By E. H. Plumptre
From the Book The General Epistles of St. Peter & St. Jude
The Second Epistle of St Peter.
The Second Epistle ascribed to St Peter comes before us, as far as external evidence is concerned, somewhat heavily weighted. Origen (circ. A.D. 230) is the earliest writer who names it, and in doing so, he admits that its authority was questioned. "Peter, on whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, has left us one Epistle generally accepted (ὁμολογουμένῆν), and if you will, a Second, for this is questioned." (Euseb. H. E. VI. 25.) In addition to this he often quotes the First Epistle as "the Catholic Epistle." It had not made its way to greater acceptance when the Peschito Syriac Version of the New Testament was made, nor when the Muratorian Canon was drawn up, and finds no place in either of them. The latter, however, it should be noted, does not take in even the First Epistle, and so far leaves the two standing as on the same footing. In Eusebius we find traces of a transition stage, but the old doubts still continued, and obviously, as far as his own mind was concerned, preponderated. "We" he says "have not received that which is current as the Second Epistle as having a place in the Canon, but as it seemed to many to be edifying, it was studied with the other Scriptures." Afterwards he speaks of knowing only one genuine Epistle among the so-called writings of Peter (H. E. III. 3), and again classes the so-called Second Epistle with the Epistles of St James and Jude, as "questioned (ἀντιλεγόμενα) but yet acknowledged by most people" (H. E. III. 25). Jerome (Script. Eccl. I.) reproduces the same balanced state of feeling. The Second Epistle was "rejected by very many on account of its difference in style." He, however, included it in his Latin Version, known as the Vulgate, and this probably helped to determine its acceptance by the Western Church. Doubts lingered in Asia Minor and Syria, and were expressed by Gregory of Nazianzus and Theodore of Mopsuestia. These, however, gradually gave way, and the Epistle appeared in the Philoxenian or later Syriac version, and was received into the Canon by the Councils of Laodicea (A. D. 372) and Carthage (A. D. 397).
On the other side we have what may possibly be allusive references to the Epistle, or even quotations from it, though it is not named. Barnabas, or the Epistle that bears his name (c. xv.), brings in the thought that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years" (2 Pet. iii. 8), but then this was but a reproduction of the Jewish thought of a Millennial Sab bath of a thousand years, and does not prove that he derived it from our Epistle. Justin (Dial. c. Tryph. c. 89) quotes the same words, but it is, of course, uncertain from what source he drew them, and the same holds good of their citation by Irenaeus (v. 23, 28). Theophilus of Antioch in speaking of "men of God as borne on by the Spirit and so becoming prophets" (ad Autol. II. 2), of the Word or LOGOS of God as a "lamp shining in a narrow dwelling" (II. 1), reminds us so closely of 2 Pet. i. 18 - 21, that it is difficult to believe that he was not acquainted with the Epistle. Origen (in works, however, of which we have only Rufinus's Latin translation) once and again quotes the Epistle as Peter's: "Peter speaks through the two trumpets of his Epistles "(Hom. iv. in Josh.); "Peter says, Ye have been made partakers of the Divine Nature" (Hom. IV. in Levitt),
As far as evidence from without goes then the case does not go beyond a fair measure of proof that the Epistle was known and read in the second century, but that in spite of its manifest claim to be by the Apostle, it was not generally accepted.
We turn to the internal evidence, and here again there is, at first sight, an impression unfavourable to its genuineness. The opening description which the writer gives of himself is different from that of the First Epistle. So also is the general style of language and tenor of thought. It dwells less on the Pauline thoughts of redemption, election, grace, salvation, less on the trials of persecution, and the necessity of patience, and not without a certain tone of agitation, and a fulness of rhetorical amplification, speaks at length of the dangers of false teachers (c. ii.) and the mocking taunts of scoffers at the delay of the Lord's coming (c. iii.). There is, it has been said, an ostentation in the reference to the Transfiguration (i. 16), in the patronising tone in which the writer speaks of St Paul (iii. 15, 16), which is not in harmony with the naturalness and simplicity of the First Epistle.
It remains to be seen, however, how far a more thorough examination of the Epistle confirms or balances these conclusions. And here we have to deal with a large number of circumstantial details, each of them, it may be, comparatively inconclusive in itself, and yet tending, in their accumulated weight, to turn the scale of evidence.
(1) It is not probable that a pseudonymous writer would have begun his work by the use of the name "Symeon," which at once presented a startling variation from the opening of the First Epistle.
(2) In spite of the admitted difference of style, there are not a few instances in which words comparatively unfamiliar in other books are common to the two Epistles.
(3) On comparing the Second Epistle with the same New Testament writings with which the First Epistle has been compared, it will be seen that here also we have like points of contact and resemblance. These we give, as before, in a tabulated form.
