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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

2 Peter

- 2 Peter

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

This epistle claims that the Apostle Peter wrote it (2Pe_1:1). It also claims to follow a former letter by Peter (2Pe_3:1) that appears to be a reference to 1 Peter, though Peter may have been referring to a letter we no longer have. The author’s reference to the fact that Jesus had predicted a certain kind of death for him (2Pe_1:14) ties in with Jesus’ statement to Peter recorded in Joh_21:18. Even so, "most modern scholars do not think that the apostle Peter wrote this letter." [Note: Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 659. For the arguments of these scholars and rebuttals, see ibid, pp. 659-63.]

The earliest external testimony (outside Scripture) to Petrine authorship comes from the third century. [Note: The commentary by Origen (ca. A.D. 185-254) on John’s Gospel (Joh_5:3).] The writings of the church fathers contain fewer references to the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter than to the authorship of any other New Testament book. It is easy to see why critics who look for reasons to reject the authority of Scripture have targeted this book for attack. Ironically in this letter Peter warned his readers of heretics who departed from the teaching of the apostles and the Old Testament prophets, which is the very thing some of these modern critics do. Not all who reject Petrine authorship are heretics, however. The arguments of some critics have convinced some otherwise conservative scholars who retain belief in the epistle’s inspiration.

Regardless of the external evidence, there is strong internal testimony to the fact that Peter wrote the book. This includes stylistic similarities to 1 Peter, similar vocabulary compared with Peter’s sermons in Acts, and the specific statements already mentioned (i.e., 2Pe_1:1; 2Pe_1:14; 2Pe_3:1). In addition, the writer claimed to have witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration (2Pe_1:16-18) and to have received information about his own death from Jesus (2Pe_1:13-14; cf. Joh_21:18). Critics of Petrine authorship point to the many dissimilarities between 1 and 2 Peter. [Note: For defenses of Petrine authorship, see Michael J. Kruger, "The Authenticity of 2 Peter," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:4 (December 1999):645-71; Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, pp.199-215; A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6:139-44; and Kenneth O. Gangel, "2 Peter," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, pp. 859-61.]

Assuming Peter’s reference to his former letter (2Pe_3:1) is to 1 Peter, he seems to have sent this second epistle to the same general audience. That audience was primarily Gentile, but also Jewish, Christians living in northern Asia Minor (cf. 1Pe_1:1). The background of the readers and the situation they faced, as Peter described these, fit such an audience well. Thus this was not a "catholic" epistle, namely, a general epistle sent originally to all Christians at large.

Peter’s reference to his imminent departure from this life (2Pe_1:13-15) suggests that the time of composition may have been just before Peter suffered martyrdom. Second Peter bears some of the marks of a last will and testament (cf. 2Pe_1:3-11; 2Pe_2:1-3; 2Pe_3:1-4) as well as those of a letter, two literary genres. The writings of church fathers place Peter’s death at A.D. 67-68 in Rome. Consequently a date of composition about A.D. 67-68 seems most likely. Early church tradition also says Peter spent the last decade of his life in Rome. Nero began persecuting Christians in Rome in A.D. 64.

"Second Peter is the swan song of Peter, just as 2 Timothy is the swan song of Paul. There are striking similarities between the two books. Both epistles put up a warning sign along the pilgrim pathway the church is traveling to identify the awful apostasy that was on the way at the time and which in our time has now arrived. What was then like a cloud the size of a man’s hand today envelops the sky and produces a storm of hurricane proportions. Peter warns of heresy among teachers; Paul warns of heresy among the laity." [Note: J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5:715.]

The similarities between 2 Peter 2 and the Book of Jude, especially Judges 4-18, have raised several questions. Did Peter have access to Jude’s epistle, or did Jude have a copy of 2 Peter? Which book came first? Did one man use the other’s material, or did both draw from a common source? The commentators and writers of New Testament introductions deal with these questions thoroughly. See them for further explanations. [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary, pp. 1-20, also has an excellent discussion of the authenticity of this epistle, as do Bigg, pp. 216-32; Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, pp. 141-43; and Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter and Jude, pp. 17-18.]

Suffice it to say that the church through the ages has recognized the end product of both 2 Peter and Jude as epistles that God inspired. As far as which came first, we may never know for sure until we get to heaven. The more common view among scholars now is that Jude probably wrote before Peter (or his agent) composed 2 Peter. [Note: E.g., Bauckham.] I tend to favor the priority of 2 Peter, as do many conservative authorities. [Note: E.g., Moo and Bigg.]

"Most scholars, in fact, date 2 Peter in the early part of the second century and consider it the last New Testament book to have been written. The author’s claim to Petrine authorship, therefore, is part of the phenomenon of ’pseudonymity’ in the ancient world, whereby the authority and tradition of a revered religious figure were attributed to a later work by an anonymous author." [Note: Donald Senior, "The Letters of Jude and Second Peter," The Bible Today 25:4 (July 1987):212. See also Bauckham, pp. 134, 145-46, 158-62; and E. M. Sidebottom, James, Jude, 2 Peter, p. 100.]

This quotation reflects the majority of scholarly opinion but not the conviction of many conservatives, including myself. Moo noted the inconsistency of pseudonymity and inerrancy. [Note: Moo, pp. 22-24.]

"The purpose of 2 Peter is to call Christians to spiritual growth so that they can combat apostasy as they look forward to the Lord’s return." [Note: Gangel, p. 862.]

OUTLINE

I.    Introduction 2Pe_1:1-2

II.    The condition of the Christian 2Pe_1:3-11

A.    The believer’s resources 2Pe_1:3-4

B.    The believer’s needs 2Pe_1:5-9

C.    The believer’s adequacy 2Pe_1:10-11

III.    The authority for the Christian 2Pe_1:12-21

A.    The need for a reminder 2Pe_1:12-15

B.    The trustworthiness of the apostles’ witness 2Pe_1:16-18

C.    The divine origin of Scripture 2Pe_1:19-21

IV.    The danger to the Christian ch. 2

A.    The characteristics of false teachers 2Pe_2:1-3

B.    The consequences of false teaching 2Pe_2:4-10

C.    The conduct of false teachers 2Pe_2:10-19

D.    The condemnation of false teachers 2Pe_2:20-22

V.    The prospect for the Christian 2Pe_3:1-16

A.    The purpose of this epistle 2Pe_3:1-2

B.    Scoffing in the last days 2Pe_3:3-6

C.    End-time events 2Pe_3:7-10

D.    Living in view of the future 2Pe_3:11-16

VI.    Conclusion 2Pe_3:17-18

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