Chapter 21: The Second Epistle of Peter

An Introduction to the New Testament
by Richard Heard

Chapter 21: The Second Epistle of Peter

The Epistle Not By Peter

The epistle claims to be a second epistle (3:1) written by Simon Peter ‘a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ’ (1:1) and an eyewitness of his majesty at the Transfiguration (1:16-18). The arguments against the acceptance of such an ascription are, however, overwhelming. In the first place there is no clear evidence of the use of the epistle before the third century A.D. Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome all refer to doubts as to its genuineness, and it gained its place in the Canon only slowly and with difficulty. The internal evidence confirms these doubts. Although the author knew I Peter and borrowed some of its vocabulary, the style of the second epistle is very different from that of the first; the author seems also to have incorporated virtually the whole of the epistle of Jude in his work (cf. chap.20), and refers to Paul’s epistles as already collected and widely known (3:16). It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this epistle is yet another of a series of works which appeared in the second century falsely claiming the authority of the prince of apostles, of which we possess fragments of a Gospel of Peter, of an Acts of Peter, and of an Apocalypse of Peter.

The Teaching of The Epistle

This impression is borne out both by the type of teaching given and errors attached. There is an almost complete absence of appeal to the example of the life of Jesus Christ, the redemption through his suffering, the power of his resurrection, and the work of the Spirit, which furnished the first generation of Christian missionaries with primary authority, and all of which are referred to in the first epistle of Peter. The authority to which the author of this epistle appeals above all is that of the prophets and apostles (1:19-21,3:2), and the vehicle of this authority is largely the Old Testament and apostolic writings (3:16 cf. the use of Jude and I Peter). In giving his main message, that the day of the Lord will surely come, deferred though it has been through God’s wish that all should come to repentance (3:9-10), the writer adapts earlier Christian teaching to the conceptions of a later time. Thus he lays a particular stress on attaining to the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ as the means of living a godly life and entering the Kingdom (1:2-3, 2:18, 3:18), and he introduces the idea of a final dissolution of the elements in fire (3:7, 10) which does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.

A large part of the epistle is taken up with the denunciation of false teachers, and it is perhaps significant for the date of the epistle that the author in the role of Peter first proclaims that they will arise (2:10 ff.). While much of what is said is borrowed from the epistle of Jude, there are important differences. The denunciations of Jude are primarily against unworthy Christians whose lives are a denial of Christ (verse 4), while in this epistle the condemnation is of false teachers (2:1), who not only live evil lives, but deny the coming of the End (3:4). It would be too much to say that this is a conclusive proof of a second century date, when Gnostic heresies often combined false doctrine and immoral practice, but it is at least compatible with a time when such heresies were rife. It is impossible to give a precise date or location to the epistle. That it was composed not earlier than the close of the first century A.D. is clear from its references to I Peter and the Pauline epistles and from the curious passage where the author speaks of ‘the day that the fathers fell asleep’ (3:4), an apparent allusion to the passing of the first generation of Christians. A date somewhere in the first half of the second-century is perhaps as near as we can safely guess. There is some evidence to suggest that the epistle was for a time associated with the Apocalypse of Peter in some circles in the early Church, and this, like the use of I Peter, would favour an origin in Asia Minor.