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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

2 Peter 3

Verses 1-99

Chapter 3

1 . This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you ] A new section of the Epistle opens. The “false teachers” recede from view, and the thoughts of the Apostle turn to the mockers who made merry at the delay of the coming of the Lord, to which Christians had so confidently looked forward as nigh at hand. In the stress laid on this being the “ second Epistle” we have a fact which compels us to choose between identity of authorship for both Epistles, or a deliberate imposture as regards the second.

I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance ] The word for “pure” is found in Philippians 1:10 , the corresponding noun in 1 Corinthians 5:8 ; 2 Corinthians 1:12 , 2 Corinthians 2:17 . Its primary application is to that which will bear the full test of being examined by sunlight, and so it carries with it the sense of a transparent sincerity. Its exact opposite is described in Ephesians 4:18 , “having the understanding” (the same Greek word as that here rendered “mind”) darkened. In the “stirring up by way of remembrance” we have a phrase that had been used before (chap. 1:13).

2 . the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets ] The conjunction of “prophets” and “apostles” here is so entirely after the pattern of the like combination in Ephesians 2:20 , Ephesians 3:5 , Ephesians 4:11 , that there can scarcely be a doubt that the writer meant at least to include the New Testament prophets who had spoken of the coming of the Lord, and whose predictions were now derided.

the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour ] The better MSS., with an overwhelming weight of authority, give of your Apostles . It is obvious that the reading thus supported gives a special interest to the words. They are a distinct recognition like that in 1 Peter 5:12 , and here in verse 15, of the Apostleship of St Paul and his fellow-workers. The Asiatic Churches were to remember his commandment (such, for example, as the rule of life in Eph. 4 6.), and to fashion their lives accordingly.

3 . knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers ] The better MSS. give the emphatic Hebrew idiom of reduplication (comp. Genesis 22:17 ), scoffers shall come in their scoffing . The first noun is found only here and in the parallel passage of Jude, ver. 18; the latter, here only.

walking after their own lusts, and saying …] This is given as the ground of their mocking temper. The habit of self-indulgence is at all times the natural parent of the cynical and scoffing sneer.

4 . Where is the promise of his coming? ] The question indicates the comparatively late date of the Epistle. St James had spoken (probably a. d. 50) of the Judge as standing at the door; St Paul had written twice as if he expected to be living on the earth when the Judge should come (1 Thessalonians 4:15 ; 1 Corinthians 15:51 ; 2 Corinthians 5:4 ), and yet He came not. Men began to think that the Coming was a delusion.

for since the fathers fell asleep ] Ordinarily, the “fathers,” as in Romans 9:5 , would carry our thoughts back to the great progenitors of Israel as a people. Here, however, the stress laid by the mockers on the death of the fathers as the starting-point of the frustrated expectation, seems to give the word another application, and we may see in the “fathers” the first generation of the disciples of Christ, those who had “fallen asleep” without seeing the Advent they had looked for (1 Thessalonians 4:15 ); those who had reached the “end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7 ). The scoffers appealed to the continuity of the natural order of things. Seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, followed as they had done from the beginning of the creation. In the last phrase we may trace an echo of Mark 10:6 , Mark 13:19 . “You have told us,” they seem to have said, “of an affliction such as there has not been from the beginning of the creation, and lo! we find the world still goes on as of old, with no great catastrophe.” The answer to the sneer St Peter gives himself, but it may be noted that the question of the scoffers at least implies the early date of the writings in which the expectation of the Coming is prominent.

In the use of the verb to “fall asleep” for dying, we are reminded of our Lord’s words “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth” (John 11:11 ); of St Paul’s “many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30 ). So in Greek sculpture Death and Sleep appear as twin genii, and in Greek and Roman epitaphs nothing is more common than the record that the deceased “sleeps” below. Too often there is the addition, as of those who were without hope, “sleeps an eternal sleep.” In Christian language the idea of sleep is perpetuated in the term “cemetery” ( κοιμητήριον = sleeping-place) as applied to the burial-place of the dead, but it is blended with that of an “awaking out of sleep” at the last day, and even with the thought, at first seemingly incompatible with it, that the soul is quickened into higher energies of life on its entrance into the unseen world.

5 . For this they willingly are ignorant of ] More accurately, For this is hid from them by their own will . The English phrase “they ignore” exactly expresses the state of mind of which the Apostle speaks. The ignorance of the scoffers was self-chosen. They closed their eyes to the truth that the law of continuity on which they laid stress was not without exception. There had been a great catastrophe in the past. There might yet be a great catastrophe in the future.

that by the word of God the heavens were of old ] The history of the creative work in Genesis 1:0 furnishes the first example that the order of the universe was not one of unbroken continuity of evolution. In “the word of God” we may see a reference either (1) to the continually recurring formula “God said” in Genesis 1:3 , Genesis 1:6 , Genesis 1:9 , or (2) to the thought that it was by the Eternal Word that the work of Creation was accomplished, as in John 1:3 ; Hebrews 1:2 ; and we have no sufficient data for deciding between the two. Hebrews 11:3 (“the worlds were framed by the word of God”) is exactly parallel to St Peter’s language, and is open to the same diversity of interpretation. In any case the words are a protest against the old Epicurean view of a concourse of atoms, and its modern counterpart, the theory of a perpetual evolution.

and the earth standing out of the water and in the water ] More accurately, and the earth formed out of water and by means of water . The words carry us back, as before, to the cosmogony of Genesis 1:0 . The earth was brought out of chaos into its present kosmos , by the water being gathered into one place and the dry land appearing (Genesis 1:9 ). It was kept together by the separation of the waters above the firmament from those that were below the firmament (Genesis 1:6 ). The Apostle speaks naturally from the standpoint of the physical science of his time and country, and we need not care to reconcile either his words or those of Genesis 1:0 with the conclusions of modern meteorological science. The equivalent fact in the language of that science would be that the permanence of the existing order of the world is secured by the circulation of water, rising in evaporation, and falling in the form of rain, between the higher and lower regions of the atmosphere, and that there must have been a time when this circulation began to supervene on a previous state of things that depended on different conditions.

6 . whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished ] The “whereby” is not without its difficulties. Does it refer to the whole fact of creation described in the previous verse, or to the two regions in which the element of water was stored up? On the whole, the latter has most in its favour. In the deluge, as described in Genesis 7:11 , the “fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened,” and so the waters above and those below the firmament were both instruments in the work of judgment. The stress laid on the same fact here and in 1 Peter 3:19 , 1 Peter 3:20 is, as far as it goes, an evidence in favour of identity of authorship. In the use of the word “perished,” or “was destroyed,” we have a proof, not to be passed over, as bearing indirectly upon other questions of dogmatic importance, that the word does not carry with it the sense of utter destruction or annihilation, but rather that of a change, or breaking up, of an existing order. It is obvious that this meaning is that which gives the true answer to those who inferred from the continuity of the order of nature that there could be no catastrophic change in the future.

7 . but the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word ] Some of the better MSS. give by His word , but the received reading rests on sufficient authority.

are kept in store, reserved unto fire ] Literally, are treasured up . The use of the word in reference to punishment has a parallel in Romans 2:5 . In naming “fire” as the instrument of that “destruction” of the existing framework of the world, which is, like that by water, to be the starting-point of a new and purified order, the Apostle follows in the track of 2 Thessalonians 1:8 , and Daniel 7:9-11 . It may be noted, though not as pointing to the source from which the Apostle derived his belief, that this destruction of the world by fire entered into the physical teaching of the Stoics. It is not without interest to note that it was specially prominent in the teaching of Zeno of Tarsus, who succeeded Chrysippus as the leading teacher of the School (Euseb. Praep. Evang . xv. 18). It appears also, in a book probably familiar to the Apostle, the Book of Enoch, c. xc. 11.

against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men ] The word for “perdition” is the same as that rendered “destruction” in chap. 2:1, and is identical in meaning with the verb “perished” in the preceding verse. We cannot accordingly infer from it that the “ungodly” will cease to exist, but only that there will be a great and penal change in their condition. An interesting parallel to the teaching of this passage, probably in great part derived from it, is found in an Oration of Melito of Sardis, translated from the Syriac by Dr Cureton in a. d. 1855. “There was a flood of water.… There will be a flood of fire, and the earth will be burnt up together with its mountains … and the just shall be delivered from its fury, as their fellows in the Ark were saved from the waters of the Deluge.”

8 . But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing ] Literally, the construction being the same as in ver. 5, let not this one thing be hidden from you .

that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years …] The latter clause has its origin in the words of the Psalmist, “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday” (Psalms 90:4 ); but while the Psalmist dwells only on the littleness of our greatest time-measures, the Apostle completes the thought by joining with it the possible greatness of that which to our sight is almost infinitely little. “A day” (probably with special reference to the day of judgment) may be pregnant with results for the spiritual history of mankind or of an individual soul as great as those of a millennium. The delay of a millennium may be but as a day in the evolution of the great purposes of God. The words have the additional interest of having impressed themselves as a “faithful saying” or axiom of religious thought on the minds of the apostolic age, and are quoted as such in the Epistle that bears the name of Barnabas (chap. 15). This forms the second answer of the Apostle to the sneering question of the mockers.

