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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

2 Peter

- 2 Peter

by Daniel Whedon

2 PETER

INTRODUCTION

THE external evidence of St. Peter’s authorship of this epistle is not strong. Several of the Fathers, as Clement of Rome, Hermas, Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Theophilus of Antioch, and Irenaeus, use expressions strikingly similar to some found in the epistle, which may have been quotations from it, and, again, may have been phraseology current among Christians, or allusions to the Old Testament. The Apology of Melito, however, refers to the final conflagration in terms that seem evidently based on 2 Peter 3:6-7. In the Latin translation of Origen by Rufinus, the epistle is twice quoted; but Eusebius cites him as doubting it, and in his works extant in Greek he impliedly excludes it. Firmilian, in the third century, in a letter to Cyprian, says, “The blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, in their epistles cursed heretics;” and only in the second does St. Peter denounce them. Eusebius classes it with the doubtful. Jerome says, St. Peter “wrote two epistles, the second of which is by most denied to be his, on account of its difference in style from the first.” It was accepted by the Council of Laodicea, A.D. 367, and by the Council of Carthage, A.D. 397, and by most of the writers of the fourth century. It is not in the Muratorian canon, or in the Peshito; yet it is inserted as an accepted book in the chief ancient catalogues. After the fourth century, its acceptance became universal; but at the Reformation the question was taken up anew. At the present time it is accepted by most anti-Rationalists.

The historical argument against the authenticity of the epistle rests chiefly: except as stated by Jerome, on omission. No ancient writer denies St. Peter’s authorship on historical grounds. The epistle existed; it also had external credentials by which it was authenticated, or it could not have been anywhere received. From its character it is evidently a document which would come slowly into circulation, and be less frequently cited than some others. Jerome’s statement suggests the real difficulty, which seems to have originated at Alexandria.

The internal evidence, however, is very strong. The epistle, in its first words, claims to have been written by St. Peter; and it asserts itself as a “second epistle” of the same author, written to the same people, and with a like purpose. 2 Peter 3:1. The writer declares himself to have been an eye-witness of the glory of the transfiguration, and to have heard the “voice” which came “from the excellent glory.” Only St. Peter, or a most daring impostor, could have been the author; and that a forgery so glaring could have escaped detection on its first appearance seems hardly conceivable. Moreover, a comparison of the Greek text shows peculiar words and terms common to the two epistles, and also certain words that belong to St. Peter, as seen by his speeches in the Acts, which go very far in favor of an identity of authorship.

The “difference in style,” which incited the doubts of the Alexandrian critics, is no more than might be expected from the difference in the subjects treated. In the first, it is the encouragement and assurance of loving and rejoicing believers, by the familiar truths of the gospel, especially the redemption by Christ and the hope of the glory to be revealed. The style and diction are those of the tender, sympathetic pastor. In the second, the apostle has his eye upon heretics, deniers of the lordship of Christ, rebels against his authority, subverters of the gospel, and scoffers at his predicted advent. His purpose is, to build up against the error by firmly asserting the opposing truth, and to expose and denounce the principles and conduct of those who were undermining the very foundations of the gospel. Naturally, instead of the “Christ” and “Jesus Christ” not once using Saviour of the first epistle, he declares him in the second, as “Jesus our Lord,” “the Lord and Saviour,” and “our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” always careful to assert his high dignity. In the first epistle, the second advent is “the revelation of Christ” for the glory and joy of his saints; in the second, it is presented in the sterner aspect of “the day of judgment,” “the day of the Lord,” and “the day of God,” when fit retribution shall fall upon the corrupt and the scornful. Equally different is the light in which the gospel is viewed. In the first, the attention of the reader is fixed upon hope, salvation, grace, truth, and the word of truth: in the second, “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” is fundamental to all spiritual life, and an increasing knowledge of him is essential to genuine spiritual character and growth; while a departure from it leads to the destruction so forcibly described.

The antinomian “false teachers” of this epistle were Gnostics; but they cannot be identified with any one of the several classes of heretics that at a later day developed more or less of their characteristics. Those sects were as yet existing only in the germ; but there was an agreement in the fundamental principle that all evil resided in matter. There is a singular unanimity among the Fathers in ascribing the origin of these heresies to Simon Magus. St. Paul early discerned the beginning of the evil that threatened the Church, and failed not to sound the alarm. Act 20:29 ; 1 Timothy 4:1-8; 2 Timothy 3:1-5. St. Peter, too, saw the inevitable tendency of the prevalent speculations, as well as the tainted fruit already borne, and in brave, earnest words predicted the terrible consequent demoralization and corruption, hoping, as is evident from his concluding words, to check the error by holding his brethren to the gospel.

If, as seems probable, St. Peter was arrested at Babylon, that must have been the place of the writing of the epistle. We place it in the last year of his life, and among his closing labors probably late in A.D. 67 or early in A.D. 68.

PLAN OF THE EPISTLE.

I. EARNEST APPEAL FOR CHRISTIAN GRACES AND SOLEMN DILIGENCE 2 Peter 1:1-21

1. Peter’s address to those of like faith; and benediction, 2 Peter 1:1-2

2. God’s great gifts and promises call for rich Christian culture and graces 2 Peter 1:3-9

3. And for diligence to secure our election and heavenly entrance2 Peter 1:10-11; 2 Peter 1:10-11

4. Hence, this his solemn apostolic reminder, specially in view of his near decease 2 Peter 1:12-15

5. For no fable is our gospel; being confirmed by the transfiguration voice 2 Peter 1:16-18

6. And by more sure Spirit-moved prophecy2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Peter 1:19-21

II. WARNING AGAINST FALSE TEACHERS SOON TO APPEAR 2 Peter 2:1-22

1. Their doctrine, influence, and doom 2 Peter 2:1-3

2. Certainty of their punishment shown from three historic precedents 2 Peter 2:4-12

a. First case The fallen angels 2 Peter 2:4

b. Second case The antediluvians2 Peter 2:5; 2 Peter 2:5

c. Third case The cities of the plain 2 Peter 2:6

3. Their viciousness of life 2 Peter 2:13-18

4. Their corruption and utter apostasy2 Peter 2:19-22; 2 Peter 2:19-22

III. THE ERROR OF EXPECTING AN IMMEDIATE ADVENT CORRECTED 2 Peter 3:1-18

1. Fatal error of expecting Christ’s immediate coming, from the immediateness in the terms in which it is predicted 2 Peter 3:1-13

2. By the true interpretation of time in the prophecies of the second advent believers may be preserved from apostasy, and attain salvation 2 Peter 3:14-18