Peter concludes his remarks on the coming Day of the Lord noting that their “dear friend Paul” had written that God’s patience provides people additional time in which they may accept salvation. Then he added the oft-quoted line that Paul had written a number of things that were “hard to understand” and that the “ignorant and unstable” are distorting them to their own destruction. This kind of distortion has continued from the day of the apostles until the present hour.
The Greek word translated “distort” was originally used in reference to the tightening of a cable with a windlass. In our text it describes the straining and twisting of words in order to produce a desired meaning. So it has been from the beginning. What God has stated through the inspired writers is so often adjusted to express what the speaker would like it to say. The most ludicrous example I know of is that the word “become” in John 1:12 (“but to as many as believed he gave the power to become the children of God”) should be understood in the sense of “having an attractive appearance” – that is, if you believe you have the power to become more attractive.
Words are important. They are not isolated objects that we arrange in different orders so as to communicate some specific thought. They are part of the verbal method for communication. They “mean” exactly what the speaker or author intended when he used them. To understand a word or sentence correctly one has to consider context, intention, whether or not they should be taken as satire, etc. Because words are flexible, correct understanding calls for a genuine desire to understand. In Peter’s final chapter he is dealing with eschatology and that is where words have been twisted in support of many strange ideas about the future. There is a wider point of view in the church regarding the second coming of Christ than of any other doctrine. The book of Revelation and what it says about the future has been vandalized by misguided experts more than any other section of scripture. If Paul has been misunderstood by the “ignorant and unstable” I would like to argue that John (in the Apocalypse) has even more.
The seriousness of verbal adjustment for personal reasons is especially disturbing in biblical interpretation because scripture is God himself speaking through inspired channels. The very fact that it is God himself who speaks to us through his word calls for us to do our prayerful and intellectual best to understand what he is saying, not what we would like to believe.