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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
2 Peter 3



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. It is natural to most of us on a first reading to assume that the first Epistle here alluded to must be what we know as 1 Peter; but this has been denied by critics of eminence, who hold that 1 Peter does not answer to the description before us: and further that 2 P. speaks of personal intercourse between writer and readers (2 Peter 1:16 ἐγνωρίσαμεν ὑμῖν) which is not the case in 1 Peter. One point which is urged is undeniably true, namely, that many apostolic letters must have perished, and there is no necessity to regard 1 Peter as being meant: but the objections to doing so are not conclusive.

διεγείρω ἐν ὑπομνήσει occurred above, 2 Peter 1:13.

εἰλικρινῆ, pure, genuine, unmixed: then pure, morally. εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι in Philippians 1:10 is the only other occurrence of the adjective in N.T. The substantive εἰλικρίνεια is coupled with ἀλήθεια in 1 Corinthians 5:8.

Verse 2

2. μνησθῆναι κ.τ.λ. He is specially anxious to hold his readers fast to their first beliefs in view of the new false teaching.

ἁγίων προφητῶν as in the Benedictus, Luke 1:70.

καὶ τῆς τῶν ἀποστόλων ὑμῶν ἐντολῆς τ. κυρ. κ. σωτῆρος. The array of genitives has its awkwardness, but is not obscure.

τῶν ἀποστόλων ὑμῶν: ἡμῶν (a very natural alteration) is read by some cursives, but no uncials. “The preachers who evangelized you,” not necessarily the Twelve, may be meant; but this is one of the phrases which suggest that the Epistle belongs to the sub-apostolic age.

Verse 3

3. With this verse we return to the borrowing from Jude (Judges 1:17) ὑμεῖς δέ, ἀγαπητοί, μνήσθητε τῶν ῥημάτων τῶν προειρημένων ὑπὸ τῶν ἀποστόλων τ. κυρ. ἡμ. . Χ.

τοῦτο πρῶτον γινώσκοντες, above, 2 Peter 1:20. The grammar is loose.

ὅτι ἐλεύσονται κ.τ.λ., the last considerable borrowing, from Judges 1:18 ἐπʼ ἐσχάτου χρόνου ἔσονται ἐμπαῖκται κατὰ τὰς ἑαυτῶν ἐπιθυμίας πορευόμενοι τῶν ἀσεβειῶν.

The possibility that both writers are independently quoting the same prophecy has been mentioned and dismissed in the Introduction.

A passage from an apocryphal book (unknown, but not improbably the prophecy of Eldad and Medad) which is quoted both in the genuine Epistle of Clement of Rome (cir. 90 A.D.) and in the ancient sermon known as his Second Epistle deserves to be given here. “Miserable are the waverers, that waver in their soul and say, ‘These things we heard long ago even in our fathers’ days, but we, expecting them day after day, have seen nothing of them.’ (Variant: ‘And, lo, we have grown old, and none of these things has befallen us.’) O fools, compare yourselves to a tree. Take the vine. First it sheds its leaves, then comes a shoot, then a leaf, then a flower, then a young grape, and then the cluster is ready. Even so also my people hath suffered disturbance and affliction and thereafter shall be recompensed with good.”

Similarly an ancient Jewish comment on Psalms 89:50 “slandered the footsteps of thine anointed” is “they have scoffed at the slowness of Messiah’s coming”; and again “He delays so long, that they say, He will never come.”

It is possible that our writer is referring to the Jewish book quoted by Clement, or to a similar source. At least we see that the murmuring was current outside Christian circles.

ἐμπαιγμονῇ, this form occurs here only. ἐμπαιγμός, -μα are the forms used in Biblical Greek.

Verse 4

4. Ποῦ ἐστὶν κ.τ.λ. They ask the question, not as those who long for the fulfilment of the promise, but as disbelieving that it will ever be fulfilled: and therefore they are at liberty to indulge their passions (πορευόμενοι, etc.).

παρουσίας, above 2 Peter 1:16.

οἱ πατέρες. Cf. ἐπὶ τῶν πατέρων in the prophecy quoted above from Clement. The phrase inevitably suggests that the first generation of Christians had passed away.

