Commentary on 2 Peter 3

Notes (NET Translation)

3:1 Dear friends, this is already the second letter I have written you, in which I am trying to stir up your pure mind by way of reminder: 3:2 I want you to recall both the predictions foretold by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.

The readers are addressed as “beloved” (agapetoi, “dear friends”) to highlight that the readers were the recipients of God’s love and that Peter was tenderly concerned for them.

This is the second letter written by Peter to these readers. Scholars disagree on the identity of the first letter. We can quickly dismiss some proposals. A few scholars have suggested that 2 Peter, as we now have it, is a composite of multiple letters. This hypothesis has no textual evidence in its favor and the contents of 2 Peter hardly require that it be viewed as a patchwork of once independent letters. Some other scholars suggest the first letter is the Letter of Jude since it touches on many of the same topics. But this hypothesis suffers from the fact that this letter is written in Peter’s name and Jude is not. Moreover, it makes it hard to explain why 2 Peter changes the wording of Jude if they were written from the same author and to the same recipients.

A more likely hypothesis is that the first letter was written by Peter but is now lost.  We know Paul wrote letters that were lost (1 Cor 5:9; Col 4:16) so it is a very real possibility. But there is no mention of such a letter even in ancient sources.

The majority view among commentators (which I share) is that the first letter is 1 Peter. The main objection to this view is that 1 Peter does not call its readers to pure thinking.

But perhaps we have failed to see the parallel with 1 Peter here. In his first exhortation to his readers he said, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet 1:13). Peter used the same word for “mind” (dianoia) as we find in 2 Pet 3:1. In addition . . . it is evident that eschatology is central for the entire book, and the adversaries in 2 Peter denied the eschatological judgment and the coming of the Lord. But in 1 Peter the readers were exhorted to fix their hope on the eschatological coming of Christ. Indeed, all of the exhortations in 1 Peter flow from 1:3-12, where eschatology takes center stage. So we could summarize the argument of 1 Peter in such a way that he encouraged his readers to right thinking in light of the eschaton. The parallels between 1 and 2 Peter are closer than many scholars concede. I conclude that 1 Peter is the letter referred to here. (Schreiner 369-370)

It is quite unnecessary to seek any closer similarity between the two letters, because the author’s real purpose in 3:1-2 is (a) to link his own letter to 1 Peter, and (b) to describe the intention of his own letter. He wrote 3:2 primarily to describe his own purpose in writing 2 Peter, and so it need not describe the first letter as accurately as it does the second. (Bauckham 286)

Verse 2 refers to OT prophets (1:16-21) not Christian prophets. Peter emphasizes that the teachings of the apostles came directly from Jesus (the Lord and Savior). The phrase “your apostles” refers to the apostles who evangelized and taught the churches addressed. “The call to remember presupposes that these believers have received the fundamentals of Christian teaching on the same level with the OT prophetic testimony” (G. Green 313).

3:3 Above all, understand this: In the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 3:4 and saying, “Where is his promised return? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”

The NT writers emphasized that the “last days” had arrived with the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:17; Gal 4:4; Heb 1:2). The opponents are the “blatant scoffers” who indulge in evil (ch. 2) and deny the second coming. The prophecy concerning such scoffers was already fulfilled in the days of Peter. The opponents reasoned that since God has not intervened since the age of the patriarchs or from creation then he will not intervene in eschatological judgment. There is no “our” in the Greek text behind “our ancestors” so it is better translated “the ancestors.” The term translated “ancestors” (pateres) always refers to the OT patriarchs and not to first generation of Christians (Mt 23:30, 32; Lk 1:55, 72; 6:23, 26; 11:47; Jn 4:20; 6:31, 49, 58; 7:22; Acts 3:13, 25; 5:30; 7:2, 11-12, 15, 19, 32, 38-39, 44-45, 51-52; 13:17, 32, 36; 15:10; 22:1, 14; 26:6; 28:25; Rom 9:5; 11:28; 15:8; 1 Cor 10:1; Heb 1:1; 3:9; 8:9; Barn 5:7; 14:1; Apoc Pet E 16; Ep Apost [Coptic] 28) in the first two Christian centuries (Bauckham 292). In other words, the scoffers are not denying the second coming because the first generation of Christians had died. “For it is not said that things continue as they done since the coming of Christ, but since the beginning of the creation. The mockers were twisting the Old Testament Scriptures; it is, appropriately, out of the Old Testament that Peter confounds them” (M. Green 140).

3:5 For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water.

Scholars debate whether this verse implies the opponents consciously or unconsciously suppressed “this fact” or not. The verse reminds the scoffers that the creation of the world was an example of divine intervention. “They claimed continuity since creation, but the creation of the world itself represents divine intervention” (Schreiner 374). Creation is not a reason to doubt that God will intervene again. When Peter says the earth was formed out of water he is probably referring to the watery state in Gen 1:2. What he meant when he said the earth was formed by means of water is less clear. Bauckham (297) and Schreiner (376) suggest that he meant God used water as an instrument, in a loose sense, in forming the world. Gene L. Green (320) notes that the Greek implies God is sustaining the earth: “Things have indeed continued the same from creation until the present. But this stability, as the creation, is due to divine agency. And that same agency, the word of God, sustains the present world for the future judgment (3:7). The heretics have diminished God’s word, questioning his promises (3:4).”

3:6 Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water.

In this verse the author reminds the scoffers of another intervention by God, the deluge. The phrase “these things” (plural) probably refers to the word of God and the water mentioned in verse 5. God has judged the world in the past and will do so again in the future.

3:7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

In Gen 9:11-17 God promised not to destroy the world by water again (although it should be stressed that the image of fire is apocalyptic and therefore may or may not be intended literally). In Iranian (Zoroastrian) religion fire was viewed as purifying. The Stoics believed that there was a natural cycle of destruction and renewal brought about by a conflagration. 2 Peter is not drawing from these beliefs but is rather drawing from the Jewish belief that the fire brought about judgment on the wicked at the consummation of all things (Bauckham 300-301).

3:8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day.

Peter alludes to Ps 90:4 in order to contrast the impatience of human expectations with the eternity of God. While the time before the end may seem long to humans it is short from God’s eternal perspective. Unlike some ancient (and modern) Jews (Jub 4:30; 2 En 33:1-2; b Sanh 97a, 99a; Midr Ps 90:17; Pesiq R 1:7) and Christians (Barn 15:4-5; Justin, Dial 81; Irenaeus, Adv Her 5.23.2; 5.28.3) we should not equate 1,000 human years with one God day in an attempt to predict when the second coming will occur.

3:9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

The “promise” is the promise of Christ’s return in judgment (3:4, 7, 10, 12-13). The opponents apparently thought the return was taking too long and therefore would not occur at all. Such an argument was known among Greek thinkers of the era. This does not mean the opponents were Epicureans, for example, but that this idea was in the air at the time and therefore it is not surprising to find it in this letter (G. Green 327-328). Peter responds by saying God does not want anyone to perish on the day of judgment but wants all to come to saving repentance (1 Tim 2:4). Note that, in this context, the “all” is limited by “you”, the readers (Bauckham 313). “One cannot properly claim to follow a Father who is patient and slow to anger if one is herself impatient and quick to anger, which is one reason why the control of anger is such an important topic in the NT, as is the command not to judge” (Davids 279).

3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare.

To say that the Lord will come like a thief means he will come when people least expect it (Mt 24:42-44; Lk 12:39-40; 1 Thess 5:2-4; Rev 3:3; 16:15). The second half of the verse implies that the world as we know it will be destroyed but it cannot be pressed for details. In this verse, the Greek word stoicheia (translated “celestial bodies” by the NET, which is another possibility) may refer to the basic building blocks of which material things are made (G. Green 330). What is meant by the earth and deeds being “laid bare” (heurethesetai) is difficult to determine but probably refers to our deeds being laid bare before God for judgment (G. Green 330-331; Schreiner 386-387).

3:11 Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, 3:12 while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze!

Knowing the outcome of the world should motivate the readers to lead lives of holiness and godliness. The most natural reading of the Greek means that the godly lives of believers will hasten the coming of the day of the Lord (cf. Mt 6:10; Acts 3:19-21). “Because God retards his judgment due to his desire that sinners should repent (3:9), this repentance will accelerate ‘the coming of the day of God'” (G. Green 334).

But does not such an idea threaten divine sovereignty, his control over history? Was Peter suggesting that God himself does not know when the end will be, since he does not know if his people will live in a godly way? We can dismiss the idea that the future is obscured from God, for if that were true, how could we know that history would ever end? After two thousand years of history, how could we be sure that Christians would ever live righteously enough to bring about God’s day? Divine sovereignty is not threatened, for God himself foreknows what his people will do. Indeed, he even foreordains what we will do (e.g., Prov 16:33; Isa 46:9-11; Lam 3:37-38; Eph 1:11). Nevertheless, such teaching must never cancel out the call to live godly lives and the teaching that our prayers and godliness can speed up his coming. We must not fall prey to rationalism that either squeezes out divine sovereignty or ignores human responsibility. Both of these must be held in tension, and here the accent falls on what human beings can do to hasten the day of God. (Schreiner 391)

3:13 But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides.

The day of God involves both judgment and salvation. God’s righteousness reigns in the new heavens and new earth.

3:14 Therefore, dear friends, since you are waiting for these things, strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when you come into his presence.

The new heavens and the new earth is the ultimate hope of believers. Believers are to be spotless and blameless (unlike the opponents in 2:13). Being spotless and blameless is necessary for eternal life (Eph 1:4; 5:27; Phil 2:15; Col 1:22; Jude 24; Rev 14:5) but it should not be taken to mean we must be morally perfect. To be “at peace” with God is to be reconciled to God (Rom 5:1) and found acceptable before him (1 Pet 1:2; 5:14; 2 Pet 1:2).

3:15 And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, 3:16 speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.

The patience of the Lord can be regarded as salvation in the sense that it gives us an opportunity to repent and be saved (3:9). The general point Peter is making is to live in righteousness in light of the final judgment. It is “these things” that are also found in Paul’s letters. Presumably Paul is mentioned at this point because the opponents were twisting Paul’s words to justify their libertine lifestyles.

Peter referred to Paul, then, to reclaim him and to explain that Paul was not on the side of the opponents. He was Peter’s “beloved brother,” that is, coworker in the gospel and fellow believer. The “our,” then, designates Paul as fellow worker with other apostles, not as a fellow believer with all other Christians. Paul’s letters are a manifestation of divine wisdom. Paul himself often emphasized that his apostolic calling was given by God (Rom 12:3; 15:15; 1 Cor 3:10; Gal 2:9; Eph 3:2, 7; Col 1:25). The word “given” (dotheisan) is a divine passive, emphasizing that Paul’s ability was not to be traced to his native gifts but God’s grace. (Schreiner 395)

It cannot be determined what Pauline letters were written to the readers (“to you”). Also remember that Paul encouraged a wider distribution of his letters (Col 4:16) so the letters in question may not have been addressed directly to Peter’s audience (Galatians, Colossians, and Ephesians were written to churches in Asia Minor). The reference to “all his letters” does not mean that Peter was acquainted with each and every one of Paul’s letters (but copying and collecting letters was popular at the time, G. Green 339). It merely means that the themes of holiness and the patience of the Lord were found in the writings from Paul that Peter was acquainted with. The most interesting part of verse 16 is that Peter considers Paul’s writings to be Scripture on par with the Old Testament. But this should not be taken to mean that there was a fixed canon of Pauline Letters.

3:17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard that you do not get led astray by the error of these unprincipled men and fall from your firm grasp on the truth.

The “fall” in view is apostasy (Rom 11:11, 22; 14:4; 1 Cor 10:12; Gal 5:4; Heb 4:11; Rev 2:5). The readers should hold firmly to the teaching found in the prophetic and apostolic revelation.

This, then, is the purpose of this book. It is a reminder in case the addressees have forgotten. It is a wake-up call, in case they are letting down their guard. It is a pointing out of the error of lawless men and women so that, seeing the error and its danger, the addressees will recoil from it and remain secure. (Davids 312)

3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the honor both now and on that eternal day.

Christ is the one believers are to know. The “best antidote against apostasy is a Christian life that is growing” (G. Green 343).

The Christian life, it has been said, is like riding a bicycle. Unless you keep moving, you fall off! No true Christian thinks, as the false teachers seem to have done, that he has ‘arrived’. Peter and Paul (Phil. 3:13f.) both urge others to press on as they themselves do. The Christian life is a developing life, for it consists in getting to know at ever greater depth an inexhaustible Lord and Savior. (M. Green 163)

Doxologies that are clearly directed to Jesus Christ seldom occur in the New Testament, though 2 Tim 4:18 and Rev 1:5-6 are doxologies to Christ. A doxology to Christ constitutes another way that the letter is framed, for we already saw in 1:2 that Peter identified Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Doxologies, of course, are only directed to God himself, and so the deity of Jesus Christ is communicated in the doxology. Glory should be attributed to Christ because the salvation and perseverance of believers is ultimately his work, and the one who does the work deserves the glory. We are reminded of the transfiguration, where glory and honor are given Jesus Christ (1:17). Peter did not call on believers to exercise incredible self-effort and be saved. God grants grace so that believers can grow in the knowledge of himself. (Schreiner 402)

The unusual phrase eis hemeran aionos (“eternal day”) designates the age to come (3:13). Whether the letter originally ended with the word “Amen” is disputed among textual critics.

Bibliography

Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. Word Books, 1983.

Davids, Peter H. The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006.

Green, Gene. Jude & 2 Peter. Baker Academic, 2008.

Green, Michael. 2 Peter & Jude. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Holman Reference, 2003.

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One thought on “Commentary on 2 Peter 3

  1. Pingback: Authorship and Date of 2 Peter and Jude « Biblical Scholarship

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