An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 3 - Section 18


§ 18. The Second Epistle of Peter

[Cf. F. Spittaʼs ʽDer zweite Petrusbrief und der Brief des Judasʼ (1885), a clever but unsuccessful attempt to place 2. Peter before 1. Peter and Jude. See also the works mentioned in § 15.]

1. The address and greeting are followed by an introduction,1 in which the writer exhorts his readers to become perfect in knowledge and virtue, in token of their gratitude for Godʼs glorious gifts, and in order to win admittance into the Eternal Kingdom of Christ. Next2 he justifies himself for taking up his pen, on the ground that he wishes to bear solemn witness once more before he dies to the might and presence of Jesus, as he himself had been allowed to behold them on the ʽholy mount,ʼ in exact accordance with the Old Testament prophecies. At the same time he informs his readers that ʽfalse teachersʼ would appear among them, striving with the subtlest art to drag them down in their own fall, men who blasphemed the holiest things and were sunk in the most detestable transgressions.3 If these denied even the return of Christ—declaring that everything since the creation had continued on its unchanging course—he must refer his readers once more to the Prophets and Apostles, he must remind them of the Flood and exhort them to wait patiently, for the God before whom a thousand years were as one day could not yet be accused of delay.4 His long-suffering, which granted time for repentance to all, was the sole reason why the day of destruction had not yet appeared, and that day, moreover, would come as a thief in its own time, without any warning given. The writer ends5 with the exhortation to be prepared for this day at all times, laying stress in verse 15 on his agreement with Paul, in whose epistles there were only ʽsome things hard to be understood,ʼ which the ignorant ʽwrested unto their own destruction.ʼ

2. We might be tempted to regard as the principal object of the Epistle the attack upon the false teachers, with which it is concerned throughout the whole of chap. ii. and also in some other places.6 But the heretics only rouse in the author a sort of negative interest; he rids himself of them only in so far as they obstruct the progress of his readers towards true ʽknowledge.ʼ Some have pointed to verse iii. 15 fol., and consider that the Epistle is intended to make Peter appear as the ally and defender of Paul, either as against the presumptions of Gnosticism, whose votaries appealed to Paulʼs authority in support of their own fictions, or as a protest against the old parties in the Church, who played off Peter against Paul and vice versa. That, however, is just as unlikely as that the objects of 1. Peter or Hebrews should only have been made manifest in vv. v. 12 and xii. 9-16 respectively. On the contrary, the kernel of the Epistle (that is, the key to its comprehension) lies in chap. i1., as we might already suppose from verse iii. 1, with its reference to i. 13 (ʽto stir you up by putting you in remembranceʼ). To revive and establish for all time the firm trust in the Parusia of Christ, both in the face of insolent criticism and of peevish murmurs that it had already been awaited too long in vain, is the sole object of the Epistle; for the author attributes all the retrogression in moral conduct in the Church to the weakening of hope in the approach of a heavenly kingdom, and of fear of the Last Judgment. In order to further the work of degeneration, these abominable heretics had, with cunning strategy, made the belief in the Parusia their chief point of attack; he who sought to save this belief must begin by refuting the heretics and exposing them in all their worthlessness beneath the full glare of the Divine judgments and sentences, as made known in the Bible. Their opinion must be divested in advance of all authority in the discussions about the Parusia. The connection between chap. i. and vv. iii. 1-18 is still more distinct; as early as 1. 83-11 our gaze is directed towards the great and precious promises, towards the eternal kingdom of Christ, which men might deserve by a firm faith and the diligent practice of virtue; while vv. i. 12-21 point to the guarantees for the Christianʼs belief in the Parusia— the inspired Prophets and Apostles who were eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses of the glory of Jesus. For what was the Transfiguration on the Holy Mount but a foretaste of the Parusia? The ʽknowledgeʼ on which the writer lays such stress7 refers to the motives of God in delaying—apparently —the fulfilment of his promises concerning the Second Coming, and in iii. 14-18 he returns in reality to the subject of the opening exhortations, the meaning of which is here for the first time made fully clear. In verse 15 he emphasises the fact once more that the teaching of all the Apostles—not excepting Paul, out of whose Epistles the enemy sought to make capital—was absolutely identical on this point.

