2 Peter 3:4
And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(4) Where is the promise?—Not meaning, of course, “In what passages of Scripture is any such promise to be found?”—but, “What has come of it? where is there any accomplishment of it?” (Comp. Psalm 42:3; Psalm 79:10; Jeremiah 17:15; Malachi 2:17.)

Of his coming.—“His” instead of “the Lord’s” indicates not merely that only one Person could be meant, but also the irreverent way in which these scoffers spoke of Him.

Since the fathers fell asleep.—What fathers are meant? Four answers have been given to this question: (1) The ancestors of the human race; (2) the patriarchs and prophets; (3) the first generation of Christians; (4) each generation of men in relation to those following. Probably nothing more definite than our remote ancestors is intended. The expression “fell asleep” is used of St. Stephen’s death in Acts 7:60 (comp. Matthew 27:52; 1Corinthians 7:39, where the word is not literally translated; 1Corinthians 15:6; 1Corinthians 15:18, &c). The thoroughly Christian term “cemetery” (=sleeping-place), in the sense of a place of repose for the dead, comes from the same Greek root.

There is a passage quoted by Clement of Rome (circ. A.D. 100) which seems at first sight to contain a reference to this verse: “Far be from us this Scripture where He saith, Wretched are the double-minded, who doubt in heart and say, These things we heard in the times of our fathers also, but behold, we have grown old, and none of them has happened to us” (Epistle to the Corinthians, xxiii.). But the remainder of this “Scripture,” as quoted by Clement, is so utterly unlike the verse before us, that one suspects some other source. And this suspicion is confirmed when we find the same passage quoted in the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (xi.) as “the prophetic word.” (See on 2Peter 1:19 and on 2Peter 2:9). The differences between the two quotations are such that the pseudo-Clement appears to be quoting independently, and not merely borrowing from the true Clement. In neither case does close inspection encourage us to believe that our present verse is the source of the quotation. But the quotation by the true Clement is important as a complete refutation of the objection that “the fathers” means the first Christians, and consequently no such scoffing argument as this would be possible in the lifetime of St. Peter This very argument was not only in existence, but was condemned in a document which Clement before the close of the first century could quote as “Scripture.” Comp. Epistle of Poly carp, chap. vii.: “Whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says there is neither resurrection nor judgment, he is the firstborn of Satan.”

All things continue as they were.—Rather, as they are. The error has probably arisen from a desire to get rid of the slight difficulty of two dates being given: (1) from the death of “the fathers,” and (2) from the beginning of the creation. The suggestion that “the fathers” are the first progenitors of the human race is another attempt to get rid of the difficulty by making the two dates virtually one and the same. But the second date is an after-thought, frequent in Thucydides, intensifying and strengthening the first. Since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they are—nay, more, since the beginning of the creation.

This sceptical argument is used with increased force as each generation passes away. It will be at its strongest just before the fallacy of it is irrefragably exposed—on the eve of the day of judgment.

2 Peter 3:4-6. Where is the promise of his coming — To raise the dead, judge mankind, and destroy the earth? We see no sign of any such thing. The promise of Christ’s coming we have Matthew 15:27, The Son of man shall come in his glory, &c.; John 14:3, I will come and receive you to myself, &c., and in many other passages of the gospel; a promise which was renewed by the angels at our Lord’s ascension, and is spoken of in many passages of the epistles, especially in those of St. Paul. By representing Christ’s promised coming as a delusion, the scoffers set themselves and others free from all fear of a future judgment, and bereft the righteous of their hope of reward. For since the fathers fell asleep — Since our ancestors died; all things — Heaven, earth, air, water; continue as they were from the beginning of the creation — Without any such material change as might make us believe they will ever have an end. So say these scoffers. For this they willingly are ignorant of — As if he had said, It is from their ignorance, their gross, affected ignorance, that they argue after this manner. He says willingly ignorant, to signify that they had sufficient means of knowing better, but that they did not care to know or consider any thing respecting it. That by the word of God — His almighty word, which bounds the duration of all things, so that it cannot be either longer or shorter; the heavens — As by the heavens here the apostle means the atmosphere which surrounds this earth, the plural is put for the singular by a change of the number very common in the Scriptures; were of old — Anciently before the flood; and the earth standing — Or subsisting, (as συνεστωσα more properly signifies,) out of the water — Which had before covered it, namely, emerging from it by the divine command, (the earth being formed out of the chaos, which had been previously brought into existence for that purpose,) and the liquid element retiring to the channels prepared for it; and in the water — By which God appointed that it should be surrounded, nourished, and supported, water being the life of the vegetable creation; whereby Διων, by which things, thus constituted; the world that then was — The whole antediluvian race, with all the brute animals, except such as were with Noah in the ark; being overflowed with water, perished — Perhaps διων, by which things, refers to the heavens mentioned above, and may relate to the windows of heaven being opened, as the expression is Genesis 7:11, and pouring forth upon the earth a destructive deluge of water. The apostle means that these scoffers did not consider God’s power manifested in making the world, which must enable him also to destroy it if he pleased, and that they had little reason for saying that all things continued as they were from the creation.3:1-4 The purified minds of Christians are to be stirred up, that they may be active and lively in the work of holiness. There will be scoffers in the last days, under the gospel, men who make light of sin, and mock at salvation by Jesus Christ. One very principal article of our faith refers to what only has a promise to rest upon, and scoffers will attack it till our Lord is come. They will not believe that he will come. Because they see no changes, therefore they fear not God, Ps 55:19. What he never has done, they fancy he never can do, or never will do.And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? - That is, either, Where is the "fulfillment" of that promise; or, Where are the "indications" or "signs" that he will come? They evidently meant to imply that the promise had utterly failed; that there was not the slightest evidence that it would be accomplished; that they who had believed this were entirely deluded. It is possible that some of the early Christians, even in the time of the apostles, had undertaken to fix the time when these events would occur, as many have done since; and that as that time had passed by, they inferred that the prediction had utterly failed. But whether this were so or not, it was easy to allege that the predictions respecting the second coming of the "Saviour" seemed to imply that the end of the world was near, and that there were no indications that they would be fulfilled. The laws of nature were uniform, as they had always been, and the alleged promises had failed.

For since the fathers fell asleep - Since they "died" - death being often, in the Scriptures, as elsewhere, represented as sleep. John 11:11 note; 1 Corinthians 11:30 note. This reference to the "fathers," by such scoffers, was probably designed to be ironical and contemptuous. Perhaps the meaning may be thus expressed: "Those old men, the prophets, indeed foretold this event. They were much concerned and troubled about it; and their predictions alarmed others, and filled their bosoms with dread. They looked out for the signs of the end of the world, and expected that that day was drawing near. But those good men have died. They lived to old age, and then died as others; and since they have departed, the affairs of the world have gone on very much as they did before. The earth is suffered to have rest, and the laws of nature operate in the same way that they always did." It seems not improbable that the immediate reference in the word "fathers" is not to the prophets of former times, but to aged and pious men of the times of the apostles, who had dwelt much on this subject, and who had made it a subject of conversation and of preaching. Those old men, said the seeing objector, have died like others; and, notwithstanding their confident predictions, things now move on as they did from the beginning.

All things continue as they were, from the beginning of the creation - That is, the laws of nature are fixed and settled. The argument here - for it was doubtless designed to be an argument - is based on the stability of the laws of nature, and the uniformity of the course of events. Thus far, all these predictions had failed. Things continued to go on as they had always done. The sun rose and set; the tides ebbed and flowed; the seasons followed each other in the usual order; one generation succeeded another, as had always been the case; and there was every indication that those laws would continue to operate as they had always done. This argument for the stability of the earth, and against the prospect of the fulfillment of the predictions of the Bible, would have more force with many minds now than it had then, for 1,800 years (circa 1880's) more have rolled away, and the laws of nature remain the same. Meantime, the expectations of those who have believed that the world was coming to an end have been disappointed; the time set for this by many interpreters of Scripture has passed by; men have looked out in vain for the coming of the Saviour, and sublunary affairs move on as they always have done. Still there are no indications of the coming of the Saviour; and perhaps it would be said that the farther men search, by the aid of science, into the laws of nature, the more they become impressed with their stability, and the more firmly they are convinced of the improbability that the world will be destroyed in the manner in which it is predicted in the Scriptures that it will be. The specious and plausible objection arising from this source, the apostle proposes to meet in the following verses.

4. (Compare Ps 10:11; 73:11.) Presumptuous skepticism and lawless lust, setting nature and its so-called laws above the God of nature and revelation, and arguing from the past continuity of nature's phenomena that there can be no future interruption to them, was the sin of the antediluvians, and shall be that of the scoffers in the last days.

Where—implying that it ought to have taken place before this, if ever it was to take place, but that it never will.

the promise—which you, believers, are so continually looking for the fulfilment of (2Pe 3:13). What becomes of the promise which you talk so much of?

his—Christ's; the subject of prophecy from the earliest days.

the fathers—to whom the promise was made, and who rested all their hopes on it.

all things—in the natural world; skeptics look not beyond this.

as they were—continue as they do; as we see them to continue. From the time of the promise of Christ's coming as Saviour and King being given to the fathers, down to the present time, all things continue, and have continued, as they now are, from "the beginning of creation." The "scoffers" here are not necessarily atheists, nor do they maintain that the world existed from eternity. They are willing to recognize a God, but not the God of revelation. They reason from seeming delay against the fulfilment of God's word at all.

And saying, Where is the promise? Questioning or denying the great truths of the gospel, thereby to encourage themselves in walking after their own lusts.

Of his coming; viz. Christ’s, mentioned 2 Peter 3:2. Possibly these scoffers might drop the name of Christ by way of contempt, not vouchsafing to mention it, as the Jews did, John 9:29; q.d. Where is the promise of his coming whom you expect?

His coming, to judge the world; q.d. His promised coming doth not appear, the promise of it is not fulfilled.

For since the fathers, who died in the faith of Christ’s coming, and had the promise of it,

fell asleep; i.e. died; the usual phrase of Scripture, which these scoffers seem to speak in derision; q.d. It is so long since the fathers fell asleep, (as you call it), that it were more than time for them to be awakened, whereas we see the contrary.

All things continue as they were from the beginning of the

creation; i.e. the world continues to be the same it was, and hath the same parts it had; we see nothing changed, nothing abolished, but still nature keeps its old course. Thus they argue, that because there had been no such great change, therefore there should be none; because Christ was not yet come to judgment, therefore he should not come at all; not considering the power of God, who is as able to destroy the world as to make it, nor the will of God revealed in his word concerning the end of it. And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?.... That is, of the coming of the Lord and Saviour, 2 Peter 3:2; the object of their scorn and derision, and whom they name not, through contempt; and the meaning is, what is become of the promise of his coming? where the accomplishment of it? The prophets foretold he would come; he himself said he would come again, John 14:3; the angels, at his ascension, declared he would come from heaven in like manner as he went up, Acts 1:11; and all his apostles gave out that he would appear a second time to judge both quick and dead, Acts 10:42 1 Peter 4:5, and that his coming was at hand, Philippians 4:5; but where is the fulfilment of all this? he is not come, nor is there any sign or likelihood of it:

for since the fathers fell asleep; or "died": which is the language of the Scriptures, and here sneered at by these men, who believe them so fast asleep as never to be awaked or raised more; and by "the fathers" they mean the first inhabitants of the world, as Adam, Abel, Seth, &c. and all the patriarchs and prophets in all ages; the Ethiopic version renders it, "our first fathers":

all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation; reasoning from the settled order of things, the constant revolution of the sun, moon, and stars, the permanency of the earth, and the succession of the inhabitants of it, to the future continuance of things, without any alteration; and consequently, that Christ would not come, as was promised, to raise the dead, judge mankind destroy the world, and set up a new state of things: the fallacy of which reasoning is exposed by the apostle in the following words.

{3} And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.

(3) The reason that these mockers pretend that the course of nature is as it was from the beginning, therefore the world was from everlasting, and shall be forever.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2 Peter 3:4. The scoffing words of the ἐμπαῖκται.

καὶ λέγοντες ποῦ ἐστιν ἡ ἐπαγγελία τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ] The question ποῦ ἐστιν expresses the negation; “quasi dicunt: nusquam est, evanuit; denique vana est et mendax;” cf. 1 Peter 4:18. The same form of speech with ποῦ ἐστιν: Psalm 42:4; Psalm 79:10; Malachi 2:17; Luke 8:25.

αὐτοῦ, i.e. Christi, cujus nomen ex re ipsa satis poterat intelligi (Grotius). Gerhard assumes that the scoffers did not mention the name of Christ per ἐξουθενισμόν; thus also Wiesinger, Hofmann. According to the connection (2 Peter 3:2), the ἐπαγγελία meant is that of the O. T. (cf. chap. 2 Peter 1:19 ff.[87]). In what follows we have the thesis of the scoffers in opposition to the ἐπαγγελία, and the basis of it. The thesis is: πάντα οὕτως διαμένει ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως; its basis is indicated by the words: ἀφʼ ἧς (sc. ἡμέρας) οἱ πατέρες ἐκοιμήθησαν. On the assumption that the ἀφʼ ἧς οἱ πατ. ἐκοιμ., as used by the scoffers, means the period marking off the commencement of the διαμένει, and that ἀπʼ ἀρχ. κτ. serves only as a more precise definition of it (Brückner, Schott), then by οἱ πατέρες must be understood “the ancestors, the first generations of the human race.” But on this view ἀφʼ ἧς κ.τ.λ. is an entirely superfluous determination (Wiesinger), nor would there thus be any indication of the ground on which the scoffers based their thesis; if, however, this be contained in ὀφʼ ἧς κ.τ.λ., the reference in οἱ πατέρες can be only either to the fathers of the Jewish people, to whom the ἐπαγγελία was given, cf. Hebrews 1:1 (Wiesinger), or those of the generation to which the scoffers belong (de Wette, Thiersch, Fronmüller, Hofmann). Now, since the falling asleep of the fathers of Israel, before its fulfilment, could not well be brought as a proof that the promise was of none effect, inasmuch as it referred to a time beyond that in which they lived (cf. 1 Peter 1:10 ff.), preference must be given to the second view. Wiesinger, indeed, says that the time of the composition of the epistle does not agree with this; but as the tarrying of the παρουσία had already been the occasion of wonder in the church, and Christianity, when this letter was composed, had now been in existence for at least thirty-five years, it is quite possible that even at that time those who held Libertine views could have supported their denial of the Parousia by the fact that the expectation cherished by the early Christians had remained unrealized, thus calling forth the prophecy here made. At any rate, it is a point not to be overlooked, that the words here used are represented as to be spoken at a time then still in the future. 2 Peter 3:8, which otherwise would stand totally unconnected with 2 Peter 3:4, also favours this view.[88] The connection of the two members of the verse is certainly a loose one, since on none of the different interpretations does ἀφʼ ἧς κ.τ.λ. stand in close connection with διαμένει. The thought which has been somewhat inadequately expressed is: Since the fathers fell asleep, nothing has changed,—the promise has not been fulfilled,—a proof that everything remains as it has been since the creation. With ἐκοιμήθησαν, cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Corinthians 15:6, and other passages.

