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- 2 Peter
by Mark Dunagan
In reading various commentaries is it interesting that conservative denominational scholars feel that 2 Peter is a book that has been quite neglected. And I can see why. To a religious world that seems bent on only hearing new, comfortable and pleasant things ( 2Ti_4:2-4 ), this book doesn’t sound so good. Some have claimed that the message of Second Peter is irrelevant. But listen to the following comments:
‘We live in days when the contents of the Christian faith are widely questioned, when new and speculative theologies are widely disseminated, and when a new morality is being advocated….Christianity is presented to us in terms of love, with the content of the faith and the hope for the future both strangely muted in deference to the contemporary intellectual climate. There is, moreover, an intellectualism about much of our Christianity which is not, perhaps, so far removed from that attacked in these letters (Jude and 2 Peter)-the knowledge that has little relation to holy living, growing spirituality and deepening love. We can hardly maintain that 2 Peter and Jude, written as they were to meet problems very like our own, have nothing to teach us. So long as sin needs to be exposed, so long as man needs to be reminded that persistent wrongdoing ends in ruin, that lust is self-defeating, that intellectualism devoid of love is a barren thing, and that Christian theology has no right to outrun the “faith once delivered to the saints”, these Epistles remain uncomfortably, burningly relevant.’ [Note: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. ‘The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude’, Michael Green, p. 11]
The book claims to have been written by Peter (1:1). It claims to be a second letter written by the same author to the same people (3:1). The author claims to have been a witness of the Transfiguration (1:16-18), at which event only Peter, James and John were present ( Mat_17:1-5 ).
Attacked By Critics:
No book in the New Testament has had its genuineness questioned more than this letter. Various writers who lived a couple of centuries after the apostles either had their own personal doubts about the book or simply mentioned that others did. Origin is the first writer to mention the book by name (240 A.D.). He quotes 2Pe_1:4 , labels it as Scripture, but adds, ‘ Peter has left one acknowledged Epistle, and perhaps a second, for this is contested.’ Jerome (born 350 A.D.) noted that Peter wrote two epistles and that many denied the second letter because of differences in style from the first letter.
Points to Note:
Whenever we read a statement made by those who lived after the days of the apostles, we need to realize that we are reading the writings of uninspired men. In addition, we would probably not call or consider many of the famous early religious scholars to be Christians in the true sense of the word. Many of them believed and practiced things that were completely unsound. 2. The argument concerning ‘style’ doesn’t seem to add up. A. If God is the true author of all the books of the Bible, then obviously He can use a different style. God isn’t a one dimensional author, is He? I think you will find that a host of scholars simply give lip service to the fact that the Bible is inspired of God ( 2Ti_3:16-17 ). B. The purpose for this second letter is completely different than the purpose for the first letter. First Peter was written to encourage Christians in the midst of suffering. Second Peter is written to warn and encourage Christians to oppose the false teachers creeping in among them (2:1ff). A difference in style doesn’t prove anything. Paul’s writings also differ in style (Compare Romans to Philemon, or 2 Corinthians to the Ephesian letter). C. On the other hand, some have complained that 2 Peter chapter 2 is too much like the book of Jude. There are many similarities, but it isn’t a word for word similarity. ‘There are only three verses in the beginning and seven verses at the end of Jude which do not have extensive parallels in 2 Peter ( Jud_1:1-3 ; Jud_1:19-25 ), through verbal agreement is rare.’ (Green p. 50) Since truth always harmonizes, one would expect there to be similarities between the various books. For example, three of the gospels are very similar, the same is true concerning the books of Ephesians and Colossians.
Peter mentions the letters written by Paul (3:15-16). Some say that this proves that this letter wasn’t written until the second century because Paul’s letters weren’t collected until around 90 A.D. But that is pure human assumption. We know from the other letters that his writings and other writings were circulating and being collected long before the end of the first century ( Col_4:16 ).
The Experts Lay An Egg:
I stand amazed at the mental gymnastics some ‘scholars’ perform in the attempt to please the academic community, at the same time trying to give the Bible some credibility. Various scholars seriously argue that this letter was written by a follower or admirer of Peter and simply attached Peter’s name to it. Interesting theory, until we realize that this letter strongly condemns pretenders among the people of God (1:16; 2:1ff).
It appears that the letter was written to the same people who had received the first letter (3:1). That is, Christians located in what is now modern Turkey ( 1Pe_1:1 ). Where the letter originated from isn’t mentioned.
