June 21, 2020
Have you ever heard someone say, the Bible was written by men, and is therefore filled with, at best, myth and legend, and at worst, propaganda, contradictions, and errors? That atheists are growing, Christianity is dying, and God is already dead. Life after death is simply the wistful longings of weak people who cannot imagine death brings the end of human existence. We are the masters of our own fate. It’s time to leave such behavior-controlling, child-like fantasies behind.
What is most challenging is when the charges come from those in some position of authority – parents, professors, or even pastors. You become a Christian in a non-Christian family, and the parental ridicule begins. You enroll in a philosophy of religion class, only to find the professor has no desire to propagate the Christian faith – rather, only to pervert or destroy it, and condescendingly belittle your childish, uneducated beliefs. A pastor, who is supposed to promote the faith, teaches the resurrection was not an actual, historical event. It only matters that Christ has risen in your hearts. Not a few have had their Christian faith shaken by such well-placed attacks.
And I would suggest that such attacks come most often against the authority, inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Destroy the Bible, and you eradicate the Christian faith – you know, with its rules regarding conduct. And so regular attacks have come against the veracity of the Bible – not least of which is II Peter, the book we begin today. What is interesting to note is that in this book, Peter warns against false teachers within the church – who seek to pervert the Christian faith for their own, egregiously sinful agendas. Eliminate the faith, so I can live how I want. Keep that in mind. You see, to accept the Christian faith is to acknowledge yourself a sinner, accountable to an all-knowing, sovereign and holy God – to whom we must all give an account. And so, if I want to live in and enjoy my sin, God must go.
The book of II Peter has been called the ugly stepchild or the dark corner of the New Testament. Interestingly, in that dark corner belong the books of the Bible we’re currently studying, the General Epistles – Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, I, II and III John, and Jude. And so, II Peter the most challenging of the bunch, has often been overlooked – even by Christians. Fewer commentaries and studies have been done on this book than perhaps any other. How does it deserve this dreadful reputation? Well, it really doesn’t have to do with the content of the book – although it does deal with this practice of eliminate God so I can sin. In fact, many of the few commentators of II Peter have noted, the book is most appropriate for today.
So why the horrible reputation? It’s related to two issues: first is authorship, that is, who actually wrote it; and therefore second, is canonicity – that is, does it even belong in the Bible? Perhaps no NT book has gone through greater scrutiny, and more attacks suggesting dismissal or outright removal than II Peter. Its authenticity was questioned in the earliest days by Church Fathers – although many quoted from it and eventually accepted it. Eusebius, who had one of the earliest lists of books of the Bible, for example, listed it among the disputed books. On through the Reformers the concern continued – to the present day when most modern scholarship dismisses Petrine authorship, and therefore, question its rightful place in the Bible. Speaking of the Reformers, Luther called it a second class book, Calvin reluctantly accepted it, Erasmus rejected it altogether.
R. C. Sproul told the story of a critic of the Bible who suggested there were thousands of letters and books written in the first couple of centuries of Christianity – most vying to be Scripture. How did the church decide which books were in, and which were out? How did they, with those thousands from which to chose, end up with only 27 books? Certainly, the critic said, they must have missed some Bible. And so you’ve no doubt heard of the so-called lost gospels – the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Mary, for example.
But the issue has also now become, how many of those 27 which made it in, should not be in? And so, through the last couple hundred years especially, the Bible has come under constant attack through a process called higher criticism. And the authority, authorship, inspiration and inerrancy of many books of the New Testament, have been questioned, and some books altogether dismissed.
Again, none has been attacked more than II Peter. As it relates to authorship, the first of those two issues, skeptics say, the Greek of I and II Peter are far too different to have been written by the same guy. Never mind the books say they were written by Peter. Besides, the Greek is too advanced and too Hellenistic to have been written by a lowly Galilean fisherman. Further, they say, the subject matter of the two books is too different. Never mind it was written for two different purposes. Why, II Peter has 57 words that are not used in the rest of the NT; 32 are not even found in the Greek translation of the OT. Fourteen aren’t even found in other Greek literature – the guy was obviously brilliant with an expansive vocabulary. Peter?
Not only that, did you know that almost all of Jude is found in II Peter, primarily chapter 2? So, someone must have copied someone. That is, either Jude copied Peter, or Peter copied Jude, or perhaps they both copied a source no longer available to us. And certainly, the Apostle Peter would not have copied Jude. And besides all that, the problems addressed in the letter didn’t arise until the second century, namely Gnosticism. Listen, argument after argument is given as to why Peter did not actually write the book that bears his name.
So, they suggest, the book was actually written much later – in the second century – it’s called pseudopigraphy. Someone wrote in the name of Peter, to garner acceptance and trust – and usually, by the way, to introduce some new teaching – different – unorthodox. That’s how they were able to eliminate most of those thousands of other works – they were sub-biblical, or outright heresy.
