2 Peter 3
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:

(1, 2) Just as the two halves of the first main portion of the Epistle are linked together by some personal remarks respecting his reason for writing this Epistle (2Peter 1:12-15), so the two predictions which form the second main portion are connected by personal remarks respecting the purpose of both his Epistles.

(1) This second epistle, beloved, I now write.—Rather, This now second epistle I write, beloved; or, This epistle, already a second one—implying that no very long time has elapsed since his first letter, and that this one is addressed to pretty much the same circle of readers. There is no indication that the first two chapters are one letter, and that this is the beginning of another, as has been supposed. With this use of “now,” or “already,” comp. John 21:14.

Pure minds.—The word for “pure” means literally “separated”—according to one derivation, by being sifted; according to another, by being held up to the light. Hence it comes to mean “unsullied.” Here it probably means untainted by sensuality or, possibly, deceit. In Philippians 1:10, the only other place where it occurs in the New Testament, it is translated “sincere.” (Comp. 1Corinthians 5:8; 2Corinthians 1:12; 2Corinthians 2:17.) The word for “mind” means “the faculty of moral reflection and moral understanding,” which St. Peter, in his First Epistle (2Peter 1:13), tells his readers to brace up and keep ready for constant use. These very two words are found together in a beautiful passage in Plato’s Phaedo, 66A.

By way of remembrance.—We have the same expression in 2Peter 1:13, and the translation in both cases should be the same—stir up in putting you in remembrance.

That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
(2) By the holy prophets.—Appealed to before in 2Peter 1:19. (Comp. Jude 1:17.) The coherence of the Epistle as a whole comes out strongly in this last chapter: 2Peter 3:1 recalls 2Peter 1:12-13; 2Peter 3:17 recalls 2Peter 1:10-12; 2Peter 3:18 recalls 2Peter 1:5-8. In this verse the Apostle commends the warnings of the Old Testament and the New Testament, as to the coming of Christ, to Christians throughout all ages.

The commandment of us the apostles of the Lord.—“Of us” is, beyond all doubt, a false reading; it should be “of you,” or “your.” The Greek is somewhat awkward, owing to the number of genitives, but the order of the words is conclusive as to the meaning—the commandment of your Apostles (or rather) of the Lord and Saviour. The commandment is at once a commandment of the Apostles and of the Lord. “The Apostles of the Lord” must not be taken together, as in our version. The expression “your Apostles” may be taken as a mark of genuineness rather than of the contrary. It is at least not improbable that a true Apostle, having once stated his credentials (2Peter 1:1), would sink his own personality in the group of his colleagues from a feeling of humility and of delicacy towards those whom he was addressing, especially when they owed their Christianity mainly to other Apostles than himself. It is not improbable that a writer personating an Apostle would have insisted on his assumed personality and personal authority here.

What commandment is meant? Surely not the whole Christian law; but either the command to beware of false teachers (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:11; Mark 13:22; Romans 16:17; Ephesians 5:6; 2Timothy 4:3), or, more probably, what is the main subject of this Epistle, to be ready for Christ’s coming (Matthew 24:36-39; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 12:40; 1Thessalonians 5:2-4).

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
SECOND PREDICTION: Scoffers shall throw doubt on Christ’s return.

(3) In the last days.—Comp. 1Peter 1:20; Hebrews 1:2; and the parallel passage to this, Jude 1:18. “Know this first, children, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts” is quoted in a homily attributed on doubtful authority to Hippolytus. (See above on 2Peter 2:1.)

Scoffers.—The best authorities add “in scoffing,” intensifying the meaning by repetition (as in Ephesians 1:3; Revelation 14:2; comp. Luke 22:15). There are other repetitions of this kind in the New Testament, which have been rendered by strengthening the verb in some other way (John 3:29; Acts 4:17; Acts 5:28; James 5:17).

And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
(4) Where is the promise?—Not meaning, of course, “In what passages of Scripture is any such promise to be found?”—but, “What has come of it? where is there any accomplishment of it?” (Comp. Psalm 42:3; Psalm 79:10; Jeremiah 17:15; Malachi 2:17.)

Of his coming.—“His” instead of “the Lord’s” indicates not merely that only one Person could be meant, but also the irreverent way in which these scoffers spoke of Him.