From within the book it appears that Peter wrote this letter very near the end of his earthly life (1:14 ‘knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent..’) . According to various traditions, Peter is said to have been martyred around 67-68 A.D. Thus many date the letter in the latter half of the period between 67 and 68 A.D. ‘this letter….was intended by Peter to be a sort of last will and testament; the great man says farewell to his associates, and reminds them of important truths (1:12-15; 3:1-2)..’ (Green p. 18)
The Importance Of Knowledge:
While the first letter stresses the importance of hope, this letter stresses the importance of having the true knowledge (1:2-3,8,12, 15-21; 3:1-2, 18). Paul had previously warned Christians in the region of Asia Minor concerning the arrival of false teachers ( Act_20:28-31 ). From this letter and the letters to Timothy (who was working in that region) ( 1Ti_1:3 ), it seems that error was seriously beginning to hit the early church. Notice that the only safeguard against false doctrine is a knowledge of the truth. And be impressed that uninspired Christians can have a ‘full’ knowledge of the truth. One can understand the Bible ( Joh_8:32 ; 1Ti_2:4 ).
Point to Note:
We are walking on dangerous ground when we say that we can’t all understand the Bible alike. We are claiming that God used a method of communication that has failed. That God isn’t smart enough to communicate on our level. In addition, we are automatically removing the Bible from the hands of the common man. The clergy-laity distinction seen in the denominational world is based on the assumption that the Bible is too hard for the average person.
I can see why denominations tend to ignore this letter, for in their mind false teachers are few and rare in the religious world. The world that Peter lived in (the real world) and the world that we live in, contains an abundance of such individuals (2:1). The information written down in chapter 2 is not an over-reaction on the part of Peter. Rather it is teaching that the church will need in every generation. How timely is this chapter! Especially, when in some circles within the Lord’s church we are hearing that those who teach false doctrine aren’t necessarily false teachers.
For anyone who has had their eye on what has been happening among the institutional churches, carefully listen to the following observations concerning the false teachers in 2 Peter chapter 2:
‘There is wide agreement among commentators that the heresy envisaged is in both cases a primitive form of Gnosticism. The main characteristics that emerge are as follows. The lives and teaching of these men denied the Lordship of Jesus ( 2Pe_2:1 , Jud_1:4 )…were immoral themselves, and infected others with their lascivious ways, through minimizing the place of law in the Christian life and emphasizing freedom ( 2 Peter 2:10,12ff; 18 ff; Jud_1:4 ; Jud_1:12 ). In their teaching, which was very voluble, they were plausible and crafty, fond of rhetoric, out for gain..( 2Pe_2:1-22 L3,12,14,15,18)….Both writers represent them as arrogant and cynical…The false teachers described themselves as….”the spiritual ones”….Here in an undeveloped form, are all the main characteristics which went to make up later Gnosticism-emphasis on knowledge, which emancipated them from the claims of morality; arrogance towards “unenlightened” church leaders; interest in angelology; divisiveness; lascviousness.’ (Green pp. 37-39)
Nothing has changed! Seriously sit down and compare these false teachers with what is being pushed as the ‘cutting edge’ and the latest thing among institutional brethren. Compare this section with those who are spreading the New Hermeneutic, denying the need for bible authority, wanting to fellowship the denominations, etc…
Notice the parallels: 1. False doctrine is introduced in an underhanded manner (2:1). 2. Money is an issue (we aren’t going to grow as fast as we could if we hold to the truth) (2:3). 3. They make bold statements and start to occupy the place of God (2:10-11). They claim that in certain situations hardship justifies sin, they try to argue that the bible teaches a situational ethic, i.e. Mat_12:1-8 . They boldly profess that we can’t understand the bible alike, that doctrinal unity isn’t essential, in fact, that we can’t understand many biblical doctrines. 4. On basic bible subjects, they are ignorant (2:12). 5. They have taken the path of compromise (2:15). 6. They have seen the writing on the wall, and want the prestigious positions, salary, benefits, speaking engagements, etc…that come when a group evolves towards denominationalism (2:15). 6. They promise people a closer relationship with God, they promise ‘freedom in Christ’, a freedom from doctrinal constraints, (2:19). 7. They turn the grace of God into an excuse to sin ( Jud_1:4 ).
‘A terrible prospect lies ahead for the spiritual manipulators and exploiters, for those who distort the Word of God, and for apostate church leaders who sit loose to scriptural authority and faithlessly accommodate their message and moral standards to the spirit of the age.’ [Note: The Bible Speaks Today. ‘The Message Of 2 Peter & Jude’, Dick Lucas & Christopher Green, p. 26]
Carefully note that true spiritual growth can only take place in the realm of truth (1:4,8; 3:18). The church has always been confronted by those who claim that a deeper relationship with God exists, apart from the truth. That a more liberating and joyful relationship with God is available, if you will just downplay the importance of Scripture! And in every generation, people who haven’t developed a true love for God, have bought into the above sales pitch (2:2 ‘many will follow’). This letter also gives very practical and detailed information concerning the areas of our lives that we need to make improvements (1:5-11). Please note, for our own sake, remember that ‘grace’ can never be separated from what the truth says about grace (3:18). True grace will never say that the way to God is not narrow ( Mat_7:12-13 ). Or that obedience isn’t necessary (7:21-23).
The Second Coming:
Included in the errors which were being taught, was the denial that the Lord was coming again (3:3-4). Mark this down. When a religious body no longer talks about the Second Coming, you know that such a body has conformed to the thinking of this world. Many denominations exist, who long ago have made this world their home and the object of all their hopes. Notice the arguments being advanced by the false teachers: 1. Uniformitarianism: Everything continues as it has always continued from the beginning of Creation (3:4). This is the fundamental basis for the theory of Evolution. All present processes have always operated at the same rates. ‘They argued that this was a stable world, in which things remain unalterably the same.’ [Note: The Daily Study Bible Series. ‘The Letters Of James And Peter’, William Barclay p. 336] 2. Too much time will have passed (3:8-9). This point was vividly impressed upon my mind when I actually heard a comedian ridiculing the Second Coming, because 2000 years had passed! This attitude is still very much alive. One of the reasons that people feel that the bible is not longer relevant is the ‘time factor’. ‘But that was then, it was addressed to those people, we are modern individuals, we live in enlightened times…’
The following points you might find handy in remembering:
Grace and knowledge cannot be used against each other (1:2). In fact, receiving the grace of God is dependent upon first understanding the truth ( Joh_8:32 ). 2. The Bible is sufficient, complete, and a total resource for the Christian (1:3). 3. Man has a role to play in his own spiritual growth (1:5). 4. We can have assurance of our future salvation, but such an assurance is conditioned upon our own faithfulness (1:8). 5. Predestination/Calvinism is false, for man can make his calling and election ‘sure’ (1:10). 6. Lapsing into unfaithfulness is not an accident (1:10). 7. Teaching old and familiar truths, even to people who already know them, is a very important task (1:12-13,15). 8. The Apostles knew that they were revealing the Word of God (1:16-21; 3:1-2). 9. The Old Testament prophets did not invent their messages. The Old Testament is the inspired Word of God (1:20-21). 10. False teachers will exist, we cannot bury our head in the sand (2:1). 11. The Old Testament is historically trustworthy. Peter endorses the flood (2:5); the existence and condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6); the historical reality of a man by the name of Lot (2:7); the truthfulness of the account in the book of Numbers concerning Balaam (2:15-16) and the donkey that rebuked him. 12. A terrible fate awaits the unfaithful Christian (2:20-22). 13. The writings of the Apostles are the commandments of the Lord (3:1-2), and they are ‘Scripture’ (3:15-16). 14. Holding on to what had been written is to grow in grace and knowledge (3:18). 15. The earth and the physical universe will be completely destroyed (3:10). The earth will not be the final abode of the righteous. The earth is not eternal. The earth will not be simply cleansed at the Second Coming. Green notes that other groups in the past have believed in a fiery end to the universe. But there is always a difference between human theories and divine revelation. The Stoics believed that the earth is cleansed by fire every so often and then everything starts over. In contrast, what Peter describes is the complete end of this universe. It results in a new heavens and a new earth and not the same old heavens and earth. 16. Their will be no warning which precedes the Second Coming, thus setting a date is out of the question (3:10). 17. Contrary to human speculation, Peter and Paul were good friends (3:15). And taught the same truth. They didn’t have differing theologies. 18. People will attempt to distort what the Apostles taught (3:16). 19. People who can’t accept what the Bible says, are unstable and unlearned.
Outline Of The Book:
The True Knowledge: 1:3-4
Spiritual Growth: 1:5-11
Remember, Remember, Remember: 1:12-15
We Told You The Truth: 1:16-21
False Teachers: 2:1-3
God Hasn’t Changed: 2:4-9
Profile Of A Deadly Preacher: 2:10-19
God Has No Pity For The Unfaithful Christian: 2:20-22
Back To The Bible: 3:1-2
The Mockers: 3:4-9
The Day Of The Lord Will Come: 3:10-14
Paul Taught The Same Thing: 3:15-16
Grow In Spite of Error: 3:17-18
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17