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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

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John
Jude

Revelation

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Tithing
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah


Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS