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The principal design of this chapter is to demonstrate, in opposition to the objections of scoffers, that the Lord Jesus will return again to this world; that the world will be destroyed by fire, and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth; and to show what effect this should have on the minds of Christians. The chapter, without any very exact arrangement by the author, essentially consists of two parts.
I. The argument of the objectors to the doctrine that the Lord Jesus will return to the world, and that it will be destroyed, 2 Peter 3:1-4. In doing this, the apostle 2 Peter 3:1-2 calls their attention to the importance of attending diligently to the things which had been spoken by the prophets, and to the commands of the apostles, reminding them that it was to be expected that in the last days there would be scoffers who would deride the doctrines of religion, and who would maintain that there was no evidence that what had been predicted would be fulfilled, 2 Peter 3:3. He then 2 Peter 3:4 adverts to the argument on which they professed to rely, that there were no signs or indications that those events were to take place; that there were no natural causes in operation which could lead to such results; and that the fact of the stability of the earth since the time of the creation, demonstarted that the predicted destruction of the world could not occur.
II. The argument of Peter, in reply to this objection; a strong affirmation of the truth of the doctrine that the Lord Jesus will return; that the earth and all which it contains will be burned up; that there will be a new heaven and a new earth; and the effect which the prospect of the coming of the Lord Jesus, and of the destruction of the world by fire, should have on the minds of Christians, 2 Peter 3:5-18.
(1) The arguments of Peter, in reply to the objection from the long-continued stability of the earth, are the following:
(a) He refers to the destruction of the old world by the flood - a fact against which the same objections could have been urged, beforehand, which are urged against the predicted destruction of the world by fire, 2 Peter 3:5-7. With just as much plausibility it might have been urged then that the earth bad stood for thousands of years, and that there were no natural causes at work to produce that change. It might have been asked where the immense amount of water necessary to drown a world could come from; and perhaps it might have been argued that God was too “good” to destroy a world by a flood. Every objection which could be urged to the destruction of the world by fire, could have been urged to its destruction by water; and as, in fact, those objections, as the event showed, would have had no real force, so they should be regarded as having no real force now.
(b) No argument against this predicted event can be derived from the fact that hundreds and thousands of years are suffered to elapse before the fulfillment of the predictions, 2 Peter 3:8-9. What seems long to men is not long to God. One thousand years with him, in reference to this point, are as one day. He does not measure time as men do. They soon die; and if they cannot execute their purpose in a brief period, they cannot at all. But this cannot apply to God. He has infinite ages in which to execute his purposes, and therefore no argument can be derived from the fact that his purposes are long delayed, to prove that he will not execute them at all.
(c) Peter says (2 Peter 3:15, following) that the delay which was observed in executing the plans of God should not be interpreted as a proof that they would never be accomplished, but as an evidence of his long-suffering and patience; and, in illustration of this, he refers to the writings of Paul, in which he says that the same sentiments were advanced. There were indeed, he says, in those writings, some things which were hard to be understood; but on this point they were plain.
(2) A strong affirmation of the truth of the doctrine, 2 Peter 3:9-10, 2 Peter 3:13. He declares that these events will certainly occur, and that they should be expected to take place suddenly, and without any preintimations of their approach - as the thief comes at night without announcing his coming.
(3) The practical suggestions which Peter intersperses in the argument illustrative of the effect which these considerations should have on the mind are among the most important parts of the chapter:
- We should be holy, devout, and serious, 2 Peter 3:11.
(2)We should look forward with deep interest to the new heavens and earth which are to succeed the present, 2 Peter 3:12.
(3)We should be diligent and watchful that we may be found on the return of the Saviour “without spot and blameless,”2 Peter 3:14; 2 Peter 3:14.
(4)We should be cautious that we be not seduced and led away by the errors which deny these great doctrines, 2 Peter 3:17; and,
- We should grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 3:18.
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you - This expression proves that he had written a former epistle, and that it was addressed to the same persons as this. Compare Introduction, Section 3.
In both which I stir up your pure minds ... - That is, the main object of both epistles is the same - to call to your remembrance important truths which you have before heard, but which you are in danger of forgetting, or from which you are in danger of being turned away by prevailing errors. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 1:12-15. The word rendered “pure” (εἰλικρινής eilikrinēs) occurs only here and in Philippians 1:10, where it is rendered “sincere.” The word properly refers to “that which may be judged of in sunshine;” then it means “clear, manifest;” and then “sincere, pure” - as that in which there is no obscurity. The idea here perhaps is, that their minds were open, frank, candid, sincere, rather than that they were “pure.” The apostle regarded them as “disposed” to see the truth, and yet as liable to be led astray by the plausible errors of others. Such minds need to have truths often brought fresh to their remembrance, though they are truths with which they had before been familiar.
That ye may be mindful of the words - Of the doctrines, the truths; the prophetic statements. Jude Jude 1:18 says that it had been foretold by the apostles, that in the last days there would be scoffers. Peter refers to the instructions of the apostles and prophets in general, though evidently designing that his remarks should bear particularly on the fact that there would be scoffers.
Which were spoken before by the holy prophets - The predictions of the prophets before the advent of the Saviour, respecting his character and work. Peter had before appealed to them 2 Peter 1:19-21, as furnishing important evidence in regard to the truth of the Christian religion, and valuable instruction in reference to its nature. See the notes at that passage. Many of the most important doctrines respecting the kingdom of the Messiah are stated as clearly in the Old Testament as in the New Testament (compare Isaiah 53:1-12), and the prophecies therefore deserve to be studied as an important part of divine revelation. It should be added here, however, that when Peter wrote there was this special reason why he referred to the prophets, that the canon of the New Testament was not then completed, and he could not make his appeal to that. To some parts of the writings of Paul he could and did appeal 2 Peter 3:15-16, but probably a very small part of what is now the New Testament was known to those to whom this epistle was addressed.
And of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour - As being equally entitled with the prophets to state and enforce the doctrines and duties of religion. It may be observed, that no man would have used this language who did not regard himself and his fellow apostles as inspired, and as on a level with the prophets.
Knowing this first - As among the first and most important things to be attended to - as one of the predictions which demand your special regard. Jude Jude 1:18 says that the fact that there would be “mockers in the last time,” had been particularly foretold by thom. It is probable that Peter refers to the same thing, and we may suppose that this was so well understood by all the apostles that they made it a common subject of preaching.
That there shall come in the last days - In the last dispensation; in the period during which the affairs of the world shall be wound up. The apostle does not say that that was the last time in the sense that the world was about to come to an end; nor is it implied that the period called “the last day” might not be a very long period, longer in fact than either of the previous periods of the world. He says that during that period it had been predicted there would arise those whom he here calls “scoffers.” On the meaning of the phrase “in the last days,” as used in the Scriptures, see the Acts 2:17 note; Hebrews 1:2 note; Isaiah 2:2 note.
Scoffers - In Jude Jude 1:18 the same Greek word is rendered “mockers.” The word means those who deride, reproach, ridicule. There is usually in the word the idea of contempt or malignity toward an object. Here the sense seems to be that they would treat with derision or contempt the predictions respecting the advent of the Saviour, and the end of the world. It would appear probable that there was a particular or definite class of men referred to; a class who would hold special opinions, and who would urge plausible objections against the fulfillment of the predictions respecting the end of the world, and the second coming of the Saviour - for those are the points to which Peter particularly refers. It scarcely required inspiration to foresee that there would be “scoffers” in the general sense of the term - for they have so abounded in every age, that no one would hazard much in saying that they would be found at any particular time; but the eye of the apostle is evidently on a particular class of people, the special form of whose reproaches would be the ridicule of the doctrines that the Lord Jesus would return; that there would be a day of judgment; that the world would be consumed by fire, etc. Tillotson explains this of the Carpocratians, a large sect of the Gnostics, who denied the resurrection of the dead, and the future judgment.
