Introduction to the Bible - 62 - 2 Peter

The Second General Epistle of Peter

by Louis Berkhof


 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 epignosis chpistou'  which consists essentially in the acknowledgment of the dunamis kai  parousia of Christ. Advancement in this epignosis' 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 Jude 6; 2:11with Jude 9; 3:2 with fade 17. (3) Though the  similar passages are adapted to the subject-matter of both Epistles,  they seem more natural in the context of Jude than in Peter; The course  of thought is more regular in the Epistle of Jude.--The priority of  Jude is quite well established, though especially Zahn, Spitta (who  defends the second Epistle of Peter at the cost of the first) and Bigg  put up an able defense for the priority of Peter.

 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, hina, hoti, oun, men, found frequently in I  Peter, are rare in this Epistle, where instead we find sentences  introduced with touto or tautachph` 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, ph` i dia, is  found three times in 1 :3-5 and en seven times in 1: 5-7. Different  words are often used to express the same ideas; compare apokalupsis, I  Pt. 1 :7, 13; 4:13 with parousia, II Pt. 1 :16; 3 :4;--rhantismos, I  Pt. 1 :2 with katharismos, II Pt. 1 :9 ;--kleronomia, I Pt. 1 :4 with  aionok basileia, 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 humon  is better attested than hemon, the writer by using the expression, tes  ton apostolon humon entoles, 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.