Second Epistle of Peter
PETER, SECOND EPISTLE OF. The second epistle of Peter is markedly different in tone and style from all of the other epistles except Jude. It is beset by many difficult problems of interpretation and contains obscure and disconnected allusions to other writings. Since it includes no historical or geographical references unattainable elsewhere, there is little evidence of its precise place in the apostolic lit. Few NT documents have been a center of so much persistent controversy over the authenticity and authorship as 2 Peter.
This epistle is a personal message from the aged apostle who was about to finish his career. He warned the young churches under his charge about his own approaching death and the imminence of Christ’s return. In the face of these eventualities, Christians were exhorted against being corrupted by heretical teachings and falling into error. The chief concern of this epistle, not unlike the latter epistles of Paul and those of James and Jude, was heresy.
In critical discussions the basic coherence of the epistle often is questioned. A variety of ancient texts have been proposed as possible sources of the teachings of the book. Attempts have been made to determine by internal evidence certain subordinate documents within the whole. These are said to be a Petrine tradition called “P,” and a collection of later additions denoted “E.” This is the same sort of methodology that long has been associated with unsuccessful attempts to isolate the origins of the OT. Any efforts to locate such sources within an epistle of such short length and compactness are subjective and specious from the beginning. In this “search,” however, the works, Second Clement, The , The and even the writings of Josephus and Philo all have had their adherents as influences on 2 Peter. If it is remembered that the epistle is an intensely personal reminder by the apostle to his converts, then its reiterative and disorganized style is easily explained. The mood of the epistle is severe but triumphant, as it seeks to compel faith in the final triumph of God’s will and the ultimate glorification of God’s people.
The date of the epistle must be set between the writing of the first set of apostolic epistles and the death of Peter. If, however, the Petrine authorship is summarily dismissed, then the date is irrelevant and any chronological niche will be sufficient. The evidence supports the Petrine authorship, which could have occurred shortly before Peter’s death. Eusebius places Peter’s martyrdom in Rome during the period of Nero’s persecution (a.d. 64-68). If this were indeed a prison epistle written during the apostle’s last incarceration, then its distribution would be limited. This might account for its extremely late arrival in the Eastern empire. As with the book of Jude (q.v.), the epistle of 2 Peter includes references to the angelology characteristic of late Jewish works of the time of the Rom. destruction under Titus, in a.d. 70. The date of a.d. 67-68 seems to fit all these aspects most completely.
Place of origin.
The tradition that Peter was imprisoned in Rome and thereafter slain under Nero’s orders is central to the Caesaropapism of the medieval world view. Eusebius recounts several traditions associating Peter and Paul with Rome and claiming that they were buried there after preaching the Gospel in Corinth and Italy. Peter’s oblique reference to his own death (
Destination and readers.
The destination and readers of this second epistle must have been the same as those of the first epistle in the light of
The Church and its leaders were being persecuted from without and subverted from within. Influenced by the many syncretistic cults that had come into the Rom. world from farther E, the Judaizers sought a common ground between the legalistic Pharisaic tradition and the Gospel of Christ. Against this heresy, Peter in his first letter directed his careful statements concerning the relationship between the Old and New covenants. In 2 Peter, on the other hand, none of these directions are noticeable, nor are any anti-Judaizing arguments presented. In their place are farreaching invectives and imprecations taken from the OT and directed against the overt moral laxity and iniquity of the false teachers. In this respect 2 Peter is closest to Jude. This change in theme indicates a change in the historical situation. The decline of the post-Augustan era was already being felt in the Rom. colonies. With the breakdown in external political control came a decline and dissolution in public morals. Antinomianism in the name of Christian liberty endangered the purity of the Biblical message. The apostle directed his readers to this new threat. Magic and astrology were prevalent in the Hel. age, and the evangelical doctrine of the Secondwas easily just another mystical notion drawn into the general apocalyptic mood of the oriental cults. Peter aimed to strengthen faith through proper teaching upon the subject. The readers must consider the parousia as an historic fulfillment of the progress of God’s plan and not simply another crystal ball by which men could know the future for personal, selfish gain. The must be grasped in its historical meaning and in its assurance of hope for the Christian.
