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Introduction to the Second Letter of Peter

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Introduction to 2 Peter Introduction to Jude
Fallen Angels

Author

The letter had a rough ride in being accepted into the canon of the NT, and many modern scholars deny that it was written by Peter because of differences of style between the two letters. Their suggestion is that it was written by an anonymous disciple of Peter in the second century.

The authorship of this letter is greatly disputed, although the biblical evidence certainly points to the apostle Peter. It claims to be by Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1). The author claims to be an eyewitness of Christ's majesty, when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and heard the voice from heaven, "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased" (1:16-18). This is certainly a reference to the transfiguration (Mt 17:6). Only three disciples: Peter, James and John, were present on the mountain to be eye-witnesses. The author was warned by Jesus about his approaching death (1:14), a reference to Jn 21:18-19. He calls this letter his second letter to the same readers, so we assume that 1 Peter was the first letter (3:1). The author is familiar with Paul's letters (3:15-16).

It may be significant to note that the word 'entice' (2:14,18) is the fisherman's word for catching fish with a bait, perhaps a link with Peter's former career.

External evidence

There is not much evidence from the early church. 2 Peter was probably not well known, it was not often quoted and not generally accepted.

Origen wrote about two letters by Peter, "Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles" (Homily on Joshua 7:1). He also quoted 2 Pet 1:4 as scripture. "And likewise Peter says, 'You have become sharers in the divine nature'" (Homily on Leviticus 4:4:2). Origen also expressed some doubts about 2 Peter, "And Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail (Matt 16:18) left only one epistle of acknowledged genuineness. Suppose we allow that he left a second; for this is doubtful. (Homily on John 5:3)

Eusebius listed 2 Peter as a disputed book of the canon, but acknowledged that many found it useful to be read with other scriptures, saying this, “One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work. But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures.” (Ecclesiastical History 3:3)

Jerome included 2 Peter in the Latin Vulgate, but was concerned over the differences in style in the two letters, saying this, “He (Peter) wrote two epistles which are called Catholic, the second of which, on account of its difference from the first in style, is considered by many not to be by him. (Lives of Illustrious Men 1).

2 Peter was accepted as canonical in the Council of Laodicea (AD 363) and the Council of Carthage (AD 397). Augustine and Luther accepted it as genuine, but Erasmus rejected it, and Calvin had doubts about it.

Similarities between the two letters

Some words and phrases found in both, but rarely in other writings, including: precious (1 Pet 1:7,19, 2 Pet 1:1), virtue (1 Pet 2:9, 2 Pet 1:3), supply (1 Pet 4:11, 2 Pet 1:5), love of the brethren (1 Pet 1:22, 2 Pet 1:7), to see, behold, or eyewitness (1 Pet 2:12,3:2, 2 Pet 1:16) and without blemish or spot (1 Pet 1:19, 2 Pet 3:14).

They also both contain similar teaching on certain subjects, such as: the end of the age (1 Pet 1:5, 4:7, 2 Pet 3:3,10), prophecy (1 Pet 1:10-12, 2 Pet 1:10. 3:2), the flood (1 Pet 3:20, 2 Pet 2:5, 3:6), Christian liberty (1 Pet 2:16, 2 Pet 2:19), the divine initiative, calling and consequent character of the Christian (1 Pet 2:9, 2 Pet 1:3), the parousia bringing judgement and joy (1 Pet 4:5,13,17, 2 Pet 3:7,13), and the parousia being an incentive to holy living (1 Pet 4:7, 2 Pet 3:11,14).

People have also noted some similarities between 2 Peter and the words Peter uses in his speeches in Acts. These are: obtained (Acts 1:17, 2 Pet 1:1), godliness (Acts 3:12, 2 Pet 1:7), unlawful (Acts 2:23, 2 Pet 2:8), the day of the Lord (Acts 2:20, 2 Pet 3:10), and wages or reward for iniquity (Acts 1:18, 2 Pet 2:13,15).

