Second Epistle of Peter

From New World Encyclopedia

New Testament

The Second Epistle of Peter is a book of the New Testament attributed to Saint Peter, the Apostle, although scholars doubt this attribution. The main emphasis of this particular epistle (letter) is to denounce "false teachers" who distort the authentic, apostolic tradition. The author of the epistle also claims that God has delayed the Second Coming so that more people will have the chance to reject evil and find salvation. The epistle calls on Christians to wait patiently for the parousia and to study scripture.

The dating of this epistle has proved very difficult. Commentaries and reference books have placed 2 Peter in almost every decade from 60 to 160 C.E.[1]


The letter opens by identifying the author as “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (2Peter 1:1). Elsewhere, the author clearly presents himself as the Apostle Peter, stating that the Lord revealed to him the approach of his own death (2Peter 1:14), that he was an eyewitness of the Transfiguration (2Peter 1:16-18), that he had previously written another epistle to the same audience (2Peter 3:1; cf. 1 Peter), and he called Paul the Apostle “our beloved brother” (2Peter 3:15).

Although 2 Peter internally proports to be a work of the Apostle, a number of liberal biblical scholars have concluded that Peter is not the author, and instead consider the epistle pseudepigraphical. Reasons for this include its linguistic differences from 1 Peter, its apparent use of Jude, possible allusions to second-century gnosticism, encouragement in the wake of a delayed parousia, and weak external support.[2] In addition, specific passages offer further clues in support of pseudepigraphy, namely the author's assumption that his audience is familiar with multiple Pauline epistles (2Peter 3:15-16), his implication that the Apostlic generation has passed (2Peter 3:4), and his differentiation between himself and "the apostles of the Lord and Savior" (2Peter 3:2).

A large number of scholars, however, have disagreed with this position and forwarded reasons in support of genuine Petrine authorship. The text’s claim to have been written by “Simeon Peter” is unique. “Simeon” is an archaic Hebrew form of the standard "Simon," and appears only in Acts 15:14, and then just as “Simeon” (not “Simeon Peter”). “Simeon” is not used in any other place in the New Testament, in any of the Apostolic Fathers, or in any pseudepigraphic literature.[3] 1 Peter uses simply “Peter,” and it has been argued that it would be unlikely for a later writer attempting to feign an original letter to use a different name than one used in the genuine text, especially an archaic and obscure naming convention like "Simeon Peter." Concerning the relation between 2 Peter and Jude, three observations have been made. First, it could be that, conversely, Jude used 2 Peter, extracting information from it and adding a doxology, perhaps motivated by the prophetic statements of 2 Peter having been fulfilled.[4] Second, even if 2 Peter used Jude, that does not exclude Petrine authorship.[5] D. Guthrie stated simply that it was “a fallacious supposition” to assume that an apostle would not have made use of an earlier source, and that, though it might be unexpected, it would be equally or more unexpected for a forger to do so.[6] Third, Ben Witherington III argued that the text we have today is a composite, including points taken from the Epistle of Jude, but that it containing a genuine “Petrine fragment,” which he identified as 2Peter 1:12-21.[7]

If the letter were pseudepigraphy, in many respects it would be unparalleled with other such literature, and it has been remarked that, if the text is pseudepigraphical, then it is “of its own class”.[8] The common convention in pseudepigraphy, when attempting to further the verisimilitude of their claims to authorship, was to adopt a first-person narrative style; however, 2 Peter’s claims do not do so, even in the passage concerning the Transfiguration, where it would be most expected.[8] Furthermore, the account of the Transfiguration differs in certain details from the accounts in the synoptic gospels, unexpected of a forger, and the passage shows a complete lack of embellishment that sets it apart from the trend in apocryphal books.[9] Also unusual is the description of Paul, “our beloved brother” (2Peter 3:15). Later literature referred to Paul as “the blessed Paul,” “the blessed and glorious Paul,” and “the sanctified Paul right blessed,” and thus the subdued usage in the letter is more fitting of genuine Petrine use than of a later forgery.[10] Lastly, the statement that the author finds Paul’s letters difficult to understand (2Peter 3:15-16) runs counter to the tendency in pseudoepigraphy, which is to enhance the heroic alleged author.[11]

On remaining points, differences in style could be explained by Peter having employed different amanuenses (secretaries) for each epistle, or if Peter wrote the second letter himself, while using Silvanus (Silas) as an amanuensis for the first. The use of amanuenses was widespread in antiquity. The reference to the collection of Pauline letters does not in any sense imply the existence of a complete or authorized corpus of Paul’s letters.[12] With tradition placing Paul and Peter in Rome at nearly the same time, he might have had opportunity to read material copied from originals in the possession of Paul or his companions. The reference to “the fathers” (οι πατέρες) is not used anywhere else in the New Testament or in the Apostolic Fathers to refer to Christian “patriarchs,” or the first generation of Christian leaders, and instead would more naturally (given the context) be interpreted as referring to the Jewish patriarchs.[13] Despite these arguments, the great majority of scholarship agrees that Peter could not have written this letter. For example, textual critic Daniel Wallace writes that, for most experts, "the issue of authorship is already settled, at least negatively: the apostle Peter did not write this letter" and that "the vast bulk of NT scholars adopts this...perspective."[14] Werner Kummel exemplifies this position, stating, "It is certain, therefore, that II Pet does not originate with Peter, and this is today widely acknowledged."[15], as does Stephen L Harris, who states that "[v]irtually no authorities defend the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter."[16] Evangelical historians D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo wrote that "most modern scholars do not think that the apostle Peter wrote this letter. Indeed, for no other letter in the New Testament is there a greater consensus that the person who is named as the author could not, in fact, be the author."[17]


Clearly the questions of authorship and date are closely related. Self-evidently if Peter the Apostle wrote this epistle than it must have been written prior to his death in c 65-67 C.E. Many scholars generally consider the epistle to be written between c 100-150 C.E.[18] and so contend that it is pseudepigraphical. For an argument for a late date see Harris.[19] For a 'middle date' see Bauckham who opts for a date between 80-90 C.E. as most probable.[20] For an early date and (usually) for a defense of the Apostle Peter's authorship see Kruger,[21] Zahn,[22], Spitta[23] Bigg,[24] and Green.[25]

Canonical Acceptance

Acceptance of the letter into the canon did not occur without some difficulty; however, "nowhere did doubts about the letter's authorship take the form of definitive rejection."[26] The earliest record of doubts concerning the authorship of the letter were recorded by Origen (c. 185 – 254), though Origen mentioned no explanation for the doubts, nor did he give any indication concerning the extent or location. As D. Guthrie put it, “It is fair to assume, therefore, that he saw no reason to treat these doubts as serious, and this would mean to imply that in his time the epistle was widely regarded as canonical.”[26]Origen, in another passage, has been interpreted as considering the letter to be Petrine in authorship.[27] Before Origen’s time, the evidence is inconclusive;[28] there is a lack of definite early quotations from the letter in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, though possible use or influence has been located in the works of Clement (d. c. 211), Theophilius (d. c. 183), Aristides (d. c. 134), Polycarp (d. 155), and Justin (d. 165).[29] Eusebius (c. 275 – 339) professed his own doubts, and is the earliest direct testimony of such, though he stated that the majority supported the text, and by the time of Jerome (c. 346-420) it had been mostly accepted as canonical.[30]


This epistle presciently declares that it is written shortly before the apostle's death (1:14). Arguments have been made both for and against this being part of the original text, but this debate largely is centered on the acceptance or rejection of supernatural intervention in the life of the writer.

The epistle contains eleven references to the Old Testament. In 3:15, 16 a reference is made to one of Paul's epistles, which some have identified as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11.

The book also shares a number of shared passages with the Epistle of Jude, e.g. 1:5 with Jude 3; 1:12 with Jude 5; 3:2f with Jude 17f; 3:14 with Jude 24; and 3:18 with Jude 25.

Tartarus (Greek: meaning "underworld of darkness") is mentioned in 2:4 as holding certain fallen angels, described in the Epistle of Jude (Chapter 6), which is itself an allusion to the Book of Enoch.


  1. R.J. Bauckham, World Bible Commentary, Vol.50, Jude-2 Peter (Waco, 1983).
  2. Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction To The New Testament, chap. 14. (Online Version) Retrieved May 31, 2008.
  3. M.R. James, The Second Epistle General of St. Peter and the General Epistle of St. Jude, in Cambridge Greek Testament (1912), p. 9; Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament, 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), 820.
  4. S.T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament II p. 250; F. Spitta, Der Zweite Brief des Petrus und der Brief des Judas (1885), pp. 145-146; C. Bigg, The Epistles of St Peter and St Jude, in International Critical Commentary (1901).
  5. E. M. B. Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered (1961), p. 10-11; ‘The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude’, in Tyndale New Testament Commentary (1987).
  6. Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament, 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), 831; on a reason for the use of Jude, see E. H. Plumptre, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, in The Cambridge Bible of School and Colleges (1879), 80.
  7. Ben Witherington III, “A Petrine Source in 2 Peter,” Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers (1985), pp. 187-192.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Guthrie, p. 820
  9. Green, p. 27.
  10. J. B. Major, The Epistle of St Jude and the Second Epistle of St Peter (1907), p. 166; Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament, 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), 826; references to quotes from antiquity are 1 Clement 47.1 and Polycarp, Ad Phil. 11; Polycarp, Ad Phil. 3; Ignatius, Ad Eph. 12.2.
  11. Guthrie, p. 827
  12. Guthrie, p. 824
  13. R.J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word) 1983, p. 290; Donald Guthrie, Introduction to the New Testament, 4th ed. (Leicester: Apollos, 1990), 829.
  14. Second Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline Retrieved May 31, 2008.
  15. Early Christian Writings: 2 Peter Retrieved May 18, 2008.
  16. Stephen L. Harris, Understanding the Bible: a reader's introduction, 2nd ed. Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985), 354.
  17. D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd edition (HarperCollins Canada; Zondervan: 2005. ISBN-10 0310238595, ISBN-13 978-0310238591, 659.
  18. A. Chester and R.P. Martin, The Theology of the letters of James, Peter & Jude (CUP, 1994), 144.
  19. Harris, p. 354
  20. Bauckham, p. 158
  21. M.J. Kruger, “The Authenticity of 2 Peter,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42.4 (1999), 645-671.
  22. S.T. Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament II, p. 250
  23. F. Spitta, Der Zweite Brief des Petrus und der Brief des Judas (1885)
  24. C. Bigg, ‘The Epistles of St Peter and St Jude’, in International Critical Commentary
  25. Green
  26. 26.0 26.1 Guthrie, 806
  27. James, p. xix; cf. Origen, Homily in Josh. 7.1.
  28. Guthrie, p. 807
  29. C. Bigg, The Epistle of St Peter and Jude, in International Critical Commentary (1901), 202-205; R.E. Picirilli, Allusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers, in Journal for the Study of the New Testament 33 (1988), 57-83; J. W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (1934), 141.
  30. Guthrie, pp. 808-809, though the exception of the Syrian canon is noted, with acceptance occurring sometime before 509; cf. Jerome, De viris illustribus chapter 1.

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