the Fourth Week of Lent
Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical Lange's Commentary
- 2 Peter
by Johann Peter Lange
EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER
G. F. C. FRONMÜLLER, Ph. D.
PASTOR AT KEMNATH, WüRTEMBERG
TRANSLATED FROM THE SECOND REVISED GERMAN EDITION, WITH ADDITIONS ORIGINAL AND SELECTED
J. ISIDOR MOMBERT, D.D.
Rector Of St. James’s Church, Lancater, Pa
SECOND EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER
§ 1. OBJECT OF THE EPISTLE
This Epistle is designed to be a hortatory memorial addressed to believers, standing and already established in the truth, as appears plainly from 2 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 1:15. The first Epistle deals with warnings against dangers and enemies from without; the second warns Christians against the more dangerous enemies from within, and exhorts them to vigilance and resistance to the deceivers and scoffers, who had gradually crept into the Christian churches. “Beware, lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness,” (2 Peter 3:17).—“Use with all diligence the received gifts of grace to the furthering of your holiness,” 2 Peter 1:3, etc, The rich contents of the Epistle concentrate in this exhortation. The motives to a holy life are chiefly taken from the consideration of the nearness of the coming of Christ and the catastrophes connected with that event, 2 Peter 3:11, etc. The deceivers against whom Peter warns his readers, are described not so much intellectually as morally. They are men of the Sadducee cast of mind, libertines, antinomists, living in uncleanness, unrighteousness and covetousness, according to the promptings of their own lusts, 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 3:14, some of whom scoffed at the truth, and particularly at the coming of Christ, 2 Peter 3:3-4, etc. They used great swelling words of vanity, spoke evil of dignities and the celestial powers, and derided the Lord that bought them, 2Pe 2:1; 2 Peter 2:18. Their wisdom consisted in lying, blaspheming, and the promise of unbridled licence, 2 Peter 2:19. Here we may discern the roots of the antinomistic Gnosis, which afterwards was maintained by Carpocrates, Epiphanes, Prodicus, the Simonians, the Antitactes, and others. Similar errors are referred to by Paul, 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 3:1, etc.; cf. Revelation 2:14-15; Revelation 2:20. The author predicts their appearance, and prophetically sees them already extant, 2 Peter 2:1, etc.; 2 Peter 2:10, etc. Their false knowledge is opposed by the vital knowledge of Christ, on which great stress is laid in this Epistle, 2 Peter 1:2-3; 2Pe 1:8; 2 Peter 2:20.
§ 2. CONTENTS AND ANALYSIS OF THE EPISTLE
The Epistle consists of two parts: the first, 2 Peter 1:1-21; the second, from 2 Peter 2:1 to 2 Peter 3:18. Each of these parts are again divided into two sections. In the first section of the first part, 2 Peter 1:2-11, the Apostle reminds his readers of the great and precious riches and promises which had been vouchsafed to them on the part of God, and exhorts them on their part to comply with the demand of the Divine Will, and to make their calling and election sure. In the second section, 2 Peter 1:12-21, he specifies the motive which then constrained him to exhort them, viz., the nearness of his decease; he then, 2 Peter 1:16, etc., confirms the truth of the doctrine in which they had been instructed: 1. By the fact that he and all the Apostles had been eye-witnesses of the works of Jesus; 2. By the testimony of prophecy. In the first section of the second part, he announces the speedy appearance of false prophets, gives a brief sketch of their character and conduct, and adverts, by way of warning, to three examples, to show that their wickedness would surely be punished, 2 Peter 2:1-10, the examples being, the case of the fallen angels, the case of those who perished in the waters of the flood, and the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. Then follows the more specific description of their thorough carnality, their presumptuousness, their spirit of rebellion and blasphemy, their brutal want of reason, their licentiousness, their perseverance in evil, their covetousness, their seductive arts, their vaunting with all their nothingness and emptiness, their perverseness, obduracy and perdition, 2 Peter 2:10-22. The fiery flow of prophetical utterance having found a point of rest, the Apostle, in the second section, resumes at 2 Peter 1:15, states the design of his writing still more clearly than in 2 Peter 1:15, to be the stirring up of their pure minds. He refers to a still more dangerous class of enemies of Christ, to mockers, who scoff at the coming of Christ and the events connected with it, and who in their Epicurean bias are on a level with the former, 2 Peter 3:1-5. He then refutes the vain reason they assign for their denial of the coming of Christ, by the fact of the flood 2 Peter 3:5-7, followed by the instruction given to believers, that the heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire in a fearful catastrophe, and that the apparent delay of judgment should be considered as an act of the long-suffering of God, 2 Peter 3:7-10. Then follows, for the edification of believers, the announcement of the Lord’s coming, and of the mighty events connected with it, especially the establishment of new heavens and a new earth. With this is connected an earnest exhortation to holiness of life, 2 Peter 3:10-15. He strengthens the weight of his exhortations by a reference to the Epistles of Paul, with whom he professes himself thoroughly to agree, while those destroyers of the peace of the Churches probably maintained that Peter and Paul were at variance with each other, 2 Peter 3:15-16. In conclusion, he exhorts them not to suffer themselves to be moved from their stedfastness by the error of wicked men, but to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, as a chief means for the conservation of the faith. Lastly, a doxology to Christ.
§ 3. GENUINENESS OF THE EPISTLE
The authenticity of no writing of the New Testament has been so much denied and doubted in ancient and modern times, as that of this Epistle. Modern critics consider it proven, that a pseudo-Peter of a later period clumsily manufactured this Epistle from that of Jude. Misled by their confident assertions, even circumspect investigators have here and there assented to this result.
Beginning with the external testimonies of this Epistle, we have the fact that it was ecclesiastically acknowledged as part of the Canon in the fourth century, (Guerike, Gesammtgeschichte des Neuen Testaments, p. 477. 615). Going backwards from this fixed point of time, we find that Jerome considered it genuine, observing, however, that it was generally held to be spurious on account of the difference of its style from the First. Eusebius, it is well known, reckons it among the Antilegomena, describes it as not included in the then received Canon of the Church, although many considered it profitable, and used it along with the other Scriptures. Origen says: Peter has left an Epistle which is universally acknowledged; perhaps (ἔστω δὲ) also a second, for it is doubted—one is not agreed about it. He cites, however, the second Epistle as part of the Holy Scriptures in several passages, cf. Dietlein, p. 61, etc. The Syriac version, the Peschito, which originated at the latest in the third century, does not contain it; it is not known on what grounds. It is also wanting in the Muratorian Canon, which however does not mention the first Epistle and other Epistles of the New Testament. Tertullian and Cyprian do not mention it; Eusebius states that Clement of Alexandria wrote a commentary on it and other Antilegomena. Justin and Irenœus probably allude to 2 Peter 3:8; the latter also to 2 Peter 2:4-6, and the former also to 2 Peter 2:1. Theophilus of Antioch seems to refer to 2Pe 1:19; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Peter 3:3. The Epistle of Hermas, about the middle of the second century, contains almost undeniable references to 2 Peter 2:15; 2Pe 2:20; 2 Peter 2:22; 2Pe 3:3; 2 Peter 1:5-8. In Barnabas, whose Epistle perhaps reaches down to the end of the first century, Dietlein perceives several allusions, the clearest of which is that to 2 Peter 3:8, which is however not certain, because this saying occurs also in the Mishnah. In Clement of Rome, Dietlein discovers massive proofs, by which this author testifies in favour of our Epistle even before the destruction of Jerusalem. A certain affinity of language cannot be denied, but the citations of Dietlein, among which the expression of ἡ μεγαλοπρεπὴς δόξα is the most weighty, will hardly do more than carry conviction to the minds of those who are already sure of the genuineness of the Epistle. The same applies to the Epistle of Polycarp. Huther justly maintains that not a single sentence is cited literally from 2 Peter, as is the case with 1 Peter. Nor can Ignatius be proved to be dependent on 2 Peter, although there are several distant allusions. It follows, from the preceding data, that the Epistle was used about the middle of the second century; that the earliest fathers cannot be proved to have used it; that it gave rise to doubts in the third century, which however arose an internal grounds; and that its genuineness was established by the Church at the end of the fourth century. The supposition of Thiersch is altogether inadequate, that fears were entertained that too early a disclosure of the whole form of the evil, as given in the thunder-words of Peter, might have exerted a soliciting influence on the evil, and even on its manifestation in that time, which was shaken to all the depths of the spiritual world (that is, the time when the Canon of the Homologoumena was fixed). Now, since no certain result can be arrived at from external evidence, which however rather favours than disfavours the genuineness of our Epistle, we are so much the more dependent,
Secondly, on internal evidence, under which head we have to offer the following remarks:
1. We encounter in the Epistle a person concerning whom we feel that he stands in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, that he loves truth above all things, 2 Peter 1:3; 2Pe 3:18; 2 Peter 1:12; that he has received the forgiveness of sins, and along with it, a Divine vital energy, 2 Peter 1:9-10 that he is thoroughly in earnest about Christianity, 2 Peter 1:5, etc.; 2Pe 3:14; 2 Peter 3:17; that he has personal intercourse with Christ Jesus, 2 Peter 1:14; that he looks stedfastly at His coming, and hastens to meet the coming of His day, 2 Peter 3:12; that he fears the judgments of eternity, 2 Peter 2:1, etc., and is penetrated with the sense of the superintending justice of God, 2 Peter 2:9; that he cultivates with all diligence a holy conversation and a godly life, and feels constrained to oppose fine-spun fables with the severity of truth, 2 Peter 2:16. This spirit, thus enlightened and animated with the earnestness of Christianity, calls himself Simon Peter, a Servant and an Apostle of Jesus Christ, 2Pe 1:1; 2 Peter 3:2; he speaks in the spirit of prophecy, 2 Peter 2:1, etc.; 2 Peter 3:3; he specifies details of his life, that he had been an eye-witness of Christ’s transfiguration on the holy mount, 2 Peter 1:16, etc., that Jesus had revealed to him the nearness of His death, 2 Peter 1:14; he describes himself as the brother and colleague of the Apostle Paul, with whose Epistles he professes fully to agree, 2 Peter 3:15-16, and considers it his duty to remind, strengthen and stir up the believers to whom he writes, 2 Peter 1:12, etc.; 2 Peter 3:1-2. His doctrines, exhortations, confessions, testimonies and warnings are full of power and fire, full of firm assurance and glowing zeal for the honour of the Lord, full of emphasis and originality. If Peter is really the author of this Epistle, every thing is in glorious harmony; if he is not, we have before us an insoluble psychological riddle. Is it possible, we are constrained to ask, that a man, animated through and through with the spirit of Christianity, who expressly renounces all cunning fabrications, should have set up for the Apostle Peter, and have written this Epistle in his name? Intentional fraud and such illumination—who is able to reconcile them?
2. If, as many critics superficially assume, a deceiver did father this Epistle upon Peter, he must have done so with some evil intention. But where is there any thing in this Epistle that could possibly be construed into an error, or a moral impurity? On the supposition that the object was the mediation between the Apostles of the Jews and the Apostles of the Gentiles, the alleged antithesis unfortunately resolves itself into a fiction (see a citation from Clement of Rome, in Dietlein, p. 30. 31), and the contents of the Epistle, in that case, ought to be very different from what they are. An otherwise honest man would not have ventured to place the name of the Apostle at the head of his writing for the purpose of attacking false teachers (Olshausen, Nachweis der Æchtheit, etc., p. 124).
3. A forger would not have omitted to designate with greater precision the readers for whom the Epistle was written, while the author with the utmost ingenuousness addresses those who have obtained the like precious faith, and expects to meet the same class of readers as in the first Epistle.
4. The second Epistle is an integrant part of the first, which deals with external enemies, while the second Epistle cautions against internal adversaries of the truth. The two cannot well be separated from each other.
5. The doctrinal contents of the second Epistle essentially agree with the first in the conception of Christianity as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, 2 Peter 1:19-21, and in the prominence given to the coming of Christ, as we have seen in the Apostle of hope in the first Epistle, 2 Peter 3:10, etc. The second Epistle is not inferior to the first in spirit, power, vivacity and glowing zeal against evil, in originality and wealth of thought, and no production of the second century can compare with it in this respect. Compare the Shepherd of Hermas with the second Epistle of Peter—what a contrast! How beautiful, in particular, is the opening of the Epistle, which introduces us at once into the whole plenitude of evangelical grace The mode of representation in the two Epistles exhibits also many points of agreement, e.g., the connection of sentences by means of participles and the choice of particular expressions. Thus, Guerike mentions the words ἀναστροφή, 1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 1:18; 1Pe 2:12; 1 Peter 3:1-2; 1 Peter 3:16; cf. 2Pe 2:7; 2 Peter 3:11.—ἀπόθεσις, 1 Peter 3:21; cf. 2 Peter 1:14.—ἀρετή, 1 Peter 2:9; cf. 2 Peter 1:3.—ἀλήθεια, in a peculiar sense, 1 Peter 1:22; cf. 2 Peter 1:12.—κομίζεσθαι, 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 1:4; cf. 2 Peter 2:13.—ἐποπτεύειν, 1 Peter 2:12; 1Pe 3:2; cf. 2 Peter 1:16.—ἄσπιλος and ἄμωμος, 1 Peter 1:19; cf. 2 Peter 3:14.—On πέπαυται ἁμαρτίας, cf. 1Pe 4:1; cf. 2 Peter 2:12.
6. The Epistle, if written by Peter, admirably fits in the history of the development of the Christian Church. This has been well brought out by Thiersch, who says: “Supposing the Epistle were not the production of Peter, it cannot, because of the sum-total of its contents, belong to any other period of history than to that of that great catastrophe, the mighty breaking forth of an unparalleled wicked Gentile Gnosis, which was posterior to the ministry of Paul, and anterior to that of John.”
7. The objections raised on internal grounds against the Epistle, are not of great moment.
a. It is alleged that ἐλπίς is the leading idea of the first Epistle, while ἐπίγνωσις predominates in the latter. This is the natural consequence of the different tendencies of the two Epistles. Is it probable that both would move in the same fundamental ideas?
b. That the day of Christ’s coming is expected in the first as about to take place immediately, while the author of the second Epistle adverts not so much to its nearness as to its suddenness. This may be accounted for by the comparatively early date of the composition of the first Epistle. See Introduction to 1 Peter.
c. That the idea of Christ’s advent in the second Epistle is altogether kept in the back-ground of that of the final destruction of the world. This is quite correct, according to 2 Peter 3:10, and the second Epistle completes in this respect the discourses of the first.
d. That in the first Epistle the redemptive acts of the death and resurrection of Christ are described as the groundwork of the Christian life, whereas they are not mentioned in the second. Evidently because the caution against seducers is the tendency of the second Epistle, which presupposes those redemptive acts.
e. That the ideas of communion with the Divine nature, of the origin of the world out of water, and that of its destruction by fire, are peculiar to the second Epistle. But there is no reason why there should not be ideas peculiar to this Epistle.
f. That faith in the second Epistle stands in the back-ground, and knowledge in the foreground. This is the necessary adjunct of the controversy with the adherents of the false Gnosis, and said ἐπίγνωσις does not differ materially from πίστις.
g. De Wette says, that Κύριος is applied, 2 Peter 3:10, to God. But this is also occasionally the case in the first Epistle, 1Pe 3:12; 1 Peter 3:15.
h. That the heretical denial of the coming of Christ, and the view of the origin and destruction of the world, are surprising and, as Neander thinks, not in keeping with the practical, simple mind of Peter and the doctrinal development of the New Testament. But even Huther is constrained to pronounce this a purely subjective opinion.
i. The diversity of style in the two Epistles, which were already alleged in ancient times, are not very important and counterbalanced by the aforementioned, obvious coincidences of language. Even if they were greater than they are, we might assume, with Jerome, that Peter used different amanuenses in the composition of the two Epistles. See Olshausen, p. 118.
k. That 2 Peter 3:15, seems to assume that a collection of the Epistles of St. Paul was already circulating in the Church. But the reference here is not to a complete collection of his writings.
l. Neander raises the doubt, that the author assumes a different relation to his readers, in the second Epistle, from that which existed between them in the first, for according to the second Epistle they must have been personally instructed by the Apostle; but in the interval between the dates of the two Epistles, a closer personal relation between them may easily have sprung up.
Thus all these objections and doubts are not sufficiently weighty to upset the above argument for the genuineness of the Epistle.
[A very excellent digest of this section, with full citations of the authorities, may be seen in Alford’s Prolegomena, Vol. IV., Part I.—M.]