The style of 2 Peter is similar to Peter's speech at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), personal, direct and emphatic, which would suggest that II Peter was written by Peter himself and that he used a secretary, such as Silvanus, to write I Peter.

Written to?

No locality is mentioned in the letter. There is only a general address at the beginning, to all believers. It was Peter's second letter to the same people (3:1), which is a probable reference to 1 Peter, unless Peter wrote other letters which are not included in the NT. Paul had also written letters to these churches (3:15). It is likely that both of Peter's letters were written to the same wide area of Asia Minor (1 Pet 1:1).

Occasion of letter

Peter had heard news of false teachers who were coming with gnostic ideas, stressing knowledge as the means of salvation, which will be a threat to the young churches. He exhorts the believers to persevere in the truth which leads to godliness, the true knowledge, even in the midst of error and infidelity. He warns the false teachers of their danger in the light of the second coming, which will be a time of judgement for them, not a time of rejoicing. He exhorts the believers to live in the light of the Lord's coming, with lives characterised by holiness and godliness.

The words 'knowledge', 'to know' and 'to understand' appear fifteen times in II Peter, which would suggest relevance to people with gnostic ideas.

Date of writing

Peter's first letter was written during Nero's persecution, the time when Peter was martyred, so this letter must have been written shortly before his death, perhaps around AD 67.

Similarity with Jude

There are only ten verses in the Book of Jude which do not have parallels in 2 Peter (1,3,5,14,19,20,22-25). Most of the parallels are in chapter two. The material common to both is almost exclusively concerned with the false teachers.

This is a list of the parallel passages:

May peace ... be multiplied to you (Jude 2, 2 Pet 1:2)
False teachers deny the Master (Jude 4, 2 Pet 2:1)
Angels who sinned, pits of nether gloom until judgement (Jude 6, 2 Pet 2:4)
Sodom and Gomorrah ... destroyed as example to ungodly (Jude 7, 2 Pet 2:6)
Men defile flesh, reject authority (Jude 8, 2 Pet 2:10)
Angels not pronouncing reviling judgement (Jude 9, 2 Pet 2;11)
Men, revile things they do not understand - of instinct like irrational animals, will be destroyed (Jude 10, 2 Pet 2:12)
Gone the way of Balaam, forsaking right way for sake of greed (Jude 11, 2 Pet 2:15)
Blots and blemishes (Jude 12, 2 Pet 2:13)
Waterless mists and clouds, blown by storm (Jude 12, 2 Pet 2:17)
Nether gloom of darkness reserved for them (Jude 13, 2 Pet 2:17)
Judgement on the ungodly (Jude 15, 2 Pet 2:6-9)
Loud boasts of folly (Jude 16, 2 Pet 2:18)
You must remember the predictions ... (Jude 17. 2 Pet 3:2)
Scoffers will come in the last days, following their own passions (Jude 18, 2 Pet 3:3)
Waiting for the day of the Lord and eternal life (Jude 21, 2 Pet 3:12)

2 Peter contains more positive Christian teaching, while Jude is mostly denouncing the false teachers. The false teachers are not identical in the two books, but similar descriptions are used in both. These are the similarities:

Lives and teaching denied the Lordship of Jesus (Jude 4, 2 Pet 2:1)
Defiled love feasts, were immoral, infected others, emphasised freedom (Jude 4,12, 2 Pet 2:10-18)
Plausible, crafty, eloquent, out for gain, flatterers (Jude 16, 2 Pet 2:3,12-18)
Arrogant and cynical (Jude 8, 2 Pet 2:1,10-11)
Posed as prophets to support their claims (Jude 8, 2 Pet 2:1)
Self-willed, divisive and superior (Jude 18, 2 Pet 2:2,10,18)
Scoffers (Jude 18, 2 Pet 3:3)

There are also a couple of differences:

Twisted scriptures and Paul's letters to their own end (2 Pet 3:15-16)
Perverted the grace of God into licentiousness (Jude 4)

Which letter came first?

There is a continuing debate over whether Jude quoted from Peter, or Peter quoted from Jude.

Most of the scholars who believe that 2 Peter was written by Peter suggest that Jude quoted from 2 Peter. They say that a prominent apostle like Peter would not have copied from a more obscure man like Jude, even though Jude was a brother of Jesus. In his letter it appears that Peter is predicting that false teachers will come (2 Pet 2:1,2,3,12,13), but Jude addresses false teachers already here (Jude 4). But Peter also used the present tense to describe their character and conduct (2:10-22), even though their presence is still in the future. The quotation of the prediction in Jude 18, is from 2 Pet 3:3, almost word for word. Their conclusion is that Peter wrote of the coming false teachers and Jude wrote about them once they had arrived, expanding on Peter's material. If Jude, the brother of Jesus, based his letter on 2 Peter, this would confirm that the book of 2 Peter is apostolic and canonical.

However other scholars believe that Peter quoted from Jude, so Jude came first. Most of these do not believe that 2 Peter was apostolic. They argue from the following points: Peter wrote the longer letter, and would be more likely to draw from a shorter letter, than vice versa. If 2 Peter had already been written, there would not be much point in Jude writing. Jude seems more spontaneous, he has no long introduction, he knows the false teachers because they are already here. The freshness, vitality and harshness of Jude compares with the more restrained style of 2 Peter. However, this point could be argued both ways. Also Peter omits the apocryphal references which Jude used.

Another suggestion is that there was an independent third source used by both Peter and Jude. People have speculated about the existence of a 'Q' letter, similar to the 'Q' document that is often assumed to be have been used by Mark and Luke in the synoptic gospels, but there is not much support for this view, or any documentary evidence.

New Heavens and a New Earth

Peter says that, “we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Pet 3:13). The question is what relationship this new heavens and earth has with the current physical earth. Sometimes the question is stated as, “What will be new about the new heavens and earth?” Will God utterly destroy the current earth and create a completely new earth, or will he in some way transform the current earth to remove any traces of sin and the fall?

In 2 Peter, it predicts the following, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.” (2 Pet 3:10), also, “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire” (2 Pet 3:12). At first reading, this would suggest at on the day of the Lord, the current earth will be completely destroyed.

New heavens and a new earth was also predicted by Isaiah, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind ..." (Is 65:17-25). In this ideal place, there will be no more suffering, people will live for greatly extended lifetimes, and there will even be peace between the animals (also Is 11:6-9).

In the Book of Revelation, John was given a similar vision of the future glory. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” (Rev 21:1). This will be where God will dwell with his people, and where there will be no more death or suffering (Rev 21:3-4). Then from his throne, God made this statement, “See, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).

The same question also needs to be asked about these two passages, are they speaking about a completely new earth to replace this one, or will this earth be transformed? Again, at first sight, they would appear to predicting that the current earth will be destroyed and replaced.

However, there is one passage would suggest something rather different, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 8:19-21). Paul is saying that there is also a glorious future for the physical creation, when the effects of the fall will be reversed.

The basic question is really over the meaning of the word ‘new’, whether ‘new’ means a replacement, or a restoration and renewal. In Revelation, God said, “See, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5), which can be read either way. In 2 Corinthians, Paul states this, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). A believer in Christ is a new creation, not meaning that the old person has been completely replaced, they are still the same person, but that person has been transformed by the Spirit of God.

Paul is predicting a glorious future for the physical creation, which will be enjoyed by the believers. Both will be a new creation. Believers are a new creation now, while the physical creation must wait until the day of the Lord at the second coming of Jesus.

If this is the case, then Peter’s prediction of burning with fire is not necessarily meaning destruction and replacement, but rather burning with fire for cleansing, purification, and the removal of the effects of the fall.

Related articles

Introduction to 2 Peter Introduction to Jude
Fallen Angels