The purpose of 2 Peter is to warn, encourage, and instruct the churches to meet the new challenges that a later age would thrust upon them. The focus of the apostle’s attention is the Church. The epistle is not an evangelizing document as the gospel narratives were intended. It is an edifying personal letter seeking to secure the Christian’s resolve in the face of troubles. In accomplishing his purpose, the author covered a number of points of doctrine, simply mentioning some in passing and reiterating and reviewing others, but discussing none in detail. There is almost nothing that is completely unique to this work. Unlike 1 Peter, which is more in the doctrinal treatise tradition of the major Pauline epistles, 2 Peter relies on arguments, at times appealing to the OT in indirect fashion and at times to the author’s career and personal assurance of his experience (
Relationship to 1 Peter.
The differences in style and vocabulary that can be demonstrated between 1 and 2 Peter are fully explicable in view of the differences in theme and purpose. The many likenesses in detail between the two often are overlooked by critics. Although there are 599 divergent readings in the lexica of the two books, there are one hundred agreements along with a few terms that are used only in the two Petrine epistles. Some terms appear in the gospel and epistulary texts of the NT and 2 Peter but not in 1 Peter; thus
Relationship to Jude and the Pauline epistles.
Out of the twenty-five vv. in the short epistle written by Jude (q.v.), nineteen are reiterated in some fashion in 2 Peter. Literary borrowing and primacy has been a longstanding issue. Widespread heresy of that period prompted similar responses from various apostles and other church leaders; therefore a common core of apologetic lit. developed. This can account for the duplication of content in 2 Peter and Jude. Jude is prior since it has fuller and more complete renderings of the OT phrases quoted. Jude, however, lacks the personal reminiscences of the gospel accounts common to 1 Peter and found twice in 2 Peter (
The argument of 2 Peter depended ultimately on the authenticity of its authorship; therefore, Peter distinguished himself in the prologue even more exactly than in 1 Peter and reinforced this with reference to the 1 Peter teachings (
Second Peter contains the only interconnective reference from one apostolic epistle to another (3:15,
Relationship to apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.
Some vv. in 2 Peter seem to relate to the angelology and apocalypticism of the late Jewish sectarian lit. The restraint of the angels in
Few documents in the theological lit. contain so much overview of the Christian message and its ramifications for history than 2 Peter. It covers creation, prophecy, law, imprecation, judgment, cosmology, atonement, and all points of the classical ordo salutis. It is of special value for its attestation of the objectivity of the apostolic witness in
In the theological development of 2 Peter the portrayal of Christ is central. In the first v. Peter is an apostle of Jesus Christ by virtue of faith. In the succeeding vv. Christ is presented as Lord, Gr. Κυρίος, as authority of truth, as deliverer of the believers, as the escape for Christians from worldly pollutions, and as coming and eternal King. The authority of Peter and the apostles to warn and teach is derived from their functions as apostles, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the themes developed in the book is the OT concept that ethical and religious commitments determine empirical situations. The historical judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah took the form of a physical calamity, thus the apostle illustrates God’s providence. The surety of the resurrection and final triumph of the believer is rooted in this same providential care. The passage in
J. Calvin, Commentaries on the, Eng. tr. (1855); E. A. Abbott, “On the Second Epistle of St. Peter,” EXP, 2nd. Series, III (1882), 49-63, 139-153, 204-219; B. B. Warfield, “The Canonicity of Second Peter,” The Southern Presbyterian Journal, XXXIII (1882), 45-75; F. Spitta, Das Zweite Brief des Petrus und der Brief des Judas (1885); J. E. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the of James, Peter, John and Jude (1887); F. W. Farrar, “The and Josephus,” EXP, 3d Series, VIII (1888), 58-69; G. A. Chadwick, “The Group of the Apostles, II Peter,” EXP, 3d Series, IX (1889), 189-199; J. R. Lumby, The (1893); A. E. Simms, “Second Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter,” EXP, 5th Series, VIII (1898), 460-471; A. Plummer, The Second Epistle of Peter (1900); H. N. Bate, “The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude,” JTS, III (1902), 622-628; R. H. Falconer, “Is Second Peter a Genuine Epistle to the Churches of Samaria?” EXP, 6th Series, V (1902), 459-472; J. B. Mayor, “Notes on the Text of Second Epistle of Peter,” EXP, 6th Series, X (1904), 284-292; J. B. Mayor, and the Second Epistle of St. Peter (1907); R. H. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, I-II (1913); E. I. Robson, Studies in the Second Epistle of Peter (1915); F. J. Foakes-Jackson, Peter: Prince of Apostles (1927); V. Taylor, “The Message of the Epistles, Second Peter and Jude,” ExpT, XLV (1933-1934), 437-441; J. W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (1934); T. Zahn, Introduction to the , Vol. II (1953); C. E. B. Cranfield, I and II Peter and Jude (1960); B. Reicke, The Epistles of James, Peter and Jude (1964); Wm. White, “A Laymen’s Guide to O’Callaghan’s Discovery,” Eternity (June, 1972).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE IN FAVOR OF ITS APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY
1. Ancient Opinion
2. Modern Opinion
3. Dr. Chase’s View
II. INTERNAL EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF ITS APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY
1. Style and Diction
2. Reason of Dissimilarities
3. Claim to Petrine Authorship
4. Christian Earnestness
5. Relation to Apostles
6. Autobiographical Allusions
7. Quoted by Jude
III. DOCTRINAL TEACHINGS OF THE EPISTLE
1. Saving Knowledge
(3) Inerrancy of Sources
2. The Three Worlds
(1) The Old World
(2) The Present World
(3) The New World
Thecomes to us with less historical support of its genuineness than any other book of the . In consequence, its right to a place in the Canon is seriously doubted by some and denied by others. There are those who confidently assign it to the Apostolic age and to the apostle whose name it bears in the New Testament, while there are those who as confidently assign it to post-apostolic times, and repudiate its Petrine authorship. It is not the aim of this article to trace the history of the two opinions indicated above, nor to cite largely the arguments employed in the defense of the Epistle, or those in opposition to it; nor to attempt to settle a question which for more than a thousand years the wisest and best men of the Christian church have been unable to settle. Such a procedure would in this case be the height of presumption. What is here attempted is to point out as briefly as may be some of the reasons for doubting its canonicity, on the one hand, and those in its support, on the other.
I. External Evidence in Favor of Its Apostolic Authority.
1. Ancient Opinion:
It must be admitted at the very outset that the evidence is meager. The first writer who mentions it by name is Origen (circa 240 AD). In his homily on Josh, he speaks of the two
2. Modern Opinion:
The opinion of modern scholars as to references in post-apostolic literature to 2 Peter is not only divided, but in many instances antagonistic. Salmon, Warfield, Zahn and others strongly hold that such references are to be found in the writings of the 2nd century, perhaps in one or two documents of the 1st. They insist with abundant proof in support of their contention that Irenaeus,, the , and the Didache, and , were all acquainted with the Epistle and made allusions to it in their writings. Weighing as honestly and as thoroughly as one can the citations made from that literature, one is strongly disposed to accept the evidence as legitimate and conclusive.
3. Dr. Chase’s View:
On the other side, Professor Chase (HDB) has subjected all such references and allusions in the primitive writings to a very keen and searching criticism, and it must be frankly confessed that he has reduced the strength of the evidence and argument very greatly. But Professor Chase himself, from the remains of the ancient literature, and from the internal evidence of the Epistle itself, arrives at the conclusion that 2 Peter is not at all an apostolic document, that it certainly was not written by Peter, nor in the 1st century of our era, but about the middle of the 2nd century, say 150 AD. If this view is accepted, we must pronounce the Epistle a forgery, pseudonymous and pseudepigraphic, with no more right to be in the New Testament than has theor the romance of the Shepherd of Hermas.
II. Internal Evidence in Support of Its Apostolic Authority.
1. Style and Diction:
2. Reason of Dissimilarities:
Besides, there are many striking similarities in thought and diction in the two Epistles. Two instances are given. In the First the saved are described as the "elect" (
3. Claim to Petrine Authorship:
2 Peter opens with the positive statement of Peter’s authorship: "Simon ["Symeon," Nestle, Weymouth] Peter, a servant .... of." The insertion of "Symeon," the old Hebrew name, in the forefront of the document is significant. If a forger had been writing in Peter’s name he would have begun his letter almost certainly by copying the First Epistle and simply written, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ." Note also that "servant" is introduced into the Second Epistle, but absent from the First. He designates himself as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. "Although several pseudonymous writings appear in early Christian literature, there is no Christian document of value written by a forger who uses the name of an apostle" (Dods, SBD). If this important statement is accepted at its full worth, it goes far to settle the question of authorship. Both "servant" and "apostle" appear in the opening sentence, and the writer claims both for himself.
4. Christian Earnestness:
Furthermore, the writer is distinctively a Christian; he addresses those who "have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ" (
5. Relation of Apostles:
Moreover, he associates himself with the other apostles (
6. Autobiographical Allusions:
7. Quoted by Jude:
Once more, Jude appears to quote from 2 Peter (see Jude). The question of the priority of the two Epistles is by no means settled. Many recent writers give the precedence to Jude, others to Peter. One of the highest authority, by Zahn (New Testament, II, 238 ff), argues with great force in support of the view that Peter’s is the older and that Jude cites from it. The arguments in favor of this latter belief are here only summarized:
(1) Jude cites from writings other than Scripture, as the apocryphal
(3) Jude twice refers to certain sources of information touching these enemies, with which his readers were acquainted and which were designed to warn them of the danger and keep them from betrayal. The two sources were
(a) a writing that spoke of "ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ," 1:4;
(b) the prediction of Peter that "in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts" (
(4) Chronology gives the priority to Peter. The apostle died between 63-67 AD, probably in 64 AD. The vast majority of recent interpreters date theat 75-80 AD. There is no doubt but that it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 AD. Accordingly, it is later than Peter’s death by from 5 to 10 years. Jude quoted from 2 Peter. This being so, it follows that his Epistle endorses that of Peter as being apostolic and likewise canonical, for he recognizes Peter as an apostle and gifted with the prophetic spirit.
III. Doctrinal Teachings of the Epistle.
Only some of the more important features of the Epistle are here noticed. If all were treated as they deserve to be, this article would expand into the proportions of a commentary.
1. Saving Knowledge:
The key-word of 1 Peter is Hope; of 2 Peter Knowledge. The apostle gives to this gift of grace a prominent place (1:2,3,5,6,8; 2:20,21; 3:18). The term he uses is largely in the intensified form, namely, "full knowledge"; that is, knowledge that rests on fact, knowledge that comes to the believer as something supernatural, as being communicated by the Spirit of God, and therefore is true and complete. The grace and peace Peter asks for the saints should issue in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, who has granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness through the knowledge of Him (1:2,3).
The basis of saving knowledge rests on the "exceeding great and precious promises" which He has made us, and which become ours by faith in Him. It leads us into acquaintance with the righteousness of God, into the realization of our calling as saints, and of the glorious destiny that awaits them who know and trust God (
The growth in true knowledge (
What a magnificent cluster Peter here gives! Each springs out of the other; each is strengthened by the other. "In your faith supply virtue," or fortitude, manliness; and let virtue supply "knowledge." Knowledge by itself tends to puff up. But tempered by the others, by self-control, by patience, by godliness, by love, it becomes one of the most essential and powerful forces in the Christian character. Paul begins his list of the "fruits of the Spirit" with love (
(3) Inerrancy of Sources:
Inerrancy of the sources of saving knowledge (
(a) the fact and meaning of the Saviour’s Transfiguration;
(b) the fact of the inspiration of the.
Taken together these two facts invest his teaching with infallible certainty. "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." Pagan mythology, so widely prevailing at the time in Asia Minor, indeed over the whole heathen world, was composed of "myths" (Peter’s word) skillfully framed and poetically embellished. Jewish cabalism, and the wild vagaries springing up in the Christian brotherhood itself had no place in the gospel message nor in apostolic teaching. What Peter and his fellow-disciples taught was the very truth of God, for at the Transfiguration they saw the outshining glory of the, they heard the Divine Voice, they beheld the two visitants from the unseen world, Moses and Elijah. Of the majestic scene they were eyewitnesses. Peter adds, "And we have the word of prophecy made more sure." The Transfiguration has confirmed what the prophets say touching the future and God’s purpose to fill the earth with His glory; every word He has spoken is to be made good.
Moreover, the apostle appeals to the inspiration of the prophets in confirmation of his teaching: "No prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit." He recognizes this as primary truth, that prophecy is not of one’s own origination, nor is it to be tied up to the times of the prophet. The prophecy was brought to him, as it is brought to us. Peter and his fellow-believers did not follow "cunningly devised fables"; they were borne along in their prophetic utterances by the Spirit.
2. The Three Worlds:
Of course in
(1) The Old World.
"The world that then was" (
(2) The Present World.
Peter’s second world is "the heavens that now are, and the earth" (
Ample materials are stored up in the earth for its consumption by fire. The oils and the gases so inflammable and destructive in their energy can, when it may please God to release these forces, speedily reduce the present order of things to ashes. Peter’s language does not signify earth’s annihilation, nor its dissolution as an organic body, nor the end of time. He speaks of cosmical convulsions and physical revolutions of both sky and earth, such as shall transform the planet into something glorious and beautiful.
(3) The New World.
The third world is this: "But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (
"Earth, thou grain of sand on the shore of the Universe of God,
On thee has the Lord a great work to complete."
See at end of PETER, THE FIRST EPISTLE OF; PETER (SIMON).
William G. Moorehead