Since the fathers fell asleep.—What fathers are meant? Four answers have been given to this question: (1) The ancestors of the human race; (2) the patriarchs and prophets; (3) the first generation of Christians; (4) each generation of men in relation to those following. Probably nothing more definite than our remote ancestors is intended. The expression “fell asleep” is used of St. Stephen’s death in Acts 7:60 (comp. Matthew 27:52; 1Corinthians 7:39, where the word is not literally translated; 1Corinthians 15:6; 1Corinthians 15:18, &c). The thoroughly Christian term “cemetery” (=sleeping-place), in the sense of a place of repose for the dead, comes from the same Greek root.

There is a passage quoted by Clement of Rome (circ. A.D. 100) which seems at first sight to contain a reference to this verse: “Far be from us this Scripture where He saith, Wretched are the double-minded, who doubt in heart and say, These things we heard in the times of our fathers also, but behold, we have grown old, and none of them has happened to us” (Epistle to the Corinthians, xxiii.). But the remainder of this “Scripture,” as quoted by Clement, is so utterly unlike the verse before us, that one suspects some other source. And this suspicion is confirmed when we find the same passage quoted in the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (xi.) as “the prophetic word.” (See on 2Peter 1:19 and on 2Peter 2:9). The differences between the two quotations are such that the pseudo-Clement appears to be quoting independently, and not merely borrowing from the true Clement. In neither case does close inspection encourage us to believe that our present verse is the source of the quotation. But the quotation by the true Clement is important as a complete refutation of the objection that “the fathers” means the first Christians, and consequently no such scoffing argument as this would be possible in the lifetime of St. Peter This very argument was not only in existence, but was condemned in a document which Clement before the close of the first century could quote as “Scripture.” Comp. Epistle of Poly carp, chap. vii.: “Whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says there is neither resurrection nor judgment, he is the firstborn of Satan.”

All things continue as they were.—Rather, as they are. The error has probably arisen from a desire to get rid of the slight difficulty of two dates being given: (1) from the death of “the fathers,” and (2) from the beginning of the creation. The suggestion that “the fathers” are the first progenitors of the human race is another attempt to get rid of the difficulty by making the two dates virtually one and the same. But the second date is an after-thought, frequent in Thucydides, intensifying and strengthening the first. Since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they are—nay, more, since the beginning of the creation.

This sceptical argument is used with increased force as each generation passes away. It will be at its strongest just before the fallacy of it is irrefragably exposed—on the eve of the day of judgment.

For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
(5) For this they willingly are ignorant of.—Literally, For this escapes their notice of their own will. They voluntarily blind their eyes to this fact—at once an explanation of their argument, and first answer to it, drawn from the Mosaic account of the Creation.

The earth standing out of the water and in the water.—The margin is nearer the true meaning with “consisting” for “standing,” and the same word is translated “consist” in Colossians 1:17. The notion is that of coherence, solidarity, and order, as distinct from chaos. “Out of [the] water” indicates the material out of which the earth was made; not, as our version leads us to suppose, that out of which the earth rose, like an island from the ocean. “In the water” is wrong, and again the error is probably derived from Geneva, though Tyndale has it also. We should render rather, by means of [the] water. In both clauses the article should perhaps be omitted—the earth consisting out of water and through water. (Comp. Psalm 24:2; Psalm 136:6.) In the Clementine Homilies (XI. xxiv.) we have the idea of all things being made by water. In the Greek “by the word of God comes last, not first; emphasis is obtained either way. “By the word of God;” not by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, not by spontaneous generation. In the Shepherd of Hermas (I. Vis. I. iii. 4) we read, “Behold, the God of virtues (powers). . . . by His mighty word has fixed the heaven, and laid the foundation of the earth upon the waters.” (See above on ii. 1, 3, 13, 15, 20.) In an Apology of Melito, Bishop of Sardis, addressed to Antoninus Caesar about A.D. 170, there is a passage bearing a considerable amount of resemblance to these verses (2Peter 3:5-7).

Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
(6) Whereby.—The meaning of this is much disputed. The original literally signifies, by means of which things. But what things? The context allows various alternatives: (1) These facts about the Creation; (2) the heavens and the earth; (3) the water out of which, and the water by means of which, the world was made; (4) any or all of these together with the word of God. There is good reason for preferring the second of these. Both the heavens and the earth contributed to the deluge; for then “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened” (Genesis 7:11). The English “whereby” is as vague as the original.

The world that then was, . . . perished.—So that it is absurd to say that all things continue unchanged since the Creation. The world was so transformed by the deluge that the world previous to that catastrophe perished, chaos for the moment returned, and a new world issued from the crisis. “The world that then was, perished” is equivalent to “He spared not the old world” in 2Peter 2:5.

But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
(7) By the same word.—Or, as some first-rate authorities read, by His word. The sense in either case is that the universe is preserved for judgment by the same power that created it. “His word” here does not mean any single utterance of God or passage of Scripture, such as Isaiah 66:15; Daniel 7:9-10; Malachi 4:1. Just as “the world that then was” was destroyed by water, so the present world is being treasured up to be destroyed by fire. Comp. Romans 2:5. Christ Himself, in a discourse which St. Peter heard (Mark 13:3), had made the Flood a type of the Judgment (Matthew 24:37-39). (See below on 2Peter 3:10.) “Unto fire,” or “for fire,” should perhaps be taken with “kept in store” rather than with “reserved.”

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
(8) Second Answer to the sceptical argument: Time is the condition of man’s thought and action, but not of God’s. His thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways; what seems delay to us is none to Him.

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing.—Although these scoffers are willingly ignorant of what refutes their error, do not you be ignorant of what will lead you to the truth.

One day is with the Lord as a thousand years.—This half of the saying is quite original, and has no equivalent in Psalm 90:4. The second half is only partially parallel to “a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, when it is past.” Consequently, we cannot be sure that the Apostle had this passage from the Psalms in his mind, though it is probable enough that he had. That God Can punish in one day the sins of a thousand years is a thought which is neither in the text nor in the context. What is insisted on is simply this—that distinctions of long and short time are nothing in the sight of God; delay is a purely human conception. Justin Martyr, about A.D. 145 (Trypho, lxxxi.), gives “the day of the Lord is as a thousand years” as a quotation, and in this form it is closer to 2Peter 3:8 than to Psalm 90:4. As another possible reference to our Epistle follows in the next chapter, it may be regarded as not improbable that Justin knew the Epistle. (See above, second Note on 2Peter 2:1.) But the saying may have been a favourite one, especially with those who held Millenarian views. In the Epistle of Barnabas (xv. 4) we read,” For a day means with Him a thousand years, and He Himself witnesseth, saying, Behold, to-day shall be as a thousand years,” where for “to-day” the Codex Sinaiticus reads “the day of the Lord.” Irenæus has “The day of the Lord is as a thousand years” twice—(V. xxiii. 2; xxviii. 3); Hippolytus has it once (Comm. on Daniel, Lagarde, p. 153); Methodius once (in Photius’ Bibliotheca, cod. 235). In no case, however, is the context at all similar to the verses before us.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
(9) Third Answer—a practical one: Make good use of what to you seems to be delay.

The Lord is not slack.—We are in doubt whether “the Lord” means Christ or God the Father. In 2Peter 3:8 “the Lord” certainly means God; and this is in favour of the same meaning here. On the other hand, “concerning His promise” naturally refers to Christ’s promise that He will return. The same doubt recurs with regard to 2Peter 3:15 (see Note there). By “is not slack is meant “does not delay beyond the time appointed.” There is no dilatoriness; He waits, but is never slow, is never late.

Concerning his promise.—The Greek construction is peculiar, formed on the analogy of a comparative adjective—“is not slower than his promise.” (Comp. Romans 3:23.)

But is longsuffering.—(Comp. 2Peter 3:15 and 1Peter 3:20. As St. Augustine puts it, God is patiens quia aeternus—longsuffering because He is eternal. He who is from everlasting to everlasting can afford to wait. (Comp. the Shepherd, Sim. VIII. xi. 1.)

To us-ward.—The true reading, beyond all doubt, is towards you. It is specially natural here that St. Peter should not include himself among those whom he addresses; for he is writing mainly to Gentile Christians (2Peter 1:1), and this longsuffering of God had been conspicuous in His dealings with the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-36.) (See second Note on 1Peter 1:12.)

