The Second Epistle of Peter
The contents of the Epistle can be divided into two parts:
I. The Importance of Christian Knowledge, 1:1-21. After the greeting, 1, 2, the author reminds the readers of the great blessings they received through the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and urges them to live worthy of that knowledge and thus to make sure their calling and election, 3-11. He says that he deemed it expedient to put them in mind of what they knew, and that he would see to it that they had a remembrance of these things after his decease, 12-15. This knowledge is of the greatest value, because it rests on a sure foundation, 16-21.
II. Warning against False Teachers, 2:1—3:18. The apostle announces the coming of false prophets, who shall deny the truth and mislead many, 2:1-3. Then he proves the certainty of their punishment by means of historical examples, 4-9, and gives a minute description of their sensual character, 10-22. Stating that he wrote the letter to remind them of the knowledge they had received, he informs them that the scoffers that will come in the last days, will deny the advent of Christ, 3:1-4. He refutes their arguments, assuring the readers that the Lord will come, and exhorting them to a holy conversation, 5-13. Referring to his agreement with Paul in this teaching, he ends his letter with an exhortation to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, 14-18.
1. Like the first Epistle this second one is also a letter of practical warning, exhortation and encouragement. But while in the former the dominant note is that of Christian hope, the controlling idea in the latter is that of Christian knowledge. It is the ἐπίγνωσις χπιστοῦ́ which consists essentially in the acknowledgment of the δύναμις κὰι παρουσία of Christ. Advancement in this ἐπίγνωσις́ as the ground and aim of the exercise of all Christian virtues, is the prominent feature of every exhortation.” Huther, Comm. p. 344. This knowledge, resting on a sure foundation, must be the mainstay of the readers, when false doctrines are propagated in their midst, and must be their incentive to holiness in spite of the seducing influences round about them.
2. This Epistle has great affinity with that of
Jude, cf. 2:1-18;3:1-3. The similarity is of such a character
that it cannot be regarded as accidental, but clearly points to
dependence of the one on the other. Though it cannot be said
that the question is absolutely settled, the great majority of
scholars, among whom there are some who deny the authorship of
Peter (Holtzmann, Julicher, Chase, Strachan, Barth e. a.), and
others who defend the authenticity of the Epistle (Wiesinger,
Bruckner, Weiss, Alford, Salmon), maintain the priority of Jude.
The main reasons that lead them to this conclusion, are the
following: (1) The phraseology of Jude is simpler than that of
Peter in the related passages. The language of the latter is
more laborious and looks like an elaboration of what the former
wrote. (2) Several passages in Peter can be fully understood
on1y in the light of what Jude says, compare 2: 4 with
3. The language of II Peter has some resemblance to that of the first Epistle cf Weiss, Introd.~~p. 166, but the difference between the two is greater than the similarity. We need not call special attention to the a[pax lego,mena found in this letter, since it contains but 48, while I Peter has 58. But there are other points that deserve our attention. Bigg says: “The vocabulary of I Peter is dignified; that of II Peter inclines to the grandiose.” Comm. p. 225. And according to Simcox, “we see in this Epistle, as compared with the first, at once less instinctive familiarity with Greek idiom and more conscious effort at elegant Greek composition.” Writers of the N. T. p. 69.
There are 361 words in I Peter that are not found in this Epistle, and 231 in II Peter that are absent from the first letter. There is a certain fondness for the repetition of words, cf. Holtzmann, Einl. p. 322, which Bigg, however, finds equally noticeable in I Peter. The connecting particles, ἵνα, ὅτι, οὖν, μέν, found frequently in I Peter, are rare in this Epistle, where instead we find sentences introduced with τοῦτο or ταῦταχφ̀ 1:8, 10; 3:11, 14. And while in the first Epistle there is a free interchange of prepositions, we often find a repetition of the same preposition in the second, φ̀ ὶ δια, is found three times in 1 :3-5 and έν seven times in 1: 5-7. Different words are often used to express the same ideas; compare ἀποκαλυψις, I Pt. 1 :7, 13; 4:13 with παρουσία, II Pt. 1 :16; 3 :4;—ῥαντισμός, I Pt. 1 :2 with καθαρισμός, II Pt. 1 :9 ;—κληρονομία, I Pt. 1 :4 with a̔ιώνοκ βασιλεια, II Pt. 1:11.
