2 Peter Intro ~ 20090920 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
09/20 2 Peter Intro
1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
That's about as far as I expect to get today. We are going to embark on a study of the second letter of the Apostle Peter. But before we do, we need to do some background work on this little letter. There's a few basic questions we should ask of any biblical document to help us better understand it: Who wrote it? To whom was it written? When was it written? and Why? What was the occasion, purpose, and theme of the document? This may sound tedious and boring, but it is necessary and it will be helpful and I believe it will bear spiritual fruit. It is especially necessary with second Peter, because many today believe that it could not have been written by the Apostle Peter, and some think it should not be included in our bible. Paul tells us that 'all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable' (2Tim.3:16), so we have to ask the question: Is this little book part of authoritative God breathed scripture or is it simply an interesting tidbit of antiquity that has been preserved through history? Should we bother to study it, to memorize it, can we quote verses from it that will carry the weight of God breathed authority? Or should we discard it on the trash heap of ancient literature and move on to more profitable things?
NT Pseudepigrapha – To understand the situation we need to understand some of what was happening around the time of the writing and collecting of the New Testament. The Jewish Bible was fixed long before the time of Jesus, but the books we now have in our New Testament were written and circulated between 48 AD (Galatians) and 96 AD (Revelation). As these genuine letters circulated to other churches, there were many other documents that began to circulate in the early church that were not written by the Apostles, but were falsely written as if they came from one of the Apostles. This was happening as early as 50 – 51, when Paul warns the church in Thessalonika about this dangerous practice:
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 ...we ask you brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us... let no one deceive you in any way...
Paul concludes the letter by pointing them to a sign of genuineness.
2 Thessalonians 3:17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.
Someone promoting some deviant teaching and heretical ideas would write a letter promoting their heresy and sign the name of Peter or Paul to gain an audience for their ideas. These letters are called New Testament Pseudepigrapha or 'false writing'. Among these documents are the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter. Many think that 2 Peter should be categorized with these letters and not with the genuine letters of the New Testament.
Here are some of the problems with 2 Peter. It is the least attested of all the New Testament documents. Here's what that means. We look to the evidence in the writings of the first several centuries of the church to see what they thought of a book and how they used it. Because they were closer in time to the writing of the documents, they often had insight into the circumstances of the writing, so their testimony has weight. In fact, most of the New Testament could be re-assembled from the quotes of these early church pastors even if we had no manuscripts of the text itself. Their preaching was based on the Apostles' writings, and they appealed to the authority of the documents now known to us as the New Testament in their teaching and writing. Some even wrote commentaries on the letters of the Apostles. What we look for when we examine the writings of the early church is how early a letter was referred to, who they believed the author to be, if the document was widely known and circulated broadly in the churches, and if it was accepted as genuine and cited as authoritative. 2 Peter was not cited specifically as having been written by Peter until the beginning of the third century - Origen, who lived about 185-254 A.D. says:
"Peter, upon whom the Church of Christ is built, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, has left one epistle undisputed. Suppose, also, the second was left by him, for on this there is some doubt. [Origen, Commentary on John 5:3; cited by Hiebert, p.2; cf. Eusebius, Hist.Eccl. 6.25.8]
Origen supposes 2 Peter was written by Peter, but admits that some doubted its authenticity. Origen himself apparently did not doubt the genuineness of 2 Peter, because he goes on to quote from it six times as Scripture without hesitation. (M.Green, p.13)
Although not cited by name, there are earlier probable references to 2 Peter in The Epistle of Barnabas (c.70-130); 1 Clement (AD 95); The Apocalypse of Peter (c.110-140); Aristides (AD 130); Valentinus (AD 130); The Shepherd of Hermas (c.140-155); 2 Clement (AD 150); Justin Martyr (in Dial.82:1; c.150-165); The Acts of Peter (c.180); and Hippolytus (AD 180); all use phrases out of 2 Peter or show a familiarity with the contents without making specific reference to the source. [Schreiner, p.262-3; M.Green, p.14]. From these references we can be sure that 2 Peter was written no later than 150; probably much earlier.
In 324 AD, Eusebius of Caesarea [c.265-339] classifies the New Testament documents in three categories; the accepted writings, the disputed writings, and the rejected writings.
"3. Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. 4. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned also the Acts of Paul, and the so-called Shepherd, and the Apocalypse of Peter, and in addition to these the extant epistle of Barnabas, and the so-called Teachings of the Apostles; and besides, as I said, the Apocalypse of John, if it seem proper, which some, as I said, reject, but which others class with the accepted books." [Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.25.3-4]
It is significant to note that 2 Peter does not end up in the rejected works with the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas even though these were known and used in many churches. 2 Peter is in good company, as all the other books he lists in the disputed category were eventually received by the church as genuine. In another place, Eusebius says:
"1. One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders use freely in their own writings as an undisputed work. But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the cannon; yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures. 2. The so-called Acts of Peter, however, and the Gospel which bears his name, and the Preaching and the Apocalypse, as they are called, we know have not been universally accepted, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from them. 3. But in the course of my history I shall be careful to show, in addition to the official succession, what ecclesiastical writers have from time to time made us of any of the disputed works, and what they have said in regard to the canonical and accepted writings, as well as in regard to those which are not of this class. 4. Such are the writings that bear the name of Peter, only one of which I know to be genuine and acknowledged by the ancient elders." [Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.3.1-4]
Again he acknowledges that regardless of the questions raised by some about its genuineness, 2 Peter was widely used alongside the rest of scripture as profitable. This is clearly in contrast to the rejected position of the other writings that falsely claimed to have been written by Peter.
Jerome, who wrote in 392, gives us a clue as to the reason why 2 Peter was categorized as disputed.
"He wrote two epistles which are called Catholic, the second of which, on account of its difference from the first in style, is considered by many not to be by him.... On the other hand, the books, of which one is entitled his Acts, another his Gospel, a third his Preaching, a fourth his Revelation, a fifth his 'Judgment' are rejected as apocryphal." [Jerome, lives of illustrious men, ch.1; Ep. 120.11]
The Style of the Greek Text:
Jerome gave us a hint that a major objection to Peter being the author of 2 Peter was the difference in style between it and 1 Peter. "The Greek of 1 Peter is polished, cultured, dignified; it is among the best in the New Testament. The Greek of 2 Peter is grandiose; ...almost vulgar in its pretentiousness and effusiveness." [M.Green, p.16]. This seems to have been the source of many of the early doubts about the genuineness of the letter, and these doubts continue among scholars and commentators today. How could the same person write in such different styles? But even some who reject Peter as the author admit 'there is not that chasm between 1 and 2 Peter which some would try to make out' [Mayor, p. civ., cited in M.Green, p.17]
Recent computer analysis of the two books have concluded that 1 and 2 Peter are indistinguishable linguistically, but are distinguishable from other New Testament books [M.Green, footnote, p.17].
The difference in style could be one of the strongest reasons for accepting it as genuine. Someone who was forging a letter from Peter would attempt to copy the style as closely as possible to remove questions about the work. The fact that it is written in a very different tone from the one other letter we have from Peter indicates that the author was not consciously attempting to copy the style of the first letter.
We should not be too troubled by the early doubts and lack of citations in the early writings. Although it is the least attested in early church history of all the writings now included in our New Testament, this epistle "has incomparably better support for its inclusion than the best attested of the rejected books" [Kummel, p.302 cited by Carson, Moo, Morris, p.434]. Because it is a relatively small book and did not circulate broadly, it would be less likely to be quoted frequently. Questions were raised, but never was 2 Peter positively classified with the false or rejected writings, and no other author than Peter has been suggested. There is no compelling evidence that says that Peter could not have been the author of the letter, and after all the doubts, Peter's authorship still makes the most sense.
2 Peter is included in a Coptic translation (about AD 200), and it is included in the Bodmer papyrus (Greek manuscript p72) which is dated from the early 3rd century. [M.Green, p.13]. It is also included in Codexes Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Alexandrinus. [Schreiner, p.264]
We are told by Eusebius [H.E. vi. 14. 1] and Photius [Cod. 109] that Clement of Alexandria had it in his Bible and wrote a commentary on it. [M.Green. p.13]
2 Peter was listed in Athanasius's festal letter of 367. It was accepted as canonical by the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) in the fourth century. This is significant, because these Councils rejected the Epistle of Barnabas and 1 Clement because they were not of apostolic origin, even though these letters had for a long time been read alongside Scripture in the churches. [M.Green, p.15; Schreiner, p.264]
I've read close to 200 pages of technical bla, bla, bla, on the issues we've been discussing, and after all that it like a breath of fresh air to come back to the bible and open it and read just the first lines of Peter's second letter. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Let's look at the letter itself. The strongest evidence for Peter's authorship of the letter is within the very letter. The letter begins, like most letters of the day with a statement of the author:
2Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ...
1 Peter simply begins 'Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ'. 2 Peter begins with an Hebraic form of Peter's name Simon. This form of his name only appears here and in Acts 15:14. This form is unusual, and was never used in any of the forgeries written in the name of Peter that we have available to us. A forger would be most likely to use the common form of Peter's name, and emphasize the apostolic authority. Peter here highlights his role as servant or slave as well as his position as apostle.
Peter gives us the reason for his writing:
1:12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
Peter is aware that his death will be soon, so he wants to leave a permanent record that will be a constant reminder of the truth that he taught. He says that Jesus made it clear to him that the putting off of his body would be soon.
John 21:18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter was executed under the emperor Nero, who ruled until 68 AD. That would place the writing of this letter around 64-65 AD, shortly before his death. John's Gospel was probably not written until 80-85 AD. Peter gives an independent witness in his own words of what John would record later.
Peter goes on to tell us:
1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
Matthew records the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain in chapter 17 and says:
Matthew 17:5 He [Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Again, Peter does not borrow language from the gospels, but gives an independent testimony of what he experienced on the mountain.
In Chapter 3, Peter tells us
3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,
This is most likely a reference to 1 Peter. Possibly to passages like:
1Peter 1:10-12 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours ...12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Peter also refers to Paul's writings:
3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
Most of the letters of Paul had already been written by this time (with the exception of his letters to Timothy and Titus) and were probably gaining a wide audience. Galatians could have been in circulation for over 15 years by the time Peter wrote; plenty of time to be distorted by false teachers. The way Peter refers to Paul is interesting. He classes Paul's writings as scripture, but he doesn't refer to Paul as 'apostle'. He simply refers to him as 'our beloved brother'.
This is especially interesting in light of Paul's account of their conflict in Antioch:
Galatians 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
Peter was confronted by Paul in front of the whole church and rebuked, and now some 15 years later Peter has the humility to rank Paul's writings as scripture, even if some of it is difficult to understand, and he refers to him with affection as a 'beloved brother'.
Peter's purpose in writing was to remind and to warn. In his first letter, he encouraged his readers to stand firm in the true grace of Christ even when they faced fiery trials and persecution. The problems now facing his readers are very different. The problem has moved from overt persecution from those outside to subtle doctrinal distortion from those within. He says:
2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
3:3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
So Peter is reminding us of the truth and warning against destructive heresies secretly smuggled into the church by false teachers that have infiltrated the group. They are bold and arrogant, and they despise authority. They indulge the lusts of the flesh, and they deny the second coming of Christ and the final judgment. Peter gives us a heads up – knowing this beforehand take care that you are not carried away and lose your own stability. And his remedy? Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and give him all the glory! [3:17-18]