Braving Hard Passages and Godliness

When it comes to understanding Scripture, ignorance is not so much an aspect of intelligence, but rather an aspect of the heart.

Is this not what we see when Satan blinded all of humanity to God’s word? His temptation to Adam and Eve was to have them stand over and against God’s word, tempting them to know good and evil according to their own judgments, rather than submitting to God’s word. And in that fateful posture, what was the result? Paul tells us clearly: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Here our connection makes itself known again – a failure to understand God’s word is often due to our failure to stand under God’s word.

 

To rightly read and understand Scripture takes a fair share of mental energy. One should not and can not check his mind at the door while engaging with God’s revealed word. And thankfully there has been a resurgence within evangelicalism for thinking deeply about God’s word. This is essential and is in a large part what Place For Truth seeks to develop. But it strikes me as significant that when the Apostle Peter discusses how to read and understand Scripture, especially those passages which are harder to understand, his emphasis falls more on the persons life and walk, rather than on his mental capacity.

At the end of Peter’s second epistle, he comments briefly on the apostle Paul’s letters, writing that “there are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter admits that there are hard passages within the canon of God’s word. But notice how he labels those who misread and misapply these hard passages. Peter calls them ignorant and unstable.

To be ignorant is to not know, to not understand. Not only do the ignorant not know what’s being said, more than likely they don’t know how to understand what’s being said. And so, in ignorance, they twist the hard passage, distorting its meaning into something else entirely.

The emphasis though is not so much that the passage is hard to understand. No, for Peter, it’s that in ungodliness some people ignorantly get the passage wrong. We know that all Scripture is understandable. Paul tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). And this has to include those hard to understand passages, for they too are God-breathed Scripture!

But notice even here, that Paul connects an ability to teach Scripture with godliness! Teaching implies understanding because it’s only those who understand that can teach. And yet Paul makes the point that Scripture’s usefulness is only useful to those who are godly. Inherent within this connection is the idea of submission to God’s word; that a right understanding of God’s word presupposes standing under God’s word. Conversely then, we can say that a failure to rightly understand God’s word often implies a man seeking to stand over God’s word. If we connect this with Peter’s earlier statement, ignorance is not so much an aspect of intelligence, but rather an aspect of the heart.

Is this not what we see when Satan blinded all of humanity to God’s word? His temptation to Adam and Eve was to have them stand over and against God’s word, tempting them to know good and evil according to their own judgments, rather than submitting to God’s word. And in that fateful posture, what was the result? Paul tells us clearly: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Here our connection makes itself known again – a failure to understand God’s word is often due to our failure to stand under God’s word.

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