9 . The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness …] We enter here on the third answer, and it rests on the purpose which was working through what men looked on as a delay in the fulfilment of the promise. That purpose was one of love and mercy. It was not slackness or tardiness, but “long-suffering.” We note, as an evidence of identity of authorship, the recurrence of the thought which we have found in 1 Peter 3:20 . The “long-suffering of God” which had shewn itself then, as in the history of Genesis 6:3 , in the delay of a hundred and twenty years between the first prophetic warning of the coming judgment and the actual deluge, was manifested now in the interval, longer than the first disciples had anticipated, between the first and the second comings of the Christ. We ask, as we read the words, whether the Apostle, as he wrote them, contemplated the period of well-nigh two thousand years which has passed since without the expected Advent; and we have no adequate data for answering that question. It may well have been that though the horizon was receding as he looked into the future, it was still not given to him “to know the times and the seasons” (Acts 1:7 ), and that he still thought that the day of the Lord would come within much narrower limits, perhaps, even, in the lifetime of that generation. But the answer which he gives is the true answer to all doubts and questions such as then presented themselves, to reproductions of the like questions now. However long the interval, though it be for a period measured by millenniums, there is still the thought that this is but as a moment in the years of eternity, and that through that lengthened period, on earth or behind the veil, there is working the purpose of God, who doth not will that any should perish (comp. 1 Timothy 2:4 ; Ezekiel 18:23 ), but that all should come to repentance. Here again the word “perish” does not mean simple annihilation, but the state which is the opposite of salvation.

10 . But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night …] The confidence of the Apostle that this will be the end of the history of the human race is not shaken by the seeming “slackness” in its approach. Either reproducing the thought which he had heard from his Master’s lips (Matthew 24:43 ), or echoing the very words of St Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:2 ), he declares that it will come, and will come suddenly, when men are not looking for it.

the heavens shall pass away with a great noise ] The last four words answer to one Greek adverb, not found elsewhere, which implies the “whizzing” or “rushing” sound of an arrow hurtling through the air (Hom. Il . xvi. 361). The “heavens” (in the plural, after the common mode of speech both in the Old and New Testament) shall, in that great day, be the scene of a great convulsion. We have here obviously the same thought as in Matthew 24:29 , but the mind of the Apostle, now rising to the character of an apocalyptic seer, beholds in that convulsion not a work of destruction only, but one of renovation. Comp. a like picture of the end of the world’s history in Revelation 20:11 , Revelation 21:1 .

the elements shall melt with fervent heat ] The word “elements” may possibly stand for what were so called in some of the physical theories of the time, the fire, air, earth, water, out of which all existing phenomena were believed to be evolved (comp. Wisd. 19:18). The word was, however, used a little later on for what we call the “heavenly bodies,” sun, moon, and stars (Justin Mart. Apol . ii. 4. 4), and that meaning, seeing that the “elements” are distinguished from the “earth,” and that one of the four elements is to be the instrument of destruction, is probably the meaning here.

the earth also and the works that are therein ] The use of the word “works” suggests the thought that the Apostle had chiefly in view all that man had wrought out on the surface of the globe; his cities, palaces, monuments, or the like. The comprehensive term may, however, include “works” as the “deeds” of men, of which St Paul says that they shall all be tried by fire (1 Corinthians 3:13 ).

11 . Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved ] Literally, Seeing therefore that all these things are being dissolved . The Greek participle is in the present tense, and is probably used to convey the thought that even now the fabric of the earth is on its way to the final dissolution. If with some of the better MSS. we read “shall thus be dissolved,” instead of “then,” the participle must be taken as more definitely future, being coupled, as in that case it must be, with the manner as well as the fact of the dissolution.

ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness ] It should be noted, though it cannot well be expressed in English, that both the Greek nouns are in the plural, as expressing all the manifold forms in which holy living (see note on 1 Peter 1:15 ) and “godliness” shew themselves. The verb for “be” is that which emphatically expresses a permanent and continuous state. The thought implied is that the belief in the transitoriness of all that seems most enduring upon earth should lead, as a necessary consequence, to a life resting on the eternal realities of truth and holiness.

12 . looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God …] The English versions follow the Vulgate and Luther in this rendering. It is doubtful, however, whether the Greek verb for “hasten,” followed by an accusative without a preposition, can have this meaning, and its natural transitive force (as e.g. in the LXX. of Isaiah 16:5 , and Herod. i. 38) would give the sense hastening the day . So taken, the thought of the Apostle is that the “day of God” is not immutably fixed by a Divine decree, but may be accelerated by the readiness of His people or of mankind at large. In proportion to that readiness there is less occasion, if we may so speak, for the “long-suffering of God,” to postpone the fulfilment of His promise.

wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved ] More accurately, on account of which , viz. “the day of God,” the destruction of the present order being for the sake of that which is to usher in a new and better state. On the words that follow see note on ver. 10, which is almost verbally reproduced. Micah 1:4 may be referred to as presenting the same picture of destruction.

13 . we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth ] The promise of which the Apostle speaks is that of Isaiah 65:17 , Isaiah 66:22 , where we have the very words, “new heavens and a new earth,” the context there connecting it with the restoration of Israel to their own land and the renewed glory of Jerusalem. The same hope shews itself in the visions of the Apocalypse (Revelation 21:1 ) as connected with the “new Jerusalem” coming down from God, and appears in a fuller and more expanded form in the Apocryphal Book of Enoch. “The former heaven shall pass away and a new heaven shall shew itself” (chap. xcii. 17). “The earth shall be cleansed from all corruption, from every crime, from all punishment” (c. x. 2 7).

wherein dwelleth righteousness ] This again reproduces the thought of Isaiah (65:25) that “they shall not hurt (LXX. “act unrighteously”) nor destroy in all my holy mountain,” and St John’s account of the new Jerusalem that “there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth” (Revelation 21:27 ). It is implied in St Paul’s belief that “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21 ). Earth itself, purified and redeemed, is to be the scene of the blessedness of the saved, as it has been, through the long æons of its existence, of sin and wretchedness.

14 . be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace …] The language, like that of ver. 8, is that of one who still lives in the expectation that he and those to whom he writes may yet survive to witness the coming of the Lord. The hour of death has not yet taken the place in the Apostle’s thoughts, as it has done since, of the day of that Coming. In the exhortation that men should be diligent (better, be earnest ) to be found in peace at that day, we may trace an echo of our Lord’s words, “Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing” (Matthew 24:46 ). “Peace” is used in its widest Hebrew sense, as including every element of blessedness, peace with God, and therefore peace with man, the peace which Christ gives, not as the world gives (John 14:27 ), the peace which passes understanding (Philippians 4:7 ).

without spot, and blameless …] The words are nearly identical with those which describe the character of Christ as “a lamb without blemish and without spot” in 1 Peter 1:19 , and their re-appearance is a fresh link in the chain of evidence as to identity of authorship. They who expect the coming of Christ should be like Him in their lives. The first of the two words may be noticed as used also by St James (1:27).

15 . And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation ] The words have a pointed reference to ver. 9. Men were impatient, and counted the “long-suffering of God” as tardiness in the fulfilment of His promises. The true way of looking at it was to see in it the working out of His plan of salvation for all who should be willing to receive it. In the “long-suffering of our Lord ” (obviously from ver. 18), the “Lord Jesus,” we see a testimony, indirect but not the less explicit, to the full participation of the Son in the counsels and purposes of the Father.

even as our beloved brother Paul …] The words imply a full recognition of St Paul’s work as a brother in the Apostleship, and are in harmony, as has been noticed, with 1 Peter 5:12 ; 2 Peter 1:12 , 2 Peter 3:2 .

according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you ] As far as the subject-matter is concerned, 1 Thessalonians 4:5 . and 2 Thessalonians 2:0 seem to correspond most closely with St Peter’s reference, and as these were written when Silvanus was with St Paul (see note on 1 Peter 5:12 ), there is strong ground for believing that St Peter would be acquainted with their contents. If, on the other hand, we restrict the words “hath written to you ” to the Asiatic Churches to whom 1 Peter was addressed, we may think of Ephesians 1:14 , Ephesians 1:2 :7, 3:Ephesians 1:9-11 ; Colossians 1:20 , as referred to here, while the statements are included in the allusion in the next verse.