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
(10) The certainty and possible nearness of Christ’s coming is the basis of the preceding warning and of the exhortations which follow.

As a thief in the night.—Suddenly and without warning. The words are an echo of Matthew 24:43, a saying which St. Peter certainly heard (Mark 13:3), or possibly of 1Thessalonians 5:2, which may easily be included in the Epistles referred to below in 2Peter 3:16. The words “in the night” are here wanting in authority.

The heavens shall pass away.—Again an apparent reminiscence of the discourse in Matthew 24 (where comp. Matthew 24:35)—the third such reminiscence in this chapter (see preceding Note, and on 2Peter 3:7). This repeated reproduction of words and ideas from one of the most impressive of Christ’s discourses, which only St. Peter and three others seem to have heard, may fairly be added to the evidence in favour of the authenticity of the Epistle.

With a great noise.—Better, with a rushing noise. The expression occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but some such idea as that in Isaiah 34:4, Revelation 6:14, is probably indicated—not the roar of flames or the crash of ruins, but the parting and rolling up of the heavens. (Comp. Revelation 20:11.)

The elements shall melt with fervent heat.—The meaning of “elements” here is much disputed. (See Notes on the word in Galatians 4:3; Galatians 4:9.) The difficulty of supposing fire to be destroyed by fire seems to exclude the four elements being intended; moreover, the earth is mentioned separately. Hence, some take “the elements” to mean water and air, the two remaining elements; but this is not very satisfactory. More probably, the various forms of matter in the universe are intended, without any thought of indicating what they are precisely. But seeing that Justin Martyr calls the sun, moon, and stars “heavenly elements” (Apol. II. v., Trypho, xxiii.), and that in predictions of the last day frequent mention is made of “signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars” (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:25; Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 24:23; Joel 2:31, &c), it is possible that the heavenly bodies are meant here, all the more so, as the mention of these “elements” immediately follows that of the heavens. Bengel (perhaps with more poetry than correctness) ingeniously connects this explanation with the radical signification of the word, viz., “letters of the alphabet,” “for stars in the heaven are as letters on a scroll.” (Comp. Revelation 6:14.) “Shall melt” should rather be, as in the next two verses, shall be dissolved. Wiclif has “dissolved,” Rheims “resolved.” This dissolution is the opposite of the consistency spoken of in 2Peter 3:5. In 2Peter 3:12 “melt” is correct, and suits the heavenly bodies better than the four elements. (Comp. The Second Epistle of Clement, xvi. 3.)

The earth also and the works that are therein.—Equivalent to “the earth and the fulness thereof,” “works” being used in a comprehensive sense for products both of nature and art. The moral work of each individual is not meant; consequently, a reference to 1Corinthians 3:13 is misleading. The two passages have little in common, and nothing is gained by bringing in the difficulties of the other passage here. In this passage the Apostle is stating plainly and in detail what some of the Prophets of the Old Testament had set forth in general and sometimes obscure language—that a judgment by fire is in store for the world (Isaiah 66:15-16; Isaiah 66:24; Malachi 3:1-3; Malachi 4:1).

Shall be burned up.—The question of readings here is one of known difficulty. One important MS. has “shall vanish away” (James 4:14); two first-rate MSS. and other authorities have “shall be found.” The later Syriac has “shall not be found,” which is pretty nearly equivalent to “shall vanish away,” and is sometimes given as exactly equivalent to it. “Shall be found,” the reading most strongly attested, is summarily rejected by some editors as yielding no sense. The theory that it has grown out of the Latin for “shall be burned up”—eurethesetai out of exurentur—does not seem very probable. Nor is it true that it yields no sense By placing a colon at “also,” and making what follows a question, we obtain—The elements shall be dissolved, the earth also: and shall the works that are therein be found? Happily, nothing of importance turns on the reading; all the variations amount practically to the same thing—that the elements, the earth, and all that is in it, shall be destroyed.

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
(11) Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved.—For “then” we ought probably to read “thus,” seeing that all these things are thus to be dissolved. The original is present in form, but rightly translated by the future, being the prophetic present, i.e., the future prophetically regarded as present.