οὕτως, in statu quo. Compare the reading of some Latin authorities in John 21:22, Sic or Si sic eum uolo manere.

The unbelievers say: Where is the promise of His coming? the first disciples to whom it was promised are dead, and there is no sign: the world goes on in its course as it has since the creation. That is where you are wrong, replies our writer. It has not gone on without one great convulsion. There was the Deluge; and there will be the final fire.

Verse 5

5. ὅτι οὐρανοὶ ἧσαν κ.τ.λ. There were of old heavens and an earth, (the latter) having its being out of water (it rose out of the water over which the Spirit brooded) and διʼ ὕδατος. This difficult expression I am inclined to interpret as “between the waters,” supported on water, according to Jewish belief, and with an over-arching firmament above which were waters. Compare the use of διά to express intervals: διὰ χρόνου, διὰ πέντε σταδίων etc.

ἔκπαλαι, above, 2 Peter 2:3.

τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ = ῥήματι θεοῦ, Hebrews 11:3.

Verses 5-13


The passage 2 Peter 3:5-13 is the only one in the New Testament which speaks of the destruction of the world by fire. The coming of Christ, the Resurrection, and the Final Judgment are dwelt upon by other writers, but of a general conflagration nothing is said by them. This is a noteworthy fact; so widely spread is the notion of a final fire, that it comes as a surprise to most people when they realize how very slender is the Biblical foundation for that belief.

Whence did our author derive it? We know that the Stoics held that there would be an ἐκπύρωσις of the world: but their view was that it was an event which would recur at the end of vast periods of time, and that each burning would be succeeded by a παλιγγενεσία, a re-constitution of the world. This differs from the Christian idea, which was that there would be one final burning, and that human history would not repeat itself.

Among the Jews the belief was entertained by some: but it has not left any considerable trace in the apocalyptic literature. Philo argues strongly against the Stoic belief in his tract on the Incorruptibility of the World.

In certain early Christian books pretending to high antiquity the final fire is dwelt upon. The fourth book of the Sibylline oracles, which is assigned to the reign of Titus or Domitian (and is appealed to upon this point by Justin Martyr in his Apology) says (172–177):

εἰ δʼ οὔ μοι πείθοισθε κακόφρονες

πῦρ ἔσται κατὰ κόσμον ὅλον

φλέξει δὲ χθόνα πᾶσαν, ἅπαν δʼ ὀλέσει γένος ἀνδρῶν

καὶ πάσας πόλεας ποταμούς θʼ ἅμα ἠδὲ θάλασσαν,

ἐκκαύσει δέ τε πάντα, κόνις δʼ ἔσετʼ αἰθαλόεσσα.

There is a longer description in the later second book of the oracles (196–213). It is pretty clear that this book derives its matter very largely from the Apocalypse of Peter, in which we now know that the burning of the world was described at some length. See the Additional Note, p. lvii.

Justin Martyr also appeals to a book called Hystaspes as agreeing with the Sibyl. This we no longer possess, but we can tell from scattered quotations that it was a prophecy revealed to an ancient king of the Medes; it seems to have been Christian, and quite early in date.

Another early book which speaks of this, in words which recall 2 Peter, is the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (really a sermon of the second century): cap. xvi. γινώσκετε δὲ ὅτι ἔρχεται ἤδη ἡ ἡμέρα τῆς κρίσεως ὡς κλίβανος καιόμενος (Malachi 4:1 ἰδοὺ ἡμέρα ἔρχεται καιομένη ὡς κλίβανος) καὶ τακήσονταί τινες (corrupt: perhaps αἱ δυνάμεις) τῶν οὐρανῶν (Isaiah 34:4 and Apocalypse of Peter, quoted above), καὶ πᾶσα ἡ γῆ ὡς μόλιβος ἐπὶ πυρὶ τηκόμενος, καὶ τότε φανήσεται τὰ κρύφια καὶ φανερὰ ἔργα τῶν ἀνθρώπων. Can this last clause (καὶ τότε φανήσεται κ.τ.λ.) be taken as showing that the writer actually had 2 Peter before him, and that his copy of it read εὑρεθήσεται? One is tempted to guess that this was the case, and that he interpreted τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἔργα εὑρεθήσεται as meaning “the works that are therein shall be manifested.”

It is not practicable to trace the gradual growth of the belief: but it did grow, and in later times at least, when the Sibylline oracles and other such books were forgotten, the passage in 2 Peter became the authoritative one on the subject.

Verse 6

6. διʼ ὦν. I am inclined (in spite of the fact that the word is rather remote in position) to think that οὐρανοί is the antecedent of ὧν. “There were heavens … by means of which the old world was deluged.” The other alternative, that the two “waters” are the antecedent, also yields a fairly good sense. Mayor with one good cursive MS. reads διʼ ὂν and refers it to λόγος. De Zwaan [1909] agrees.

ὁ τότε κόσμος, cf. ἀρχαιὸς κόσμος, 2 Peter 2:5. The human beings who perished at the Flood are primarily meant.

Verse 7

7. οἱ δὲ νῦν οὐρανοί. He seems to speak of the Flood as if it had destroyed heaven and earth (in the Book of Enoch hyperbolical language of that kind is used of the Flood lxxxiii. 3, in a vision “the heaven collapsed and was borne off and fell to the earth”): and it may have been his view that the upper firmament did fall in and overwhelm the earth. But the general run of thought seems to be this. Of old the heavens were the means of destruction: in the future the heavens themselves will be destroyed (by fire).

τεθησαυρισμένοι πυρί, stored up—reserved—for fire; not stored with fire, which would mean that there was fire latent in them which would some day burst forth and consume them. That was the belief of Valentinus, a great heretical teacher of cent. ii.

τηρούμενοι κ.τ.λ. Cf. 2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 2:9.

Verse 8

8. ὑμᾶς, emphatic, opposed to αὐτούς in 2 Peter 3:5.

Not only are the mockers mistaken as to the immutability of the world: they forget also (but you must not) that time is nothing in God’s sight. He delays His vengeance in mercy, but it will come.

μία ἡμέρα κ.τ.λ. The words go back to Psalms 90:4 χίλια ἔτη ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς σου ὡς ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ ἐχθὲς ἥτις διῆλθεν, καὶ φυλακὴ ἐν νυκτί.

The writer does not apply the words in a sense which very usually attached to them among Jews and Christians. The belief arose (we cannot exactly trace by what steps), that since the world had been created in six days, and since a day and a thousand years are in God’s sight the same, so it would last six thousand years; and, as at creation the seventh day of rest followed, so the six thousand years would be succeeded by a seventh thousand of Sabbatical rest, the Millennium, as it is commonly called. We cannot dwell upon the importance of the belief in a Millennium: but the text before us was constantly invoked in support of that belief.

Verse 9

9. βραδύνει with a genitive only here: it is compared with the use of ἁμαρτάνω, ὑστερεῖν, λείπεσθαι.

μακροθυμεῖ. Cf. 1 Peter 3:20 ἀπειθήσασιν ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε.

εἰς ὑμᾶς. Evidence is divided here both as to the preposition and the pronoun.

εἰς BCKLP Armenian, one Egyptian version.

διʼ אA 3 good cursives, Latin, one Egyptian version (the older), Syriac, Aethiopic.

ὑμᾶς אABCP, most versions.

ἡμᾶς KL, later Egyptian version.

μὴ βουλόμενός τινας ἀπολέσθαι ἀλλὰ πάντας κ.τ.λ. The first clause is emphasized greatly in Ezekiel 18. With the second we may compare 1 Timothy 2:4 τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν θεοῦ ὃς πάντας ἀνθρώπους θέλει σωθῆναι καὶ εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας ἐλθεῖν.

Verse 10

10. Ἥξει δὲ ἡμέρα Κυρίου ὡς κλέπτης. This must have been a commonplace of Apocalyptic prophecy. We have the image in the eschatological discourse of our Lord, Matthew 24:43 “If the goodman of the house had known in what watch (of the night) the thief would come” and again in Luke 12:39. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2, Ye know clearly ὅτι ἡμέρα Κυρίου ὡς κλέπτης ἐν νυκτὶ οὕτως ἔρχεται (whence the MSS. CKL add ἐν νυκτί here). Revelation 3:3 ἥξω ὡς κλέπτης, Revelation 16:15 ἰδοὺ ἔρχομαι ὡς κλέπτης.

οἱ οὐραναὶπαρελεύσονται. Mark 13:31 ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ παρελεύσονται. The destruction of the heavens, which were thought of as a solid firmament arched over the earth, is spoken of in Isaiah 34:4 καὶ ἑλιγήσεται ὁ οὐρανὸς ὡς βιβλίον. This whole verse of Isaiah seems to have been introduced into the Apocalypse of Peter. It is quoted in Revelation 6:13-14 καὶ ὁ οὐρανὸς ἀπεχωρίσθη ὡς βιβλίον ἑλισσόμενον and in the Sibylline oracles III. 81 ὁπόταν θεὸς αἰθέρι ναίων | οὐρανὸν εἱλίξῃ καθʼ ἅπερ βιβλίον εἱλεῖται.

ῥοιζηδόν, with a rushing or whizzing round: κλαγγηδόν, κοναβηδόν are words of similar formation also descriptive of sound.

στοιχεῖα. The heavenly bodies are very probably intended. στοιχεῖα was used in the sense of “luminaries”: in a letter of Polycrates the bishop of Ephesus (about 190 A.D.) he says “among us also (in Asia, that is, as well as in Rome) μέγαλα στοιχεῖα κεκοίμηνται great luminaries rest”: and he goes on to specify John the Evangelist and others.

St Paul’s use of στοιχεῖα, Galatians 4:3, Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20 is interpreted as meaning the spiritual beings who have charge of the stars and of other provinces of creation.

καυσούμενα must be from καυσόομαι, a medical word applied to fever-heats.

εὑρεθήσεται. See Introd. p. xlix.

A passage in the Sibylline oracles II. 252 sqq. shows what is meant by ἔργα and favours the reading οὐχ εὑρεθήσεται.

κοὐκέτι πωτήσονται ἐν ἠέρι ἄπλετοι ὄρνεις,

οὐ ζῷα νηκτὰ θάλασσαν ὅλως ἔτι νηχήσονται,

οὐ ναῦς ἔμφορτος ἐπὶ κύμασι ποντοπορήσει,

οὐ βόες ἰθυντῆρες ἀροτρεύσουσιν ἄρουραν,

οὐκ ἦχος δένδρων ἀνέμεν ὕπο· ἀλλʼ ἅμα πάντα

εἰς ἓν χωνεύσει καὶ εἰς καθαρὸν διαλέξει.

Verse 11

11. λυομένων possibly implies that creation is even now declining to its fall: but compare the present tenses of τήκεται, κατοικεῖ below.

ποταπούς, a late form and use: ποδαπός “of what nation” is the classical word. Our word occurs elsewhere in N.T. and in the Apocalypse of Peter.

ὑπάρχειν, how ought you to be equipped—ready for the catastrophe when it comes.

ἀναστροφαῖς, εὐσεβείαις, plural as ἀσελγείαις several times above.

Verse 12

12. σπεύδοντας. The thought is well compared with Peter’s words in Acts 3:19. Repent … ὅπως ἂν ἔλθωσιν καιροὶ ἀναψύξεως. As sins (cf. 2 Peter 3:9) delay the coming, so righteousness will accelerate it.

θεοῦ ἡμέρας, usually ἡμ. Κυρίου. In Revelation 16:14 we have “the great day of God Almighty.”

διʼ ἣν. ἑν ᾗ above in 2 Peter 3:10. We might render “on the occasion of which”: the destruction takes place because the Day has come.

Notice the repetition of words, λυθήσονται, στοιχεῖα, καυσούμενα. We have already encountered many such in our text.

τήκεται is the reading of אABKL. C has τακήσεται, P τακήσονται. Hort conjectures τήξεται, which is found with a passive sense in Hippocrates.

Verse 13

13. καινοὺς δὲ οὐρανούς κ.τ.λ. The new heaven and earth are prophesied in the concluding chapters of Isaiah 65:17 ἔσται γὰρ ὁ οὐρανὸς καινὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ καινή, Isaiah 66:22 ὄν τρόπον γὰρ ὁ οὐρανὸς καινὸς καὶ ἡ γῆ καινὴ ἂ ἐγὼ ποιῶ, cf. Isaiah 51:6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, etc.

