Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

2 Peter

Book Overview - 2 Peter

by Joseph Exell



Authenticity of the Epistle

The external evidence in favour of the First Epistle of Peter is as strong as for any other writing in the New Testament. We cannot make the same remark in reference to the Second Epistle; the testimonies in its favour among the writings of the Fathers are rare, of a comparatively late date, and indefinite. The allusions in the works of the Apostolic Fathers, Clemens Romanus and Hermas, adduced by Lardner and Kirchofer, are too vague and slight to be founded on. Justin Martyr (a.d. 150) observes: “We understand that the saying, ‘The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,’ belongs to this matter” (Dial. cum Tryph. 81), which is possibly a quotation from 2 Peter 3:8, though it may also be taken from Psalms 90:4. The same reference is made by Irenaeus (a.d. 178, Adv. Haer., 5:23, 2). Eusebius informs us that Clemens Alexandrinus (a.d. 180) in the work called Hypotyposis, has given us abridged accounts of all the canonical Scriptures, not even omitting those that are disputed, namely, the Book of Jude and the other catholic Epistles (H.E., 6:14); and from this it has been inferred that the Second Epistle of Peter was known to Clemens, although there is no reference to that Epistle in his extant works. There appear to be allusions to this Epistle in the writings of Hippolytus (a.d. 200). “They, abashed and constrained by the truth, have confessed their errors for a short period, but after a little time wallow again in the same mire” (2 Peter 2:22; Adv. Haer., 22). “You shall never have to breast the boiling flood of hews eternal lake of fire, and the eye ever fixed in menacing glare of wicked angels chained in Tartarus as punishment of their sins” (2 Peter 2:4; Adv. Haer., 10.30). “For the prophets did not speak by their own powers nor did they preach what they themselves wished; but in the first place they were truly enlightened by the Word, then they were taught by visions in respect to future events, and, being thus influenced, they uttered things which God had revealed to them alone” (De Anti-christo, chap. 2.). Origen (a.d. 250), in passages found in the Latin translation of his works by Rufinus, several times expressly ascribes this Epistle to Peter. “And Peter says, Ye are made partakers of the Divine nature.” “And as the Scripture says in a certain place, the dumb ass with man’s voice forbids the madness of the prophet.” “Peter speaks aloud through the two trumpets of the prophet” (Opp. tom., 2. pp. 200, 231, 412). These testimonies are, however, to be taken with reservation, as it is well known that Rufinus made additions to the works of Origen. Eusebius gives the following quotation from Origen: “Peter, upon whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, has left behind one Epistle undisputed, perhaps a second, but on this there is some doubt” (H.E., 6.25); which shows that Origen was acquainted with the Second Epistle of Peter, but doubted its genuineness; nor is the Epistle quoted in any of his extant authentic works. Firmilian, Bishop of Caesarea (a.d. 250), in his Epistle to Cyprian, writes: “Abusing also the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, as if they had delivered this doctrine; though they in their Epistles, have anathematised heretics, and admonished us to avoid them” (cf. Cyprian, 75). By the term Epistles Firmilian may allude to only one epistle of Peter; but what he here says can only refer to the Second Epistle, for in this Epistle alone is there any reference to heretics. The Epistle is not quoted nor referred to in the writings of Cyprian and Tertullian. Eusebius does not appear to have recognised its genuineness. He writes: “As to the writings of Peter, one of his Epistles, called the First, is acknowledged as genuine. But that which is called the Second, we have not indeed understood to be embodied with the Sacred Books; yet as it appeared useful to many, it was studiously read with the other sacred Scriptures” (H.E., 3.3). And in another place he classes it among the disputed writings: “Among the disputed books, although they are well known and approved by many, is reported that called the Epistle of James and Jude, also the Second Epistle of Peter and the Second and Third Epistles of John” (H.E., 3.25). The Epistle is not found in the Muratorian canon, and is omitted in the Peshito and, most probably, in the Old Latin. After the time of Eusebius, it was received into the canon, and is attested by the succeeding Fathers. The internal evidence in favour of the Epistle is stronger than the external. It is such an Epistle as we would suppose