The Second Epistle General of Peter
[Sidenote: The Author.]

The difficulties which are connected with the authorship of this Epistle are greater than those connected with the authorship of any other book of the New Testament. A multitude of objections have been raised against its genuineness, and it has been pronounced spurious by a considerable number even of Christian writers. But while fully admitting that the problem is complicated, we can lawfully simplify it by at once dismissing some of the weaker objections. For instance, the statement that 2 Peter quotes from Josephus, the celebrated Jewish historian, who died c. A.D.103, is utterly unproved. Again, the often-repeated statement that the doctrine of man being made a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. i.4) is a doctrine which was not taught until after the apostolic age, is unwarrantable, unless we repudiate wholesale many books of the New Testament which we have every reason to regard as apostolic. For the indwelling of the Father in Christ and in the believer through Christ is implied by St. Paul, St. John, St. James, and St. Peter. The writer, in laying stress upon the importance of spiritual knowledge, is once more in agreement with St. Paul and St. John. He plainly does not mean mere intellectual knowledge, and the doctrine which he teaches is of a very simple kind. The slight reference made to the Redemption (ii.1) and the silence manifested as to the Resurrection cannot be considered so crucial as some scholars believe them to be. Readers of the First Epistle could hardly fail to have these {247} facts printed in their very souls. They would not require to have them repeated in a second letter.

The language of the Epistle, especially in the verses which do not depend upon Jude, shows several small coincidences with 1 Peter and with the speeches of St. Peter in Acts. We may compare the phrases in 2 Pet. ii.15 with Acts i.18, and 2 Pet. iii.10 with Acts ii.19, and

Compare 2 Pet. i.7 with 1 Pet. i.22, iii.8. " " i.19, 20 " " i.10-12.
" " ii.1 " " i.18
" " iii.6 " " iii.20.
" " iii.14 " " i.19.

The writer abstains from copying the designation of the apostle contained in 1 Peter, and does not record the words spoken from heaven at the Transfiguration exactly as they are reported in the Gospels. In both these points a forger would very probably have acted otherwise.

On the whole, the words employed in 2 Peter seem indecisive with regard to the authorship. There is sufficient variation to allow us to believe that it was written or not written by the apostle. One of the most remarkable words in 2 Peter is that employed in i.16 for an "eye-witness." It is a word used in the Greek heathen mysteries, and some critics think that such a word would not have been used by an orthodox writer until an age when the Church had learnt to borrow Greek religious terms from the Gnostic heretics. It is a sufficient proof of the weakness of this argument that the Greek verb derived from this noun is found in 1 Pet. ii.12. It is, however, fair to say that the style of 2 Peter is less simple and less closely connected with the Old Testament than that of 1 Peter.

More serious objections are (1) the lack of external evidence in the writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries; (2) the internal evidence that the Epistle is based upon Jude, and perhaps on the Apocalypse of Peter.


Eusebius is evidently in doubt about it. He says, "We have not indeed received it by tradition to be in the Canon, yet as it appeared useful to many, it was studiously read with the other Scriptures." [1] It is not mentioned by Irenaeus, nor is it in the list given in the Muratorian Fragment. But it seems to have been commented on by Clement of Alexandria, though it is not quoted in his extant works. Origen does mention it in his original Greek works, but in a manner which shows that it was disputed in his time. In Rufinus' Latin translation of Origen there are several quotations from 2 Peter, but against this fact it is sometimes urged that Rufinus emended Origen, and that we cannot be absolutely certain that these quotations are genuine. The Epistle seems to have been known to Origen's great contemporary Hippolytus (Refut. ix.7; x.20 and elsewhere). There are, moreover, passages in still earlier writers which are perhaps based on 2 Peter. These are in Clement of Rome, A.D.95, Justin Martyr, A.D.152, and the document which is wrongly called the Second Epistle of Clement, and is really a Roman homily of about A.D.140. The evidence of these passages is not positive, but if even one of them is quoted from 2 Peter, it becomes quite impossible to assign 2 Peter to A.D.150-170, which is the date most favoured by those who deny its authenticity. Nor is the omission of any mention of it in Irenaeus and the Muratorian Fragment a very destructive fact. The Muratorian Fragment is only a fragment, and does not mention 1 Peter, and there is no passage in Irenaeus quoted from James. Yet it is certain that those two Epistles belong to the apostolic age. The fact is that such a very large amount of the literature of the 2nd century has been destroyed, that it is always precarious to argue from omissions in the books which are still extant. Therefore, although the evidence of writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries is certainly meagre in the case of 2 Peter, we cannot argue that comparative lack of evidence means positively hostile evidence. A {249} notable step towards the determination of the problem will be made if scholars eventually agree to assign a very early date to the two great Egyptian versions of the New Testament. Both these versions contain 2 Peter.

