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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

2 Peter 1

Verse 1

(1) Simon Peter.—The marginal reading “Symeon” is to be preferred. “Simon” has probably been substituted as being more usual. The Geneva Bible, which our translators unfortunately sometimes follow when it is misleading, has “Simeon.” “Symeon,” of St. Peter, occurs elsewhere only Acts 15:14, in a speech of the strongly Jewish St. James. As being the more Jewish form of the name, it points to a Jewish Christian as the author; and as being unusual, it shows that the writer, if not the Apostle, is no slavish imitator. As coming from St. Peter, the Apostle of the circumcision, it is natural enough. The differences between this opening and that of 1 Peter are instructive. There, as approaching communities which might seem to belong to St. Paul, he carefully suppresses everything personal; he calls himself merely “Peter,” the name which Christ Himself had given him along with his high commission (Matthew 16:18), and “Apostle,” the title which stated his commission. Here, as coming a second time to those who now know him better (both through his former Epistle and through Silvanus), he adds personal designations. There, as if not venturing to depart greatly from his own peculiar field, he addresses himself mainly to the Jewish converts. Here, with more boldness, the natural result of increased familiarity, he addresses Gentile converts chiefly. (See Note on 1 Peter 1:1.)

A servant and an apostle.—De Wette suspects a combination of 1 Peter 1:1 with Jude 1:1. The coincidence is too slight to argue upon. (See Romans 1:1 and Note on Jude 1:1.) The amount of similarity between the opening verses of Jude and those of this Epistle is too small for any conclusions as to the dependence of one on the other. Although the word for “servant” strictly means slave, the English version is quite correct. (See on Romans 1:1.)

To them that have obtained.—The Greek word implies that they have not won it or earned it for themselves, but that it has been allotted to them. Comp. Acts 1:17, where the same word (rare in the New Testament) occurs in a speech of St. Peter. (See Note on “godliness,” 2 Peter 1:3.) Another coincidence to be noticed is the way in which St. Peter speaks of the Gentile Christians (Acts 11:17) when charged with having visited “men uncircumcised,” and again (Acts 15:8-44.15.11) at the Council of Jerusalem; both remarkable parallels to this.

Like precious faith with us.—Not that all had an equal amount of faith, which would scarcely be possible; nor that their faith gave all an equal right to salvation, which the Greek could scarcely mean; but that all believed the same precious mysteries. (Comp. 1 Peter 1:7.) It is delicately implied that “we as well as you have had it allotted to us; it is no credit to us; we are not superior to you.” “Us” may mean either the Apostles, or (more probably) the first Christians, as distinct from those converted later, i.e., Jewish as distinct from Gentile Christians. This shows that Gentile converts are chiefly addressed in this Epistle, as Jewish in the First Epistle. Gentiles would be more likely to be doubters respecting Christ’s return to judgment, than Jews well acquainted with Hebrew prophecies on the subject. Gentiles also would be more likely than Jews to fall into the excesses denounced in the second chapter, which bear a strong resemblance to the catalogue of heathen vices given by St. Paul in Romans 1:0 The idea that Christians are the antitype of the chosen people is prominent in St. Peter’s writings. (Comp. 2 Peter 2:1, and 1 Peter 1:10.) Note that no particular churches are mentioned. The Second Epistle is more “general” or “catholic” in its address than the First. Here again we have a mark of independence. A writer personating St. Peter, and referring to the former Letter (2 Peter 3:1), would probably have taken care to make the address of the second letter tally exactly with that of the first.

Through the righteousness.—Better, in the righteousness. So Wiclif, Tyndale, and Rheims version. “Righteousness” is variously explained. Perhaps the best interpretation is “fairness, justice.” He has no respect of persons, and hence has given to all Christians, early or late, Jew or Gentile, a “like precious faith.”

Of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.—Better, of our God and (our) Saviour Jesus Christ. Here, as in Titus 2:13 (comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:12), we are somewhat in doubt as to whether we have one or two Persons of the Trinity mentioned. Rigid grammar would incline us to make “God” and “Saviour” both apply to Christ. But rigid grammar alone is not always the safest guide in interpreting Scripture. The very next verse, independently of other considerations, seems to determine that both the Father and the Son are here mentioned. The mode of expression which causes doubt on the subject, perhaps indicates the writer’s perfect belief in the oneness of the Father with the Son. The addition of “Saviour” to the name of Jesus Christ is very frequent in this Epistle (2 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 3:18; comp. 2 Peter 3:2). It shows how completely “Jesus” had become a proper name, the exact signification of which was becoming obscured. “Saviour” does not occur in 1 Pet., but the cognate “salvation” does (2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 1:9-61.1.10; 2 Peter 2:2). Both words point onwards to safety from perdition at the last. (Comp. St. Peter’s speech, Acts 5:31.)

Verse 2

(2) Grace and peace be multiplied unto you.—Identical with the last clause of 1 Peter 1:2, and with no other greeting in any Epistle. What follows here is peculiar to this Epistle, which begins and ends with grace and knowledge. (Comp. 2 Peter 3:18.)

Through the knowledge.—Better, as before, in. The preposition indicates the sphere or element in which the action takes place, or the aspect in which it is contemplated. Tyndale and the Rhemish version have “in.”“ Knowledge” is not quite strong enough. In the original we have a compound word, which implies fuller, riper, more minute knowledge. But any of these expressions would be a little too strong, as the simple word is a little too weak. The same compound recurs 2 Peter 1:3. It is rare in St. Paul’s earlier letters, but is more common in the later ones. This fact, coupled with its appearance here, agrees well with the more contemplative aspect in which the Gospel began gradually to be presented; a change which finds its fullest expression in the transition from the first three Gospels to the fourth. The word is introduced here with telling emphasis; “in the fuller knowledge of God” anticipates the attack that is coming upon the godless speculations of the “false teachers” in 2 Peter 2:0.

And of Jesus our Lord.—Deliberately added. These false teachers “denied the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1), and promised all kinds of high-sounding benefits to their followers (2 Peter 2:18). The Apostle assures his readers that only in fuller knowledge of their Lord can grace and peace be multiplied to them. The combination “Jesus our Lord” is unusual; elsewhere only Romans 4:24. Another small indication of independence (see first Note). There should be a fullstop at “Lord;” so Tyndale, Cranmer, and Geneva.

Verse 3

(3) According as.—Better, seeing that This must not be made to depend on 2 Peter 1:2. In the canonical Epistles the address does not go beyond the blessing. Galatians is the only exception; there a relative clause is added to the blessing; but this is solemnly brought to a close with a doxology, so that the exception is one that almost proves the rule. In Hebrews, James, 1 and 3 John, there is no opening blessing; the remark holds good of all the rest. 2 Peter 1:3-61.1.4 are a brief introduction to the direct exhortations contained 2 Peter 1:5-61.1.11. The eagerness with which the writer goes direct to his subject is characteristic of St. Peter’s temper.

His divine power.—The pronoun refers to “Jesus our Lord.” The adjective occurs in the New Testament in these two verses (3 and 4) only; elsewhere we have the genitive case, “of God,” “of the Lord,” “of the Father,” and the like.

All things that pertain unto.—All that are necessary for the attainment of. He does not give life and godliness in maturity, but supplies us with the means of winning them for ourselves. “All” is emphatic; nothing that is requisite is grudged us, and nothing is our own, it is all the gift of God.

Godliness.—The Greek word occurs Acts 3:12, in a speech of St. Peter, and four times in this Epistle; elsewhere only in those to Timothy and Titus. It belongs to the phraseology of the later books of the New Testament. “Godliness” is the realisation of God’s abiding presence, the fruits of which are reverence and trust: “Thou God seest me;” “I have set God always before me, therefore I cannot fall.” It is introduced here, perhaps, in opposition to the godlessness and irreverence of the false teachers. (Comp. 2 Timothy 3:5.)

Through the knowledge.—Through learning to know God as One who has called us to salvation. (Comp. 2 Peter 1:2.)

To glory and virtue.—Rather, by glory and virtue; or perhaps, by His own glory and virtue, according to another reading. “To” cannot be correct, whichever of the various readings is the right one, Tyndale, Cranmer, and Rheims have “by;” the error comes from Geneva, which has “unto.” “Glory” points to the majesty of God, “virtue” to His activity. “Virtue” as applied to God is unusual, but occurs 1 Peter 2:9 (see Note there), a coincidence to be noted. The word is rendered there “praises,” but “virtues” is given in the margin. The whole verse is strikingly parallel to this one, though very differently expressed.

Verses 3-11

(3-11) Exhortation to progress in spiritual graces in order to win eternal life at Christ’s coming. God has given us all we need for salvation; let us profit by it, and show ourselves worthy of it.

Verse 4

(4) Whereby.—By God’s “glory and virtue;” not by “all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” although the latter is possible, and is preferred by some.

Are given unto us.—Better, He hath given unto us, viz., He who called us, God. Wiclif, “He gaf;” Rheims, “He hath given.”

Promises.—The Greek word occurs here and in 2 Peter 3:13 only. Its termination indicates the things promised rather than the act of promising. They are “exceeding great,” or rather “the greatest,” because they contain an earnest of the completion and perfection of the Christian life; they are very “precious,” because this earnest is in itself something real, and not mere empty words. Not the promises of the Old Testament are meant, that Christ should come; but those of the New Testament, that Christ should come again. The certainty of Christ’s return to reward the righteous and punish the wicked is one of the main subjects of the Epistle.

That by these.—“These” is variously referred (1) to “all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” (2) to “glory and virtue,” (3) to “promises.” The last is most likely, the second least likely to be right. The hope expressed in this verse, and again 3:13, is distinctly parallel to that in 1 Peter 1:4.

Ye might be partakers.—Better, become partakers. Rheims, “be made.” This idea of close relationship to God and escape from corruption is found in 1 Peter 1:23. The change from the first person plural to the second is easy enough both in Greek and English: by it what is true of all Christians is applied specially to those whom the writer is addressing. We have a similar change in 1 Peter 1:3-60.1.4; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 2:24.

Through lust.—Rather (as in 2 Peter 1:1-61.1.2; 2 Peter 1:13; 2 Peter 2:3) in lust. It is in lust that the corruption has its root. (Comp. 1 Peter 1:22.) The word “escaped” indicates that “bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21) from which even the Christian is not wholly free, so long as he is in the body; and in which others are hopelessly held. A comparison of this last clause with 2 Peter 3:13 will confirm us in the view that “by these” refers to the “promises.” We see there what the things promised are. Instead of merely “having escaped” evil, “we, according to His promise, look for” better things; for, from “the corruption that is in the world in lust” we turn to “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” There should be no full-stop at the end of this verse; the sentence continues unbroken from the beginning of 2 Peter 1:3 to the end of 2 Peter 1:7.

Verse 5

(5) And beside this.—Rather, and for this very reason. The Authorised version is quite indefensible, and is the more to be regretted because it obscures a parallel between this and 1 Peter. There also we are exhorted to regulate our conduct by God’s (1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 2:1; 1 Peter 2:5). [In the Notes on 2 Peter 1:5-61.1.8 use has been made of addresses On some Traits in the Christian Character. Camb. 1876.]

Giving all diligence.—Literally, bringing in all diligence to the side of God’s gifts and promises; making your contribution in answer to His. He has made all things possible for you; but they are not yet done, and you must labour diligently to realise the glorious possibilities opened out to you.

Add to your faith virtue.—Rather, in your faith supply virtue. The error comes from Geneva; all other English versions are right. The interesting word inadequately translated “add” occurs again in 2 Peter 1:11, and elsewhere only in 2 Corinthians 9:10; Galatians 3:5; Colossians 2:19. Everywhere but here it is translated “minister.” Sufficient explanation of the word will be found in Notes on 2 Corinthians 9:10 and Galatians 3:5. The notion of rendering a service that is expected of one in virtue of one’s position fits in admirably here. God gives; His blessings and promises come from His free undeserved bounty; man renders, supplies, furnishes, that which, considering the benefits which he has received, is fairly required of him. Note that we are not told to supply faith; that comes from God (Ephesians 2:8), and the Apostle assumes that his readers possess it. “Virtue” is that which is recognised by all men as excellent; the excellence of man as man. Heathen moralists had drawn a noble picture of what man ought to be; the gospel gave the command to realise a yet nobler ideal, and also gave the power by which it could be realised.

And to virtue knowledge.—As before, and in your virtue [supply] knowledgei.e., in the virtue which each of you possesses. Virtue for each individual is the excellence corresponding to the talents committed to him. The word for “knowledge” here is not the compound used in 2 Peter 1:2-61.1.3, but the simple substantive. It means, therefore, knowledge that still admits of growth, not yet ripe or complete. It is worth noting that the word for absolute knowledge, epistêmê, does not occur in the New Testament. By “knowledge” here is probably meant spiritual discernment as to what is right and what is wrong in all things; the right object, the right way, the right time.

Verse 6

(6) And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness.And in your knowledge [supply] self control, and in your self-control, patience, and in your patience, godliness. In other words, your discerning between good and evil must lead to avoiding the evil and choosing the good—i.e., to the control of your own lawless propensities; and in restraining these you must endure difficulties patiently; and your patience must not be the stolid defiance of the savage, or the self-reliant and self-satisfied endurance of the Stoic, but a humble and loving trust in God. Virtue and knowledge are energetic and progressive; they are exercised in developing the powers implanted in us. Self-control and patience are restrictive and disciplinary; they are exercised in checking and regulating the conflicting claims of many co-existing powers, so as to reduce all to harmony. There is special point in “self-control” being placed as the consequence of “knowledge.” The false teachers would insist that knowledge led to liberty, which with them meant emancipation from all control whatever. Self-mastery is to the world at large the opposite of liberty; to the Christian it is another name for it—that service which is perfect freedom. Patience to the world is to accept loss and suffering; to the Christian it is to win the best of prizes—“in your patience ye shall win your souls.”

Verse 7

(7) And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.And in your godliness [supply] love of the brethren, and in your love of the brethren, charity. In other words, your godliness must not be selfish and solitary, but social and Christian; for he who loveth God must love his brother also (1 John 4:20-62.4.21). And though “charity begins at home” with “them who are of the household of faith,” it must not end there, but reach out to all men, whether Christians or not. (Comp. 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Galatians 6:10.) The translation “brotherly kindness” is a little to be regretted; it obscures the exact meaning of the Word, and also the fact that the very same word is used in 1 Peter 1:22. “Love of the brethren” means love of Christians as such, as members of the same great family, as God’s adopted children. “Charity” means love of men as such, as creatures made in the likeness of God, as souls for which Christ died. The word for “charity” is emphatically Christian love; not mere natural benevolence.