Walking after their own lusts - Living in the free indulgence of their sensual appetites. See the notes at 2Pe 2:10, 2 Peter 2:12, 2 Peter 2:14, 2 Peter 2:18-19.
And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? - That is, either, Where is the “fulfillment” of that promise; or, Where are the “indications” or “signs” that he will come? They evidently meant to imply that the promise had utterly failed; that there was not the slightest evidence that it would be accomplished; that they who had believed this were entirely deluded. It is possible that some of the early Christians, even in the time of the apostles, had undertaken to fix the time when these events would occur, as many have done since; and that as that time had passed by, they inferred that the prediction had utterly failed. But whether this were so or not, it was easy to allege that the predictions respecting the second coming of the “Saviour” seemed to imply that the end of the world was near, and that there were no indications that they would be fulfilled. The laws of nature were uniform, as they had always been, and the alleged promises had failed.
For since the fathers fell asleep - Since they “died” - death being often, in the Scriptures, as elsewhere, represented as sleep. John 11:11 note; 1 Corinthians 11:30 note. This reference to the “fathers,” by such scoffers, was probably designed to be ironical and contemptuous. Perhaps the meaning may be thus expressed: “Those old men, the prophets, indeed foretold this event. They were much concerned and troubled about it; and their predictions alarmed others, and filled their bosoms with dread. They looked out for the signs of the end of the world, and expected that that day was drawing near. But those good men have died. They lived to old age, and then died as others; and since they have departed, the affairs of the world have gone on very much as they did before. The earth is suffered to have rest, and the laws of nature operate in the same way that they always did.” It seems not improbable that the immediate reference in the word “fathers” is not to the prophets of former times, but to aged and pious men of the times of the apostles, who had dwelt much on this subject, and who had made it a subject of conversation and of preaching. Those old men, said the seeing objector, have died like others; and, notwithstanding their confident predictions, things now move on as they did from the beginning.
All things continue as they were, from the beginning of the creation - That is, the laws of nature are fixed and settled. The argument here - for it was doubtless designed to be an argument - is based on the stability of the laws of nature, and the uniformity of the course of events. Thus far, all these predictions had failed. Things continued to go on as they had always done. The sun rose and set; the tides ebbed and flowed; the seasons followed each other in the usual order; one generation succeeded another, as had always been the case; and there was every indication that those laws would continue to operate as they had always done. This argument for the stability of the earth, and against the prospect of the fulfillment of the predictions of the Bible, would have more force with many minds now than it had then, for 1,800 years (circa 1880’s) more have rolled away, and the laws of nature remain the same. Meantime, the expectations of those who have believed that the world was coming to an end have been disappointed; the time set for this by many interpreters of Scripture has passed by; men have looked out in vain for the coming of the Saviour, and sublunary affairs move on as they always have done. Still there are no indications of the coming of the Saviour; and perhaps it would be said that the farther men search, by the aid of science, into the laws of nature, the more they become impressed with their stability, and the more firmly they are convinced of the improbability that the world will be destroyed in the manner in which it is predicted in the Scriptures that it will be. The specious and plausible objection arising from this source, the apostle proposes to meet in the following verses.
For this they willingly are ignorant of - Λαιθάνει γὰρ αὐτοὺς τοῦτο θέλοντας Laithanei gar autous touto thelontas. There is some considerable variety in the translation of this passage. In our common version the Greek word (θέλοντας thelontas) is rendered as if it were an adverb, or as if it referred to their “ignorance” in regard to the event; meaning, that while they might have known this fact, they took no pains to do it, or that they preferred to have its recollection far from their minds. So Beza and Luther render it. Others, however, take it as referring to what follows, meaning, “being so minded; being of that opinion; or affirming.” So Bloomfield, Robinson (Lexicon), Mede, Rosenmuller, etc. According to this interpretation the sense is, “They who thus will or think; that is, they who hold the opinion that all things will continue to remain as they were, are ignorant of this fact that things have not always thus remained; that there has been a destruction of the world once by water.”
The Greek seems rather to demand this interpretation; and then the sense of the passage will be, “It is concealed or hidden from those who hold this opinion, that the earth has been once destroyed.” It is implied, whichever interpretation is adopted, that the will was concerned in it; that they were influenced by that rather than by sober judgment and by reason; and whether the word refers to their “ignorance,” or to their “holding that opinion,” there was obstinacy and perverseness about it. The “will” has usually more to do in the denial and rejection of the doctrines of the Bible than the “understanding” has. The argument which the apostle appeals to in reply to this objection is a simple one. The adversaries of the doctrine affirmed that the laws of nature had always remained the same, and they affirmed that they always would. The apostle denies the fact which they assumed, in the sense in which they affirmed it, and maintains that those laws have not been so stable and uniform that the world has never been destroyed by an overwhelming visitation from God. It has been destroyed by a flood; it may be again by fire. There was the same improbability that the event would occur, so far as the argument from the stability of the laws of nature is concerned, in the one case that there is in the other, and consequently the objection is of no force.
That by the word of God - By the command of God. “He spoke, and it was done.” Compare Genesis 1:6, Genesis 1:9; Psalms 33:9. The idea here is, that everything depends on his word or will. As the heavens and the earth were originally made by his command, so by the same command they can be destroyed.
The heavens were of old - The heavens were formerly made, Genesis 1:1. The word “heaven” in the Scriptures sometimes refers to the atmosphere, sometimes to the starry worlds as they appear above us, and sometimes to the exalted place where God dwells. Here it is used, doubtless, in the popular signification, as denoting the heavens as they “appear,” embracing the sun, moon, and stars.
And the earth standing out of the water and in the water - Margin, “consisting.” Greek, συνεστῶσα sunestōsa. The Greek word, when used in an intransitive sense, means “to stand with,” or “together;” then tropically, “to place together,” to constitute, place, bring into existence - Robinson. The idea which our translators seem to have had is, that, in the formation of the earth, a part was out of the water, and a part under the water; and that the former, or the inhabited portion, became entirely submerged, and that thus the inhabitants perished. This was not, however, probably the idea of Peter. He doubtless has reference to the account given in Genesis 1:0: of the creation of the earth, in which water performed so important a part. The thought in his mind seems to have been, that “water” entered materially into the formation of the earth, and that in its very origin there existed the means by which it was destroyed afterward.
