PETER, THE SECOND EPISTLE OF
I. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE IN FAVOR OF ITS APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY
1. Ancient Opinion
2. Modern Opinion
3. Dr. Chase's View
II. INTERNAL EVIDENCE IN SUPPORT OF ITS APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY
1. Style and Diction
2. Reason of Dissimilarities
3. Claim to Petrine Authorship
4. Christian Earnestness
5. Relation to Apostles
6. Autobiographical Allusions
7. Quoted by Jude
III. DOCTRINAL TEACHINGS OF THE EPISTLE
1. Saving Knowledge
(3) Inerrancy of Sources
2. The Three Worlds
(1) The Old World
(2) The Present World
(3) The New World
The Second Epistle of Peter comes to us with less historical support of its genuineness than any other book of the New Testament. In consequence, its right to a place in the Canon is seriously doubted by some and denied by others. There are those who confidently assign it to the Apostolic age and to the apostle whose name it bears in the New Testament, while there are those who as confidently assign it to post-apostolic times, and repudiate its Petrine authorship. It is not the aim of this article to trace the history of the two opinions indicated above, nor to cite largely the arguments employed in the defense of the Epistle, or those in opposition to it; nor to attempt to settle a question which for more than a thousand years the wisest and best men of the Christian church have been unable to settle. Such a procedure would in this case be the height of presumption. What is here attempted is to point out as briefly as may be some of the reasons for doubting its canonicity, on the one hand, and those in its support, on the other.
I. External Evidence in Favor of Its Apostolic Authority.
1. Ancient Opinion:
It must be admitted at the very outset that the evidence is meager. The first writer who mentions it by name is Origen (circa 240 AD). In his homily on Josh, he speaks of the two Epistles of Peter. In another place he quotes 2 Peter 1:4:
"partakers of the divine nature," and gives it the name of Scripture. But Origen is careful to say that its authority was questioned: "Peter has left one acknowledged Epistle, and perhaps a second, for this is contested." Eusebins, bishop of Caesarea, regarded it with even more suspicion than did Origen, and accordingly he placed it among the disputed books (Antilegomena). Jerome knew the scruples which many entertained touching the Epistle, but notwithstanding, he included it in his Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Version. The main reason for Jerome's uncertainty about it he states to be "difference of style from 1 Peter." He accounts for the difference by supposing that the apostle "made use of two different interpreters." As great teachers and scholars as Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome, e.g. Athanasius, Augustine, Epiphanius, Rufinus and Cyril, received it as genuine. At the Reformation Erasmus rejected 2 Peter; Luther seems to have had no doubt of its genuineness; while Calvin felt some hesitancy because of the "discrepancies between it and the First." In the 4th century, two church councils (Laodicea, circa 372, and Carthage, 397) formally recognized it and placed it in the Canon as equal in authority with the other books of the New Testament.
2. Modern Opinion:
The opinion of modern scholars as to references in post-apostolic literature to 2 Peter is not only divided, but in many instances antagonistic. Salmon, Warfield, Zahn and others strongly hold that such references are to be found in the writings of the 2nd century, perhaps in one or two documents of the 1st. They insist with abundant proof in support of their contention that Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache, and Clement of Rome, were all acquainted with the Epistle and made allusions to it in their writings. Weighing as honestly and as thoroughly as one can the citations made from that literature, one is strongly disposed to accept the evidence as legitimate and conclusive.
3. Dr. Chase's View:
On the other side, Professor Chase (HDB) has subjected all such references and allusions in the primitive writings to a very keen and searching criticism, and it must be frankly confessed that he has reduced the strength of the evidence and argument very greatly. But Professor Chase himself, from the remains of the ancient literature, and from the internal evidence of the Epistle itself, arrives at the conclusion that 2 Peter is not at all an apostolic document, that it certainly was not written by Peter, nor in the 1st century of our era, but about the middle of the 2nd century, say 150 AD. If this view is accepted, we must pronounce the Epistle a forgery, pseudonymous and pseudepigraphic, with no more right to be in the New Testament than has the Apocalypse of Peter or the romance of the Shepherd of Hermas.