§ 4. RELATION OF THIS EPISTLE TO THAT OF JUDE
The second chapter of the present Epistle to the beginning of the third chapter, and the Epistle of Jude, exhibit so remarkable an agreement, that the dependence of the one Epistle on the other is undeniable, cf. Judges 1:4; Judges 1:6-13; Judges 1:16, with 2 Peter 2:1; 2Pe 2:4; 2 Peter 2:6; 2 Peter 2:10-13; 2 Peter 2:15; 2 Peter 2:17-18; Judges 1:17-18, with 2 Peter 3:2-3. The view which makes the Epistle of Jude the original that was used by the author of the second Epistle of Peter, stated by Herder, has become dominant in modern times. This is the view of De Wette, Guerike, Huther and Kurz, who allege that the language of Jude is more simple than that in 2 Peter, and that many passages in the latter cannot be thoroughly understood without the light derived from the Epistle of Jude. But that assumption is opposed on weighty grounds, by Hofmann (Weissagung und Erfüllung), Thiersch, Stier and Dietlein. It is rightly contended, that at the time of the composition of the Epistle of Jude, the false teachers had already appeared, whereas in the second Epistle of Peter their appearance is simply predicted, 2 Peter 2:1, etc.; and that the second Epistle of Peter is free from the apparently apocryphal elements contained in that of Jude. Dietlein attempts to prove the originality of the second Epistle of Peter in every respective passage; and although he has not always succeeded, we can hardly withhold our assent in some passages. Those who, like ourselves, are profoundly impressed with the authenticity of the second Epistle of Peter, deem it a priori highly improbable that Peter, the Prince of Apostles,—that illumined and highly-gifted man, who proves his originality in the first Epistle as well as in 2 Peter 1:3,—should have borrowed, in a part of his Epistle, the language, figures and examples of a man evidently less gifted than himself. Especially remarkable, moreover, would be his silence concerning Jude, seeing that he made mention of Paul and his Epistles. If we add to this the fact that the second Epistle is rich in peculiar expressions, that the three chapters contain more than twenty ἅπαξ λεγόμενα, that the Epistle of Jude expressly refers to the words of the Apostles, v. 17, and specifies that it was quickly composed to meet a particular emergency, v. 3, the hypothesis that Jude made use of the second Epistle of Peter, is more probable than that Peter made use of the Epistle of Jude. We call particular attention to the word ἐμπαῖκται, Judges 18:0; cf. 2 Peter 3:3, which does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.
[Those who wish to study this question in all its bearings, are referred to Brückner’s Excursus on 2 Peter 2:0., in his edition of De Wette’s Handbuch, Vol. 1., Part III., pp. 163–170, who maintains the priority of St. Jude and St. Peter’s acquaintance with his Epistle, but vindicates the independence of the latter; to Huther’s Appendix to his Commentary on the Epistle, Davidson, Introduction, etc., Vol. III., pp. 399–408. Alford, in his Prolegomena to this Epistle, Section 3, pronounces for the priority of St. Jude. Wordsworth reaches the opposite conclusion, which is also the opinion of Oecumenius, Estius, Mill, Benson, Witsius, Dodwell, Lenfant, Beausobre, Hengstenberg and Heydenreich, besides the authors named by Fronmüller. For convenience, sake, I have given the most important parallel passages in the Introduction to St. Jude’s Epistle, to which the reader is referred.—M.]
§ 5. DATE OF THE EPISTLE
Mayerhoff undertakes to prove that it was composed by a Jewish Christian at Alexandria, about the middle of the second century. Schwegler considers the end of the second century to be the earliest date of its origin. Huther ascribes it to the beginning of the second century. This disagreement among critics entirely ignores, first, that the intellectual strength which characterizes this Epistle, is not found elsewhere in the second century; and secondly, that the appearance of the seducers, against whom this Epistle is directed, coincides, according to the notices found in the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul and in the Revelation of St. John, with the very period to which the Epistle, which must have been written shortly before his death, introduces us. “At the beginning of the second period of the Apostolical age, the Gentile Gnostic apostacy broke out with gigantic energy in the Churches of Asia. Paul had finished his work, but Peter was still destined to raise his warning voice before the end of his life.” Thiersch.
§ 6. LITERATURE
The same works specified in the Introduction to the first Epistle, viz.: those of Gerhard, Calov, Rieger, Starke, De Wette, Huther, and particularly Dietlein, Second Epistle of Peter, 1851.
[De argumento epist. Petri posterioris et Judœ Gatholicarum, in Crit. Sacr. Thes. Nov. II. 982.
Bp. Sherlock: The Authority of the Second Epistle of St. Peter, Works, IV., 137.
Simpson: Commentary on 2 Peter. 4to. London, 1632.
Adams, Thomas: A Commentary on the Second Epistle of Peter. London, 1633. Folio. Imp. 8vo., 1839.
Smith, Thomas: A Commentary on the Second Epistle of Peter.
Lillie, John, D. D.: The Second Epistle of Peter, the Epistles of John and Judas, and the Revelation. Translated from the Greek, with Notes. New York, 1854.
Separate treatises, expositions and sermons will be referred to in the Commentary.—M].