Discussions of 2 Peter tend to focus on the authenticity of the book and the possibility the book is pseudonymous. As interesting as these issues are, they distract readers from the rich theology of this often ignored letter of the New Testament.
First, the believer has all that is needed to live a life of godliness (v. 3). The two words translated by the ESV as “life and godliness” can be understood as a single idea, a “godly life” (NIV2011). If God has called us to be for his own glory and excellence, then it is important to realize that he has already granted to the one he has called everything he needs to succeed in that godly life.
In some basic math classes a student is allowed to make a 3×5 card of information they might need to pass the test (basic formulas or methods for solving problems). Image a crafty student who prints out the entire math book in micro print and then brings a magnifying glass to class. He would be very prepared. Another student might just being a 3×5 card with nothing on it. But the most prepared student would be the one who had a card prepared by the professor with all the answers already on it.
By way of analogy, that is what God has done for us. He called us to live a holy life, but he also granted us all we need to actually be holy. He does not expect us to develop our own methods and rely on our own strength, but to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit which he has already given us at salvation.
The word “granted” is used several times in this passage and is a word usually associated with a royal or divine gift (Esther 8:1, for example). The highest authority in the universe has called us (at salvation) and given to us a task (godliness), and then he has given us a royal grant to enable us to complete that task.
The reason we have all we need is that God has granted to us all the knowledge of him we need. This may hint at what Peter’s opponents have taught to his audience, that the “real Christian” must be introduced to the deep things of God, the secret mysteries or advanced doctrines held back only for the ones who are deeply spiritual.
Second, God has granted to the believer precious and great promises (v. 4). What are these promises? The result of the promises that the believer has become a partaker in the divine nature. The believer can participate in this divine nature because they have already escaped the corruption of this world.
Is this true? Has God provided all we need to live a godly life? What might be included in this “grant” according to 2 Peter?
Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept the idea historical Peter was the author of the book. As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, Bauckham), there has been little change in this consensus. Bart Erhman deals with this issue in his popular book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility the traditional authors of many of the books in the New Testament are not likely the real authors.
In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11). Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.
Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter. Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter were rejected by the church because they were not authentic. If there was a possibility Peter was not authentic, it would have been treated the same as other spurious documents.
Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it? It is true that the second letter of Peter is very different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship. Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if the amanuensis was given a more free hand in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case the two letters are related. Statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.
There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.” In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed. Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31. And again, this evidence cuts both ways. Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter in order to “sound like” Peter, I would include these details to give the letter the “ring of truth.” In fact, it is odd the is to Matthew when Peter was associated with Mark. The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This allusions sounds is too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than Galatians 2 might imply. Still, there is evidence for either side of the discussion.
Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view. As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers. The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.
Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter be less authoritative? Suppose someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to deal with important issues in the late first century. Does this make it less worthy of the canon? J. D. Charles (Faithful to the End, 129f) would say that it does indeed matter. If we now know for sure Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, a letter written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, most scholars are confident there was a “historical Clement” who wrote 1 Clement. If 1 Clement is authentic and 2 Peter is not, why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?
Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71. Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.
Introduction. Commentary series almost always combine 2 Peter and Jude for obvious reasons. They share quite a bit of material so publishers are inclined assign one author to both books. Both books are often considered examples of late first century Christianity, usually an emerging “early catholic” Christianity. As such, the identity of the opponents in both letters is an important consideration. If the letters are late, then an early form of Gnosticism may be in the background. If the letters were written by Peter and Jude, then the opponents cannot be Gnosticism, but perhaps Pauline theology gone bad or an “incipient Gnosticism.” Jude’s use of non-canonical material is usually a feature of introductions to the letter of Jude.
Since the traditional authors of these letters are regularly challenged, commentaries need to evaluate the evidence and take a position on the possibility that Jude and Peter are pseudonymous. It is possible that 2 Peter, for example, was written by someone “in the tradition of Peter.” For the evangelical, it is possible to understand the genre of the letter as requiring a pseudonym and not consider this as a “error” in the New Testament.
Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1983). This commentary is the most important contribution on these two letters in modern times. All commentaries after Bauckham will need to deal with his understanding of the letters. The introductions to the letters are perhaps more important that the commentary sections. Bauckham treats Jude first because he dates the book very early, no later that A.D. 50. He does not see any evidence of “Paulinism” nor the “early catholicism” found in later letters. Jude is the brother of Jesus and the letter reflects an apocalyptic Palestinian Judaism. Whether this is really Jesus’ brother or someone writing in his name is an open question for Bauckham, but he thinks that all the evidence is “consistent with authorship by Jude the brother of Jesus” (16). Second Peter, on the other hand, Bauckham thinks is a pseudonymous example of the literary genre testament. Like the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, 2 Peter was written using the character Peter in order to give a moral exhortation to a new generation of believers. He argues that the original audience would have understood this as a common literary convention. The readers (living at the end of the first century) would have expected the writer to do an accurate job of reporting “the essence of Peter’s teaching” but they would not have expected that Peter wrote the letter himself (134). Bauckham is an expert in the literature of the Second Temple Period and he uses this literature to interpret these two letters as apocalyptic literature consistent with the literature being produced by Jews in the middle of the first century. His section on 2 Peter’s literary influences is excellent. The commentary proceeds phrase by phrase through the Greek text without transliteration. As expected, the commentary interested in the various allusions to the Hebrew Bible or other literature. This makes for a challenging read, but ultimately rewarding to the diligent student.
Thomas Schreiner, 1-2 Peter, Jude (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003). While this volume covers 2 Peter and Jude as well, Schreiner’s commentary is worth reading as an example of evangelical scholarship. He supports the traditional view that Peter and Jude are the authors of the respective letters. In contrast to Bauckham, he argues that the evidence for accepting pseudepigraphical letters is weak. He cites the punishment of the author of Paul and Thecla, for example, as evidence that the early church considered writing in the name of Paul was not accepted, even if the intentions were good (271). Bauckham did not say that 2 Peter was a letter written under a pseudonym, but rather that it is a testament, which were always written as if the historical person were addressing contemporary needs. Schreiner deals with this argument in detail, pointing out that not all testaments are fictional; Acts 20:17-38 is a “testament” created by Paul himself (274). With respect to Jude, Schreiner finds the evidence that the brother of Jesus wrote the short letter compelling. In the commentary portions, Schreiner moves through paragraphs, commenting on the English text, Greek is found in footnotes. Both of these books make heavy use of the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Period literature, Schreiner does an excellent job showing how these allusions function in the letter.
Peter H. Davids, 2 Peter and Jude (PNTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006). This commentary begins with Jude (despite the title!), a letter which may have been written by Jesus’ brother, but Davids does not find compelling evidence for this. It is the opponents which the letter deal with which are determinative for Davids. Jude certainly comes from Palestine, but the opponents reflect a libertine attitude toward the Law which implies Paul’s law-free gospel is being misunderstood. But there is no way to be sure, so any date afer 50-55 could be defended (23). His conclusions on 2 Peter are similar, there is not enough evidence to state with certainty that the book is pseudepigraphic or not. I would recommend reading this commentary along side Bauckham, Davids interacts with Bauckham’s arguments. The commentary proper is rich with allusions to the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Period literature, treating the English text with all references to Greek in transliteration.
Ruth Anne Reese, 2 Peter, Jude (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007). This commentary is in the Two Horizons series from Eerdmans and is a bit more theological than exegetical. Reese accepts the traditional view of the authorship of both 2 Peter and Jude. The commentary is based on the English text with sources cited in footnotes. After the commentary for each book, Reese provides a section entitled “Theological Horizons” which identifies a number of themes found in the book and connects them to larger canonical theology. The style of the commentary emphasizes this sort of biblical theology; these sections are as long as the traditional commentary sections! Since Jude makes use of the Hebrew Bible, she includes several pages on allusions to the Hebrew Bible in Jude and how they function as metaphors for salvation. The final section of this theological commentary attempts to bring the teaching of Jude and 2 Peter forward to the “contemporary context.” In the case of Jude, she engages Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace to discuss how the modern church deals with “outsiders.” In her comments on 2 Peter, Reese asks how 2 Peter’s eschatology impacts our ethical thinking.
J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (London: A. C. Black, 1969). The Black’s Commentary series is well traveled: it was picked up by Hendrickson which sold it to Baker. Nevertheless, there are quite a few valuable volumes in the series, including this commentary by Kelly, usually associated with early church history. Kelly treats both 2 Peter and Jude in a single introduction, concluding that 2 Peter “belongs to the luxuriant crop of pseudo-Petrine literature which sprang up around the memory of the Prince of Apostles” (236). For Jude, there is simply not enough evidence for Kelly to decide for or against Jude’s authenticity. The commentary proper proceeds through the text phrase by phrase, all sources are cited in-text. Greek appears in transliteration. While Kelly is aware of some of the literature of the Second Temple Period, he writes before the massive collection from Charlesworth was published. This means that there is less reference to potential allusions to other literature and more attention to the text!
Conclusions. What have you found useful in your teaching of 2 Peter and Jude?
2 Peter was written in response to some sort of movement from within church which claimed to be Christian, but denied important elements of the faith. They have a overly-realized eschatology and seem to deny the return of Jesus (1:16, 2:1-3, 14, 18). While denial of the return of Christ may seem like a small deviation from the apostolic teaching, it is in fact a denial of the core of Jesus as Messiah, even the Jewish Messiah. This in turn could imply that the opponents reject the standard approach of the apostles to preaching as the Jewish messiah and perhaps a softening on the use of the Hebrew Bible as scripture.
It is possible that 2:5-8 implies sexual immorality, especially since the comparisons to the fallen angels, the time of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah allude to sexual sins. Even the allusion to Balaam can be seen as a sexual sin since Balaam used prostitution to entice the men of Israel. While someone might suggest that this is just standard heretic bashing, it seems that there is some substance to the charge of immorality since it appears again in Jude and Revelation 2-3.
There are several suggested opponents:
Gnostics. This view is often tied to a later date for 2 Peter primarily because Gnosticism is not a factor until well into the second century. It is difficult to describe a Gnostic theology because it was such a broad movement encompassing many different (and sometimes contradictory) themes. With the exception of a radical realized eschatology and sexual sin, there is little on this list present in 2 Peter. Paul deal with a rejection of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15 and there may be some hints at a realized eschatology in 2 Thess 2. Sexual immorality is too generic to be used to prove 2 Peter is dealing with Gnosticism. At best, Second Peter might be aimed at a sort of proto-gnostic doctrine.
Epicureans. Neyrey suggested that the opponents in 2 Peter are teachers who combine Epicurean philosophy with Christianity. Certainly Epicureanism was popular in the Greco-Roman world, and there are some points of the school of thought that resonate with Christianity But Epicureans were not exactly hedonists, so this may not be a complete answer.
Antinomians. Richard Bauckham suggested that the opponents in the letter represent some form of antinomianism (Jude, 2 Peter, 154-6). “Antinomian” refers to any theology which sees itself as separate from law. For the most part, this takes the shape of permitting (or even encouraging) sinful behavior. These behaviors are not matters of indifference, but rather genuine sin as defined in scripture. Because the believer is free in Christ, they are free to behave however they want, whether that is judged as immoral or not.
The reference in 2 Peter 3:16 to Paul is important – the opponents are “twisting” Paul’s teaching in order to make it say something that was not intended. In my view, this is probably the best way to describe these opponents. They are post-Pauline Christians who have pushed the Pauline doctrine of freedom in Christ well past what Paul did.
The opponents are therefore (in the words of Baukham), “theologically unaware Christians” who compromise with the world on ethical issues (156). This is the point of application to modern deviations from orthodox Christian theology and behavior. How do you deal with the person who claims to be a follower of Jesus yet behaves in a way which is clearly sinful? Do we “shun the unbeliever”? Should we accept them regardless of the sin? How does 2 Peter help with this problem?