We must confess that the author has put his case not unskilfully, except for the somewhat extravagant polemical part in chap. ii.; he shows what powerful authority the expectation of the Parusia had on its side, how base and vulgar were its opponents, and this prepares the readerʼs mind for the explanation why there was and could be no question of a disappointment of hopes already excited, in spite of the delay in their fulfilment. The intellectual demands of his readers would certainly have been completely satisfied by such a treatment of the subject. It is more doubtful whether the Epistle immediately produced that moral and religious growth which, in the writerʼs eyes, was the necessary consequence of this strengthening of Christian knowledge; too little is left in 2. Peter of the infectious enthusiasm kindled by the love of Christ which glows throughout the First Epistle.

3. The Epistle purports to be written by ʽSymeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christʼ (the combination is similar to that in Romans i. 1-4) and is addressed to all believers. We cannot for a moment entertain the idea of rejecting the superscription, since both in vv. i. 18 and iii. 15 the writer appears again as an Apostle, in the former as one of the disciples who witnessed the scene of the Transfiguration8—i.e. either as Peter or as one of the sons of Zebedee—while in iii. 1 he represents himself as one who had already written an Epistle to the same addressees, and in 1. 13 as one who in the face of approaching death wished to draw up his testament for the Christian world. Nor is he anywhere untrue to the part, either as regards himself or his readers; in i. 16, it is true, the readers appear to owe their Christianity, not to himself, but to all the Apostles, but that might be said of all Christians; and the words of iii. 2, ʽthe commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your Apostles,ʼ is only intended, like the passage about Paul, to emphasise the uniformity of all Apostolic declarations. The words of an Apostle were, according to the writerʼs conception of him, intended for every believer, and therefore he did not recognise any difference9 between his own or 1. Peterʼs circle of readers, and that of a Pauline Epistle.10 Whether the writer had any particular passage of the Pauline literature in his mind when he wrote verse iii. 15 is uncertain,11 but to doubt the identity of the earlier letter mentioned in iii. 1 with 1. Peter, and to invent a lost Epistle of Peter in its stead, is a piece of hypercriticism on the part of the partisans of tradition all the more superfluous as the reference here to 1. Peter is not in the least unnatural. The longing for the Parusia dominates 1. Peter too, and it is precisely the thesis of the First Epistle that ʽthe end of all things is at handʼ12 that 2. Peter is intended to defend, although certainly with some explanatory reservations, against those who denied the doctrine of the Second Coming. 2. Peter, in short, appears to stand in the same relationship to 1. Peter as 2. Thessalonians to 1. Thessalonians.

4, This apparently obvious situation, however, out of which 2. Peter seems to have arisen, is untenable when subjected to criticism. 2. Peter was not written by the author of the First Epistle, so that if the latter, which is cited by our Epistle as Petrine, is not from the hand of Peter, how much less can the Second Epistle claim to be of Apostolic origin! In no New Testament writing can pseudonymity be so abundantly proved as in 2. Peter, and in none has it been recognised by so many scholars who in other matters hold the most conservative views. It is precisely in order to save the First Epistle that these latter have given up the Second. That the two Epistles have some points in common goes without saying, when we consider the acquaintance of the one with the other, but nevertheless they are as far removed from one another both in form and substance as, say, Hebrews from Galatians. And since, if we accepted their authenticity, they must necessarily approach each other very nearly, ʽthis difficulty is insurmountable; it increases still more, however, when Zahn places the Second Epistle a few years earlier than the First, the only result of which is to show, to our considerable surprise, how far greater was the presumptive writer of 1. Peter, Silvanus, than the ʽpillar-apostleʼ trained in the school of Jesus. The style of 2. Peter, which is quite different in vocabulary from the First Epistle, is marked by a certain turgidity which offers the strongest contrast to the fluency of 1. Peter; the writer tries to write elegantly,13 but is in reality very far from faultless in the construction of his sentences.14 We are also struck by the seantiness of his modes of expression, which obliges him to make frequent repetitions of the same phrases. The part which in 1. Peter is played by hope, is here taken by knowledge; the sufferings and persecutions around which everything turns in 1. Peter are here not even mentioned; what 1. Peter reveres most highly in Christ is his blessed suffering; here it is his majesty and power.

But 2. Peter is very largely dependent upon Jude, and the very fact that by far the greater part of the latter Epistle (late as itis) is taken up and repeated in 2. Peter, destroys the assumption of the latterʼs authenticity even if it were possible to credit Peter with so gross a piece of plagiarism. Chap. ii. is a complete reproduction of Jude 8-18. The fact that Jude in verse 18 mentions as an Apostolic prophecy words which might be identified with 2. Peter iii. 3, might seem to favour the priority of the latter; but in reality this is only brought forward in Jude as a prophecy universally known. In all the rest of the passage we should be more likely, in comparing, so far as is possible, the parallels between Jude and 2. Peter, to recognise a motive for the latter to alter, amplify, smooth down and give a rhetorical polish to the material he had before him in Jude, than vice versa. Again, the fact seems to me to weigh heavily against the priority of 2. Peter, that while Jude openly speaks of the heretics as of an existing danger, the author of 2. Peter tries to maintain the fiction that he is merely prophesying future events, but betrays the unreality of his attitude by constantly slipping back from the future of vv. ii. 1 fol. into the present15 and even into the past16 tenses. Could Jude, in the position of imitator, have transformed this impression of artificiality into one of naturalness by an equally artificial alteration of certain passages? And what object can there have been in constructing the Epistle of Jude out of 2. Peter?

On the other hand, it is quite conceivable that the author of 2. Peter might have woven into his own Epistle, though with the omission of the quotations from Apocryphal writings to which exception might be taken,17 the smaller and, as he thought, already half-forgotten Epistle of Jude, whose vigorous invectives seemed to him quite worth using. Jude is intelligible from beginning to end without the supposition that it drew from a previous work, and so is 2. Peter, for indeed it must honestly be confessed that if we had had no knowledge of Jude, we should never have suspected that an older document had here been copied down with a mixture of freedom and servility most instructive to the student of literary obligations; still, since we must choose, everything seems to speak for the priority of Jude (as above for that of 1. Peter). The parallels to Jude are to be met with throughout the whole Epistle,18 so that by such hypotheses as that a later writer had interpolated the whole central portion,19 a recast of the Epistle of Jude, into a genuine Epistle of Peter, we only create difficulties where all might be clear. As is shown in vv. 20-23, Jude combats heresy as such; hence he concludes with counsels as to how his readers were to defend themselves against their seducers, and help back the seduced into the right path. In tone and expression these counsels suit the preceding arguments excellently; 2. Peter, on the other hand, employs the diatribe against heretics as the means to another end, and can therefore do nothing with Jude 20-23. Does this not destroy the assumption that Jude is an excerpt from 2. Peter?

Moreover, the author of 2. Peter made free use of other writings also: of the Pauline Epistles,20 including the Pastorals,21 of the Gospels, probably of the First Epistle of Clement, and of the Apocalypse of Peter, recently discovered in an Egyptian tomb.22 The points of contact between these two pseudonymous Petrine writings are certainly not accidental; they might possibly be explained on the supposition that both had made use of a third document, but more easily by the contrary assumption that the author of the Apocalypse was acquainted with 2. Peter. But so long as the date of this Apocalypse remains undetermined, the solution of the question is for the present of little use to us.

5. One thing gains a certain amount of probability from the above-mentioned resemblance, as well as from the incorporation of Jude, and that is that 2. Peter, like the two writings in question, was of Palestinian or Egyptian origin. With regard to its date, the external evidence supplies a terminus ad quem at the end of the second century at latest, and we shall not challenge the assignment to the period between 125 and 175. We do not wish to lay too much stress on the doubts23 raised by the non-appearance of the Parusia, since these might easily have arisen earlier, but there is no lack of other evidence, even apart from the literary dependence of the Epistle. The primitive Catholic Church with its three authorities, the Prophets, the Lord, and the Apostles, is complete24; the Epistles of ʽour brother Paulʼ had not only been completely collected, but could be placed on a level with ʽthe other seriptures,ʼ25 and therefore enjoyed Canonical acceptance, while both Gnostics and orthodox Christians appealed to them as authorities in their disputes. In spite of the hatred against Gnosticism, the Church had adopted the Gnosticʼs worst fault, his exaggerated reverence for knowledge. However plainly the Epistle may assume the part of a precautionary exhortation designed for the needs of later times,26 it is nevertheless clear that it was written in the very midst of the struggle against heresy, against subjectivism (see i. 20: ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως); and that it only recognised as true what was attested by Prophets and Apostles, or what could vindicate itself by its moral effects.27 And—to mention one last detail —the idea expressed in i. 4, that we should ʽbecome partakers of the divine nature and escape from corruption,ʼ bears such obvious marks of a theological system influenced by Hellenistic ideas, that we can only ascribe the Epistle—an artificial product after the manner and in the taste of that time—to an ecclesiastical theologian of very late date.

Finally, the assiduity with which the Pseudo-Peter here carries out the fiction is an evidence of the fact that 2. Peter was composed in a later period of pseudonymous ecclesiastical literature than were the Epistles of Jude, James, and 1. Peter. We leave the Pastoral Epistles out of account, because their author was moved to imitate Paulʼs Epistles, even in minute details, by the many genuine Epistles from which he had drawn a great part of his spiritual nourishment. But the fiction of their authorship is not an integral part of Jude, James and 1. Peter; it is only added loosely, as a frame toa picture already finished and complete in itself. With 2. Peter, on the other hand, it is the first consideration in the writerʼs literary scheme, and the author never loses the consciousness of the part he is playing. The reference in i. 13 fol. to the prophecy by Jesus of Peterʼs death in John xxi. 18 fol. is unmistakable; and the eye-witness of the Transfiguration distinguishes himself with equal conspicuousness in i. 18 from the readers who ʽlove Jesus, not having seen him.ʼ28 Verse i. 15 certainly refers on the surface to the Epistle he was engaged in writing, but the fact—of which the fame was spread by Papias—that Peter had laid the foundation for a trustworthy Gospel may be read between the lines. In vv. ii. 1 and iii. 17 the fiction is carefully maintained that Peter could only speak prophetically of the false teachers of the second century; in iii. 15 the writer brackets himself with Paul, to whom wisdom had been given from above because the two Apostles, Peter and Paul, had long been coupled in menʼs mouths; and in iii. 1 he refers to the Epistle already in circulation under the name of Peter. This writer, in short, constructs his fiction methodically: he is anxious from the first about the success of his enterprise; but this only shows that the public had already learnt not to accept indiscriminately all that was offered to it under an Apostolic title, and that mere correctness of contents was no longer considered sufficient. It proves nothing, however, for the genuineness of documents in which the fiction of authorship had no further influence—naturally always an unfavourable one—on their contents. James, Jude and 1. Peter are still flowers of free growth, whose scent loses none of its sweetness for the names they go by; 2. Peter is an artificial production of learned ingenuity. Probably the least questionable statement of any here laid down is that 2. Peter is not only the latest document of the New Testament, but also the least deserving of a place in the Canon.



1) i. 3-11.

2) i. 12-21

3) ii. 1-22.

4) iii. 1-13;

5) iii, 14-18.

6) iii. 3-7, 16 fol., and i. 16, 19-21.

7) i, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, ii, 20 and iii. 18,

8) Matt. xvii. 1 fol.

9) iii. 1.

10) iii. 15.

11) It might suggest Rom. ii. 4, but also 2. Thess. ii. 13 fol. and 1. Thess. v. 1 fol.

12) 1. Peter, iv. 7.

13) Cf. expressions like λήθη, 1.9; ταρταρόω, ii. 4; βλέμμα, ii. 8, and ἄθεσμοι, ii. 7 and iii. 17.

14) i. 3 fol. and ii. 15 fol.

15) Vv. ii. 10, 12 fol., 18, and so on.

16) ii. 15, 22.

17) Vv. 9 and 14 fol.

18) i. 5 (σπουδὴν πᾶσαν = Jude 3), 12 (ῦπομιμνήσκειν . . . εἰδότας = Jude 5), and again in iii. 3, 7, 17 and 18.

19) i, 20-iii. 3.

20) E.g., 1. Thess. Vv. 2 in iii. 10.

21) E.g., i. 16, σεσοφισμένοι μῦθοι,

22) Cf. A. Harnack, Texte wnd Untersuchungen, ix. 2, pp. 90 fol, (1893), 2nd ed. pp. 87 fol.

23) iii. 4.

24) i, 19-21, iii. 2.

25) iii. 16,

26) Most markedly in iii. 17.

27) i. 5-7, 8.

28) 1. Peter i. 8.