II. Internal Evidence in Support of Its Apostolic Authority.
1. Style and Diction:
At first sight, this seems to be not altogether reassuring, but looking deeper into the letter itself we arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Difference of style between the two Epistles attributed to Peter is given as one prominent reason for questioning the validity of the Second. It is mainly if not entirely on this ground that Jerome, Calvin and others hesitated to receive it. It is noteworthy that in the earlier times objections were not urged because of its relation to Jude--its borrowing from Jude, as is often charged in our days. Its alleged dissimilarity to 1 Peter in diction, structure, and measurably in its contents, explains why it was discredited. Admitting that there is substantial ground for this criticism, nevertheless there are not a few instances in which words rarely found in the other Biblical books are common to the two Epistles. Some examples are given in proof:
"precious" (1 Peter 1:7,19; 2 Peter 1:1) (a compound), occurring often in Rev, not often in other books; "virtue" (1 Peter 2:9, the King James Version margin; 2 Peter 1:3), found elsewhere only in Philippians 4:8; "supply" (1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 1:5), rare in other books; "love of brethren" (1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7 margin), only in three places besides; "behold" (1 Peter 2:12; 3:2 (verbal form); 2 Peter 1:16) (eyewitnesses), not found elsewhere in the New Testament; "without blemish," "without spot" (1 Peter 1:19; 2 Peter 3:14) (order of words reversed); also positive side (2 Peter 2:13), "spots and blemishes"; the words do not occur elsewhere; "ungodly" (1 Peter 4:18; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:7) occurs in but three other places, except Jude, which has it three times.
2. Reason of Dissimilarities:
Besides, there are many striking similarities in thought and diction in the two Epistles. Two instances are given. In the First the saved are described as the "elect" (1 Peter 1:1), and as "called" (1 Peter 2:21). In the Second, the two great truths are brought together (2 Peter 1:10). Likewise, in both stress is laid upon prophecy (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:19-21). Now, all this tends to prove that the writer of the Second Epistle was well acquainted with the peculiarity of diction employed in the First, and that he made use purposely of its uncommon terms, or, if the Second was written by another than the apostle, he succeeded surprisingly well in imitating his style. The latter alternative does not merit discussion. The differences arise mainly out of the subjects treated in the two, and the design which the writer seems to have kept constantly in view. In the First, he sought to comfort, strengthen and sustain his persecuted brethren; this is his supreme aim. In the Second he is anxious to warn and to shield those whom he addresses as to impending dangers more disastrous and more to be feared than the sufferings inflicted by a hostile world. In the First, judgment had begun at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17,18), and believers were to arm, not to resist their persecutors, but for martyrdom (1 Peter 4:1). But in the Second, a very different condition of things is brought to view. Ungodly men holding degrading principles and practicing shocking immoralities were threatening to invade the Christian brotherhood. Evil of a most vicious sort was detected by the watchful eye of the writer, and he knew full well that if suffered to continue and grow, as assuredly it would, utter ruin for the cause he loved would ensue. Therefore he forewarns and denounces the tendency with the spirit and energy of a prophet of God.
3. Claim to Petrine Authorship:
2 Peter opens with the positive statement of Peter's authorship:
"Simon ["Symeon," Nestle, Weymouth] Peter, a servant .... of Jesus Christ." The insertion of "Symeon," the old Hebrew name, in the forefront of the document is significant. If a forger had been writing in Peter's name he would have begun his letter almost certainly by copying the First Epistle and simply written, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ." Note also that "servant" is introduced into the Second Epistle, but absent from the First. He designates himself as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. "Although several pseudonymous writings appear in early Christian literature, there is no Christian document of value written by a forger who uses the name of an apostle" (Dods, SBD). If this important statement is accepted at its full worth, it goes far to settle the question of authorship. Both "servant" and "apostle" appear in the opening sentence, and the writer claims both for himself.
4. Christian Earnestness:
Furthermore, the writer is distinctively a Christian; he addresses those who "have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1). His is the same precious faith which all the saints enjoy; his also the exceeding great and precious promises of God, and he expects with all other believers to be made a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3,4). Is it at all probable that one with such a faith and such expectations would deliberately forge the name of Simon Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ? The writer is unsparing in his denunciations of false teachers, corrupters of others, and perverters of the truth. He instances the fall of the angels, the destruction of Sodom, the rebuke of Balaam, as examples of the doom of those who know the truth and yet live in shameful sin and crime. Would a Christian and servant of Jesus Christ be at all likely to commit in the most flagrant manner the things he so vehemently condemns? If the writer was not the apostle Peter, he was a false teacher, a corrupter of others, and a hypocrite, which seems incredible to us.
5. Relation of Apostles:
Moreover, he associates himself with the other apostles (2 Peter 3:2), is in full sympathy with Paul and is acquainted with Paul's Epistles (2 Peter 3:15,16), and he holds and teaches the same fundamental truth. An apostolic spirit breathes through this document such as is generally absent from spurious writings and such as a forger does not exhibit. He is anxiously concerned for the purity of the faith and for the holiness and fidelity of believers. He exhorts them to give "diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight," and that they "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:14,18). All this and much more of like devout teaching is apostolic in tone and betokens genuineness and reality.
6. Autobiographical Allusions:
Still further, the writer appeals to certain facts in the life of Peter that are almost autobiographical. For example, he speaks of "putting off of my tabernacle .... even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me" (2 Peter 1:13,14). The reference undoubtedly is to John 13:36; 21:18,19. He claims to have been a witness of the Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18). He indirectly claims the inspiration without which true prophecy is impossible (2 Peter 1:19-21). He asserts that this is his "second epistle" (2 Peter 3:1). This testimony on the part of the writer is personal, emphatic and direct. It reads much like Peter's plain way of speaking of himself at the Council of Jerusalem, "Ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe" (Acts 15:7).
7. Quoted by Jude:
Once more, Jude appears to quote from 2 Peter (see JUDE). The question of the priority of the two Epistles is by no means settled. Many recent writers give the precedence to Jude, others to Peter. One of the highest authority, by Zahn (New Testament, II, 238), argues with great force in support of the view that Peter's is the older and that Jude cites from it. The arguments in favor of this latter belief are here only summarized:
(1) Jude cites from writings other than Scripture, as the apocryphal Book of Enoch and perhaps also from the Assumption of Moses. Peter scarcely quotes from any source. The former would be more likely to cite 2 Peter 2:1-3:3 than the latter from Jude 1:4-16. The resemblance between these two sections of the Epistles is so close that one must have drawn both thoughts and language from the other, or both availed themselves of the same documentary source. Of this latter supposition antiquity furnishes no hint. The differences are as marked as the resemblances, and hence, the one who cites from the other is no servile copyist. The real difference between the two is that between prediction and fulfillment.
(2) Peter predicts the advent of the "false teachers" (2 Peter 2:1). His principal verbs are in the future tense (2 Peter 2:1,2,3,12,13). He employs the present tense indeed in describing the character and the conduct of the libertines (2 Peter 2:17,18), but their presence and their disastrous teaching he puts in the future (2 Peter 2:13,14). The deadly germs were there when he wrote, the rank growth would speedily follow. Jude, on the contrary, throughout his short letter, speaks of the same corrupters as already come; his objects are present, they are in the midst of the people of God and actively doing their deadly work.
(3) Jude twice refers to certain sources of information touching these enemies, with which his readers were acquainted and which were designed to warn them of the danger and keep them from betrayal. The two sources were
(a) a writing that spoke of "ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ," 1:4;
(b) the prediction of Peter that "in the last days mockers shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts" (2 Peter 3:3). Jude urges his readers to remember the words which the apostles of Christ had before spoken, and then he cites this prediction of Peter in almost the exact terms:
"In the last time there shall be mockers, walking after their ungodly lusts." He applies the prediction to the libertines then and there practicing their unholy deeds: "These are they, who make separations, sensual, having not the Spirit." The conclusion is inevitable. Jude quotes from Peter.
(4) Chronology gives the priority to Peter. The apostle died between 63-67 AD, probably in 64 AD. The vast majority of recent interpreters date the Epistle of Jude at 75-80 AD. There is no doubt but that it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 AD. Accordingly, it is later than Peter's death by from 5 to 10 years. Jude quoted from 2 Peter. This being so, it follows that his Epistle endorses that of Peter as being apostolic and likewise canonical, for he recognizes Peter as an apostle and gifted with the prophetic spirit.
See JUDE; PETER (SIMON).
III. Doctrinal Teachings of the Epistle.
Only some of the more important features of the Epistle are here noticed. If all were treated as they deserve to be, this article would expand into the proportions of a commentary.
1. Saving Knowledge:
The key-word of 1 Peter is Hope; of 2 Peter Knowledge. The apostle gives to this gift of grace a prominent place (1:2,3,5,6,8; 2:20,21; 3:18). The term he uses is largely in the intensified form, namely, "full knowledge"; that is, knowledge that rests on fact, knowledge that comes to the believer as something supernatural, as being communicated by the Spirit of God, and therefore is true and complete. The grace and peace Peter asks for the saints should issue in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, who has granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness through the knowledge of Him (1:2,3).
The basis of saving knowledge rests on the "exceeding great and precious promises" which He has made us, and which become ours by faith in Him. It leads us into acquaintance with the righteousness of God, into the realization of our calling as saints, and of the glorious destiny that awaits them who know and trust God (2 Peter 1:2-4 the King James Version).
The growth in true knowledge (2 Peter 1:5-11):
"In your faith supply virtue," etc. He does not ask that faith be supplied, that these believers already had. But starting with faith as the foundation of all, let the other excellencies and virtues be richly and abundantly furnished. The original word for "supply" is derived from the Greek "chorus," in behalf of the members of which the manager supplied all the equipments needed. And Peter appropriating that fact urges Christians to give all diligence to furnish themselves with the gifts and grace he mentions, which are far more needful to the Christian than were the equipments for the ancient chorus.
What a magnificent cluster Peter here gives! Each springs out of the other; each is strengthened by the other. "In your faith supply virtue," or fortitude, manliness; and let virtue supply "knowledge." Knowledge by itself tends to puff up. But tempered by the others, by self-control, by patience, by godliness, by love, it becomes one of the most essential and powerful forces in the Christian character. Paul begins his list of the "fruits of the Spirit" with love (Galatians 5:22); Peter ends his with love. It is like a chain, each link holds fast to its fellow and is a part of the whole. It matters little at which end of the chain we begin to count, for the links form a unity, and to touch one is to touch all. God freely gives what we need and all we need; we are to "add all diligence" to supply the need richly.
(3) Inerrancy of Sources:
Inerrancy of the sources of saving knowledge (2 Peter 1:16-21). The apostle rests his teaching on two trustworthy facts:
(a) the fact and meaning of the Saviour's Transfiguration;
(b) the fact of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Taken together these two facts invest his teaching with infallible certainty. "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty." Pagan mythology, so widely prevailing at the time in Asia Minor, indeed over the whole heathen world, was composed of "myths" (Peter's word) skillfully framed and poetically embellished. Jewish cabalism, and the wild vagaries springing up in the Christian brotherhood itself had no place in the gospel message nor in apostolic teaching. What Peter and his fellow-disciples taught was the very truth of God, for at the Transfiguration they saw the outshining glory of the Son of God, they heard the Divine Voice, they beheld the two visitants from the unseen world, Moses and Elijah. Of the majestic scene they were eyewitnesses. Peter adds, "And we have the word of prophecy made more sure." The Transfiguration has confirmed what the prophets say touching the future and God's purpose to fill the earth with His glory; every word He has spoken is to be made good.
Moreover, the apostle appeals to the inspiration of the prophets in confirmation of his teaching:
"No prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit." He recognizes this as primary truth, that prophecy is not of one's own origination, nor is it to be tied up to the times of the prophet. The prophecy was brought to him, as it is brought to us. Peter and his fellow-believers did not follow "cunningly devised fables"; they were borne along in their prophetic utterances by the Spirit.
2. The Three Worlds:
Of course in 2 Peter 3:5-13, where the three worlds are spoken of, three globes are not meant, but three vast epochs, three enormous periods in earth's history. The apostle divides its history into three clearly defined sections, and mentions some of the characteristic features of each.
(1) The Old World.
"The world that then was" (2 Peter 3:6):
this is his first world. It is the antediluvian world that is meant, the world which the Flood overwhelmed. Scoffers in Peter's time asked, no doubt with a sneer, "Where is the promise of his coming? for, from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation" (2 Peter 3:4). This is a surprisingly modern inquiry. Mockers then as now appealed to the continuity of natural processes, and to the inviolability of Nature's laws. Nature keeps her track with unwavering precision. There is no sign of any change; no catastrophe is likely, is possible. The promise of His coming fails. Peter reminds the skeptics that a mighty cataclysm did once overwhelm the world. The Flood drowned every living thing, save those sheltered within the ark. As this is a historical fact, the query of the mockers is foolish.
(2) The Present World.
Peter's second world is "the heavens that now are, and the earth" (2 Peter 3:7). It is the present order of things in sky and earth that is meant. He asserts that this world is "stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." The margin reads, "stored with fire," i.e., it contains within itself the agency by which it may be consumed. The world that now is, is held in strict custody, reserved, not for a second deluge, but for fire. The advent of Christ and the judgment are associated in Scripture with fire:
"Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him" (Psalms 50:3 the King James Version; compare Isaiah 66:15,16; Daniel 7:10,11). Nor is the New Testament silent on this point: "the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire" (2 Thessalonians 1:7).
Ample materials are stored up in the earth for its consumption by fire. The oils and the gases so inflammable and destructive in their energy can, when it may please God to release these forces, speedily reduce the present order of things to ashes. Peter's language does not signify earth's annihilation, nor its dissolution as an organic body, nor the end of time. He speaks of cosmical convulsions and physical revolutions of both sky and earth, such as shall transform the planet into something glorious and beautiful.
(3) The New World.
The third world is this:
"But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13). This is Paradise restored. We have sure ground for the expectancy; the last two chapters of Re contain the prophetic fulfillment: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more." The accomplishment of these sublime predictions will involve a fundamental change in the constitution of the globe. Life would be impossible if the sea was no more. But He who made the world can surely recreate it, clearing it of every vestige of sin and misery and imperfection, fitting it for the dwelling of perfect beings and of His supreme glory. Immanuel will dwell with the holy inhabitants of the new earth and in the new Jerusalem which is to descend into the glorified planet. John is bidden, "Write, for the predictions are faithful and true; they shall not fail to come to pass."
"Earth, thou grain of sand on the shore of the Universe of God,
On thee has the Lord a great work to complete."
See at end of PETER, THE FIRST EPISTLE OF; PETER (SIMON).
William G. Moorehead
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