And Peter was a favorite name to choose. Certainly, if you wanted a letter to be accepted, why not go for broke – use the name of Peter – the chief of the Apostles. Did you know, for example, there are many pseudonymous writings from the second century – long after Peter died – who bear his name. Such as, The Apocalypse of Peter, The Gospel of Peter, The Teaching of Peter, The Letter of Peter to James, and The Preaching of Peter – just to name a few. Books which obviously, and rightly, did not make it into the Bible. II Peter, they say, belongs in that not-actually-Peter group.
And so, they say further, if the letter wasn’t written by Peter, why, it probably doesn’t belong in the Bible. The second issue, canonicity. Which means, of course, the Bible isn’t really inerrant and authoritative. Before you know it, we become the judges over the Bible – we decide what’s in, and what’s out. You see that, by the way, in many modern issues. The authors of the Bible didn’t understand the complexities of gender identity and sexuality – so those outdated passages on those subjects must be dismissed.
I trust you’ve detected some sarcasm, since I do accept the authorship and canonicity of II Peter – and the other 65 books of the Bible for that matter. Now listen – I read introductions from 14 different commentaries – conservative commentaries – and every argument against II Peter can be answered. Now, to be clear, they acknowledge the concerns. Consider these statements:
“Among all the books of the NT, none has been more disputed as to canonicity and authorship than 2 Peter.” (Edwin Blum, Expositors Bible Commentary)
“No NT document had a longer or tougher struggle to win acceptance than 2 Peter.” (J.N.D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude)
“Second Peter is often ignored because of its brevity and because scholars question its authenticity…. If one were inclined to doubt the authenticity of any letter in the New Testament, it would be 2 Peter.” (Thomas Schreiner, The New American Commentary, 1, 2 Peter, Jude)
I could go on. The point is, there are some challenges. But why do I accept the authorship and therefore canonicity of II Peter? Well, consider what the internal evidence is – that is, what the book itself says about the author:
- First, the author identifies himself in the first verse as Simon Peter (1:1). And by the way, it’s actually Simeon Peter. That’s would have been his more personal, Aramaic name, used only in Acts 15. Why would someone pretending to be Peter not use Simon, which was more widely known?
- The author says he was a witness of the transfiguration (1:16-18). That narrows it down.
- The author places himself on a level with the Apostle Paul (3:15).
- The author identifies himself as having written a previous epistle, likely I Peter (3:1).
- The author recalls the Lord’s prediction of his death (1:14). That probably refers to John 21.
Interestingly, skeptics look at all this and say, well, the author tries too hard to make himself look like Peter. Those personal examples of the transfiguration and the prediction of his death are an anxious effort to make the readers think it truly came from Peter. Of course, the conservative response to this assertion is the reason it sounds like it came from Peter is that it came from Peter.
Second, what do we do with this oft-stated charge of pseudonymity or pseudopigraphy – which by the way, literally means, fake/bogus writing?
- Well, again, the book claims to be written by Peter. If you believe in inerrancy, than this is a problem. Everything about the letter claims to have been written by Peter – which means there is a degree of deception and error in the book. It would mean the book is a lie, a forgery.
- Authorship was a central concern to the early church when they put the New Testament canon together. Authorship was one of the tests of canonicity. Would they knowingly have accepted a book claimed to be written by Peter when they knew it was written by someone else?
- Paul himself cautions against this practice. In II Thessalonians 2, Paul clearly says he was not in favor of the practice.
- In the early church, the Gospel of Peter was being widely circulated. Once it was discovered to be a pseudonymous work, Serapion, bishop of Antioch, condemned it. The problem was not that the gospel was explicitly heretical – it was pseudonymous, therefore, not trustworthy. While the practice of pseudonymity was widely used in ancient times, there is not a shred of evidence that it was accepted by the early church. In fact, it was regularly and unanimously condemned.
Listen, again, I could go on – I guess I already have. But all the arguments against Peter writing the book and therefore against it belonging in the Bible can be effectively explained. Don’t let some with a bunch of letters behind their names cause you to doubt your faith. Yes, it took some time to be accepted, but everyone eventually did accept II Peter – church fathers, reformers, and present conservative scholars.
Now, let’s quickly answer some other introductory questions. First, when was the letter written, and from where? Early, reliable tradition places Peter in Rome during the last years of his life. The same reliable tradition says he was martyred during the persecutions under Nero – as was Paul – sometime before 68 AD. If chapter 3, verse 1 which refers to an earlier letter, is I Peter, written about 63-64 AD, then II Peter was probably written between 65-67 AD, again, from Rome, right before his death. In that respect, some call this Peter’s testament – his swan song.
Now, to whom did he write? Again, if 3:1 refers to I Peter, than the recipients would be the five provinces of Asia Minor mentioned in I Peter 1; Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. All he says though, is in verse 1, “To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours.” All we can say definitively is that he wrote to Christians.
Now, why did he write – what was his purpose? This is extremely important. Peter seemed to understand that his time was short and that God’s people were facing some significant dangers. He wrote his first letter to speak of external dangers – opposition and persecution from without. He wrote his second letter to express his concerns of dangers coming from within – from false teachers. Just as sheep are prone to wander, so Christians are prone to forget the basic truths of the faith. II Peter is a reminder of the basis for our faith and a warning to beware of false teachers.
Let me give you a brief outline of the book we will be following:
- The Nature of the Christian Life (1:3-21)
- The Warning Against False Teachers (2:1-22)
- The Certainty of Christ’s Return (3:1-16)
Now, I know this has been a bit of an academic lecture – introductions to books usually are – of necessity. But if you’ve tuned out, tune back in for a moment. Again, the main issue is dealing with false teachers within the church. In doing so, he covers two other main themes – the deity of Jesus, and the inspiration of Scripture. But his main concern is these false teachers. In fact, consider this outline that structures the book around answers to these false teachers:
- Answer #1: Holiness Matters (1:3-11)
- Answer #2: We’re Not Making this Up (1:12-21)
- Answer #3: God’s Judgment is Certain (2:1-22)
- Answer #4: The Parousia is Coming (3:1-18)
Given those answers, what were the questions, if you will, or what were the tenants the false teachers were propagating? Their teachings, in reverse, went like this. And the reason we’re going to take them in reverse is because, as you’ll see, one builds on the other.
- They said Christ is not coming back. You see that in chapter 3. This is obviously the central heresy Peter deals with. The teaching of the scoffers was this: It’s been a long time – things have been the same since the beginning of creation – Jesus isn’t coming back – where is this supposed coming He promised?
Peter give three answers to the scoffers to disprove them:
- The Sovereignty of God – they were saying, it doesn’t look like anyone’s in control; no one has ever intervened. Everything is just the same since the beginning of time. Peter responds by reminding them God had indeed intervened in the past: through creation and the flood. The flood becomes the paradigm for the second coming – He destroyed the world the first time by water, He’ll destroy it the second time by fire.
- The Timeframe of God – Peter says, you act like it’s been a long time, but God’s time is not our time – His sense of timing is different, so don’t be confused.
- The Patience of God – God is waiting patiently for people to repent. But there will come a time when He will no longer wait.
- The second teaching builds on this first one. Since Jesus is not coming back, God will not judge us. He will not judge us now, He will not judge us in the future. What is Peter’s answer to this argument? God has always judged evil in the past. Peter mentions several events in history in which God did judge (fallen angels, the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah) – the point: God has judged, and will judge again.
- Which leads us to the third false teaching: The apostles made up the second coming. Now, it’s thought that the false teachers said something like this: “They made it up to scare you into obedience.” Peter’s argument is his apostolic witness – we were there on the mountain when we got a glimpse of the divine majesty – a precursor to His second coming. And not only that, there is the certainty of God’s word – the word speaks of a second coming – we can count on it for sure – the authoritative, inerrant Scripture proves what we say.
- Which leads to the final false teaching. This is the way it went: since Jesus is not coming back, I mean, they made all this up, since there will be no judgment, now or in the future, we can live however we want. And for these false teachers, it was living in sexual immorality and greed. Peter’s answers are found in chapter 1 – holiness matters. If you call yourself a Christian – how you live matters. Further, God has given us all the power we need to live holy lives. And, our holiness will result in reward in heaven.
Do you see how relevant all this is? What you believe does indeed impact your behavior. Behavior and beliefs go together. So, if you want to behave a certain way, you must align your beliefs to do so. If you believe there is a God, that He’s coming back, and He’ll judge, then you will seek to live in such a way as to be found faithful. Of course, the gospel teaches that we cannot live that way by ourselves. We are born sinners. And so, that same God, in the person of His Son, came to die for sinners, so that we could be forgiven – so sin could be removed when the judgment comes. Further, He has given us His Holy Spirit by whom we can live holy lives.
But, if you want to live in sinful rebellion, then you must do something about this belief that God is coming back – to judge. So, just deny the belief, and you can live however you want. I cannot tell you how many I have known who have rejected the Christian faith because they wanted to live in ways contrary to Scripture. So the next time someone tells you – Christianity is false, there is no God, the Bible is wrong – understand that behind that is a desire to live in sinful rebellion. The next time you want to reject a certain belief – check your motives. I would dare say – most of the time, a desire for sin is at the root of your rejection.
The last thing I will say is this. Some suggest the reason II Peter is routinely ignored is because it’s so negative. It exposes false teachers, it reminds of holy living, it reminds us judgment is coming. Consider these words of Professor Doug Moo as we close:
“Most of us don’t like to focus on the negative. And maybe that’s why 2 Peter and Jude would probably come toward the last of most people’s list of ‘favorite books in the New Testament….’ We need to hear the negative now and then that we might be warned about the dangers and steer clear of them. Peter and Jude found themselves in situations where the negative was needed…. Thus Jude, and Peter also, wrote about false teachers. Pulling no punches, they labeled these teachers for what they were…. Given the option of choosing on our cable service the kind of sermon we would like to hear on Sunday morning, not many of us would probably choose ‘Denunciation of False Teachers.’ But it might be the message we need the most.”
Doug Moo, The NIV Application Commentary