Overview of the Book of 2 Peter

Question
Overview of the Book of 2 Peter
Answer

Overview of the Book of 2 Peter

Author: The author is the Apostle Peter.

Purpose:

To encourage persecuted and bewildered Christians to stand fast together in their faith.

Date: A.D. 65-67

Key Truths:

  • Christians should move forward in spiritual growth because of their great blessings in Christ.
  • The certainty of Christ's return comes from eyewitnesses of Christ and from the Scriptures.
  • God will severely judge false teachers who deny that Christ will return.
  • Jesus has not yet come back because God is patient toward his people.
  • Christians should be patient but also seek to hasten the day of Christ's return through such means as prayer, obedience, and evangelism.

Author:

The author of this epistle claimed to be Simon Peter (1 Pet. 1:1), and data in the epistle support the claim: The writer referred to his own imminent death in terms that recall Jesus words to Peter (1 Pet. 1:14; cf. John 21:18-19), claimed to have been an eyewitness of the transfiguration (1 Pet. 1:16-18; cf. Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), and implied a connection between this epistle and 1 Peter 3:1.

Indisputable references to 2 Peter do not appear in first- and early-second-century Christian writings. Origen (c. A.D. 185-254) was the first to explicitly attribute the epistle to Peter, but he recorded that others doubted its authenticity. Eusebius (c. A.D. 265-339) listed it among the disputed books, and Jerome (c. A.D. 342-420), while noting some disagreement regarding its authenticity, suggested that its stylistic differences with 1 Peter were due to Peter's use of different secretaries. The epistle was accepted as authentic and canonical by influential fourth-century Church Fathers such as Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose, and Augustine, as well as by the late-fourth-century Church Councils of Hippo and Carthage, and its subsequent place in the New Testament canon was assured.

Notwithstanding the epistle's own claims, a number of objections have been raised to Petrine authorship. Among the more common objections are the lack of early attestation and slow recognition by the Church, stylistic differences from 1 Peter and the apparent use of Greek religious and philosophical language. The usual alternative to the traditional view is pseudonymity - the idea that an unknown author wrote 2 Peter and attributed the work to Peter as a literary device to commend his message.

Marked stylistic diversity between 1 and 2 Peter must be admitted. For example, many of the favorite words and expressions in 1 Peter are absent in 2 Peter. The differences are not absolute, however, and several striking similarities do exist between the two epistles. There are also a number of parallels between 2 Peter and Peter's speeches in Acts (e.g., the use of the Greek word eusebeia ["godliness"] in 2 Peter 1:3, 6-7; 3:11 - (cf. Acts 3:12) - a word occurring elsewhere in the New Testament only in Paul's Pastoral Letters. On purely literary grounds, 2 Peter is allied to no other New Testament writing more closely than it is to 1 Peter.

The claim that 2 Peter was falsely attributed to Peter is also weak. Genuine examples of pseudonymity in early Christian literature are almost invariably heretical, an indication that the device was used to commend works whose content was suspect. There is strong evidence that the church did not tolerate the practice at all, but in fact strictly rejected it (cf. 2 Thess. 2:2; 3:17).

The force of these objections should not be exaggerated. None offers conclusive evidence against accepting the epistle's own claim to have come from Peter.

A comparison of 2 Peter and Jude reveals that some connection probably existed between the two books. Although actual verbal agreement is rare (2 Pet. 2:17; cf. Jude 1:13), the two books contain similar ideas, words, Old Testament illustrations and order of text (2 Pet. 2:1-18; cf. Jude 1:4-16). Several explanations are possible: 2 Peter used Jude (the scholarly consensus), Jude used 2 Peter, or both used a common source unknown to us. In any event, these matters do not significantly touch the question of authorship.

Time and Place of Writing:

Peter died in A.D. 67-68, so that time frame marks the latest possible date for the writing of 2 Peter. The reference to his imminent death in 2 Peter 1:12-15 suggests a time near the end of his life. If 2 Peter 3:1 refers to 1 Peter, the date of composition must have been sometime after A.D. 63-64 (see "Introduction to 1 Peter: Time and Place of Writing"). A date between A.D. 65-67 is therefore plausible.

The place of origin of 2 Peter is uncertain. Rome is a likely suggestion, given Peter's location there in 1 Peter (see note on 1 Pet. 5:13) and the tradition that he was martyred there under Nero.

Original Audience:

Unlike 1 Peter, there is little information in this epistle about its recipients. If 2 Peter 3:1 refers to 1 Peter, then Christians in Asia Minor were the recipients of both epistles. However, if 2 Peter 3:1 is not a reference to 1 Peter but to a lost epistle, then there is no firm data to determine Peter's intended audience.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Second Peter was written to Christians being threatened by false teaching (2 Pet. 2:1). In response to this false teaching, Peter stressed the truth and ethical implications of the gospel.

This false teaching appears to have been an early precursor of Gnosticism, a term designating a variety of heretical movements in the early Christian centuries (especially the second century) that combined ideas from Greek philosophy, oriental mysticism and Christianity. The proto-Gnosticism Peter encountered taught that salvation came through intuitive, esoteric knowledge rather than through faith in Christ.

Because they prized the mind so highly over the body, second-century Gnostics often fell into blatant immorality or rigorous asceticism. Asceticism does not appear to be addressed in 2 Peter, but immorality is clearly rebuked (2 Pet. 2:13-19). The false teachers apparently used Christian liberty as a license to sin, especially to commit sexual immorality (1 Pet. 2:14). In addition, they were guilty of denying the Lord (1 Pet. 2:1), despising authority and celestial beings (1 Pet. 2:10), and scoffing at the second coming of Christ (1 Pet. 3:3-4).

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries and adjunct Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL.