An Introduction

It could be said that 2 Peter is one of the most difficult books of the New Testament to study. The difficulty does not arise from the text itself, but from the mountain of skepticism and uncertainty that surround this book. Nearly every aspect of Peter’s second epistle has long been deeply debated. It has been said that more modern scholars deny 2 Peter’s place in the canon than any other New Testament book.[1] It has also been said that these denials tell us much more about modern scholarship than it does about the epistle in question.[2] By the middle of the 20th century it was no longer shocking to consider oneself an evangelical on the one hand and frankly deny Peter as the author of 2 Peter and cast shade upon the inspiration and inerrancy of the epistle on the other. The irony, of course, is that this letter was written to warn the church of such men. It is of little wonder that an epistle written as a warning to the bride of Christ against false teachers arising from within should receive such treatment from the wolves. The sad result, however, is that this letter has suffered long neglect from the sheep.

Doubting Authenticity

The grounds for doubting the genuineness of 2 Peter come from a variety of questions regarding the way the early church treated this letter. Yet all these questions arise from a presupposition of prejudice against Petrean authorship and can all be answered sufficiently and favorably if given a little thought.

The supposed similarities between 2 Peter and Clement’s (88-99 AD) two letters to the Corinthians is supposed to prove that 2 Peter draws on Christian writings from the late 1st century and therefore must be a 2nd century forgery.[3] In response one should notice that these similarities are assumed more than they are proven. Also, these similarities fail to demonstrate that 2 Peter relies on Clement, for Clement could just as easily be relying on 2 Peter. Finally, if Peter is writing from Rome (where Clement ministered) in the beginning of the second half of the 1st century, it would be quite natural for Clement to use the thoughts first put down by the apostle.

Peter’s appeal to Paul’s writings (3:15-16) supposedly assumes a complete collection of Paul’s letters in canonized form.[4] This of course would not be the case in the mid 60’s AD. There is however nothing in the text that would force this assumption, as Peter simply refers to some of Paul’s letters, many of which would have been known to his audience in Asia Minor (Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians at the very least).

The vast difference in style and word choice between 1 and 2 Peter supposedly points to two different authors. Even Calvin shared doubts concerning Petrean authorship on this point.[5] These differences can easily be accounted for by the drastic differences in the letters’ perspective purposes. 1 Peter was written to encourage the saints of Asia Minor to suffer for the sake of righteousness as elect aliens. 2 Peter is a warning against the coming false teachers from within. It is only natural that a different tone accompanied by a different vocabulary would be used to accommodate the need. One does not write a birthday card with the same verbiage as a last will and testament. The occasion dictates the language. Also, even if vocabulary analysis were a hard science (which it most certainly is not),the brevity of 2 Peter is hardly enough material to conduct a serious study.

While other questions remain, we will content ourselves with one more. 2 Peter’s lack of circulation seems to indicate that it did not exist until at least the 2nd century and would therefore be written by an imposter.[6] Here the critics seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouth. While it is true that 2 Peter receives much less attention from ancient writers than other New Testament books, we have already discussed the similarities between 2 Peter and Clements writings. There are also the obvious similarities between 2 Peter chapter 2 and Jude. Even if Jude wrote first (which he most certainly did not), it would not demand a 2nd century setting for 2 Peter. The slowness of which this letter gained acceptance can easily be explained in three ways. First, the content of the letter condemns and warns of false teachers rising from within the ranks of the church. It would be strange if these did not do everything in their power to cast doubt upon the letter’s authenticity. Second, it is generally accepted that this letter is at least portraying the final days of Peter. If he died soon after it was written, then he is not available to urge believers other than the recipients to read and apply his words. Third, with the rise of so many false letters about the life of the apostle Peter circulating the church in the 2nd century, the church would be naturally leery of a letter bearing any similarity to the forgeries. The fact that 2 Peter was recognized as canonical by the councils of Laodicea (372 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) is a testament to its genuineness, having stood the tests of much skepticism.

Suffice to say, there is no good reason to doubt that the apostle Peter wrote this letter and every reason to assume its rightful place in our canon. Those who attempt to cast doubt upon this fact reveal much more about their faithless and unbelieving hearts than they do about the text of 2 Peter.

Date of 2 Peter

It has long been the opinion of liberal scholars to assume that the author speaks of some lost letter in 3:1 rather than referring to 1 Peter.[7] This old lie has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of heresy to plague the church once again. The objection arises from the fact that 2 Peter could hardly be called a second appeal against false teachers, with 1 Peter being the original. There is little to nothing mentioned in 1 Peter about false teachers and next to nothing in 2 Peter about sanctified suffering. The two letters are simply too different to have 2 Peter 3:1-2 form a bridge in between them. But if we lay aside our prejudice long enough to read the text, we will find that Peter makes no such claim. He simply states that this is his second attempt to remind his readers concerning what the prophets of old and the apostles of Jesus Christ have said. There is no reason why 1 Peter, with its copious Old Testament quotations and allusions, couldn’t be indicated by this reference. This, taken together with Peter’s premonition of his approaching death (1:14), places this letter as being written shortly after 1 Peter as early as the autumn/winter of 64 AD or as late as 68 AD.

Peter’s Location

It has been well attested that the apostle wrote his first epistle from Rome, likely at a time shortly after the great fire and subsequent persecutions (July 64 AD). It is accepted church history that Peter would be martyred in this same city no later than 68 AD. Because we have no indication that Peter left Rome in this unknown gap of time between the writing of his first epistle and his death, it is safe to assume that his second letter was also written from this ancient capital.

Peter’s Audience

While we wish he would have been as explicit as he was in 1 Peter by naming the various churches to which he sent his letter, we can still discern Peter’s target audience. We have already mentioned 3:1-2 to determine the order in which Peter wrote his two epistles. But if we take the previous letter to refer to 1 Peter, these verses assume that Peter writes to the same audience as before. This letter is therefore written to the predominantly Gentile churches of the five provinces of Asia Minor (1 Pet. 1:1).

Peter’s Purpose

While the warning against false teachers permeates the whole of this letter, we turn once again to 3:1-2 to understand the full purpose for which Peter writes. It is essential in Peter’s mind that his readers be reminded of the prophets and the commandments of Jesus as uttered by the apostles. Peter points his readers toward the Scripture with the earnestness of a dying man. All the various themes that run throughout this letter (knowing the faith, the Day of the Lord, false teachers, etc.) can be boiled down to this one desire. Peter writes this letter as his final reminder to never neglect the prophets or the commandments of Christ (the Old and New Testament). Every malady that poses threat to the church can be avoided or disarmed if the people are grounded in the Scriptures.

[1] Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 139. [2] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 254. [3] Ibid, p. 258. [4] Ibid. [5] Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006), p. 122, n. 6. [6] D. Edmond Hiebert, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greensville, South Carolina: BJU Press, 1989), p. 6. [7] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 237-8.