The word which is rendered “standing” should rather be rendered “consisting of,” or “constituted of;” and the meaning is, that the creation of the earth was the result of the divine agency acting on the mass of elements which in Genesis is called “waters,” Genesis 1:2, Genesis 1:6-7, Genesis 1:9. There was at first a vast fluid, an immense unformed collection of materials, called “waters,” and from that the earth arose. The point of time, therefore, in which Peter looks at the earth here, is not when the mountains, and continents, and islands, seem to be standing partly out of the water and partly in the water, but when there was a vast mass of materials called “waters” from which the earth was formed. The phrase “out of the water” (ἐξ ὕδατος ex hudatos) refers to the origin of the earth. It was formed “from,” or out of, that mass. The phrase “in the water” (δἰ ὕδατος di' hudatos) more properly means “through” or “by.” It does not mean that the earth stood in the water in the sense that it was partly submerged; but it means not only that the earth arose “from” that mass that is called “water” in Genesis 1:0, but that that mass called “water” was in fact the grand material out of which the earth was formed. It was “through” or “by means of” that vast mass of mingled elements that the earth was made as it was. Everything arose out of that chaotic mass; through that, or by means of that, all things were formed, and from the fact that the earth was thus formed out of the water, or that water entered so essentially into its formation, there existed causes which ultimately resulted in the deluge.
Whereby - Δι ̓ ὧν Di' hōn. Through which, or by means of which. The pronoun here is in the plural number, and there has been much difference of opinion as to what it refers. Some suppose that it refers to the heavens mentioned in the preceding verse, and to the fact that the windows of heaven were opened in the deluge (Doddridge), others that the Greek phrase is taken in the sense of (διὸ dio) “whence.” Wetstein supposes that it refers to the “heavens and the earth.” But the most obvious reference, though the plural number is used, and the word “water” in the antecedent is in the singular, is to “water.” The fact seems to be that the apostle had the “waters” mentioned in Genesis prominently in his eye, and meant to describe the effect produced “by” those waters. He has also twice, in the same sentence, referred to “water” - “out of the water and in the water.” It is evidently to these “waters” mentioned in Genesis, out of which the world was originally made, that he refers here. The world was formed from that fluid mass; by these waters which existed when the earth was made, and out of which it arose, it was destroyed. The antecedent to the word in the plural number is rather that which was in the mind of the writer, or that of which he was thinking, than the word which he had used.
The world that then was ... - Including all its inhabitants. Rosenmuller supposes that the reference here is to some universal catastrophe which occurred before the deluge in the time of Noah, and indeed before the earth was fitted up in its present form, as described by Moses in Genesis 1:0. It is rendered more than probable, by the researches of geologists in modern times, that such changes have occurred; but there is no evidence that Pater was acquainted with them, and his purpose did not require that he should refer to them. All that his argument demanded was the fact that the world had been once destroyed, and that therefore there was no improbability in believing that it would be again. They who maintained that the prediction that the earth would be destroyed was improbable, affirmed that there were no signs of such an event; that the laws of nature were stable and uniform; and that as those laws had been so long and so uniformly unbroken, it was absurd to believe that such an event could occur. To meet this, all that was necessary was to show that, in a case where the same objections substantially might be urged, it had actually occurred that the world had been destroyed. There was, in itself considered, as much improbability in believing that the world could be destroyed by water as that it would be destroyed by fire, and consequently the objection had no real force. Notwithstanding the apparent stability of the laws of nature, the world had been once destroyed; and there is, therefore, no improbability that it may be again. On the objections which might have been plausibly urged against the flood, see the notes at Hebrews 11:7.
But the heavens and the earth which are now - As they now exist. There is no difficulty here respecting what is meant by the word “earth,” but it is not so easy to determine precisely how much is included in the word “heavens.” It cannot be supposed to mean “heaven” as the place where God dwells; nor is it necessary to suppose that Peter understood by the word all that would now be implied in it, as used by a modern astronomer. The word is doubtless employed in a popular signification, referring to the “heavens as they appear to the eye;” and the idea is, that the conflagration would not only destroy the earth, but would change the heavens as they now appear to us. If, in fact, the earth with its atmosphere should be subjected to an universal conflagration, all that is properly implied in what is here said by Peter would occur.
By the same word - Dependent solely on the will of God. He has only to give command, and all will be destroyed. The laws of nature have no stability independent of his will, and at his pleasure all things could be reduced to nothing, as easily as they were made. A single word, a breath of command, from one Being, a Being over whom we have no control, would spread universal desolation through the heavens and the earth. Notwithstanding the laws of nature, as they are called, and the precision, uniformity, and power with which they operate, the dependence of the universe on the Creator is as entire as though there were no such laws, and as though all were conducted by the mere will of the Most High, irrespective of such laws. In fact, those laws have no efficiency of their own, but are a mere statement of the way in which God produces the changes which occur, the methods by which He operates who “works all in all.” At any moment he could suspend them; that is, he could cease to act, or withdraw his efficiency, and the universe would cease to be.
Are kept in store - Greek, “Are treasured up.” The allusion in the Greek word is to anything that is treasured up, or reserved for future use. The apostle does not say that this is the only purpose for which the heavens and the earth are preserved, but that this is one object, or this is one aspect in which the subject may be viewed. They are like treasure reserved for future use.
Reserved unto fire - Reserved or kept to be burned up. See the notes at 2 Peter 3:10. The first mode of destroying the world was by water, the next will be by fire. That the world would at some period be destroyed by fire was a common opinion among the ancient philosophers, especially the Greek Stoics. What was the foundation of that opinion, or whence it was derived, it is impossible now to determine; but it is remarkable that it should have accorded so entirely with the statements of the New Testament. The authorities in proof that this opinion was entertained may be seen in Wetstein, in loc. See Seneca, N. Q. iii. 28; Cic. N. D. ii. 46; Simplicius in Arist. de Coelo i. 9; Eusebius, P. xv. 18. It is quite remarkable that there have been among the pagan in ancient and modern times so many opinions that accord with the statements of revelation - opinions, many of them, which could not have been founded on any investigations of science among them, and which must, therefore, have been either the result of conjecture, or handed down by tradition. Whatever may have been their origin, the fact that such opinions prevailed and were believed, may be allowed to have some weight in showing that the statements in the Bible are not improbable.
Against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men - The world was destroyed by a flood on account of the wickedness of its inhabitants. It would seem from this passage that it will be destroyed by fire with reference to the same cause; at least, that its destruction by fire will involve the perdition of wicked men. It cannot be inferred from this passage that the world will be as wicked at the general conflagration as it was in the time of Noah; but the idea in the mind of Peter seems to have been, that in the destruction of the world by fire the perdition of the wicked will be involved, or will at that time occur. It also seems to be implied that the fire will accomplish an important agency in that destruction, as the water did on the old world. It is not said, in the passage before us, whether those to be destroyed will be living at that time, or will be raised up from the dead, nor have we any means of determining what was the idea of Peter on that point. All that the passage essentially teaches is, that the world is reserved now with reference to such a consummation by fire; that is, that there are elements kept in store that may be enkindled into an universal conflagration, and that such a conflagration will be attended with the destruction of the wicked.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years - This 2 Peter 3:8-9 is the second consideration by which the apostle meets the objection of scoffers against the doctrine of the second coming of the Saviour. The objection was, that much time, and perhaps the time which had been supposed to be set for his coming, had passed away, and still all things remained as they were. The reply of the apostle is, that no argument could be drawn from this, for that which may seem to be a long time to us is a brief period with God. In the infinity of his own duration there is abundant time to accomplish his designs, and it can make no difference with him whether they are accomplished in one day or extended to one thousand years. Man has but a short time to live, and if he does not accomplish his purposes in a very brief period, he never will. But it is not so with God. He always lives; and we cannot therefore infer, because the execution of His purposes seems to be delayed, that they are abandoned. With Him who always lives it will be as easy to accomplish them at a far distant period as now. If it is His pleasure to accomplish them in a single day, He can do it; if He chooses that the execution shall be deferred to one thousand years, or that one thousand years shall be consumed in executing them, He has power to carry them onward through what seems, to us, to be so vast a duration. The wicked, therefore, cannot infer that they will escape because their punishment is delayed; nor should the righteous fear that the divine promises will fail because ages pass away before they are accomplished. The expression here used, that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, etc.,” is common in the Rabbinical writings. See Wetstein in loc. A similar thought occurs in Psalms 90:4; “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise - That is, it should not be inferred because His promise seems to be long delayed that therefore it will fail. When people, after a considerable lapse of time, fail to fulfil their engagements, we infer that it is because they have changed their plans, or because they have forgotten their promises, or because they have no ability to perform them, or because there is a lack of principle which makes them fail, regardless of their obligations. But no such inference can be drawn from the apparent delay of the fulfillment of the divine purposes. Whatever may be the reasons why they seem to be deferred, with God, we may be sure that it is from no such causes as these.
