The background for Peter’s first epistle was the Roman persecution that threatened those who were converted to Christianity, whether Jews or Gentiles. To them Peter wrote concerning their hope in God. As pilgrims they must expect tribulation and realize that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the eternal weight of glory in Christ Jesus. Now, at a later date, Peter directs his attention to the enemy that was rising from within the church. False teachers were raising their ugly heads and spewing forth their pernicious doctrines. By both warning and instruction, the Holy Spirit led Peter to emphasize the blessed knowledge of God which is in Christ Jesus.

THE AUTHOR 

One would think that authorship of this epistle would be a simple matter, yet it is one of the most disputed. He begins, “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:1). Furthermore, we read, “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you” (II Peter 3:1). Who else could that be but Peter? 

During the fourth century, the church councils established the sixty-six books of the canon of Holy Scripture. In doing this, they sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that they would choose only those which the Spirit had written by infallible inspiration and reject the others. Among the spurious books, that is, letters or gospels written by fakes but had the names of apostles attached to them, were two attributed to the apostle Peter, but not written by him: The Gospel of Peter and The Apocalypse of Peter. Still others were written by apostles or church fathers and considered edifying, but not inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

Some church fathers considered this second epistle of Peter as spurious, e.g., Didymus of the fourth century. Others did not want to go that far. They recognized the problem and placed this letter in the category of disputed books, e.g., the historian Eusebius. The arguments have continued all through history. Calvin, for example, doubted that Peter was the author. We can summarize the debate by referring to Harrison’sNew Testament Introduction

1. The early church fathers seldom quoted from II Peter. (Neither did they outright reject it as spurious. Eventually it was included in the New Testament by the church councils, even though they were well aware of the controversy over it.) 

2. There are differences in style and vocabulary between I Peter and II Peter. (This is true. Some suggest that it may not be due to different authors, but rather that the one author, Peter, used different secretaries. Others suggest that the subject matter is different and that demands different style and vocabulary.) 

3. The reference in II Peter 3:15, 16 to a body of Pauline writing and to the “other Scriptures,” i.e., to the Old Testament books, demand a much later period of time when these existed as a distinct grouping. (Such a reference merely refers to the existence of some books, not necessarily to the completed canon.) 

4. A discussion takes place as to the relationship between Jude and II Peter. Comparisons are made between II Peter 2:11 and Jude 1:9II Peter 2:17 and Jude 1:13. Some say II Peter depends on Jude; and others reverse this; still others say both II Peter and Jude rely on some third source. (Similarity between letters does not assume dependence and, even then, does not destroy its authenticity.) 

5. The heresy which Peter treats in this letter is Gnosticism, an error that did not arise in the church till a later century. (The seeds of these errors were already present in the first century.) 

We believe that the following considerations indicate that there is good evidence for accepting Simon Peter as the author of this letter. 

1. He calls himself Simon Peter (II Peter 1:1). If this were a spurious letter, the author would carefully copy I Peter so as not to be detected. In I Peter he calls himself “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” 

2. The author condemns falsehood and hypocrisy, II Peter 2. It would be difficult to imagine that he himself would use deceit in the writing of this book. 

3. He makes personal reference to events in his life that closely parallel Peter’s life. He witnessed the transfiguration (II Peter 1:16-18). Christ had prophesied Peter’s death (John 13:36); the writer mentions that his death is not only approaching, but was also predicted by Christ (II Peter 1:14). 

4. He was well acquainted with Paul (II Peter 3:15). Paul also mentioned this fellowship in Jerusalem in Galatians 1:18

We have already considered the details of Peter’s life in connection with our study of I Peter.

OCCASION AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAccording to II Peter 1:1, Peter addresses this letter to “those that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” He mentions that this is the second letter that he is sending them (II Peter 3:1). They are then the same scattered saints mentioned in I Peter 1:1, 2. Some were Jews who believed, others were converted Gentiles (II Peter 1:1). 

He wrote this letter about two years after the first epistle, perhaps about the year A.D. 66 or 67. During the interim, things had changed somewhat in the churches. The persecution by the Caesars became more localized around Rome. A new threat arose, namely, a pernicious philosophy that emphasized the supremacy of the intellect (a form of Gnosticism), rejected the second coming of the Lord, and as usually follows such a rejection, advocated sinful practices. Peter saw these false teachers as gaining entrance in the churches and increasing in influence. 

To deal effectively with their presence, Peter warned the believers to be on their guard against them. He also set forth the true knowledge which is in Christ Jesus. He makes reference to knowledge some sixteen times. 

A BRIEF OUTLINE 

1.Introduction (II Peter 1:1). He identifies himself asSimon Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. He also describes his readers as “Those that have obtained like precious faith.” 

2.2. The nature of the true knowledge in Christ (II Peter 1:2-21). He pronounces the apostolic blessing (II Peter 1:2) and mentions that grace and peace come through the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ (II Peter 1:2). This knowledge is given by the power of God (II Peter 1:3), and rooted in the promises that make us partakers of the divine nature (II Peter 1:4). He lists seven steps that contribute to the fruitful development of knowledge: faith, virtue, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity (II Peter 1:5-8). In this way they will make their calling and election sure and gain entrance into the everlasting kingdom (II Peter 1:9-11). Peter expresses a deep need to remind them of this truth, since he soon will die (II Peter 1:12-15). This knowledge of the return of Christ is not based on fables, but on revelation from God Himself as witnessed in the transfiguration of Jesus and by the written word (II Peter 1:16-18). This Word of God is sure, and each passage must be interpreted in the light of the whole Bible, since prophecy came not by the will of men, but holy men spoke as the Holy Spirit moved them (II Peter 1:19-21). 

3. False doctrine is a threat to true knowledge (II Peter 2:1-11). False prophets were present in the Old Testament times; they are going to be present in our times as well; they bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them (II Peter 2:1). Their method of operation is deceitful: they ‘use feigned words, but actually speak evil of the truth. They make themselves worthy of damnation (II Peter 2:2, 3). Since God punishes evil, He punished the fallen angels, the world before the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and will punish those who are evil in our days. Meanwhile, He also preserves the faithful as He did the good angels, Noah, Lot, and all that live godly (II Peter 2:4-9). Peter describes these heretics as brute beasts, sensuous, evil speakers, spots on their feasts, adulterers, covetous, and like Balaam they forsake the right way. They are like a storm, a tempest, a cloud, they speak great words and promise liberty, but bring-men into bondage (II Peter 2:10-19). Their end is worse than the beginning: it would be better not knowing the truth at all than, knowing it, to return to the lie like a dog to his vomit and a sow to the mire (II Peter 2:20-22). 

4. Hope is evident in true knowledge (II Peter 3:1-18). He writes this epistle having hope that God will stir their souls to see that the return of Christ was prophesied and that heretics are to be expected (II Peter 3:1, 2). These heretics are like scoffers who think that the constancy of natural law is proof that judgment cannot come. They are ignorant of the flood which brought universal judgment (II Peter 3:3-7). The Lord is coming, but His clock is based on His eternity and He will not come until all the saints are saved (II Peter 3:8-10). The knowledge of the destruction of the whole world should make us sober and cause us to look diligently for Christ’s return (II Peter 3:11, 12). We must look for a new heaven and earth which is so wonderful that hoping for it should make us holy, patient, and willing to listen to God’s Word and thereby grow in grace and knowledge. To that God all glory must be given (II Peter 3:13-18). 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION 

1. Review the proof that Simon Peter is the author of this epistle. 

2. The heresy that was taught by these false teachers included a denial of Christ’s return and a justification for living in sin. Do you see a relationship between these two evils? 

3. Reflect on those passages that describe these false teachers (II Peter 2). How can we discern who these heretics are in our day, especially since Peter warns that more of them shall appear as the end approaches? 

4. The true knowledge of Christ is crucial for our being steadfast unto the end. How does this account for the attacks on the Bible and on preaching in our day? 

5. Explain the importance of II Peter 1:19-21 for a proper method of interpreting the Bible. 

6. What does it mean that the heretics deny the Lord that bought them (II Peter 2:1)? 

7. What comfort is there for us that God does know how to deliver the just from temptation, e.g., Noah and Lot (II Peter 2:5-9)? 

8. Belief in a universal, catastrophic flood is crucial to belief in the end of the world. Explain (II Peter 3:3-7). 

9. How does the study of God’s Word in general and this letter in particular help prepare us for the return of Christ?