THE SECOND LETTER OF PETER - PART I
THEMES, AND THE GREETING
I. The second letter of Peter is a follow up on the first letter and is addressed to Christians in general, but seems to have had th Christians in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) as the immediate audience.
A. The letter is attributed to "Symeon Peter" and refers to the first letter of Peter as its precursor. See 2 Peter 1:1, 3:1.
1. There has,
however, from early time been some dispute about the authorship.
For example, Eusebius, the court historian of the Emperor Constantine,
said that there was a dispute about whether Peter wrote the letter and
whether it is a part of the Bible. See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical
History Book III, Ch. 3, section 1, ch. 25, section 3. However,
most of the early Church fathers, such as St. Clement of Alexandria,
St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, and Origin, considered it to have been written
by St. Peter.
2. The opposition
view is based both upon its different style from the first letter of
Peter, and upon some references, especially to the collected works of
St. Paul, as an understood part of Scripture that would reflect a date
after St. Peter's martyrdom. See 2 Peter 3:15-16. It also
refers to the "apostles" as a group that seems to be somewhat distinct
from the author. See 2 Peter 3:1-2. Some scholars
thus propose that either another author writing with the authority of
Rome used Peter as a pseudonym, or possibly that the disciples of St.
Peter gathered his ideas together.
3. St. Jerome
proposed that St. Peter used two different secretaries to compose the
two letters, accounting for their different styles.
4. Without resolving
the issue of authorship, the Church has declared that both epistles
of Peter are part of the Bible. See, e.g., Council of Trent, Decree
Concerning the Canonical Scriptures (1546.) All other Christians
likewise accept this epistle as a part of the Bible.
B. The letter could have been written in the mid 60s through the late 90s.
1. If written
by St. Peter, it would have had to have been written after the first
letters, which in all likelihood dates from 63 to 64 A.D., but before
the death of St. Peter in 65 or 66 A.D. The letter refers
to the likelihood that St. Peter will be martyred soon, but that expectation
could have existed anywhere in the early to mid-60s.
2. If written
by a disciple of Peter, it could have been written anytime after the
death of St. Peter until the end of the first century.
3. The letter
does seem to cross reference some teachings from the epistle of Jude.
In particular the second chapter of 2 Peter seems to elaborate on verses
4 - 18 of the epistles of Jude, and chapter 3 on verses 14 and 15, and
17-25 of Jude. However, the epistle of Jude could have been
written anywhere from the early 60s to the 90s. Thus that fact
does not resolve the issue.
C. While there is
no specific group addressed in the letter, the immediate audience seems
to have been the same as that of the first letter of Peter, which was
addressed to Christians in Asia Minor. See 2 Peter 3:1.
It is also an audience that St. Paul had specifically addressed letters
to, letters now accepted as part of scripture. See 2 Peter 3:16.
St. Paul specifically wrote to Galatia, Ephesus, and Collossae,
but his letters may well have quickly been circulated all over the province
of Asia Minor.
II. The letter's main point is to promote virtuous life and sound doctrine and to warn against false teachers, especially those who either denied the Second Coming of Christ or who downplayed the role of Jesus as Lord and the angels as assisting in judgment.
A. After the introduction,
the first part, which goes through chapter 1, promotes together fidelity
to the teachings that have been received and the virtuous life.
The chapter makes clear that the two aspects grow together.
B. The second part, which consists of chapter 2, is a thundering denunciation of false teachers. The letter says that their false teaching is based upon greed and an immoral lifestyle. See 2 Peter 2:2, 12-16. And it focuses on the punishments that are reserved for them, with images of the fallen angels, the Great Flood and of Sodom and Gomorrah. See 2 Peter 2;4-10, 17-19.
C. The third part, which consists of chapter 3, describes the heresies that the letter is arguing against and refutes them. In particular, it seemed that some people were denying the Second Coming of Christ, on the grounds that it should have come already. See 2 Peter 3:3-10. Th letter presents this delay in terms of giving people more opportunity to repent, but an opportunity that could vanish at any moment. See 2 Peter 3:9-10. This part also exhorts people to righteous living in preparation for judgment. See 2 Peter 3:11-15. Apparently, some people were distorting the words of St. Paul in an undescribed way, an error St. Peter wishes to correct.
D. Overall, there
is an emphasis that doctrinal matters are important, that errors are
very serious, and one should not assume that those in error are blameless.
The letter warns that doctrinal errors spring from a desire to avoid
the truth and the demands of a moral life.
III. The letter develops many of the themes in the letter of Jude and contains some particularly strong emphases on glory and inspiration.
A. The second and third chapters of 2 Peter reflect many of the themes of the letter of Jude.
1. The denunciation
of the false teachers in chapter 2 uses many of the same comparisons
as the letter of Jude, including: (1) the reference to fallen angels,
see 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6; (2) the punishment of Sodom and Gommorah, see
2 Peter 2:6-10, Jude 7; and (3) the analogy to fruitless trees, gloom
and storms, see 2 Peter 2:17-19, Jude 12-13. False teachers are
also compared to irrational animals and to the greed of Balaam.
See 2 Peter 2:15-16, Jude 11-12. See Num 22-24. Both letters
also compare the rescue of the faithful to the Exodus from Egypt.
Se 2 Peter 1:12; Jude 5.
2. The Second
Letter of Peter and Jude also say that the heretics and scoffers were
long predicted. See 2 Peter 3:2-4; Jude 17-18. They both
trace their errors back to sinfulness and greed and call the false teachers
to blots on the faithful. See 2 Peter 2:2-3, 10-16, 18-19; Jude
11-16. Both letter condemn them for reviling angels and great
things they do not understand. Se 2 Peter 2:10-11; Jude
3. The Second
Letter of Peter does omit some references to Jewish non-canonical writings
in the Letter of Jude such as the prophesies of Adam and the Assumption
of Moses. See Jude 9, 14. The Second Letter of Peter may
have done so because of its particular emphasis on the inspiration of
Sacred Scriptures. See 2 Peter 1:20, 3:16.
B. Among the more unique aspects of this letter is the emphasis on the Transfiguration and on the promises of Scriptures.
1. Near the beginning,
the letter presents the author's personal witness of the Transfiguration
and on the inspiration of Scripture as the guarantors of Jesus' promises.
See 2 Peter 1:16-21.
2. Then, near
the end, the letter also again emphasizes the overall theme of glorious
transformation into the new heavens and new earth, a transformation
that one must be pure in order to make, and then warns about the distortion
of Scriptures that people use to avoid this conclusion. See 2
IV. The opening lines of the epistle introduce the themes of trust and service to God in truth.
A. The letter is from "Symeon Peter," who introduces Himself as a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. In the first letter, Peter also introduces himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, reflecting his authority.
- The name Symeon,
or Simon, is not used much after the Gospels for St. Peter. The
other five uses in the New Testament are from: (1) the conversion of
Cornelius; (2) on a related point, St. Peter's vision of the spread
of the clean and unclean animals, which represented the preaching of
the Gospels to the Gentiles; and (3) the Council of Jerusalem, where
the Apostles settled the issue of the requirements to be imposed upon
Gentile converts. See Acts 10:5, 18, 32, 11:13, 15:14. In
all of those cases, the authority of St. Peter and the expansion of
the Church were themes. Here the use of the name Symeon, especially
with the more Hebrew spelling, may well emphasize the Jewish background
of St. Peter and the unity of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament)
and the new Scriptures. It may also emphasize the fact that St.
Peter was also the Simon who personally witnessed the events of Jesus'
life, and especially the Transfiguration that the letter refers to.
2. The letter
also adds the designation slave (doulos, as compared to diokonos, that
is, a servant) of Jesus Christ, perhaps to emphasize that all legitimate
authority comes must be based upon obedience to God. Moses and
David were also described as servants of God, a status that emphasized
their status and authority. See Duet. 34:5, 2 Sam.
7:5-29; cf. Is. 52:13-15; Phil 2:7. There is also perhaps an emphasis
of the theme from Romans that one is either a slave of God who makes
us His sons or a slave of sin. See Rom. 6:5-23; 1 Peter 2:19.
B. The letter is not addressed to any particular people, although the letter indicates that the immediate recipients were likely the same as that of the first letter. See 2 Peter 3:1. It is likely that, at the time of this writing the author was well aware that the letter would be widely distributed as St. Paul's letters were, and so focused on a more general audience.
1. The letter
is instead addressed in general to recipients who in general "have
obtained a faith of equal standing with ours." There is an emphasis
of equality in the faith, although the author is clearly writing from
the standpoint of authority in the church. Part of the idea, as
the letter will develop, is that immense glory is promised to all who
are faithful, regardless of the position in the Church.
2. This faith
is "in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ."
There is an emphasis both on the holiness of God, and of the only way
of arriving at this holiness, i.e. the salvation won by Jesus Christ.
The author wants to emphasize both the importance of attaining the righteousness
of God (perhaps in contrast to those who would live in decadence, presuming
upon His mercy) and the fact that we are saved from sins, not by ourselves
but by Jesus Christ (perhaps in contrast to those who would diminish
the centrality of His saving mission.) The fact that the definite
article ("ton," which means "the," but is often used where the
definite article would not be used in English) appears only once in
front of "our God and Savior Jesus Christ" indicates that the two
nouns are connected and thus the author is including Jesus as God.
C. As with many other New Testament epistles, the author here wishes grace and peace to the readers. See Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 or. 2:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:3; 1 Peter 1:2.
- Here, however, the
author here adds a wish that the peace be multiplied among the readers,
indicating the fact that their common faith is meant to increase the
grace for each other. The letter will later emphasize that unity and
self-control will make the people fruitful, while the schisms and vices
of the false teachers make them unfruitful and blind. See 1 Peter
- There is also an emphasis on the knowledge of Jesus, as opposed to mere opinion. The letter will several times emphasize this importance of knowing Jesus in sound doctrine as leading to salvation. See 2 Peter 1:5-7, 19-21, 3:18.