16 . as also in all his epistles ] The English represents the Greek accurately enough, but the absence of the article in the original should be noted as shewing that there was not yet any complete collection of St Paul’s Epistles. All that can be legitimately inferred from the expression is that St Peter knew of other Epistles (probably 1 and 2 Thess., 1 and 2 Cor., and Romans) besides those or that to which he had referred in the preceding verse.

speaking in them of these things ] i.e. of the coming of the Lord and of the end of the world. Here, on the assumption made in the previous verse, we may find a reference, as to 1 Thessalonians 4:5 and 2 Thessalonians 2:0 ; so also to Romans 8:19-21 , Romans 8:13 :11, Romans 8:12 ; 1 Corinthians 3:13 , 1 Corinthians 4:5 , 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 .

in which are some things hard to be understood ] We are left to conjecture what these were. We might think of the mysterious predictions of “the man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:0 , or the doctrine of the “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44 , 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 , but it is not easy to see how these elements of St Paul’s teaching could have been perverted to the destruction of men’s spiritual life. On the whole, therefore, it seems more likely that the Apostle finds in the “unlearned and unstable” the party of license in the Apostolic Church, who claimed to be following St Paul’s assertion of his freedom, by eating things sacrificed to idols and indulging in sins of impurity (see note on chap. 2:19), or who quoted his words “that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28 ) as sanctioning a profligate Antinomianism.

which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest …] Both words are peculiar to this Epistle in the New Testament. The latter had been used in chap. 2:14. The word for “wrest” expresses the action of a windlass that twists what is submitted to its action.

as they do also the other scriptures ] Few passages are more important than this in its bearing on the growth of the Canon of the New Testament. It shews (1) that the distinctive term of honour used of the books of the Old Testament was applied without reserve to St Paul’s writings; (2) that probably other books now found in the Canon were also so recognised. The last inference, though it might be said that the “other Scriptures”did not necessarily mean other writings than those of the Old Testament Canon, is confirmed (1) by the use of the term “Scripture” as connected with a quotation from Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:18 ; (2) by St Paul’s reference to “prophetic writings” or “Scriptures” as unfolding the mystery which had been hid from ages and generations in Romans 16:26 , and probably by the tests which he gives in 2 Timothy 3:16 as the notes by which “every inspired Scripture, or writing,” might be distinguished from its counterfeit. See notes bearing on this subject on 1 Peter 1:10-12 , 1 Peter 1:4 :11; 2 Peter 1:20 , 2 Peter 1:21 .

17 . beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked ] Better, of the lawless ones , as in chap. 2:7. It is noticeable that while St Paul had used the word for being “led away” of Barnabas as being influenced by the Judaizing teachers at Antioch (Galatians 2:13 ), St Peter here applies it to those who were persuaded by teachers at the opposite pole of error. Comp. note on chap. 2:1. The word for “error” is prominent in the Epistles to which St Peter has referred in the preceding verses (Ephesians 4:14 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:11 ).

fall from your own stedfastness ] The “steadfastness” of the readers of the Epistle as contrasted with the unstable or unsteadfast of verse 16 is acknowledged; but they are warned that it requires care and watchfulness to preserve it. He does not assume any indefectible grace of perseverance. The tense of the verb in “lest ye fall” indicates that it would be a single and decisive act.

18 . But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ ] The final thought of the Epistle, like that with which it opened, is the growth of the Christian life. Here, as there (chap. 1:5), stress is laid on knowledge as an element of growth, partly as essential to completeness in the Christian life, partly also, perhaps, in reference to the “knowledge falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20 ) of which the false teachers boasted.

To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen ] The word “glory” in the Greek has the article, which makes it include all the glory which men were wont, in their doxologies, to ascribe to God. The Apostle has learnt the full meaning of the words “that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:23 ). The effect of his teaching may be traced in the Churches to which the letter was mainly addressed, in Pliny’s account of the worship of Christians in the Asiatic provinces, as including “a hymn sung to Christ as to God” ( Ep. ad Trajan . 96). The Greek phrase for “for ever” (literally, for the day of the æon , or eternity ) is a peculiar one, and expresses the thought that “the day” of which the Apostle had spoken in verses 10 and 12 would be one which should last through the new æon that would then open, and to which no time-limits could be assigned.

The absence of any salutations, like those with which the First Epistle ended, is, perhaps, in part due to the wider and more encyclical character which marks the Second. The Apostle was content that his last words should be on the one hand an earnest entreaty that men should “grow” to completeness in their spiritual life, and, on the other, the ascription of an eternal glory to the Lord and Master whom he loved.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Peter 3". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/2-peter-3.html. 1896.