Tim Gouw (2016), public domain

Anyone who has spent time in the pages of the Bible knows that there are tricky passages between the covers. This can be discouraging, especially for those who are new to Bible study. Some have walked away from the Bible for this very reason.

One of the marvelous things about the Bible is that in it, God speaks to many of the challenges we face—including difficult passages in the Bible itself. We will look at one such section of Scripture in this article.

Hard Passages Exist

It’s nice to have Scripture confirm our suspicions—there are passages in the Bible that are hard to understand! Take it from the pen of the apostle Peter.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. 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 3:15–16)

It seems Peter had trouble understanding some of Paul’s writings. He wanted his friends to know that if they felt stumped by Paul, they were not alone.

Some portions of the Bible are gloriously clear (if not easy to obey), and other parts are not. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the Bible or its readers, just that the communication of divine truth is sometimes a challenge. We should not be frustrated when we run across difficulties in our Bible study. Saints have had similar challenges stretching all the way back to the apostles.

Twisting Hard Passages

Peter writes plainly about what some people do with these difficult passages. The “ignorant and unstable twist [them] to their own destruction.”

Those who are unstable will twist these difficult passages, and their interpretations and conclusions will be damaging. Think about how serious that is: Twisted interpretations can destroy. Before taking up positions of defense and warning, we should pause and pray for those who use the Bible this way. They deserve our compassion, as they are headed down a chilling road to a horrible end.

Not everyone who comes to the Bible does so with pure motives. Peter warns us especially of those who are ignorant (those who lack familiarity or experience in the faith) or unstable (lacking a foundation, easily jostled or disturbed). Christians should be watchful regarding confusing or challenging passages that they are not led astray by efforts to turn people away from the truth.

Take Care

Peter warns his readers, as “beloved” brothers and sisters, to “take care.” You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. (2 Peter 3:17)

Peter’s caution is valuable information. When we know a road contains potholes, we can drive slowly and carefully or take an alternate route.

This error of twisting Scripture to evil ends can sweep people along like a racing river. These lawless people have a contagious instability—those who are settled and secure can find themselves unsteady and off balance. Peter’s alert here follows earlier warnings in the same chapter about “scoffers” who doubt the promises of God and “overlook” plain facts about creation and the flood (2 Peter 3:3–6).

It’s natural to ask how Christians should “take care” to avoid this disaster. Peter anticipates and answers that question.

Growth in Christ

Peter gives broad instruction to avoid being carried away in controversy, speculation, and error.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

To combat twisted Scriptures, grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Understand his promises and his work for you; bathe in the good news of the gospel of his kingdom. Pursue him as Lord and Savior and Christ, and know that you are not alone—he is “our” Lord.

Jesus deserves glory now and to the day of eternity. The final chapter of Peter’s letter overflows with references to the “day of the Lord” and the “heavenly bodies” being “burned up and dissolved” (2 Peter 3:10). The great upheaval that is coming is a problem for those who are unstable, but those who know the promise-maker are “waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

Remember the Patience of the Lord

The context of this brief word about hard-to-understand passages is a larger section about the patience of the Lord. Peter tells his readers to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). God is not slow to keep his promises, but rather he is “patient toward you” (2 Peter 3:9).

Doesn’t this make all the difference? The God of the universe is patient. Not only patient in general, but patient toward you! We should labor mightily to understand his word, but when we come across something confusing, we need not rush or panic. He knows our frame (Psalm 103:14); he is patient toward his children.

Ryan Higginbottom
Knowable Word