The apostle Peter wrote his second epistle to counter false and unbiblical teachings. Why is resisting heretical doctrines so important to all Christians?
While 1 Peter is focused mainly on persecutions and how Christians are to live under such circumstances, 2 Peter is intended to confront and oppose deceptive beliefs introduced by “false prophets” intent on undermining the faith of Church members.
William Barclay states: “Second Peter was written to combat the beliefs and activities of certain men who were a threat to the Church. … It is clear that Peter is describing antinomians [those who were opposed to law], men who used God’s grace as a justification for sinning” (The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters of James and Peter, revised edition, pp. 283-284).
Dr. Barclay continues: “It is a book of first-rate importance because it was written to men who were undermining the Christian ethic and the Christian doctrine and who had to be stopped before the Christian faith was wrecked by their perversion of the truth” (p. 289).
Peter exhorts God’s people to firmly embrace sound biblical doctrines. Corrupt and evil men—individuals who had “forsaken the right way”—were introducing “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1, 15). In chapter 2, Peter launches a blistering attack on these heretical teachers whom he describes as “presumptuous, self-willed,” “natural brute beasts” (irrational creatures, like animals in behavior), “accursed children,” “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (verses 10, 12, 14, 17).
Peter’s prolonged description is a chilling reminder to those who may be tempted to introduce false teachings into the Church. Individuals who teach the Word of God are to remain faithful to the fundamental doctrines of the Bible. James 3:1 states: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”
Second Peter was probably the most contested of all New Testament books. Some scholars down through the centuries have questioned Peter’s authorship, stating that the literary style and Greek vocabulary of 2 Peter are less refined than 1 Peter. Others have theorized that 2 Peter’s close resemblance to Jude may mean that it is a late copy of that book, and that Peter’s name was merely an attachment.
Other external sources, however, attest to its validity. Davis Dictionary of the Bible states: “Traces of the use of this epistle in the very earliest days of the church are not numerous or very clear; but Origen at the opening of the third century speaks of it in a manner which shows that it was used in the church of his day; and although doubts were cherished in some quarters concerning its authorship, these are overborne by the weighty historical evidence” (John D. Davis, fourth revised edition, p. 627).
The internal evidence is clear:
- The author refers to himself as “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).
- He was present at the transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-18).
- Christ predicted the manner of his martyrdom (John 21:18-19; 2 Peter 1:14).
- He refers to himself as one of “the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (3:2).
- The author says he wrote the first epistle to the same recipients (3:1).
Repeated use of certain words and phrases in both epistles
Of interest is the recurrence of certain words and phrases in both the first and second epistle—further proof of authorship.
Below is a sample:
- In both epistles the word conduct (manner of life—“conversation” in the King James Version) is employed: 1 Peter 1:15, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16 and in 2 Peter 2:7; 3:11.
- Prophetic references in both epistles are similar: 1 Peter 1:10-12 and 2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:2.
- The word holy is used eight times in 1 Peter and six times in 2 Peter.
Peter, the fisherman
Peter employs certain expressions that a fisherman would use:
- “Enticing” in 2 Peter 2:14 (“beguiling” in the KJV). The word originally meant “to catch by a bait” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “beguile”).
- “They allure” in 2 Peter 2:18. This has a similar meaning as the word “enticing” in 2:14. These wicked men “allure” or “entice” by setting bait that will lure unsuspecting people to be caught by their deceptive teachings.
Outline of 2 Peter
- Salutation and God’s precious promises (1:1-4).
- Steps leading to Christian growth (1:5-11).
- Prophecy regarding Peter’s death (1:12-15).
- The reliable and dependable prophetic Word (1:16-21).
- The apostasy described (2:1-22).
- Confidence in the second coming of Christ (3:1-13).
- Remain steadfast and continue to grow in true knowledge and in God’s favor (3:14-18).
“Knowledge,” one of the keynote themes
Peter places a great deal of emphasis on authentic and accurate biblical knowledge: “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (1:3, emphasis added throughout). This true knowledge is in direct contrast to the deceitful and life-destroying knowledge of the false teachers (chapter 2).
These precious promises refer to Christ’s return, which fills the Christian with hope and assurance.If full and perfect knowledge is applied in the way Christians conduct their lives, it will lead to “grace and peace” being “multiplied” (1:2) and, furthermore, to the continual spiritual growth and development that God requires (1:3, 5-8; 3:18).
As we respond to God’s calling, our minds will be opened to a deeper understanding of His “glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises” (1:3-4). These precious promises refer to Christ’s return, which fills the Christian with hope and assurance.
