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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Peter, Second Epistle of

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PETER, SECOND EPISTLE OF. This Epistle cannot rank with 1Peter as a Christian classic; indeed, very many would agree with Jülicher that ‘2Peter is not only the latest document of the NT, but also the least deserving of a place in the canon.’ Nevertheless, it strikes a pure Christian note in its passion for righteousness.

1. Contents.

(i.) Greeting and exhortation , 2 Peter 1:1-11 . The Epistle opens with a salutation from Simon Peter to readers who, through the righteousness of God, have been admitted to the full privileges of the Apostolic faith. His prayer for increased blessing upon them, through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord, is based on the fact that by the revelation of His glorious excellence His Divine power has made a godly life possible for us and has given rich promises of our ultimately sharing His nature, when we have escaped from this present world perishing in its lust ( 2 Peter 1:1-4 ). They are therefore urged to enrich their character with virtues, because only from such a soil will a full knowledge of Jesus Christ grow; and entrance into His eternal Kingdom depends upon forgiveness of sins, and the zealous effort of the believer to make the gospel call effective by a life of virtue ( 2 Peter 1:6-11 ).

(ii.) The sure witness to the gospel , 2 Peter 1:12-21 . The Apostle will hold himself in readiness to remind his readers of the truth; and since; his death may be sudden, he will endeavour to leave them a trustworthy memorial of his teaching; for, unlike the false teachers, Peter was an eye-witness competent to set forth the power and the return of the Lord, having seen the Transfiguration on the Holy Mount. Hs also heard the Divine voice that confirmed prophecy, to which they must pay heed, since it was given by the Spirit; but prophecy having such an origin can be interpreted only by the voice of God, not by private opinion.

(iii.) The false teachers , ch. 2. An invasion of false teachers is foretold. These men will subvert the gospel of redemption from sin, and cause apostasy in the Church. But their doom at the hand of a righteous God, is no less certain than that of the angels who sinned, or the antediluvian world, or Sodom and Gomorrah; though now also, as theo, the few righteous will escape ( 2 Peter 1:1-9 ). Sensual, irreverent, brutish, and ignorant of spiritual things, they destroy even the sacred Christian feasts by their revelry, and, like Balaam, seek, for their selfish purposes, to lead their victims into fornication, deluding recently converted believers with a false doctrine of freedom. Had these apostates never known the truth, it would have been better for them ( 2 Peter 1:10-21 ).

(iv.) Warning against scepticism as to the return of the Lord , ch. 3. He reminds his readers that it was foretold as a sign of the end that mockers would deny that the Lord will return, but that both the prophets and the Lord proclaimed a day of Final Judgment. The memory of the Flood should be a warning to the scoffers ( 2 Peter 1:1-7 ). God’s delay is intended to give opportunity for repentance, and His purposes, though slowly maturing, will be brought to pass without warning; but the Day may be hastened by holy living and godliness. This is the teaching also of Paul, whose gospel of grace some are seeking to distort into licence. Safety lies in watchfulness and in growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ ( 2 Peter 1:8-18 ).

2. Situation of the readers. Were it not that 2 Peter 3:1 seems to refer to 1Peter , no definite information would be found in this letter as to the locality of the readers. It appears to be an Epistle designed to counteract a particular error affecting a district rather than one Church. It may be inferred that the readers were Gentiles ( 2 Peter 1:1 ), and were being misled by distortions of the Pauline doctrine of grace ( 2 Peter 3:16 ; 2 Peter 3:18 ), though the Churches were undisturbed by any echoes of the Jewish-Christian controversy. Indifference to Christian morality, inducing a dulled spiritual sense, has made them liable to apostasy under the influence of false teachers who are about to invade the Churches. Some are already at work among them ( 2 Peter 2:13-18 ). They seem to have taken advantage of the privilege of porphecy to spread their libertinism, and to have turned the sacred love-feasts into bestial carousals, holding out, especially to recent converts, the distorted promise of Christain freedom. They satisfied their own avarice and lust, and scoffed at moral responsibility, teaching, it would appear, that there is no resurrection of the body or judgment to come, by playing upon the deferred Christian hope of the Return of the Lord. Apparently they were all of one type, and so wicked as to he compared with the worst sinners of the OT ( 2Pe 2:4 ; 2 Peter 2:8 ; 2 Peter 2:8 ; 2 Peter 2:18 ). There is no evidence of any speculative system like those of the 2nd cent. Gnosticism, but there are features in common with the practices of the Nicolaitans of the Churches of Pergamum and Thyatira ( Revelation 2:13-24 ), though no mention is made of idolatry. A greater affinity may be traced with the Sadducaic spirit of portions of the Jewish and semi-pagan world, where scepticism as to spiritual realities went hand in hand with practical immorality. The cities of Syria or Samaria would be a not improbable situation for the readers of 2Peter.

3. Purpose of the Epistle. It is a mistake to confine the purpose of 2Peter to the refutation of one error, as, e.g ., the denial of the Parousia. It is a loud appeal for godly living and faith in the affirmations of the gospel. Scripture, and the Christian conscience. God’s promises of mercy and threatenings of judgment are Yea and Amen. The writer aims to impress on his readers: (1) that saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is granted only to the virtuous heart; (2) that Jesus Christ is a present power for a godly life, and is certain to return for judgment; (3) the hideous character of the false teachers and the self-evident doom of themselves and their victims; (4) that delay in the Return of the Lord must be used for repentance, for that Day will surely come.

4. Literary affinities

( a ) The OT . Though the direct quotations are few ( Psalms 90:4 in 2 Peter 3:8 and probably Proverbs 26:11 in 2 Peter 2:22 , with reminiscences of Isaiah 34:4 in 2 Peter 3:12 , and Isaiah 65:17 ; Isaiah 66:22 in 2 Peter 3:13 ), the real indebtedness of 2Peter to the OT is very great in the historical examples of ch. 2, and in the view of Creation, the Flood, and the Day of the Lord ( 2 Peter 3:5-7 ). The influence of Isaiah is manifest (cf. Isaiah 13:9-13 ; Isaiah 34:4 ; Isaiah 51:6 ; Isaiah 66:15 f. with 2 Peter 3:7 ; 2 Peter 3:10 ); and the use of Proverbs may perhaps he seen in 2 Peter 2:17 ( Proverbs 10:11 ; Proverbs 21:6 ; Proverbs 25:14 ) and in 2 Peter 2:21 ( Proverbs 12:28 ; Proverbs 16:17 ; Proverbs 16:31 )

( b ) Book of Enoch . It cannot be doubted that Enoch 9.1, 10.4 6, 18.11 21 has influenced 2 Peter 2:4 ; 2 Peter 2:11 .

( c ) The Gospels . The most obvious references are in 2 Peter 1:16-18 , which agrees fundamentally, though not precisely, with the Synoptic narratives of the Transfiguration, and in 1:14, which seems to point to the incident in John 21:18-19 . The Synoptic eschatology also, along with OT prophecy, has influenced 2Peter (cf. Mark 13:24-26 ; Mark 13:31 || and 2 Peter 3:10-12 ; Matthew 19:28 ; Matthew 25:31 , Luke 21:26-28 and 2 Peter 3:12 ; 2 Peter 3:18 ). Matthew 11:27 ; Matthew 11:29 || and the parable of the Sower ( Luke 8:10 ; Luke 8:16 ) throw much light on 2 Peter 1:2-8 ; and Matthew 12:28-29 ; Matthew 12:43-45 on 2 Peter 2:19-21 .

( d ) The Pauline Epistles . Of these there are very few traces, though 2 Peter 1:13 may be compared with 2 Corinthians 5:1 ; 2 Peter 2:19 with Romans 6:13 ; 2 Peter 3:14 with 1 Thessalonians 3:13 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , and 2 Peter 3:16 with Romans 2:4 ; Romans 9:22 . There are verbal similarities with the Pastoral Epistles, but probably they do not involve anything more than a wide-spread similar atmosphere. According to Romans 3:16 ; Romans 3:18 , the author seems to know all St. Paul’s correspondence, but he shows astonishingly little evidence of its influence.

( e ) Jude . One of these Epistles must have been used by the author of the other, but there is great diversity of opinion as to the priority, the prevailing view at present being apparently in favour of the priority of Jude, though Zahn and Bigg are strong advocates of 2Peter. The question is really indeterminable, and, apart from the external testimony of the one to the other, has little bearing on the authorship.

( f ) 1Peter

(i.) Differences . These are many and serious. 1Peter is written in fluent Hellenistic Greek while the style of 2Peter is almost pseudo-literary, and its words are often quite uncommon. 1Peter quotes largely from the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , the use of which can hardly be detected in 2Peter. The Divine names are different, and different conceptions of Christ’s work and of the Christian life are emphasized in 1Peter Jesus is the Messiah whose sufferings, death, and resurrection are the leading motives for the Christian life; in 2Peter Christ is ‘Saviour,’ who brings power for a godly life to all who have knowledge of Him. Hope and joy are the notes of 1Peter , which was written to readers who are buoyed up in suffering by faith in and love to their risen Lord. In 2Peter false teaching instead of persecution is a source of danger; knowledge takes the place of hope, and piety that of holiness.

(ii.) Resemblances [cf. (i.)]. These are manifold and striking. Both Epistles are influenced greatly by Isaiah and in some measure by Proverbs and Enoch. Both teach that Jesus Christ is progressively revealed to the believer, the Parousia being the fulfilment of the Transfiguration or the Resurrection ( 1 Peter 1:13 ; 1 Peter 4:13 ; 1Pe 5:1 , 2 Peter 1:3-4 ; 2 Peter 1:16 ). Both emphasize the fact of the Parousia and of Divine judgment; Noah and the Flood are used as examples in both. A similar conception of the Holy Spirit, unique in the NT, is found in 1 Peter 1:10-12 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 . In both the Christian life is regarded as a growth from seed ( 1 Peter 1:23 , 2 Peter 1:8 ; 2 Peter 3:18 ); obedience to the truth, emphasized in 1 Peter 1:22 and 2 Peter 2:2 ; 2 Peter 2:21 , brings the favourite virtue of steadfastness ( 1 Peter 2:8 ; 1Pe 5:10 , 2 Peter 1:10 ; 2 Peter 3:17 ). The law of holy living confers true freedom ( 1 Peter 1:15-16 ; 1 Peter 2:15 ff., 2 Peter 2:19 ; 2 Peter 3:11 ; 2 Peter 3:14 ). The virtues of 2 Peter 1:5-7 are paralleled in 1Peter , being those of a gentle, orderly, patient, kindly life of goodness; and in both the Christian life is regarded as a pilgrimage to an eternal inheritance] ( 1 Peter 1:1 ; 1 Peter 1:4 , 2 Peter 1:11 ; 2 Peter 1:13-14 ).

5. Testimony of later Christian Literature. Until the 3rd cent. the traces of 2Peter are very few. It was evidently known to the author of the Apocalypse of Peter ( c . 150 a.d.), though this is questioned without sufficient reason by some scholars. The first certain quotation is found in Firmilian of Cæsarea in Cappadocia ( c [Note: circa, about.] . 250); probably it was used by Clement of Alexandria; and Origen knew it, but doubted its genuineness. While Eusebius himself did not accept the Epistle, be placed it, in deference to general opinion, among the ‘disputed’ books. It is not referred to by the scholars of Antioch, nor is it in the Peshitta, the common version of the Syrian Church. The oldest Latin versions also seem not to have contained it; possibly it was absent from the original of Codex B, but it is found in the Egyptian versions. Jerome, and afterwards Erasmus and Calvin, harboured doubts about its genuineness.

6. Authorship. It will have been evident that there is much in this Epistle to justify the doubt as to its genuineness which has been entertained by many of the greatest Christian teachers from the early centuries; and recent scholarship has not yet relieved the difficulties in the way of accepting the Petrine authorship. They are (1) the remarkable divergence from the First Epistle, which seems to be too radical to be explained by the employment of different amanuenses; (2) the inferior style of the Epistle, its lack of restraint and its discontinuity, notably in 2 Peter 1:12-21 and ch. 2; (3) the absence of an early Christian atmosphere, together with a tone of disappointment because the promise of Christ to return has been long deferred ( 2 Peter 3:3 f.); (4) the appeal to the three authorities of the primitive Catholic Church the Prophets, the Lord, and the Apostles ( 2 Peter 1:19-21 , 2 Peter 3:2 ); (5) the reference to St. Paul’s letters as ‘Scripture’; (6) the extremely meagre external evidence.

Of these difficulties the gravest are (1) and (6). It is almost impossible to hold that the author of 1Peter could have described his letter in the words of 2 Peter 3:1 , and have regarded 2Peter as a sequel to the same readers. It has, however, been suggested that 2Peter was written earlier than 1Peter , and that the Epistles were composed by different amanuenses for different readers. But this hypothesis has not met with much favour. The insufficient witness is also serious, and though singly the other difficulties may be removed, their cumulative effect is too much for a letter already heavily burdened. But if the evidence is against direct Petrine authorship, is the book to be summarily banished into the middle of the 2nd cent. as entirely pseudonymous? Probably not. (1) There are no features of the Epistle which necessarily extrude it from the 1st century. Doubts as to the Parousia and similar false teaching were not unknown in the Apostolic age, and some of the most distinctive features of the 2nd cent., such as developed Gnosticism and Chiliasm, are conspicuous by their absence. Also the reference to St. Paul’s letters as ‘Scripture’ is not decisive, for in view of the insistence upon ‘written prophecy’ and its origin ( 2 Peter 1:19-21 ) it is doubtful whether St. Paul is ranked with the OT prophets.’ But in any case, by the time of 1 Clement there was a collection of St. Paul’s letters which would be read in churches with some Scriptural authority. Finally, there is much to be said for the view that not the OT Scriptures, but other Christian writings, are referred to in 2 Peter 3:16 . (2) 2Peter contains a large distinctively Petrine element. It has already been shown that 1 and 2Peter have much in common. They present a non-Pauline conception of Christianity, shared by them in common with the Gospel of Mark and the speeches of Peter in Acts. In Mk. and in 2Peter Jesus Christ is the strong Son of God, whose death ransomed sinners, and whose return to judgment is described in generally similar outlines. In the Epistle stress is laid on repentance, as in the opening of Mk. and in Acts ( 2 Peter 3:9-15 ), and there is a striking similarity between Acts 3:19-21 and 2 Peter 3:11-12 . Likewise the Christian life is regarded as the fulfilment of the new law, and the parables in Mk. of the planting and growth of the seed, supply suggestive parallels for both 1 and 2Peter. Both Epistles, like the speeches in Acts, are Hebrew in spirit, and are influenced by prophetic motives.

Perhaps the solution that will best suit the facts is to assume that a disciple of Peter, who remembered how his master had dealt with an attack of Sadducaic sensuality in some of the Palestinian Churches, being confronted with a recrudescence of similar evil, re-edited his teaching. This will do justice to the moral earnestness and the true Christian note of the Epistle.

R. A. Falconer.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Peter, Second Epistle of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/p/peter-second-epistle-of.html. 1909.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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