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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

2 Peter

- 2 Peter

by Arthur Peake



THE epistle can best be described as “ a homily thrown into epistolary guise.” The author writes as “ Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” He refers to his call ( 2 Peter 1:3), his presence at the Transfiguration ( 2 Peter 1:17), his impending death foretold by Jesus ( 2 Peter 1:14), to the Gospel of Mark, which embodied his teaching ( 2 Peter 1:15), and to his First Epistle ( 2 Peter 3:1). But, apart from these references, the personal note is entirely absent. Nothing is said as to the place or circumstances of composition; there are no greetings and no trace of any personal relations between the author and his readers. He addresses himself, not to any particular church, but to Christendom in general. His purpose is to exhort the faithful to godliness, to warn them against false teachers who practised libertinism, and to rehabilitate the belief in the Second Advent. He bases his “ homily” upon the Epistle of Jude and borrows freely from it. (For a justification of this, see Introduction to Jude.)

The Petrine authorship has been questioned on various grounds. ( 1 ) Weakness of external evidence. There is no certain or even probable evidence of the use of 2 P. by any first-or second-century writer (unless we suppose that Jude was based on 2 P. instead of vice versa, but see below under 6 ). In this respect its position is wholly different from that of the Pauline Epistles and 1 P. The first clear reference to it is in Origen, though he regarded it with suspicion. In the fourth century doubts were felt about it by Eusebius and Jerome, and it was rejected by the Syrian Church. It was probably known to Clement of Alexandria, though connected by him rather with the Apocalypse of Peter than with 1 P. ( cf. Chase in HDB). Attempts have been made to explain the weakness of the evidence: ( a) that the epistle would have little interest for Gentile readers because it was addressed to Jewish Christians (so Zahn); but there is nothing to suggest that the readers were Jewish Christians; on the contrary, “ the problem of the Law does not exist for the author or the readers” ; or ( b) that it never had a wide circulation— a fact evidenced by the bad state of the text (so Bigg)— owing to its brevity and the limited interest of its subject-matter. But this would not explain the silence and suspicion of early writers about a document believed to be of apostolic authorship. ( 2 ) Relation to 1 P. The style, language and tone of the two epistles are so widely different that, making all allowance for difference of subject-matter and of circumstances of composition, identity of authorship seems impossible. ( 2 P. was rejected on this ground as early as the time of Jerome.) Such verbal agreements as exist are best explained as due to a definite imitation of 1 P. by some later writer. Moreover, the whole outlook and teaching of the two epistles is different; e.g. in 1 P. the Parousia is regarded as imminent; in 2 P. its further delay is contemplated and explained. Some commentators who accept 2 P. are, accordingly, compelled to abandon the direct authorship of 1 P. ( 3 ) The reference to the Pauline Epistles in 2 Peter 3:15 f. seems to imply the existence of a NT Canon, and therefore to necessitate a date for 2 P. which is incompatible with its authenticity. ( 4 ) The epistle is completely silent as to the Resurrection and the Ascension, and hardly contains an allusion to the sayings of our Lord— here, too, presenting a striking contrast to 1 P. This raises a presumption against its genuineness, which is strengthened by the fact that the only references to the Gospel history which it does contain are such as would serve to identify the author with Peter. They seem to be introduced solely for this purpose and after the manner of the apocryphal writings, and lend support to the statement that the author “ shows a too manifest anxiety to have his work attributed to St Peter.” ( 5 ) The “ false teaching” attacked is said to be a form of second-century Gnosticism. The false teachers are certainly charged not only with immorality— as would appear to be the case in Jude— but also with doctrinal errors, yet the indictment is so general that this argument must be regarded as inconclusive. It would support, though it does not demand, a late date. ( 6 ) Its connexion, both in thought and language, with the Apocalypse of Peter— an apocryphal work of the second century— is so close that it requires explanation. The possibilities seem to be that both are the work of the same writer (Sanday) or of the same school (Chase), or that 2 P. borrowed from the Apocalypse.

These arguments vary in force. Some of them, taken separately, do not carry much weight, but in combination they seem conclusive. The majority of scholars therefore regard the epistle as a pseudonymous work of the second century. The exact date and place of composition can only be conjectured. Since some regarded it as Petrine at the end of the second century it cannot have been written much later than about A.D. 170 . Its resemblance to the Apocalypse of Peter and its traditional connexion with it, give probability to the view that it was written about the same time and in the same neighbourhood— about A.D. 150 and in Egypt. It is scarcely necessary to add that those who say that on this view the epistle is “ neither more nor less than a forgery” are guilty of an anachronism: we must not judge an ancient writer by modern literary standards. Cf. pp. 432 , 902 .