As some men count slackness - It is probable that the apostle here had his eye on some professing Christians who had become disheartened and impatient, and who, from the delay in regard to the coming of the Lord Jesus, and from the representations of those who denied the truth of the Christian religion, arguing from that delay that it was false, began to fear that his promised coming would indeed never occur. To such he says that it should not be inferred from his delay that he would not return, but that the delay should be regarded as an evidence of his desire that men should have space for repentance, and an opportunity to secure their salvation. See the notes at 2 Peter 3:15.
But is long-suffering to us-ward - Toward us. The delay should be regarded as a proof of His forbearance, and of His desire that all human beings should be saved. Every sinner should consider the fact that he is not cut down in his sins, not as a proof that God will not punish the wicked, but as a demonstration that He is now forbearing, and is willing that he should have an ample opportunity to obtain eternal life. No one should infer that God will not execute His threats, unless he can look into the most distant parts of a coming eternity, and demonstrate that there is no suffering appointed for the sinner there; anyone who sins, and who is spared even for a moment, should regard the respite as only a proof that God is merciful and forbearing now.
Not willing that any should perish - That is, He does not desire it or wish it. His nature is benevolent, and He sincerely desires the eternal happiness of all, and His patience toward sinners “proves” that He is willing that they should be saved. If He were not willing, it would be easy for Him to cut them off, and exclude them from hope immediately. This passage, however, should not be adduced to prove:
(1) That sinners never will in fact perish; because:
(a) the passage does not refer to what God will do as the final Judge of mankind, but to what are His feelings and desires now toward men.
(b) One may have a sincere desire that others should not perish, and yet it may be that, in entire consistency with that, they will perish. A parent has a sincere wish that his children should not be punished, and yet he himself may be under a moral necessity to punish them. A lawgiver may have a sincere wish that no one should ever break the laws, or be punished, and yet he himself may build a prison, and construct a gallows, and cause the law to be executed in a most rigorous manner. A judge on the bench may have a sincere desire that no man should be executed, and that everyone arraigned before him should be found to be innocent, and yet even he, in entire accordance with that wish, and with a most benevolent heart, even with tears in his eyes, may pronounce the sentence of the law.
(c) It cannot be inferred that all that the heart of infinite benevolence would desire will be accomplished by his mere will. It is evidently as much in accordance with the benevolence of God that no one should be miserable in this world, as it is that no one should suffer in the next, since the difficulty is not in the question Where one shall suffer, but in the fact itself that any should suffer; and it is just as much in accordance with His nature that all should be happy here, as that they should be happy hereafter. And yet no man can maintain that the fact that God is benevolent proves that no one will suffer here. As little will that fact prove that none will suffer in the world to come.
(2) The passage should not be adduced to prove that God has no purpose, and has formed no plan, in regard to the destruction of the wicked; because:
(a)The word here used has reference rather to His disposition, or to His nature, than to any act or plan.
- There is a sense, as is admitted by all, in which He does will the destruction of the wicked - to wit, if they do not repent - that is, if they deserve it.
- Such an act is as inconsistent with His general benevolence as an eternal purpose in the matter, since His eternal purpose can only have been to do what He actually does; and if it be consistent with a sincere desire that sinners should be saved to do this, then it is consistent to determine beforehand to do it - for to determine beforehand to do what is in fact right, can only be a lovely trait in the character of anyone.
(3) The passage then proves:
(a)That God has a sincere desire that people should be saved;
(b)That any purpose in regard to the destruction of sinners is not founded on mere will, or is not arbitrary;
(c)That it would be agreeable to the nature of God, and to His arrangements in the plan of salvation, if all human beings should come to repentance, and accept the offers of mercy;
(d)That if any come to Him truly penitent, and desirous to be saved, they will not be cast off;
(e)That, since it is in accordance with His nature, that He should desire that all people may be saved, it may be presumed that He has made an arrangement by which it is possible that they should be; and,
(f)That, since this is His desire, it is proper for the ministers of religion to offer salvation to every human being. Compare Ezekiel 33:11.
But the day of the Lord - The day of the Lord Jesus. That is, the day in which he will be manifested. It is called his day, because he will then be the grand and prominent object as the Judge of all. Compare Luke 17:27.
Will come as a thief in the night - Unexpectedly; suddenly. See the notes at 1 Thessalonians 5:2.
In the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise - That is, what seems to us to be the heavens. It cannot mean that the holy home where God dwells will pass away; nor do we need to suppose that this declaration extends to the starry worlds and systems as disclosed by modern astronomy. The word is doubtless used in a popular sense - that is, as things appear to us; and the fair interpretation of the passage would demand only such a change as would occur by the destruction of this world by fire. If a conflagration should take place, embracing the earth and its surrounding atmosphere, all the phenomena would occur which are here described; and, if this would be so, then this is all that can be proved to be meant by the passage. Such a destruction of the elements could not occur without “a great noise.”
And the elements shall melt with fervent heat - Greek: “the elements being burned, or burning, (καυσούμενα kausoumena,) shall be dissolved.” The idea is, that the cause of their being “dissolved” shall be fire; or that there will be a conflagration extending to what are here called the “elements,” that shall produce the effects here described by the word “dissolved.” There has been much difference of opinion in regard to the meaning of the word here rendered “elements,” (στοιχεῖα stoicheia.) The word occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Galatians 4:3, Galatians 4:9; 2Pe 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12, in which it is rendered “elements;” Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:20, in which it is rendered “rudiments;” and in Hebrews 5:12, where it is rendered “principles.” For the general meaning of the word, see the notes at Galatians 4:3. The word denotes the “rudiments” of anything; the minute parts or portions of which anything is composed, or which constitutes the simple portions out of which anything grows, or of which it is compounded.
Here it would properly denote the component parts of the material world; or those which enter into its composition, and of which it is made up. It is not to be supposed that the apostle used the term with the same exact signification with which a chemist would use it now, but in accordance with the popular use of the term in his day. In all ages, and in all languages, some such word, with more or less scientific accuracy, has been employed to denote the primary materials out of which others were formed, just as, in most languages, there have been characters or letters to denote the elementary sounds of which language is composed. In general, the ancients supposed that the elements out of which all things were formed were four in number - air, earth, fire, and water. Modern science has overturned this theory completely, and has shown that these, so far from being simple elements, are themselves compounds; but the tendency of modern science is still to show that the elements of all things are in fact few in number.
