THE REV. ALFRED PLUMMER, M.A., D.D.
Late Master of University College, Durham.
TOTHE SECOND EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER.I. The Authorship.—The question of the authenticity of our Epistle is one of well-known difficulty. The objections to its genuineness are more serious than those against any other book in the New Testament, and yet are not so conclusive as by any means to have silenced those who defend the authenticity. Before proceeding to a consideration of the arguments on each side, two remarks seem to be necessary.
THE SECOND EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER.
I. The Authorship.
(1.) The Epistle must stand or fall as a whole. It is impossible to reject passages which appear to be open to objection and retain the rest. The thought is eminently consecutive throughout, the style is uniform, and the writer frequently glances back at what he has said before or anticipates what is coming. The network of connected ideas which thus pervades the whole cannot be severed otherwise than violently. Moreover, the singular want of agreement among those who advocate an expurgated edition as to what portions should be struck out and what not, is another reason for refusing to disintegrate the Epistle. Thus, Grotius thinks that the words “Peter” and “Apostle,” in 2 Peter 1:1, and 2 Peter 1:18 and 2 Peter 3:15-16, are interpolations. Bertholt would retain 2 Peter 1, 3, rejecting 2 Peter 2. Lange (in Herzog) would reject all that lies between 2 Peter 1:19; 2 Peter 3:3, i.e., from the words “knowing this first” in 2 Peter 1:20 to the same words in 2 Peter 3:3. Ullmann surrenders all but 2 Peter 1. Bunsen retains nothing but the first eleven verses and the doxology.
(2.) It is inexpedient to encumber the discussion with an attempted reductio ad horribile of one of the alternatives. A court must not concern itself with the consequences of finding the prisoner guilty. Let us, therefore, at once set aside all such notions as this; that if the Epistle is not by St. Peter, “the Church, which for more than fourteen centuries has received it, has been imposed upon by what must, in that case, be regarded as a Satanic device.” Satan forging the Second Epistle of St. Peter would indeed be Satan casting out Satan. Or, again, “If any book which she reads as the Word of God is not the Word of God, but the work of an impostor, then—with reverence be it said—Christ’s promise to His Church has failed, and the Holy Spirit has not been given to guide her into all truth . . . The testimony of the universal Church of Christ, declaring that the Epistles which we receive as such are Epistles of St. Peter and are the Word of God, is not her testimony only—it is the testimony of Christ.” Every true Christian will sympathise with the zeal for God’s Word which is conspicuous in these passages; but it will be well to keep apart two questions which they combine and almost confuse—(a) Is this Second Epistle the work of St. Peter? (b) Is it part of the Word of God? The second question is here taken for granted. The Church answered it in the affirmative fifteen hundred years ago, and it is no part of the present work to question the decision. Only the first question will be discussed; and to attempt to settle it by considerations such as the passages just quoted suggest, is neither just, nor wise, nor in the deepest sense reverent. It is not just; for how can we give a fair hearing to adverse evidence if we approach it in a spirit which compels us to regard it as false or misleading? It is not wise; for what will be our position if, after all, the adverse evidence is too strong for even our pre-judgment? It is not reverent; for it virtually assumes that the Almighty cannot exalt an Epistle put forth under a pretended name to the dignity of being His Word; and that He who spoke to His chosen people by the lips of impure Balaam cannot speak to us by the writings of one who may have ill-advisedly assumed the pen of an Apostle. Hosea 1:2-3; Hosea 3:1-2 may warn us to be on our guard against pronouncing hastily beforehand as to what means and instruments it is or is not possible for God to employ for the instruction of His people.
These remarks are not made with a view to surrendering the authenticity of the Epistle as a thing of no moment, but only that we may be able to weigh the evidence with calmness. The question of the genuineness of the Epistle is one of immense interest and no small importance; but there is no terrible alternative before us. If, after all, we have to admit that the Epistle is possibly, or probably or certainly not the work of St. Peter, the spiritual value of the contents, both in themselves and in having received the stamp of the Church as canonical, will remain absolutely unchanged; although, possibly, our own views of God’s providence in relation to the canon of Scripture may require re-consideration and re-adjustment. This, however, is but the common experience both of the individual and of the race. Men’s views of God’s dealings with them are ever needing re-adjustment, as He hides and manifests Himself in history; for His ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts.
The objections to the genuineness of the Epistle are of four kinds: being drawn (a) from the history of the Epistle; (b) from its contents in relation to the First Epistle; (c) from the contents considered in themselves; (d) from the same in relation to the Epistle of St. Jude.
In each case it will be most convenient to state the adverse facts first, and then what may be said on the other side.
(a) External Evidence: The History of the Epistle.—Among the earliest writers there is a remarkable silence with regard to this Epistle. There is no mention of it, and no certain quotation from it or allusion to it, in either the first or second century. Neither the Apostolic Fathers nor Justin Martyr nor Irenæus yield anything that can be relied upon as a reference. It is probable that Irenæus did not know of its existence; it is almost certain that neither Tertullian nor Cyprian did. About Clement of Alexandria there is some doubt, owing to inconsistent statements of Eusebius and Cassiodorus. But seeing that in the large amount of Clement’s writings now extant there is only one possible, and not one probable, reference to it, and that, in quoting 1 Peter, he writes, “Peter in his Epistle says,” the probability is that he did not know it. The Muratorian Fragment (circ. A.D. 170) omits it. It is wanting in the Peschito or old Syriac version (and St. Peter was personally known in Syria, especially at Antioch), and also in the old Latin version which preceded the Vulgate. Thus we are brought quite into the third century without any sure trace of the Epistle.
Origen certainly knew it. In those of his works which exist only in the Latin translation of Rufinus he quotes it as the work of St. Peter. But Rufinus is not a trustworthy translator; and Origen, in works of which the original Greek is still extant, either expresses a doubt about it or rejects it by implication, as Clement of Alexandria does. Eusebius certainly rejected it; Chrysostom, Theodore, and Theodoret probably did so; and we learn from Didymus, Jerome’s preceptor, that doubts about it still survived late in the fourth century, though he seems to have overcome them in himself. At the Reformation these doubts revived again, and have never subsided since. At the present time, a large number of the best critics consider the Epistle suspicious or spurious.
On the other hand, there are possible allusions to it in Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Hermas, Justin Martyr, Melito, Theophilus, and Hippolytus: and some even among adverse critics consider those in the Shepherd of Hermas (circ. A.D. 140) to be certain. Specimens of these possible allusions will be found in the Notes on passages which they resemble:—Clement, ii. 5; iii. 4; Polycarp, 3:4; Hermas, ii. 13, 15, 20; iii. 5; Justin Martyr, ii. 1, iii. 8; Melito, iii. 5-7; Theophilus, i. 19, 21; Hippolytus, i. 21. The first certain reference to the Epistle as by St. Peter is in a Latin translation of a letter by Origen’s pupil, Firmilian of Cæsarea, to Cyprian (A.D. 256). Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Jerome, Rufinus, and Augustine accepted it, although they knew that it had been much suspected; and they, of course, had evidence which has not come down to us. The Councils of Laodicea (circ. A.D. 360) and of Hippo (A.D. 393) formally included it in the Canon, decisions which have never been reversed. Its omission from the Muratorian Fragment is somewhat weakened by the fact that 1 Peter (about which there is no doubt) is omitted also; and, as a set-off to its omission from the Peschito, we have the fact that Ephrem Syrus seems to have accepted it.
Thus the adverse external evidence, serious though it is, is anything but conclusive. It can easily be explained. Communication between the churches was fitful and irregular, sometimes slow, sometimes very rapid. Accidents might favour the circulation of the First Epistle and delay that of the Second. The very fact of its being the first Letter from the pen of the chief Apostle would promote the spread of the First Epistle; and as it was known to have been written only a few years before the death of St. Peter, this would make a second Letter within so short an interval a little improbable. The marked difference of style and language between the two Letters, which Jerome tells us had attracted notice, would increase the distrust. The amount of apocryphal literature which began to appear at a very early date, and flooded the Church in the second and third centuries, made all churches very suspicious about unknown writings; and several of these apocryphal books bore the name of St. Peter. Every year that the arrival of the Epistle at any particular church was delayed would make its acceptance by that church less probable. The fate of the Fourth Gospel, on account of its appearing after the others had obtained full possession of the field, is an illustration of similar causes and effects. When we remember that many narratives of Christ’s life (Luke 1:1, Note) and some letters of St. Paul have entirely perished, we need not be surprised that a short Epistle like this, containing little that ordinary Christians did not know, should have remained for more than a century quite unknown to many churches and suspected by others. If the external evidence were all, we might admit that the general and authoritative reception of the Epistle in the fourth century, after such full doubt and debate, is more than sufficient for us.
(b) Internal Evidence: The Contents of the Second Epistle in relation to the First.—Very formidable lists of points of difference between the two Epistles have been drawn up, but recent adverse critics have ceased to urge many of these supposed differences; we may, therefore, content ourselves with some of the most telling of such arguments as specimens. (α) 1 Peter uses Old Testament phraseology, and quotes Old Testament writers; 2 Peter, with two doubtful exceptions (2 Peter 2:22; 2 Peter 3:8), does neither. (β) 1 Peter is mainly about suffering persecution; 2 Peter is mainly about heresy, (γ) 1 Peter speaks of the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ; 2 Peter mentions none of them. (δ) 1 Peter represents the return of Christ as near (1 Peter 4:7), and calls it a “revelation” (1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:13); 2 Peter represents it as possibly distant (2 Peter 3:15), and calls it “coming” (2 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 3:4; 2 Peter 3:12). (ε) 1 Peter calls our Lord simply “Christ” or “Jesus Christ;” 2 Peter always adds “Saviour” (five times; and the word does not occur once in 1 Peter), or “Lord,” or both. (ζ)1 Peter insists on faith; 2 Peter on knowledge, (η) The Greek of 1 Peter is smooth, with easily-moving sentences, simply connected; that of 2 Peter is rough, with heavily-moving sentences, of which the construction is often harsh and, when prolonged, broken.
To these and similar arguments it may be replied that considerable differences between the two Epistles are admitted, but they may easily be exaggerated. Of the above, some are not strictly true; in particular, (α) and (ε), others tell rather in favour of the genuineness of 2 Peter. Why should a second letter, written soon after the first, on a very different subject, repeat the topics of the first, or even use much of its phraseology? Encouragement under persecution and denunciation of corrupt doctrine and conduct require very different language. Great similarity of ‘expression under such very different circumstances would have looked like the careful imitation of a forger. Jerome’s suggestion, that St. Peter used different “interpreters” in the two Epistles to put his thoughts into Greek, is a possible solution of many differences; but it is not likely that St. Peter, though originally an illiterate fisherman, was still, at the end of a long and active life, unable to write the Greek of either Epistle; and both of them show traces of a writer not perfectly at home in the language. King’s theory, that 2 Peter is a translation from an Aramaic original, is another possible solution. But neither theory is needed. Both Epistles are too short to supply satisfactory materials for an argument of this kind; and neither of them exhibit any such marked characteristics as those found in the writings of St. Luke or St. Paul or St. John. An anonymous pamphlet on any subject by Carlyle or Victor Hugo would probably be assigned to the right author at once; but most writers, even if known by many books, have no such marked style as would betray them in a few pages on a special subject: and here we are arguing as to the authorship of a tract of four pages from a tract of six pages on a different subject. In such a case, similarities, which cannot easily be the result of imitation, are stronger evidence of identity of authorship than dissimilarities are of non-identity. Difference of mood, of subject, of surroundings, would probably account for all the dissimilarities, did we but know all the facts. The First Epistle would seem to have been written with much thought and care, as by one who felt a delicacy about intruding himself upon communities which St. Paul had almost made his own. Hence the earnest, gentle dignity of the Epistle, which makes one think how age must have tamed the spirit of the impetuous Apostle. But in the Second Letter, written probably under pressure, we see that the old vehemence is still there. There is a slight indication of it in the way in which he goes at once to the point (2 Peter 1:3-5); as he nears the evil which has so excited his fear and indignation, the construction becomes broken (2 Peter 1:17); and when he is in the full torrent of his invective, feeling seems almost to choke his utterance. Hence the rugged Greek, from which at times we can scarcely extricate the construction; hence, too, the repetitions, which some have thought a sign of inferiority. They are the natural results of emotion struggling to express itself in a language with which it is not perfectly familiar. Similar harsh constructions and tautological repetitions may be found in some of St. Peter’s speeches as recorded in the Acts (Acts 1:21-22; Acts 3:13-16; Acts 3:26; Acts 4:9; Acts 10:36-40).
Against the admitted differences may be set some very real coincidences, both in thought and language, between the two Epistles. These also may be exaggerated and their force over-estimated; but when soberly treated they are a valuable contribution to the evidence. Obvious similarities of language are of no great moment (see Notes on 2 Peter 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 2:7); for it is admitted by all that the writer of the Second Letter knew the First. But subtle coincidences of thought, lying almost beyond the reach of the conscious imitator, are worth considering. (See on 2 Peter 1:3; 2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 1:7; 2 Peter 2:18-19.) The traces of St. Paul’s phraseology, which have been urged against the originality of 2 Peter, may, from this point of view, be counted in its favour, for such traces are very strong in the First Epistle.
The arguments, therefore, to be drawn from a comparison of the two Letters do not give much support to those who impugn the genuineness of the Second Epistle. A patient consideration of the facts may lead some to the conclusion that, considering the brevity of both Letters and the different purpose of each, the amount of agreement, both on and below the surface, throws the balance in favour of both being the product of one mind. The assertion that had the Second Epistle not claimed to be by St. Peter no one would ever have dreamed of assigning it to him, is easily made and not easily refuted; but study of the phenomena will lead to its being doubted.
(c) Internal Evidence: The Contents of the Epistle considered in themselves.—It is in this section of the argument that far the most serious objections to the authenticity occur. The following have been urged:—(α) It is unlike the simple, practical spirit of St. Peter to enlarge upon the manner of the creation and of the destruction of the world (2 Peter 3:5-7; 2 Peter 3:10-12). (β) It is unlike an Apostle to appeal to “the commandment of your Apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). (γ) The interchange of future and present tenses (2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 2:12-13; 2 Peter 3:3; 2 Peter 3:5) looks like a later writer trying to write like a prophet in an earlier age, and at times forgetting his assumed position, (δ) Ideas belonging to an age later than that of the Apostles are introduced. Of this there are four marked instances—(1) The expression “the holy mount” (2 Peter 1:18) betrays an age which professes to know where the Transfiguration took place (of which the Gospels tell us nothing), and which has a taste for miracles. (2) No such argument as that urged by the scoffers (2 Peter 3:4) would be possible in St. Peter’s lifetime; it implies that at least the first generation of Christians has died out. (3) 2 Peter is addressed (2 Peter 1:1) to all Gentile Christians, and at the same time (2 Peter 3:1) to the same readers as those of 1 Peter, which is addressed (2 Peter 1:1) to particular churches, i.e., the post-Apostolic idea that the letters of Apostles are the common property of all Christians is implied. (4) St. Paul’s writings are spoken of as equivalent to Scripture (2 Peter 3:16).
Let us take these objections in order. (α) That St. Peter should enlarge upon the details of the creation and of the destruction of the world is not more strange than that he should enlarge upon “the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19-20; 1 Peter 4:6). It would almost seem as if such mysterious subjects had an attraction for him (1 Peter 1:12). At least it is more reasonable to suppose this, seeing that there are some facts to support us, than to settle precariously what “the simple, practical spirit of St. Peter “would or would not be likely to enlarge upon, (β) Let us grant that an Apostle is often content with insisting on his own authority: this is no proof that he would never appeal to the authority of another Apostle. In 2 Peter the writer has more than once stated his personal claim to be heard (2 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:18), and is then willing to sink his own authority in that of the Apostolic body, nay, is anxious to do so; for, as in the First Epistle, he still feels a delicacy about addressing congregations which, in the first instance, belonged to the Apostle of the Gentiles, and so he not only appeals to that Apostle’s commandment, but points out that his commandment is at the same time that of Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 3:5 St. Paul makes a similar appeal to the authority of others; and it may warn us to be cautious in arguing as to what an Apostle would be sure to do in certain cases when we find this passage used to cast doubt on the Apostolic origin of such an Epistle as that to the Ephesians. (γ) This plausible argument will not bear close inspection. The evils which the writer foretells are already present in the germ. Moreover, the prophetic present as equivalent to a future is very common in prophecies; the future is so confidently realised that it is spoken of as present. In similar prophecies in the New Testament there is a similar mixture of future and present (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; 2 Timothy 3:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:8). (δ) We come now to the most weighty group of objections. (1) The expression “the holy mount” does not imply that the mount is known; and the theory that it does is reduced to an absurdity when it is further urged that “the holy mount,” as applied to a known spot, must mean Mount Zion. Would any sane Christian, whether of the first or of the second century, represent the Transfiguration as taking place on Mount Zion? “The mount” simply means the one spoken of in the Gospels in connexion with this event. Nor does the epithet “holy” indicate a miracle-loving age. Any Jew would naturally use it of a spot where the glory of the Lord had been revealed (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15). (2) The force of this argument is not so great as at first sight appears. In the Epistle of Clement of Rome (A.D. 95-100) the same scoffing argument is quoted as condemned by “Scripture (chap. 23). The “Scripture” is probably not 2 Peter. But we here have proof that this scoffing objection was old enough to have been written against before A.D. 95. The kindred error of Hymenæus and Philetus was in existence in St. Paul’s lifetime. Besides which, it is not certain that “since the fathers fell asleep” refers to Christians at all. (See Notes on 2 Peter 3:4.) The argument may be a piece of Sadducism, which had found its way into the Christian Church; the tone of it is not unlike that in Mark 12:23. (3) The premises here are too vague for so definite a conclusion. To state the premises fairly we must say 2 Peter is addressed in the main to all Gentile Christians, and also in the main to the same readers as 1 Peter, which is addressed mainly to five or six different churches. From such indefinite data no very clean-cut and decided result can be obtained. Moreover, it is open to question whether the idea that the letters of Apostles are the common property of Christians was not in existence in the Apostolic age. The phenomena of the text of the last two chapters of Romans (see Notes there) tend to show that this idea was beginning to arise some years before the traditional date of St. Peter’s death. The Epistle to the Ephesians would lead us in the same direction. So that it, is doubtful (a) whether the idea is implied in 2 Peter; (b) whether it was not in existence in St. Peter’s lifetime. (4) No objection, probably, has had more effect than this. “The other Scriptures,” it is urged, may mean either Old Testament or New Testament writings; in either case, we are face to face with a writer later than the Apostolic age. If Old Testament Scriptures are meant, it is incredible that St. Peter would place Epistles of St. Paul side by side with them as “Scripture.” If New Testament Scriptures are meant, this indicates a date at which certain Christian writings had begun to be considered equal in authority to the Old Testament, and this date is later than the death of St. Peter. In the Notes (2 Peter 3:16) it is shown that probably not Old Testament, but Christian, writings are meant; not any definite collection of writings, but certain well-known documents other than the Epistles of St. Paul just mentioned. We must remember that the Greek words for “other” are sometimes used loosely, and rather illogically, without the two individuals, or two classes, being exactly alike (comp. Luke 10:1; Luke 23:32; John 14:16); so that we cannot be sure that the writer means to place these Epistles of St. Paul on precisely the same level with “the other Scriptures.” And that “Scripture” was used in the first century as rather a comprehensive term is shown by the passage from Clement of Rome alluded to above, where he quotes (chap. 23) as “Scripture” a passage not found either in the Old or New Testaments. Again, the high authority claimed by Apostles for their own words makes this passage, although unique in the New Testament, quite intelligible. (Comp. Acts 15:28; 1 Corinthians 5:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13.) Perhaps the nearest parallel is 1 Peter 1:12, where evangelists are placed on the same level with the Old Testament prophets, a very remarkable coincidence between the two Epistles. One more consideration must be urged. The date of St. Peter’s death is not certain, and the traditional date may be too early. Several of the objections just considered would be still further weakened if St. Peter’s death took place not in the third, but in the fourth quarter of the century.
But besides answering objections, we may observe—(1) that the writer professes to be Simon Peter (2 Peter 1:1), one whose death Christ foretold (2 Peter 1:14), a witness of the Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18), and the writer of the First Epistle (2 Peter 3:1); (2) that he speaks with authority (2 Peter 1:12-13; 2 Peter 1:15-16), yet is not afraid to admit the high authority of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19); (3) that there is some trace of the conciliatory position between Jewish and Gentile converts which St. Peter occupied between the rigour of St. James and the liberty of St. Paul (2 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 3:15); (4) that the expression “our beloved brother Paul,” so unlike the way in which Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Alexandria speak of St. Paul (see Note on 2 Peter 3:15), is a strong mark of an Apostolic author—a writer of the second century would scarcely find his way back to this; (5) that some striking coincidences between thoughts and expressions in this Epistle and passages in St. Peter’s speeches as reported in the Acts exist, and will be pointed out in the Notes. (See Notes on 2 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 3:12.)
On the other hand, no weight can be allowed to the argument that “all motive for forgery is absent.” It is quite true that “this Epistle does not support any hierarchical pretensions nor bear upon any of the controversies of a later age.” But a motive quite sufficient can be found, viz., to put down with the authority of an Apostle an alarming corruption, both in doctrine and conduct. This motive might have induced excellent men in the primitive Church to write in the name of St. Peter, and the moral sense of the community would not have condemned them. Such personations, purely in the interests of religion and virtue, are neither impossible nor unknown; and the very words “forgery” and “impostor,” in reference to such acts and agents in primitive times, are fallacious. We must beware of transferring our own ideas of literary morality to an age in which they were absolutely non-existent.
(d) Internal Evidence: The Contents of the Epistle in relation to the Epistle of St. Jude.—This subject is discussed in the Introduction to Jude. The conclusion there arrived at is that the priority of neither Epistle can be proved, but that the balance inclines decidedly towards the priority of 2 Peter. If the priority of Jude should ever be demonstrated, then we have still more reason for placing the date of St. Peter’s death later than A.D. 67 or 68, unless the authenticity of 2 Peter is admitted to be more than doubtful.
The conclusion, then, to which this long discussion leads us is this—the objections to the Epistle are such that, had the duty of fixing the Canon of the New Testament fallen on us, we should scarcely have ventured, on the existing evidence, to include the Epistle; they are not such as to warrant us in reversing the decision of the fourth century, which had evidence that we have not. If modern criticism be the court of appeal to which the judgment of the fourth century is referred, as it has not sufficient reasons for reversing that judgment it can only confirm it. Additional evidence may yet be forthcoming. A Hebrew or Greek text of the Book of Enoch might settle the relation between 2 Peter and Jude beyond dispute; and this would clear the way not a little. Meanwhile, we accept the authenticity of the Epistle as, to say the very least, quite the best working hypothesis.
II. The Place and Time.—The suggestions as to the place where the Epistle was written are mere conjectures; we have no evidence of any value. As to the date, any time after the writing of the First Epistle may be right; probably not long before the Apostle’s martyrdom. The fact that the destruction of Jerusalem is not mentioned is reason for believing that it had not taken place when the letter was written. If it be said that a writer personating St. Peter would have avoided so obvious a blunder, we may reply (1) that these are just the pitfalls into which literary personators in an early age fall; (2) that it is not certain that it would have been a blunder—St. Peter may have been living A.D. 70; (3) that the destruction of Jerusalem would have served the purpose of the letter so well, as an argument (more strong than the Transfiguration) for Christ’s return to judgment, as a fulfilment of prophecy on this subject, and as a signal instance of divine vengeance, that no explanation of its omission is so satisfactory as that it had not yet taken place.
III. Object and Contents.—The object of the Epistle is twofold: (1) warning against the seductions of false doctrine and the licentiousness akin to it; (2) exhortation to increase in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The basis for both is the same—the certainty of Christ’s return to judgment. With true tact, the writer begins and ends with exhortation and encouragement; the warning and denunciation lie in between, and strongly as the latter are worded, terrible as are the metaphors and illustrations employed, even here the gentleness and tenderness of one who knew from experience what tenderness could do for those who had gone the length of “denying even the Master that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1; Luke 22:61) continually come to the surface, and break the flood of vehement denunciation (2 Peter 2:5; 2 Peter 2:7-9; 2 Peter 3:1-2).
The plan of the contents is easily recognised, and the transitions from one division to another are so natural, that (as remarked at the outset) it is impossible to strike out any portion as spurious and retain the rest.
Address and greeting (2 Peter 1:1-2).
II.—Hortatory and Argumentative.
(1)Exhortation to increase in spiritual graces, in order to gain eternal life at Christ’s coming (2 Peter 1:3-11).
(2)Transition to the argumentative part; the purpose of this Epistle stated (2 Peter 1:12-15).
(3)Basis of the exhortation—the certainty of Christ’s coming, which is proved:
(a)By the Transfiguration, which was an anticipation of it (2 Peter 1:16-18).
(b)By the utterances of prophets, who have predicted it (2 Peter 1:19-21).
(1)First Prediction: false teachers shall have great success and certain ruin (2 Peter 2:1-10); their impious practices described (2 Peter 2:10-22).
(2)Transition to the second prediction; the purpose of both Epistles stated (2 Peter 3:1-2).
(3)Second Prediction: scoffers shall throw doubt on Christ’s return (2 Peter 3:3-4); their argument refuted (2 Peter 3:5-9).
(4)Basis of the warning—the certainty of Christ’s coming (2 Peter 3:10).
(1)Concluding exhortations (2 Peter 3:11-18);
(2)Doxology (2 Peter 3:18).
IV. The False Teachers and the Scoffers.—We are probably to regard these as in the main identical; but in spite of the vigorous language in which they are described, it is difficult to say what particular heresy is indicated. As in many of the Old Testament prophecies, the picture is painted in strong, lurid colours; but the outlines are not sufficiently defined to enable us to specify any distinctive characteristics. The spirit of heresy, capable of developing into endless varieties, rather than any one of the varieties themselves, is placed before us. Cavilling, pride, irreverence, impatience of restraints, impatience of mysteries—these form the corrupt atmosphere in which heresies are generated, and these are just the qualities that are depicted here. The indefiniteness of the description has been pointed out by critics on both sides of the question of authenticity. It is a strong argument in favour of an early date for this Epistle. A writer of the second century, with the fullblown Gnosticism of Basilides, Carpocrates, Valentinus, and Marcion around him, could scarcely have divested himself of his experience, and given us, not the details of what he saw and heard, but the germs that had developed into these after a growth of half a century. Historic divination, by means of which the essentials of an earlier age are discovered and separated from what is merely accidental—historic imagination, by means of which these essentials are put together in a life-like picture—are powers of modem growth. The divination of the second century was exercised on the future, not on the past; its imagination on the possibilities of the unseen world, not on the realities of the world of sense. The disagreement of critics as to the time in the second century at which the letter was probably written makes us all the more disposed to doubt whether the second century is right at all. Bleek suggests A.D. 100-150; Mayerhoff, circ. A.D. 150; Davidson, circ. 170; Schwegler and Semler, A.D. 190-200.
The view here taken of the false teachers and scoffers, that they are the forerunners of the Antinomian heretics of the second century, is confirmed when we turn to St. Paul’s Epistles. There we find indications of these evils at a slightly earlier stage. We see him contending against corrupt practices, which were on their road to being established, inasmuch as some tried to justify them on principles which were a caricature of his own teaching. His Christian liberty is stretched to cover the detestable maxim, “Let us do evil that good may come,” participation in idolatrous feasts, incestuous marriages, intemperance at love-feasts, &c. (Romans 3:8; 1 Cor., passim). A self-satisfied knowledge is intruding itself (1 Corinthians 8:1-4). The resurrection of the dead is being denied (1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Timothy 2:18). In 2 Peter the corrupt practices and the corrupt principles are more definitely combined. St. Peter predicts that still greater abominations than those against which St. Paul wrote will not only be justified, but taught upon principle. Going beyond those who denied the resurrection, men will mock at the coming of Christ and the day of judgment. Thus the false teachers of 2 Peter are just a step nearer to the systematised Antinomianism of the second century than the evil-doers denounced by St. Paul. St. Jude shows us in active operation the mischief of which St. Paul and St. Peter had seen the beginning and foretold the development. Tertullian. Irenæus, and Hippolytus tell us to what hideous proportions and fantastic variety the development eventually progressed.
It is well known that the framers of our Authorised version, while on the whole making an enormous advance on previous English versions, sometimes went back. In some instances the changes they made in the translations on which they worked were the reverse of improvements. Perhaps no portion of the New Testament is more full of cases of this kind than the Second Epistle of St. Peter. In a large number of such cases it will be found that the earlier versions which are superior to the Authorised version are Wiclif’s and the Rheinish; and not unfrequently that the version which has led our translators astray is the Genevan. None of these three versions were among those which the translators were instructed to use; and of Wiclif’s they probably made very little use; of the other two they made a great deal of use. Wiclif’s version and the Rhemish were made from the Latin Vulgate, not from the Greek: so that we have what at first sight seems to be a startling fact, that versions made from a Latin translation are often superior to the best version made from the Greek. The explanation is simple. The Vulgate is a good Latin translation of excellent Greek texts; our version is a good English translation of very defective Greek texts. “The errors in the text of our English Testament inherited from them are considerably more important than the existing errors of translation” (Westcott). The late Dr. Routh, when asked what commentary he considered to be on the whole the best, is said to have answered “The Vulgate.” The facts just noticed are a striking illustration of his meaning. In the Notes the renderings of previous versions will often be given, where our translators seem to have adopted an inferior rendering.
