We now come to the final eight epistles of the New Testament canon, seven of which have often been called the General or Catholic Epistles, though Hebrews has been excluded from this description. The term Catholic was used in the sense of general or universal to distinguish them from the Pauline Epistles which were addressed to churches or persons.73 In their addresses (with the exception of 2 and 3 John) they were not limited to a single locality. As an illustration, James is addressed “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (1:1), which is a designation for believers everywhere (likely all Jewish Christians at that early date). Then 1 Peter is addressed “to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” a designation to believers in these various areas. The epistles of 2 and 3 John have also been included in this group even though they were addressed to specific individuals. Because of these differences, in this study these eight books are simply being called “the Non-Pauline Epistles.” It should be noted that the Pauline Epistles are titled according to their addressees, but, with the exception of Hebrews, all these epistles are titled according to the names of their authors.
In general, we may say that James and 1 Peter are ethical, calling believers to a holy walk with the Savior. Second Peter and Jude are eschatological, warning believers against the presence of false teachers and calling them to contend for the faith. Hebrews and the Epistles of John are primarily Christological and ethical, calling Christians to abide in Christ as God’s final revelation and fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant, to experience His life, and not go beyond the truth of the gospel.
These eight epistles exert an influence out of proportion to their length (less than 10 percent of the New Testament). They supplement the thirteen Pauline Epistles by offering different perspectives on the richness of Christian truth. Each of the five authors—James, Peter, John, Jude, and the author of Hebrews—has a distinctive contribution to make from his own point of view. Like the four complementary approaches to the life of Christ in the Gospels, these writers provide a sweeping portrait of the Christian life in which the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Great as Paul’s epistles are, the New Testament revelation after Acts would be severely limited by one apostolic perspective if the writings of these five men were not included.74
For some 1,200 years (from c. A.D. 400 to 1600) this book was commonly entitled, “The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews,” but there was no agreement in the earliest centuries regarding its authorship. The oldest and most reliable title is Pros Ebraious, “To Hebrews.”
As stated, the author is unknown. Many suggestions have been made and very elaborate arguments put forth by scholars, but the fact is the author is nowhere named in the book and is in essence, like its place of writing, date, and even its readership, unknown. Ryrie writes:
Many suggestions have been made for the author of this anonymous book—Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Aquila and Priscilla, and Clement of Rome. There are both resemblances and dissimilarities to the theology and style of Paul, but Paul frequently appeals to his own apostolic authority in his letters, while this writer appeals to others who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry (2:3). It is safest to say, as did the theologian Origen in the third century, that only God knows who wrote Hebrews.75
Because of the uncertainty of its authorship, its recognition as a part of the New Testament canon, at least in the West, was delayed until the fourth century when it was finally accepted in the Western church through the testimonies of Jerome and Augustine. Because Paul was considered to be the author by the Eastern church, it was always accepted.
The issue of its canonicity was again raised during the Reformation, but the spiritual depth and quality of Hebrews bore witness to its inspiration, despite its anonymity.
Chapter 13, verses 18-24, tell us that this book was not anonymous to the original readers; they evidently knew the author. For some reason, however, early church tradition is divided over the identity of the author. Part of the church attributed it to Paul; others preferred Barnabas, Luke, or Clement; and some chose anonymity. Thus, external evidence will not help determine the author.
Internal evidence must be the final court of appeal, but here too, the results are ambiguous. Some aspects of the language, style, and theology of Hebrews are very similar to Paul’s epistles, and the author also refers to Timothy (13:23). However, significant differences have led the majority of biblical scholars to reject Pauline authorship of this book: (1) The Greek style of Hebrews is far more polished and refined than that found in any of Paul’s recognized epistles. (2) In view of Paul’s consistent claims to be an apostle and an eyewitness of Christ, it is very doubtful that he would have used the phraseology found in chapter 2, verse 3: “which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.” (3) The lack of Paul’s customary salutation, which includes his name, goes against the firm pattern found in all his other epistles. (4) While Paul used both the Hebrew text and the Septuagint to quote from the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews apparently did not know Hebrew and quoted exclusively from the Septuagint. (5) Paul’s common use of compound titles to refer to the Son of God is not followed in Hebrews, which usually refers to Him as Christ, Jesus, and Lord. (6) Hebrews concentrates on Christ’s present priestly ministry, but Paul’s writings have very little to say about the present work of Christ. Thus, Hebrews appears not to have been written by Paul although the writer shows a Pauline influence. The authority of Hebrews in no way depends upon Pauline authorship, especially since it does not claim to have been written by Paul.76
Since the recipients are not mentioned as in the Pauline Epistles, we might say a word about them. The very nature of the book with its many Old Testament quotations and the emphasis on the sacrificial system strongly suggests they were Hebrews. Writing in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Zane C. Hodges says:
The identity of the first readers of Hebrews, like the author, is unknown. Nevertheless they were evidently part of a particular community. This appears from several considerations. The readers had a definite history and the writer referred to their “earlier days” (Heb. 10:32-34); he knew about their past and present generosity to other Christians (6:10); and he was able to be specific about their current spiritual condition (5:11-14). Moreover, the author had definite links with them and expressed his intention to visit them, perhaps with Timothy (13:19, 23). He also requested their prayers (13:18).
In all probability the readers were chiefly of Jewish background. Though this has sometimes been questioned, the contents of the epistle argue for it. Of course the ancient title “To the Hebrews” might be only a conjecture, but it is a natural one. When everything is said for a Gentile audience that can be said, the fact remains that the author’s heavy stress on Jewish prototypes and his earnest polemic against the permanence of the Levitical system are best explained if the audience was largely Jewish and inclined to be swayed back to their old faith. The heavy and extensive appeal to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures also was most suitable to readers who had been brought up on them.77
Several things suggest a date sometime between A.D. 64-68. First, the book was quoted by Clement of Rome in A.D. 95 so it had to have been written before that time. Second, it seems quite apparent that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 for the following reasons. First, surely the author would have mentioned the temple’s destruction along with the end of the Jewish sacrificial system if such an event of this importance had occurred, especially in view of the argument of this book. Second, the author uses the Greek present tense over and over when speaking of the temple and the priestly activities which suggest they were still going on (see 5:1-3; 7:23, 27; 8:3-5; 9:6-9, 13, 25; 10:1, 3-4, 8, 11; 13:10-11). Third, the author refers to Timothy’s recent release in 13:23, which, if in connection with his ministry to Paul in Rome, requires a date in the late 60s.
Clearly, the theme of Hebrews is the surpassing greatness of Christ or His superiority, and thus also that of Christianity to the Old Testament system. Several words, better, perfect, and heavenly, are prominently used to demonstrate this. As his primary purpose, the author seeks to demonstrate five significant ways Christ is superior or better. As the Son, He is: (1) superior to the Old Testament prophets (1:1-3), (2) to angels (1:4-2:18), (3) to Moses (3:1-6), (4) to Joshua (3:7-4:16), and (5) to Aaron’s priesthood (5:1-10:18). The goal of this theme is to warn his readers against the dangers of giving up the substance of what they have in Christ for the temporary shadows of the Old Testament system. Thus, the readers are admonished to go on to maturity and their reward as faithful believers, partakers of their heavenly calling. To do this, there are five warning passages inserted to challenge them to progress in their Christian faith (2:1-4; 3:1-4:13; 5:11-6:20; 10:26-39; 12:14-29).
The key words are better, which occurs some thirteen times, perfect, which occurs nine times, and heavenly, which occurs six times. Thus, the key concept, for Hebrews is the superiority or the surpassing greatness of Christ.
Chapter 1, which so strongly declares the deity of Christ as the Son and final revelation of God, is certainly a key chapter, but chapter 11 also stands out as the great Hall of Fame and Faith chapter. In pointing to the many Old Testament saints who lived by faith, it demonstrates the truth of 11:6, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
In accomplishing the purpose to show the superiority of Christ, Hebrews undoubtedly becomes the most Christological single book of the New Testament. Here he is declared as Son, as the very outshining and representation of the essence of God (1:3, 13), as the one who sat at God’s right hand (1:3), as the one declared by God the Father as God (1:8-9), as the eternal Creator (1:10-12), and as the eternal Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (7). Here Christ is presented as the divine-human Prophet, Priest, and King. He is seen as our Redeemer who, having been made like His brethren, has once and for all dealt with our sin and done that which the temporary sacrifices could never do. As such, He has now passed into the heavens as our Great High Priest as one who sympathizes with our weaknesses.
I. The Superiority of Christ to Old Covenant Leaders (1:1-7:28)
A. Christ Is Superior to Old Testament Prophets (1:1-3)
B. Christ Is Superior to the Angels (1:4-2:18)
C. Christ Is Superior to Moses (3:1-6)
D. Christ Is Superior to Joshua (3:7-4:13)
E. Christ Is Superior to the Aaronic Priesthood (4:14-7:28)
1. Exhortation to hold fast (4:14-16)
2. Qualifications of a priest (5:1-10)
3. Exhortation to abandon spiritual lethargy (5:11-6:12)
4. Certainty of God’s promise (6:13-20)
5. Christ’s superior priestly order (chap. 7)
II. The Superior Sacrificial Work as Our High Priest (chaps. 8-10)
A. A Better Covenant (chap. 8)
B. A Better Sanctuary (9:1-12)
C. A Better Sacrifice (9:13-10:18)
D. Exhortations (10:19-39)
III. Final Plea for Persevering Faith (chaps. 11-12)
A. Examples of Past Heroes of the Faith (chap. 11)
B. Encouragement for Persevering Faith (12:1-11)
C. Exhortations for Persevering Faith (12:12-17)
D. Motivation for Persevering Faith (12:18-29)
IV. Conclusion (chap. 13)
A. Practical Principles for the Christian Life (13:1-17)
B. Request for Prayer (13:18-19)
C. Benediction (13:20-21)
D. Personal Remarks (13:22-23)
E. Greetings and Final Benediction (13:24-25)
This epistle begins with “James of God … to the twelve tribes.” To clearly indicate the sender, the NET Bible translates, “From James, a bond-servant of God … to the twelve tribes …” But there were four men with the name James in the New Testament. These were: (1) the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Mark 1:19), (2) the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18), (3) the father of Judas (not Iscariot; Luke 6:16), and (4) the half brother of the Lord (Gal. 1:19). Regarding this, Ryrie writes:
Of the four men bearing the name James in the New Testament, only two have been proposed as the author of this letter—James the son of Zebedee (and brother of John) and James the half brother of Jesus. It is unlikely that the son of Zebedee was the author, for he was martyred in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2). The authoritative tone of the letter not only rules out the two lesser known Jameses of the New Testament (“James the Less” and the James of Luke 6:16) but points to the half brother of Jesus who became the recognized leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18). This conclusion is supported by the resemblances in the Greek between this epistle and the speech of James at the Council of Jerusalem (James 1:1 and Acts 15:23; James 1:27 and Acts 15:14; James 2:5 and Acts 15:13).78
In the Greek text, the book is simply titled Jakobos from James 1:1. The early title was Jakobou Epistle, “Epistle of James.” But James was actually Jacob (Iakobos). Exactly why the English translators chose “James” rather than “Jacob” is uncertain. “James,” “Jake,” and “Jacob” all come from the same root. Bible translations in other languages tend to utilize the transliterated name from the Hebrew yaaqob, “Jacob.” One might wonder if King James desired to see his name in the English translation he authorized.
Again, due to the way James addresses the recipients, a comment is needed here as well. James is addressed “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad (diaspora), greetings.” As is suggested from “my brethren” in 1:19 and 2:1, 7, this is a reference, not to the dispersion that occurred between A.D. 66-70, but to the Jews dispersed from their homeland through the past dispersions (see Matt. 1:11, 12, 17). In the early chapters of Acts, Jews were in Jerusalem from all parts of the world for Pentecost (see Acts 1:5). Many of these saw and heard the phenomena of Pentecost and came to believe in Christ. Eventually, many returned to their respective homes in various parts of the world. It is to these that James was writing. Others, however, see this as a reference to those Christian Jews who had been scattered after the death of Stephen.79
While a few suggest a date for James as earlier as the late 30s and some as late as A.D. 150, most scholars date the book about A.D. 45. The reasons are as follows: (1) There is a very distinctive Jewish character to the book which suggests it was written when the church was still predominantly Jewish. (2) There is no reference made to the controversy over Gentile circumcision. (3) The Greek term synagoge (“synagogue” or “meeting”) is used to designate the meeting or meeting place of the church rather than “church,” ekklesia (2:2). (4) The lack of reference to issues involved in the Jerusalem Council like the relationship of Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians (Acts 15:1f.; A.D. 49) also suggests a very early date. (5) “The allusions to the teachings of Christ have such little verbal agreement with the synoptic Gospels that they probably preceded them.”80
A great deal of controversy exists regarding the precise nature of the theme and purpose of this epistle. Regarding this controversy, Ron Blue writes:
Few books of the Bible have been more maligned than the little Book of James. Controversy has waged over its authorship, its date, its recipients, its canonicity, and its unity.
It is well known that Martin Luther had problems with this book. He called it a “right strawy epistle.” But it is only “strawy” to the degree it is “sticky.” There are enough needles in this haystack to prick the conscience of every dull, defeated, and degenerated Christian in the world. Here is a “right stirring epistle” designed to exhort and encourage, to challenge and convict, to rebuke and revive, to describe practical holiness and drive believers toward the goal of a faith that works. James is severely ethical and refreshingly practical.81
Clearly, James is concerned about possessing a faith that works, one that is vital, powerful, and functional. But part of the controversy concerns the nature of that faith. Is he writing to develop the characteristics of a true faith versus a false faith of just a professing believer, or is he talking about a genuine faith of a true believer, but one whose faith has become dead and inactive and thus useless? Some would assert that James “effectively uses these characteristics as a series of tests to help his reader evaluate the reality of their relationship to Christ.”82 Others would stress that James is writing to warn believers about the consequences of a dead, inactive faith both personally and corporately and to stir them to growth and true spiritual maturity. In keeping with this focus, Blue has an excellent summary of James’ purpose:
The purpose of this potent letter is to exhort the early believers to Christian maturity and holiness of life. This letter deals more with the practice of the Christian faith than with its precepts. James told his readers how to achieve spiritual maturity through a confident stand, compassionate service, careful speech, contrite submission, and concerned sharing. He dealt with every area of a Christian’s life: what he is, what he does, what he says, what he feels, and what he has.
With his somewhat stern teaching on practical holiness, James showed how Christian faith and Christian love should be expressed in a variety of actual situations. The seemingly unrelated parts of the book can be harmonized in light of this unified theme. The pearls are not rolling around in some box; they are carefully strung to produce a necklace of priceless beauty.83
In a book of only five chapters, faith occurs sixteen times. This, plus the strong emphasis on godly living and the repetition of works, working thirteen times in chapter 2, shows these are the two key words of the book.
Choosing a key chapter in James is difficult, but chapters 1 and 4 certainly stand out. Chapter 1 is key in that it gives us vital information on the nature and purpose of trials and temptation. Trials build character and produce maturity when mixed with faith, and our temptations come from within and never from God. Chapter 4 is also a key chapter because of what it teaches us about the true source of quarrels, the adulterous nature of worldliness, drawing near to God, and resisting Satan who flees when we draw near to God and resist him. Other key subjects found in other chapters are: faith and works (2:14-26), the use of the tongue (3:1-12), and prayer for the sick (5:13-16).
In 1:1 and 2:1, James specifically refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ” and then anticipates His coming in 5:7-8. “In the 108 verses of the epistle there are references or allusions from 22 books of the Old Testament and at least 15 allusions to the teachings of Christ as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount.”84
I. Stand with Confidence (chap. 1)
A. Salutation and greeting (1:1)
B. Rejoice in diverse trials (1:2-12)
1. Attitude in trials (1:2)
2. Advantage of trials (1:3-4)
3. Assistance for trials (1:5-12)
C. Resist in deadly temptation (1:13-18)
1. Source of temptation (1:13-14)
2. Steps in temptation (1:15-16)
3. Solution for temptation (1:17-18)
D. Rest in divine truth (1:19-27)
1. Receptivity to the Word (1:19-21)
2. Responsiveness to the Word (1:22-25)
3. Resignation to the Word (1:26-27)
II. Serve with Compassion (chap. 2)
A. Accept others (2:1-13)
1. Courtesy to all (2:1-4)
2. Compassion for all (2:5-9)
3. Consistency in all (2:10-13)
B. Assist others (2:14-26)
1. Expression of true faith (2:14-17)
2. Evidence of true faith (2:18-20)
3. Examples of true faith (2:21-26)
III. Speak with Care (chap. 3)
A. Control talk (3:1-12)
1. The tongue is powerful (3:1-5)
2. The tongue is perverse (3:6-8)
3. The tongue is polluted (3:9-12)
B. Cultivate thought (3:13-18)
1. Wisdom is humble (3:13)
2. Wisdom is gracious (3:14-16)
3. Wisdom is peaceable (3:17-18)
IV. Submit with Contrition (chap. 4)
A. Turn hatred into humility (4:1-6)
1. Cause of conflict (4:1-2)
2. Consequence of conflict (4:3-4)
3. Cure for conflict (4:5-6)
B. Turn judgment into justice (4:7-12)
1. Advice for justice (4:7-9)
2. Advantage of justice (4:10-11)
3. Author of justice (4:12)
C. Turn boasting into belief (4:13-17)
1. Statement of boasting (4:13)
2. Sentence on boasting (4:14)
3. Solution for boasting (4:15-17)
V. Share with Concern (chap. 5)
A. Share in possessions (5:1-6)
1. Consternation from wealth (5:1)
2. Corrosion of wealth (5:2-3)
3. Condemnation in wealth (5:4-6)
B. Share in patience (5:7-12)
1. Essence of patience (5:7-9)
2. Examples of patience (5:10-11)
3. Evidence of patience (5:12)
C. Share in prayer (5:13-20)
1. Sensitivity to needs (5:13)
2. Supplication for needs (5:14-18)
3. Significance of needs (5:19-20)
That the apostle Peter is the author is clearly stated in the opening verse, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Not only was 1 Peter universally recognized as a work of the apostle Peter by the early church, but there is strong internal evidence that attests to his authorship as well. As for the external evidence, Eusebius placed 1 Peter among the homologoumena, and no book has earlier or stronger attestation than 1 Peter as evidenced by 2 Peter 3:1.
The letter was explicitly ascribed to Peter by that group of church fathers whose testimonies appear in the attestation of so many of the genuine NT writings, namely, Irenaeus (A.D. 140-203), Tertullian (150-222), Clement of Alexandria (155-215) and Origen (185-253). It is thus clear that Peter’s authorship of the book has early and strong support.86
The internal evidence for Peter’s authorship is as follows: (1) There are clear similarities between this letter and the sermons of Peter recorded in Acts (cf. 1 Pet. 1:20 with Acts 2:23; 1 Pet. 4:5 with Acts 10:42). (2) The Greek word xylon, “wood, tree,” is used by Peter of the cross in Acts and 1 Peter (cf. Acts 5:30; 10:39; 1 Pet. 2:24). (3) The themes, concepts, and various allusions to Peter’s experiences with the Lord’s earthly ministry and the apostolic age also supports Peter’s authorship (cf. 1:8; 2:23; 3:18; 4:1; 5:1).
Even with this evidence, some modern scholars have challenged Peter’s authorship on several grounds. Their arguments with answers are summarized by Roger Raymer in the following:
Until relatively recent times the authenticity of the epistle’s claim to apostolic authorship went unchallenged. Then some modern scholars noted that Peter was considered by Jewish religious leaders as “unschooled” and “ordinary” (Acts 4:13). The superb literary style and sophisticated use of vocabulary in 1 Peter seem to indicate that its author must have been a master of the Greek language. Those who deny Peter’s authorship say that such an artistic piece of Greek literature could not possibly have flowed from the pen of a Galilean fisherman.
Though Peter could be called “unschooled” and though Greek was not his native tongue, he was by no means ordinary. The Jewish leaders saw Peter as unschooled simply because he had not been trained in rabbinical tradition, not because he was illiterate. Luke also recorded (Acts 4:13) that these same leaders were astonished by Peter’s confidence and the power of his Spirit-controlled personality. Peter’s public ministry spanned more than 30 years and took him from Jerusalem to Rome. He lived and preached in a multilingual world. It is reasonable to believe that after three decades Peter could have mastered the language of the majority of those to whom he ministered.
The rhetorical style and use of metaphor employed in 1 Peter could just as easily be credited to an accomplished public speaker as to a literary scholar. Certainly Peter had the time and talent to become an outstanding communicator of the gospel via the Greek language.
Any further doubts of Petrine authorship based on linguistic style may be answered by the fact that Peter apparently employed Silas as his secretary (1 Peter 5:12). Silas, though a Jerusalem Christian, was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:36-37) and may have had great facility in the Greek language. But whether or not Silas aided Peter with the grammatical Greek nuances, the epistle’s content still remains Peter’s personal message, stamped with his personal authority.87
The epistle is addressed to “To those temporarily residing in the dispersion (in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia) who are chosen.” Peter used two key words to describe the recipients, “temporary residents” (Greek, parepidemos, a word which emphasizes both temporary residents and alien nationality) and “dispersion” (Greek, diaspora, “dispersion.”). This word “normally refers to Jews not living in Palestine but scattered out across the Mediterranean world. But here it is probably metaphorical, used of Gentile Christians spread out as God’s people in the midst of a godless world.”88 But perhaps, Peter had both Jew and Gentile believers in view:
First Peter is addressed to Christians scattered throughout five Roman provinces of the peninsula of Asia Minor. That area today is northern Turkey. The churches in those provinces were made up of both Jews and Gentiles. This epistle is rich in references to and quotations from the Old Testament. Jewish Christians would have found special significance in the term diasporas, translated “scattered,” used in the salutation (1:1). Jews who lived outside of Jerusalem were referred to as living in the diaspora.
Gentile readers would have noted Peter’s exhortation to holy living in light of their background of complete ignorance of God’s Word (1:14). Gentile Christians also would have been greatly encouraged by the fact that though they were in ignorance, they were now considered “the people of God” (2:10). Clearly Peter carefully included both Jewish and Gentile Christians in his letter of encouragement to the churches of Asia Minor.89
Church tradition connects Peter in the latter part of his life with the city of Rome. If the reference to Babylon in 5:13 is a cryptic reference to Rome, this letter was written while Peter was in Rome during the last decade of his life about A.D. 63, just before the outbreak of Nero’s persecution in A.D. 64. Peter regards the state in a harmonious or perhaps conciliatory manner (see 1 Pet. 2:13-17) which would have been more difficult (but not impossible) at a later date under the outbreak of Nero’s persecution.
While 1 Peter touches on various doctrines and has much to say about Christian life and Christian responsibilities, the theme and purpose of 1 Peter centers around the problem of suffering—particularly suffering in the form of persecution for one’s faith. It has been described as a manual or handbook showing Christians how they are to live as temporary resident and ambassadors of Christ in an alien and hostile world (1:1, 13-21; 2:11-12; 3:14, 17; 4:1, 13, 15, 16, 19).
There are several specific purposes in this book. It is designed to provide direction for believers under persecution (1) by focusing on the coming revelation of Christ and its deliverance (1:3-12), (2) by following Christ as their perfect example in suffering (2:21f.), and (3) by living in the world in accordance with their calling as a special people of God by maintaining a good report with the Gentile world (2:4-12ff.; 4:1ff.). Other purposes include demonstrating the vital link between doctrine and practice (5:12) and encouraging godly leadership and shepherding the flock of God (5:1f.), which is a vital element in the church’s ability to function effectively in a hostile world.
The key word and concept is obviously “suffering for Christ.” Some form of the word “suffer” occurs some sixteen times in the book. Closely associated with this as a great source of hope and comfort is the concept of the coming revelation and glory of Christ that will be revealed or brought to believers with its accompanying deliverance or ultimate salvation (see 1:5, 7, 12, 13; 4:13; 5:1, 10-11).
Perhaps because of its extended direction for how to handle persecution, chapter four is the key chapter of 1 Peter.
The book is loaded with the person and work of Christ. Through the resurrection of Christ, Christians have “a living hope” and “an imperishable inheritance” (1:3-4). In several places, Peter speaks of the coming glory and revelation of Christ (1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). He also speaks (1) of the person and work of Christ as God’s Lamb who redeemed us by bearing our sins on the cross (1:18-19; 2:24), (2) of Christ as our perfect example in suffering (2:21f.), and (3) of Christ as the Chief shepherd and Guardian of believers (2:25; 5:4).
First Peter can be easily divided into four sections: (1) the Salvation of Believers (1:1-12), (2) the Sanctification of Believers (1:13-2:12), (3) the Submission of Believers (2:13-3:12), and the Suffering of Believers (3:13-5:14).
I. The Salvation of Believers (1:1-12)
A. Salutation (1:1-2)
B. Future (Living) Hope and Present Trials (1:3-9)
C. Present Salvation and Past Revelation (1:10-12)
II. The Sanctification of Believers (1:13-2:12)
A. The Call to Holiness (1:13-21)
B. The Call to Love One Another Fervently (1:22-25)
C. The Call to Desire the Pure Milk of the Word (2:1-3)
D. The Call to Offer Up Spiritual Sacrifices (2:4-10)
E. The Call to Abstain From Fleshly Desires (2:11-12)
III. The Submission of Believers (2:13-3:12)
A. Submission to Government (2:13-17)
B. Submission in Business (2:18-25)
C. Submission in Marriage (3:1-8)
D. Submission in All Areas of Life (3:9-12)
IV. The Suffering of Believers (3:13-5:14)
A. Conduct Needed in Suffering (3:13-17)
B. Christ’s Example for Suffering (3:18-4:6)
C. Commands for Suffering (4:7-19)
D. Custodians (Shepherds) in Suffering (5:1-9)
E. Conclusion or Benediction (5:10-14)
Regarding the authorship of this epistle, it is the most disputed epistle of the New Testament. However, not only does the author clearly identify himself as Simon Peter (1:1), but a number of other internal evidences point to the apostle Peter as the author. In a very personal section, almost as the final testament of a dying father, he uses the first person singular referring to himself (1:14), declares himself as an eyewitness of the transfiguration (cf. 1:16-18 with Matt. 17:1-5), asserts this letter is his second one to his readers (3:1), and shows his personal acquaintance with the apostle Paul whom he calls, “our dear brother” (3:15). Regarding Peter’s authorship, Ryrie writes:
Many have suggested that someone other than Peter wrote this letter after A.D. 80 because of (1) differences in style, (2) its supposed dependence on Jude, and (3) the mention of Paul’s letters having been collected (2 Pet. 3:16). However, using a different scribe or no scribe would also have resulted in stylistic changes; there is no reason why Peter should not have borrowed from Jude, though it is more likely that Jude was written later than 2 Peter; and 3:16 does not necessarily refer to all of Paul’s letters but only those written up to that time. Furthermore, similarities between 1 and 2 Peter point to the same author, and its acceptance in the canon demands apostolic authority behind it. Assuming Petrine authorship, the letter was written just before his martyrdom in A.D. 67 and most likely from Rome.90
Writing in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Kenneth Gangel writes:
In the fourth century the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter was strongly affirmed. Two of the great theologians of the early church, Athanasius and Augustine, considered 2 Peter as canonical. The Council of Laodicea (A.D. 372) included the epistle in the canon of Scripture. Jerome placed 2 Peter in the Latin Vulgate (ca. A.D. 404). Also the great third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) recognized the intrinsic authority and worth of 2 Peter and formally affirmed that it was written by the apostle Peter.
Though 2 Peter is the least attested book in the New Testament, its external support far surpasses that of many of the other Bible books. The absence of early church tradition supporting 2 Peter certainly could have been due to the letter’s brevity and the lack of communication among Christians during times of heavy persecution. Consequently the silence of the second century and the caution of the third century posed no insurmountable problems for the careful scholarship of the canonical councils of the fourth century.91
This epistle is titled Petrou B, “Second Peter,” to distinguish it from the first letter written by Peter.
This is the second of two letters Peter wrote to this group of believers (see 3:1) as a kind of final testament, warning, and “last day” letter (1:14; 2:1f.; 3:3), written at the close of the apostle’s career (1:12-14). He was writing to Christians of like precious faith, undoubtedly, to Jewish and Gentile churches of “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1).
As a kind of farewell letter warning of dangerous clouds on the horizon, Peter wrote at the end of his career. According to the early church historian, Eusebius, Peter was martyred during Nero’s persecutions (about A.D. 67–68). The letter was most likely written one of these years.
As the apostle Paul warned of the coming dangers of apostasy in the later years of his life and ministry (2 Timothy), so Peter also warned of the ever rising dangers of false teachers as was predicted by the prophets, by the Lord Himself, and His apostles (2:1; 3:1-3). The purpose of this short letter is found in this very issue, this rise of false teachers. Thus, the purpose is one of warning against these dangers facing the church.
Seeing that God has provided all that is needed for life and godliness (1:3), 1 Peter is a passionate plea for his audience to grow and mature in Christ, to be neither idle nor unfruitful (1:8), and with this as a foundation, to guard against the rising tide of false teachers. This was precipitated by the fact that Peter knew his time on earth was short (1:13-15) and that the body of Christ faced immediate danger (2:1-3). Thus, Peter desired to refresh their memories and stir their thinking (1:13; 3:1-2) so that they might have his teaching firmly in mind (1:15). To do this, he carefully described what mature believers should look like, encouraging them to grow in grace and knowledge of the Savior (cf. 1:2-11; 3:18). As a further foundation for handling false teachers, he reminded them of the nature of God’s Word as their sure foundation (1:12-21) and then warned against sure coming dangers of false teachers whom he also carefully described along with their sure judgment (chap. 2). Finally, he encouraged his readers with the certainty of Christ’s return (3:1-16). With this final emphasis on the return of the Lord, Peter gave a final challenge. “Therefore, dear friends, since you are waiting for these things, strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when you come into his presence… Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard that you do not get led astray by the error of these unprincipled men, and fall from your firm grasp on the truth. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day” (3:14, 17-18).
The key word or concept of 2 Peter is that of warning against false prophets or teachers and mockers with false words (2:1-3; 3:3).
Chapter 1 is the key chapter of 2 Peter because in it, we are given one of the clearest passages on the nature of the inspiration of the Bible. While 2 Timothy 3:16 clearly declares the fact of inspiration, 2 Peter 1:19-21 describes the how of inspiration and more. It shows us that (1) the Scripture is absolutely reliable, a sure word of prophecy, (2) that no prophecy of Scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, i.e., he did not originate it himself, but rather (3) it was the Holy Spirit Himself who is the source of the Scripture ensuring its accuracy. See the footnote taken from the NET Bible.92
Peter speaks of Christ as the source of life and godliness, and, in keeping with the focus, he speaks of Christ as “Lord and Savior” four times, and speaks of Him as “Lord” fourteen times. In addition, he refers to the glorious transfiguration on the holy mountain and looks forward to the Savior’s second coming or parousia. At this time the whole world will see that which Peter and the other two disciples were privileged to see on that holy mountain.
I. Greetings (1:1-2)
II. The Development or Cultivation of Christian Character (1:3-21)
A. The Growth of Faith (1:3-11)
B. The Grounds of Faith (1:12-21)
III. The Denouncement or Condemnation of False Teachers (2:1-22)
A. Their Danger and Conduct (2:1-3)
B. Their Destruction or Condemnation (2:4-9)
C. Their Description and Characteristics (2:10-22)
IV. The Design and Confidence for the Future (3:1-18)
A. The Derision of the False Teachers (3:1-7)
B. The Delay of the Day of the Lord (3:8-9)
C. The Dissolution Following the Day of the Lord (3:10-13)
D. The Diligence Needed in View of the Dangers (3:14-18)
While the author’s name is not found in the letter, it has traditionally been ascribed to John the apostle. Various references by early Christian writers including Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian spoke of John as the author of this epistle. From the standpoint of internal evidence, there are some stylistic differences from the gospel of John, but these can be attributed to the differences between an epistle and a gospel. Further, many similarities exist by way of key words (abide or remain) or contrasting figures like righteousness and sin, light and darkness, life and death, love and hate, and truth and error. In addition, the writer was one of the original witnesses of the Savior who knew Him intimately (1:1-5). Then there are many similar expressions and phrases: compare 1 John 1:1 with John 1:1, 14; 1:4 with John 16:24; 1:6-7 with John 3:19-21; and 4:9 with John 1:14, 18; 3:36. There are no good reasons why this book should not be attributed to the apostle John.
Though it is generally agreed that the same person wrote the gospel of John and these three epistles, some feel that they were not written (as traditionally held) by John the apostle, the son of Zebedee, but by another John (the elder or presbyter, 2 John 1; 3 John 1). It is argued that (1) an uneducated man (Acts 4:13) could not have written something so profound as this gospel; (2) a fisherman’s son would not have known the high priest as did John the apostle; and (3) an apostle would not have called himself an elder. But “uneducated” did not mean illiterate, only without formal training in the rabbinic schools; some fishermen were well-to-do (cf. Mark 1:20); and Peter, though an apostle, called himself an elder (1 Peter 5:1). Further, if John the elder is the “beloved disciple” and the author of the gospel, why did he not mention John the son of Zebedee, an important figure in the life of Christ, in that gospel? Every evidence points to John the elder being the same as John the apostle and the author of this letter.93
All the way through the epistle there are verses that indicate John was writing to believers (2:1, 12-14, 19; 3:1; 5:13), but John nowhere indicates who they were or where they lived. This fact may suggest it was a circular letter to be circulated among several churches, perhaps around the city of Ephesus since early Christian writers placed John at Ephesus in his later years.
The earliest confirmed use of 1 John was in the province of Asia (in modern Turkey), where Ephesus was located. Clement of Alexandria indicates that John ministered in the various churches scattered throughout that province. It may be assumed, therefore, that 1 John was sent to the churches of the province of Asia.94
It is difficult to precisely date this and the other epistles of John, but since many of the themes and words are so similar to the gospel of John, it is reasonable to assume it was written after the gospel. It was undoubtedly written after the gospel but before the persecutions of Domitian in A.D. 95. Therefore, a reasonable date is somewhere between A.D. 85-90.
The theme of the book is fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus (1:3-7). In view of the heresy facing these believers, perhaps an early form of gnosticism, John wrote to define the nature of fellowship with God whom he describes as light, love, and life. God is light (1:5), God is love (4:8, 16), and God is life (see 1:1-2; 5:11-13). To walk in fellowship with God, then, means to walk in the light which leads to experiencing His life, His love for others, and His righteousness. The book, then, gives a number of tests or proofs of fellowship, though some see these as tests of salvation. But in keeping with the theme, the teaching of the false teachers, and the nature of his audience as believers, it is best to view these as tests or proofs of fellowship, tests of abiding and knowing the Savior in an intimate relationship that experiences the transforming life of the Savior in believers.
The exact form of the heresy facing these Christians is difficult to determine, but from the content of 1 John it involved denial of the reality of the incarnation and a claim that sinful behavior did not hinder fellowship with God. Thus, John wrote to his “little children” (2:1, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 5:21) for at least five reasons: (1) to promote true fellowship (1:3f.), (2) to experience full joy (1:4), (3) to promote holiness through true fellowship (1:6-2:2), (4) to prevent and guard against heresy (2:18-27), and (5) to give assurance (5:11-13).
The key concept is fellowship as expressed in the terms fellowship (1:3, 6, 7), and abide, abiding, etc. (2:6, 10, 14, 17, 27, 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17, 24; 4:12, 13, 15, 16). Other key words are righteous, righteousness, light, darkness, and sin and lawlessness.
Surely, one of the key passages in 1 John, and even in the New Testament, is chapter 1 because of its truth regarding sin, even in the life of the Christian. To walk in the light means an honest acknowledgment of the problem of sin. Rather than the denial of sin, this chapter shows us the need for the confession of the principle of sin (1:8), confession of particular or personal sins (1:9), and confession of the practice of sin (1:10).
This book focuses on the present ministry of the Savior in the life of believers and anticipates His coming again. His blood continually cleanses the believer from all sin (1:7) and from personal sins and all unrighteousness upon confession of sin (1:9). Indeed, it declares that Christ is our righteous Advocate before the Father (2:1) and the propitiation or atoning sacrifice not only for believers, but for all the world (2:2), that Jesus is the Christ who has come in the flesh (2:22; 4:2-3), that He came by water and by blood, a reference to His baptism and the cross (5:6), and that He is coming again when we shall see Him and be like Him (2:28-3:3).
I. Introduction and Purpose of the Letter (1:1-4)
II. Conditions Vital for Fellowship (1:5-2:2)
A. Walking in the Light (1:5-7)
B. Confession of Sin (1:8-2:2)
III. Conduct Consistent With Fellowship (2:3-27)
A. The Character of Fellowship—Being Like Christ (2:3-11)
B. The Commandment of Fellowship—Loving Not the World (2:12-17)
C. The Cautions for Fellowship—Guarding Against Antichrist (2:18-27)
IV. Characteristics of Fellowship (2:28-5:3)
A. Purity in View of Our Prospect (2:28-3:3)
B. Practice of Righteousness in View of Christ’s Death (3:4-24)
C. Proving (Testing) the Spirits (4:1-6)
D. Pattern of Fellowship, Loving as Christ Loved (4:7-5:3)
V. Consequences of Fellowship (5:4-21)
A. Victory Over the World (5:4-5)
B. Verification of Christ’s Credentials (5:6-12)
C. Verification (Assurance) of the Believer’s Salvation (5:13)
D. Verification of Answered Prayer (5:14-17)
E. Victory from Habitual Sin (5:18-21)
Though not stated, the author is undoubtedly John the apostle. He simply refers to himself as “the elder” (presbuteros, “elder, old man”), which is in keeping with the reticence of the author of both the Gospel of John and 1 John to identify himself. This is the same self-designation used by the author of 3 John. That he identifies himself as simply “the elder’ suggests that he was well known and established to those he was writing to. This was an official title for the office of an elder, but it is perhaps more likely that he was using it as an affectionate designation by which he was well known to his readers.
The similarities in style between this epistle and 1 John and the Gospel of John suggest that the same person wrote all three books. A number of passages show the similarities: compare 2 John 5 with 1 John 2:7 and John 13:34-35; 2 John 6 with 1 John 5:3 and John 14:23; 2 John 7 with 1 John 4:2-3; and 2 John 12 with 1 John 1:4 and John 15:11.
Although John himself might send a shorter personal letter resembling a longer one he had previously written, it is unlikely that a forger would try to produce such a short document that added so little to the case found in 1 John. Further, a later forgery of 2 John (or 3 John) would have drained it of its authority for the readers, since the contents of 2 and 3 John indicate that they knew the writer personally.95
Since the book has been traditionally tied to the apostle John as the author, it has been titled in the Greek text as Ioannou B, Second of John.
The letter is addressed “to the elect lady and her children” (v. 1; cf. vv. 4-5).
This phrase may refer to an individual or to a church (or the church at large). Some have suggested that the addressee is a Christian lady named “Electa,” but the same word in v. 13 is clearly an adjective, not a proper name. Others see the letter addressed to a Christian lady named “Kyria” (first proposed by Athanasius) or to an unnamed Christian lady. The internal evidence of 2 John clearly supports a collective reference, however. In v. 6 the addressee is mentioned using second person plural, and this is repeated in vv. 8, 10, and 12. Only in v. 13 does the singular reappear. The uses in vv. 1 and 13 are most likely collective. Some have seen a reference to the church at large, but v. 13, referring to “the children of your elect sister” is hard to understand if the universal church is in view. Thus the most probable explanation is that the “elect lady” is a particular local church at some distance from where the author is located.
sn 2 John is being written to warn a “sister” church some distance away, referred to as an elect lady, of the missionary efforts of the secessionist false teachers (discussed in 1 John) and the dangers of welcoming them whenever they arrive.96
It is difficult to date the letter, but the circumstances and subjects in the letter suggest it was probably written about the same time as 1 John (A.D. 85-90). The above similarities indicate this as well (see the date as discussed in 1 John above).
The theme of 2 John is the apostle’s concern that his readers continue to walk in the truth of apostolic doctrine and in accordance with the commandments (vv. 4-6). Because “many deceivers have gone out into the world, people who do not confess Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” (v. 7), John was writing to protect them from the evil deception of those who refused to remain in the teaching of Christ, but were running beyond and away from the truth (v. 9). In keeping with this, several purposes are seen: (1) He wrote to keep his readers from losing the things they had together worked for, including a full reward (v. 9), and (2) to give them clear instructions against receiving these false teachers into their homes or house churches and giving them a Christian greeting. This undoubtedly referred to recognizing them as teachers of the truth in their home churches. John was not telling them to be rude or refuse to witness to them.
The key words are “truth” (nine times), and “commandment” (14 times).
As there is only one chapter to 2 John, this focus is not applicable.
Again, as in 1 John, 2 John is concerned with protecting the biblical doctrine of the incarnation. He wrote to refute the error that denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. In fact, the statement in verse 7 regarding the denial that “Jesus as Christ coming in the flesh” may even refer to the incarnation in a threefold way. In contrast to 1 John 4:2 where he used the perfect participle, “has come in the flesh” (eleluthota), here John used the present participle (erchomenon), “is coming” or “is come in the flesh.” Since the present participle may simply emphasize the results and is sometimes translated like a present, there may be no distinction here, but perhaps John meant to broaden the focus on the significance of the incarnation.
This present tense participle seems to include the past coming of Christ in flesh at the Incarnation, the present continuance of His risen humanity, as well as His future coming to earth. By contrast, the perfect tense participle in 1 John 4:2 emphasizes only His incarnation.97
I. Prologue and Greeting (1:1-3)
II. Commendation for Walking in the Truth (1:4)
III. Commandment to Continue to Love One Another (1:5-6)
IV. Cautions and Instructions Against False Teachers (1:7-11)
V. Concluding Remarks and Final Greetings (1:12-13)
The apostle John is the author of this epistle as with 1 and 2 John. In both 2 and 3 John the author identifies himself as “the elder.” Also, note the similarities found in both epistles: “love in the truth” (v. 1 of both letters) and “walking in the truth” (v. 4 of both letters). The style of both epistles are clearly the same, and efforts to deny that John is the author of all three epistles has no real support or evidence.
The ancient opinion that the Apostle John wrote this letter, as well as the other two, may be readily accepted. The arguments that support apostolic authorship of 1 John carry over to this tiny epistle by virtue of the clear stylistic ties. Moreover, the self-confident authority of the writer of 3 John (cf. v. 10) also befits an apostle.98
This is clearly the most personal letter of John. It is addressed to a man John called “the beloved Gaius” (v. 1) regarding ecclesiastical problems Gaius was facing. The recipient is simply identified no further than by the above description which suggests he was well known by those of the churches of Asia Minor where John served for the last years of his life. Gaius is a familiar name in the New Testament. It appears in Romans 16:23 (a Gaius of Corinth), Acts 19:29 (a Gaius of Macedonia) and Acts 20:4 (a Gaius of Derbe).
Again, the similarities between 1 and 2 John suggest a similar date of somewhere between A.D. 85-90.
John writes Gaius regarding the issue of hospitality and physical support to itinerate Christian workers (missionaries), especially when they were strangers. The theme centers around the contrast between the ministry of Gaius and his generous demonstration of Christian love as one walking in the truth in contrast to the behavior of the selfishness of Diotrephes who, rather than walking in the truth, rejected what John had said and was seeking personal preeminence (v. 9).
Several distinct purposes emerge in this epistle: (1) to commend Gaius (vv. 1-6a), (2) to instruct and encourage the continuation of his support for the Christian workers John had evidently sent (vv. 6b-8), (3) to rebuke Diotrephes for his self-centered behavior (vv. 9-11), (4) to give instruction for Demetrius (v. 12), and (5) to inform Gaius of John’s desire and intention to visit and deal with the difficulties (vv. 10a, 13-14).
While no one word stands out as in 2 John by way of repetition, the key idea is faithful ministry of selfless service to others as fellow workers in the truth (vv. 5-8).
As in 2 John this is not applicable with only one chapter.
While the name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned directly, He is referred to in the statement, “For they have gone forth on behalf of ‘The Name.’” This is undoubtedly a reference to ministry on behalf of the Lord Jesus (see Acts 5:40-41 where we have the identical Greek construction in v. 41). Paul uses a similar phrase in Romans 1:5, and in 1 John 2:12 the author wrote, “your sins are forgiven on account of His (Christ’s) name.” John’s Gospel also makes reference to believing “in the name of Jesus” (John 1:12, 3:18).
I. Greeting or Introduction (1)
II. Commendation of Gaius (2-8)
A. His Godliness (2-4)
B. His Generosity (5-8)
III. Condemnation of Diotrephes (9-11)
A. His Selfish Ambition (9)
B. His Selfish Activities (10-11)
IV. Commendation of Demetrius (12)
V. Concluding Remarks (13-14)
The author identifies himself as Jude (v. 1). The Greek is literally, Judas. Traditionally, English versions have used Jude to distinguish him from Judas who betrayed Jesus. Further, he identifies himself as the brother of James and bond-servant (Greek, doulos) of Jesus Christ. Jude is listed as the half-brother of Jesus in Matt. 13:55 and Mark 6:3. The NET Bible has this helpful note here:
Although Jude was half-brother of Jesus, he humbly associates himself with James, his full brother. By first calling himself a slave of Jesus Christ, it is evident that he wants no one to place stock in his physical connections. At the same time, he must identify himself further: since Jude was a common name in the first century (two of Jesus’ disciples were so named, including his betrayer), more information was needed, that is to say, brother of James.99
The title in the Greek text is Iouda, an indeclinable form used for the Hebrew Judah and the Greek Judas.
Jude seems to write to no specific group of people. Rather the letter is simply addressed “to those who are called, wrapped in the love of God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (v. 1) and then later he addresses them as “beloved” or “dear friends” (v. 3).
Though the subject matter is very similar to 2 Peter, one of the chief differences between Jude and 2 Peter is that while Peter warned that “there shall be false teachers” (2:1), Jude states that “there are certain men who have secretly slipped in among you” (v. 4). Since 2 Peter anticipates the problem and Jude speaks of it as present, apparently Jude was written some time later than 2 Peter. If 2 Peter is dated about A.D. 66, then Jude might be placed around A.D. 70-80.
Jude intended to write about the common salvation, but because of the inroads of heresy and the danger threatening the church, he was compelled to write to encourage believers to contend earnestly for the faith against false teachings that were secretly being introduced in the churches. Evidently, definite advances were being made by an incipient form of Gnosticism—not ascetic, like that attacked by Paul in Colossians, but an antinomian form.
The Gnostics viewed everything material as evil and everything spiritual as good. They therefore cultivated their “spiritual” lives and allowed their flesh to do anything it liked, with the result that they were guilty of all kinds of lawlessness.100
From this, two major purposes can be seen in Jude: (1) To condemn the practices of the ungodly libertines who were infesting the churches and corrupting believers, and (2) counsel believers to stand fast, continue to grow in faith while contending for the apostolic truth that had been handed down to the church.
The key idea or word is “contend for the faith.”
As with 2 and 3 John, since this book has only one chapter, this is not applicable.
Jude focuses our attention on the believer’s security in Christ (v. 24), on the eternal life He gives (v. 21), and on His sure coming again (v. 21). It is Jesus Christ our Lord who gives us access into God’s presence (v. 25).
I. Greetings and Purpose (1-4)
II. Description and Exposure of False Teachers (5-16)
A. Their Past Judgment (5-7)
B. Their Present Characteristics (8-13)
C. Their Future Judgment (14-16)
III. Defense and Exhortation to Believers (17-23)
IV. Benediction (24-25)
85 I have chosen to use Ron Blue's outline here from The Bible Knowledge Commentary. It is one of the most accurate and innovative outlines I have seen on the book of James. Ron was a classmate at Dallas Seminary and this is typical of his excellent work.
92 tn Verse 20 is variously interpreted. There are three key terms here that help decide both the interpretation and the translation. As well, the relation to v. 21 informs the meaning of this verse. (1) The term “comes about” (givnetai [ginetai]) is often translated “is a matter” as in “is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” But the progressive force for this verb is far more common. (2) The adjective ijdiva" (idias) has been understood to mean (a) one’s own (i.e., the reader’s own), (b) its own (i.e., the particular prophecy’s own), or (c) the prophet’s own. Catholic scholarship has tended to see the reference to the reader (in the sense that no individual reader can understand scripture, but needs the interpretations handed down by the Church), while older Protestant scholarship has tended to see the reference to the individual passage being prophesied (and hence the Reformation doctrine of analogia fidei [analogy of faith], or scripture interpreting scripture). But neither of these views satisfactorily addresses the relationship of v. 20 to v. 21, nor do they do full justice to the meaning of givnetai. (3) The meaning of ejpivlusi" (epilusis) is difficult to determine, since it is a biblical hapax legomenon. Though it is sometimes used in the sense of interpretation in extra-biblical Greek, this is by no means a necessary sense. The basic idea of the word is unfolding, which can either indicate an explanation or a creation. It sometimes has the force of solution or even spell, both of which meanings could easily accommodate a prophetic utterance of some sort. Further, even the meaning explanation or interpretation easily fits a prophetic utterance, for prophets often, if not usually, explained visions and dreams. There is no instance of this word referring to the interpretation of scripture, however, suggesting that if interpretation is the meaning, it is the prophet’s interpretation of his own vision. (4) The gavr (gar) at the beginning of v. 21 gives the basis for the truth of the proposition in v. 20. The connection that makes the most satisfactory sense is that prophets did not invent their own prophecies (v. 20), for their impulse for prophesying came from God (v. 21).
sn No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination. 2 Pet 1:20-21, then, form an inclusio with v. 16: the Christian’s faith and hope is not based on cleverly concocted fables, but is based on the sure Word of God—one which the prophets, prompted by the Spirit of God, spoke. Peter’s point is the same as is found elsewhere in the NT, i.e., that human prophets did not originate the message, but they did convey it, using their own personalities in the process.