Home|Contents The Second Peter Epistle

The Second Epistle of Peter



Rex Banks




Lesson 25





Internal Evidence


(1)          The writer of Second Peter introduces himself as “Simon Peter, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ” (1:1) and “the biographical touches that it contains accord with Peter’s own life” (Tenney).


Thus, speaking of his death the writer says that “the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me” (1:14), a clear reference to the Lord’s words to Peter preserved by John (Jn 21:18-19).


·        The writer makes reference to his having heard the words of God the Father (“This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”) on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17; Mk 9; Lk 9).


·        The writer refers to a previous letter (likely 1 Peter) which he had written to them (3:1).


·        The writer speaks of Paul as “our beloved brother Paul” (3:15) suggesting equality and contemporaneity.


Clearly the writer intends that the recipients accept this letter as a work of Peter the apostle.  If it is not the work of his hand then it is a forgery, not deserving a place in the canon of scripture.  It will not do to claim, on the one hand, that a letter which purports to be written by an apostle is not from his hand, while on the other hand defending its canonicity.  Inspired men do not make false claims.


(2)          Unfortunately there are those who deny that Peter wrote this letter and the following from J. B. Mayer represents the view of many modern commentators:


“The author has adopted the name of the foremost apostle Peter, to enhance the authority of his letters - a practice not unknown in the early church.  We have evidence of a rich Petrine literature.  Fragments of a Gospel of Peter, an Acts of Peter, and an Apocalypse of Peter have survived...  Second Peter belongs to this class of literature.  Both internal and external evidence show with cumulative force the impossibility of ascribing the letter to Peter, the disciple and apostle” (The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible).


Notwithstanding the confidence with which such claims are made, those who make them cannot produce convincing arguments in support of their contentions.  Although we can only touch the hem of the garment, we will consider briefly some of the points which have been and still are at the forefront of this debate.  Some of the arguments against Petrine authorship based upon internal evidence are so weak and subjective that we need not consider them, but we will say a word about the following:


·        Some insist that the above references simply reflect the anonymous author’s attempt to pass himself off as the apostle Peter, but clearly this is nothing more than an assumption.  It may be significant the writer of 1 Peter introduces himself as “Peter” whereas the writer of 2 Peter uses the double name Simon Peter.  It seems unlikely that an impersonator, intent upon imitation, would have varied the form of the address.  Too, in view of the fact that the apostles were venerated by the church fathers of the second century, it seems unlikely that a writer from that period would have used such familiarity in referring to Paul as “our beloved brother”


·        Some are adamant that differences between the style and vocabulary of 1 Peter and 2 Peter reveal that both documents cannot be from the same hand.  However, in our previous study we pointed out that whereas the apostle writes his first epistle through Silvanus (1 Pet 5:12) there is no mention of an amanuensis in the second epistle.  If Silvanus, a prophet himself and companion of Paul, had a hand in the production (under Peter’s direction), this could explain any stylistic and vocabulary differences.  Moreover: 


“We must remember also that the Epistles, especially the second, are short compositions; they furnish us with scarcely sufficient data to enable us to form an authoritative decision on a question so complicated and so delicate as that of style.  Thus one commentator says that the Greek of the First Epistle is better than that of the second; another, also a good scholar, pronounces in favour of the Second Epistle as more classical and less Hebraistic than the first” (B. C. Caffin Pulpit Commentary).


Stylistic arguments are tricky.  Many of those who are qualified to comment on the matter tell us that 1 Peter is written in good, polished Greek, evidently by someone who handles the language as if born to it, whereas 2 Peter is said to be written in poor Greek.  On the other hand, some who deny Petrine authorship are equally certain that the Greek of 2 Peter is not poor Greek but rather Hellenistic Greek.


A. T. Robertson argues that stylistic differences between 1 and 2 Peter have been “greatly exaggerated by some scholars,” adding:


“There are many points of similarity, for one thing, like the habit of repeating words (epichorēgeō in 2 Pet 1:10, 2 Pet 1:19, bebaios in 2 Pet 1:12, 2 Pet 1:13, 2 Pet 1:15, prophēteia in 2 Pet 1:20; 2 Pet3:3, etc.).  These repetitions occur all through the Epistle as in 1 Peter.  ‘This is a matter of very high importance’” (Bigg).


“Again in both Epistles there is a certain dignity of style with a tendency to iambic rhythm.  There is more quotation of the Old Testament in 1 Peter, but frequent allusion to words and phrases in 2 Peter.  There are more allusions to words and facts in the Gospels in 1 Peter than in 2 Peter, though some do occur in 2 Peter.  Besides those already given, note 2 Pet 1:8 (Lk 13:7), 2 Pet 2:1 (Matt 10:33), 2 Pet 2:20 (Matt 12:45; Lk 11:26), 2 Pet 3:4 (Matt 24:1), and possibly 2 Pet 1:3 to Christ’s calling the apostles.  Both appear to know and use the O.T. Apocrypha.  Both are fond of the plural of abstract substantives.  Both make sparing use of Greek particles.  Both use the article similarly, idiomatically, and sometimes not using it” (ibid). 


Arguments based upon language are equally tricky.  Having discussed and compared the vocabulary of 1 and 2 Peter, Michael J. Kruger concludes:    


“However, though the high degree of divergent vocabulary certainly must be admitted, statistics like these prove to be uncompelling because we see approximately these same figures when we compare other New Testament epistles by the same author such as 1 Timothy and Titus.  1 Timothy has 537 words, Titus 399, and they have 161 in common.  Thus, of the words used in Titus, 40.4% are shared by both epistles and 59.6% are unique to Titus.  Furthermore, when comparing 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians (both commonly held to be Pauline) we see that of the words used in 2 Corinthians, 49.3% are shared by both epistles, whereas 50.7% are unique to 2 Corinthians - figures not very different from those of 1 and 2 Peter.  Thus the linguistic argument against 2 Peter proves to be less than conclusive” (The Authenticity of 2 Peter, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 1999).


Arguments based on style and vocabulary are also used by defenders of Petrine authorship.  The following by William G. Moorehead is of interest:


“(There) are not a few instances in which words rarely found in the other Biblical books are common to the two Epistles.  Some examples are given in proof:  ‘precious’ (1 Pet 1:7, 1 Pet 1:19; 2 Pet 1:1) (a compound), occurring often in Rev, not often in other books; ‘virtue’ (1 Pet 2:9, the King James Version margin; 2 Pet 1:3), found elsewhere only in Phil 4:8; ‘supply’ (1 Pet 4:11; 2 Pet 1:5), rare in other books; ‘love of brethren’ (1 Pet 1:22; 2 Pet 1:7 margin), only in three places besides; ‘behold’ (1 Pet 2:12; 1 Pet 3:2 (verbal form); 2 Pet 1:16) (eyewitnesses), not found elsewhere in the New Testament; ‘without blemish,’ ‘without spot’ (1 Pet 1:19; 2 Pet 3:14) (order of words reversed); also positive side (2 Pet 2:13), ‘spots and blemishes’; the words do not occur elsewhere; ‘ungodly’ (1 Pet 4:18; 2 Pet 2:5; 2 Pet 3:7) occurs in but three other places, except Jude, which has it three times” (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia).


In this context, E. M. B Green who does an excellent job of defending the authenticity of 2 Peter in a 1960 lecture delivered in Cambridge at a meeting of the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research, makes the following good point 


“In addition to the linguistic affinities between 1 and 2 Peter, there seem to be as good parallels between 2 Peter and the supposedly Petrine speeches in Acts as Selwyn adduces for the First Epistle…  The uncommon New Testament word eusebeia used four times in 2 Peter, occurs in Peter’s speech in Acts iii. 12…  Five times in the Epistle the Lord Jesus is called sōtēra; it is as such that Peter proclaimed Him before the Sanhedrin (Acts v. 31)…  In Acts iii. 19-21 Peter seems to teach that the longed for new order…to be inaugurated by the parousia is dependent to some extent upon the repentance of men.  This furnishes a remarkable parallel of thought with 2 Peter iii. 9, 12, 15, where the delay in the parousia is attributed to God’s long-suffering in waiting for men to repent; it is to be the goal of the Christian’s hope and endeavor (i.e. by bringing others to repentance).  The similarity is most evident in the Greek (2 Peter Reconsidered The Tyndale New Testament Lecture 1960).


Based on his study of 1 and 2 Peter, Bernhard Weiss (A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament) affirms that “from a biblical and theological point of view, no New Testament writing is more like 1 Peter than this Epistle (2 Peter)” (quoted by Berkhof).


·        Petrine authorship of this epistle is opposed by some on the grounds that is there is no mention of the leading thoughts of 1 Peter, such as Christ’s passion, resurrection, ascension.  Unlike 1 Peter, there is no reference to the church as the true Israel, no emphasis upon faith and hope, no call to patient endurance and so on.