The word, as used here by Peter, would refer to the elements of things as then understood in a popular sense; it would now not be an improper word to be applied to the few elements of which all things are composed, as disclosed by modern chemistry. In either case, the use of the word would be correct. Whether applied to the one or the other, science has shown that all are capable of combustion. Water, in its component parts, is inflammable in a high degree; and even the diamond has been shown to be combustible. The idea contained in the word “dissolved,” is, properly, only the change which heat produces. Heat changes the forms of things; dissolves them into their elements; dissipates those which were solid by driving them off into gases, and produces new compounds, but it annihilates nothing. It could not be demonstrated from this phrase that the world would be annihilated by fire; it could be proved only that it will undergo important changes. So far as the action of fire is concerned, the form of the earth may pass away, and its aspect be changed; but unless the direct power which created it interposes to annihilate it, the matter which now composes it will still be in existence.
The earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up - That is, whether they are the works of God or man - the whole vegetable and animal creation, and all the towers, the towns, the palaces, the productions of genius, the paintings, the statuary, the books, which man has made:
“The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
And all that it inherits, shall dissolve,
And, like the baseless fabric of a vision,
Leave not one wreck behind.”
The word rendered “burned up,” like the word just before used and rendered “fervent heat” - a word of the same origin, but here intensive - means that they will undergo such a change as fire will produce; not, necessarily, that the matter composing them will be annihilated. If the matter composing the earth is ever to be destroyed entirely, it must be by the immediate power of God, because only He who created can destroy. There is not the least evidence that a particle of matter originally made has been annihilated since the world began; and there are no fires so intense, no chemical powers so mighty, as to cause a particle of matter to cease wholly to exist. So far as the power of man is concerned, and so far as one portion of matter can prey on another, matter is as imperishable as mind, and neither can be destroyed unless God destroys it. Whether it is His purpose to annihilate any portion of the matter which He has made, does not appear from His Word; but it is clear that He intends that the universe shall undergo important changes. As to the possibility or probability of such a destruction by fire as is predicted here, no one can have any doubt who is acquainted with the disclosures of modern science in regard to the internal structure of the earth.
Even the ancient philosophers, from some cause, supposed that the earth would still be destroyed by fire (see my notes at 2 Peter 3:7), and modern science has made it probable that the interior of the earth is a melted and intensely-heated mass of burning materials; that the habitable world is only a comparatively thin crust (shell) over those internal fires; that earthquakes are caused by the vapors engendered by that heated mass when water comes in contact with it; and that volcanoes are only openings and vent-holes through which those internal flames make their way to the surface. Whether these fires will everywhere make their way to the surface, and produce an universal conflagration, perhaps could not be determined by science, but no one can doubt that the simple command of God would be all that is necessary to pour those burning floods over the earth, just as He once caused the waters to roll over every mountain and through every valley.
As to the question whether it is probable that such a change will be produced by fire, bringing the present order of things to a close, it may be further remarked that there is reason to believe that such changes are in fact taking place in other worlds. “During the last two or three centuries, upwards of thirteen fixed stars have disappeared. One of them, situated in the northern hemisphere, presented a special brilliancy, and was so bright as to be seen by the naked eye at mid-day. It seemed to be on fire, appearing at first of a dazzling white, then of a reddish yellow, and lastly of an ashy pale color. LaPlace supposes that it was burned up, as it has never been seen since. The conflagration was visible about sixteen months.” The well-known astronomer, Von Littrow, in the section of his work on “New and Missing Stars” (entitled, Die Wunder der Himmels oder Gemeinfassliche Darstellung der Weltsystems, Stuttgart, 1843, Section 227), observes: “Great as may be the revolutions which take place on the surface of those fixed stars, which are subject to this alternation of light, what entirely different changes may those others have experienced, which in regions of the firmament where no star had ever been before, appeared to blaze up in clear flames, and then to disappear, perhaps forever.”
He then gives a brief history of those stars which have excited the particular attention of astronomers. “In the year 1572, on the 11th of November,” says he, “Tycho, on passing from his chemical laboratory to the observatory, through the court of his house, observed in the constellation Cassiopeia, at a place where before he had only seen very small stars, a new star of uncommon magnitude. It was so bright that it surpassed even Jupiter and Venus in splendor, and was visible even in the daytime. During the whole time in which it was visible, Tycho could observe no parallax or change of position. At the end of the year, however, it gradually diminished; and at length, in March 1574, sixteen months after its discovery, entirely disappeared, since which all traces of it have been lost. When it first appeared, its light was of a dazzling white color; in January 1573, two months after its reviving, it became yellowish; in a few months it assumed a reddish hue, like Mars or Aldebaran; and in the beginning of the year 1574, two or three months before its total disappearance, it glimmered only with a gray or lead-colored light, similar to that of Saturn.” See Bibliotheca Sacra, III., p. 181. If such things occur in other worlds, there is nothing improbable or absurd in the supposition that they may yet occur on the earth.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved - Since this is an undoubted truth.
What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness - In holy conduct and piety. That is, this fact ought to be allowed to exert a deep and abiding influence on us, to induce us to lead holy lives. We should feel that there is nothing permanent on the earth that this is not our abiding home; and that our great interests are in another world. We should be serious, humble, and prayerful; and should make it our great object to be prepared for the solemn scenes through which we are soon to pass. An habitual contemplation of the truth, that all that we see is soon to pass away, would produce a most salutary effect on the mind. It would make us serious. It would repress ambition. It would lead us not to desire to accumulate what must so soon be destroyed. It would prompt us to lay up our treasures in heaven. It would cause us to ask with deep earnestness whether we are prepared for these amazing scenes, should they suddenly burst upon us.
Looking for - Not knowing when this may occur, the mind should be in that state which constitutes “expectation;” that is, a belief that it will occur, and a condition of mind in which we would not be taken by surprise should it happen at any moment. See the notes at Titus 2:13.
And hasting unto the coming - Margin, as in Greek: ““hasting the coming.”” The Greek word rendered “hasting,” (σπεύδω speudō,) means to urge on, to hasten; and then to hasten after anything, to await with eager desire. This is evidently the sense here - Wetstein and Robinson. The state of mind which is indicated by the word is that when we are anxiously desirous that anything should occur, and when we would hasten or accelerate it if we could. The true Christian does not dread the coming of that day. He looks forward to it as the period of his redemption, and would welcome, at any time, the return of his Lord and Saviour. While he is willing to wait as long as it shall please God for the advent of His Redeemer, yet to Him the brightest prospect in the future is that hour when he shall come to take him to Himself.
The coming of the day of God - Called “the day of God,” because God will then be manifested in his power and glory.
Nevertheless we, according to his promise - The allusion here seems to be, beyond a doubt, to two passages in Isaiah, in which a promise of this kind is found. Isaiah 65:17; “for, behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” Isaiah 66:22; “for as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord,” etc. Compare Revelation 21:1, where John says he had a vision of the new heaven and the new earth which was promised: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea.” See the notes at Isaiah 65:17.
Look for new heavens and a new earth - It may not be easy to answer many of the questions which might be asked respecting the “new heaven and earth” here mentioned. One of those which are most naturally asked is, whether the apostle meant to say that this earth, after being purified by fire, would be suited again for the home of the redeemed; but this question it is impossible to answer with certainty. The following remarks may perhaps embrace all that is known, or that can be shown to be probable, on the meaning of the passage before us.