This Epistle is the most weakly attested of all the New Testament writings. Besides that of Jerome we do not find a single statement in the fathers of the first four centuries explicitly and positively ascribing this work to Peter. Yet there are some evidences of its canonical use, which indirectly testify to a belief in its genuineness. There are some phrases in Clement of Rome, Hermas, the Clementine Recognitions and Theophilus that recall II Peter, but the coincidences may be accidental. Supposed traces of this Epistle are found in Irenaeus, though they may all be accounted for in another way, cf. Salmon, Introd. p. 324 f. Eusebius and Photius say that Clement of Alexandria commented on our Epistle, and their contention may be correct, notwithstanding the doubt cast on it by Cassiodorus, cf. Davidson, Introd. II p. 533 f. Origen attests that the book was known in his time, but that its genuineness was disputed. He himself quotes it several times without any expression of doubt. It is pointed out, however, that these quotations are found in those parts of his work that we know only in the Latin translation of Rufinus, which is not always reliable; though, according to Salmon, the presumption is that Rufifius did not invent them, Introd. p. 533 f. Eusebius classes this letter with the Antilegomena and Jerome says: “Simon Peter wrote two Epistles, which are called catholic; the second of which most persons deny to be his, on account of its disagreement in style with the first.” This difference he elsewhere explains by assuming that Peter employed a different interpreter. From that time the Epistle was received by Rufinus, Augustine, Basil, Gregory, Palladius, Hilary, Ambrose e. a. During the Middle Ages it was generally accepted, but at the time of the Reformation Erasmus and Calvin, though accepting the letter as canonical doubted the direct authorship of Peter. Yet Calvin believed that in some sense the Petrine authorship had to be maintained, and surmised that a disciple wrote it at the command of Peter.
The Epistle itself definitely points to Peter as its author. In the opening verse the writer calls himself, “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ,” which clearly excludes the idea of Grotius, that Symeon, the successor of James at Jerusalem, wrote the letter. From 1: 16-18 we learn that the author was a witness of the transfiguration of Christ; and in 3: 1 we find a reference to his first Epistle. As far as style and expression are concerned there is even greater similarity between this letter and the speeches of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles than between the first Epistle and those addresses. Moreover Weiss concludes that from a biblical and theological point of view, no New Testament writing is more like I Peter than this Epistle, Introd. II p. 165. Besides the whole spirit of the Epistle is against the idea that it is a forgery. Calvin maintained its canonicity, “because the majesty of the Spirit of Christ exhibited itself in every part of the Epistle.”
Notwithstanding this, however, the authenticity of the letter is subject to serious doubt in modern times, such scholars as Mayerhoff, Credner, Hilgenfeld, Von Soden, Hausrath, Mangold, Davidson, Volkmar, Holtzmann, Julicher, Harnack, Chase, Strachan e. a. denying that Peter wrote it. But the Epistle is not without defenders; its authenticity is maintained among others by Luthardt, Wiesinger, Guericke, Windischmann, Bruckner, Hofmann, Salmon, Alford, Zahn, Spitta, and Warfield, while Huther, Weiss, and Kuhl conclude their investigations with a non liquet.
