Introductory Issues in 2 Peter
rev. by Matthew L. Skinner (03/2023)
If the arguments against Petrine authorship are in fact conclusive, this provokes questions about who may have written 2 PeterThe disciple who denied Jesus during his trial but later became a leader in proclaiming Jesus More and about the letter’s place and contribution to canonA canon is a general law or principle by which something is judged. The body of literature in the Old and New Testaments is accepted by most Christians as being canonical (that is, authentic and authoritative) for them. More and to tradition. The option of reading it “as though it had been written by Peter” seems somewhat facile if the arguments about the letter’s discontinuity from 1 Peter are to be taken seriously.
Christian faith in a transitional period
Many suggest that the letter reflects a culture where the shifts from a Jewish to a Hellenistic atmosphere and from an apostolic to a postapostolic culture were being felt. If this is the case, interpreters need to evaluate how 2 Peter should be read against other, subsequent cultural shifts. One rightly asks, for example, whether the letter’s posture of retrenchment or caution is too pronounced.
Reading 2 Peter as a “testament” of the ApostleDerived from a Greek word meaning “one who is sent,” an apostle is a person who embraces and advocates another person’s idea or beliefs. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus called twelve apostles to follow and serve him. Paul became an apostle of Jesus… More Peter
Some interpreters identify the genreA genre is a type or category of something, often literature. Form criticism (see) begins with sorting biblical literature into various genres. More of 2 Peter as a testament, the final words and exhortations of a revered figure (see especially 1:13-15). Ancient Jewish groups produced testamentary literature, emulating passages such as Genesis 49:1-28 (the last words of JacobThe son of Isaac and Rebekah, renamed Israel, became the father of the twelve tribal families More) and 1 Kings 2:1-9 (the last words of DavidSecond king of Israel, David united the northern and southern kingdoms. More). In the New Testament, the book of 2 TimothyThe companion on Paul’s later journeys for whom two pastoral epistles are named More and Acts 21:17-39 also imitate the rhetoric and perspective of testaments. Although testaments were written in the voice of a notable figure near the end of their life, they appear usually to have been written by someone else after their death, extolling their legacy of faith and virtue.
References to other texts
The letter directly refers to the writings of PaulA Christian missionary who once persecuted the church More in 3:15-16, and it also alludes to familiar biblical themes and motifs. These are intriguing but do not combine to provide a clear idea of what the author’s sources might have been. Recognized affinities to other early Christian literature are also not conclusive to most readers in suggesting a date or setting.
The relationship between 2 Peter and Jude
Neither Jude nor 2 Peter provides any specific details regarding the errors of false teachers. We do not know enough to be able to identify these teachers with any of the gnostic sects known to us. Nevertheless, there are similarities in how these two books speak about opponents, choosing to criticize their character rather than identifying or refuting their teachings. Parallel passages include: Jude 4 // 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 6-7 // 2 Peter 2:4-10a; Jude 8-9 // 2 Peter 2:10b-11; Jude 10, 12 // 2 Peter 2:12-13; Jude 11 // 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 12-13, 16 // 2 Peter 2: 17-18; Jude 17-18 // 2 Peter 3:1-3; Jude 24-25 // 2 Peter 3:18. In the judgment of a majority of scholars, 2 Peter quotes Jude, rather than vice versa.
This Greek term, translated as “hell” in many English versions, appears in 2 Peter 2:4 as the place into which God cast the rebellious angels. It is taken from Greek and Roman mythology, denoting a place of abandonment and torment. Its use here instead of “Hades” may be one small indicator that the letter was meant for a non-Jewish audience.
Stoic moralistic and cosmological teachings appear to have influenced how the author of 2 Peter understood virtue and the universe. Stoicism was a diverse yet widespread philosophical movement during the time the New Testament writings were produced. Some scholars see resemblances, although not necessarily direct and explicit connections, between how 2 Peter discusses personal conduct and virtue and how the philosopher Epictetus does. The idea that the current earth will be destroyed in a fiery conflagration (2 Peter 3:7, 10) appears to reflect more influence from Stoic ideas than influence from any other part of scripture. In all of this, 2 Peter offers examples of how Christian teaching always reflects the intellectual and ethical contexts in which it is situated. That 2 Peter is a book that expresses deep resistance to theological change and development can be seen as heightening the irony of its indebtedness to Stoic ideas.
Waiting for JesusJesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God’s saving act for humanity More
Many New Testament writings suggest that people in the early church expected Jesus to return relatively soon, during their lifespans (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Mark 14:62). In 2 Peter, the author endeavors to reassure readers who might be disturbed that Jesus has not returned in glory, even as time continues to pass and more and more members of the church’s first generations appear to have passed on. The book warns about “scoffers” who will mock the fact that Jesus’ coming (parousiaThe parousia refers to the second coming of Christ in glory and triumph. This apocalyptic event fulfills various end-of-time prophecies such as the resurrection of the dead and the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. More) has yet to occur (3:3-4). It draws on the authority of Peter and other apostles, whose testimony about Jesus’ coming can be trusted because of what they were privileged to witness (1:16). It urges its audience to continue waiting patiently and virtuously (3:12). It implies that the perceived delay is an expression of divine graceGrace is the unmerited gift of God’s love and acceptance. In Martin Luther’s favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. More toward people who have yet to repentRepentance is a central biblical teaching. All people are sinful and God desires that all people repent of their sins. The Hebrew word for repent means to “turn away” from sin. The Greek word for repentance means to “change on’e mind,” more specifically, it means… More (3:9). As more time passed since the time of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, it makes sense that the church would need to explain why his return appeared to be delayed. If people were disappointed that the parousia had not come quickly enough, this would cause attrition in some congregations. The author of 2 Peter tries to quiet concerns while still counseling watchfulness, especially by asserting that God’s timing is different from ours (3:8, referring to PsalmA psalm is a song of praise. In the Old Testament 150 psalms comprise the psalter, although some of the psalms are laments and thanksgivings. In the New Testament early Christians gathered to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. More 90:4) and that “the day of the LordThe Day of the Lord, in prophetic writing, is the day of judgment when God will intervene directly in world affairs. As described in Zephaniah, for instance, God will sweep everything away. In Matthew’s gospel God is described as gathering the elect on the day… More” will be unexpected and sudden, coming like a thief (3:10; cf. MatthewA tax collector who became one of Jesus’ 12 disciples More 24:42-44; LukeThe “beloved physician” and companion of Paul More 12:39-40; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 16:15).