Peter would have written. The earnestness of its tone, the repeated exhortations to holiness, the solemn warnings against apostasy, and the references to the last things, all remind us of that apostle, who knew by experience the danger of hypocrisy and the necessity of perseverance, and whose glance was always towards the future. There are also references to incidents in the life of Peter; as, for example, his presence at the Transfiguration and our Lord’s notification of his martyrdom. There is also a similarity in style and sentiment to the First Epistle. In both Epistles the word ἀναστροφή, conversation, is frequently employed. The word ἀρετή virtue, which is elsewhere restricted to man, is in both Epistles applied in an unusual manner to God; as in 1 Peter 2:9, “That ye should show forth the virtues of Him who hath called you”; and in 2 Peter 1:3, according to the correct reading, “Through the knowledge of Him who has called us through His glory and virtue.” The word ἀπόθεσις, not elsewhere used in the New Testament, is found in 2 Peter 1:14, of the putting off the earthly tabernacle, and in 1 Peter 3:21, of the putting off the sins of the flesh. So the phrase “spots and blemishes” is found in both Epistles (1 Peter 1:19; 2 Peter 2:13). The adjective ἴδιος is employed in both in the sense of the possessive pronoun. So also the sentiments in both Epistles are similar. Both dwell upon the inspiration of the prophets; both mention the Deluge and the small number who were saved; in both the eschatological element is prominent; in both there are similar references to the coming of Christ; and in both the last things are dwelt upon. It has also been observed that there are undesigned coincidences between this Epistle and the speeches of Peter as recorded in the Acts. These coincidences, however, are neither numerous nor important. In both there is reference to rioting and drunkenness in the daytime (Acts 2:15; 2 Peter 2:13). In both the rare word, εὐσέβεια for holiness is employed (Acts 3:12; 2 Peter 1:7). In both the unusual word δεσπότης, instead of κύριος, is used for Lord (Acts 4:24; 2 Peter 2:1). In both the enemies of the faith are accused of denying Christ; in the Acts, of denying the Holy One and the Just (Acts 3:14); and in the Epistle of denying the Lord that bought them (2 Peter 2:1). Another internal argument in favour of this Epistle is its marked superiority to the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. In this Epistle there is nothing at variance with the spirit or dignity of the sacred Scriptures; there is a marked inspiration and loftiness in its sentiments; an absence of everything that is frivolous or trivial. “Who,” observes Dean Farrar, “will venture to assert that any Apostolic Father--that Clement of Rome, or Ignatius, or Polycarp, or Hermas, or Justin Martyr--could have written so much as twenty consecutive verses so eloquent and so powerful as those of the Second Epistle of Peter? No known member of the Church in that age could have been the writer; not even the author of the Epistle to Diognetus. Would a writer so much more powerful than any of these have remained uninfluential and unknown? Would one who could wield his pen with so inspired a power have failed to write a line in his own name, and for the immediate benefit of his own contemporaries?” In consequence chiefly of the weakness of the external evidence, no writing of the New Testament has been more disputed by theologians of all phases of opinion. Even Calvin, in a remarkable passage, expresses his doubts of its genuineness. “What Jerome writes,” he observes, “influences me that some, induced by a difference in the style, did not think that Peter was the author. For though some affinity may be traced, yet I confess that there is that manifest difference which distinguishes different writers. There are also other probable conjectures by which we may conclude that it was written by another rather than by Peter. At the same time, all agree that it contains nothing unworthy of Peter, as it shows everywhere the power and dignity of the apostolic spirit. If it be received as canonical we must allow Peter to be the author, since it has his name inscribed, and he also testifies that he lived with Christ; and it would have been a fiction unworthy of a minister of Christ to have personated another individual. I therefore conclude, if the Epistle be regarded as worthy of credit, it must have proceeded from Peter; not that he himself wrote it, but that some one of his disciples set forth in writing, by his command, those things which the necessity of the times required.” Luther also appears to have doubted the authorship of Peter, and so also did Erasmus.

