An American Commentary on the New Testament

Edited by Hovey, Alvah

Introduction to the Second Epistle of Peter



It would be an error to affirm that the Epistle to the Hebrews, if not written by Paul, was forged, for it does not profess to have been written by him. But the Epistle which goes under the name of "The Second Epistle of Peter" must have been forged if not written by Peter. The question before us is therefore one of great importance. As is the case with all the other epistles, the sources of evidence are either external or internal.

I. External. This is not very strong. The Epistle has been accepted since A. D. 363 as belonging to the Canon of Scripture. The decision to receive it was made by the Council of Laodicea. But this is not evidence that Peter wrote it. Quotations from the Epistle in the earliest Christian writings would afford strong evidence in its favor, but it is affirmed that no quotations can be found. " The Epistle is not quoted," says Farrar, " and is not certainly referred to by a single writer in the first or second century. Neither Polycarp, nor Ignatius, nor Barnabas, nor Clement of Rome, nor Justin Martyr, nor Theophilus of Antioch, nor Irenĉus, nor Tertullian, nor Cyprian can be proved to allude to it. . . . During the first two centuries the only traces of it, if traces they can be called, are to be found in the Pastor of Hermas, and in a recently discovered passage of Melito of Sardis; but even these are of so distant and general a nature that it is impossible to determine whether we should regard them as reminiscences of the language of the Epistle, or accidental approximations to it. " (" Early Da5'S of Christianity. ") On the other hand, in works of most of the above-named writers, several of whom, because following first after the apostles are called Apostolic Fathers, Dietlein thinks he has discovered many allusions. Not a few, however, besides Farrar, think that Dietlein is entirely mistaken.

A serious difficulty ("entirely new and very formidable," " Early Christianity ") arises from resemblance to the writings of Josephus. In "The Expositor" for 1882, an English periodical, the authorship of our Epistle is discussed in three articles by Rev. Edwin A. Abbott, D. D. In the first article is considered the question, " Had the author read Josephus? " in the second, " Had the author read St. Jude?" in the third, "Was the author St. Peter? " The nature of the question at issue in the first article is expressed by Dr. Abbott as follows:" If it could be shown that the author had borrowed from some work of which the date is known to be late — e. g., the "Antiquities" of Josephus, published in A. D. 93, the date of the Epistle would then be determined to be after 93 A. D., and the author of the Epistle would be known to be not St. Peter. " Dr. Abbott attempts to prove that the author of the Epistle had read the "Antiquities " of Josephus. If his attempt has been successful, it is certain that the Epistle was not written by Peter, for Peter died many years before Josephus wrote his "Antiquities." That the author of our Epistle imitated Josephus, not Josephus the author of the Epistle, appears clear to Dr. Abbott for the following reasons:" It exhibits, 1. A very large number of similar words and 2)hrases in the two authors; 2. All the phrases and words of which stress has been laid above are words and phrases rare or non-existent in the New Testament and LXX, and therefore completely out of the author's natural sphere; 3. The groups of similarities between the Epistle and the 'Antiquities' are found in just those portions of the latter which our author would be likely to have studied; 4. Besides parallelism of thought in the two passages selected above to exhibit the parallelism of language, we find two others in which our author agrees with Josephus in diverging from, or at all events adding to, the Bible narrative." These considerations, which are given at the close of Dr. Abbott's article, are illustrated by previous citations from the two writers. An examination of Dr. Abbott's "Discovery" would be out of place in the present work, but the writer may take the liberty of saying that it is by no means certain that the author of our Epistle borrowed from Josephus. The arguments against that view are so weighty that the people of God need not feel called upon to consider the Epistle as the work of some other than the Apostle Peter. He feels constrained to add that Dr. Abbott's third article,1 "Was the author St. Peter? " is so extravagant in its representation of the style of the Epistle as to amount to a caricature. It were possible so to translate almost any paragraph of the Bible as to justify the application of " vulgar pomposity " and "verbose pedantry " to the original. "He leadeth me beside the gentle liquidities " (Ps. 23:2), is scarcely an adequate illustration of the unfairness and absurdity of many of Dr. Abbott's renderings of the Epistle of Peter. We give one instance, and to those who desire to pursue the subject farther, we suggest the reading of Farrar's article in "The Expositor" of the same year, in which he makes an examination of Dr. Abbott's third article. The Common Version (2:22) is — The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and, the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. Dr. Abbott translates (?), " The dog having returned to his own evacuation, and the sow having bathed to her wallowance." A more judicial treatment of the entire question is desirable. The spirit of the mere advocate is not favorable to ascertaining truth.

Such are some of the difficulties drawn from external sources. As in the case of one or two other books of the New Testament, this Epistle was longer in coming into general acceptance. To this fact there is a favorable side, for it shows that Christians of early times were not disposed to receive in haste every book which might profess to be inspired. It may be added that the Epistle is received by a large number of modern scholars even in Germany, though in part, perhaps chiefly, on internal grounds. Even Farrar, though deeming the difficulty arising from the similarities between the Epistle and Josephus as "very formidable," does not reject it.

But something of a more favorable kind concerning even external evidence remains to be said. 1. In the works which have come from one of the greatest of the Fathers, Augustine, bishop from A. D. 395, is "a list of the books of the New Testament exactly agreeing with our present Canon." (Westcott, " On the Canon of the New Testament") 2. Jerome, A. D. 390, has a Catalogue in which occurs the Second Epistle of Peter, and the doubts which some had relative to the authenticity of the Epistle were not shared by that well-informed Father. 3. Receding from this date toward the apostolic age, we find a Catalogue of all our present books in the works of Gregory Nazianzen, A. D. 328-389. 4. Eusebius, A. D. 270-340, was one of the celebrated Christian men of early times. He was a voluminous writer, a historian, and it is through him that we obtain knowledge of the opinions of many who lived before him. From his works it is clear that he was acquainted with the Second Epistle of Peter, and that, because it appeared useful to many, it was generally read. Yet it must be admitted that while he did not reject it as spurious, Eusebius was not prepared to admit it to an equal footing with the books which are now received. 5. Origen, in Eusebius. This Father was born in Alexandria, Egypt, A. D. 185, and died at Tyre, A. D. 254. In the Greek text of his writings are no quotations from Second Peter, but in the Latin translation by Rufinus are many— e. g., 1:4. " Peter," he says, " has left behind one Epistle generally acknowledged; perhaps also a second, for it is a disputed question." In the Latin Homily on Joshua 7 is the following:" Peter, moreover, sounds loudly on the twofold trumpet of his Epistles. " It is clear that Origen did not reject our Epistle as spurious; he only held its genuineness as not entirely settled. Too much dependence, however, must not be placed on the Latin translation. 6. Firmilian, A. D. 256, Bishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, speaks in a letter to Cyprian of Paul and Peter as condemning heretics in the epistles; but as First Peter makes no allusion to heretics, it may be inferred that he alludes to Second Peter. 7. Clement of Alexandria, A. D. 165-220, gave, according to Eusebius, "explanations of all the Canonical Scriptures without omitting the disputed books." (Westcott.) One of the disputed books was Second Peter. By some this testimony is thought to be slightly weakened by a remark of Cassiodorus, but by others not at all. 8. Tertullian, born in the last of the second century, and Cyprian, converted to Christianity A. D. 246, make no allusion to it. 9. Justin Martyr, A. D. 138, and Irenĉus, who died about A. D. 202, are believed by some to make unmistakable allusions to our Epistle; but by others, as seen above, the references are not deemed certain.

II. Internal. As already remarked, the Epistle is Peter's, or it is a forgery. That it is not a forgery may be safely concluded from the following considerations: 1. Its general tone. Though some of its views are peculiar, yet the entire Epistle is in harmony with other Epistles known, on abundant historical evidence, to be authentic. In this respect the writer has made no slip by which one might be led to suspect forgery. But it is also positively spiritual, devout, and trustful. It contains nothing puerile, nothing feeble, which is far more than can be said of most of the writings which immediately followed the apostolic age. It has been confidently affirmed that not one of the Apostolic Fathers could have produced a writing evincing such intellectual ability and such elevated spirituality. It must, therefore, have been written before their time — i. e, in the apostolic age itself. 2. The writer is confident that he shall soon die. Yet it is possible that one might deliberately allow one's self to forge even in the face of approaching death; for many a man has died with a lie on his lips, but in such cases that particular sin has been in accordance with the entire life. It is morally impossible that an Epistle which is throughout unexceptionable in morality and piety, should have been written by one whose approach to death was marked by one of the boldest falsehoods ever told. 3. The writer professes to have been with Christ at the Transfiguration, which was one of the falsehoods told, if he was not with him. But the difficulty of supposing it to be a falsehood is expressed above. 4. In ver. 1 the writer distinctly avows himself to be Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, and the objection to calling this a falsehood is also to be seen above. The supposition that the Epistle is a forgery is too nearly absurd to allow its acceptance. Then it was written by Peter. Some writers have laid much stress upon the fact that the Epistle is, in style and spirit, very unlike the First; but, though the differences in these respects are indeed striking, they are not more so than is to be seen in the writings of many an author, even when the writings were composed with no longer interval of time than is supposed to have existed between these two Epistles. This objection, without others of more weight, may well be offset by the striking resemblances.


The Epistle consists of two parts, and each part of two sections. In section first (1:1-11) of part first, after the address, the readers are reminded of the gifts conferred upon them by divine power; are exhorted to bring forth certain specified virtues, and to be earnest in securing the salvation to which God has elected them; they are assured that on that condition they shall not fail of entering into the kingdom of Christ. In section second (12-21), the writer gives the reason which prompted him to write, and assures the readers that what he has taught relative to the Second Coming of Christ is true. In section first (2:1-22) of part second are described certain false teachers, libertinists, licentious men, and their overthrow and punishment are foretold. In section second (3:1-10), the writer describes the scoffers who deny the Second Coming of Christ, and accuses them of willful ignorance relative to the origin and the destruction of the world, and assures the readers that the coming of the Lord will certainly occur. He closes with an exhortation based upon these facts, alludes to Paul and his Epistles, and again exhorts to steadfastness.


A comparison of the two Epistles shows some remarkable resemblances. Compare 1:5 with Jude 3; 2:1 with Jude 4; 2:4 with Jude 6; 2:6-10 with Jude 7; 2:10 with Jude 8; 2:11 with Jude 9; 2:12 with Jude 10. The resemblance of these passages is so striking, that many have affirmed intentional copying, though with some changes; as condensation, expansion, more simplicity or less. Resemblances granted, the question is: Which Epistle was written first? As in the past, so, doubtless, in the future, there will be no oneness upon the point. The view that Peter wrote first seems on the whole to be the more probable. The resemblances and the differences constitute an interesting literary question; but they have little significance as related to the authenticity of either epistle, and none as related to our spiritual life. See on the same subject, III., Introduction to the Epistle of Jude.


There are no means of deciding. Possibly it was written from Rome; for, as there can be no doubt that Peter suffered martyrdom there, he probably went to Rome after he wrote the First.



1) [In Prof Salmon's " Introduction to the Books of the New Testament " the reader will find a satisfactory answer to the argument of Dr. Abbott against the genuineness of the Second Epistle of Peter. — A. H.]