I give these of course, in each case, with a valeat quantum, and do not say that, even taken collectively, they amount to a proof of identity of authorship. It will, however, I think, be admitted that they at least shew that the Second Epistle that bears St Peter's name comes from one who lived at the same time and m the same atmosphere of thought as the First, that he was familiar with the same writings and used the same words and phrases. I am unwilling to lay stress on the bare fact that the writer affirms that he was a witness of the Transfiguration and heard the voice from heaven (2 Pet. i. 16, 17); for that, on the assumption of personated authorship, would be part of the personation. But it is, I think, a matter for consideration that here also, in this dwelling on personal reminiscences of the Gospel history, the writer of the Second Epistle stands on the same footing as the writer of the First For he too speaks of his position as "a witness of the sufferings of Christ" (1 Pet. v. 1), and paints the scene of those sufferings (1 Pet. ii. 21 - 24) no less vividly than the writer of the Second Epistle paints that of the glory of the Transfiguration. And there is, it may be added, a kind of naturalness, almost if not altogether beyond the reach of art, in the way in which, by a subtle yet perfectly intelligible association of ideas, the recollection of that scene leads to thoughts and words like the "tabernacle" and "decease," which had actually been associated with it. There is, if I mistake not, a like naturalness in the reference to our Lord's prediction of the manner of the Apostle's death (John xxi. 18) (not recorded, it will be remembered, in any of the first three Gospels), in 2 Pet. i. 14, as compared with the exhortation in 1 Pet. v. 2, which reproduces the command to "feed the flock of God," which must have been associated inseparably with that prediction in the Apostle's memory (John xxi. 15 - 17).
It remains to enquire whether the admitted difference in thought and style can be adequately explained on the hypothesis of identity of authorship. I venture to think that that explanation is found in the singular parallelism between the second chapter of this Epistle and the Epistle of St Jude. That parallelism is so striking that it is impossible to resist the conclusion that one writer used the materials furnished him by the other, or that both derived them from some common source. Reserving the discussion of these alternatives for the Introduction to the Epistle of St Jude, I will assume here that the latter Epistle was the earlier of the two. What the facts before us suggest is then as follows. The First Epistle had been written and sent off by Silvanus. When he wrote it the Apostle was thinking chiefly of the persecutions which were pressing on the Asiatic Churches, and he dwells naturally on the truths which were the ground of hope and comfort for the sufferers, on the conduct which would be the best apologia when they stood before the tribunal of the magistrate or in the forum domesticum of the family, face to face with their accusers. Soon afterwards, other tidings come, which are more alarming and speak of other dangers. He hears of teachers like those described in the Pastoral Epistles, "departing from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, having their conscience seared as with a red-hot iron" (1 Tim. iv. 1,2), destitute of the truth, looking on the profession of godliness as a means of making money (1 Tim. vi. 5), covetous, boasters, proud, without natural affection, . . . "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God" (2 Tim. iii. 1 - 7), boasting of "a science (gnosis) falsely so called" (1 Tim. vi. 20). In addition to these there are mockers both within and without the Church, who, holding that the Resurrection is past already (2 Tim. ii. 18), held also as a natural consequence that there was to be no Second Advent of the Lord to judge the quick and the dead (2 Pet. iii. 1 - 4), and scoffed at the promise of His coming-. The Epistle of St Jude is placed in his hands as giving a description of these teachers. It is not an improbable supposition that it may have been sent to him by James, the brother of the Lord, with whom, as his brother Apostle of the Circumcision, he would naturally be in communication, or even that Jude himself may have been the bearer of his own letter. He is, if one may venture so to speak, startled and horror-stricken at the picture thus brought before him. He must write once more to the Asiatic Churches, warning them against this new form of evil, and throwing all the weight of his authority into the scale of those who were contending for the faith, for purity, for holiness, for the hope of the Resurrection to eternal life. It would not be enough merely to pass on the letter of St Jude. His own name was better known, and would carry greater weight with it. It is a small point, but one which, as far as it goes, falls in with the view thus suggested, that the form of the Apostle's name in the Second Epistle (Symeon) is that which appears in the record in Acts xv. 14, as used by St James and current in the Church of Jerusalem. If the disciple who brought the letter of St Jude came from that Church, and was employed by St Peter as an amanuensis, what was more natural than that he should employ that form?
