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An Introduction To The Book Of 2 Peter

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I. THE AUTHORSHIP AND CANONICITY OF SECOND PETER:2

A. Second Peter is considered to be the most problematical of all the NT books because of the early doubts surrounding its authenticity and the internal evidence which is considered by many to substantiate those doubts3

B. There are three approaches to early evidence of canonicity or non-canonicity of NT writings; one need not be “either/or” in one’s use of the following; one may be “both/and”:4

1. A book was not canonical until after the date of its first citation

2. After giving citations a relative value, one can decide whether the authors who wrote prior to the first citation had any reason to quote the NT book in question since no-one was obligated to quote all parts of the NT

3. One can place the most emphasis upon the rejection of the early church

C. External Evidence:5 Although the external evidence is sparse, and not without doubts,6 it seems that the majority did accept this book as by Peter and canonical; this outweighs the minority who did not.

1. The Church Fathers:

a. Cited or alluded to by Pseudo-Barnabas (c. 70-130)7

b. Cited or alluded to by Clement of Rome (c. 95-96)8

c. Named as disputed by Origen (c. 185-254)9

d. Named as authentic by Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-86)

e. Named as disputed by Eusebius (c. 325-40)10

f. Named as authentic by Jerome (c. 340-420)11

g. Named as authentic by Augustine (c. 400)

2. Canons:

a. This epistle is omitted in the Muratorian Canon (AD 200) but it also omits 1 Peter and its present text is almost certainly incomplete12

b. Named as authentic by the Codex Barococcio (c. 206)

c. Named as authentic by Apostolic (c. 300)

d. Named as disputed by Cheltenham (c. 360)

e. Named as authentic by Athanasus (c. 367)

3. Translations: Second Peter was not included in the Tatian Diatessaron (c. 170), the Old Latin13 (c. 200) or the Old Syriac14 (c. 400) translations.

4. Councils:

a. Named as disputed by council of Nicea (c. 325-40)

b. Named as authentic by the council of Hippo (393)

c. Named as authentic by the council of Carthage (397)

d. Named as authentic by the council of Carthage (491)

D. Internal Evidence: Although not without problems, the internal evidence seems to best support the Apostle Peter as the author of 2 Peter.

1. Reasons Against Petrine Authorship:15

a. Different Style: Its style was different than that of 1 Peter which was strongly accepted by the church to be Petrine. But this may be explained by the use of different ammanuensis (cf. 1 Peter 5:12)16

b. Gnostic Literature: Peter’s name was used in connection with some Gnostic literature, but in spite of the circulation of these spurious works, 2 Peter was recognized as distinct17

c. Jude: Petrine authorship is forbidden by its literary dependence on Jude, but this is not conclusively settled as an issue; nevertheless, even if Peter did borrow from Jude (or similar material)18 this does not preclude against Petrine authorship any more than for the synoptic gospel writers to use similar (or identical) material

d. Too Hellenistic: The conceptual and rhetorical language is too Hellenistic for a Galilean Fisherman; but we do not know the extent of Hellenistic influence upon Peter19

e. The problem of the delay of the parousia is a second-century problem; but his is not exclusively true. It was clearly a first century issue as well (John 21:20-23; Acts 1:6-11 etc.; 2 Thess. 2:1-4; Heb. 9:28)

f. Pauline Collection: The collection of Pauline Letters referred to in 2 Peter 3:15-16 was made in the second century. While this could be true for the complete collection, this need not be speaking of a complete collection20

g. Early Catholicism: The letter sounds like “early Catholicism” (which emphasizes good works and orthodoxy) rather than first generation Christianity. But this assumes that Peter would not be concerned about the orthodox interpretation of Scripture and tradition which is not a given (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2; 15:3) and the emphasis upon good works is part of the earliest NT epistle written (James)

2. Reasons For Petrine Authorship:

a. The book claims to Petrine authorship (1:1; 14 16-18; 3:1, 15)21

b. The book claims to be Peter’s second epistle (3:1)22

c. The author claims that Paul is his beloved brother (3:15)

d. The letter gives no hints of a second-century environment or of issues related to the monarchical bishop, developed Gnosticism, or Montanism23

II. DATE: After 1 Peter and probably just before Peter’s death in AD 64-68.

A. After a Collection of the Pauline Epistles: Second Peter 3:15-16 affirms that this letter was probably written after a collection of some of Paul’s letters (perhaps during Paul’s first imprisonment in AD 60)

B. If Second Peter 3:1 refers to Peter’s first letter (and it probably does) then this letter was probably written after AD 62-64 (e.g., AD 63-64)

C. The letter seems to have been written shortly before Peter’s death (2 Peter 1:12-15) or AD 64-68.

III. PLACE OF ORIGIN: Although Rome is often mentioned, it is not possible to know the place of origin since Peter traveled widely (Palestine, Asia Minor, Corinth (?), Rome)

IV. DESTINATION: Although one may not be certain, this may well be written to the same audience as First Peter--those from northern Asia Minor

A. This letter is written to believers (2 Pet. 1:1)

B. If 2 Peter 3:1 refers to 1 Peter, than this letter was also written to those in Northern Asian Minor (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia

C. If 2 Peter 3:1 refers to a lost letter of Peter, this it is not possible to identify the destination of 2 Peter

V. THE RELATIONSHIP OF JUDE AND 2 PETER:

A. Its Nature: Similarities between the two works affirm some kind of literary relationship, while differences affirm individual emphases

1. Similarities affirm some kind of literary relationship:

a. Most of 2 Peter 2 is paralleled in Jude and there are parallels in the other chapters of 2 Peter

b. No less than 15 of the 25 verses in Jude appear in 2 Peter

c. Many identical ideas, words, and phrases are parallel to the two writings

2. Differences affirm individual emphases:

a. The common material focuses almost completely on the issue of false teachers

b. Peter emphasizes more positive teaching and Jude concentrates on denunciations

c. The two groups of false teachers are similar, but not identical

B. The Question of Priority: The arguments are not decisive for the priority of either book; the solution may best be found through the postulation of a common source, but even this is not certain.

1. The Options are for priority can be argued with some convincing evidence in each direction, but they are not determinative:

a. Jude is Prior: While there are several arguments24, the stronger ones are as follows:

1) Jude is shorter than 2 Peter so it may have preceded 2 Peter which was an enlargement of Jude (strong)

2) Jude approaches the problem of false teachers with greater spontaneity than 2 Peter which adds an introduction to the problem and does not seem to know the issue first hand (note the tenses of verbs; [not as strong])

3) Jude is harsher than 2 Peter who may have toned down his offensive (weak)

4) Jude uses apocryphal books and 2 Peter does not (perhaps because he has excluded the references because of their unorthodox character [cf. 2 Pet. 2:11; Jude 9])

b. Peter is Prior: Though weak, the arguments for the priority of 2 Peter are as follows:

1) Jude makes reference to 2 Peter in verse 4 and 17 (cf. 2 Peter 3:3)25

2) The use of the future tense in 2 Peter to discuss the false teachers and the present tense in Jude suggests the priority of 2 Peter in that Jude experienced what Peter foresaw, but Peter did not always use the future tense26

3) Jude’s borrowing from Peter (an apostle) is more understandable than for Peter to be borrowing from Jude (weak)

2. Both Jude and 2 Peter depended on a similar source:

a. This is not generally held to for the following reasons:

1) The similarities are considered to be too close to be accounted for in this way

2) The situation of both letters seems to be too concrete for such an explanation

b. If their was a general writing which Peter and Jude refer to, one wonders about its authority in view of Jude 17; if it was apostolic, why did it require its incorporation into these two letters to be preserved; but this is not determinative since there were clearly sources which were apostolic in the Gospel accounts which were not preserved beyond their inclusion in the Gospels

3. Conclusion: This problem cannot be definitively solved with the information which presently exists but the theory of a similar source seems most possible:

a. It is possible that a document like this did exist in the early church as a catechetical tract on false teaching27

b. This may well make all of Jude except the first three verse and verses 19-25 an expression of this tract, but Jude does express his intention to write on another subject, and then he changes due to the pressing nature of the circumstances (verse 3)

c. This may well explain the differences in styles as the two writers adapt the material for their own theological purpose28

VI. PURPOSES:

A. Peter writes because his time is short and he knows that God’s people are facing many dangers (1:13-14; 2:1-3)29

B. Peter writes to provide a reminder of the basis in Christian faith (1:12-13,16-21) and to instruct future generations of believers in the faith (1:15) by affirming its apostolic tradition30

C. Peter writes to warn his readers about the coming of false teachers (2:1-22)31 who deny the soon return of the Lord (3:3-4) and live immoral and greedy lives32


1 Sources employed in this study are: Louis A. Barbieri, First and Second Peter, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 50 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publishers, 1983), Edwin A. Blum, “2 Peter,” in Expositors Bible Commentary 12:255-289, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1981), Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Box F. Downers Grove, Illinois:Inter-Varsity Press, 1970).

2 Although canonicity and authorship are not synonymous, there are often related since one of the main reasons for accepting a book in the early church was its apostolic authorship or authorization (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12 (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12:257). It is possible for one to not hold to Petrine authorship of this Epistle and still hold to its canonical value (cf. J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 235; Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 158-162).

3 Guthrie, NTI, 814

4 Guthrie, NTI, 814.

5 Geisler, An Introduction to the New Testament, 189, 191, 193.

6 Blum notes, “Because of the letter’s brevity, governmental persecutions of the early churches, and communication problems in the ancient world, the lack of a long tradition for 2 Peter is hardly surprising. If the letter had been sent to an area not in the main travel routes or one that suffered sudden persecutions, normal circulation patterns may have been hindered” (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12 (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12: 258).

7 Second Peter 3:8 is used in Pseudo-Barnabas 15:4.

8 Second Peter 2:6-9 is quoted in 1 Corinthians 11:1 by Clement of Rome.

9 Origen is usually the pivotal Church Father in this discussion because reviews of the evidence usually begin with the statement that “the Epistle was not certainly known until his time and the authenticity becomes immediately suspect, especially as he also mentions doubts held by some about it (Guthrie, NTI, 815). However, he cites the epistle six times and as Guthrie writes, “It is a fair assumption, therefore, that Origen saw no reason to treat these doubts as serious, and this would seem to imply that in his time the Epistle was widely regarded as canonical” (Ibid.)

Origen wrote, “Peter...has left one acknowledged epistle, and, it may be, a second also; for it is doubted” (Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.8).

10 He placed this epistle among the Antilegomena making clear that the majority accepted this epistle along with James and Jude, but that he has doubts about it because writers whom he respected did not regard it as canonical, and because it was not quoted (by name?) by the ‘ancient presbyters’ (cf. Ecclesiastical History, 3.3.1-4; 25.3-4).

11 He unreservedly accepted this epistle along with the other Catholic Epistles, but he notes that doubts about its authenticity do exist (Scriptorium Ecclesiasticorum 1, Letter to Hedibia (Epist. 120.11).

12 Guthrie, NTI, 816-17.

13 This also omits Hebrews, James and 1 Peter.

14 This also omits 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

15 Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12:158.

16 Blum writes, “If 1 Peter was written by Peter with the assistance of Silvanus, 2 Peter could either be in Peter’s own style or in his style with the assistance of a different amanuensis. Moreover, stylistic arguments are hard to evaluate because the criteria for the identify of distinctiveness of writes are not settled” (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12 (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12: 258; Bruce, The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 10--11; Guthrie, NTI, 839).

17 Guthrie writes, “A mitigating factor, which has all too often been overlooked, is the influence of the pseudo-Petrine literature upon Church opinion. If Gnostic groups had used Peter’s name to drive home their own particular tenets, this fact would cause the orthodox Church to take particular care not to use any spurious Petrine Epistles. Some of the more nervous probably regarded 2 Peter suspiciously for this reason, but the fact that it ultimately gained acceptance in spite of the pseudo-Petrine literature is an evidence more favourable to its authenticity than against it, unless the orthodox Church Fathers had by this time become wholly undiscerning, which is not, however, borne out by the firm rejection of other works attributed to Peter” (Guthrie, NTI, 818).

18 See “The Relationship of Jude and 2 Peter” below.

19 Blum writes, “He lived about five miles from the region of the Greek league of ten cities known as Decapolis. We do not know whether he was bilingual or how much he learned between the Resurrection and his martyrdom. Nor do we know whether Peter has help in writing his letter. Just as today a high government official uses a speech writer, though the final product is the official’s responsibility, so 2 Peter may have been drafted by an amanuensis ...” (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12: 259).

20 Blum writes, “The collecting of Paul’s letters would have begun as soon as a church or some influential person recognized their value. Paul’s instruction about exchanging letters (cf. Col. 4:16) and their public reading (1 Thess. 5:27) would have facilitated the collection of his letters. That Luke and Timothy were traveling companions of Paul makes them likely collectors of his writings” (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12: 259).

21 Concerning the correlation of author and canonicity and those who choose to identify 2 Peter as pseudepigaphic and yet canonical, Blum writes, “If the book is unreliable in these statements, how can its teaching be accepted? Either 2 Peter is a genuine work of Simon Peter the apostle or it is an unreliable forgery” (Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12: 260). Continuing, “If epistolary pseudepigraphy was rejected by Christians [and it was], then who would have written this letter? Hardly a good man! If it had been a false teacher, what was his motivation? After all, the book does not seem to have any distinctive views that would require presentation under an assumed name” (Ibid., 261).

22 Most commentators agrees that the first epistle must be 1 Peter.

23 Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12:261.

24 See Guthrie, NTI, pp. 921-922.

25 But “long before” of Jude 4 probably refers to the book of Enoch as in verses 14-15, and in verse 17 one would expect Peter to be mentioned by name as James was in 1:1. Also verse 17 may have reference to sayings which the apostles endorsed (Guthrie, NTI, p. 923).

26 The present tense is used to describe false teachers in 2 Peter 2:10,17,18; 3:5.

27 See Green, Jude, pp. 54-55.

28 See Green Jude, pp. 53-54.

29 More technically, this is a “farewell address” (cf. Acts 20:17-38; 2 Timothy). Therefore, Peter seeks to remind his readers of the apostolic tradition (1:13) and to warning them about coming heretics (2:1-3) whose error is a sing of the last days (3:1ff). Peter desires to extend the apostolic tradition beyond his lifetime.

30 Peter is the epitome of apostolic authority as the “servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” who was at the mount of transfiguration (1:17) and received a revelation from Christ about his own personal death (1:14; cf. Jn. 21:18). Childs writes, “Peter is not just a figure of the past, but he now functions as a vehicle for extending the apostolic tradition, of which he is the chief representative, into the future” (The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, 470). Elsewhere Childs writes, “The function of Peter as the primary representative of the apostolic tradition is to extend this apostolic authority to the next generation after the apostle’s death. The apostle sets down in writing the authoritative tradition in order that his letter may continually ‘at any time’ remind the church of its message (1.15)” (Ibid., 471).

31 Guthrie writes, “since the future tense is mainly used, it must further be supposed that this Epistle is intended to have a preventative effect. The author wishes to strengthen these Christians in faith and practice so that they will be in a position to resist the ungodliness of these threatening false teachers. In this respect the occasion of 2 Peter differs from that of Jude, where the author is obliged to deal with the situation which has already arisen” (Guthrie, NTI, 850).

32 Blum, “2 Peter,” EBC, 12:263.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines