The Second Letter of Peter
Peter’s time to remain on the earth was short. He felt compelled to provide some final reminders and exhortations for Christians. To this end he wrote what we deem the second letter of Peter.
The second letter of Peter is the twenty-second book in modern editions of the New Testament; it is often categorized as one of the “catholic” or universal letters or epistles. Simon Peter is identified as the author in 2 Peter 1:1; the letter provides no evidence to determine whether he wrote it personally or dictated it to an amanuensis. Almost all scholars reject Petrine authorship of 2 Peter; of all the books of the New Testament, 2 Peter has the least attestation in early Christian writings. Origen is the first recorded witness to explicitly speak of 2 Peter, and he himself testified to the doubts some had in its authorship; Eusebius placed it among the antilegomena, disputed writings, although he recognized that most considered it authentic (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiasticae 6.25). Associations between 2 Peter 2:1-22 and Jude 1:3-25 have been noted; many presume that one is dependent on the other, although it remains possible that the Lord had a similar message to send out through each. And yet it seems that the Apocalypse of Peter, a second century document, is dependent on 2 Peter; Origen’s doubts are not sufficient for him to consider the letter inauthentic. It is possible to see indirect allusions to 2 Peter among some second century Christian authors, but their lack of explicit citation in light of their affection for 1 Peter may be notable. It would seem to be more difficult to explain why a clearly later pseudepigraphal letter from Peter would maintain wide acceptance as an authentic letter than it would be to explain why its explicit use came later. Therefore, we ought to recognize the majority opinion that 2 Peter comes from Simon Peter himself while recognizing the existence of disputes about it throughout history. Peter began by writing to those who have a like precious faith, which would be all Christians; yet in 2 Peter 3:1 he spoke of his letter as the second he wrote to his audience (2 Peter 3:1), which would narrow the audience to the Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Roman provinces spanning much of what is today Turkey (1 Peter 1:1). He most likely wrote 2 Peter from Rome, likely not long before his martyrdom in the middle to late 60s (64-67?). Peter wrote to provide a final message of assurance to Christians regarding their faith and hope, warning against the influence of false teachers and to maintain patience while awaiting the Lord’s return.
Having begun with a standard epistolary introduction (2 Peter 2:1-2), Peter exhorted his audience to be strengthened in their faith and confidence in prophetic witness (2 Peter 1:3-21). According to Peter, God has granted all things about life and godliness to us through His divine power in the knowledge of Christ, and thus Christians ought to strive to make their calling and election sure through diligence in developing faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love, and thus enter God’s eternal kingdom in Christ (2 Peter 1:3-11). Peter intended to continue to remind Christians of these things as long as he lived, even though the time of his departure was near, so they could continue to be encouraged in them after his passing (2 Peter 1:12-15). Peter assured his fellow Christians: they had not been deceived by myths or fables, for Peter was an eyewitness of the glory of Jesus, particularly in His transfiguration, and they could be strengthened as well by the word of prophecy, not given by a prophet’s think-so, but inspired of God and carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:16-21; cf. Matthew 17:1-5).
Peter then warned Christians about the infiltration of false teachers (2 Peter 2:1-22). As there had been false prophets in Israel, so there would be false teachers among Christians, bringing in destructive heresies, promoting lasciviousness and greed (2 Peter 2:1-3). God did not spare angels when they sinned, the world in the days of Noah, or Sodom and Gomorrah, but spared Noah and Lot the righteous; therefore, God will deliver those who are His from temptation, and keep the wicked under punishment until judgment (2 Peter 2:4-9). Peter decried these false teachers as animalistic, craven, blasphemous, revelrous, adulterous, unproductive, following the way of Balaam, enticing unstable Christians, promising them liberty, but returning to the bondage of iniquity (2 Peter 2:10-19; cf. Numbers 22:22-33). The last state of these false teachers was worse than if they had never known the way of truth and righteousness (2 Peter 2:20; cf. Proverbs 26:11)!
Peter wished to remind Christians about the warnings of the apostles and prophets: mockers following their own lusts would come, wondering why the Lord Jesus had not yet returned, and all things continued as before (2 Peter 3:1-4). Peter reminded them of the swift destruction of the world in the days of Noah by flood, and promised a future destruction by fire (2 Peter 3:5-7). A long time is nothing for God; the Lord is not delayed, but patient, not wishing for any to be condemned, but sought people’s repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9; cf. Psalm 90:4). Peter envisioned the day of judgment as the destruction of the current heavens and earth with great heat and encouraged Christians to live in holiness and righteousness, looking forward to a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Peter began to conclude by encouraging Christians to strive to be found in peace, pure and blameless before Jesus at His coming (2 Peter 3:14). Christians must consider the patience of Jesus as salvation, as Paul had also written; Peter commended Paul’s writings, recognizing the difficulties in understanding certain things Paul wrote which many twist and distort to their own condemnation (2 Peter 3:15-16). Christians must be careful lest they fall from their steadfastness into the error of the wicked; they must grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:17-18a). Peter concluded with a short doxology, glorifying Jesus (2 Peter 3:18b).
Christians do well to gain encouragement and heed the exhortation of Peter’s final words. May we seek to make our calling and election sure, on guard against false teaching, striving for peace and growth in faith, holiness, and righteousness, eagerly awaiting the return of the Lord Jesus!
Ethan R. Longhenry