wallowing in lukewarm works -- is the direct road to rejection, not salvation.

 

Second Peter then correctly says this error of the reader of Paul leads them to accept Paul's sometimes nonsensical words, and adopt "lawless" principles. Then Second Peter says this is "to their own destruction," and thereby lose their "steadfastness" in Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18.) 

 

However, had they not been ignorant, such as being familiar with passages like Matthew 7:21-23, they would not have been misled into a life of "lawless" principles, and "destruction" in how they understood Paul's sometimes DSYNOETAS.  

 

Where can other Christian writings in Greek help prove the meaning of dysnoetas?

 

The Greek word dysnoetas was used to mean "nonsense" by another Christian early writer -- Lucian -- referring to a false prophet. Luciean said this false prophet replied to Lucian's inquiries with multiple responses which Lucian said were -- we quote "silly and nonsensical" -- dysnoetas -- every one." See Lucian's work Alexander the False Prophet, para. 54.

 

Then Who Is to Blame for Paul's Dysnoetas?

 

Peter thus lays at Paul's feet PART OF THE BLAME for the loss of stedfastness in Christ and falling into a lawless and destructive life of error. 

 

Second Peter explains this clearly. It says that many construe Paul's DYSNOETAS -- nonsense -- in his writings to support the "error of the lawless" and thereby "fall away from their steadfastness in Christ." (2 Peter 3:18.) These LISTENERS are criticized for a different fault than Paul's fault; the listeners' fault which leads them away from Christ's teaching when reading Paul's writings is they are "ignorant and unstable," and this results in them "perverting" the truth to support "lawless" teaching to their own "destruction."  

Why did these listeners to Paul end up there? What exactly is their contributing fault? For being "unlearned" and "unstable" -- they are not firmly rooted in Jesus' words. For had they been STABLE, and STUDIED Jesus' words -- "stedfast in Christ" as Peter explains, Paul's nonsensical words would not have thrown them off, causing them to lose their "steadfastness in Christ." Hence, Paul's words contribute to their loss of salvation, but Peter's message is we can protect ourselves from Paul's "nonsense" by not being "ignorant" or "unstable." Instead, Peter implies we must endeavor with a greater effort than these destroyed brothers to keep "stedfast" in Christ - obviously remaining in Jesus' teachings. This will protect us from Paul's “sometimes” nonsense.   

 

Earlier Paulinists Knew Dysnoetas Was Bad.

 

Prior to the KJV downplaying DYSNOETAS in English translation, the reformers knew the meaning. They rejected Second Peter. For the negative analysis above on what DYSNOETAS means was effectively first brought forth by Calvin, one of the founders of the Reformation at Geneva. Calvin did so in a famous and blunt way.

 

I have had Calvin's discussion set forth below in this online article on 2 Peter 3:16 for over eleven years now. See link to discussion below. Calvin in the 1500s saw Second Peter as highly critical of Paul in saying some of Paul's writings are DYSNOETAS. Calvin concluded that Second Peter 3:16-17 was an anti-Paul remark and this alone justified rejecting Second Peter as canonical. Calvin explained that Apostle Peter would never speak this way about Paul's writings, i.e., calling them DYSNOETAS, and hence Calvin concluded that Second Peter was not authentically written or reviewed by Apostle Peter.

Now we move to our fourth observation about Second Peter 3:1-47.

#4. Paul is lowered not raised by equating him with "other graphe" -- other writings. It is not the term "holy writings," which is how Paul himself referred to an inspired writing unless "writings" in context clearly referred to a passage in the Law or prophets.

Non-inspired writings are simply called graphe in the Bible unless the context implies a reference to the Law or Prophets. Paul is thus equated by Second Peter with non-inspired writings, as Second Peter makes no implied reference to the Law or Prophets. It is a modern phenomenon that we hear the word writing when given as the capitalized synonymn Scripture, and we imply into it Holy Scripture -- a meaning far removed from Second Peter's intent. This is more fully explained below.

 

5. The unstable "wrest" from Paul's "nonsensical" writings an "error" which the "lawless" (Greek, athesmon) prefer, and thereby fall from their "steadfastness" in Christ. This is all toned down by translators. Yet, we can find it under the covers by using an interlinear Greek New Testament, and double-checking the key words.

 

Second Peter 2:18-22 Earlier Describes Paulinism In Veiled Terms As A Teaching of Nonsense

 

Then when #5 is read together with Second Peter's critique in chapter 2,  verses 18-22, about "false teachers" who for gain "arrogantly use nonsense," it is clear Paul and his followers are included in this earlier description. Listen intently. We quote:

18 They arrogantly use nonsense [Greek, mataiot?tos, synonymn to dysnoetas] to seduce people by appealing to their sexual desires, especially to sexual freedom. They seduce people who have just escaped from those who live in error. 19 They promise these people freedom, but they themselves are slaves to corruption. A person is a slave to whatever he gives in to.

20 People can know our Lord and Savior Yeshua Christ and escape the world’s filth. But if they get involved in this filth again and give in to it, they are worse off than they were before. 21 It would have been better for them never to have known the way of life that God approves of than to know it and turn their backs on the holy life God told them to live. 22 These proverbs have come true for them: “A dog goes back to its vomit,” and “A sow that has been washed goes back to roll around in the mud.” (Names of God Bible, 2 Peter 2:18-22.)

Second Peter in chapter two is clearly saying ones who knew Christ and thereby escaped the world's filth were promised freedom from legal constraints on behavior by false teachers who "arrogantly used nonsense." Now they have been duped by this false promise, and are worse off than when they did not yet know Christ, and had thereby escaped the world and been washed clean of sin. This is because their disobedience - given license by the false teachers who speak nonsense -- has led them to return to their filfth and vomit.

 

Don Flemming comments on 2 Peter 2 in a very telling way in his highly regarded commentary - the AMG Concise Bible Commentary (Chatanooga, Tennessee, 1994). He writes:

 

"In it, he [Peter] opposed the false teachers who claimed that faith was not related to behavior, and therefore immoral practices were not wrong for those with higher spiritual knowledge."

 

More precisely, Flemming means these teachers said immoral practices had no serious risk of loss of salvation for those with "faith" -- the higher spiritual knowledge. This is Paul's doctrine in many places, such as 1 Corinthians 8:7-8.

 

Second Peter 2 and 3 Are Anti-Paul, not Pro-Paul

 

Second Peter thus presents a subtle yet obvious highly negative picture of Paul, not a positive one. One has to lift completely out of context the word "scripture" in 2 Peter 3:17, and then improperly spin it to ignore or discount these multiple negatives.

The Argument for Paul from 2 Peter 3:15-17

 

Those who seek to claim Paul is as inspired as Moses or Jesus rely upon 2 Peter 3:15-17 which says some twist Paul like they "do other Scripture" to their destruction. The same passage is otherwise very unflattering to Paul -- first denigrating his writings which the KJV translates as "difficult to understand" but using the Greek word "dysnoetas." As mentioned above, this is a term used as ridicule meaning "nonsensical."  As noted above, in the same pattern of denigrating Paul, Second Peter continues, calling  Paul a "brother" (not an apostle) who had "wisdom as God gave him" (rather than inspiration).

 

These multiple negatives make it very hard for those who wish to rely upon the "other Scripture" reference as a positive to accept Second Peter as entirely inspired. Hence, at least one -- Calvin -- who knew what dysnoetas really meant -- rejected Second Peter as authentic for using this term in reference to Paul's writings. (We discuss in depth next.) Moreover, those who rely upon the 'other scripture' reference also read far too much into this as a supposed positive, as we shall see.

 

Is Second Peter Truly Canonical? And Why Did Calvin Reject Second Peter?

 

The first question is whether anyone, including those endorsing Paul or those disputing Paul's validity (as myself) can truly rely upon 2 Peter 3:15-17 as inspired writ. The oldest voice on the issue was Eusebius -- speaking in the fourth century A.D. He was part of Constantine's Roman church that was extremely pro-Paul because Paul gave verses that could do away with Jewish traditions. So there is some possible bias by Eusebius' church (not Eusebius himself) to shield Paul from Second Peter. He was writing in the early 300s, as the orthodox historian, and said:

 

"One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. But we have learned that his extant second epistle, does not belong to the canon. Yet as it has appeared profitable, it has been used with the other scriptures." (Eusebius, History of the Church 3:3:1, in Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. I at 254.)

 

Similarly, Calvin, one of the leaders of the Reformation of the 1500s at Geneva, disliked Second Peter's criticism of Paul. For this reason Calvin concluded it could not have been written by Peter, as mentioned above.

 

Calvin regarded the fault Peter found about Paul as DYSNOETAS in 2 Peter 3:15-17 outweighed any positives stated by Second Peter. The words attributed to Peter implies, as the Bethel Church of God explains:

 

Based on the above texts, as well as others, there is only one way to understand Paul’s Epistles. They must be interpreted by the clear texts in the Bible, texts that are not difficult to understand. ("Understanding Paul," Bethel Church of God (2012).)

 

Thus, Calvin disliked this implication because it means to interpret Paul, you must begin by excluding Paul from consideration. You would then have to start with Jesus and the apostles whose words are clear, and only then would you see how and to what extent Paul is compatible. Then if Paul's words are at odds with Jesus or the apostles, then one must dismiss those words of Paul as DYSNOETAS.  Paul would become essentially irrelevant if we heeded 2d Peter 3:15-17.

 

But Calvin adored the doctrines he found in Paul of predestination of the lost, sovereignty of God over evil (i.e., God makes all evil happen and no man has free will), and once you experienced regeneration, you could commit no sin that would cause the loss of salvation ("once in grace, always in grace"). Most of those doctrines can only be articulated from Paul's teachings.

 

Calvin acknowledged therefore that if Peter truly criticized Paul as DYSNOETS  this undercuts Paul's inspiration and anyone's right to meaningfully use Paul to interpret Christianity. Calvin realized Second Peter is a profound and deep cut on Paul. Thus, Calvin concluded Second Peter was not written personally by Peter, relying principally on this issue of the criticism Second Peter contains of Paul.

 

Calvin's introductory comment to 2d Peter is at thislink. Calvin says - we quote - "doubts...ought not keep us from reading it...." "there are probable conjectures by which we may conclude that it was written by another than Peter." Calvin continues, and we quote: "If it be received as canonical, we must allow Peter to be the author."

 

However, in this introduction, Calvin never tells us it is canonical. This is because he later disaffirms any true apostolic support for its supposed inspiration.

 

When it comes to the key passage that says Paul sometimes writes things DSYNOETAS, Calvin disaffirms the entire Epistle was written by Peter. Calvin writes:

 

And yet, when I examine all things more narrowly, it seems to me more probable that this Epistle was composed by another according to what Peter communicated, than that it was written by himself, for Peter himself would have never spoken thus. (Bible Study Guide.)

 

Barclay Also Realized Second Peter Intriguingly Critizes Paul

 

The importance of Calvin's comment is explained by the famous William Barclay.  He records that in the commentary, Calvin recognized 2d Peter criticizes Paul, and thus Calvin finally came down with the view that Peter did not write this epistle:

 

"With its reference to Paul and its tinge of criticizm of him, this is one of the most intriguing passages in the New Testament. It was this passage which made reformer John Calvin certain that Peter did not write himself 2 Peter because, he says, Peter would not have spoken about Paul like this." (William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Westminster, John Knox Press, 2003) at 401.)

 From all this, our conclusion is as follows  --

 

Second Peter Clearly Contains Several Put-Downs of Paul

 

So if Second Peter is inspired, it conveys several direct criticisms / subtle put-downs about Paul. And 2d Peter's anti-Paul slant is precisely the primary reason why Calvin did not accept 2d Peter as actually written by Peter.  It supposedly got garbled somehow. 

 

Thus, whoever wrote Second Peter, the author was sending us strong caution about Paul's writings. By our reading Paul's words gullibly and ignorant of Jesus' words, we can easily be carried away with the lawless into a life of error and destruction, and lose our steadfastness in Christ.

 

Hence, Second Peter is truly one of the most negative works in the New Testament about whether Paul's writing are even edifying. They are dangerous to read ignorantly and as one not firmly rooted in Jesus' words because sometimes - not always - Paul's writings are DYSNOETAS. Meaning, nonsensical.