[In writing the Introduction and Notes for this Epistle, use has been made of the Commentaries of Alford, Bengel, Bruckner’s edition of De Wette, Hofmann, Huther, Reuss, Schott, and Wordsworth, together with the Introductions of Bleek and Davidson, and the articles in Smith and Herzog. A much better use might have been made of them had time permitted. But it is only just to the editor and the reader to say, that the commentator on 2 Peter and Jude was asked to undertake the work at very short notice, and to complete it within a very short time. If he is found to have undertaken a task beyond his strength, he must plead in excuse the attraction which the work had for him, and the wish to render help to a far abler but over-worked contributor to this Commentary].
A servant and an apostle.—De Wette suspects a combination of 1 Peter 1:1 with Jude 1:1. The coincidence is too slight to argue upon. (See Romans 1:1 and Note on Jude 1:1.) The amount of similarity between the opening verses of Jude and those of this Epistle is too small for any conclusions as to the dependence of one on the other. Although the word for “servant” strictly means slave, the English version is quite correct. (See on Romans 1:1.)
To them that have obtained.—The Greek word implies that they have not won it or earned it for themselves, but that it has been allotted to them. Comp. Acts 1:17, where the same word (rare in the New Testament) occurs in a speech of St. Peter. (See Note on “godliness,” 2 Peter 1:3.) Another coincidence to be noticed is the way in which St. Peter speaks of the Gentile Christians (Acts 11:17) when charged with having visited “men uncircumcised,” and again (Acts 15:8-11) at the Council of Jerusalem; both remarkable parallels to this.
Like precious faith with us.—Not that all had an equal amount of faith, which would scarcely be possible; nor that their faith gave all an equal right to salvation, which the Greek could scarcely mean; but that all believed the same precious mysteries. (Comp. 1 Peter 1:7.) It is delicately implied that “we as well as you have had it allotted to us; it is no credit to us; we are not superior to you.” “Us” may mean either the Apostles, or (more probably) the first Christians, as distinct from those converted later, i.e., Jewish as distinct from Gentile Christians. This shows that Gentile converts are chiefly addressed in this Epistle, as Jewish in the First Epistle. Gentiles would be more likely to be doubters respecting Christ’s return to judgment, than Jews well acquainted with Hebrew prophecies on the subject. Gentiles also would be more likely than Jews to fall into the excesses denounced in the second chapter, which bear a strong resemblance to the catalogue of heathen vices given by St. Paul in Romans 1 The idea that Christians are the antitype of the chosen people is prominent in St. Peter’s writings. (Comp. 2 Peter 2:1, and 1 Peter 1:10.) Note that no particular churches are mentioned. The Second Epistle is more “general” or “catholic” in its address than the First. Here again we have a mark of independence. A writer personating St. Peter, and referring to the former Letter (2 Peter 3:1), would probably have taken care to make the address of the second letter tally exactly with that of the first.
Through the righteousness.—Better, in the righteousness. So Wiclif, Tyndale, and Rheims version. “Righteousness” is variously explained. Perhaps the best interpretation is “fairness, justice.” He has no respect of persons, and hence has given to all Christians, early or late, Jew or Gentile, a “like precious faith.”
Of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.—Better, of our God and (our) Saviour Jesus Christ. Here, as in Titus 2:13 (comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:12), we are somewhat in doubt as to whether we have one or two Persons of the Trinity mentioned. Rigid grammar would incline us to make “God” and “Saviour” both apply to Christ. But rigid grammar alone is not always the safest guide in interpreting Scripture. The very next verse, independently of other considerations, seems to determine that both the Father and the Son are here mentioned. The mode of expression which causes doubt on the subject, perhaps indicates the writer’s perfect belief in the oneness of the Father with the Son. The addition of “Saviour” to the name of Jesus Christ is very frequent in this Epistle (2 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 3:18; comp. 2 Peter 3:2). It shows how completely “Jesus” had become a proper name, the exact signification of which was becoming obscured. “Saviour” does not occur in 1 Pet., but the cognate “salvation” does (2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 1:9-10; 2 Peter 2:2). Both words point onwards to safety from perdition at the last. (Comp. St. Peter’s speech, Acts 5:31.)
Through the knowledge.—Better, as before, in. The preposition indicates the sphere or element in which the action takes place, or the aspect in which it is contemplated. Tyndale and the Rhemish version have “in.”“ Knowledge” is not quite strong enough. In the original we have a compound word, which implies fuller, riper, more minute knowledge. But any of these expressions would be a little too strong, as the simple word is a little too weak. The same compound recurs 2 Peter 1:3. It is rare in St. Paul’s earlier letters, but is more common in the later ones. This fact, coupled with its appearance here, agrees well with the more contemplative aspect in which the Gospel began gradually to be presented; a change which finds its fullest expression in the transition from the first three Gospels to the fourth. The word is introduced here with telling emphasis; “in the fuller knowledge of God” anticipates the attack that is coming upon the godless speculations of the “false teachers” in 2 Peter 2.
And of Jesus our Lord.—Deliberately added. These false teachers “denied the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1), and promised all kinds of high-sounding benefits to their followers (2 Peter 2:18). The Apostle assures his readers that only in fuller knowledge of their Lord can grace and peace be multiplied to them. The combination “Jesus our Lord” is unusual; elsewhere only Romans 4:24. Another small indication of independence (see first Note). There should be a fullstop at “Lord;” so Tyndale, Cranmer, and Geneva.
(3) According as.—Better, seeing that This must not be made to depend on 2 Peter 1:2. In the canonical Epistles the address does not go beyond the blessing. Galatians is the only exception; there a relative clause is added to the blessing; but this is solemnly brought to a close with a doxology, so that the exception is one that almost proves the rule. In Hebrews, James, 1 and 3 John, there is no opening blessing; the remark holds good of all the rest. 2 Peter 1:3-4 are a brief introduction to the direct exhortations contained 2 Peter 1:5-11. The eagerness with which the writer goes direct to his subject is characteristic of St. Peter’s temper.
His divine power.—The pronoun refers to “Jesus our Lord.” The adjective occurs in the New Testament in these two verses (3 and 4) only; elsewhere we have the genitive case, “of God,” “of the Lord,” “of the Father,” and the like.
All things that pertain unto.—All that are necessary for the attainment of. He does not give life and godliness in maturity, but supplies us with the means of winning them for ourselves. “All” is emphatic; nothing that is requisite is grudged us, and nothing is our own, it is all the gift of God.
Godliness.—The Greek word occurs Acts 3:12, in a speech of St. Peter, and four times in this Epistle; elsewhere only in those to Timothy and Titus. It belongs to the phraseology of the later books of the New Testament. “Godliness” is the realisation of God’s abiding presence, the fruits of which are reverence and trust: “Thou God seest me;” “I have set God always before me, therefore I cannot fall.” It is introduced here, perhaps, in opposition to the godlessness and irreverence of the false teachers. (Comp. 2 Timothy 3:5.)
Through the knowledge.—Through learning to know God as One who has called us to salvation. (Comp. 2 Peter 1:2.)
To glory and virtue.—Rather, by glory and virtue; or perhaps, by His own glory and virtue, according to another reading. “To” cannot be correct, whichever of the various readings is the right one, Tyndale, Cranmer, and Rheims have “by;” the error comes from Geneva, which has “unto.” “Glory” points to the majesty of God, “virtue” to His activity. “Virtue” as applied to God is unusual, but occurs 1 Peter 2:9 (see Note there), a coincidence to be noted. The word is rendered there “praises,” but “virtues” is given in the margin. The whole verse is strikingly parallel to this one, though very differently expressed.
Are given unto us.—Better, He hath given unto us, viz., He who called us, God. Wiclif, “He gaf;” Rheims, “He hath given.”
Promises.—The Greek word occurs here and in 2 Peter 3:13 only. Its termination indicates the things promised rather than the act of promising. They are “exceeding great,” or rather “the greatest,” because they contain an earnest of the completion and perfection of the Christian life; they are very “precious,” because this earnest is in itself something real, and not mere empty words. Not the promises of the Old Testament are meant, that Christ should come; but those of the New Testament, that Christ should come again. The certainty of Christ’s return to reward the righteous and punish the wicked is one of the main subjects of the Epistle.
That by these.—“These” is variously referred (1) to “all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” (2) to “glory and virtue,” (3) to “promises.” The last is most likely, the second least likely to be right. The hope expressed in this verse, and again 3:13, is distinctly parallel to that in 1 Peter 1:4.
Ye might be partakers.—Better, become partakers. Rheims, “be made.” This idea of close relationship to God and escape from corruption is found in 1 Peter 1:23. The change from the first person plural to the second is easy enough both in Greek and English: by it what is true of all Christians is applied specially to those whom the writer is addressing. We have a similar change in 1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 2:24.
Through lust.—Rather (as in 2 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:13; 2 Peter 2:3) in lust. It is in lust that the corruption has its root. (Comp. 1 Peter 1:22.) The word “escaped” indicates that “bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21) from which even the Christian is not wholly free, so long as he is in the body; and in which others are hopelessly held. A comparison of this last clause with 2 Peter 3:13 will confirm us in the view that “by these” refers to the “promises.” We see there what the things promised are. Instead of merely “having escaped” evil, “we, according to His promise, look for” better things; for, from “the corruption that is in the world in lust” we turn to “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” There should be no full-stop at the end of this verse; the sentence continues unbroken from the beginning of 2 Peter 1:3 to the end of 2 Peter 1:7.
Giving all diligence.—Literally, bringing in all diligence to the side of God’s gifts and promises; making your contribution in answer to His. He has made all things possible for you; but they are not yet done, and you must labour diligently to realise the glorious possibilities opened out to you.
Add to your faith virtue.—Rather, in your faith supply virtue. The error comes from Geneva; all other English versions are right. The interesting word inadequately translated “add” occurs again in 2 Peter 1:11, and elsewhere only in 2 Corinthians 9:10; Galatians 3:5; Colossians 2:19. Everywhere but here it is translated “minister.” Sufficient explanation of the word will be found in Notes on 2 Corinthians 9:10 and Galatians 3:5. The notion of rendering a service that is expected of one in virtue of one’s position fits in admirably here. God gives; His blessings and promises come from His free undeserved bounty; man renders, supplies, furnishes, that which, considering the benefits which he has received, is fairly required of him. Note that we are not told to supply faith; that comes from God (Ephesians 2:8), and the Apostle assumes that his readers possess it. “Virtue” is that which is recognised by all men as excellent; the excellence of man as man. Heathen moralists had drawn a noble picture of what man ought to be; the gospel gave the command to realise a yet nobler ideal, and also gave the power by which it could be realised.
And to virtue knowledge.—As before, and in your virtue [supply] knowledge—i.e., in the virtue which each of you possesses. Virtue for each individual is the excellence corresponding to the talents committed to him. The word for “knowledge” here is not the compound used in 2 Peter 1:2-3, but the simple substantive. It means, therefore, knowledge that still admits of growth, not yet ripe or complete. It is worth noting that the word for absolute knowledge, epistêmê, does not occur in the New Testament. By “knowledge” here is probably meant spiritual discernment as to what is right and what is wrong in all things; the right object, the right way, the right time.
Each in this noble chain of virtues prepares the way for the next, and is supplemented and perfected by it. It begins with faith, and it ends (like St. Paul’s list of virtues, Colossians 3:12-14) with charity. But we must not insist too strongly upon the order in the series, as being either logically or chronologically necessary. It is a natural order that is here given, but not the only one. These three verses are the First Epistle condensed. Each one of the virtues mentioned here is represented quite distinctly in 1 Peter: virtue, 1 Peter 1:13; knowledge, 1 Peter 3:15; self-control, 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 2:11; patience, 1 Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 2:21; godliness, 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 3:4; love of the brethren, 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 3:8; charity, 1 Peter 4:8. The list of virtues given in the Epistle of Barnabas 2 runs thus:—Faith, fear, patience, long - suffering, temperance, wisdom, prudence, science, knowledge. The very slight amount of similarity affords no ground for supposing that the writer was acquainted with 2 Peter.
And abound.—Strictly, and multiply or increase. (Comp. Romans 5:20, and Note there; Romans 6:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:3, where the same inadequate translation occurs in the Authorised version.)
Neither be barren nor unfruitful.—Better, not idle nor yet unfruitful. Cranmer, Tyndale, and Geneva all have “ydle.” The Greek word literally means “without work”—i.e., doing nothing, as” unfruitful” means producing nothing. “That ye shall be” is not in the Greek, and is not needed. The two adjectives “idle” and “unfruitful” exactly correspond to the two verbs “be in you” and “increase.” If these things be in you, you will be morally active; if they increase, you will be morally productive.
In the knowledge.—Rather, unto the knowledge; the fuller, more advanced knowledge of 2 Peter 1:2-3, and 2 Peter 2:20. This is the goal towards which all these virtues tend, the fruit which they tend to produce—the perfect knowledge of Christ. Those who are the most like Christ in their lives have the fullest knowledge of Him in this world, a knowledge to be perfected in the next world, when, purified from sin, “we shall see Him as He is.” This clause, without the negatives, accurately describes the condition of the false teachers whom the Apostle has in view. They were both “idle and unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They neither did nor produced anything that in any degree advanced such knowledge either in themselves or others. The list of virtues just commended (2 Peter 1:5-7) constitutes a solemn indictment against them. Practical infidelity leading to vicious conduct; a hollow and pretentious philosophy leading to libertinism; an impatience of control leading to utter godlessness; a selfish indifference to the claims of those nearest to them ending in absolute heartlessness towards all men—such is the charge brought against them, by implication here, directly in 2 Peter 2.
Is blind.—We might have expected “will be idle and unfruitful, &c.,” but the writer is not content with merely emphasizing what has just been said, after the manner of St. John (e.g., 2 Peter 1:3; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 2:4; 1 John 2:27-28; 1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 4:6); he puts the case in a new way, with a new metaphor equally, applicable to the subject of knowledge. Note that he does not say “will be blind,” but” is blind.” The very fact of his possessing none of these graces shows that he has no eye for them.