As to the connection between 2 Peter and Jude, it may be regarded as certain that either they both depend on some previous document, or that one of them depends on the other.

Compare Jude 6 with 2 Pet. ii.4.
" " 7 " " ii.6.
" " 8 " " ii.10.
" " 10 " " ii.12.
" " 11 " " ii.15.
" " 12, 13 " " ii.13, 17.
" " 16 " " ii.18.
" " 17, 18 " " iii.1-3.

An examination of these passages seems to prove that 1 Peter borrows from Jude and not Jude from 2 Peter.[2] In Jude the connection of ideas seems more simple and direct. Various verses in 2 Peter become more intelligible in the light thrown upon them by the corresponding verses in Jude. Thus Jude 10 alludes to the immorality which explains why the heretics are called "animals to be destroyed" in 2 Pet. ii.12. Jude 13, by calling the heretics "wandering stars," explains why "darkness" is said to be "reserved" for them in 2 Pet. ii.17. Between 2 Pet. ii.17 and 18 there is no direct allusion to Enoch as in Jude 14, but some of the material taken from the Book of Enoch still remains.

It will be observed that this connection with Jude is confined to 2 Pet. ii.1-iii.7. Now, this passage must have been either inserted in some ancient manuscript of this Epistle, or it was originally part of the Epistle. If it has been inserted, the question of the authenticity of the rest of the Epistle obviously remains {250} untouched. But if it originally formed part of the Epistle, as appears to be the case, can we regard this as a conclusive proof that St. Peter did not write it? Surely not.[3] The fact that St. Luke inserts most of the Gospel of St. Mark is not considered to be any argument against the authenticity of St. Luke's work. Both in the Old Testament and the New we are occasionally confronted by the same phenomenon. Writers repeat what has been said by other writers when their words appear to them to be the best possible words for enforcing a particular lesson.

The question of the authenticity of 2 Peter has lately become still further complicated. There has recently been discovered part of the Apocalypse of Peter mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment. This Apocalypse is usually thought to have been forged in Egypt in the first half of the 2nd century. It presents certain points of resemblance with 2 Peter. These points of resemblance affect the first chapter of 2 Peter as well as the second chapter. They therefore furnish an argument against the theory that ch. ii. is a late interpolation into a genuine Epistle, and they suggest that the Epistle is either wholly genuine or wholly forged. But the solution of the problem is not so easy as it seems to many scholars. If we could positively say that the Apocalypse was written in the 2nd century, and positively say that 2 Peter borrows from it, the question would be settled once for all. But this is the very thing which we cannot do with confidence. Some critics of great ability hold it certain that 2 Peter was forged by some one who borrowed from the Apocalypse. Some think that the same writer forged them both. Others think that the Apocalypse is partly derived from 2 Peter. They can strongly support their view by the fact that when Christians were familiar with both writings, it was decided to reject the Apocalypse and {251} keep the Epistle. Lastly, it might be reasonably held that the coincidences in both writings are due to the use of one earlier document or a common stock of ideas and phrases. The popularity of Apocalyptic literature at the beginning of the Christian era makes this theory credible.

We may sum up the evidence for and against 2 Peter as follows: --

1. The external evidence is meagre.

2. The internal evidence is perplexing, and may reasonably be considered adverse.

On the other hand: --

1. The external evidence is not definitely adverse.

2. No convincing reason can be assigned for forging such an Epistle. The critics who believe it to be forged, hold that it was written in Egypt in order to oppose the Gnosticism of c. A.D.150 or 160. But the Gnosticism rebuked in 2 Peter cannot definitely be assigned to the 2nd century. And it is very difficult to say that the heresy rebuked in 2 Peter belongs to the 2nd century without also maintaining that the heresy rebuked in Jude belongs to the 2nd century.[4] Yet several facts in Jude point so decidedly to the 1st century that some of the ablest writers who deny the authenticity of 2 Peter strongly assert the genuineness of Jude.

We can only conclude by doubting whether we know more about the problem of 2 Peter than the Church of the 3rd and 4th centuries knew. Perhaps we do not know nearly as much. And under these circumstances we cannot effectively criticize the judgment of the Church which decided to admit 2 Peter into the Canon.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

To the same readers as the First Epistle (iii.1).

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

It was probably written in Rome, and some of the earliest references to it are by writers who lived in Rome. {252} Justin Martyr lived in Rome, and if the references in Justin Martyr and other writers before Hippolytus be considered doubtful, Hippolytus is a Roman witness of the first importance.

The date is perhaps between A.D.63 and 67. If it were later than 70, we might reasonably expect to find a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem after the allusion to God's retribution on the people of Sodom and other malefactors of old times. The errors which are denounced are akin to those which are denounced in 1 and 2 Timothy. The allusion to St. Paul's Epistles in iii.16 suggests that some collection of these Epistles already existed, and that St. Paul was already dead. It has been urged against the genuineness of the Epistle that it includes the Pauline Epistles in Scripture (iii.16), and that this would have been impossible in the apostolic age. But the statement need not necessarily mean more than that the Epistles were on the margin of a Canon which was in process of formation. There is good reason for believing that the Pauline Epistles occupied this position at a time when men who had known some of the apostles were still living, and perhaps earlier. The manner in which St. Peter has made use of St. Paul's work in his First Epistle, makes it quite possible for us to think that he believed in the peculiar inspiration of his great comrade. And it is an interesting fact that the Syriac Doctrine of Addai in speaking of the Epistles of St. Paul, adds, "which Simon Peter sent us from the city of Rome."

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The key-word to the Epistle is not hope, as in 1 Peter, but knowledge (i.3, 8; ii.20). We find, as in 1 Peter, a fondness or the word "glory." But in 1 Peter glory seems to be represented as given to Christ after His sufferings, and promised to Christians in the future after their sufferings (1 Pet. i.11; iv.13; v.1). Here glory is rather spoken of as manifested in all the new dispensation, and especially at the Transfiguration (i.3, 17). The apostle {253} appeals to the fact that he witnessed the Transfiguration as a guarantee of his prophecy of the second "coming" of Christ. He finds another warrant in the prophecies of the Old Testament, and asserts that prophecy is not a matter for a man's own private unaided interpretation, inasmuch as it was an utterance prompted by the Holy Spirit (i.19-21).

This description of true religious knowledge is followed by an arraignment of false prophets and speculative heresy. It is possible that the teaching of definitely false doctrine was already combined with previously existing immoral practice. The verse (ii.1) in which the writer speaks of false teachers, refers to the rise of these heretics as future. But in other verses of the chapter the "self-willed" teachers are spoken of as already active. We gather from iii.16 that the licence which is so sternly rebuked was a system in which St. Paul's doctrine of justification by faith was represented as a justification of vile indulgence. Although this part of the Epistle is a paraphrase of Jude, it is not a mere reproduction. A new feature in 2 Peter is that the heretics were sceptical concerning the second coming of Christ (iii.4). They argued that since the death of "the fathers," i.e. the first followers of Christ, the world continued as before. St. Peter urges that the deluge came, though its coming was doubted, and also that it must be remembered that the Lord does not reckon time as men do. A period which is long to us is not long to Him. The day of the Lord will come suddenly "as a thief in the night," and in view of judgment the readers are exhorted to holiness and patience.



Salutation, a list of Christian graces which are to be successively blended with faith, a reminder of the truth of Christianity as testified by the words of God at the Transfiguration, and by the light of prophecy (i.).

Denunciation of the false teachers who are guilty of gross sin and blindly follow their lower instincts (ii.).

Allusion to the former letter, rebuke of those who disbelieve in the last judgment, the coming of the day of the Lord and the destruction of the world, exhortations to holiness, diligence needed, the long-suffering of Christ witnessed to by Paul, growth in grace (iii.).

[1] H. E. iii.3.

[2] The priority of 2 Peter is strongly defended by Spitta, in his Der Zweite Brief d. Petrus, 1885.

[3] This is very clearly stated by Dr. G. B. Stevens in his valuable Theology of the New Testament, although he decides against the genuineness of 2 Peter.

[4] This is done by Harnack, who places Jude between A.D.100 and 130.


chapter xxi the first epistle
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