1. The chief internal objection brought against this Epistle is its difference in style and sentiment from the First Epistle. This was first dwelt upon by Jerome, who solved the difficulty by supposing that a different interpreter was employed in translating the Second Epistle; that whereas Mark or Silvanus was Peter’s interpreter when he wrote the First Epistle, he employed another person when he wrote the Second. The chief points of dissimilarity in sentiment insisted upon are the following: “The keynote of the First Epistle is hope, whilst the keynote of the Second is knowledge. In the First Epistle, our Lord’s name is used without any appellation; in the Second, the word Saviour or Lord or both are added. In the First Epistle there are frequent references to the Old Testament; in the Second these references are remarkably rare. Whilst in both Epistles the coming of Christ is alluded to, in the First it is mentioned as a revelation ( ἀποκάλυψις), in the Second as a presence ( παρουσία). In the First Epistle the sufferings of Christ are dwelt upon; in the Second they are not mentioned.” This objection does not seem at all formidable. Whatever force is in it is counterbalanced by the points of similarity of style and sentiment which are undoubtedly to be found in both Epistles. Besides, these writings are too short to judge from them of the style of the author; more especially as Peter has no such definite and marked style as the Apostles Paul and James. Most of the linguistic peculiarities are to be found in the second chapter, which bears such a remarkable resemblance to the Epistle of Jude. And as to the difference of sentiment in the Epistles, this may in a great measure be accounted for by the different designs of the Epistles, the one being chiefly hortative and the other polemical.

2. Mayerhoff objects to the Epistle because the author shows a manifest solicitude to make himself known as Peter. He is continually bringing forward himself as if he wished to impress upon his readers that it was Peter who wrote this Epistle. Thus in the address he calls himself “Simon Peter.” He reminds his readers that the Lord Jesus Christ had revealed to him that he must soon put off his earthly tabernacle. He alludes to his presence with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, when he heard the voice from the excellent glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He identifies himself with the author of the First Epistle. And he speaks of Paul as his beloved brother, thus claiming an equality with him. But this objection is as frivolous as it is weak. These references may as well be adduced as arguments in favour of the authorship of Peter, being reminiscences of what happened to him. Besides, if we attend to the context, we shall find that there are special reasons for these references, that they are natural and not designedly and artificially introduced.

3. The manner in which he mentions the Epistles of Paul is also regarded as evidence of spuriousness. Mention is made of all Paul’s Epistles, as if a collection of them had already been formed; and they are put on the same footing with the other scriptures, that is the Jewish scriptures, as if they were possessed of equal authority; both of which particulars did not occur until after Peter’s death. But there is no reason to suppose that the phrase “all his Epistles” denotes a collection of Paul’s Epistles, but merely those which were known to the readers of Peter’s Epistle; and we know that several of Paul’s Epistles were written to the churches addressed by Peter. It certainly appears that Peter places Paul’s Epistles in the same rank with the Jewish Scriptures; but there is nothing objectionable in this, as Paul himself makes the same assertion, and requires that his Epistles be received as a revelation from the Lord.

4. It is further objected that the expression “Holy Mount” betrays a post-apostolic age, when a degree of sacredness was imparted to the scenes of gospel history. The phrase “Holy Mount” in Peter’s time could only be applied to Mount Zion. But Peter uses the epithet holy merely because such a wonderful incident as the Transfiguration occurred upon that mount: it was holy because on it the Lord displayed His glory. Nor does it appear that afterward any particular mountain was ever known by the appellation the “Holy Mount,” as being the Mount of Transfiguration.

5. Another objection strongly insisted on is the use which is made in this Epistle of the Epistle of Jude. The resemblance between these two canonical Epistles is certainly remarkable, and is too strong to be regarded as accidental. Without determining which Epistle was written first, taking the case that Jude’s Epistle was the earlier, though remarkable, it does not appear to us to be opposed to Peter’s authorship that he should incorporate into his Epistle what was already written by another sacred writer. We know that Paul sometimes quotes even from heathen writers. It is highly probable that Peter in his First Epistle, which is undoubtedly genuine, quotes from the Epistle of James; and Jude himself quotes from the Apocryphal book of Enoch; and therefore the use of the Epistle of Jude, though surprising, is not to be regarded as a proof of spuriousness.