Diligence encouraged: the reward will be well worth the effort
Peter admonished the brethren to “be even more diligent [the word takes on an urgency to do your best, make every effort] to make your call and election sure” (1:10). The end result will be a marvelous reward: “For so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11).
The word entrance means a path or a road into a place, and in this verse, it refers to the Kingdom of God, which flesh and blood cannot enter (1 Corinthians 15:50). Notice that the Kingdom of God is not the Church, as they were already a part of the Church. For them the entrance into that Kingdom was an event yet in the future, when they would be resurrected at Christ’s return and changed into spirit (1 Corinthians 15:49-55). Only then would they be able to enter the “everlasting kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11).
2 Peter and the epistle of Jude
There is an interesting similarity between some verses in 2 Peter and Jude: 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6; 2 Peter 2:6 and Jude 7; 2 Peter 2:11 and Jude 9; 2 Peter 2:17 and Jude 12. One author may have been aware of the writing of the other, but, of course, God through His Spirit had the ability to inspire and guide both writers to record similar truths for emphasis.
Combatting the denial of the return of Christ to the earth
One of the techniques employed by the false teachers was to scoff at the true Christians’ belief in the second coming of Christ. Their argument was that the prophetic indicators of His return were merely cyclic, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4).
Dr. Barclay commented on verse 4: “The implication of the question is that the thing or the person asked about does not exist” (p. 338). A further implication is that God cannot be trusted as He has not fulfilled His promise. That is a serious accusation against our Creator!
This is also a warning for today’s generation, as Peter likens the period to “the last days” (3:3)—the time in which we are presently living. Many today are scoffing and mocking at the idea of Christ’s literal return.
Remember the Flood
Peter further states that the false teachers’ attitudes and actions are in direct opposition to what God revealed to “the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (3:2).
Peter emphasizes that despite apparent delays, God’s plan has not changed or failed, but will be fulfilled according to His predetermined time frame (3:9). He uses the biblical example of the Flood as proof that God will do what He says. Noah took God’s warning seriously and constructed the ark (Hebrews 11:7), probably under constant scorn and ridicule. After many years the waters covered the earth, exactly as God had said.
Make your calling and election sure
In light of God’s faithful promises, Peter urges Christians to give “all diligence,” or put forth every effort, to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:5, 10). He provides us with a formula to accomplish this goal. Verses 2-3 show what God provides believers in our quest to live the Christian life, while verses 5-7 show our responsibility.
Below is a list and brief description of the terms used in the formula for making our calling and election sure:
- Faith is the foundation upon which the other virtues may grow. Faith is the confidence that what God says in His Word can be relied upon with certainty (Hebrews 11:1).
- To faith add virtue. The word is arete in Greek and means goodness, moral excellence and courage.
- To virtue add knowledge. Dr. Barclay states: “Gnosis is practical knowledge; it is the ability to apply to particular situations the ultimate knowledge which sophia [wisdom] gives” (p. 302). It is intended to lead us into a deeper understanding of how to live the Christian life.
- To knowledge add self-control. It is the ability to consistently control personal passions and our human will in a way that honors and pleases God.
- To self-control add perseverance. We could also call it steadfastness. Expositor’s Bible Commentary defines the word as “the ability to endure, literally to be patient under the weight of adversity … denotes brave resistance” (p. 388).
- To perseverance add godliness. This describes an awareness of God in all aspects of daily life, and produces a profound sense of duty first to God and then to our neighbor.
- To godliness add brotherly kindness. The word is philadelphia, and means love of the brethren. Unity among brethren requires a genuine love and affection for each other.
- To brotherly kindness add love. Dr. Barclay writes, “The Christian must show to all men the love which God has shown to him” (p. 305).
Peter concludes this section by stating: “If you do these things you will never stumble,” and your ultimate reward of entering “abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” will be assured (verses 10-11).
What do you live for?
In Luke 12:13-21 Christ taught a valuable spiritual lesson: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (verse 15).
What do we value most?
How many are unwilling to sacrifice the present in order to secure the future? We need to ask ourselves, are we putting God first, or are we allowing “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” to choke our opportunity to accept God’s calling and promises (Mark 4:19)?
It is our earnest hope and desire that you will act upon the “knowledge of Him, who called us to glory” (2 Peter 1:3), and that you will begin to walk in the way that leads to a happy, abundant life now—and eternal life in the future.
This requires responding to God and changing to become like Him.
For further study, read the articles in the section “General Epistles.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.