What manner of persons.—Not so much a question as an exclamation. In any case, the sentence should run on to the end of 2Peter 3:12. To put an interrogation at “to be” or at “godliness,” and make what follows an answer to the question, would be stiff and frigid, and very unlike the fervour of this Epistle.

Ought ye to be.—We might fairly translate, ought ye to be found. The Greek implies that the state is one that has continued for some time before the day comes.

In all holy conversation and godliness.—Literally, in holy behaviours and godlinesses. (See Notes on 2Peter 1:3 and 2Peter 2:7.) The plurals indicate a variety of acts. They occur in this passage only.

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
(12) Hasting unto.—There is no “unto” in the Greek. The margin is probably right, hasting the comingi.e., hastening Christ’s coming by holy lives, by helping to make the Gospel known to all nations (Matthew 24:14), so as to “accomplish the number of the elect,” and by praying “Thy kingdom come.” (Comp. 2Timothy 4:8; Revelation 22:20.) The thought is singularly parallel to St. Peter’s speech in Solomon’s Porch (Acts 3:19-21, where see Notes); and as the thought is striking and unusual—perhaps nowhere else in the New Testament distinctly—this coincidence may fairly be admitted as a note of genuineness.

The coming of the day of God.—A phrase which occurs here only. It is doubly remarkable: (1) “coming,” in the special sense indicated by the particular word used in the Greek, is elsewhere used of Christ Himself, not of the day; (2) “the day of God” is a very unusual expression.

Wherein.—Rather, by reason of which, either “the day” or “the coming” being meant.

Shall melt.—“Melt” is here correct, being quite a different word from that rendered “melt” in 2Peter 3:10, which is the same as that here translated “be dissolved.” In the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (chap. 16) we have a somewhat similar passage—“The day of judgment cometh even now as a burning oven (Malachi 4:1), and [the powers] of the heavens shall melt, and all the earth as lead melting on the fire.”

Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
(13) Nevertheless we, according to his promise.—“Nevertheless” is too strong, and the emphasis is on “new,” not on “we.” But new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, we look for, according to His promise. (Comp. Revelation 21:1.) On the repetition of “look for,” three times in three verses, see above on 2Peter 2:7. The promise of the new heavens and new earth is given in Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22. There are two words for “new” in Greek; one looks forward, “young” as opposed to “aged;” the other looks back, “fresh” as opposed to “worn out.” It is the latter word that is used. here and in Revelation 21:1-2. Both are used in Matthew 9:17, but the distinction is not marked in our version—“They put new wine into fresh wine-skins.”

Wherein dwelleth righteousness.—Comp. Isaiah 65:25; Revelation 21:27. Righteousness has its home there; is not a wanderer and changeful guest, as on earth, therefore by righteousness must ye make yourselves worthy of entering therein.

With this whole verse compare 1 Peter 1, where (2Peter 3:4) a similar thought is expressed with equal beauty, and where (2Peter 3:13) a similar conclusion is drawn from it. (See next verse.)

Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.
(14) Be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.—Rather, Be found spotless and blameless in His sight. “Be found of Him,” i.e., “by Him” (comp. 2Peter 2:19), cannot stand; the construction is parallel to “be found unto you” (2Corinthians 12:20), i.e., “in your judgment,” or “in your sight.” The pair of epithets, “spotless and blameless,” should be noticed as coinciding with 1Peter 1:19, and also as forming a marked contrast to the false teachers, who are called “spots and blemishes” (2Peter 2:13). “In peace” cannot well refer to differences between Jewish and Gentile Christians, a subject quite foreign to this Epistle. It may possibly refer to the false teachers and the discord caused by them; but more probably it has no special reference. It expresses at once the condition and the consequence of being “spotless and blameless.” “There is no peace, saith my God, for the wicked.”

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
(15) The longsuffering of our Lord.—Again, as in 2Peter 3:9, we are in doubt as to whether God the Father or the Lord Jesus is meant. In neither case is absolute certainty obtainable; but here the balance seems decidedly in favour of the latter meaning. In 2Peter 3:8 “the Lord” certainly means God, and not the Lord Jesus (comp. 2Peter 2:9; 2Peter 2:11). In 2Peter 3:18 “our Lord” is expressly stated to be Jesus Christ. The two intermediate 2Peter 3:9; 2Peter 3:15, are open to dispute. The fact that “our” appears in this verse before “Lord,” as in 2Peter 3:18, inclines the balance here towards the meaning in 2Peter 3:18. Moreover, had God been meant, it would have sufficed to say, “and account that His long-suffering is salvation.” If this is correct, and “our Lord” means Jesus Christ, “then throughout this weighty passage the Lord Jesus is invested with the full attributes of Deity.” Here, possibly, as also in 2Peter 1:1 (see Note), the expression points to the writer’s entire belief in the unity of the two Persons. Account the longsuffering of our Lord salvation instead of accounting it to be “slackness” (2Peter 3:9); make use of it for working out your own salvation in fear and trembling, instead of criticising it.

As our beloved brother Paul.—This may possibly mean something more than that St. Paul was a fellow-Christian and a personal friend—viz., that he was a fellow-worker and brother-evangelist. More than this it cannot well mean, though some interpret it “brother-Apostle.” Tychicus is twice called “beloved brother” by St. Paul (Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7), and the addition of “our” here can make no such change of meaning. It is doubtful whether there is any allusion to the dispute between St. Peter and St. Paul (Galatians 2:11), although an expression of marked affection would be quite in place as evidence that all such differences were now forgotten. In any case the familiarity and equality which the expression “our beloved brother Paul” implies should be noticed. It is in marked contrast to the way in which Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Alexandria speak of St. Paul, and in this way is a decided note of genuineness. A writer of the sub-Apostolic age would not easily be able to free himself from the feeling of the age in this respect. Clement of Rome (Corinthians, xlvii. 1), says, “Take up the Epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.” Ignatius (Ephesians, 12:2) calls him “Paul the sanctified, the martyred, worthily called blessed.” Polycarp (see next Note) calls him “the blessed and glorious Paul,” or “the blessed Paul.” Clement of Alexandria commonly says simply “the Apostle,” but sometimes “the divine Apostle” or “the noble Apostle.” An imitator in the second century would scarcely have attained to the freedom of “our beloved brother Paul.”

According to the wisdom given unto him.—Comp. 1Corinthians 3:10; Galatians 2:9. Polycarp, in his Epistle to the Philippians (2peter iii. 2), says, “Neither I nor any one else like me can equal the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who . . . wrote letters to you, into which if ye look diligently, &c. &c.” This seems to show that St. Paul’s letters had already become the common property of the churches.

Hath written unto you.—More literally, wrote to you. What Epistle, or Epistles, are here meant? Few points in this Epistle have been more debated. The following are some of the many answers that have been given to the question: (1) a lost Epistle; (2) Hebrews, because of Hebrews 9:26-28; Hebrews 10:23-25; Hebrews 10:37; (3) Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, because our Epistle is supposed to be addressed to the Christians of Asia Minor; (4) Ephesians only, for the reason just stated, and because Colossians and Galatians contain little or no mention of the day of judgment; also because of Ephesians 4:30, and the encyclical character of the Epistle; (5) 1 Corinthians, because of 1Corinthians 1:7-9; (6) Romans, because of Romans 2:4 and Romans 9:22-23; (7) 1 and 2 Thessalonians, because of 1Thessalonians 4:14-18; 1Thessalonians 5:1-11; 1Thessalonians 5:23, because 2Peter 3:10 recalls 1Thessalonians 5:2, also because “things hard to be understood” admirably describes much of 2 Thessalonians 2, which treats of the time of Christ’s coming, the very subject here under discussion.

Of these seven theories, (1) can neither be proved nor disproved; (3) and (4) lose much of their weight when we consider that the persons addressed in 2 Peter are nowhere defined, excepting that to some extent they are identical with those addressed in 1 Peter. Of the remaining four, (7) seems to be very probable, both on account of the large amount of coincidence, and also because of the early date of those Epistles, allowing an interval of fifteen years, in which the two Epistles might easily have become well known in other churches. Still it is difficult to find a passage in them about the longsuffering of God, such as Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22-23. And when we consider that Romans also Appears to have been an Encyclical Letter, and was written not so very long after the Epistles to the Thessalonians; that in Romans 3:8. St. Paul himself tells us that he had been grossly misunderstood; that Romans 9:3 might easily cause serious misunderstanding, and that Romans 6:16 seems to be recalled in 2Peter 2:19—it will perhaps be thought that on the whole Romans best answers to the requirements of the context.

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
(16) As also in all his epistles.—All those known to the writer. The expression does not necessarily Imply that St. Paul was dead, and that his Epistles had been collected into one volume. That each church made a collection of them as they became known to it, and that in the great centres they became known soon after they were written, are conjectures of great probability.

Speaking in them of these things—viz., of the return of Christ and of the destruction of the world. Some, however, understand the words as meaning the exhortations to holiness here given.

Some things hard to be understood.—Certainly the difficulties with which 2 Thessalonians 2 bristles are well described by this expression, and they relate to the very point in question—the time of Christ’s coming. Moreover, scoffers could easily turn them to account by arguing that “the man of sin” had not yet appeared, and that therefore there was no likelihood of the end of the world coming just yet. But in admitting that 2 Thessalonians 2 is among the passages alluded to here, we are not committed to the theory that 1 and 2 Thess. are alluded to in 2Peter 3:15. Many refer these words to St. Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith as wrested to mean “faith without works.” So, again, Ephesians 2:5-6, and Colossians 2:12 might be wrested to mean that “the resurrection is past already” (2Timothy 2:18). (See Note on Romans 3:8 respecting perversion of his teaching.)

Unlearned and unstable.—The word for “unlearned” here is not the same as that translated “unlearned” in Acts 4:13. (See Note there.) That signifies “without special study;” this means “without ordinary instruction.” Ignorance naturally produces instability; those who have no clear principles of Christian doctrine easily fall victims to seductions of all kinds. (Comp. 2Peter 2:14.)

Wrest.—Literally, torture by means of the rack; and hence “strain,” “distort.” That St. Paul’s doctrine of Christian liberty, as opposed to the bondage of the Law, was seen by himself to be liable to great abuse, and had already begun to be abused, we learn from his own writings (1Corinthians 6:12-20; Galatians 5:13-26; where see Notes. Comp. Revelation 2:20.)

The other scriptures.—The Old Testament cannot well be meant. St. Peter would scarcely have placed the writings of a contemporary side by side with the Scriptures of the Old Testament (the canon of which had long since been closed) without some intimation of a grouping which at that time must have been novel, and probably was quite unknown. It is much more probable that Christian writings of some kind are intended, but we can only conjecture which, any of the canonical writings of the New Testament then in existence, and perhaps some that are not canonical. That an Apostle should speak of the writings of a brother-Apostle in the same terms as the books of the Old Testament—viz., as Scripture—need not surprise us, especially when we remember the large claims made by St. Paul for his own words (1Thessalonians 2:13; 2Thessalonians 2:15; Ephesians 3:3-5. Comp. Acts 15:28; Revelation 22:18-19). In 1Peter 1:12, Evangelists are almost made superior to the Old Testament Prophets—a statement indicating a view which harmonises well both with 2Peter 1:15-19 and with the view set forth here; for in 2Peter 1:15 he assigns to this Epistle much the same purpose as in 2Peter 1:19 he assigns to the Old Testament Prophets. Moreover, we have seen how Clement of Rome uses the term “Scripture” of a passage which comes from some uncanonical book (see above on 2Peter 3:4). See Introduction, I. c. δ. 4.

Unto their own destruction.—The Greek is very emphatic as to its being “their own.” (Comp. “Bring upon themselves swift destruction,” 2Peter 2:1.) It is their own doing—St. Paul and other writers of Scripture are not to blame; and it befits them—they will find the end they deserve. This passage gives no countenance to the Roman doctrine that all Scripture is hard to understand, and therefore not to be read by the people. All that is here said is that some Scripture is hard to understand, and that bad men make a bad use of the fact. The inference drawn from this by St. Peter is not, “Do not read Scripture,” nor even “Pass over what seems to be hard,” but “Be on your guard against being led astray by interpretations contrary to the spirit of the gospel.”

Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.
(17) Know these things before.—Seeing that I have forewarned you of the certain appearance, conduct, and success of these false teachers and scoffers. “Forewarned, forearmed.”