Each in this noble chain of virtues prepares the way for the next, and is supplemented and perfected by it. It begins with faith, and it ends (like St. Paul’s list of virtues, Colossians 3:12-51.3.14) with charity. But we must not insist too strongly upon the order in the series, as being either logically or chronologically necessary. It is a natural order that is here given, but not the only one. These three verses are the First Epistle condensed. Each one of the virtues mentioned here is represented quite distinctly in 1 Peter: virtue, 1 Peter 1:13; knowledge, 1 Peter 3:15; self-control, 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 2:11; patience, 1 Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 2:21; godliness, 1 Peter 1:15-60.1.16; 1 Peter 3:4; love of the brethren, 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 3:8; charity, 1 Peter 4:8. The list of virtues given in the Epistle of Barnabas 2 runs thus:—Faith, fear, patience, long - suffering, temperance, wisdom, prudence, science, knowledge. The very slight amount of similarity affords no ground for supposing that the writer was acquainted with 2 Peter.

Verse 8

(8) For if these things be in you.—First reason for the preceding exhortation—the benefit of having these graces. The original of “be in you” is a strong expression, implying permanent and not mere momentary existence.

And abound.—Strictly, and multiply or increase. (Comp. Romans 5:20, and Note there; Romans 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:3, where the same inadequate translation occurs in the Authorised version.)

Neither be barren nor unfruitful.—Better, not idle nor yet unfruitful. Cranmer, Tyndale, and Geneva all have “ydle.” The Greek word literally means “without work”—i.e., doing nothing, as” unfruitful” means producing nothing. “That ye shall be” is not in the Greek, and is not needed. The two adjectives “idle” and “unfruitful” exactly correspond to the two verbs “be in you” and “increase.” If these things be in you, you will be morally active; if they increase, you will be morally productive.

In the knowledge.—Rather, unto the knowledge; the fuller, more advanced knowledge of 2 Peter 1:2-61.1.3, and 2 Peter 2:20. This is the goal towards which all these virtues tend, the fruit which they tend to produce—the perfect knowledge of Christ. Those who are the most like Christ in their lives have the fullest knowledge of Him in this world, a knowledge to be perfected in the next world, when, purified from sin, “we shall see Him as He is.” This clause, without the negatives, accurately describes the condition of the false teachers whom the Apostle has in view. They were both “idle and unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They neither did nor produced anything that in any degree advanced such knowledge either in themselves or others. The list of virtues just commended (2 Peter 1:5-61.1.7) constitutes a solemn indictment against them. Practical infidelity leading to vicious conduct; a hollow and pretentious philosophy leading to libertinism; an impatience of control leading to utter godlessness; a selfish indifference to the claims of those nearest to them ending in absolute heartlessness towards all men—such is the charge brought against them, by implication here, directly in 2 Peter 2:0.

Verse 9

(9) But he that lacketh.—Rather, for he that lacketh. Geneva and Rheims have “for.” The “for” introduces the second reason for the exhortation to furnish forth all these graces—viz., the evil of not having them. The Greek implies absence of possession in any degree, not merely absence of permanent possession. (See first Note on 2 Peter 1:8.)

Is blind.—We might have expected “will be idle and unfruitful, &c.,” but the writer is not content with merely emphasizing what has just been said, after the manner of St. John (e.g., 2 Peter 1:3; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:27-62.2.28; 1 John 4:2-62.4.3; 1 John 4:6); he puts the case in a new way, with a new metaphor equally, applicable to the subject of knowledge. Note that he does not say “will be blind,” but” is blind.” The very fact of his possessing none of these graces shows that he has no eye for them.

Cannot see afar off.—The Greek word means literally closing the eyes; and the point seems to be, not wilful shutting of the eyes (those who won’t see), but involuntary and partial closing, as in the case of short-sighted people; in a spiritual sense, those who have only a very hazy apprehension of the objects of belief and of the bearing which their beliefs should have on their conduct. There is, therefore, no anti-climax, a weak expression following a strong one, but a simple explanation, a more definite term following a general one; it explains what kind of blindness is meant. The special kind of short-sightedness here indicated is that of one who just sees that he is a member of a Christian community, but perceives neither the kind of life that one who has been purged from heathen enormities is bound to lead, nor the kind of life which alone can win an entrance into Christ’s kingdom. The shortsightedness of not being able to see beyond this present world is probably not expressed here.

And hath forgotten.—Literally, having received or incurred forgetfulness—a unique expression in the New Testament. The phrase does not necessarily imply that the forgetfulness is voluntary; it is the inevitable result of wilful neglect—the neglect to cultivate Christian virtues. The forgetfulness is not the cause of the shortsightedness, but a phase of it.

His old sins.—Those committed before he was “purged” in baptism (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 3:21).

Verse 10

(10) Wherefore the rather.—Exhortation resumed, with still more earnestness, for the reasons just stated in 2 Peter 1:8-61.1.9. The direct address, “brethren,” is a mark of this increased earnestness, and also assures those addressed that they are not included among the mere nominal Christians described in the preceding verse.

Give diligence.—Recalling “bringing all diligence” in 2 Peter 1:5.

