Book Overview - 2 Peter
by A.T. Robertson
THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PETER
ABOUT a.d. 66 OR 67
By Way of Introduction
Most Doubtful New Testament Book
Every book in the New Testament is challenged by some one, as indeed the historicity of Jesus Christ himself is and the very existence of God. But it is true that more modern scholars deny the genuineness of 2 Peter than that of any single book in the canon. This is done by men like F. H. Chase, J. B. Mayor, and R. D. Strachan, who are followers of Christ as Lord and Saviour. One has to admit that the case concerning 2 Peter has problems of peculiar difficulty that call for careful consideration and balanced judgment. One other word needs to be said, which is that an adverse decision against the authenticity of 2 Peter stands by itself and does not affect the genuineness of the other books. It is easy to take an extreme position for or against it without full knowledge of all the evidence.
Slow in General Acceptance
It was accepted in the canon by the council at Laodicea (372) and at Carthage (397). Jerome accepted it for the Vulgate, though it was absent from the Peshito Syriac Version. Eusebius placed it among the disputed books, while Origen was inclined to accept it. Clement of Alexandria accepted it and apparently wrote a commentary on it. It is probable that the so-called Apocalypse of Peter (early second century) used it and the Epistle of Jude either used it or 2 Peter used Jude. There are undoubted allusions also to phrases in 2 Peter in Aristides, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Clement of Rome. When one considers the brevity of the Epistle, the use of it is really as strong as one can expect. Athanasius and Augustine accepted it as genuine, as did Luther, while Calvin doubted and Erasmus rejected it. It may be said for it that it won its way under criticism and was not accepted blindly.
Claims Petrine Authorship
Not only so, but in fuller form than 1 Peter 1:1, for the writer terms himself “Simon (Symeon in some MSS.) Peter,” a fact that has been used against the genuineness. If no claim had been made, that would have been considered decisive against him. Simon (Symeon was the Jewish form as used by James in Acts 15:14) is the real name (John 1:42) and Peter merely the Greek for Cephas, the nickname given by Christ. There is no reason why both could not properly be employed here. But the claim to Petrine authorship, if not genuine, leaves the Epistle pseudonymous. That was a custom among some Jewish writers and even Christian writers, as the spurious Petrine literature testifies (Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, etc.), works of a heretical or curious nature. Whatever the motive for such a pious fraud, the fact remains that 2 Peter, if not genuine, has to take its place with this pseudonymous literature and can hardly be deemed worthy of a place in the New Testament. And yet there is no heresy in this Epistle, no startling new ideas that would lead one to use the name of Simon Peter. It is the rather full of edifying and orthodox teaching.
And Personal Experiences of Peter
The writer makes use of his own contact with Jesus, especially at the Transfiguration of Christ (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36). This fact has been used against the genuineness of the Epistle on the plea that the writer is too anxious, anyhow, to show that he is Symeon Peter (2 Peter 1:1). But Bigg rightly replies that, if he had only given his name with no personal contacts with Jesus, the name would be called “a forged addition.” It is possible also that the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration may have been suggested by Peter‘s use of exodos for his own death (2 Peter 1:15), the very word used by Luke (Luke 9:31) as the topic of discussion between Jesus and Moses and Elijah. There is also in 2 Peter 1:13 the use of “tent” (skēnoma) for the life in the body, like Peter‘s use of “tents” (skēnas) to Jesus at that very time (Mark 9:5; Matthew 17:4; Luke 9:33). In 2 Peter 1:14 Peter also refers to the plain words of Jesus about his coming death (John 21:18.). In 2 Peter 1:15 Peter speaks of his own plan for preserving the knowledge of Jesus when he is gone (possibly by Mark‘s Gospel). All this is in perfect keeping with Peter‘s own nature.
And yet the Epistle Differs in Style from First Peter
This is a fact, though one greatly exaggerated by some scholars. There are many points of similarity, for one thing, like the habit of repeating words (epichorēgeō in 2 Peter 1:10, 2 Peter 1:19, bebaios in 2 Peter 1:12, 2 Peter 1:13, 2 Peter 1:15, prophēteia in 2 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:3, etc.). These repetitions occur all through the Epistle as in 1 Peter. “This is a matter of very high importance” (Bigg). Again in both Epistles there is a certain dignity of style with a tendency to iambic rhythm. There is more quotation of the Old Testament in 1 Peter, but frequent allusion to words and phrases in 2 Peter. There are more allusions to words and facts in the Gospels in 1 Peter than in 2 Peter, though some do occur in 2 Peter. Besides those already given, note 2 Peter 1:8 (Luke 13:7.), 2 Peter 2:1 (Matthew 10:33), 2 Peter 2:20 (Matthew 12:45; Luke 11:26), 2 Peter 3:4 (Matthew 24:1.), and possibly 2 Peter 1:3 to Christ‘s calling the apostles. Both appear to know and use the O.T. Apocrypha. Both are fond of the plural of abstract substantives. Both make sparing use of Greek particles. Both use the article similarly, idiomatically, and sometimes not using it. There are some 361 words in 1 Peter not in 2 Peter, 231 in 2 Peter not in 1 Peter. There are 686 hapax legomena in N.T., 54 in 2 Peter instead of the average of 62, a large number when the brevity of the Epistle is considered. There are several ways of explaining these variations. One way is to say that they are written by different men, but difference of subject has to be borne in mind. All writers and artists have an early and a later manner. Another solution is that Peter employed different amanuenses. Silvanus was the one for 1 Peter (1 Peter 5:12). Mark was Peter‘s usual interpreter, but we do not know who was the amanuensis for 2 Peter, if indeed one was used. We know from Acts 4:13 that Peter and John were considered unlettered men (agrammatoi kai idiōtai). 2 Peter and the Apocalypse illustrate this statement. 2 Peter may have more of Peter‘s real style than 1 Peter.
He Accepts Paul‘s Epistles as Scripture
This fact (2 Peter 3:15.) has been used as conclusive proof by Baur and his school that Peter could not have written the Epistle after the stern rebuke from Paul at Antioch (Galatians 2:11.). But this argument ignores one element in Peter‘s impulsive nature and that is his coming back as he did with Jesus. Paul after that event in Antioch spoke kindly of Peter (1 Corinthians 9:5). Neither Peter nor Paul cherished a personal grudge where the Master‘s work was involved. It is also objected that Peter would not have put Paul‘s Epistles on the level with the O.T. and call them by implication “Scripture.” But Paul claimed the help of the Holy Spirit in his writings and Peter knew the marks of the Holy Spirit‘s power. Besides, in calling Paul‘s Epistles Scripture he may not have meant to place them exactly on a par with the Old Testament.
The Resemblance to the Epistle of Jude
This is undoubted, particularly between Jude and the second chapter of 2 Peter. Kuhl argues that 2 Peter 2:1-3:2 is an interpolation, though the same style runs through out the Epistle. “The theory of interpolation is always a last and desperate expedient” (Bigg). In 2 Peter 2 we have the fallen angels, the flood, the cities of the plain with Lot, Balaam. In Jude we have Israel in the wilderness, the fallen angels, the cities of the plain (with no mention of Lot, Cain, Balaam, Korah). Jude mentions the dispute between Michael and Satan, quotes Enoch by name. There is rather more freshness in Jude than in 2 Peter, though 2 Peter is more intelligible. Evidently one had the other before him, besides other material. Which is the earlier? There is no way to decide this point clearly. Every point is looked at differently and argued differently by different writers. My own feeling is that Jude was before (just before) 2 Peter, though it is only a feeling and not a conviction.
It used to be said that it was impossible for 2 Peter to have been written in the first century, because it had the atmosphere of the second. But one fact is strongly against that argument. In 2 Peter 3:8 occurs the quotation of Psalm 90:4 about the thousand years without any chiliastic turn at all, a thing sure to happen in the second century after chiliasm had come to have such a swing. Peter‘s use of it suits the first century, not the second. As a matter of fact, the false teachers described in 2 Peter suit the first century precisely if one recalls Paul‘s troubles with the Judaizers in Galatia and Corinth and with the Gnostics in Colossae and Ephesus. “Every feature in the description of the false teachers and mockers is to be found in the apostolic age” (Bigg).
The author says that this is his second Epistle to them (2 Peter 3:1), and that means that he is writing to the saints in the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor to whom the first Epistle was sent (1 Peter 1:1). Spitta and Zahn deny this on the ground that the two Epistles do not discuss the same subjects, surely a flimsy objection. Zahn even holds that 2 Peter precedes 1 Peter and that the Epistle referred to in 2 Peter 3:1 has been lost. He holds that 2 Peter was addressed to the church in Corinth. He considers the readers to be Jews while 1 Peter was addressed to Gentiles. But “there is nothing in 2 Peter to differentiate its first readers from those of 1 Peter” (Bigg).
Certainly Peter is here concerned chiefly with the heresies of that general region in Asia Minor that so disturbed Paul (Colossians, Ephesians, Pastoral Epistles) and John (Gospel, Epistles, Apocalypse). Paul early foresaw at Miletus these wolves that would ravish the sheep (Acts 20:29.). In 1 Peter he is concerned chiefly with the fiery persecutions that are upon them, but here with the heretics that threaten to lead them astray.
Balance of Probability
There are difficulties in any decision about the authorship and character of 2 Peter. But, when all things are considered, I agree with Bigg that the Epistle is what it professes to be by Simon Peter. Else it is pseudonymous. The Epistle more closely resembles the other New Testament books than it does the large pseudepigraphic literature of the second and third centuries.
If we accept the Petrine authorship, it must come before his death, which was probably a.d. 67 or 68. Hence the Epistle cannot be beyond this date. There are those who argue for a.d. 64 as the date of Peter‘s death, but on insufficient grounds in my opinion.
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34