6. An entirely new objection has recently been brought forward by Dr. Abbott, namely, that the author of the Second Epistle of Peter was acquainted with the writings of Josephus, and that consequently he could not be the Apostle Peter. Dr. Abbott grounds his argument chiefly on a comparison between the Epistle and two passages from the works of Josephus the one the preface to the Antiquities, and the other the account of the last words of Moses--and he endeavours to prove from the similarity of words and phrases that the author of the Epistle was acquainted with these passages. Such a comparison of words and phrases as is here made, however plausible, fails to carry conviction. It is highly improbable that a Christian writer of the second century, even although he were acquainted with the writings of Josephus, should, in a short Epistle, slavishly imitate particular passages contained in them; and it is still more improbable that Josephus should take the trouble of studying a short Epistle of the Christians, in whose religion he did not believe, with a view to the composition of his history--an Epistle also which had nothing to do with the subject he had undertaken to write upon. Taking a conjunct view of the whole evidence, we admit that the external evidence is weak; there is no positive testimony in favour of the Epistle until the middle of the third century. We consider that the internal evidence is stronger, especially the undoubted similarity in style and sentiment to the First Epistle, even in the midst of differences-a similarity which cannot possibly be accounted for from a design of the author to palm off his writing as the Epistle of Peter; and the marked superiority which there is in this Epistle over the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Nor do we think the internal objections brought against the Epistle of much weight, with the possible exception of that arising from the use made of the Epistle of Jude. On the whole, the balance of evidence is in favour of the authenticity of the Epistle. Besides, it is to be remembered that the Fathers of the fourth century, when the canon was fixed, had much more evidence than we possess; and that it was only as the result of careful examination that any writing was admitted as part of the sacred Scriptures. (P. J. Gloag, D. D.)

Contents of the Epistle

The Epistle is both prohibitory and hortative, and these two elements pervade it throughout; the first part is an exhortation to make progress in the Divine life; the second part is a warning against heretical teachers. The apostle, having saluted his readers, prays that grace and peace may abound to them through the knowledge of Christ. They must remember their high and holy calling: they were partakers of the Divine nature; they were delivered from the corruptions of the world. They must then make progress in the Divine life; grace must be developed within them; they must add to their faith all the other virtues of the Christian character; and thus, by the exercise of faith and holiness of life, they are to make their calling and election sure. He was now aged, and his death, revealed by his Lord, was close at hand; but he was anxious, before his decease, earnestly to exhort them to persevere in the faith; they had not followed cunningly devised fables; he himself heard Christ proclaimed by the audible voice from heaven to be the beloved Son of God, and they had the predictions of the prophets on which to rely (chap. 1.). From exhortation he turns to warning. False teachers had arisen among them, who had introduced damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them, bringing destruction on themselves and their followers. Their destruction was certain; the examples of the fallen angels, of the world before the Flood, and of Sodom and Gomorrah, were all warnings and proofs that misery followed on the footsteps of crime. They were spots and blemishes in their feasts, a disgrace to their community, the seducers of the unstable, the servants of corruption, the heirs of wrath. If his readers suffered themselves to be seduced by them, if they were entangled in their errors and overcome, they were in a far more perilous condition than those who had never heard of Christianity, and had never been rescued from the pollutions of the world (chap. 2.). These scoffers, who called into question the coming of the Lord, were not unforseen: their coming had been foretold by the holy prophets and by the apostles of Christ. The advent of Christ might, according to their view, appear to be delayed; but they must remember that time in the eyes of God was very different from time in the eyes of man: one day was with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord was not in reality slack concerning the fulfilment of the promise of His coming. They must exercise patience and persevere in a course of holy living. The day shall assuredly come when this present world and all that it contains shall be burnt up; but new heavens and a new earth shall spring from the shades of the old. They must prepare for this solemn day; the delay is an evidence of God’s long-suffering, as Paul had written to them. The apostle then concludes the Epistle with a brief summary of its object; that they should avoid the errors of the wicked, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (P. J. Gloag, D. D.).