I. The “new heavens and the new earth” referred to will be such as will exist after the world shall have been destroyed by fire; that is, after the general judgment. There is not a word expressed, and not a hint given, of any “new heaven and earth” previous to this, in which the Saviour will reign personally over his saints, in such a renovated world, through a long millennial period. The order of events, as stated by Peter, is:
(a)That the heavens and earth which are now, are “kept in store, reserved unto fire “against the day of judgment,” and perdition of ungodly men,” 2 Peter 3:7;
(b)That the day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly, 2 Peter 3:10; that then the heavens and earth will pass away with a great noise, the elements will melt, and the earth with all its works be burned up, 2 Peter 3:10; and,
(c)That after this 2 Peter 3:13 we are to expect the “new heavens and new earth.”
Nothing is said of a personal reign of Christ; nothing of the resurrection of the saints to dwell with him on the earth; nothing of the world’s being fitted up for their home previous to the final judgment. If Peter had any knowledge of such events, and believed that they would occur, it is remarkable that he did not even allude to them here. The passage before us is one of the very few places in the New Testament where allusion is made to the manner in which the affairs of the world will be closed; and it cannot be explained why, if he looked for such a glorious personal reign of the Saviour, the subject should have been passed over in total silence.
II. The word “new,” applied to the heavens and the earth that are to succeed the present, might express one of the following three things - that is, either of these things would correspond with all that is fairly implied in that word:
(a) If a new world was literally created out of nothing after this world is destroyed; for that would be in the strictest sense “new.” That such an event is possible no one can doubt, though it is not revealed.
(b) If an inhabitant of the earth should dwell after death In any other of the worlds now existing, it would be to him a “new” abode, and everything would appear new. Let him, for instance, be removed to the planet “Saturn,” with its wonderful ring, and its seven moons, and the whole aspect of the heavens, and of the world on which he would then dwell, would be new to him. The same thing would occur if he were to dwell on any other of the heavenly bodies, or if he were to pass from world to world. See this illustrated at length in the works of Thomas Dick, LL. D. - “Celestial Scenery,” etc. Compare the notes at 1 Peter 1:12.
(c) If the earth should be renovated, and suited for the home of man after the universal conflagration, it would then be a new abode.
III. This world, thus renovated, may be, from time to time, the temporary abode of the redeemed, after the final judgment. No one can prove that this may not be, though there is no evidence that it will be their permanent and eternal home or that even all the redeemed will at any one time find a home on this globe, for no one can suppose that the earth is spacious enough to furnish a dwelling-place for all the unnumbered millions that are to be saved. But that the earth may again be revisited from time to time by the redeemed; that in a purified and renovated form it may be one of the “many mansions” which are to be fitted up for them John 14:2, may not appear wholly improbable from the following suggestions:
(1) It seems to have been a law of the earth that in its progress it should be “prepared” at one period for the dwelling-place of a higher order of beings at another period. Thus, according to the disclosures of geology, it existed perhaps for countless ages before it was fitted to be an abode for man; and that it was occupied by the monsters of an inferior order of existence, who have now passed away to make room for a nobler race. Who can tell but the present order of thing may pass away to make place for the manifestations of a more exalted mode of being?
(2) There is no certain evidence that any world has been annihilated, though some have disappeared from human view. Indeed, as observed above, (see the notes at 2 Peter 3:10) there is no proof that a single particle of matter ever has been annihilated, or ever will be. It may change its form, but it may still exist.
(3) It seems also to accord most with probability, that, though the earth may undergo important changes by flood or fire, it will not be annihilated. It seems difficult to suppose that, as a world, it will be wholly displaced from the system of which it is now a part, or that the system itself will disappear. The earth, as one of the worlds of God, has occupied too important a position in the history of the universe to make it to be easily believed that the place where the Son of God became incarnate and died, shall be utterly swept away It would, certainly, accord more with all the feelings which we can have on such a subject, to suppose that a world once so beautiful when it came from the hand of its Maker. should be restored to primitive loveliness; that a world which seems to have been made primarily (see the notes at 1 Peter 1:12) with a view to illustrate the glory of God in redemption, should be preserved in some appropriate form to be the theater of the exhibition of the developement of that plan in far distant ages to come.
(4) To the redeemed, it would be most interesting again to visit the spot where the great work of their redemption was accomplished; where the Son of God became incarnate and made atonement for sin; and where there would be so many interesting recollections and associations, even after the purification by fire, connected with the infancy of their existence, and their preparation for eternity. Piety would at least “wish” that the world where Gethsemane and Calvary are should never be blotted out from the universe.
(5) However, if, after their resurrection and reception into heaven, the redeemed shall ever revisit a world so full of interesting recollections and associations, where they began their being, where their Redeemer lived and died, where they were renewed and sanctified, and where their bodies once rested in the grave, there is no reason to suppose that this will be their permanent and unchanging home. It may be mere speculation, but it seems to accord best with the goodness of God, and with the manner in which the universe is made, to suppose that every portion of it may be visited, and become successively the home of the redeemed; that they may pass from world to world, and survey the wonders and the works of God as they are displayed in different worlds. The universe, so vast, seems to have been suited for such a purpose, and nothing else that we can conceive of will be so adapted to give employment without weariness to the minds that God has made, in the interminable duration before them.
IV. The new heavens and earth will be “holy.” They will be the home of righteousness forever.
(a) This fact is clearly revealed in the verse before us; “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” It is also the correct statement of the Scriptures, Rev 21:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 12:14.
(b) This will be in strong contrast with what has occurred on earth, The history of this world has been almost entirely a history of sin - of its nature, developements, results. There have been no perfectly holy beings on the earth, except the Saviour, and the angels who have occasionally visited it. There has been no perfectly holy place - city, village, hamlet; no perfectly holy community. But the future world, in strong contrast with this, will be perfectly pure, and will be a fair illustration of what religion in its perfect form will do.
(c) It is for this that the Christian desires to dwell in that world, and waits for the coming of his Saviour. It is not primarily that he may be happy, desirable as that is, but that he may be in a world where he himself will be perfectly pure, and where all around him will be pure; where every being that he meets shall be “holy as God is holy,” and every place on which his eye rests, or his foot treads, shall be uncontaminated by sin. To the eye of faith and hope, how blessed is the prospect of such a world!
Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent - That is, in securing your salvation. The effect of such hopes and prospects should be to lead us to an earnest inquiry whether we are prepared to dwell in a holy world, and to make us diligent in performing the duties, and patient in bearing the trials of life. He who has such hopes set before him, should seek earnestly that he may be enabled truly to avail himself of them, and should make their attainment the great object of his life. He who is so soon to come to an end of all weary toil, should be willing to labor diligently and faithfully while life lasts. He who is so soon to be relieved from all temptation and trial, should he willing to bear a little longer the sorrows of the present world. What are all these compared with the glory that awaits us? Compare the 1 Corinthians 15:58 note; Romans 8:18 note, following; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 notes.
That ye may be found of him in peace - Found by him when he returns in such a state as to secure your eternal peace.
Without spot, and blameless - See the notes at Ephesians 5:27. It should be an object of earnest effort with us to have the last stain of sin and pollution removed from our souls. A deep feeling that we are soon to stand in the presence of a holy God, our final Judge, cannot but have a happy influence in making us pure.
And account - that “the long-suffering of our Lord” is “salvation.” Regard his delay in coming to judge the world, not as an evidence that he never will come, but as a proof of his desire that we should be saved. Many had drawn a different inference from the fact that the Saviour did not return, and had supposed that it was a proof that he would never come, and that his promises had failed. Peter says that that conclusion was not authorized, but that we should rather regard it as an evidence of his mercy, and of his desire that we should be saved. This conclusion is as proper now as it was then. Wicked men should not infer, because God does not cut them down, that therefore they never will be punished, or that God is not faithful to his threatenings. They should rather regard it as a proof that he is willing to save them; because:
- He might justly cut them off for their sins;
(2)The only reason of which we have knowledge why he spares the wicked is to give them space for repentance; and,
(3)As long as life is prolonged a sinner has the opportunity to repent, and may turn to God. We may therefore, in our own case, look on all the delays of God to punish - on all his patience and forbearance toward us, notwithstanding our sins and provocations - on the numberless tokens of his kindness scattered along our way, as evidence that he is not willing that we should perish.
What an accumulated argument in any case would this afford of the willingness of God to save! Let any man look on his own sins, his pride, and selfishness, and sensuality; let him contemplate the fact that he has sinned through many years, and against many mercies; let him endeavor to estimate the number and magnitude of his offences, and upon God’s patience in bearing with him while these have been committed, and who can overrate the force of such an argument in proof that God is slow to anger, and is willing to save? Compare the notes at Romans 2:4.
Even as our beloved brother Paul also - From this reference to Paul the following things are clear:
(1)That Peter was acquainted with his writings;
(2)That Peter presumed that those to whom he wrote were also acquainted with them;
(3)That Peter regarded Paul as a “beloved brother,” notwithstanding the solemn rebuke which Paul had had occasion to administer to him, Galatians 2:2 ff.
(4)That Peter regarded Paul as an authority in inculcating the doctrines and duties of religion; and,
(5)That Peter regarded Paul as an inspired man, and his writings as a part of divine truth. See the notes at 2 Peter 3:16.
That Peter has shown in his Epistles that he was acquainted with the writings of Paul, has been abundantly proved by Eichhorn (Einleitung in das N. Tes. viii. 606ff), and will be apparent by a comparison of the following passages: Ephesians 1:3, with 1 Peter 3:1; Colossians 3:8, with 1 Peter 2:1; Ephesians 5:22, with 1 Peter 3:1; Ephesians 5:21, with 1Pe 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:6, with 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Corinthians 16:20, with 1 Peter 5:14; Romans 8:18, with 1 Peter 5:1; Romans 4:24, with 1 Peter 1:21; Romans 13:1, Romans 13:3-4, with 1 Peter 2:13-14; 1 Timothy 2:9, with 1Pe 3:3; 1 Timothy 5:5, with 1 Peter 3:5. The writings of the apostles were doubtless extensively circulated; and one apostle, though himself inspired, could not but feel a deep interest in the writings of another. There would be cases also, as in the instance before us, in which one would wish to confirm his own sentiments by the acknowledged wisdom, experience, and authority of another.
According to the wisdom given unto him - Peter evidently did not mean to disparage that wisdom, or to express a doubt that Paul was endowed with wisdom; he meant undoubtedly that, in regard to Paul, the same thing was true which he would have affirmed of himself or of any other man, that whatever wisdom he had was to be traced to a higher than human origin. This would at the same time tend to secure more respect for the opinion of Paul than if he had said it was his own, and would keep up in the minds of those to whom he wrote a sense of the truth that all wisdom is from above. In reference to ourselves, to our friends, to our teachers, and to all men, it is proper to bear in remembrance the fact that all true wisdom is from the “Father of lights.” Compare the notes at James 1:5, James 1:17.
Hath written unto you - It is not necessary to suppose that Paul had written any epistles addressed specifically, and by name, to the persons to whom Peter wrote. It is rather to be supposed that the persons to whom Peter wrote 1 Peter 1:1 lived in the regions to which some of Paul’s epistles were addressed, and that they might be regarded as addressed to them. The epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians were of this description, all addressed to churches in Asia Minor, and all, therefore, having reference to the same people to whom Peter addressed his epistles.
As also in all his epistles - Not only in those which he addressed to the churches in Asia Minor, but in his epistles generally. It is to be presumed that they might have had an acquaintance with some of the other epistles of Paul, as well as those sent to the churches in their immediate vicinity.
Speaking in them of these things - The things which Peter had dwelt upon in his two epistles. The great doctrines of the cross; of the depravity of man; of the divine purposes; of the new birth; of the consummation of all things; of the return of the Saviour to judge the world, and to receive his people to himself; the duty of a serious, devout and prayerful life, and of being prepared for the heavenly world. These things are constantly dwelt upon by Paul, and to his authority in these respects Peter might appeal with the utmost confidence.
In which - The common reading in this passage is ἐν οἷς en hois, and according to this the reference is to the “subjects” treated of - “in which things” - referring to what he had just spoken of - “speaking of these things.” This reading is found in the common editions of the New Testament, and is supported by far the greater number of mss., and by most commentators and critics. It is found in Griesbach, Tittman, and Hahn, and has every evidence of being the genuine reading. Another reading, however, (ἐν αἷς en hais,) is found in some valuable mss., and is supported by the Syriac and Arabic versions, and adopted by Mill (Prolegomena 1484), and by Beza. According to this, the reference is to the “epistles” themselves - as would seem to be implied in our common version. The true construction, so far as the evidence goes, is to refer it not directly to the “epistles,” but to the “things” of which Peter says Paul wrote; that is, not to the style and language of Paul, but to the great truths and doctrines which he taught. Those doctrines were indeed contained in his epistles, but still, according to the fair construction of the passage before us, Peter should not be understood as accusing Paul of obscurity of style. He refers not to the difficulty of understanding what Paul meant, but to the difficulty of comprehending the great truths which he taught. This is, generally, the greatest difficulty in regard to the statements of Paul. The difficulty is not that the meaning of the writer is not plain, but it is either:
(a)That the mind is overpowered by the grandeur of the thought, and the incomprehensible nature of the theme, or
(b)That the truth is so unpalatable, and the mind is so prejudiced against it, that we are unwilling to receive it.
Many a man knows well enough what Paul means, and would receive his doctrines without hesitation if the heart was not opposed to it; and in this state of mind Paul is charged with obscurity, when the real difficulty lies only in the heart of him who makes the complaint. If this be the true interpretation of this passage, then it should not be adduced to prove that Paul is an obscure writer, whatever may be true on that point. There are, undoubtedly, obscure things in his writings, as there are in all other ancient compositions, but this passage should not be adduced to prove that he had not the faculty of making himself understood. An honest heart, a willingness to receive the truth, is one of the best qualifications for understanding the writings of Paul; and when this exists, no one will fail to find truth that may be comprehended, and that will be eminently adapted to sanctify and save the soul.
Are some things hard to be understood - Things pertaining to high and difficult subjects, and which are not easy to be comprehended. Peter does not call in question the truth of what Paul had written; he does not intimate that he himself would differ from him His language is rather that which a man would use who regarded the writings to which he referred as true, and what he says here is an honorable testimony to the authority of Paul. It may be added,
(1) That Peter does not say that all the doctrines of the Bible, or even all the doctrines of Paul, are hard to be understood, or that nothing is plain.
