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Peter, Second, Theology of

Peter, Second, Theology of

Second Peter was written to believers who were being influenced by false teachers who advocated an indulgent, libertine lifestyle and denied the second coming of the Lord. In conformity to the evil influences of their pagan culture, they distorted the apostolic teachings about freedom from the law ( 1:20-21 ; 2:21 ; 3:15-16 ; cf. Romans 6:1 Romans 6:15 ) and claimed a superior spirituality that freed them from regulation and judgment.

The author identifies himself as "Simon Peter, " a combination of names that occurs only here in the New Testament and early Christian literature. Due to the internal features such as the mention of Peter's death ( 1:14 ), the difference in the style of the Greek, and the relatively slow recognition of the letter, some scholars argue that this letter was not written by the apostle, but by a disciple soon after Peter's death or by a second-century pseudepigrapher. Yet early Christian evidence affirms the apostolicity of the letter, and, unlike some more popular writing, it was actually accepted into the canon. In addition, critical issues can be explained, such as the difference in style being due to the use of a different amanuensis than Silvanus ( 1 Peter 5:12 ).

Peter wrote this letter to announce the certainty of divine judgment on the false teachers (chap. 2) and to declare that God is able to preserve all who engage in the spiritual disciplines of grace and knowledge ( 3:18 ). Jesus Christ will certainly appear, and those who have fallen from the faith will be judged along with this evil world. Peter's second letter is presumably addressed, like 1 Peter, from Rome to the churches in northern Asia Minor about a.d. 65.

Eschatology is the dominant theological focus in 2 Peter, with an emphasis on the certainty of divine judgment on ungodliness and apostasy. This judgment has happened in the past, continues in the present, and will find ultimate expression on the day of the Lord ( 3:10 ). This is proven by the destruction of the ancient world in its ungodliness, the continuing detention of insubordinate angels, and the catastrophic destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for their evil and immorality ( 2:4-10 ).

These models of judgment correspond directly to the sins of the false teachers, including audacity, insurrection, blasphemy, immorality, indulgence, and deception ( 2:10b-19 ). They have compounded their guilt and punishment by turning against Jesus Christ and by luring recent converts back into their original corruption ( 2:20-22 ). Additional images of sin include idleness, fruitlessness, blindness ( 1:8-9 ); falling ( 1:10 ); returning to filth ( 2:22 ); defilement ( 2:20 ); a lustful journey ( 3:3 ).

The final judgment of ungodly persons will occur at the second coming of Christ ( 1:16 ; 3:4 ). It will be so severe and comprehensive that it will include the destruction of the heavens, the earth, and everything in them. All evil will be brought under the scrutiny of God and will be punished by him ( 2 Peter 3:5-7 2 Peter 3:10-12 ).

Salvation is God's ability to protect the righteous and deliver them from their evil environment, like Noah and Lot ( 2 Peter 2:5 2 Peter 2:7-8 ), which will be completed at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Because of the divine provision ( 1:3-4 ), which must be complemented by their own spiritual discipline ( 1:5-11 ), the righteous will not fall away under the testings that arise from their evil surroundings or from the false teachers ( 3:17 ).

This spiritual discipline requires the development of Christian character ( 1:5-7 ), adhering to the faith and true teaching of the apostles ( 1:12-21 ; 3:15-16 ), anticipating the day of the Lord ( 3:11-12 ), and keeping oneself blameless and unspotted by the world ( 1:4 ; 3:14 ).

Such is the essence of participating in the divine nature ( 1:4 ). It is the means by which the faithful increase in godly grace and in the true knowledge of Jesus Christ ( 3:17 ). Traveling on this righteous road ( 2:21 ) is the way to confirm their calling and election ( 1:10-11 ), and to enjoy the new heaven and earth ( 3:13 ). All three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in 2 Peter, with strong expressions of the unity of the Father and the Son, and evidence of the unity of the Godhead in divine revelation.

God the Father is glorious and virtuous, and by these virtues he called a people to himself. By his divine power he provides for them all that is necessary for life and holiness ( 1:3 ). He is patient and wishes for all people to be saved. Even when people are most sinful, he delays judgment so that more people will respond to his call ( 3:9 ). Since he is unaffected by time, he can be patient without contradicting his promises ( 3:9 ). And because he is just, he imposes judgment on all unrighteousness ( 2:4-10 ; 3:12 ), and he will provide a new heaven and a new earth as the abode of the righteous ( 3:13 ).

Jesus Christ is the beloved Son of the Father ( 1:17 ), the Lord over the apostles ( 1:10 ), the Lord and Savior of the church ( 2 Peter 1:8 2 Peter 1:11 ; 2:20 ), and the Lord of the eternal kingdom ( 1:11 ).

The unity of the Father and Son is shown by the grammatical constructions that declare that they have a common righteousness ( 1:1 ) and that as one they are the object and essence of Christian knowing ( 1:2 ). The Father displayed his glory and honor on the Son at the transfiguration ( 1:17 ), and they share the title "Lord" ( 2 Peter 1:2 2 Peter 1:11 2 Peter 1:14 2 Peter 1:16 ; 2 Peter 2:9 2 Peter 2:11 ; 3:8 ). They are interchangeably identified with eschatological events ( 1:16 ; 2 Peter 2:4 2 Peter 2:9-10 ; 2 Peter 3:4 2 Peter 3:12 ), and the Son receives the final doxology in words commonly addressed to the Father ( 3:18 ).

Divine revelation is foundational to the message of 2 Peter. It not only describes the inspiration of Scripture ( 1:21-22 ), but also presents the unity of the Godhead in revelation. It is the Spirit who spoke through the prophets ( 1:21 ; 3:2 ), the Father who spoke to the disciples ( 1:17 ), and Jesus who delivered his commandment(s) to the churches through the apostles ( 3:2 ).

The ecclesiology of 2 Peter is implicit, yet of great importance since the preservation of holiness in the church is the intended outcome of the letter. The church is equated with Israel by their common experience of false prophets or teachers within the community ( 2:1 ), by their common possession of divine revelation in the prophetic word ( 1:19 ; 3:2 ), and by their common claim to the patriarchs who have long since fallen asleep ( 3:4 ).

The church is governed by the authority of Jesus Christ mediated through the apostles ( 1:1 ; 3:2 ). Their primary task is to remind the churches of the apostolic teaching received from Jesus Christ ( 3:2 ) and to transmit it in a manner that will be effective even after their death ( 1:15 ). This apostolic teaching, like the writings of Paul ( 3:15-16 ), has a divine authority ( 1:18-19 ) equal to that of the prophets of Israel and the Hebrew Scriptures.

Norman R. Ericson

See also Peter, First, Theology of

Bibliography. R. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology: A Thematic Study; G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; L. Morris, New Testament Theology.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Peter, Second, Theology of'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.