The prediction is quoted in Revelation 21:1. Καὶ εἶδον οὐρανὸν καινὸν καὶ γῆν καινήν· ὁ γὰρ πρῶτος οὐρ. κ. ἡ πρώτη γῆ ἀπῆλθαν.

ἐν οἷς δικαιοσύνη κατοικεῖ. Cf. Isaiah 1:21 of Jerusalem, ἐν ᾗ δικαιοσύνη ἐκοιμήθη ἐν αὐτῇ and Isaiah 32:16 δικαιοσύνῃ ἐν τῷ Καρμήλῳ κατοικήσει, together with what follows.

Verse 14

14. Cf. Judges 1:24 στῆσαι κατενώπιον τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ ἀμώμους. The use of εὐρεθῆναι is rather like that in Philippians 3:9 “that I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness,” etc.

Verse 15

15. καθὼς καὶ ὁ ἀγαπητὸς ἡμῶν ἀδελφὸς Παῦλος. It has been usual to take καθὼς as referring to the topic of the end of the world, and to suppose that the Epistles to the Thessalonians are specially indicated. But others (incl. Mayor) would refer καθώς to the sentence immediately preceding about μακροθυμία, and point to certain passages in Romans, especially Romans 2:4 καὶ τῆς μακοθυμίας καταφρονεῖς ἀγνοῶν ὅτι τὸ χρηστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς μετάνοιάν σε ἄγει; also Romans 3:25-26, Romans 9:22-23, Romans 11:22-23. ὑμῖν would then naturally mean that this Epistle is itself addressed to the Romans.

κατὰ τῆν δοθεῖσαν αὐτῷ σοφίαν. Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:10 κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι.

Verse 16

16. ἐν πάσαις ἐπιστολαῖς. πάσαις ταῖς is read by אKLP: ABC omit the article, and are followed by Westcott and Hort. The phrase reads very awkwardly without it. There is no great difference in sense, whether we read “in all letters” or “in all his letters.”

ἐν αἷς ἐστὶν δυσνόητά τινα κ.τ.λ. Not specially referring to the subject of μακροθυμία, nor to the end of the world, but, generally, to those parts of Pauline teaching which had been exaggerated or misrepresented, e.g. about things offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8 etc.): utterances about the Law which might form an excuse for men to say that they were not bound by the Decalogue (Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7-11 etc.): of becoming all things to all men: and so on.

ὡς καὶ τὰς λοιπὰς γραφάς. If the phrase occurred in a later document, we should not hesitate to render it “the rest of the Scriptures” and to take it as including both O.T. and N.T. Scriptures. But the fact that we have here a writing under the name of an Apostle, and of early date, causes a difficulty. We shall be overstating the case if we say that the writer here places Paul’s Epistles exactly on a level with the O.T. and implies the existence of a body of Christian Scriptures that were so regarded: but it is fair to say that he knows of the Pauline Epistles as writings read to Christian congregations and on the way to be put upon the level of Canonical Scripture. Cf. p. xxviii.

Verse 17

17. ἀθέσμων, πλάνῃ, 2 Peter 2:7; 2 Peter 2:18.

συναπαχθέντες as Galatians 2:13, Βαρνάβας συναπήχθη αὐτῶν τῇ ὑποκρίσει.

Verse 18

18. αὐξάνετε ἐν χάριτι, cf. 2 Peter 1:8 πλεονάζοντα. αὐξάνω is oftener than not intransitive in N.T. but in classical Greek transitive, and so in 1 Corinthians 3:6 (ὁ θεὸς ηὔξανεν).

εἰς ἡμέραν αἰῶνος. An uncommon phrase: Sirach 18:10 is quoted: as a drop of water out of the sea, or a grain of sand, οὕτως ὀλίγα ἔτη ἐν ἡμέρᾳ αἰῶνος. It is strange to find this expression in a doxology, where εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας (τῶν αἰώνων) is almost invariable.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 2 Peter 3:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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