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Second Peter

Reception:

“Even Peter cries out with trumpets in two of his epistles” (Origen, Homily on Joshua 7.1)

“And Peter… has left one acknowledged epistle; perhaps also a second, but this is doubtful” (Origen, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.8)

“But we have learned that his extant second Epistle [of Peter] does not belong to the canon;  yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures. 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.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.3.1-2)

“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. Among the rejected writings must be reckoned… the Apocalypse of Peter” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3-4)

“He [Peter] 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” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 1)

Patristic exegesis of the text of 2 Peter can be found in Gerald L. Bray’s James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Volume XI) and in online catenas here and here.

Author: Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). The use of the Semitic “Simeon” is paralleled in Acts 15:14 where it is places on the lips of Jesus’ brother and the Jerusalem leader James.
  • 2 Peter faces the same questions about whether the author’s facility in Greek and rhetorical skill matches the Galilean preacher Cephas. Further, the grandiose “Asiatic” Greek style and the allusions to Old Testament narratives rather than direct citations is quite different from the style of f 1 Peter. The Church Fathers recognized the different style of the two epistles, leading to debates over the apostolic authorship and canonicity of 2 Peter.
  • 2 Peter 1:12-15 has elements that characterize other fictional “testaments” or farewell speeches including the protagonist’s predictions of his/her death and of what the future holds along with other ethical exhortations to the survivors (cf. Richard Bauckham). For example, check out The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Date: between 64-150 CE based on scholarly decisions on these points.

  • In 2 Peter 1:14-15, the author is aware that he was about to lay aside the tent of his body and wants to prepare the readers for his exodos or “departure” (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1 where this euphemism is used for Peter’s death)This could either be read as a prediction from the historical Peter or an example of a fictional testament.
  • There seems to be a tense shift that indicates that Peter’s future predictions about false teachers are actually a present reality for the readers of this letter.
  • The reference to the passing of the “fathers” (2 Peter 3:4) has been interpreted either as the past Christian generation or as the Patriarchs in Genesis.
  • 2 Peter 2:1-22 extensively parallels Jude 3-19 in wording and order, though it adds a few examples (Noah, Lot) and drops others (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses). While there is debate about whether the author of Second Peter copied the text of Jude or vice versa or whether both writings employed a common source, the majority of commentators agree that it was the epistle of Jude that was almost totally incorporated into the later epistle of 2 Peter. Mark Allan Power has posted the chart “Parallels between Jude and 2 Peter” for comparative purposes.
  • 2 Peter 3:1 seems to be a reference to 1 Peter, unless the author was referring to some other lost letter, and thus postdates 1 Peter.
  • Certain doubters criticized the belief about Christ’s imminent parousia or “coming” (3:4) and the readers were encouraged to maintain their future eschatological expectations. It may be in the second or third generation that Christians really began to struggle with the delay of Christ’s return and had to be reminded that it will happen on God’s own timing (i.e. a day for the Lord is like a thousand years in 3:8).
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16 appears to refer to a collection of Pauline Epistles that are placed on par with the other Jewish “Scriptures.”
  • 2 Peter may have access to Matthew’s Gospel (cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18; 2:20), while the references or allusions to the other New Testament Gospels are debatable.
  • Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-254 CE) offers the earliest explicit reference to 2 Peter; whether there are earlier references or allusions to the epistle (e.g. in the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, Clement of Alexandria) is a debatable matter. Most, but not all, scholars judge the Apocalypse of Peter and the Acts of Peter to exhibit literary dependence on 2 Peter.

Audience:

  • Uncertain. This “second letter” seems familiar with 1 Peter, unless this is a reference to an unknown writing in Peter’s name (cf. 2 Pet 3:1), and may imply that the audience is the same as the one in 1 Peter 1:1 (i.e. Christ followers in Asia Minor).

Purpose:

  • The text wishes to defend the apostolically “Petrine” witness that Jesus will return against antinomian “scoffers” who deny that Christ will return in the final judgment and allegedly use this as an excuse for immoral living.
  • The text combines Jewish apocalyptic with a Hellenistic ethos from its list of virtues that enable the reader to take on the “divine nature” or immortality (2 Peter 1:3-11) to its possible contacts with Epicurean philosophy (cf. Jerome H. Neyrey).

 

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