Calling and election.—By God into the kingdom of heaven. “Calling” and “election” are two aspects of the same fact, “calling” referring to God’s invitation, “election” to the distinction which this invitation makes between those who are called and those who are not. “Election” is one of St. Paul’s words. One of the best MSS. and several versions insert “by means of your works,” which gives the right sense, although the words are wanting in authority. It is by following the in junctions given (2 Peter 1:5-61.1.7) that our election is made secure. God calls us to salvation (2 Peter 1:3), selects us from the heathen; it is for each one of us to respond to the call, and thus ratify His choice.

If ye do these things.—Showing that the making sure of our election is not a single act, but multiform, viz., the furnishing the graces commended (2 Peter 1:5-61.1.7).

Never fall.—The same word is translated “offend” (James 2:10; James 3:2); and “stumble” (Romans 11:11). It means to knock one’s foot and stumble. The man who has acquired these graces has his path freed from many stumbling-blocks, and his vision cleared to see and avoid the rest.

Verse 11

(11) An entrance shall be ministered unto you.—“Ministered” is the passive of the same verb that is translated “add” in 2 Peter 1:5, and is probably chosen to answer to 2 Peter 1:5. “Supply these graces, and an entrance into the kingdom shall be abundantly supplied to you”—“abundantly,” i.e., with a warm welcome, as to a son coming home in triumph; not a bare grudging admission, as to a stranger.

Thus ends the first main section of the Epistle, which contains the substance of the whole. Its gentle earnestness and obvious harmony with the First Epistle have made some critics ready to admit its genuineness, who throw doubt on much of the rest. But if it stands it carries with it all the rest. Change of style is amply accounted for by change to a new and exciting subject; and the links between the parts are too strong to be severed by any such considerations. (See opening observations in the Introduction.)

The first sections of the two Epistles should be carefully compared. In both we find these thoughts pervading the opening exhortation: Be earnest, be active; for (1) so much has been done for you, and (2) there is such a rich reward in store for you. (Comp. especially the conclusions of the two sections, 1 Peter 1:13 with 2 Peter 1:10-61.1.11.)

Verse 12

(12) I will not be negligent.—According to the right reading, I shall be sure to; because on your doing these things depends your entrance into Christ’s kingdom.

Though ye know them.—We find the same affectionate delicacy in Romans 15:14-45.15.15 (see Notes there); 1 John 2:21; Jude 1:5.

And be established in the present truth.—Comp. “This is the true grace of God wherein ye stand” (1 Peter 5:12), to which it is not impossible that this verse refers; the “always” here looks like a half apology for what his readers might think needless repetition. “The present truth” is an instance of a translation being misleading through its very literalness. The three Greek words are exactly represented, but the sense is misrepresented. The meaning is, not the truth that we are now discussing, the truth before us, but the truth of the gospel that is come unto you (Colossians 1:5-51.1.6), and is present with you: “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).

Verses 12-15

(12-15) Transition from the exhortation just concluded to the argument that follows, closely and naturally connected with both.

Verse 13

(13) Yea, I think it meet.—Better, But I think it right. So Rheims; Tyndale and Cranmer have “notwithstanding.” The meaning is, “but (so far from my writing being unnecessary) I think it right,” &c.

In this tabernacle.—The comparison of the human body to a dwelling is common in all literatures, and the temporary nature of a tent makes it specially appropriate. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 5:1.)

By putting you in remembrance.—Better, in putting you. The stirring up consists in the reminding. (See 2 Peter 1:1-61.1.2; 2 Peter 1:4; also 2 Peter 3:1, where the same phrase occurs.)

Verse 14

(14) Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle.—This is rather wide of the mark. Among English versions Wiclif alone is right. The meaning is, Knowing as I do that the putting off of my tabernacle will be done swiftly (comp. 2 Peter 2:1)—i.e., will soon be over when it once begins. The point is not that the writer believes himself to be near his end, but that his end would be such as to allow of no deathbed exhortations; what he has to say must be said in good time, for Christ had told him that his death would be a violent one (John 21:18). Some of those who have taken the passage in the sense of the Authorised version have supposed a special revelation to be implied in the last half of the verse. But without any revelation an old man might know that his end must soon come; and Christ had already told him that it should come when he began to be old. “The putting off of my tabernacle” involves rather a mixture of metaphors; we have a similar mixture in Colossians 2:11. The word for “putting off” occurs nowhere but here and 1 Peter 3:21; but the coincidence is not one on which much stress can be laid.

Hath shewed me.—More strictly, shewed me. The substitution of perfect for aorist is here objectionable, as it obscures the reference to a definite moment in the Apostle’s life. If the reference were to John 21:18, this would be at once fatal to the authenticity of our Epistle; for of course no part of St. John’s Gospel, and least of all the last chapter, was written during the life of St. Peter. But if the reference be to the event narrated in John 21:18, then that narrative confirms what is said here, this being a prior and independent allusion to the same occurrence. In this case we have strong evidence of the authenticity of St. Peter.

Verse 15

(15) Moreover I will endeavour.—The verse requires re-arranging. “Always” (or better, at all times) belongs to “may be able,” not to “have in remembrance;” and perhaps “moreover” is not quite right. Better, But I will endeavour that ye may at all times also (as well as now) have it in your power after my decease to remember these things. To what does this declaration point? The simplest answer is, to his writing this letter, which they might keep and read whenever they liked. (Comp. 2 Peter 1:13.) Other suggestions are—to his having copies of this letter distributed; or, writing other letters; or, instructing, St. Mark to write his Gospel; or, commissioning “faithful men” to teach these things. There seems to be nothing either for or against these conjectures. It is a coincidence worth noting that, with the Transfiguration in his mind (2 Peter 1:16-61.1.18), he uses, in close succession, two words connected in St. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:31; Luke 9:33)—“decease” and “tabernacle.”

Verse 16

(16) For we have not followed.—More literally, For we did not follow, or, It was not by following out, &c., that. “For” introduces the reason for “I will endeavour” above. The word for “follow,” or “follow out,” occurs again in 2 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 2:15, and nowhere else in the New Testament.

Cunningly devised fables.—We cannot be sure that any in particular are meant, whether heathen, Jewish, or Christian; the negative makes the statement quite general. Various things, however, have been suggested as possibly indicated—heathen mythology, Jewish theosophy, Gnostic systems (as yet quite in their infancy in Simon Magus, St. Peter’s adversary), and Apocryphal Gospels. Probably some elements in the doctrine of the false teachers are alluded to; something analogous to the “feigned words” of 2 Peter 2:3. There is reason for believing that the particular elements in their teaching thus incidentally condemned were of Jewish origin. If this conjecture be correct, then St. Peter is here dealing with errors similar to those condemned by St. Paul (1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14—the only other passages in which the word “fables” occurs). And in this case much light is thrown on some of the marked peculiarities of this Epistle and that of St. Jude, viz., the fondness of both writers for the oldest, and sometimes the most obscure, passages of Old Testament history, as well as for some strange portions of uncanonical and apocryphal tradition. They were fighting these seducers with their own weapons; difficult passages of Scripture and tradition, which these men had worked up into a system of pernicious mysticism, St. Peter and St. Jude proved to be altogether of a different meaning, and to tell against the very doctrines that they were employed to support.

When we made known unto you.—It is difficult to determine to what this refers. It is erroneous to suppose that the phrase necessarily implies personal communication by word of mouth. In the First Epistle the Apostle wrote to congregations not personally acquainted with him; and we have no reason for assuming that he had visited them since. “When we made known” may possibly refer to the First Epistle, against which supposition the plural “we” is not conclusive. Or a written Gospel—and, if so, the one with which St. Peter is commonly connected, viz., that of St. Mark—may be in the Apostle’s mind. But the simplest explanation is that he refers to the Apostolic teaching generally.

The power and coming.—The power conferred upon Christ after being glorified in His passion and resurrection, and his coming again to judgment. (Comp. 2 Peter 3:4; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:27; 1 Corinthians 15:23; &c., &c., where the same Greek word is used.) In this power He will come again. His first coming at the Incarnation would neither be the usual meaning of the word nor would suit the context.

But were eyewitnesses.—More literally, but by having been made eye-witnesses. “It was not by following fables that we made known to you His power and coming, but by having been admitted eye-witnesses.” The word for “eye-witness” is sometimes a technical term for one who was admitted to the highest grade of initiation in the Eleusinian mysteries. This meaning would be very applicable here; but it may be doubted whether St. Peter would be familiar with this use of the word. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The kindred verb, “to be an eye-witness,” occurs in 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:2, and nowhere else—a coincidence worth noting. The words of another witness of the Transfiguration,” And we beheld His glory,” &c. (John 1:14), should be compared with the passage before us.

Of his majesty.—At the Transfiguration, which was a foretaste and an earnest of the glory of His second coming. This is St. Peter’s view of it; and that it is the correct one is perhaps shown by the Gospels themselves. All three accounts of the Transfiguration are preceded by the declaration, “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,” or similar words (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). Apparently the Transfiguration was regarded by Christ Himself as in some sense the coming of the Son of man.

Verses 16-21

(16-21) The certainty of Christ’s coming again is the basis of these exhortations; and that certainty is proved (1) by the Transfiguration, which was an anticipation of His coming again in glory; (2) by the utterances of the prophets who predicted it.

Verse 17

(17) For he received.—Literally, For having received. The sentence is unfinished, owing to the long dependent clause, “when there came . . . well pleased.” The natural ending would be, “He had us as His attendants to hear it,” or something of that kind.

Honour and glory.—Both refer to the voice from heaven. To make “honour” refer to the voice, and “glory” to the light shining from Christ’s body, about which nothing has been said, is forced and unnatural.

When there came such a voice to him.—Better, in that a voice was borne to Him speaking thus. The expression “a voice was borne to Him” is peculiar, and occurs nowhere else. The Greek for “the grace that is to be brought to you” (1 Peter 1:13) is parallel to it, and is another small coincidence worth noting. Note also that the writer has not slavishly followed any of the three accounts of the Transfiguration, which a forger might be expected to do. A genuine witness, knowing that he is on firm ground can afford to take his own line; a “claimant” must carefully learn and follow the lines of others.

