The Glossary of Terms

2 Peter


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Peter, The Second Letter of. N.T. book, a general letter written sometime after A.D. 100 by an unknown author. The letter seeks to correct false teachings that were being spread at that time.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Peter, the Second Letter of, second Letter attributed to the apostle Peter in the nt canon and one of the seven catholic or general nt Letters. Although 2 Peter claims to be a second letter from Peter (3:1), it is judged today as a pseudonymous letter. ‘Peter,’ its alleged author, is the recipient of several revelations (Matt. 16:17; Mark 9:2-8; 13:3-37; Acts 10:11-16), which serves to augment the present claim to have received a special revelation about the Parousia (i.e., the return of Christ; 1:16-18). The Letter is remarkable for the diverse traditions it alludes to: biblical materials (2:4-8), some of Paul’s letters (3:15-16), the gospel tradition about the transfiguration (1:16-18), and traditions about the Parousia (3:10). In addition, 2 Peter is generally agreed to have incorporated the Letter of Jude as the central part of the present work. Although written in the form of a letter, 2 Peter is best seen as a last will and testament to the church: it is written on the occasion of the death of the author (1:12-14), who predicts the coming of heretics to disturb God’s church (3:3-4) and who leaves as a legacy the correct interpretation of important issues (1:15).


The Second Letter of Peter

Content and Purpose: 2 Peter is a piece of apology and polemic, responding to a crisis in the church over God’s theodicy and the eschatological doctrine of the Parousia as the end of the world and its judgment. First, 2 Peter claims that heretics are already in the church: ‘false prophets’ who speak peace when doom is coming (2:1-3) and ‘scoffers’ who mock ‘the promise of his coming’ (3:3-4). They argue from the delay of the day of judgment that God will not judge; from the eternity of the world they argue against its predicted end.

Second, in response to this heresy, 2 Peter defends God’s coming judgment, appealing to images intelligible to pagans and Christians alike. The author affirms that ‘God did not spare’ the evil angels (2:4), Noah’s world (2:5), or Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6-8). As God once destroyed the world by water, so he can end it by fire (3:5-7). The biblical allusions are clear, but these examples could also be understood by pagans as references to their traditional myths of the Titans cast into Tartarus, the flood of Deucalion and Phyrra, and the fiery destruction of Phaethon. From these examples, 2 Peter concludes with the principle that God both rewards and punishes: ‘God knows how to rescue the godly…and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment’ (2:9-10). Third, he defends God’s alleged ‘slowness’ in judging. God’s time is mysterious, as the psalmist noted (3:8). God’s ‘slowness’ is really God’s long-suffering, giving sinners time to repent (3:9). Even Paul, notoriously difficult to understand, agrees with 2 Peter on God’s slowness to judge as God’s gift of long-suffering (3:15-16; see Rom. 2:4-6).

Besides defending God’s coming judgment, 2 Peter mounts an apology for the Christian prophecy of Jesus’ Parousia as a time when the world will end and judgment will be meted out. The scoffers have no use for any prophecy whatever, especially for the Parousia prophecy. They consider it a ‘myth’ invented to terrify and so control people. The author denies, however, that the Parousia prophecy is a ‘cleverly devised myth’ (1:16). He was an eyewitness when the prediction was given. The key here is to understand Jesus’ transfiguration as the early Christians did, namely, as a prophecy of Jesus’ glory at his return and his judgment on sinners. The author claims to have been inspired to see and hear the prophecy (1:16-18) and to be its official interpreter (1:20-21). Therefore, the author claims, he is not fabricating the notion of Christ’s return in glory.

This prophecy contains a summary of the Christian eschatological doctrine. The world will come to an end on the day of the Lord (3:10-12), when a new heaven and earth will be formed (3:13). That day will be a day of judgment (3:10; 3:7). This doctrine in turn calls for a high standard of ethical conduct, for on the day of judgment the wicked will be punished and the godly rewarded. As a result, great attention is given to praising the ideal moral behavior of orthodox Christians (*/ 1:1*/1:1-11) and exposing the follies of sinfulness (2:11-22).

Date: Unlike the first letter attributed to the apostle Peter, this one gives no indication of its place of origin, and any attempt to determine one would be pure speculation. Its date of composition is likely to be late first or early second century because of its mounting concern with the delay of Christ’s return (3:8-9), its dependence on Stoic physics (3:10; the dissolution of all things into their original fire is the Stoic idea of ekpyrrosis [lit., Gk. ‘conflagration’]), and the inclusion of much of the Letter of Jude into its second chapter.

Bibliography Fornberg, Tord. An Early Church in a Pluralistic Society. Uppsala: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1977. Neyrey, Jerome H. ‘The Form and Background of the Polemic in 2 Peter.’ Journal of Biblical Literature 99 (1980): 407-431.


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Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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