Accepting the epistle as genuine, Zahn supposes that it was directed against the libertinism prevalent in the Gentile churches, notably at Corinth, and was written at Antioch, before Peter went to Rome, and therefore before 1 P., and was addressed to Jewish Christians in Palestine. Bigg’ s view is similar, though less definite as to the place and date of composition. He thinks that it was probably addressed to the Asiatic churches to warn them against false teachers from Corinth who were beginning to make their way into Asia Minor.

Literature. Commentaries: ( a) Lumby (Sp.), Plummer (Ellicott’ s), Bennett (Cent.B), Plumptre (CB), Mitchell (WNT); ( b) J. B. Mayor, Bigg (ICC), R. H. Strachan (EGT), James (CGT); ( c) Windisch (HNT), von Soden (HC), Burger (KHS), Hollmann (SNT), Knopf (Mey.), Spitta, de Zwaan; ( d) Lumby (Ex.B), J. H. Jowett, The Epistles of St. Peter. Other Literature: Articles in Dictionaries and Encyclopæ dias (especially Chase in HDB), Discussions in Histories of the Apostolic Age, Introductions to NT; Jones, N. T in Twentieth Century, 343 ff., 350– 357 ; Robson, Studies in the Second Epistle of St. Peter.



THE exact significance of the epithet “ catholic” or “ general,” as applied to the seven writings which bear the names of James , 1 and 2 Peter , 1, 2 , and 3 Jn., and Jude, has been a matter of considerable debate. It has been surmised that they are so entitled because they are the work of the apostles generally as distinguished from the compact body of Pauline letters; or because they contain catholic in the sense of orthodox teaching, or general rather than particular instruction; or again because they were generally accepted in contrast to other writings which bore apostolic names but failed to make good their claim. A more likely reason than any of these is that they were addressed to Christians in general or to groups of churches instead of to individual communities like Corinth and Rome, to which Paul usually wrote. We say “ usually,” because Galatians was written to a group of churches, and there is reason to think that Ephesians was meant as a circular letter. Cf. also Colossians 4:16. Of the seven “ catholic” epistles, two ( 2 and 3 Jn.) hardly satisfy our test, for they were written to a particular, though unnamed, church and to an individual respectively. Their inclusion in the group is thus a mere matter of convenience; they would naturally come to be associated with 1 Jn. Jas. is addressed to “ the twelve tribes of the Dispersion,” 1 P. to Christians in Asia Minor, 2 P. and Jude broadly to the writer’ s fellow-believers; 1 Jn. has no address, and is more like a homily than a letter.

The earliest record of the name appears to be about A.D). 197 , in the anti-Montanist writer Apollonius (see Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., v. 18 ), who declares that the heretic Themiso wrote a “ catholic” epistle in imitation of that of the apostle (? John). Clement of Alexandria ( c. 200 ) refers to the letter of Acts 15:23-29 and to Jude as “ catholic.” Origen ( c. 230 ) applies the epithet to the epistle of Barnabas, as to 1 Jn., 1 P., and Jude. Dionysius of Alexandria ( c. 260 ) uses it of 1 Jn. in opposition to 2 and 3 Jn. Such usage, and that of Eusebius of Cæ sarea ( c. 310 ), who uses the adjective of the whole seven ( Hist. Eccl., ii. 23 ), is sufficient to disprove the opinion that “ catholic” means “ recognised by the whole church.” As a matter of fact, most of the seven were hotly contested, and only gradually secured their place in the NT canon. 1 Jn., which was the first to be so styled, evidently won the epithet because of the encyclical nature of its appeal— it was an exhortation to the church at large rather than to a narrow circle, a single church, or even a group of churches, like the Pauline letters and 1 P., to say nothing of individual persons— and because its contents were official in a sense in which even Paul’ s epistles were not. Most akin in this respect were Jude and 2 P., and perhaps Jas., if the twelve tribes can be taken as representing the new Israel of Christendom. The recipients of 1 P., too, included well-nigh half the Christian world. 2 and 3 Jn. secured their footing because of their name. The little canon of Pauline letters was usually designated “ the Apostle,” and it would only be a question of time for the group of non-Pauline epistles to be entitled “ catholic.” When the name of the group became known in the Western Church, it was misinterpreted and taken in a dogmatic sense as equivalent to “ canonic,” i.e. apostolic or genuine. As “ the canonic epistles” they became known in the West, and the original idea of contrast with the Pauline letters disappeared. Junilius Africanus ( c. 550 ) understands “ canonic” as “ containing the rule of faith.”

So late as Junilius’ day, 1 Jn. and 1 P. stood apart for him, though he says that very many add the other five. This majority opinion was due to Jerome and Augustine. Chrysostom’ s Synopsis names only three ( 1 Jn., 1 P., Jas.), thus following Lucian and the school of Antioch, which also influenced the Peshitta or “ Vulgate.” Syriac. Eusebius puts 1 Jn. and 1 P. in the class of universally accepted books, while Jas., Jude, 2 Peter , 2 and 3 Jn., are a second class, “ disputed,” but making their way towards the first class ( Hist. Eccl., iii. 25 ). Cyprian of Carthage ( d. 259 ) received only 1 Jn. and 1 P. The Muratorian Fragment (if we admit Zahn’ s very tempting emendation [108] ) shows that at Rome, c. 180 , these two books were received. 2 P. was not generally accepted for reading in church, while Jude 1:2 and 3 Jn. formed a little group scarcely regarded as apostolic (for they are linked with the Wisdom of Solomon), yet “ accepted in the Catholic Church.” Jas. is not mentioned.

[108] Gwatkin, Selections from Early Christian Writers, p. 87.

The influence of Augustine has been mentioned. In De Fide et Operibus (xiv. 21 ) he points out that Paul pressed his doctrine of justification by faith so far as to be in peril of being misunderstood. Paul lays the foundations, the Catholic Epistles raise the superstructure; he is careful for the genuineness of the root, they for the good fruit; he feels himself a minister of the Gospel, they speak in the name of the (nascent Catholic) Church.

It may be granted that there are certain points of relationship between the seven epistles, despite their varied authorship. They lack in general the personal note, and seek to meet more widespread need by general counsel. Jü licher ranks them as a class in which the epistle is merely a literary form whereby the unknown writer holds intercourse with an unknown public. The transition from the Pauline letters to the Catholic Epistles is by way of Ephesians, Hebrews, and the Pastorals ( cf. p. 603 ). None of them is lengthy, none starts a far-reaching train of thought, or contributes much to pure theology. They are concerned mainly with practical advice and edifying exhortation. Their modest dimensions gave them an advantage over such longer works as the Epistles of Clement and Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. in circulation, and therefore in recognition; apart from the fact that these works, favourites in the Early-Church, bore no apostolic names.

The critical questions, often very perplexing, connected with the separate epistles are discussed in the commentaries that follow. We may note here that, apart from the titles (which are late), 1 Jn. is anonymous, 2 and 3 Jn. simply purport to be from “ the elder,” 1 and 2 P. definitely say they are by Peter the apostle; “ James” and “ Judas, the brother of James” are the slender descriptions given by the authors of the other two epistles. John, James, and Judas (or Jude) were all very common names, and give us no clue to the identity of the authors. As to date, 1 Jn. and 1 P. were in circulation early in the second century, and were attributed to the two apostles before its close. Jude and 2 Jn. were circulated and attributed by about 160 . Jas. was also in circulation then, but no attribution of authorship was made for another half century. Clear traces of 3 Jn. and 2 P. appear a little before 200 . Perhaps the earliest and the least uncertain as to authorship is 1 P., the latest 2 P. The seven epistles cover the sub-apostolic age from, say, A.D. 64 to 150 , and are a valuable reflection of the life and thought of the church during that period. In 1 P. (nearest to Paul in time and in thought, [109] and to many minds one of the choicest books of NT) we see something of the peril that assailed a church from without; in 1 , 2 , and 3 Jn. we are shown the danger from within in matters of doctrine and problems of organisation. Jude is the effort of a teacher who is similarly alarmed by the growth of an antinomian gnosticism and the sins of unbelief, pride, and sensuality. 2 P. is an elaboration of Jude, and also reflects the disappointment felt at the delay of the Second Advent. Jas. is in a class by itself, and resolutely defies any agreed solution of its date and authorship. It sets forth Christianity as the new law.

[109] This commonly received opinion is questioned by H. A. A. Kennedy in ET 27264 (March 1916).

The epistles, though modern scholarship cannot unhesitatingly accept their apostolic authorship, at least represent what the Early Church regarded as apostolic teaching, and subsequent generations have confirmed their practical value. Some may feel that because there is no certainty about their apostolic authorship they should not be included in the KT; but the Early Church was often guided by the intrinsic merits of a book, and accepted it as. apostolic because of its worth. We have to remember, too, that the ancient conception of authorship was widely different from our own— a book would be called John’ s because its teaching agreed with that of John. A writer might go so far as to assume the name of a great teacher in order to gain a reading for his book; and if he succeeded in presenting what might fairly be regarded as the views of the man whose name he assumed, no one felt aggrieved. The practice was especially common in apocalyptic literature. We do not argue in this way now; and similar literary devices when they are practised are tolerated only because we know that they are devices, and generally know also the name of the real author.

The order in which we have the seven epistles has come to us from the fourth century, but there were many earlier variations. The position of the group in early MSS. and versions is also far from fixed. Most Gr. MSS. arrange thus: Gospels, Acts, Cath. Epp., Paul, Rev. The Syrian order is Gospels, Paul, Acts, Cath. Epp., Rev. In Egypt: Gospels, Paul, Cath. Epp., Acts, Rev. In the Muratorian Canon, representing the early West, we have apparently Gospels, Acts, Paul, Cath. Epp., Rev., which is the order followed in the Vulgate and in the English versions.

( See also Supplement)