I’m beginning a new series on the 2nd letter of Peter. As I do, I throw a few reflections down about issues raised along the way.
I’ve picked up a couple of commentaries which were recommended. One by Gene L Green in the Baker exegetical series and the other by Douglas J Moo in the NIV Application series.
Both include a commentary on the book of Jude. I had not realised how many similarities there were between Jude and 2 Peter. A chart by Green shows 17 places of correspondence.
Of course, all this fuels the argument for those who hold that 2 Peter was not actually written by Peter. I am not persuaded by such arguments. Green has an excellent analysis and concludes: ‘The concerns raised within the letter fit well within the struggles of the church of the first century, and we may reasonably affirm that Simeon Peter, the apostle, authored the book.’
Peter used Silvanus as a ‘secretary’ to help him write his first letter (1 Peter 5:12) and the differing style of 2 Peter suggests that a new ‘secretary’ is assisting him as he pens the letter. Perhaps it might even have been Jude himself though that is just a speculation.
3 It’s Peter not Paul
The letter is framed by ‘grace’ as Peter opens with ‘May grace and peace be multiplied to you…’ and he closes with ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord’. But, while Peter sets his letter within this framework, the content and tone of the letter is not a Pauline like argument of salvation by grace. That is simply not Peter’s focus. The times are urgent and the pressures are intense and Peter is seeking to urge the faithful to wholehearted service. He urges them to ‘make every effort’ (1:5), ‘to be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure’ (1:10) and ‘to be diligent to be found by [the Lord] without spot or blemish, and at peace’ (3:14).
I note this because I am conscious that my Reformation heritage is one which constantly reinforces the Pauline emphasis on ‘By Grace alone’. I listened to one sermon on 2 Peter 1 and noticed this coming through at various points. It was an excellent message and there was nothing that I disagreed with except for this emphasis. That is, it occurred to me that the preacher was more concerned to ensure that we got the message that it was ‘by grace alone’ than Peter was. I suspect that a key reason for this was that he was speaking to an audience of many clergy who were thoroughly of the Reformed evangelical line. If you are going to be accepted by that group then it is vital you don’t weaken in any way the Reformation message. He did it brilliantly. But as I return to 2 Peter I’m left wondering…are we diminishing Peter’s message when we insert our own shibboleths into a passage?
Now I am aware that there is more to be said about Paul and Peter’s theology and that for my evangelical circle I am treading upon sacred ground. My point is not so much to enter into argument about that, but to highlight Peter’s approach. We might be firmly grounded in justification by faith and saved by grace, but I don’t see that in any real sense in 2 Peter 1:3-11. Peter wants them to be ‘practising these qualities’ so that they will never fall (1:10), and it is ‘in this way [that] there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom’ (1:11).
Another short note – Paul himself is mentioned and his own wisdom is acknowledged in the letters which he has written (3:15-16). Indeed, Paul’s writing is aligned with ‘the other Scriptures’ which is a remarkable assessment by the apostle.
4 The Transfiguration
The surprising theme through chapter 1 is that of the Transfiguration and partaking of the divine nature. I am linking 1:3-4 with 1:16-18. Tom Wright’s little popular commentary notes this connection and he has some interesting reflection upon the subject. His ‘pilgrim’s book’ – The Way of the Lord – has a chapter on the Transfiguration which develops this theme. It is certainly not one that fits easily into evangelical reflection (that I have noted).
I say surprising because I have always found it intriguing that Peter’s eyewitness theme is to recall this time up the mountain rather than seeing the Risen Jesus. Certainly the Resurrection of Jesus comes to the fore in his first letter (1 Peter 1:3). But the Transfiguration seems to connect more closely to the notion of prophecy and the coming of the kingdom. The prophetic word and truth – and ultimately ‘who is telling the truth’ – is a central theme that runs through the whole letter. The truth about Jesus’ coming…about his word and coming judgement – this is what Peter regards as under attack and what he is seeking to fortify his readers for as he is aware of his own imminent departure.
5 Don’t forget the middle chapter!
Finally, there is 2 Peter 2. Back in the 1980s I heard Rev Dick Lucas speak on 2 Peter at the January Katoomba youth Convention. They were typical solid, excellent Lucas exposition, but there was one comment he made which stayed with me and has unsettled me more as the years passed. I think Dick had only three talks and he chose to omit 2 Peter 2 entirely. He made the comment that it isn’t really important…you can go from chapter 1 to 3 and it all makes complete sense. Now, I realise that this was his way of covering the book without getting stuck in the quagmire of issues raised by chapter 2. Nonetheless, as one looks at 2 Peter we really are not doing justice to the letter if we simply skip over the second chapter. I freely admit though that it would be easy to do so…and certainly will value the prayers of the saints and the insights of commentators and others in doing justice to the vivid and rich imagery of this second chapter.
On which note I close with a classic prayer of Charles Spurgeon as I prepare to preach on 2 Peter:
“We must preach, but it is thine to apply. Lord, apply it. Come forth, great Spirit. Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, O Spirit of God, come forth! By the voice that once bade the winds cease from roaring, and the waves be still, come, thou Spirit of the living God!”
(Quoted by Ray Ortlund in his book ‘When God Comes to Church’, page 121.)