From the excellent glory.—Rather, by the excellent glory—another unique expression. The preposition “by” almost compels us to reject the interpretation that either the bright cloud or heaven itself is meant. It is rather a periphrasis for God. In Deuteronomy 33:26. God is called by the LXX., “the Excellent of the sky.”

This is my beloved Son, . . .—The Greek is almost the same as in St. Matthew’s account (Matthew 17:5); but “hear him” is omitted, and for “in Whom” we here have, “unto Whom” which can scarcely be brought into the English sentence. The meaning is “unto Whom my good pleasure came and on Whom it abides.” (Comp. Matthew 12:18, and Clem., Hom. III. liii.)

Verse 18

(18) And this voice which came from heaven we heard.—Rather, And this voice we heard borne from heaven: We were ear-witnesses of the voice coming from heaven, as we were eye-witnesses of His majesty. It was no vision, it was no hallucination. We all heard, and we all saw; so that I have the highest authority for what I would now impress upon you. A voice which I myself heard borne from heaven to earth, in the midst of glory which I myself saw, foretelling the glory that is yet to come.

In the holy mount.—It is, perhaps, not even “partly right” to say that the epithet “holy” indicates a view of the event later than that of the Evangelists, and points to a miracle-loving age. Rather, it indicates a view many centuries older than the Evangelists—that wherever God had specially manifested Himself was “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5; Josh. V. 15. Comp. Genesis 28:16-1.28.17; Exodus 19:12; Acts 7:33.) The expression would be natural to any Jew speaking of the Transfiguration. (See Introduction, I. c.)

Verse 19

(19) We have also a more sure word of prophecy.—Rather, And we have the prophetic word more sure (so Rheims alone); or, And we have, as something more sure, the prophetic word, as a second proof of the truth of my teaching respecting Christ’s coming. The expression, “the prophetic word,” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. “The Scripture” given below (Note on 2 Peter 3:4), as quoted by Clement of Rome, is quoted again in the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (chap. 11) as “the prophetic word.” The quotation in both cases is probably from some uncanonical book of prophecies. Here the expression means the whole body of prophecy respecting the subject in hand; but the meaning of the whole sentence is not quite clear. It may mean (i.) that the Transfiguration has made prophecies more sure, for we who were there have thus witnessed their fulfilment. In this case, however, we should have expected something more than “and” to introduce the statement, such as “and hence,” “and thus,” “whereby,” &c. Or it may mean (ii.) that in the prophetic word we have something more sure than the voice from heaven. Here a simple “and” is natural enough; and the word of prophecy is suitably compared with the voice from heaven. But how can the word of prophets be more sure than the voice of God? In itself it cannot be so; but it may be so regarded (1) in reference to those who did not hear, but only heard of, the voice from heaven; (2) in reference to the subject in hand. (1) For the readers of this Epistle the many utterances of a long line of prophets, expounded by a school of teachers only second to the prophets themselves, might easily be “more sure” evidence than the narrative of a single writer; and “if they heard not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded” by the report of a voice from heaven. (2) The Transfiguration, though an earnest of Christ’s future glory, was not so clear a promise of it as the express words of prophecy. If this latter interpretation be right, we have another mark of authenticity. A forger would be likely to magnify his own advantage in hearing the voice from heaven over the ordinary proofs open to every one. In any case, the coincidence with 1 Peter 1:10-60.1.12 must not be overlooked. (Comp. also St. Peter’s speech, Acts 3:20-44.3.21).

Whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.—Or, and ye do well in giving heed to it—a gentle mode of exhortation, by assuming that the thing urged is being done. The exhortation is quite in harmony with 1 Peter 1:10. We have a similar construction in 2 Peter 2:10, “Do not tremble in speaking evil.”

A light that shineth.—Better, a lamp that shineth. Prophecy, like the Baptist, is a “lamp that is lighted and shineth,” preparatory to the Light. (See Note on John 5:35.) Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, circ. A.D. 170, has (Autolycus II. xiii.) “His word, shining as a lamp in a chamber;” too slight a parallel to this passage to be relied upon as evidence that Theophilus knew our Epistle. (See below, second Note on 2 Peter 1:21.)

In a dark place.—This translation is somewhat doubtful. The word rendered “dark” occurs here only in the New Testament, and its usual meaning is “dry.” From “dry” we pass easily through “rough” to “dirty,” meanings which the word has elsewhere (comp. the Latin squalidus); but the passage from “dirty” to “dark” is less easy, and there is lack of authority for it. “In a waste place” would perhaps be safer; and the image would then be that prophecy is like camp-fires in the desert, which may keep one from going utterly astray, till sunrise frees one from difficulty. The “waste place” is either the wilderness of this world or the tangled life of the imperfect Christian.

Until the day dawn.—Literally, until the day beam through the gloom. Here, again, the meaning may be two-fold: (1) Christ’s return in glory to illumine the wilderness of this world, to clear off its obscurities, and show the way through its mazes; or (2) the clearer vision of the purified Christian, whose eye is single and his whole body full of light. (Comp. 1 John 2:8.) No comma at dawn; “in your hearts” belongs to both “dawn” and “arise,” if to either.

And the day star arise.—An amplification of “until the day dawn.” “Day star” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Christ calls Himself “the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).

In your hearts.—It is difficult to determine to what these words belong. The Greek admits of three constructions: (1) with “take heed “; (2) with “dawn” and “arise”; (3) with “knowing this first.” The last is not probable. Perhaps “and ye do well in giving heed to it in your hearts” is best—i.e., let it influence your lives, not receive a mere intellectual attention.

Verse 20

(20) Knowing this first.—The participle belongs to “take heed” in 2 Peter 1:19. “First” means “first of all” (1 Timothy 2:1), not “before I tell you.” In studying prophecy this is the first thing to be borne in mind.

Is of any private interpretation.—Better, comes to be, or becomes of private interpretation. The word rendered “interpretation” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but the cognate verb occurs in Mark 4:34, where it is translated “expound.” (See Note there.) There can be little doubt that “interpretation,” or “solution,” is the right rendering here, although others have been suggested. The main question however, is the meaning of the word rendered “private,” which may also mean “its own.” Hence three explanations are possible. The term may refer (1) to the recipients of the prophecies—that we may not expound prophecy according to our own fancy; or (2) to the utterers of the prophecies—that the prophets had not the power of expounding their own prophecies; or (3) to the prophecies themselves—that no prophecy comes to be of its own interpretation, i.e., no prophecy explains itself. The guide to the right explanation is 2 Peter 1:21, which gives the reason why “no prophecy of the scripture,” &c. This consideration excludes (3); for 2 Peter 1:21 yields no sense as showing why prophecy does not interpret itself. Either of the other two explanations may be right. (1) If prophecy came “by the will of man,” then it might be interpreted according to man’s fancy. But it did not so come; consequently the interpretation must be sought elsewhere—viz., at the same source from which the prophecy itself proceeded. (2) If the prophets spoke just as they pleased, they would be the best exponents of what they meant. But they spoke under divine influence, and therefore need not know the import of their own words. Prophecy must be explained by prophecy and by history, not by the individual prophet. The whole body of prophecy, “the prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:19), is our lamp in the wilderness, not the private dicta of any one seer. In modern phraseology, interpretation must be comparative and scientific. This view is strengthened by comparing 1 Peter 1:10-60.1.12, where it is stated that the prophets did not know how or when their own predictions would be fulfilled. Possibly this passage is meant to refer to 1 Peter 1:10-60.1.12, and if so, we have a mark of genuineness; a forger would have made the reference more clear. If the coincidence is accidental, this also points in the same direction; in any case, the coincidence is worth noting.

Verse 21

(21) For the prophecy came not in old time.—Rather, For prophecy was never sent, or brought. Wiclif and Rheims alone have “brought”; all the rest “came.” The verb is the same as that used of the voice from heaven (2 Peter 1:17-61.1.18), and also in this verse for “moved,” so that there is a telling antithesis, difficult to preserve in English. Prophecy was not brought in by men; but men were brought to utter it by the Spirit. (Comp. 2 John 1:10.) The rendering in the margin is right—“not at any time” rather than “not in old time.” “Not at any time”—“never,” which both Tyndale and Cranmer have; Wiclif has “not ony time.” The erroneous “in old time” comes from Geneva.

But holy men of God . . .—The Greek is uncertain. A reading of very high authority would give us, But men spoke from God moved by the Holy Ghost. This is probably to be preferred. Men spoke not out of their own hearts, but as commissioned by God; not “by the will of man,” but under the influence of the Holy Spirit. (Comp. St. Peter’s speech at the election of Matthias, and again in Solomon’s Porch, Acts 1:16; Acts 3:18.) The word for “moved” is a strong one, meaning “borne along,” as a ship before the wind (Acts 27:16-44.27.17). Theophilus of Antioch (Autolycus, II. ix.) writes “men of God, moved (or, filled) by the Holy Ghost, and becoming prophets, inspired and made wise by God Himself, became taught of God.” Here, again, the parallel is too slight to be relied on as evidence that Theophilus was acquainted with this Epistle. (See above, third Note on 2 Peter 1:19.) The same may be said of a passage in Hippolytus (Antichrist, 2), “These fathers were furnished with the Spirit and largely honoured by the Word Himself. . . . and when moved by Him the Prophets announced what God willed. For they spake not of their own power, neither did they declare what pleased themselves, &c. &c.”

Some have fancied that these last three verses (2 Peter 1:19-61.1.21) savour of Montanism, and are evidence of the late origin of the Epistle. But what is said here of the gift of prophecy is not more than we find elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:15; Acts 1:16; Acts 3:18); and in the Old Testament (Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25; Numbers 11:29; 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20; 1 Samuel 19:23; Jeremiah 1:5-24.1.7). Montanists used much stronger language, as readers of Tertullian know. With them prophecy was ecstasy and frenzy; prophets ceased to be men—their reason left them, and they became mere instruments on which the Spirit played. The wording of these verses points to an age previous to Montanism. A Montanist would have said more; an opponent of Montanism would have guarded himself against Montanist misconstruction.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Peter 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-peter-1.html. 1905.