The principle objections to the genuineness of II Peter are the following: (1)The Language of the Epistle is so different from that of I Peter as to preclude the possibility of their proceeding from the same author. (2) The dependence of the writer on Jude is inconsistent with the idea that he was Peter, not only because Jude was written long after the lifetime of Peter, but also since it is unworthy of an apostle to rely to such a degree on one who did not have that distinction. (3) It appears that the author is over-anxious to identify himself with the appost1e Peter: there is a threefold allusion to his death, 1:13-15; he wants the readers to understand that he was present at the transfiguration, 1: 16-18; and he identifies himself with the author of the first Epistle, 3 :1. (4) In 3 :2 where the reading ὑμῶν is better attested than ἡμῶν, the writer by using the expression, τῆς τῶν ἀποστόλων ὑμῶν ἐντολῆς, seems to place himself outside of the apostolic circle. Deriving the expression from Jude, the writer forgot that he wanted to pass for an apostle and therefore could not use it with equal propriety. Cf. Holtzmann, Einl. p. 321. (5) The writer speaks of some of Paul’s Epistles as Scripture in 3:16, implying the existence of a New Testament canon, and thus betrays his second cen dpoint. (6) The Epistle also refers to doubts regarding the second coming of Christ, 3:4 ff., which points beyond the lifetime of Peter, because such doubts could not be entertained before the destruction of Jerusalem. (7) According to Dr. Abbott (in the Expositor) the author of II Peter is greatly indebted to the Antiquities of Josephus, a work that was published about A. D. 93.
We cannot deny that there is force in some of these arguments, but do not believe that they compel us to give up the authorship of Peter. The argument from style is undoubtedly the most important one; but if we accept the theory that Silvanus wrote the first Epistle under the direction of Peter, while the apostle composed the second, either with his own hand or by means of another amanuensis, the difficulty vanishes.—As far as the literary dependence of Peter on Jude is concerned, it is well to bear in mind that this is not absolutely proved. However, assuming it to be established, there is nothing derogatory in it for Peter, since Jude was also an inspired man, and because in those early days unacknowledged borrowing was looked at in a far different light than it is today.—That the author is extremely solicitous to show that he is the appostle Peter is, even if it can be proved, no argument against the genuineness of this letter. In view of the errorists against which he warns the readers, it was certainly important that they should bear in mind his official position. But it cannot be maintained that he insists on this over-much. The references to his death, his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and his first Epistle are introduced in a perfectly natural way. Moreover this argument is neutralized by some of the others brought forward by the negative critics. If the writer really was so over-anxious, why does he speak of himself as Simon Peter, cf. I Pt. 1: 1; why does he seemingly exclude himself from the apostolic circle, 3 : 2; and why did he not more closely imitate the language of I Peter ?—The difficulty created by 3:2 is not as great as it seems to some. If that passage really disproves the authorship of Peter, it certainly was a clumsy piece of work of a very clever forger, to let it stand. But the writer, speaking of the prophets as a class, places alongside of them another class, viz, that of the apostles, who had more especially ministered to the New Testament churches, and could therefore as a class be called, “your apostles,” i. e. the apostles who preached to you. The writer evidently did not desire to single himself out, probably, if for no other reasons, because other apostles had labored more among the readers than he had.—The reference to the Epistles of Paul does not necessarily imply the existence of a New Testament canon and it is a gratuitous assumption that they were not regarded as Scripture in the first century, so that the burden of proof rests on those who make it.—The same may be said of the assertion that no doubt could be entertain asthe second coming of Christ before the destruction of Jerusalem. Moreover the author does not say that these were already expressed, but that they would be uttered by scoffers that would come in the last days.—The attempt to prove the dependence of II Peter on Josephus, has been proved fallacious, especially by Salmon and by Dr. Warfield. The former says in conclusion: “Dr. Abbot has completely failed to establish his theory; but I must add that it was a theory never rational to try to establish.” Introd. p. 536.
The readers are simply addressed as those “that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,” 1:1. From 3: 1 we gather, however, that they are identical with the readers of the first Epistle and from 3:15, that they were also the recipients of some Pauline Epistle(s). It is vain to guess what Epistle(s) the writer may have had in view here. Zahn argues at length that our Epistle was written to Jewish Christians in and round about Palestine, who had been led to Christ by Peter and by others of the twelve apostles. He bases his conclusion on the general difference of circumstances presupposed in the two letters of Peter, and on such passages as 1: 1-4, 16-18; 3: 2. But it seems to us that the Epistle does not contain a single hint regarding the Jewish character of its readers, while passages like 1: 4 and 3:15 rather imply their Gentile origin. Moreover, in order to maintain his theory, Zahn must assume that both 3: 1 and 3:15 refer to lost letters, cf. Einl. II p. 43 ff.
The condition of the readers presupposed in this letter is indeed different from that reflected in the first Epistle. No mention is made of persecution; instead of the affliction from without, internal dangers are now coming in view. The readers were in need of being firmly grounded in the truth, since they would soon have to contend with heretical teachers, who theoretically would deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ, 2:1, and his second coming, 3: 4; and practically would disgrace their lives by licentiousness, ch. 2. These heretics have been described as Sadducees, as Gnostics, and as Nicolaitans, but it is rather doubtful, whether we can identify them with any particular sect. They certainly were practical Antinomians, leading careless, wanton and sinful lives, just because they did not believe in the resurrection and in a future judgment. Their doctrine was, in all probability, an incipient Gnosticism.
Since the author employs both the future and the present tense in describing them, the question arises, whether they were already present or were yet to come. The most natural explanation is that the author already knew such false teachers to be at work in some places (cf. especially I Corinthians and the Epistles to the Thessalonians), so that he could consequently give a vivid description of them; and that he expected them to extend their pernicious influence also to the churches of Asia Minor.
1. Occasion and Purpose. The occasion that led to the composition of this Epistle must be found in the dangerous heresies that were at work in some of the churches, and that also threatened the readers.
In determining the object of the writer the Tubingen school emphasized 3:15, and found it in the promotion of harmony and peace between the Petrine and Pauline parties (Baur, Schwegler, Hausrath). With this end in view, they say, the writer personating Peter, the representative of Jewish Christendom, acknowledges Paul, who represents the more liberal tendency of the Church. But it is unwarranted to lay such stress on that particular passage. Others regarded the Epistle as primarily a polemic against Gnosticism, against the false teachers depicted in the letter. Now it cannot be denied that the Epistle is in part controversial, but it is only its secondary character. The main object of the letter, as indicated in 1: 16 and 3: 1,2 was to put the readers in mind of the truth which they had learned in order that they might not be led astray by the theoretical and practical libertines that would soon make their influence felt, and especially to strengthen their faith in the promised parousia of Jesus Christ.
2. Time and Place. The Epistle contains no certain data as to the time of its composition. We can only infer from 3: 1 that it was written after I Peter, though Zahn, who is not bound by that passage, places it before the first Epistle, about A. D. 60-63. The fact that the condition of the churches, which is indicated in this letter, is quite different from that reflected in the earlier writing, presupposes the lapse of some time, though it does not require many years to account for the change. A short time would suffice for the springing up of the enemies to which the Epistle refers. Can we not say, in view of the tendencies apparent at Corinth that their doctrines had already been germinating for some time? Moreover, according to 1: 14 the writer felt that his end was near. Hence we prefer to date the letter about the year 66 or 67.
They who deny the authenticity of the Epistle generally place it somewhere between the years 90 and 175, for such reasons as its dependence on Jude and on the Apocalypse of Peter, its reference to Gnosticism, and its implication respecting the existence of a New Testament canon.
Since a trustworthy tradition informs us that Peter spent the last part of his life at Rome, the Epistle was in all probability composed in the imperial city. Zahn points to Antioch, and Julicher suggests Egypt as the place of composition.
For the reception of this Epistle in the early church, we refer to what has been said above.
Like all the canonical writings this one too has abiding significance. Its importance is found in the fact that it emp1i~sizes the great value of true Christian knowledge, especially in view of the dangers that arise for believers from all kinds of false teachings, and from the resultant example of a loose, a licentious, an immoral life. It teaches us that a Christianity that is not well founded in the truth as it is in Christ, is like a ship without a rudder on the turbulent sea of life. A Christianity without dogma cannot maintain itself against the errors of the day, but will go down before the triumphant forces of darkness; it will not succeed in cultivating a pure, noble spiritual life, but will be conformed to the life of the world. In particular does the Epistle remind us of the fact that faith in the return of Christ should inspire us to a holy conversation.