The Letters of Peter

Second Peter

Blaine Robison, M.A.

 Published 27 April 2016; Revised 10 September 2018

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Scripture Text: Scripture quotations may be taken from different versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the author.

Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited and resources consulted may be found at the end of the article.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Judah (Jude), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament). The abbreviation LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.

Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."

1. Creation │ 2. Composition │ 3. Content │ 4. Conundrum │ 5. Contribution

1. Creation

For an overview of the chronology of Peter's life see Simon Peter: Fisherman-Apostle.

Correspondent

The second letter introduces the author as "Simon Peter" (1:1). Peter's birth name in Hebrew was Shimôn ("he has heard"), and in 1:1 he transliterates his name in Greek according to the Hebrew form, Sumeōn, or Simeon. This is the same spelling used by Jacob at the Jerusalem meeting of leaders (Acts 15:14). Elsewhere in the apostolic narratives Simon's name appears 59 times as Grk. Simōn (e.g., Matt 4:18; Mark 1:16; Luke 4:38; John 1:40; Acts 10:5), but this spelling of the name does not occur in the LXX at all.

In the Tanakh the Heb. name Shimôn appears for the first time as the second son of Jacob and Leah (Gen 29:33). His name is translated in the LXX as Sumeōn. Then the tribe descended from him bore his name, which eventually had its territory within the area assigned to the tribe of Judah. It's possible that the apostle Simon was named in honor of the patriarch. Simon was a common name in Jewish culture, and the fact that nine men in the Besekh bear this name may explain the use of the combination name "Simon Peter," which occurs twenty times, all but three in the Book of John. In spite of having three names, Peter is always addressed in personal conversation as Simon (Matt 16:17; 17:25; Mark 14:37; Luke 5:4; 22:31; John 21:15, 16, 17).

Office

This letter identifies Simon Peter as a servant (Grk. doulos; Heb. ebed) of Yeshua the Messiah. Other epistles in the Besekh also introduce the author in the same manner: Paul (Rom 1:1), Jacob (Jas 1:1), Judah (Jude 1:1) and John (Rev 1:1). In ordinary usage doulos referred to being the property of an owner and master. Peter's self-identification as a servant is consistent with the usage of the title by the great Hebrew and Jewish heroes of the faith in the Tanakh who considered themselves servants of God the King. Being a servant of Yeshua meant that Peter was utterly devoted to his Lord and was ready to obey whatever his Lord might direct.

Personal Elements

Second Peter, like the first letter, contains a few personal details. Peter speaks about his anticipated death (1:14-15, 20), based on the fact of Yeshua's prophecy (John 13:36; 21:18). Peter no doubt was constantly aware that he was living on borrowed time. Indeed, in 1:12 he speaks of the future in an indefinite manner, saying "I will always be ready to remind you," a clause that is in the future tense.

In regards to his death Peter uses the Greek word exodos ("departure"), which appears only three times in the Besekh. In Luke 9:31 exodos occurs in the context of the Transfiguration in which Moses and Elijah were discussing with Yeshua his "departure" from the world. Paul uses the word exodos in Hebrews 11:22 for the time when Joseph in Egypt speaks of the future exodus of the Israelites from Egypt gave instructions concerning his bones. Consistent with the usage of exodos, Peter apparently viewed his death as departing this world for a better world.

In his first letter Peter spoke of the resurrection of Yeshua (1Pet 1:3; 5:1), but in this letter he refers to his presence as an eyewitness at the transfiguration of Yeshua and the bat qol, message spoken from heaven (2Pet 1:16-18). Stern says that like Moses, Peter encountered God on a holy mountain. Stern suggests that Peter testifies here to his own personal experience with Yeshua (1) in order to establish his credentials as a reliable interpreter of prophecy (1:19–21), and (2) to contrast the historical veracity of the events of Yeshua's life, death and resurrection with the cunningly contrived myths and "fabricated stories" (2:3) used by the false prophets (758).

In 3:15 Peter displays personal knowledge of Paul and letters he wrote, of which he acknowledges they contain some things hard to understand, but he nonetheless regards them as Scripture.

Congregation

Peter makes it clear that he wrote the second letter to the same disciples as received the first letter (3:1). In other words, the recipients of the letter were disciples of Yeshua residing in Asia Minor. The congregations consisted of Messianic Jews, proselytes and God-fearing Gentiles. Peter describes his readers as being beneficiaries of God's faithfulness along with those who first experienced Pentecost (1:1). They are "beloved" to him (3:1, 8, 14, 17). They are not "babes in Messiah," but mature disciples knowledgeable of all the virtues to be developed in a godly character (1:12).

Circumstances

Why

Peter's reason for writing the letter is not difficult to determine. He had three main purposes in mind, coincidental to the division of the three chapters. First, he desired to exhort disciples to focus on developing spiritual virtues. Whatever may happen in the world and whatever might happen to him, the disciples of Yeshua must prioritize their attention to becoming like their Master. Second, he desired to warn the disciples that like false prophets of the past false teachers would arise within the Body of Messiah and introduce destructive heresies and abandon Torah standards of holiness and righteousness. He likens these enemies of God to the fallen angels (2:4), the wicked population of Noah's time (2:5), the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6) and the pagan prophet Balaam (2:15).

Third, Peter desires to encourage confidence in the fulfillment of Yeshua's promise of the Second Coming (3:3-4). He assures his readers that the Day of the Lord will come and in the meantime they must be patient and keep a holy character. Unlike his first letter Peter is not concerned with the sufferings associated with being a follower of Yeshua. His desire is to combat an infection happening in the Body of Messiah. In First Peter the adversaries were unbelievers in the surrounding culture. In this letter the adversaries are members of the congregations.

Where

Peter makes no mention of his location when he wrote the letter, as he did of the first letter, and no opinion is offered on the subject by the church fathers. Modern scholars that accept Peter's authorship assume that he wrote it in Rome shortly before his death, but there is no evidence to support this thesis. He could just have easily written it while en route to Rome, perhaps in Corinth where he is known to have had some ministry.

When

Conservative scholars accepting Peter's authorship generally date the letter 65-67 A.D., during the pogrom of Nero against disciples of Yeshua. Yet, Peter makes no mention of Nero, nor any specific ruling authority. There is no mention of any persecution, not in Rome and not in the empire. He does not even mention the famous fire in Rome that gave Nero an excuse for his pogrom against believers. This may be an argument from silence, but it is a loud silence. Peter would not have arrived in Rome earlier than 63. Otherwise we would expect Luke to have mentioned his arrival at the end of his Acts narrative. If the letter was written from Rome, then the year 63 or early in 64 before the great fire is a more likely time period. However, the letter could just have easily been written while Peter was en route to Rome.

The date for Peter's second letter is generally assumed to be near the time of his martyrdom, since he appears to describe his expectation of death as "imminent" (1:14). Yet his anticipation of death is mitigated by the fact that in 1:12 he said that he would always be ready to remind his readers of spiritual virtues. Moreover, there is no sense of having "finished the course" as Paul wrote to Timothy (2Tim 4:7; cf. Acts 20:24). As long as Peter was alive he would continue to provide spiritual leadership to his beloved disciples. He had lived for many years with the knowledge of Yeshua's prophecy of martyrdom (John 21:18), but this letter indicates a recent reminder by special revelation.

The term he uses of his death in 1:14 is the adjective tachinos, which occurs only in Second Peter (also 2:1). Danker defines tachinos as "happening within a brief time, about to take place." Mounce adds, "impending, near at hand." But, how near is "near?" The adjective is part of the word group which occurs in Revelation of the Second Coming: tachos, "in a short time, soon," (Rev 1:1; 22:6; cf. Rom 16:20); and tachus "within a short time, soon," (Rev 22:7, 12, 20). Given the lengthy delay of the Second Coming commentators have concluded that "soon" speaks of the rapidity of carrying out the action. In other words the terms refer more to how long events take to be completed once started than how long until they begin. Most versions translate tachinos as "soon." The adjective occurs only twice in the Besekh, both in this letter.

So, Peter does not intend tachinos in the sense of how many days that would transpire until the day of his death. Rather, tachinos defines the verb of "putting off" the fleshly tent. He expects to die quickly and in a violent manner. He will not die of a lingering disease or declining health. Right now he has a vital ministry. He does not know when his last day will be. But he knows that when God says its time to lay aside his earthly tent it will happen quickly. The meaning of the word tachinos is evident from its usage in 2:1 in reference to the judgment that will fall on false prophets (cf. Prov 29:1). Given this understanding of tachinos, the letter could have been written as early as 61-62 as Robinson suggests, but not in Rome.

2. Composition

Construction

Like Peter's first letter Second Peter is organized in a commonly used form with an introduction (1:1-2), body (1:3−3:18) and conclusion with a doxology (3:18). The letter includes 58 words not found in any other apostolic writing (including First Peter), 48 of which are hapax legomena, a Latin expression meaning words that occur only once in the Besekh. Kruger gives the total count of hapax legomena as 57 based on E.M.B. Green (656). For the list of specific words see the monograph by Mike Barnes. The vocabulary includes many significant theological words, all rich in meaning. Not always considered by commentators is that all of these words have their origin in the Tanakh and Jewish usage. Christianity did not invent any of these words. Unlike his first letter for which he had the help of Silvanus (1Pet 5:12), Peter penned this letter himself (3:1).

Criticism

Some scholars in applying the principles of literary criticism assume a late date for the composition of the letter after the time of Peter, even into the second century. Barclay lists these points (286-288):

• "There is no mention of the Church as the true Israel [sic]."

COMMENT: This belief is not a teaching of the apostles, but a doctrine of the church fathers, otherwise known as replacement theology. The absence of this belief supports Peter's authorship.

• "It is wholly different in character and style from First Peter. … The Greek style is very difficult. … it is the only book in the New Testament which is improved by translation."

COMMENT: Yes, the difference in style was recognized very early. Jerome (d. 420 AD) said that Peter, "wrote two epistles which are called Catholic, the second of which, on account of its difference from the first in style, is considered by many not to be by him" (Lives of Illustrious Men, Chap. I). Modern scholars in discussing the different style of Second Peter characterize it as everything from good Asiatic Greek to cumbersome stilted Greek (Serrão 316). The fact that the letter is written in Greek is prima fascia evidence that Peter did know Greek, albeit Jewish Greek. Actually the syntax is not unlike Hebrew, which would support the idea that Peter wrote it himself. Hebrew was his first language and translating his thoughts into Greek was perhaps hard work for him. (See my web article The New Testament in Hebrew.) The cultured philosophers of Athens would have probably considered the Greek of Second Peter to be barbarous, but then what mattered is that the recipients of the letter would understand Peter's message.

• "Men had begun to abandon hope of the Second Coming (3:4)."

COMMENT: As Blum notes, the problem of the delay of the Parousia was most certainly a first-century problem. John 21:20-23 shows that Yeshua's return was a live issue when John wrote his book and other texts show a similar interest at an earlier time (cf. Matt 25:1-13; Acts 1:6-11; 2Th 2:1-4; Heb 9:28). Moreover, Peter does not say the mockers were already present. He said "in the last days mockers will come." He did not say that the "last days" were already present.

"The apostles are spoken of as figures of the past (3:2)."

COMMENT: Again, this misstates what Peter actually said. He wanted his readers (Messianic Jews) to remember two things that had been spoken beforehand: first, the words of the prophets, most likely the literary prophets (cf. 1:20-21); and, second, the instruction of Yeshua spoken through the apostles. Considering the context Peter is referring to what had been prophesied by the Hebrew prophets and Yeshua concerning the Day of the Lord. Yeshua's teaching is contained in his Olivet Discourse, which the apostles dutifully passed on. Peter does not exclude himself from the reference to apostles.

"The reference to Peter's approaching death looks very like a reference to Jesus' prophecy in John 21:18, 19, and the Fourth Gospel was not written until about A.D. 100."

COMMENT: Literary critics often state their assumptions as if they were facts. The evidence is strong that John wrote his testimony of Yeshua well before A.D. 70. See my article Witnesses of the Good News concerning the dating of the apostolic narratives. Peter's mention of a revelation of his death does not date the letter.

"There is the reference to the letters of Paul (3:15-16) … they are public property, and furthermore they are regarded as Scripture on a level with the other Scriptures. It was not until at least A.D. 90 that these letters were collected and published and it would take many years for them to acquire the position of sacred Scripture."

COMMENT: Such a claim does not support a late date for the letter, because Yeshua had given the apostles the authority to "bind" and "loose" in his name so that whatever they wrote would be as authoritative and inspired as if Yeshua had written it down himself. Also the reference to Paul's letters does not refer to all the letters but only to those sent to the recipients of Peter's letter, as made clear in the phrase "wrote to you." These letters could include those sent to Galatia, Ephesus, Colossae, Laodicea (Col 4:16) and Philemon. It's really irrelevant when Paul's letters were considered Scripture to second century Christians. Peter considered them Scripture and that is all that matters.

The Viewpoint of the Letter

The writer declares himself to be "Simon Peter" (1:1) a purposeful use of his Hebrew name and Aramaic name (transliterated into Greek) to give clear identification, as well as asserting his apostleship. He recalls how the Lord spoke to him about his death (1:14) and refers to his presence as an eyewitness at the transfiguration of Yeshua (1:16-18). In 3:1 he specifically says, "I am writing to you" and claims this letter to be the second to his readers. He says that Paul is his "beloved brother" (3:15), a present reality. These statements should be taken at face value. As Blum says, if the book is unreliable in these statements, how can its teaching be accepted? Either Second Peter is a genuine work of Simon Peter the apostle or it is an unreliable forgery.

Concordance with Judah

Most scholars point out similarities of Peter's second letter to the letter of Judah ("Jude"). Tenney summarized four approaches to the similarity issue with analysis of their relative value (370f):

1. The two letters have no relationship except as they are addressed to people facing the same situation. This solution does not explain adequately the minute verbal similarities.

2. The two letters were paraphrased from some common source. This solution is improbable, since both authors were capable of originating the content of their letters. Theorizing a third unknown letter adds to the confusion.

3. Peter took much of the data from Judah. Judah's references to history are more exact and circumstantial, and his organization is clearer. It would seem the shorter letter would be quoted by the longer, rather than the shorter should be condensed from the longer.

4. Judah was stimulated to write his letter by seeing Peter's letter, but organized his independently. Tenney, as well as many other scholars, favors this approach.

Thirteen passages of Second Peter are identified as containing similarities to the letter of Judah (Fruchtenbaum 390).

2Pet 1:5

Jude 1:3

2Pet 2:1

Jude 1:4

2Pet 2:4

Jude 1:6

2Pet 2:6-7

Jude 1:7

2Pet 2:10

Jude 1:8

2Pet 2:11

Jude 1:9

2Pet 2:12

Jude 1:10

2Pet 2:13

Jude 1:12

2Pet 2:15

Jude 1:11

2Pet 2:17

Jude 1:12-13

2Pet 2:18

Jude 1:16

2Pet 3:2

Jude 1:17

2Pet 3:3

Jude 1:18

We should also note the similarity of 2Peter 1:2 and Judah 1:2.

Contrast with Judah

Upon examining these passages we find there are at least 20 words or expressions the two letters have in common and used in parallel constructions. However, the Greek text of these parallel passages only indicates a similarity of theme. The parallel verses do not contain an exact repetition of phrases in terms of word order much less entire verses. The differences in the presentation of data are just as striking as the similarities. In contrast, there are over a dozen words unique to Judah not found elsewhere in the Besekh, and Second Peter has over 50 unique words, including in supposedly borrowed passages. There are only two unique words that appear only in Second Peter and Judah: huperogkos, ('pompous words,' 2Pet 2:18; Judah 1:16) and empaiktēs ('mocker,' 2Pet 3:3; Judah 1:18). "Verbal similarities," as noted by Tenney, does not necessarily prove dependence of either apostle on the other.

We should consider contrasts between the two letters. First, Peter identifies himself as a servant of Yeshua and an apostle (2Pet 1:1) whereas Judah identifies himself simply as a servant of Yeshua (1:1). Second, Peter is concerned about false prophets and false teachers, but Judah never uses the terminology of "prophets" or "teachers." For Judah the objects of condemnation are "the ungodly," which provides a wider range of possible adversaries. Third, the eschatological perspective of the two letters, while complementary, is very different. They use very different terminology to describe the final consummation. Fourth, Peter mentions only two of the nine names mentioned in Judah (Yeshua and Balaam) and includes Noah and Paul who are not named in Judah. Fifth, while Judah alludes to stories found in the Tanakh he does not quote from the Tanakh as Peter does.

There is no doubt of considerable affinity between the two letters. The argument that Judah was inspired by Peter is based largely on the fact that Peter describes "false teachers" as coming and Judah notes that the "ungodly" are already present. Assigning a date to the letter of Judah is difficult. (See my article Introduction to Judah.) Both letters could have been written in the early 60s. Yet the "ungodly" in the camp of whom Judah speaks had long been a problem in the Body of Messiah. (Only consider Paul's letters to Corinth.) If Judah had simply used the term of "false teachers" the matter would be settled. I am inclined to give Judah an earlier date than Second Peter, meaning that Peter had read Judah's letter as it circulated in the Diaspora and found some elements that could be useful in his own letter.

3. Content

Character

The letter contains no story narrative, but is entirely hortatory material. He acknowledges that he writes things his readers already know (1:12), but it is still for their benefit. The letter contains no specific commendation of the recipients, but there is considerable condemnation of anticipated false teachers within the Body of Messiah. Remarkable about the short letter is the recounting of creation and providential miracles recorded in Scripture: the creation of the cosmos, the destruction of the world by water, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by heavenly fire, the talking donkey and the transfiguration of Yeshua.

Chapters

Chapter 1: Cultivation of Character

Salutation, 1:1-2

Partakers of the Divine Nature, 1:3-12.

Peter's Anticipation of Death, 1:13-15.

Remembrance of the Transfiguration, 1:16-18

Divine Inspiration of Scripture, 1:19-21.

Chapter 2: Condemnation of Sin in the Camp

Prophecy of False Teachers, 2:1-3

Judgment in Primeval Days, 2:4-5

Judgment in Patriarchal Days, 2:6-8

The Depraved Character of Adversaries, 2:9-22

Chapter 3: Confidence of Messiah’s Return

The Teaching of the Apostles, 3:1-2

The Beginning and End of the Earth, 3:3-7

The Patience of the Lord, 3:8-9

The Day of the Lord, 3:10-14

The Witness of Paul, 3:15-16

Final Exhortation, 3:17-18a

Doxology 3:18b

Condemnation

Peter offers a lengthy chastisement of two groups of adversaries. First, he prophesies the coming of "false teachers," who will introduce destructive heresies (2:1; Grk. hairesis). A heresy refers to an association based on shared principles or beliefs that deviate from orthodox beliefs and thereby introduce friction, discord, and contention within the Body of Messiah. Heresy would be comparable to Paul's concept of demonic doctrines (1Tim 4:1). Peter does not detail the actual content of the false doctrine, but rather focuses on the character of the false teachers. The false teachers are indicted with the following offenses: (1) they promote "clever myths" and "false words" instead of truth (1:16; 2:3); (2) the pursue a hedonistic and immoral lifestyle (2:2, 13, 18); (3) they are greedy (2:3); (4) they slander celestial beings, which may be tantamount to ridiculing the belief in angels (2:10); (5) they lack the intelligence of animals (2:12).

Second, he prophesies the coming of "mockers" (3:3). These adversaries ridicule trust in Yeshua's promise to return (3:3-4). They are incapable of learning from history (3:5-6). They distort the eschatological instruction of Paul and the rest of Scripture (3:16). They are unprincipled men who have fallen from the grace of God (3:17). The mockers treat the biblical account of creation and the story of the deluge of Noah's time as myths. They have a uniformitarian view of history; nothing has changed since the beginning. (Sound familiar?) Thus, they cannot conceive that a God of love would destroy the world with fire. They are complacent in their smug disbelief and so the Day of the Lord will catch them unawares.

The future tense of the verbs predicting the coming of the false teachers (2:1; 3:3) does not mean they were not already present. The description of their character and activity is quite detailed and gives the impression of personal knowledge. In fact, Simon Magus whom Peter had to contend with in Samaria and later in Rome during his first visit there could be the model for the false teachers and mockers. Peter also devotes considerable ink to speaking of God's judgment on the wicked (2:1-10; 3:7, 10-12). He uses the stories of the punishment of the wicked in the time of Noah and Lot to illustrate his point, just as Yeshua had done (Luke 17:26-32).

Commandments

The letter contains several verbs in the imperative mood that constitute authoritative instructions that disciples are obligated to obey. Instructions taken from the Tanakh underscore the authority of the Tanakh for the disciple of Yeshua.

1:5 in your faithfulness "supply" moral excellence.

1:10 "be diligent" to make certain of Yeshua's calling.

3:8 "do not let it escape your notice" that the present universe is reserved for fire.

3:14 "be diligent" to be found in peace, spotless and blameless.

3:15 "regard" the patience of our Lord as salvation.

3:17 "be on your guard" not to be carried away by error.

3:18 "keep growing" in the grace and knowledge of Yeshua.

Citations

Peter's instruction is grounded in the Tanakh.

Tanakh Quotation

2:22 "A dog returns to its own vomit," from Proverbs 26:11.

Tanakh Allusions

1:19 "morning star" a Messianic title of Yeshua (Num 24:17; Job 38:7).

1:19 "lamp shining in a dark place" (Ps 119:105; John 5:35).

2:1- "false prophets arose" could allude to any number of Bible characters in the history of Israel, such the false prophets spoken of by Jeremiah (Jer 5:31; 14:14); Ezekiel (Ezek 13:9).

2:1- "Master," a title used of YHVH by Abraham (Gen 18:3, 13).

2:5 "Noah, a herald of righteousness" (Gen 6:8-9; 7:1; Ezek 14:14; Heb 11:7; Josephus, Ant. I, 3:1).

2:5 "Noah…with seven others" (Gen 7:23).

2:5 "He brought a deluge upon the world of the ungodly" (Gen 6:13, 17; 7:21-23; 8:21).

2:6 "He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah" (Gen 18:20-23; 19:12-13; 24).

2:7f "He rescued righteous Lot", nephew of Abraham (Gen 19:1-9).

2:15 "Balaam, son of Beor" (Num 22:5).

2:16 "a mute donkey" who was divinely enable to speak in the story of Balaam (Num 22:21).

3:4 "our fathers," a reference to the patriarchs.

3:5 "the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the Word of the Lord" (Gen 1:2-9).

3:6 "at that time the world having been deluged with water was destroyed" (Gen 7:6, 10-11, 17-24).

3:10 "Day of the Lord," referring to the day of God's judgment on the nations (Ezek 30:3; Joel 2:31-32; 3:14; Zeph 1:15-16; Zech 12:10-14; Mal 4:5).

3:7, 10, 12 "present heavens and earth reserved for fire," referring to the final judgment (Isa 13:13; 24:6; 51:6; 66:15)

3:8 "thousand years" as one day (Ps 90:4).

3:13 "new heavens and new earth" (Isa 65:17; 66:22).

Culture

Peter presents some ideas common to Jewish thinking of the time:

In 1:2 Peter wishes "peace" for his readers. Shalom was a common greeting among Jews.

In 1:11 the "eternal kingdom" alludes to the Jewish belief in the life that begins with the age to come, the Messianic age.

In 1:20-21 Peter presents the Jewish belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture. He notes that the Scriptures were not initiated by man, but by God. "God spoke and man wrote." All the Scriptures constitute prophecy, because prophecy includes both forth-telling and foretelling. In fact, the bulk of the Tanakh was written by prophets, Moses to Malachi. Even writings of David and the Levites were considered a form of prophesying (1Chr 25:1-2; Matt 11:13).

In 2:4 he says "God did not spare the angels" in reference to the judgment of God on angels who rebelled against Him. Josephus says of this belief "Many angels of God accompanied with women and begat sons that proved unjust" (Ant. I, 3:1). Enoch records that 200 angels rebelled against God, forsook their place in heaven and descended to earth and there took wives from human women (1Enoch 6:6; 7:1-6). The punishment of the fallen angels is recounted by Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Chap. IV. However, Peter does not depict any intimacy between angels and humans, only the fact of God's judgment. For more discussion on this topic see my commentary on Judah 1:6.

Also in 2:4 Peter uses the Greek verb tartaroō, "cast down to the abyss," which reflects the Jewish belief that upon death the unsaved go to an intermediate place beneath the earth. The verb is related to the Greek noun Tartaros, the name in Greek mythology of a place under the earth reserved for punishment of the wicked. This idea is reflected in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:23), in which the rich man goes to Hades. John was later given a vision of the bottomless pit (see my commentary on Rev 9:1-3). Actually the first detailed description of the wicked in the bottomless pit occurs in Ezekiel 32. See the monograph attributed to Josephus, Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades. Henry Morris suggests that the Pit lies deep in the interior of the earth at its center and could be deemed bottomless because every direction would be a ceiling (The Revelation Record, Tyndale Pub., 1983; p. 157).

In 2:22 Peter quotes a common cultural expression, "a sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire." Dogs and pigs, both unclean animals, are mentioned together in Matthew 7:6.

In 3:4-8 Peter provides a summary of earth history that appears to allude to Jewish Chiliasm. According to this belief, just as there were six days of creation so there will be six thousand years of the earth until the advent of the seventh or Sabbath millennium, the age of the Messiah. This belief is found in the early writing Epistle of Barnabas XV, as well as the Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a-b.

4. Conundrum

Peter says some things that, not unlike Paul, are puzzling and contrary to conventional thinking among modern Christian scholars. However, Peter's words were inspired of the Holy Spirit and may be taken in a straightforward manner. Those that disagree with Peter are wrong.

Global Deluge

"and spared not the primeval world, but preserved one of eight, Noah, a herald of righteousness, having brought a deluge upon on the world of the ungodly." (2:5 BR)

"through which at that time the world having been deluged with water was destroyed." (3:6 BR)

Many scholars believe the narrative of Genesis 6−8 describes a localized flood affecting a small population, principally in Mesopotamia. However, the Genesis narrative clearly depicts a global cataclysm and Peter unequivocally affirms the inundation of the earth during the lifetime of Noah. Peter uses the noun kataklusmos (from which we get 'cataclysm'), which in Scripture occurs only in texts of the deluge in Noah's time (Matt 24:38, 39; Luke 17:27) and in the LXX to translate Heb. mabbul, which is only used of that deluge (Gen 6:17; 7:7, 10, 17; 9:11, 28; 10:1, 32; 11:10; Ps 29:10). The global deluge is also mentioned in Job 12:14-15 and Psalm 104:6-9.

Jews in the time of Peter accepted the narrative of the deluge as evidenced by the recounting of it by Josephus (Ant. I, 3:1-9) and Philo (Concerning Noah's Work as a Planter XI; Questions and Answers on Genesis I:87-91). To understand the science of the deluge and the ark I recommend John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, The Genesis Flood, Baker Book House, 1961.

Righteous Lot

"and having rescued righteous Lot, being oppressed by the licentious conduct of the lawless, 8 for in seeing and in hearing that righteous man dwelling among them was tormented in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds." (2:7-8 BR)

Peter describes Lot as righteous. Christians tend to have a pejorative view of Lot, considering where he chose to live (Gen 13:12). This means, as Fruchtenbaum observes, that Christians couldn't live in San Francisco. Lot also fathered children by his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). Lot's righteousness is validated by Abraham's petition which asked God to spare the righteous from the destruction of the wicked cities (Gen 18:22-32), and Lot's actions upon arrival of the angels (Gen 19:1-8). The residents of Sodom also affirmed Lot's righteousness by saying, "This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge!" (Gen 19:9 ESV).

Lot's daughters had been betrothed (Gen 19:14), which in biblical times constituted a legal marriage. Why the sons-in-law did not go with Lot and their wives is not explained. In any event after Lot's sons-in-law were killed the daughters took matters into their own hands by inducing inebriation and laying with him. The motive for intimate relations was not lust, but probably fear that no man would have them, assuming them to be cursed because of coming from Sodom (Gen 19:31).

Since Lot was the nearest male relative, the reasoning of his daughters to become pregnant by him is understandable and completely in accord with the customs of ancient peoples. The prohibition of intimate relations or marriage between a father and daughter (Lev 18:6) are not applied ex post facto, or retroactively. So Lot and his daughters cannot be charged with sin. Noteworthy is that Scripture contains no censure of them and God later instructed Israel not to harm Lot's descendants (Deut 2:9, 19).

The Lord Coming as a Thief

"But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief" (3:10 BR)

Some versions insert "in the night" but this addition is not supported by the earliest and best MSS. The thief metaphor occurs in several passages (Matt 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1Th 5:2, 4; Rev 3:3; 16:15) and is associated by Dispensationalists with the secret rapture. However, Peter connects the thief metaphor with the Day of the Lord when the heavens will pass away with a roar. The thief metaphor in these contexts cannot denote secrecy. That would be like saying you can have a quiet explosion. The thief metaphor actually denotes the unexpected timing of the coming. The fact that the thief metaphor is used in connection with the Day of the Lord means that it does not occur at a different time than the coming of Yeshua in which the resurrection occurs. See my web article The Rapture Debate.

Heavens and Earth Destroyed by Fire

"in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing sound, and the elements burning with heat will be destroyed, and the earth and the works in it will be recognized." (3:10 BR)

The way this verse is translated in some versions might give the impression that on the Day of the Lord the earth will be obliterated from existence, kind of like Alderaan in the movie Star Wars. Peter certainly depicts a cataclysmic destruction, but the corollary is the deluge of Noah's time. The deluge reshaped the planet surface into what we know today. The deluge did not obliterate the earth.

Peter also says the cataclysmic destruction will be followed by new heavens and a new earth (3:13). Yet, in Revelation the new heaven and new earth appear a thousand years after the Second Coming of Yeshua. Revelation twice describes the old earth and heavens as "passing away," just as Peter, yet only after the thousand years (Rev 20:11; 21:1). Peter says nothing about a millennial reign. The prophecies in Revelation depict horrendous devastation on the earth from the trumpet and bowl plagues, but the destruction of the old earth and heavens are described in tame language compared to Peter: "fled away" in Revelation 20:11 and "passed away" in Revelation 21:1.

Let's consider Peter's vocabulary. The verb "will pass away" (Grk. parerchomai) literally means to pass by, to come to an end or to disappear, and is also used in Matthew 5:18 and 24:35 (also the parallel sayings in Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33) to refer to the heaven and earth passing away. The noun "elements" (Grk. stoicheion) had four basic uses in apostolic times. It referred to (1) the elements of learning, such as the alphabet, or fundamental principles; (2) elemental substances from which everything is made and of which it is composed, i.e. the four elements of earth’s processes (earth, air, fire and water); (3) the elementary forms of religion or syncretistic religious tendencies; and (4) the heavenly bodies. The common usage of "elements" in the first century stressed the design of created things that function in some kind of order.

The verb "destroyed" (Grk. luō) literally means "to loose." Luō has many applications in the apostolic writings, including breaking up of a constructed structure (John 2:19) and as a root word for divorce (Matt 19:3). In its strongest usages luō can mean to destroy, abolish, bring to an end or do away with, meaning that the component parts come apart. The participle "burning with heat" (Grk. kausoō) means to be consumed by heat or to burn up. Rienecker notes that it may be intended to denote a blaze arising from internal heat, such as a volcano (2:436f). The verb (Grk. heuriskō) translated in many versions as "will be burned up," actually means to find or discover. The verb is applied to the "earth and its works." The earth, of course, has no works, so the phrase is a euphemism for humanity and all that man has built in recorded history (cf. 1Cor 3:13ff; 2Pet 3:4). Thus, some versions appropriately translate the verb as "exposed" (CEB, ESV, GW, NOG, NCV, TLV), which MSG clarifies as "exposed to the scrutiny of judgment."

By understanding the alternate meanings of the Greek words then it is reasonable to assume that Peter’s description of the Day of the Lord coincides with the vision given to John of the desolation that God brings on the earth in the seventh bowl of wrath (Rev 16:17-20), using the tectonic and volcanic forces of the earth to destroy and then to reshape its land surface into a plain as alluded to in Revelation 20:9. The earth as we know it will come to an end by fire at the Second Coming of Yeshua, just as the earth as Noah knew it for most of his life came to an end by means of the global deluge. Finally, Peter does not associate the expectation of new heavens and a new earth with the Day of the Lord, so the separation of these events in Revelation by a thousand years is consistent with Peter’s teaching.

Hastening the Day

"So, all these things are being destroyed, what kind of people ought you to be in holy conduct and piety, 12 expecting [Grk. prosdakaō, pres. part.], even eagerly awaiting [Grk. speudō, pres. part.], the coming of the day of God." (3:11-12 BR).

Many versions translate the Greek verb speudō as "hastening" or words to that effect(e.g., CEB, CJB, CSB, ESV, NASB, NEB, NET, NIV, NJB, NLT, NLV, NRSV, OJB, RSV, TLV), by which some interpreters have concluded that the date of the Second Coming/Day of the Lord is flexible and can be influenced by actions of God's people. Danker's lexicon assumes this meaning by saying that in this verse the verb means "to cause to arrive earlier." In other words, the date of the day of God is scheduled, but humans can make God change the date. However, Danker's definition of the verb is at odds with other lexicons and pits Peter against other biblical prophecy.

Thayer says the verb has two meanings: (1) to hasten, in the sense of physical motion (Luke 2:16; 19:5-6; Acts 20:16; 22:18); and (2) to desire earnestly (2Pet 3:12). Strong's Concordance gives the meaning as "hasten, hurry, i.e. urge on, diligently or earnestly; and by implication, to await eagerly." Mounce also defines Peter's use of the verb as "to be eager for the arrival of." Liddell and Scott include the meaning of "eagerness" for something in the usage of the verb in classical Greek writings (LSJ).

The Tanakh does speak occasionally of God hastening some prophetic event (Deut 32:35; Isa 16:5; 60:22; Hab 2:3). Yet, Isaiah characterizes the desire for God to hasten His promised action as wicked (Isa 5:19). God's "hastening" does not contradict or nullify His sovereign plan as Habakkuk says the "hastening" brings about the "appointed time." The real point of "hastening" is not the elapsed time until the promised event happens, but the speed with which it occurs once initiated. Yeshua's coming will be as fast as a lightning strike (Matt 24:27) and the blink of an eye (1Cor 15:52). Many other versions recognize the anticipation inherent in the meaning of speudō in Peter's exhortation and render the verb as "earnestly desiring" or words to that effect (ASV, AMP, AMPC, BBE, ERV, GW, HCSB, HNV, ICB, JUB, Lamsa, Mace-NT, MEV, MSG, MW, NCV, Phillips, REB, WEB, and Weymouth). I chose to convey the meaning with "eagerly awaiting," as qualifying the meaning of "expecting."

The arbitrary verse division probably contributed to misunderstanding Peter's statement. The two participles prosdakaō and speudō are characteristics that Peter exhorts the faithful disciples to manifest along with holy conduct and piety. These are actions of God's people, not the Lord. The timing of the Second Coming is sealed in the secret counsels of God. No one knows the day or hour (Matt 24:36) and it cannot be predicted. (Anyone who predicts a date for the Second Coming is a false prophet.) There is no hint in the apostolic writings that the Second Advent can be advanced, much less delayed or rescheduled. By the same token, the Second Coming will only happen after all biblical prophecies have been fulfilled.

The Day of God is not an isolated event but part of a chain of events (cf. Matt 13:49; 17:10-11; 24:14, 29; 2Th 2:3; Rev 20:4-5). To grant God's people the power to delay one part would of necessity affect the whole of what God revealed to Israel's prophets and the apostles. Peter's desire is that disciples will be eager to see their Lord and not dread that Day (cf. Rev 22:20). Conversely, followers of Yeshua are not so eager for the Second Coming in that it will condemn many unbelieving loved ones to judgment. There will be many tears to be wiped away whenever he does come (Rev 21:4).

5. Contribution

The letter of Second Peter is a natural continuation of Peter's first letter and makes a significant contribution to our understanding of apostolic theology.

God (Theology)

The word for God (Grk. theos) appears 7 times (1:1, 2, 17, 21; 2:4; 3:5, 12). He is "our God" (1:1) an allusion to God as the God of Israel. God has granted everything for godliness (1:3) and provided precious promises (1:4). We can partake of the divine nature, a concept unique to Peter (1:4). He is also the Father (1:17). God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth (3:5) and He is the Judge on the last day of the present age (3:12).

Messiah (Christology)

The name of Yeshua appears 9 times (1:1, 8, 11, 14, 16; 2:20; 3:18), his title of Messiah (Grk. Christos) 8 times (1:1, 8, 11, 14, 16; 3:18) and his title of Lord (Grk. kurios) 14 times (1:8, 14; 2:9, 20; 3:2, 8, 9, 15, 18). He is the Savior (1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18). He is the Savior (1:1) and the "beloved Son" (1:17). He is the Master (2:1; Grk. despotēs; Heb. adôn). He knows how to rescue the godly from temptation (2:9). Unlike his first letter Peter includes no references to the apostolic kerygma (proclamation) of Yeshua's suffering, atoning death, resurrection and ascension. Since he had already written about these matters in his first letter, he did not need to repeat these subjects. The readers would have been well aware of these basic doctrines.

Spirit (Pneumatology)

The Holy Spirit is mentioned once in 1:21 as the inspiring power behind the production of Scripture. In 1:5-7 Peter lists eight qualities to be developed in the disciple's character, three of which (faith, love and self-control) are found in Paul's list of fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Peter comments that having these qualities will ensure that the disciple is not "unfruitful." The Spirit would also be implied in his mention of creation out of water because the Spirit (Heb. Ruach) hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2). Also, the mention of the deluge implies the prophecy that the Ruach would not always strive with man (Gen 6:3).

Scripture (Bibliology)

Peter has a high regard for Scripture, given his allusions to the Tanakh. He affirms the divine inspiration of Scripture, especially the role of the Holy Spirit (1:20-21). Peter also affirms the writings of Paul as Scripture, while acknowledging that in them are some things hard to understand (3:15-16). His references to primeval and patriarchal history give support to the Tanakh as reliable in its historical narratives.

Community (Ecclesiology)

Noteworthy is the absence of the word ekklēsia ("church" in Christian versions) found so frequently in Paul's letters. The letter's recipients are simply "the beloved" (3:1). No mention of congregational polity is made.

Last Days (Eschatology)

Peter presents a shocking revelation of the future judgment of the earth, but completely in line with pronouncements of the Hebrew prophets. Peter uses several expression in his teaching concerning the end times: "eternal kingdom" (1:11); last days (3:3); Second Coming (3:4); Day of Judgment (3:7); Day of the Lord (3:10); Day of God (3:12). Peter provides a summary account of the end times, perhaps portending the complete revelation given to John some thirty years later. The key points are these:

• While we wait the heavens and earth are reserved for destruction by fire (3:7). This means is a contrast to the first destruction of the earth by water (3:6).

• The Day of the Lord will come at an unexpected time (3:10).

• On the Day of the Lord the heavens and earth will be destroyed (3:10, 12).

• Sometime after the catastrophe of the Day of the Lord there will be new heavens and a new earth (3:13; cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22).

Comparing 3:3 and 3:10 the Second Coming of Messiah Yeshua and the Day of the Lord are treated as coincidental events as Paul does (2Th 2:1-2). The Greek expression Hēmera Kurios, "Day of the Lord," corresponds to the Hebrew Yom YHVH. Since YHVH is Yeshua (John 8:58), the Day of the Lord is the Day of Yeshua (1Cor 5:5; Php 1:6, 10; 2:16), the day he returns. The exact expression "Day of the Lord" occurs only four times in the Besekh (Acts 2:20; 1Th 5:2; 2Pet 3:10). It is also the "Day of God" and the "Day of the Messiah."

Peter uses the noun parousia ("coming, presence," 3:4, 14), which is the principal word in the Besekh for the Second Coming and found in Matthew, Jacob ("James"), 1John, and five letters of Paul. He also uses the verb hēkō ("have come, be present, have arrived," 3:10) as Yeshua did to describe the unexpected nature of his Second Coming (Matt 24:14, 50; Luke 12:46).

Sin (Hamartiology)

Peter uses various words to describe evil character and behavior as would be defined by the Torah. These words include epithumia, inordinate desire (1:4; 2:10, 18; 3:3); phthora, corruption (1:4; 2:12, 19); hamartia, sin in the behavioral sense (1:9); aselgeia, sensuality (2:2, 7, 18); blasphēmeō, slander (2:2, 10, 12); pleonexia, covetousness (2:3, 14); hamartanō, do wrong (2:4); asebēs, ungodly (2:5, 6; 3:7), anomia, lawless (2:8); miasmos, defilement (2:10); kataphroneō, scorning authority (2:10); adikeō, act unjustly (2:13); adikia, unrighteousness (2:13, 15); entruphaō, reveling (2:13), apatē, deception (2:13), moichalis, adulterous (2:14); miasma, pollution (2:20); empaigmos, and scoffing (3:3).

For Peter sinning is not a mistake, but a willful behavior. Sin is rebellion against God. Peter offers no support for the notion that disciples must sin every day in thought, word and deed. He illustrates the seriousness of sin by defining it with the examples of the ungodly world of Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, Balaam and other false prophets. He warns that unrepentant sinning can result if falling from the secure state of salvation (3:17).

Salvation (Soteriology)

Peter does not write about the new birth or the basic steps to becoming a disciple of Yeshua. The typical words of forgiveness, mercy, adoption, born again, confession, etc. are not found in the letter. In this letter Peter is more concerned about avoiding the judgment of the Day of the Lord. Peter presents the desire of God for all people come to repentance (Grk. metanoia) to be saved (3:9). The word sōteria, salvation, occurs once in the letter (3:15) where he interprets it as the patience of Yeshua (cf. Rom 2:4; 9:22). Peter does not offer support for the concept of eternal security. He describes those who had a relationship with God were judged when they rebelled against God (2:1, 4). He warns his readers to guard themselves against heresies to prevent falling from their steadfast position (3:17).

Standards (Deontology)

Peter offers no comments on obeying specific behavioral commandments of the Torah. His focus is more internal, developing godly character. In 1:5-8 he names eight virtues that are named in the Torah for disciples to develop: faithfulness, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. These virtues are comparable to Paul's fruit of the Spirit.

Origins (Cosmogony)

The term "cosmogony" refers to the origin or development of the universe. Peter uses the expression of "beginning (Grk. archē) of creation (Grk. ktsis), which Yeshua also uses (Mark 10:6; 13:19). The use of archē reflects the LXX of Genesis 1:1, "in the beginning." Peter then provides a significant statement on how the earth came to be as it is: "the heavens were long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the Word of God." (3:5).

Peter affirms the creation of the heavens and the earth as presented in the Tanakh. Creation was the unilateral and independent decision and act of God. There was no chance involved. Creation was accomplished ex nihilo, lit. "out of nothing." God spoke matter into existence (Ps 33:9; Heb 11:3). The universe did not begin with matter already in existence as evolution teaches. Moreover, the speaking was by the Word (Grk. logos) of God, the same description found in John 1:1-3.

Creation was a water birth. Genesis expresses it this way, "The earth was unformed [Heb. tôhu] and void [Heb. bôhu], darkness was on the face of the Deep [Heb. tehôm], and the Spirit [Heb. Ruakh] of God hovered over the surface of the water [Heb. mayim]." (Gen 1:2). The Hebrew word tehôm is consistently connected to water in the Tanakh. Thus, the point of the description is that the Deep, a watery black hole, initially had no distinctive shape and nothing in a structural sense had yet been brought into being for habitation. Then, as Genesis 1:6-10 describes, God made a separation in the waters and from the waters He caused dry land to appear.

6. Conclusion

The letter of Second Peter, written by the great apostle, is inspired Scripture. Peter's object is to remind his readers of the importance of godly virtues, as well as warn them of threats to the faith. Through this letter the disciple can gain confidence in the prophetic word of Scripture and look forward to the final consummation of history.

Works Cited

Barclay: William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter. The Daily Study Bible Series. Revised Ed. The Westminster Press, 1976.

Barnes: Mark Barnes, List of New Testament Hapax Legomena. Logos Bible Software Forum, 2013.

Blum: Edwin A. Blum, 1 & 2 Peter. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Software version 2.6.

Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Edmundson: Charles Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century. Longmans, Green and Co., 1913. Online.

EMB: E.M.B. Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered. Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1960. Online. (PDF)

Fruchtenbaum: Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel's Bible Commentary: The Messianic Jewish Epistles. Ariel Ministries, 2005.

Green: Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. IVP Academic, 1987. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 18.

Kruger: Michael J. Kruger, "The Authenticity of 2 Peter," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42.4 (1999): 645-671. Online. (PDF)

LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Rev. ed. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online.

Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.

Robinson: John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. The Westminster Press, 1976.

Serrão: Jean Serrão, "The Letters of James, Peter and Jude," Chapter 19, Discovering the New Testament: Community and Faith. ed. Alex Varughese. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2005.

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

Tenney: Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey. Rev. ed. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985.

Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889. online.

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