There was some doubt about the authorship of 2 Peter early in the history of the church. According to Eusebius its authorship was a “disputed” book but then so was Hebrews. Athanasius listed it among the canonical books in his 39th Festal Letter (367 AD). Modern scholarship is divided. The majority opinion (but not necessarily the correct opinion) is that it is pseudepigraphal, i.e., that it was not actually written by the Apostle Peter but only attributed to him by someone else. As the ancient church came to see that this really was an inspired work, and imposed by an apostle as part of the canonical word of God, it was received as such. The medieval and Reformation churches accepted it as such but in the modern period, influenced as it as been by the rationalism of the Enlightenment movements, doubt has been cast on the authenticity (and therefore the date) of 2 Peter based entirely on subjective grounds. The critics tend to date 2 Peter in the 2nd century and regard it as inauthentic because the style varies from 1 Peter.
The style and vocabulary are somewhat different from 1 Peter but the theology is not essentially different. We have good reasons to doubt the doubters. First, source criticism is a notoriously unreliable and subjective method. I recall seeing a “source-critical” treatment of Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, in which it was concluded that there were multiple hands at work in it. Of course there were not but if we set up certain criteria we can get the results we want. Defenders of the authenticity of 2 Peter note that the use of secretaries was common in the ancient world. We know that Peter used Silvanus as his secretary and courier for 1 Peter. There is no note of a secretary in 2 Peter. Based upon what is known about the production of the other NT epistles (including 1 Peter) It seems likely that he had a secretary but perhaps not. At any rate, a change in secretaries is more than sufficient to explain the stylistic differences. Then there is 2 Peter 3:1, which says: “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” (ESV). Since there is an explicit claim of authorship we should need strong evidence to doubt it. That evidence simply does not exist. As we go through the epistle we will see internal evidence that 2 Peter has the same kinds of concerns, the same thought structure, and the same theology as 1 Peter.
As one who has spent a good deal of time in the Apostolic Fathers (i.e., a collection of early Christian writings from c. 110–170 AD somewhat arbitrarily collected in the modern period and denominated as “the apostolic fathers”) it is evident to me that there are marked differences between the early post-apostolic writings and holy Scripture. For one thing, the early post-apostolic writings do not claim to be apostolic. The heterodox and heretical groups produced pseudepigraphal writings but the early Christians did not. The Apostolic Fathers quoted Scripture and referred to it as such. They had a consciousness that they were quoting authoritative, apostolic, Scripture. They were appealing to a rule outside themselves, a rule given by God. The Apostles write with a different authority. 2 Peter reads much more like an Apostolic writing than a post-apostolic writing.
Peter begins by describing himself first of all as a servant or a slave (δοῦλος) Were this pseudepigraphal, would the author have delayed, even by one word the assertion of his apostolic authority? That seems unlikely. Indeed, in the case of the Gnostic texts (2nd century) they telegraph immediately, with obvious clauses, that they are spurious. E.g., they claim to have secret information about gaps in our biblical knowledge about the life of our Lord Jesus or a secret revelation from one of the apostles. This salutation is what we would expect from an apostle who is nearing the end of his earthly ministry.
Structure, Setting, And Themes
There are three chapters in 2 Peter and, though there is thematic overlap between them, they contain three discernible themes:
- The Truth of Christ Versus Man-Made Myths (1:3–21)
- The Danger of False Teachers (2:1–22)
- The Day of the Lord (3:1–13)
As noted in the series on 1 Peter, these epistles were sent to Christian congregations in Asia Minor (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythinia) in what corresponds to western Turkey. These were ethnically mixed congregations who suffered unofficial persecution, i.e., informal pressure from masters, and others to conform to the surrounding paganism. Where in 1 Peter the contrast is between the pagans and the Christians and how the latter should conduct themselves in a pagan culture, the focus in 2 Peter is problem created by theological and moral error within the visible church.
Peter regards us Christians living between the ascension of Christ and his return as pilgrims and aliens. We live in this world, God’s world, under the Lordship of Christ but we do so as resident aliens. The over-arching theme that unites these two epistles is what I have been calling the “Noah Paradigm.” Our Lord appealed to this way of thinking in his Olivet Discourse (Matt 24:37): “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be when the Son of Man comes.” Our Lord was characterizing the inter-adventure age. He was giving us a way to think about our life between his ascension and his return. In Noah’s day people were conducting their life as if God is not (etsi Deus non daretur). They were doing the ordinary things of life but they were ignoring the Lord’s prophet, Noah, who was warning them about the coming judgement and urging them to repent and to believe. They did not and all of them who lived in “the world that then was” ( 2 Pet 3:6) perished except for God’s church, i.e., Noah and his family. For Peter, the New Testament church is in a similar position. Like Noah, Christians too are announcing a message about the coming judgment and calling everyone everywhere to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. We are in the ark (Christ), as it were, and sometimes it seems as if the rain is about to start falling any moment. Like Noah, we wait patiently, trusting in Christ and in his promises. We live and serve in the knowledge that, as important as God’s world is, there is coming a new heavens and a new earth.