οὕτως does not require any supplement properly so called: “the scoffers point as it were with the finger to the (sacred) status quo of the world” (Steinfass).

διαμένει does not mean “has remained,” nor is it “will remain,” but the present expresses the continuous, uniform duration; δια strengthens the idea μένειν.

ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως: “since creation took its beginning.”

[87] This Hofmann disputes, saying: “by the promise is not to be understood the Old Testament promise, nor by the future the future of Christ, since those who speak thus are members of the Christian church; but with respect to the Old Testament prophecy, they speak of Jehovah’s coming, and, with respect to Christ’s prophecy, of His own coming, ἡ ἐπαγγελία τῆς παρουσίας τοῦ κυρίου might comprehend the one as well as the other;” the context, however, is in favour of the interpretation which Hofmann disputes.

[88] Dietlein’s interpretation is altogether wrong. According to it, οἱ πατέρες means: “One generation after another always standing in the relation of fathers to the race succeeding it.” Peculiar, but certainly quite unjustifiable, is the opinion of Steinfass, that the scoffers, with reference to the promise contained in the Book of Enoch, understood οἱ πατέρες to mean “the prophetical, or more definitely, the eschatological patriarchs, beginning with Enoch and extending down to Daniel.”2 Peter 3:4. ποῦ ἐστὶν, κ.τ.λ. The coming or our Lord in the near future was evidently an integral part of the apostolic teaching, cf. 2 Peter 1:16. “There is no sure evidence that Jesus sought to undermine the assumption of His followers, that the and glory would be manifested in their day; and even this we may fairly qualify with the remembrance that a main motive of the principal eschatological discourse, reported by the Synoptists, is to warn the disciples against premature expectations” (J.H. Muirhead, Eschatology of Jesus, pp. 126, 127). τῆς παρουσίας: See note on 2 Peter 1:16. ἀφʼ ἧς γὰρ, κ.τ.λ. “The fathers,” must mean those of the preceding generation, in whose life-time the παρουσία was expected. οὕτως = in statu quo. ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως, i.e., “contrary to all previous human experience”. The Teaching of our Lord Himself in one aspect would imply that the actual παρουσία, would be attended with no outward previous disturbance of life to act as a warning. Men would be engaged in their ordinary occupations and pleasures (Matthew 24:36-42). The development and ripening of the moral and spiritual issues of men’s lives are often not outwardly apparent (cf. Paget’s “Studies in the Christian Character,”—“The Hidden Issues,” pp. 89 ff).4. Where is the promise of his coming?] The question indicates the comparatively late date of the Epistle. St James had spoken (probably a. d. 50) of the Judge as standing at the door; St Paul had written twice as if he expected to be living on the earth when the Judge should come (1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 2 Corinthians 5:4), and yet He came not. Men began to think that the Coming was a delusion.

for since the fathers fell asleep] Ordinarily, the “fathers,” as in Romans 9:5, would carry our thoughts back to the great progenitors of Israel as a people. Here, however, the stress laid by the mockers on the death of the fathers as the starting-point of the frustrated expectation, seems to give the word another application, and we may see in the “fathers” the first generation of the disciples of Christ, those who had “fallen asleep” without seeing the Advent they had looked for (1 Thessalonians 4:15); those who had reached the “end of their conversation” (Hebrews 13:7). The scoffers appealed to the continuity of the natural order of things. Seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, followed as they had done from the beginning of the creation. In the last phrase we may trace an echo of Mark 10:6; Mark 13:19. “You have told us,” they seem to have said, “of an affliction such as there has not been from the beginning of the creation, and lo! we find the world still goes on as of old, with no great catastrophe.” The answer to the sneer St Peter gives himself, but it may be noted that the question of the scoffers at least implies the early date of the writings in which the expectation of the Coming is prominent.

In the use of the verb to “fall asleep” for dying, we are reminded of our Lord’s words “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth” (John 11:11); of St Paul’s “many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:30). So in Greek sculpture Death and Sleep appear as twin genii, and in Greek and Roman epitaphs nothing is more common than the record that the deceased “sleeps” below. Too often there is the addition, as of those who were without hope, “sleeps an eternal sleep.” In Christian language the idea of sleep is perpetuated in the term “cemetery” (κοιμητήριον = sleeping-place) as applied to the burial-place of the dead, but it is blended with that of an “awaking out of sleep” at the last day, and even with the thought, at first seemingly incompatible with it, that the soul is quickened into higher energies of life on its entrance into the unseen world.2 Peter 3:4. Ποῦ ἔστιν, where is?) They think, either that it ought already to have taken place, or that it never will take place. This is also their meaning when they say, all things continue as they were.—ἡ ἐπαγγελία, the promise) Mockers thus term it, not in respect of themselves, but in mimicry,[17] because the righteous earnestly desire the fulfilment of the promise.—αὐτοῦ, of Him) Of the coming Lord, whom they disdain to mention by name.—ἀφʼ ἧς) (ἡμέρας), from the day in which.—οἱ πατέρες, the fathers) who rested their hopes on the promise.—πάντα, all things) the heaven, the water, the earth.—οὕτω, thus) An adverb of pregnant meaning; that is, thus continue, as they do continue.—ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως, from the beginning of the creation) These mockers at any rate confess, that the world did not exist from eternity.

[17] See Append. on MIMESIS.—E.Verse 4. - And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? (comp. Malachi 2:17, "Where is the God of judgment?"). The Lord had prophesied of his coming; St. Paul had spoken more than once as if that coming were very near at hand (1 Corinthians 15:51; 2 Corinthians 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:15). Yet he came not. Already men were beginning to mock, and to question whether the long-delayed promise would ever be fulfilled. For since the fathers fell asleep; better, from the day that. By "the fathers" must be meant here the fathers of the Christian Church. St. Peter was writing more than thirty years after the Ascension. The first generation of Christians was rapidly passing away. Stephen "fell asleep" first, then James the son of Zebedee, the other James the Lord's brother, and many others who had looked, it may be, to see the coming of the Lord among those "which are alive and remain" (1 Thessalonians 4:17). But they had died, and he came not; and from the day of their death things went on as they were. Should men look for him still, the mockers asked, when the fathers looked in vain? The mockers adopted, in mockery, doubtless, the Christian phrase for death. The Lord first had said, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth ;" then the holy Stephen "fell asleep;" and so "they which are asleep" became the recognized name for the dead in Christ. Death is like sleep; the holy dead rest from their labours. They "sleep not idly," for they are at home with the Lord, and they are blessed; but yet the quiet rest of Paradise, though "far better" than this earthly life, is sleep compared with the perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, which the redeemed of the Lord shall enjoy at last in his eternal glory. All things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation; literally, all things continue thus, as they are, and as they have been from the beginning. There has been no sudden catastrophe; the world has gone on as it was; the laws of nature are still working with their changeless uniformity" (see a remarkable parallel in Clement, I, 23, which is important also as an independent proof that this argument of the scoffers is as old as the end of the first century). From the beginning of the creation (ἀπ' ἀρχῆς κτίσεως)

Not a common phrase. It occurs only Mark 10:6; Mark 13:19; Revelation 3:14.

Fell asleep (ἐκοιμήθησαν)

A literal and correct translation of the word, which occurs frequently in the New Testament, but only here in Peter. Some have supposed that the peculiarly Christian sense of the word is emphasized ironically by these mockers. It is used, however, in classical Greek to denote death. The difference between the pagan and the Christian usage lies in the fact that, in the latter, it was defined by the hope of the resurrection, and therefore was used literally of a sleep, which, though long, was to have an awaking. See on Acts 7:60.

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