We have encountered this position before in our discussion of Paul’s letters, and again it is sufficient to point out that different circumstances, purposes and needs are enough to explain difference in content.  1 Peter is a letter of encouragement and support to suffering Christians, whereas in 2 Peter, false teachers take centre stage.  Thus hope is the key note of 1 Peter as the writer seeks to comfort and sustain his persecuted brethren.  However, 2 Peter sounds a note of warning.  It is a call to arms.  The brotherhood is under threat of false teachers whose immoral teachings threaten the church and Peter responds with great energy, condemning the errorists and stressing the need for full knowledge of Christ as a bulwark against error.


On the other hand, we must not overlook the fact that the two epistles do connect at various points:  both stress the need for holiness; both refer to Noah’s Flood; both speak of God’s patience; both speak of the sinful angels confined in the Hadean realm and so on.  While Christ’s passion, resurrection, ascension are not central themes of 2 Peter, this epistle does speak of the Transformation.  In 2 Peter, the Old Testament is not quoted verbally as in 1 Peter, but there are appeals to Old Testament examples.  In summary, it is unwise to deny common authorship on the ground that each epistle has its own themes, and it is inaccurate to claim that the epistles have little in common.


Green provides the following summary of Ernst Käsemann’s arguments against Petrine authorship based on doctrinal content: 


Käsemann would urge that (i) the Christology of 2 Peter is degenerate; Christ is a cult-deity rather than a redeemer; (ii) the eschatology is only Christian in that Christ is judge; otherwise it is related to man, not to God; it is individualistic not corporate, and speaks of the deliverance of the just and the damnation of the unjust; (iii) the ethics are unsatisfactory; the major evil seems not to be self-affirmation but imprisonment in the world of sense…  In the references to Old Testament prophecy (i. 19-21) he detects the Catholic reaction to Montanism in its insistence on testing the living voice of prophecy not merely by the Scriptures, but by the Scriptures as interpreted by the Church - for even the false teachers could find Scriptures to support them if they relied on ‘private interpretation’.  Further, he senses a second-century milieu for i. 9; ‘cleansing from his old sins’ is supposed to reflect their attitude to post-baptismal sin, in striking contrast to the newness of salvation that we find in Paul’s writings.”


Green exposes the weakness of these arguments.  He also points out that although many today affirm that the doctrine of 2 Peter “is irreconcilable with that of 1 Peter, and is typical of the subapostolic age” it is significant that “the ancients never held this against 2 Peter.”  He adds:  “The objection on this ground is, therefore, quite new.”


·        Ryrie tells us that “Many have suggested that someone other than Peter wrote this letter after A.D. 80 because of...the mention of Paul’s letters having been collected (2 Pet. 3:16)...”  Ryrie goes on to say, quite correctly, that “3:16 does not necessarily refer to all of Paul’s letters but only those written up to that time.”  Others argue that Peter’s recognition of Paul’s writing as scripture (3:16) proves that this is not a first century production because such recognition did not take place until a later date.  But others have rightly responded:  “That (Peter)...should have regarded Paul’s letters as inspired forms a difficulty only to those who do not admit the possibility of a revelation made to Peter on this point” (Catholic Encyclopaedia).  Moreover, the assumption that Paul’s writing could not be collected until the second century is just that – an assumption.


In view of the fact that Paul’s authority had been questioned, it is not at all surprising that Peter would have supported his fellow apostle.  Nor is it surprising, in view of the fact that Paul’s teaching on the second coming had been misunderstood by some, that Peter should speak of Paul’s letters as containing “some things hard to understand.”


·        According to Barclay, “Certain things within Second Peter point well-nigh irresistibly to a late date…  The fathers, that is the founders of the Christian faith, are now figures of the almost dim and distant past; there have been generations between this letter and the first coming of the Christian faith (2 Pet 3:4).”


This is a poor argument.


“Who are the persons Peter calls ‘our fathers’?  Kelly (p. 355) and Schelkle (p. 224) argue that they were first-generation Christians.  But Bigg (p. 291) and Green (Peter and Jude, p. 128-29) consider this unlikely.  ‘Fathers’ are much more likely to be OT fathers as in John 6:31, Acts 3:13, Romans 9:5, and Hebrews 1:1.  This is the normal NT usage, and the other view requires a clumsy forger to have missed so obvious a blunder” (Edwin A Blum).


Blum may be correct, but even if Peter is referring to first generation Christians there has been ample time for many of them to have died.


·        Allegedly the writer of 2 Peter is opposing Gnostic teaching, and allegedly such teaching does not appear until after the apostolic period.  However, “there is no Gnostic system known to us that matches what 2 Peter says; to say that the writer is opposing Gnosticism is to go beyond the evidence…there is no doubt that some of the teachings that were later to appeal to the Gnostics go back to apostolic times, but this does not mean that Gnosticism does.  The fact that this writer opposes such teaching is no reason for saying that he was not Peter” (Carson et al).  Had Peter been attacking full blown Gnosticism, it is hard to understand his failure to mention such erroneous doctrines as dualism, the creation of the world by some Demiurge and other characteristic teachings of these errorists.  


“Indeed, it may with good reason be claimed that a second-century pseudepigraphist, writing during the period of developed Gnosticism, would have given more specific evidence of the period to which he belonged and the sect that he was combating.  This was done, for instance, by the author of the spurious 3 Corinthians and might be expected here.  The fact that the author gives no such allusions is a point in favour of a first-century date and is rather more in support of authenticity than the reverse” (Guthrie).


In this context we need to say a word about 2 Peter 3 and second century chiliastic tendencies. Kruger explains:  


“It must be noted that Psalm 90:4 was commonly used in the second century and given a ‘chiliastic’ interpretation (namely that the world would last for as many thousand years as there were days in creation).  In view of the fact that this interpretation was seen as a sign of Christian orthodoxy and used extensively by early church writers (2 Clement, Methodius, Justin and Barnabas), it seems difficult to believe our pseudepigraphic author could have quoted this verse (2 Peter 3:9 – Rex) and resisted the temptation to make any sort of chiliastic reference.  Even more interesting is that 2 Peter does not even use it to allude to the duration of the world at all, but to the time of the parousia - something completely foreign to 2nd century use of this text.  The silence in reference to chiliasm is strong evidence in favor of a first century date.”


·        Allegedly the writer of 2 Peter excludes himself from the apostolic group in 3:2 where he urges his readers:  “remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken by your apostles.”  Berkhof responds:


“The difficulty created by 3:2 is not as great as it seems to some.  If that passage really disproves the authorship of Peter, it certainly was a clumsy piece of work of a very clever forger, to let it stand.  But the writer, speaking of the prophets as a class, places alongside of them another class, viz, that of the apostles, who had more especially ministered to the New Testament churches, and could therefore as a class be called, ‘your apostles,’ i.e the apostles who preached to you.  The writer evidently did not desire to single himself out, probably, if for no other reasons, because other apostles had labored more among the readers than he had.”


·        It is argued by some that 2 Peter is dependant upon Jude, and that since Jude was written in the post-apostolic period, 2 Peter cannot be the work of the apostle Peter.  We will discuss the relationship between 2 Peter and Jude in due course, but since there in no real evidence that Jude was written at a late date, this argument carries no weight. 


Calvin comments that “according to the consensus of all...(2 Peter) has nothing unworthy of Peter, as it shows everywhere the power and grace of an apostolic spirit.”  Typically pseudepigraphic works attached the name of some great writer to a book in order to lend support to some unorthodox teaching, but the teaching of 2 Peter is entirely in line with the rest of the NT.  Finally, “It is almost unbelievable that a sincere writer could have included the false personal references of 1:1, 16-18; 3:1 in a letter in which he lays such stress on holiness and truth (1:3, 4, 12; 3:11, 17); such a deceit could not have been accepted in a church which called its members to such high standards in all other matters”

(D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman The New Bible Commentary Revised). 



External Evidence


(1)          We are told by many that there is less external evidence for Second Peter than for any other NT book.  Unger tells us that “It is not mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment, nor does it occur in the Old Syriac and Old Latin versions” and he goes on to say:


“All this is doubtless explainable on the basis of the brevity of the epistle, its containing no striking new material, and its not being addressed to any specific person or church.  According to Zahn, the epistle of Jude gives an early attestation of it, and therefore we need no other.”


Mayer points out that the “first explicit reference to 2 Peter occurs in Origen (A.D. 217-51), and then only once” and for this reason many discussions of the authorship of 2 Peter begin with Origen.


It is significant that “though recording the existence of doubt in some quarters, (Origen) himself accepts it.  Six times he quotes 2 Peter by name, and there are other probable allusions” (Green).  For example, in his Homilies on Joshua, Origen has:


“Matthew first sounded the priestly trumpet in his Gospel.  Mark also, Luke and John, each gave forth a strain on their priestly trumpets.  Peter moreover sounds loudly on the twofold trumpet of his epistles; and so also James and Jude” (8.1).


As Kruger points out:


“It seems quite difficult to believe that an epistle that Origen treated in such a manner could have been just recently composed in his own day.  Indeed, the fact that he quotes it so thoroughly as Scripture in his writings suggests that it may have been accepted widely as canonical by this time.”

(2)          Although there are no direct quotations from 2 Peter in the first two centuries, Christian writings from this period do seem to contain allusions to it.  For example, from about 100 AD we have the following from Clement of Rome:


“The all-merciful and beneficent Father has bowels towards those that fear Him, and kindly and lovingly bestows His favours upon those who come to Him with a simple mind.  Wherefore let us not be double-minded (compare James 1:8 Rex); neither let our soul be lifted up on account of His exceedingly great and glorious gifts.  Far from us be that which is written, ‘Wretched are they who are of a double mind, and of a doubting heart; who say, These things we have heard even in the times of our fathers; but, behold, we have grown old, and none of them has happened unto us’ (Compare 2 Pet 3:4 - Rex) Ye foolish ones!”  (Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 23).


There may be other echoes of 2 Peter in Clement.  For example, his use of the expression “His excellent glory” (1 Clement 9) may be a recollection of Peter’s “megaloprepous doxēs” (2 Pet 1:17).


From about 115–140 comes the following from the Shepherd of Hermas:


“I asked her about the four colours which the beast had on his head.  And she answered, and said to me, ‘Again you are inquisitive in regard to such matters.’  ‘Yea, Lady,’ said I, ‘make known to me what they are.’  ‘Listen,’ said she:  ‘the black is the world in which we dwell:  but the fiery and bloody points out that the world must perish through blood and fire:  (compare 2 Pet 3:7 - Rex) but the golden part are you who have escaped from this world (compare 2 Pet 2:20).”


In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr (100-165) says:


“And just as there were false prophets contemporaneous with your (Jewish - Rex) holy prophets, so are there now many false teachers amongst us, of whom our Lord forewarned us to beware; so that in no respect are we deficient, since we know that He foreknew all that would happen to us after His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven” (82.1).


Various scholars point out that apart from this passage and 2 Peter 2:1, this comparison between false prophets and false teachers along with use of the term pseudodidaskaloi (false teachers) is absent from early Christian literature.


Kruger tells us that “There is also ample evidence that the Apocalypse of Peter (c. 110) was dependent upon 2 Peter in its construction.” He adds: 


“Mayor catalogues an impressive list of literary and structural connections between the two documents which he regards as evidence that 2 Peter was basic to the Apocalypse.  Richard Bauckham considers this ‘very good evidence’ that is “sufficient to rule out a late date for 2 Peter.”  J. A. T. Robinson concurs, ‘It seems quite clear that the Apocalypse is the later document.’  Furthermore, hardly anyone would question that 2 Peter is the superior work, both from a literary and a spiritual perspective.  Considering that it is highly unlikely that the inferior work would give rise to the superior work - indeed, imitations tend to decline in quality - it seems reasonable to give 2 Peter literary priority.”

Eusebius wrote that Clement of Alexandria (ca 155-ca 220) “has given in the Hypotyposes abridged accounts of all canonical Scripture, not omitting the disputed books, - I refer to Jude and the other Catholic Epistles, and Barnabas and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter” (Church History 6.14.1).  Elsewhere, Eusebius includes 2 Peter among the “disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many” (3.25.3).  Green points out that “Clement succeeded (c. 185 AD) Pantaenus at the Alexandrian School, who can scarcely have been duped by a fraud a few years old, which is what the date assigned to 2 Peter by Harnack and most moderns would necessitate.”  Kruger comments:      


“If Clement did possess, use and comment upon 2 Peter (and the evidence suggests this as probable), then this not only means that he viewed the epistle worthy of a scriptural commentary (showing he gave it some degree of authenticity), but that the date of 2 Peter must be placed at least in the first half of the second century if not sooner.  Indeed, not only would someone of Clement’s stature not be duped by a forgery that was only a few years old, but he would hardly write a commentary on a book that most of the church rejected as a recently composed imitation of Peter.”


Ireneaus (active in the late second century) has the following in his Against Heresies:


“And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since ‘a day of the Lord is as a thousand years,’ he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin.” (5.23.2).


Of course some argue that Ireneaus was quoting Psa 90:4, but Kruger points out:  


Irenaeus’s quotation varies widely from the LXX, as does 2 Peter’s, but they are virtually identical with each other.  It is highly unlikely that they both would independently diverge from the LXX in the exact same manner, thus inclining us to think Irenaeus was quoting directly from 2 Peter.  Our suspicions are confirmed by Methodius in the third century who specifically cites the apostle Peter as the source of the quotation.”


In short, these and many other early allusions to 2 Peter suggest that despite reservations expressed by some, there is good evidence that this letter was widely known and accepted long before Origen’s day.


(3)          As mentioned earlier, Eusebius placed 2 Peter among the books not universally recognized to be genuine (the antilegoma), “disputed indeed, but known to most men.”  Elsewhere he writes:


“One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine.  And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work.  But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures.  The so-called Acts of Peter, however, and the Gospel which bears his name, and the Preaching and the Apocalypse, as they are called, we know have not been universally accepted, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from them.  But in the course of my history I shall be careful to show, in addition to the official succession, what ecclesiastical writers have from time to time made use of any of the disputed works, and what they have said in regard to the canonical and accepted writings, as well as in regard to those which are not of this class.  Such are the writings that bear the name of Peter, only one of which I know to be genuine and acknowledged by the ancient elders (3.3.1).


Guthrie makes the important point that “(Eusebius) makes it clear that the majority accepted the epistle as authentic, together with James and Jude, but he himself had doubts about it.”  He adds: 


“In fact (Eusebius) mentions two grounds for his doubts:  first, writers whom he respected did not regard it as canonical, and secondly, it was not quoted by ‘the ancient presbyters.’  Under the latter objection Eusebius may have meant ‘by name’”   As it is, we are obliged to conclude that Eusebius and certain others were doubtful about the epistle, although the majority regarded it as canonical.  Even Eusebius, however, did not list 2 Peter within his ‘spurious’ classification, into which category he did place the Apocalypse of Peter.


In fact there is no evidence that any part of the church rejected 2 Peter as spurious as they did the so called Gospel of Peter, Acts of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter and such like.


(4)          “In the fourth century the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter was strongly affirmed.  Two of the great theologians of the early church, Athanasius and Augustine, considered 2 Peter as canonical.  The Council of Laodicea (AD 372) included the epistle in the canon of Scripture.  Jerome placed 2 Peter in the Latin Vulgate (ca AD 404).  Also the great third Council of Carthage (AD 397) recognized the intrinsic authority and worth of 2 Peter and formally affirmed that it was written by the apostle Peter” (Kenneth Gangel The Bible Knowledge Commentary).  (Significantly the councils of Hippo and Carthage rejected the Epistle of Barnabas and 1 Clement).  Moreover, “We find it contained in the Bohairic and Sahidic versions of the New Testament which are at least 100 years earlier” (Green).  Commenting on the omission of 2 Peter and Jude from the Peshitta and Old Syriac, Green suggests: 


“Now Jude explicitly, and 2 Peter implicitly, quote the apocryphal Assumption of Moses.  The Gnostics were notorious for their misuse for sectarian purposes of haggadah of this sort, and it is precisely in Syria, where the extravagances of Jewish angelology were most notorious, that one would naturally expect to find the most violent reaction against anything that might be adduced in their support.  2 Peter was, however, included in the Philoxenian version, and was perpetuated in the Syrian church by the Harklean recension in the seventh century AD.” 


Jerome affirms 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).  Elsewhere, Jerome argues that differences between 1 Peter and 2 Peter “in style, character, and the construction of the words…proves that according to the exigencies of the moment St. Peter made use of different interpreters.”


(5)          It is very clear that the language of 2 Peter is very similar to that of Jude, and although many argue that the former was reliant upon the latter, a good case can be made that the reverse is true, and that Jude shows evidence of having been acquainted with 2 Peter.  For example, Peter sometimes (but not always) uses the future tense when speaking of the false teachers (eg 2:1-3, 12-13), whereas Jude speaks of an existing situation when speaking of the same (eg v 4).  This is not conclusive of course because the future is also used to speak of events and situations which are likely to occur.  In v 17, Jude urges his readers to “remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last days there will be mockers...’”  This appears to be a clear reference to 2 Pet 3:3 ff.  This would make Jude the first document to cite 2 Peter.  


(6)          It is worth pointing out that although Peter’s name was used often in connection with Gnostic literature, “the early church accepted 2 Peter in spite of the circulation of spurious works bearing the apostle’s name.  (This) shows that it recognized a difference in character between the two epistles and the other works bearing his name” (Edwin Blum).  Likely the fact that certain forgeries were circulating in Peter’s name helps explain the reservations of some about 2 Peter, and the fact that it was accepted into the canon anyway is significant.  We conclude this section with the following observation from Kenneth Gangel:


“Though 2 Peter is the least attested book in the New Testament, its external support far surpasses that of many of the other Bible books.  The absence of early church tradition supporting 2 Peter certainly could have been due to the letter’s brevity and the lack of communication among Christians during times of heavy persecution” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).





(1)          Peter writes to “those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours” (1:1), a very general greeting which does not tell us anything about the recipients apart from the fact that they are Christians.  However, if 2 Pet 3:1 refers to 1 Peter (“This is...the second letter I am writing to you”), the recipients of 2 Peter are named in 1 Pet 1:1.  See comments there.


(2)          Some deny that 2 Peter 3:1 refers to 1 Peter.  They point out that according to 2 Peter 3:2, the purpose of both letters is to urge the recipients to “remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken by (their) apostles.”  In their view this is not a good description of the first letter.  


(3)          In 1 Peter 1:12, the writer refers to “those who preached the gospel” to the recipients and some argue on the basis of this statement that the writer had not visited the addressees.  In 2 Peter 1:16 the writer says “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”  Allegedly this suggests that the writer had taught the recipients personally.  On this basis some argue that 1 and 2 Peter are addressed to different groups.


(4)             “If the reference (in 2 Pet 3:1) is to some other writing, we have little to go on, though many have thought that these Asian provinces are still the most likely destination, on such grounds as the letter’s reception in that area and the fact that heresies of the kind opposed developed there in due course” (Carson et al).


(5)          In my view, arguments 2 and 3 are not convincing, but given the general nature of the greeting in 2 Peter and the absence of any real clues in the letter, we cannot be dogmatic.    



Composition: Date, Place and Circumstances


(1)          If 2 Peter 3:1 does refer to 1 Peter, it is likely that the place of composition of the second epistle is the same as the first, and that the time of composition was sometime in the 60s (see notes at 1 Peter).


(2)          Although Richard J. Bauckham denies that Peter is the author of this epistle, he does make the interesting suggestion that “2 Peter belongs to the genre of ancient Jewish literature known to modern scholars as the ‘farewell speech’ or ‘testament.’...  Such testaments had two main types of content:  (1) Ethical admonitions… (2) Revelations of the future” (Word Biblical Commentary).


(3)          It certainly does seem that Peter writes something of a “farewell speech,” conscious of the fact that he is about to die (1:14).  As we will see, in this farewell address, Peter wants to ensure that his teaching is remembered after his death (1:15) and he wants to warn about the rise of false teachers whose destructive doctrines will threaten the faith of many (chapters 2 and 3).  Perhaps too, Paul is dead by this time, and Peter, knowing that his own death is imminent, wants to assure his brethren that God is in control (“the Lord Jesus Christ has made clear” to Peter that the time of his death is at hand; it is no defeat).



The Letter


(1)             “As the central theme of 1 Peter was suffering, so that of 2 Peter is knowledge...  The words know and knowledge appear sixteen times, six of which refer to the knowledge of Christ.  The recurring theme unifies the epistle and lends progression to its thought” (Tenney). 


If 1 Peter was written to encourage the saints during a time of persecution from without, 2 Peter was written to warn and arm them against dangerous errorists from within, whose false teachings would shortly pose a threat to the church.  True knowledge is the safeguard against error, and hence the emphasis of 2 Peter upon the need to “grow in grace (God’s favor) and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (3:18).


(2)          This key thought pervades the epistle.  The familiar greeting “Grace and peace be multiplied to you” is connected with a phrase which sounds the keynote of the epistle - “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”  “This ‘knowledge is the channel of ‘grace,’ it is the ground of ‘peace,’ it is the means of salvation, it is the instrument of all blessings” (Erdman).  Note that “everything pertaining to life and godliness” is granted by means of “the true knowledge of Him who called us.”


(3)          Note that “true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8) is inseparable from virtuous living, and thus Peter exhorts his readers to grow in such things as “moral excellence,” “knowledge,” “self control,” “perseverance” etc (1:5-11).  The individual possessing these virtues is neither “useless nor unfruitful” spiritually (1:8) and is so equipped that he “will never stumble” (1:10), a comforting assurance in the face of the threat posed by the errorists.  We will see how very different is Peter’s view of true knowledge from that of the errorists, whose immoral lives and doctrines undermine their claims to possess such knowledge.


In particular, knowledge of the truth concerning Christs return (a truth denied by the errorists) is to be a spur to holy living (3:11-16).  In anticipation of that great event, the Christian’s conduct is to be marked by holiness and “godliness” (3:11) so that he may be “found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (3:14).


(4)          It is in chapters 2 and 3 that the main emphasis of this epistle is to be found.  In chapter 1:16-21 Peter speaks of the inerrancy of the sources of true knowledge. That inerrancy is based upon:


·        The significance of Jesus’ transformation in the presence of His apostles (1:16-20).  Peter and the other apostles did not follow “clearly devised tales” (“mythois” - myths) when they “made known...the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 16).  They were “witnesses of His majesty” on the mount of transfiguration.  Likely the false teachers claimed that the resurrection of Christ and His second coming were only stories.


·        The fact that scripture is inspired by God (“men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God – 1:20-21).


(5)          Having emphasized that the prophetic word is the product of inspiration, Peter gets to his main point - just as not all who claimed to be prophets in the OT period spoke from God (eg Deut 14:1-5; Isa 9:15; Jer 14:14; Ezek 13:3; Zech 13:4), so too “there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2:1).  These teachers are the enemies of true knowledge and (among other things) Peter tells us the following about them:


·        They were guilty of smuggling in “destructive heresies” which amounted to a denial of “the Master who bought them (2:1).  In context it is likely that this denial took the form of denying the fact of His return, or of encouraging immoral behavior.


·        They were guilty of encouraging sensuality.  “‘Freedom’ was their catchword, and evidently they felt free to indulge in sexual immorality, drunkenness and sensual excesses generally (2:2, 10a, 13-14, 18)” (Bauckham).  Peter’s language is instructive:  “many will follow their sensuality...those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires...revel in the daytime...having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin...they entice by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error.”  They do all this in the name of “freedom” (2:19).


·        They are without respect for authority (“they do not tremble when they revile...glories {lit}” likely meaning all authorities – 2:10-12).


·        Their judgment is certain, and they will be condemned just as rebellious angels and ungodly men of the OT period were condemned (2:4-11).


·        They speak evil of those things whose value they cannot appreciate (“reviling where they have no knowledge” - 2:12).


·        Their teaching is empty, valueless, sterile (“springs without water, and mists driven by a storm” - 2:17).  It is characterized by “arrogant” (swollen, inflated, ponderous) words of vanity, which sound impressive and deceive “those who barely escape from the ones who live in error” ie new converts.


·        Their condition is serious (2:20-22).  By obedience to the gospel these false teachers had “escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  To be “entangled” (“noosed,” “fettered”) in these defilements again, and to be “overcome” by them (despite claims of “freedom”) is to be in a tragic situation, because “the last state has become worse for them than the first.” 


·        They denied the apostolic teaching concerning the end of the world (3:1-13).  Inspiration spoke of the Lord’s return (3:1-2) but they mocked at the notion (3:3), arguing that the laws of nature are settled and stable (3:4).  Peter reminds his readers of the Flood (3:5-6), points out that what seems like an immense amount of time to man is nothing to God (3:8) and explains that God’s delay is due to His being “patient...., not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (3:9).  Despite the errorists’ mocking denials, the Lord’s return and the destruction of the cosmos is certain.






(1)          Greetings (2 Pet 1:1-2).


(2)          True knowledge and Christian Character (2 Pet 1:3-11).


(3)          The Certainty of True Knowledge (2 Pet 1:12-21).


The Apostolic Witness (2 Pet 1:12-19).

The Inspiration of Scripture (2 Pet 1:20-21).


(4)          Characteristics and Condemnation of False Teachers (2 Pet 2:1-22).


(5)          False Teachers and the Lord’s Return (2 Pet 3:1-13).


(6)          Appropriate Deportment in Light of the Lord’s Return (2 Pet 3:14-16).


(7)          Conclusion (2 Pet 3:17-18).