The manner in which the writer of the Second Epistle deals with that of St Jude is in exact agreement with this hypothesis, and the hypothesis explains phenomena that would otherwise present considerable difficulty. He adapts it, as it were, to the use not only of the Hellenistic Jews, but of the proselytes from Heathenism, and even the uncircumcised converts, whom he was anxious to reach. He will not put a stumbling-block in their way, by referring to the tradition of the nature of the fall of the angels as being like in kind to the sin of the Cities of the Plain, which was found in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, and was not found (except in a passage very variously interpreted, Gen. vi. 4) in any Canonical Scripture. For a like reason, he turns from the tradition or legend of the dispute of Michael and Satan about the body of Moses (Jude, verse 9), and so generalises the statement that it more naturally refers to the history of Joshua the son of Jozedek, in Zech. iii. 1 - 5, and does not re produce the quotation from the Book of Enoch (Jude, verse 14), which might have seemed so well suited to his purpose. With the characteristic tendency, shewn in the First Epistle, to dwell on the history of Noah, he adds that to the list of St Jude's warning examples (2 Pet. ii. 5). He expands the few words in which St Jude speaks of the "mockers" of the last days (Jude, verse 18), so as to bring before his readers the special form of mockery of which he had heard as current among them (2 Pet. iii. 1 - 10).
On these grounds then, (1) of an adequate amount of agreement as to thought and language between the two Epistles, and (2) of an adequate explanation of the differences that must be admitted to present themselves on a comparison, I am disposed to think that there is enough to turn the scale in favour of the later acceptance of the Second Epistle by the Church at large, as against the earlier doubts. It may be added finally, that these doubts themselves, and the consequent delay in the acceptance, were what might have been expected under the circumstances of the case. A time of persecution necessarily interrupted the free communication of one Church with another. It was not easy for an encyclical letter to be read publicly in the meetings of the Churches to which it was addressed, when those meetings could not be held without the danger of violence and outrage. Nor must we forget that the false teachers who were condemned by the Epistle had an interest in suppressing it as far as that suppression lay within their power. They would dis claim its authority. It would not be strange that they should throw doubts on its authorship, and that those doubts should gain a certain degree of currency and be reproduced even by those who had not the same motive for suggesting them.
It remains that we should give a short outline of the contents of the Epistle.
ANALYSIS OF THE SECOND EPISTLE OF ST PETER.
Chap. I. The Apostle addresses those in the Asiatic Churches who were sharers with him in the same precious faith (1, 2). On the strength of God's gracious gifts to them, he calls on them to go on, in the might of God's promises and their fellowship in the Divine Nature, from one grace of character to another (3 - 7). Such progress is the condition of knowledge. Without it there is mental blindness and short-sightedness (8, 9), and they cannot make their calling and election sure (10, 11). The sense of this dependence of knowledge on practice makes the writer anxious to remind them of what they already knew. Life was passing away, and the end would come quickly; and therefore he would not delay to provide for his departure (12 - 15). He could speak with full confidence, for he had seen the excellent glory and heard the voice from Heaven on the Holy Mount (16 - 18). But even a surer attestation than that was to be found in the abiding presence of the Prophetic Word, the same now as it was of old, making the words of the men of God not their own words, but those of the Holy Ghost (19 - 21).
Chap. II. As there had been false prophets before, so are there false teachers now, denying the Lord that bought them, making proselytes as a means of gain (1 - 3). The history of the past shews that God's judgment is against such men. They shall perish as the angels that sinned did; as did the world of the ungodly in the Flood; as did the cities of the Plain (4 - 8). Yet in each of these cases those that remained faithful were saved, and so shall it be now (9). The vices that most characterised these false teachers were their impurity, their self- assertion, their railing, their wanton and luxurious living, their covetous- ness (10 - 14), reproducing in all these points the character of Balaam (15, 16). Waterless wells and tempest-driven clouds, these were the fit symbols of these boasters of liberty who were slaves of corruption (17 - 19). Whatever knowledge they had once had of Christ did but aggravate their guilt, and their last days were worse than the first. It had been better for them never to have known the truth than to have known it and then returned, like the unclean beasts of the proverb, to their uncleanness (20 - 22).
Chap. III. The Apostle, reminding his readers of his previous letter, bids them keep in remembrance what they had heard from the Apostles and prophets of the Church as to the Coming of the Lord (1, 2). They would meet scoffers who taunted them with the delay of the Coming (3, 4). They would do well to remember that the world had perished once before by water (5, 6), and therefore that it was not impossible that it might be destroyed hereafter by fire (5 - 7). What ever delay there might be was but the proof of the long-suffering of God, with whom a thousand years were as one day, giving men more time for repentance (8, 9). Sooner or later the end will come, but it will not be one of mere destruction, but will usher in the new heaven and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (10 - 13). With this in view, men should seek for fitness for that new world. Their own teacher, Paul, whom the writer owns as a beloved brother, would tell them that the long-suffering of God was leading them to repentance (14, 15). If they found some things hard to be understood in his Epistles, they must re member this was the case also with the other Scriptures, which, like his writings, were liable to perversion (16). Lastly, the writer ends, as he began, by calling on his readers to grow in grace and knowledge.