Being led away with.—The Greek word occurs only thrice in the New Testament—here, Romans 12:16, and Galatians 2:13. In Romans 12:16 its meaning is a good deal different (see Note there). In Galatians 2:13 it has the same meaning as here; and, strangely enough, it is of Barnabas being “carried away with” the dissimulation of Peter and his associates.

The error of the wicked.—Better, the error of the lawless (2Peter 2:7), but not “the seduction” or “deceit of the lawless,” as some would render it. It is the same word as occurs at the end of 2Peter 2:18, and it implies wandering from the path, but not leading others astray. The context, not the word itself, shows that there was seduction. “The lawless” are the false teachers and scoffers.

Fall from your own stedfastness.—Referring back to 2Peter 1:10-12, just as 2Peter 3:18 refers back to 2Peter 1:5-8; showing how complete is the coherence between the beginning and ending of the Epistle. (Comp. Galatians 5:4.) This “steadfastness” will be based on belief in Christ’s coming, and on the hope of entering into His kingdom, and thus will be in marked contrast to the unbelief of the “unstable” in 2Peter 3:16. The word for “steadfastness” occurs nowhere else.

The entire absence of directions—which St. Jude gives rather elaborately—as to how these evil men and their victims are to be treated by sound Christians is in favour of the priority of this Epistle. When evil men begin to arise, the first impulse is to avoid them and their ways, and to this course St. Peter exhorts his readers. When such men have established themselves and gained proselytes, people begin to consider how to deal with the seducers and to win back the seduced, and to these points St. Jude directs his readers.

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
(18) But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord.—Or, But grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lordi.e., it may mean “the grace of our Lord” as well as “the knowledge of our Lord.” But the Greek is not decisive on this point; and the rendering in our version avoids the awkwardness of coupling a subjective and objective genitive together by “and.” For “the grace of our Lord” must mean the grace of which He is the giver; while “the knowledge of our Lord” must mean the knowledge of which He is the object. Romans 15:4 and 1Peter 1:2 are not instances of such coupling.

The Apostle ends, as he began, by exhorting them to that sound knowledge which he sets forth as the sure basis of all Christian activity, whether the knowledge be full and mature, as in 2Peter 1:2-3; 2Peter 1:8; 2Peter 2:20 or to be acquired and increased, as in 2Peter 1:5 and here.

DOXOLOGY.—The Epistle comes to a most abrupt conclusion, without any personal remarks or greetings. This is so unlike the First Epistle, so unusual in Apostolic letters generally, that an imitator, and so accomplished an imitator as the writer of this Epistle must have been, would scarcely have omitted so usual and natural an addition. The addition would have been doubly natural here, for the personator (if the writer of the Epistle be such) is personating St. Peter near the end of his life, writing to congregations whom he is not likely either to see or address again. Surely the circumstances would have seemed to him to demand some words of personal greeting and tender farewell; and Acts 20:18-35; 2Timothy 4:6-18, would have supplied him with models. But nothing of the kind is inserted. Assume that St. Peter himself is the writer, and then we can understand how he came to disappoint such natural expectations. His heart is too full of the fatal dangers which threaten the whole Christian community to think of himself and his personal friends. As to his death, which cannot be far off, he knows that it will come swiftly at the last, and his chief fear is lest it should come upon him before he has left on record these words of warning and exhortation (2Peter 1:13-15). Therefore, at the opening he hurries to his subject at once, and presses on, without pause or break, until it is exhausted; and now that he has unburdened his heart he cares to say no more, but ends at once with a tribute of praise to the Master that bought him.

To him be glory.—Better, to Him be the glory—all that His creatures have to render. Whatever may be our view of 2Peter 3:15, there can be no doubt that in this doxology homage is paid to Jesus Christ as true God. It is, perhaps, the earliest example of that “hymn to Christ as God” which Pliny tells Trajan the Christians were accustomed to sing before daybreak.

And for ever.—Literally, and to the day of eternity. The phrase is used by the LXX. in Ecclesiasticus 18:10, but is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It means that day which marks the end of time and the beginning of eternity, the day which not only begins but is eternity. The expression is quite in harmony with the general drift of the chapter. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but” “the day of God” “shall not pass away.”

Amen.—Comp. Jude 1:25. Here the word is of rather doubtful authority. Being usual in doxologies, it would be very likely to be added by a copyist.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


2 Peter 2
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