Cannot see afar off.—The Greek word means literally closing the eyes; and the point seems to be, not wilful shutting of the eyes (those who won’t see), but involuntary and partial closing, as in the case of short-sighted people; in a spiritual sense, those who have only a very hazy apprehension of the objects of belief and of the bearing which their beliefs should have on their conduct. There is, therefore, no anti-climax, a weak expression following a strong one, but a simple explanation, a more definite term following a general one; it explains what kind of blindness is meant. The special kind of short-sightedness here indicated is that of one who just sees that he is a member of a Christian community, but perceives neither the kind of life that one who has been purged from heathen enormities is bound to lead, nor the kind of life which alone can win an entrance into Christ’s kingdom. The shortsightedness of not being able to see beyond this present world is probably not expressed here.
And hath forgotten.—Literally, having received or incurred forgetfulness—a unique expression in the New Testament. The phrase does not necessarily imply that the forgetfulness is voluntary; it is the inevitable result of wilful neglect—the neglect to cultivate Christian virtues. The forgetfulness is not the cause of the shortsightedness, but a phase of it.
His old sins.—Those committed before he was “purged” in baptism (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 3:21).
Give diligence.—Recalling “bringing all diligence” in 2 Peter 1:5.
Calling and election.—By God into the kingdom of heaven. “Calling” and “election” are two aspects of the same fact, “calling” referring to God’s invitation, “election” to the distinction which this invitation makes between those who are called and those who are not. “Election” is one of St. Paul’s words. One of the best MSS. and several versions insert “by means of your works,” which gives the right sense, although the words are wanting in authority. It is by following the in junctions given (2 Peter 1:5-7) that our election is made secure. God calls us to salvation (2 Peter 1:3), selects us from the heathen; it is for each one of us to respond to the call, and thus ratify His choice.
If ye do these things.—Showing that the making sure of our election is not a single act, but multiform, viz., the furnishing the graces commended (2 Peter 1:5-7).
Never fall.—The same word is translated “offend” (James 2:10; James 3:2); and “stumble” (Romans 11:11). It means to knock one’s foot and stumble. The man who has acquired these graces has his path freed from many stumbling-blocks, and his vision cleared to see and avoid the rest.
Thus ends the first main section of the Epistle, which contains the substance of the whole. Its gentle earnestness and obvious harmony with the First Epistle have made some critics ready to admit its genuineness, who throw doubt on much of the rest. But if it stands it carries with it all the rest. Change of style is amply accounted for by change to a new and exciting subject; and the links between the parts are too strong to be severed by any such considerations. (See opening observations in the Introduction.)
The first sections of the two Epistles should be carefully compared. In both we find these thoughts pervading the opening exhortation: Be earnest, be active; for (1) so much has been done for you, and (2) there is such a rich reward in store for you. (Comp. especially the conclusions of the two sections, 1 Peter 1:13 with 2 Peter 1:10-11.)
(12) I will not be negligent.—According to the right reading, I shall be sure to; because on your doing these things depends your entrance into Christ’s kingdom.
Though ye know them.—We find the same affectionate delicacy in Romans 15:14-15 (see Notes there); 1 John 2:21; Jude 1:5.
And be established in the present truth.—Comp. “This is the true grace of God wherein ye stand” (1 Peter 5:12), to which it is not impossible that this verse refers; the “always” here looks like a half apology for what his readers might think needless repetition. “The present truth” is an instance of a translation being misleading through its very literalness. The three Greek words are exactly represented, but the sense is misrepresented. The meaning is, not the truth that we are now discussing, the truth before us, but the truth of the gospel that is come unto you (Colossians 1:5-6), and is present with you: “the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).
In this tabernacle.—The comparison of the human body to a dwelling is common in all literatures, and the temporary nature of a tent makes it specially appropriate. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 5:1.)
By putting you in remembrance.—Better, in putting you. The stirring up consists in the reminding. (See 2 Peter 1:1-2; 2 Peter 1:4; also 2 Peter 3:1, where the same phrase occurs.)
Hath shewed me.—More strictly, shewed me. The substitution of perfect for aorist is here objectionable, as it obscures the reference to a definite moment in the Apostle’s life. If the reference were to John 21:18, this would be at once fatal to the authenticity of our Epistle; for of course no part of St. John’s Gospel, and least of all the last chapter, was written during the life of St. Peter. But if the reference be to the event narrated in John 21:18, then that narrative confirms what is said here, this being a prior and independent allusion to the same occurrence. In this case we have strong evidence of the authenticity of St. Peter.
(16) For we have not followed.—More literally, For we did not follow, or, It was not by following out, &c., that. “For” introduces the reason for “I will endeavour” above. The word for “follow,” or “follow out,” occurs again in 2 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 2:15, and nowhere else in the New Testament.
Cunningly devised fables.—We cannot be sure that any in particular are meant, whether heathen, Jewish, or Christian; the negative makes the statement quite general. Various things, however, have been suggested as possibly indicated—heathen mythology, Jewish theosophy, Gnostic systems (as yet quite in their infancy in Simon Magus, St. Peter’s adversary), and Apocryphal Gospels. Probably some elements in the doctrine of the false teachers are alluded to; something analogous to the “feigned words” of 2 Peter 2:3. There is reason for believing that the particular elements in their teaching thus incidentally condemned were of Jewish origin. If this conjecture be correct, then St. Peter is here dealing with errors similar to those condemned by St. Paul (1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14—the only other passages in which the word “fables” occurs). And in this case much light is thrown on some of the marked peculiarities of this Epistle and that of St. Jude, viz., the fondness of both writers for the oldest, and sometimes the most obscure, passages of Old Testament history, as well as for some strange portions of uncanonical and apocryphal tradition. They were fighting these seducers with their own weapons; difficult passages of Scripture and tradition, which these men had worked up into a system of pernicious mysticism, St. Peter and St. Jude proved to be altogether of a different meaning, and to tell against the very doctrines that they were employed to support.
When we made known unto you.—It is difficult to determine to what this refers. It is erroneous to suppose that the phrase necessarily implies personal communication by word of mouth. In the First Epistle the Apostle wrote to congregations not personally acquainted with him; and we have no reason for assuming that he had visited them since. “When we made known” may possibly refer to the First Epistle, against which supposition the plural “we” is not conclusive. Or a written Gospel—and, if so, the one with which St. Peter is commonly connected, viz., that of St. Mark—may be in the Apostle’s mind. But the simplest explanation is that he refers to the Apostolic teaching generally.
The power and coming.—The power conferred upon Christ after being glorified in His passion and resurrection, and his coming again to judgment. (Comp. 2 Peter 3:4; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:27; 1 Corinthians 15:23; &c., &c., where the same Greek word is used.) In this power He will come again. His first coming at the Incarnation would neither be the usual meaning of the word nor would suit the context.
But were eyewitnesses.—More literally, but by having been made eye-witnesses. “It was not by following fables that we made known to you His power and coming, but by having been admitted eye-witnesses.” The word for “eye-witness” is sometimes a technical term for one who was admitted to the highest grade of initiation in the Eleusinian mysteries. This meaning would be very applicable here; but it may be doubted whether St. Peter would be familiar with this use of the word. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The kindred verb, “to be an eye-witness,” occurs in 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:2, and nowhere else—a coincidence worth noting. The words of another witness of the Transfiguration,” And we beheld His glory,” &c. (John 1:14), should be compared with the passage before us.
Of his majesty.—At the Transfiguration, which was a foretaste and an earnest of the glory of His second coming. This is St. Peter’s view of it; and that it is the correct one is perhaps shown by the Gospels themselves. All three accounts of the Transfiguration are preceded by the declaration, “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,” or similar words (Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). Apparently the Transfiguration was regarded by Christ Himself as in some sense the coming of the Son of man.
Honour and glory.—Both refer to the voice from heaven. To make “honour” refer to the voice, and “glory” to the light shining from Christ’s body, about which nothing has been said, is forced and unnatural.
When there came such a voice to him.—Better, in that a voice was borne to Him speaking thus. The expression “a voice was borne to Him” is peculiar, and occurs nowhere else. The Greek for “the grace that is to be brought to you” (1 Peter 1:13) is parallel to it, and is another small coincidence worth noting. Note also that the writer has not slavishly followed any of the three accounts of the Transfiguration, which a forger might be expected to do. A genuine witness, knowing that he is on firm ground can afford to take his own line; a “claimant” must carefully learn and follow the lines of others.
From the excellent glory.—Rather, by the excellent glory—another unique expression. The preposition “by” almost compels us to reject the interpretation that either the bright cloud or heaven itself is meant. It is rather a periphrasis for God. In Deuteronomy 33:26. God is called by the LXX., “the Excellent of the sky.”
This is my beloved Son, . . .—The Greek is almost the same as in St. Matthew’s account (Matthew 17:5); but “hear him” is omitted, and for “in Whom” we here have, “unto Whom” which can scarcely be brought into the English sentence. The meaning is “unto Whom my good pleasure came and on Whom it abides.” (Comp. Matthew 12:18, and Clem., Hom. III. liii.)
In the holy mount.—It is, perhaps, not even “partly right” to say that the epithet “holy” indicates a view of the event later than that of the Evangelists, and points to a miracle-loving age. Rather, it indicates a view many centuries older than the Evangelists—that wherever God had specially manifested Himself was “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5; Josh. V. 15. Comp. Genesis 28:16-17; Exodus 19:12; Acts 7:33.) The expression would be natural to any Jew speaking of the Transfiguration. (See Introduction, I. c.)
Whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.—Or, and ye do well in giving heed to it—a gentle mode of exhortation, by assuming that the thing urged is being done. The exhortation is quite in harmony with 1 Peter 1:10. We have a similar construction in 2 Peter 2:10, “Do not tremble in speaking evil.”
A light that shineth.—Better, a lamp that shineth. Prophecy, like the Baptist, is a “lamp that is lighted and shineth,” preparatory to the Light. (See Note on John 5:35.) Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, circ. A.D. 170, has (Autolycus II. xiii.) “His word, shining as a lamp in a chamber;” too slight a parallel to this passage to be relied upon as evidence that Theophilus knew our Epistle. (See below, second Note on 2 Peter 1:21.)
In a dark place.—This translation is somewhat doubtful. The word rendered “dark” occurs here only in the New Testament, and its usual meaning is “dry.” From “dry” we pass easily through “rough” to “dirty,” meanings which the word has elsewhere (comp. the Latin squalidus); but the passage from “dirty” to “dark” is less easy, and there is lack of authority for it. “In a waste place” would perhaps be safer; and the image would then be that prophecy is like camp-fires in the desert, which may keep one from going utterly astray, till sunrise frees one from difficulty. The “waste place” is either the wilderness of this world or the tangled life of the imperfect Christian.
Until the day dawn.—Literally, until the day beam through the gloom. Here, again, the meaning may be two-fold: (1) Christ’s return in glory to illumine the wilderness of this world, to clear off its obscurities, and show the way through its mazes; or (2) the clearer vision of the purified Christian, whose eye is single and his whole body full of light. (Comp. 1 John 2:8.) No comma at dawn; “in your hearts” belongs to both “dawn” and “arise,” if to either.
And the day star arise.—An amplification of “until the day dawn.” “Day star” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Christ calls Himself “the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).
In your hearts.—It is difficult to determine to what these words belong. The Greek admits of three constructions: (1) with “take heed “; (2) with “dawn” and “arise”; (3) with “knowing this first.” The last is not probable. Perhaps “and ye do well in giving heed to it in your hearts” is best—i.e., let it influence your lives, not receive a mere intellectual attention.
Is of any private interpretation.—Better, comes to be, or becomes of private interpretation. The word rendered “interpretation” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but the cognate verb occurs in Mark 4:34, where it is translated “expound.” (See Note there.) There can be little doubt that “interpretation,” or “solution,” is the right rendering here, although others have been suggested. The main question however, is the meaning of the word rendered “private,” which may also mean “its own.” Hence three explanations are possible. The term may refer (1) to the recipients of the prophecies—that we may not expound prophecy according to our own fancy; or (2) to the utterers of the prophecies—that the prophets had not the power of expounding their own prophecies; or (3) to the prophecies themselves—that no prophecy comes to be of its own interpretation, i.e., no prophecy explains itself. The guide to the right explanation is 2 Peter 1:21, which gives the reason why “no prophecy of the scripture,” &c. This consideration excludes (3); for 2 Peter 1:21 yields no sense as showing why prophecy does not interpret itself. Either of the other two explanations may be right. (1) If prophecy came “by the will of man,” then it might be interpreted according to man’s fancy. But it did not so come; consequently the interpretation must be sought elsewhere—viz., at the same source from which the prophecy itself proceeded. (2) If the prophets spoke just as they pleased, they would be the best exponents of what they meant. But they spoke under divine influence, and therefore need not know the import of their own words. Prophecy must be explained by prophecy and by history, not by the individual prophet. The whole body of prophecy, “the prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:19), is our lamp in the wilderness, not the private dicta of any one seer. In modern phraseology, interpretation must be comparative and scientific. This view is strengthened by comparing 1 Peter 1:10-12, where it is stated that the prophets did not know how or when their own predictions would be fulfilled. Possibly this passage is meant to refer to 1 Peter 1:10-12, and if so, we have a mark of genuineness; a forger would have made the reference more clear. If the coincidence is accidental, this also points in the same direction; in any case, the coincidence is worth noting.
But holy men of God . . .—The Greek is uncertain. A reading of very high authority would give us, But men spoke from God moved by the Holy Ghost. This is probably to be preferred. Men spoke not out of their own hearts, but as commissioned by God; not “by the will of man,” but under the influence of the Holy Spirit. (Comp. St. Peter’s speech at the election of Matthias, and again in Solomon’s Porch, Acts 1:16; Acts 3:18.) The word for “moved” is a strong one, meaning “borne along,” as a ship before the wind (Acts 27:16-17). Theophilus of Antioch (Autolycus, II. ix.) writes “men of God, moved (or, filled) by the Holy Ghost, and becoming prophets, inspired and made wise by God Himself, became taught of God.” Here, again, the parallel is too slight to be relied on as evidence that Theophilus was acquainted with this Epistle. (See above, third Note on 2 Peter 1:19.) The same may be said of a passage in Hippolytus (Antichrist, 2), “These fathers were furnished with the Spirit and largely honoured by the Word Himself. . . . and when moved by Him the Prophets announced what God willed. For they spake not of their own power, neither did they declare what pleased themselves, &c. &c.”
Some have fancied that these last three verses (2 Peter 1:19-21) savour of Montanism, and are evidence of the late origin of the Epistle. But what is said here of the gift of prophecy is not more than we find elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:15; Acts 1:16; Acts 3:18); and in the Old Testament (Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25; Numbers 11:29; 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20; 1 Samuel 19:23; Jeremiah 1:5-7). Montanists used much stronger language, as readers of Tertullian know. With them prophecy was ecstasy and frenzy; prophets ceased to be men—their reason left them, and they became mere instruments on which the Spirit played. The wording of these verses points to an age previous to Montanism. A Montanist would have said more; an opponent of Montanism would have guarded himself against Montanist misconstruction.