(2) He says nothing about withholding the Bible, or even the writings of Paul, from the mass of Christians, on the ground of the difficulty of understanding the Scriptures; nor does he intimate that that was the design of the Author of the Bible.
(3) It is perfectly manifest, from this very passage, that the writings of Paul were in fact in the hands of the people, else how could they wrest and pervert them?
(4) Peter says nothing about an infallible interpreter of any kind, nor does he intimate that either he or his “successors” were authorized to interpret them for the church.
(5) With what propriety can the pretended successor of Peter - the pope - undertake to expound those difficult doctrines in the writings of Paul, when even Peter himself did not undertake it, and when he did not profess to be able to comprehend them? Is the Pope more skilled in the knowledge of divine things than the apostle Peter? Is he better qualified to interpret the sacred writings than an inspired apostle was?
(6) Those portions of the writings of Paul, for anything that appears to the contrary, are just as “hard to be understood” now, as they were before the “infallible” church undertook to explain them. The world is Little indebted to any claims of infallibility in explaining the meaning of the oracles of God. It remains yet to be seen that any portion of the Bible has been made clearer by “any” mere authoritative explanation. And,
(7) It should be added, that without any such exposition, the humble inquirer after truth may find enough in the Bible to guide his feet in the paths of salvation. No one ever approached the sacred Scriptures with a teachable heart, who did not find them “able to make him wise unto salvation.” Compare the notes at 2 Timothy 3:15.
Which they that are unlearned - The evil here adverted to is that which arises in cases where those without competent knowledge undertake to become expounders of the word of God. It is not said that it is not proper for them to attempt to become instructed by the aid of the sacred writings; but the danger is, that without proper views of interpretation, of language, and of ancient customs, they might be in danger of perverting and abusing certain portions of the writings of Paul. Intelligence among the people is everywhere in the Bible presumed to be proper in understanding the sacred Scriptures; and ignorance may produce the same effects in interpreting the Bible which it will produce in interpreting other writings. Every good thing is liable to abuse; but the proper way to correct this evil, and to remove this danger, is not to keep the people in ignorance, or to appoint some one to be an infallible interpreter; it is to remove the ignorance itself by enlightening the people, and rendering them better qualified to understand the sacred oracles. The way to remove error is not to perpetuate ignorance it is to enlighten the mind, so that it may be qualified to appreciate the truth.
And unstable - Who have no settled principles and views. The evil here adverted to is that which arises where those undertake to interpret the Bible who have no established principles. They regard nothing as settled. They have no landmarks set up to guide their inquiries. They have no stability in their character, and of course nothing can be regarded as settled in their methods of interpreting the Bible. They are under the control of feeling and emotion, and are liable to embrace one opinion to-day, and another directly opposite to-morrow. But the way to prevent This evil is not by attempting to give to a community an authoritative interpretation of the Bible; it is to diffuse abroad just principles, that men may obtain from the Bible an intelligent view of what it means.
Wrest - Pervert - στρεβλοῦσιν streblousin. The word here used occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is derived from a word meaning a windlass, winch, instrument of torture στρεβλή streblē and means to roll or wind on a windlass; then to wrench, or turn away, as by the force of a windlass; and then to wrest or pervert. It implies a turning out of the way by the application of force. Here the meaning is, that they apply those portions of the Bible to a purpose for which they were never intended. It is doubtless true that this may occur. Men may abuse and pervert anything that is good. But the way to prevent this is not to set up a pretended infallible interpreter. With all the perversities arising from ignorance in the interpretation of the Bible; in all the crude, and weak, and fanciful expositions which could be found among those who have interpreted the Scriptures for themselves - and they are many - if they were all collected together, there would not be found so many adapted to corrupt and ruin the soul, as have come from the interpretations attempted to be palmed upon the world by the one church that claims to be the infallible expounder of the word of God.
As they do also the other scriptures - This is an unequivocal declaration of Peter that he regarded the writings of Paul as a part of the holy Scriptures, and of course that he considered him as inspired. The word “Scriptures,” as used by a Jew, had a technical signification - meaning the inspired writings, and was the common word which was applied to the sacred writings of the Old Testament. As Peter uses this language, it implies that he regarded the writings of Paul as on a level with the Old Testament; and as far as the testimony of one apostle can go to confirm the claim of another to inspiration, it proves that the writings of Paul are entitled to a place in the sacred canon. It should be remarked, also, that Peter evidently speaks here of the common estimate in which the writings of Paul were held. He addresses those to whom he wrote, not in such a way as to declare to them that the writings of Paul were to be regarded as a part of the inspired volume, but as if this were already known, and were an admitted point.
Unto their own destruction - By embracing false doctrines. Error destroys the soul; and it is very possible for a man so to read the Bible as only to confirm himself in error. He may find passages which, by a perverted interpretation, shall seem to sustain his own views; and, instead of embracing the truth, may live always under delusion, and perish at last. It is not to be inferred that every man who reads the Bible, or even every one who undertakes to be its public expounder, will certainly be saved.
Seeing that ye know these things before - Being aware of this danger, and knowing that such results may follow. People should read the Bible with the feeling that it is possible that they may fall into error, and be deceived at last. This apprehension will do much to make them diligent, and candid, and prayerful, in studying the Word of God.
With the error of the wicked - Wicked men. Such as he had referred to in 2 Peter 2:0, who became public teachers of religion.
Fall from your own steadfastness - Your firm adherence to the truth. The particular danger here referred to is not that of falling from grace, or from true religion, but from the firm and settled principles of religious truth into error.
But grow in grace - Compare Colossians 1:10. Religion in general is often represented as “grace,” since every part of it is the result of grace, or of unmerited favor; and to “grow in grace” is to increase in that which constitutes true religion. Religion is as susceptible of cultivation and of growth as any other virtue of the soul. It is feeble in its beginnings, like the grain of mustard seed, or like the germ or blade of the plant, and it increases as it is cultivated. There is no piety in the world which is not the result of cultivation, and which cannot be measured by the degree of care and attention bestowed upon it. No one becomes eminently pious, any more than one becomes eminently learned or rich, who does not intend to; and ordinarily men in religion are what they design to be. They have about as much religion as they wish, and possess about the character which they intend to possess. When men reach extraordinary elevations in religion, like Baxter, Payson, and Edwards, they have gained only what they meant to gain; and the gay and worldly professors of religion who have little comfort and peace, have in fact the characters which they designed to have. If these things are so, then we may see the propriety of the injunction “to grow in grace;” and then too we may see the reason why so feeble attainments are made in piety by the great mass of those who profess religion.
And in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ - See the notes at John 17:3. Compare the notes at Colossians 1:10. To know the Lord Jesus Christ - to possess just views of his person, character, and work - is the sum and essence of the Christian religion; and with this injunction, therefore, the apostle appropriately closes this epistle. He who has a saving knowledge of Christ, has in tact all that is essential to his welfare in the life that is, and in that which is to come; he who has not this knowledge, though he may be distinguished in the learning of the schools, and may be profoundly skilled in the sciences, has in reality no knowledge that will avail him in the great matters pertaining to his eternal welfare.
To him be glory ... - Compare the Romans 16:27 note; 2 Timothy 4:18 note. With the desire that honor and glory should be rendered to the Redeemer, all the aspirations of true Christians appropriately close. There is no wish more deeply cherished in their hearts than this; there is nothing that will enter more into their worship in heaven. Compare Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 5:12-13.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 2 Peter 3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter