Lesson 4 of5
In Progress

Introductory Issues in 2 Peter

Authorship

If the arguments against Petrine authorship are in fact conclusive, this provokes questions about who may have written 2 Peter and about the letter’s place and contribution to canon 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 Apostle Peter

Some interpreters identify the genre 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 Jacob) and 1 Kings 2:1-9 (the last words of David). In the New Testament, the book of 2 Timothy 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 Paul 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.

Tartaros

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 philosophy

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 Jesus

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 (parousia) 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 grace toward people who have yet to repent (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 Psalm 90:4) and that “the day of the Lord” will be unexpected and sudden, coming like a thief (3:10; cf. Matthew 24:42-44; Luke 12:39-40; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 16:15).