Second Letter of Peter

PETER, SECOND LETTER OF. A general treatise, written to warn its readers of threatening apostasy. It purports to have been written by Simon Peter and contains a definite allusion to a preceding letter (2Pet.3.1).

I. Authorship. Second Peter has the poorest external attestation of any book in the canon of the NT. It is not quoted directly by any of the church fathers before Origen (c. a.d. 250), who affirms Peter’s authorship of the first letter, but who seemed uncertain about the second, although he did not repudiate it. Eusebius, to whom we are indebted for quoting Origen’s testimony, placed 2 Peter in the list of disputed writings. Its literary style and vocabulary differ from that of 1 Peter, and its close resemblance to the Book of Jude has led some scholars to believe that it is a late copy or adaptation of that work. Numerous scholars have pronounced it spurious and have relegated it to the middle of the second century.

On the other hand, the internal evidence favors authorship by Peter. If a forger knew 1 Peter, it seems he could have been more careful to follow its style exactly. The allusions to Peter’s career agree with the existing records and can best be explained as the testimony of an eyewitness. They include the Transfiguration (2Pet.1.17-2Pet.1.18), at which Peter was present (Matt.17.1-Matt.17.18), and the Lord’s prediction of his death (2Pet.1.14; John.21.18-John.21.19). The Greek of the second letter is more labored than that of the first, but if Peter did not have the aid of Silas in this work, as he did in the first letter (1Pet.5.12), he may have been forced to rely on his own writing. Doubtlessly he knew Greek, as most Galileans did, but he may not have been able to write it easily. Second Peter reads more like a book that has been composed with the aid of a dictionary rather than by a man whose native tongue was Greek.

The allusion to the writings of “our dear brother Paul” (2Pet.3.15) confirms the impression that 2 Peter was written by someone who knew Paul personally and who treated him as an equal. A writer of the second century would have been more likely to say “the blessed apostle,” for he would have regarded Paul with a greater veneration and would thus have used a more elevated title.

Reasons exist, therefore, for accepting the letter as Peter’s. The relative silence of the early church may be explained by the brevity of the letter, which could have made it more susceptible to being overlooked or lost.

II. Date and Place. Second Peter must have been written subsequent to the publication of at least some of Paul’s letters, if not of the entire collection. It cannot, therefore, have been written before a.d. 60; but if Paul was living and was still well known to the existing generation, it could not have been later than 70. Probably 67 is as satisfactory a date as can be established. The writer was anticipating a speedy death (2Pet.1.14), and this may mean that the letter was sent from Rome during the tense days of the Neronian persecution. There is no indication, however, that Peter had spent a long time in Rome. He may have labored there only at the conclusion of Paul’s life (between 63 and 67).

III. Destination and Occasion. The reference to a previous letter sent to the same group (2Pet.3.1) connects the document with 1 Peter, which was written to the Christians of northern Asia Minor. Whereas the first letter was an attempt to encourage a church threatened with official persecution and repression, the second letter dealt with the peril of apostasy, which was an even greater threat. An influx of conscienceless agitators who repudiated the lordship of Christ (2Pet.2.1) and whose attitude was haughty (2Pet.2.10), licentious (2Pet.2.13), adulterous (2Pet.2.14), greedy (2Pet.2.14), bombastic (2Pet.2.18), and libertine (2Pet.2.19) seemed imminent. Knowing that he would not be spared to keep control of the situation, Peter was writing to forestall this calamity and to warn the church of its danger.

IV. Content and Outline. The key to this letter is the word “know” or “knowledge,” which occurs frequently in the three chapters, often referring to the knowledge of Christ. This knowledge is not primarily academic, but spiritual, arising from a growing experience of Christ (2Pet.3.18). It produces peace and grace (2Pet.1.2) and fruitfulness (2Pet.1.8), is the secret of freedom from defilement (2Pet.2.20), and is the sphere of Christian growth (2Pet.3.18). It may be that the false teachers were Gnostics, who stressed knowledge as the means to salvation, and that Peter sought to counteract their falsehoods by a positive presentation of true knowledge.

Second Peter teaches definitely the inspiration of Scripture (2Pet.1.19-2Pet.1.21) and stresses the doctrine of the personal return of Christ, which was ridiculed by the false teachers (2Pet.3.1-2Pet.3.7). It concludes with an appeal for holy living and with the promise of the new heavens and the new earth.

The following is a brief outline of the Epistle:

I. Salutation (1:1)

II. The Character of Spiritual Knowledge (1:2-21)

III. The Nature and Perils of Apostasy (2:1-22)

IV. The Doom of the Ungodly (3:1-7)

V. The Hope of Believers (3:8-13)

VI. Concluding Exhortation (3:14-18)

Bibliography: E. M. B. Green, Second Peter Reconsidered, 1961, and The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude (TNTC), 1968; J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (HNTC), 1969; R. J. Bauckham, 2 Peter and Jude (Word Biblical Commentary), 1983 (on the Greek text).——MCT