Introduction to 2 Peter – 2 Peter 1:1–11
Read the Passage: 2 Peter 1:1-11
Authorship and Date – The book of 2 Peter is one of the general epistles and was written by the apostle Peter (cf. 2 Pet. 1:1), also known as Cephas and formerly as Simon, who was the leader of the apostles. He was the son of Jonas, a fisherman from Bethsaida (cf. Matt. 16:17), who was brought to Christ by his brother Andrew (cf. John 1:40–42). Peter was married and his wife apparently accompanied him on ministry excursions (cf. Mark 1:30; 1 Cor. 9:5). The letter of 2 Peter was likely written a few years after 1 Peter, around AD 67–68 from Rome, perhaps even from a Roman prison cell, just before the apostle’s own death (cf. 2 Pet. 1:14). This date is suggested for tradition teaches that Peter died in Nero’s persecution and Nero died in AD 68. 1 & 2 Peter are the only canonical books that Peter penned, although the church father Papias associated Peter with authorship of the book of Mark (cf. 1 Pet. 5:13). Note that the book of 2 Peter is included among the antilogomena—that is, the “spoken against” books—due to its stylistic differences with 1 Peter. Such differences can be explained by the different purposes of Peter’s two letters, as well as by the fact that Peter used an amanuensis to write 1 Peter (cf. 1 Pet. 5:12). 2 Peter is the last New Testament book that the church added to the canon of Scripture.
Purpose and Theme(s) – While Peter undoubtedly had numerous reasons for penning this epistle, his main reason was to warn against and to expose the false teachers who had infiltrated the church. The recipients of this epistle were the same who had received Peter’s first letter (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1–2)—that is, the Christians in five provinces of Asia Minor. Rather than address a particular heresy of the false teachers, in this letter Peter mostly centers his discussion upon the character of the heretics. Peter is concerned that believers embrace true doctrine so that they continue to develop a Christ-like character. Note that the word “knowledge” appears sixteen times in this letter’s short three chapters. Knowledge of the Bible and of God is the key to resisting false teaching.
Structure and Outline: The book of 2 Peter is difficult to outline. A suggested thematic outlined of 2 Peter is as follows:
- Salvation: An Exhortation Regarding Salvation (1:1–11)
- Scripture: An Appeal to Apostolic Authority (1:12–21)
- False Teachers: A Warning about False Teachers (2:1–22)
- Prophesy: A Reminder of our Blessed Hope (3:1–10)
- Ethics: Encouragement to Holy Living (3:11–18)
Peter begins this letter by identifying himself as “Simeon Peter” (2 Pet. 1:1), which is one of only two times in the Bible that the Hebrew form of Peter’s first name is used (cf. Acts 15:14). Peter describes himself as “a bondservant and apostle” (2 Pet. 1:1), that is, a sent-one who has no personal rights. Peter then describes his readers as “those who have obtained like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1). These are the same recipients of Peter’s first letter (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1). The term “obtained” literally means to receive by divine will. The apostle’s point here is that his readers did not earn their salvation, but rather attained it as a gift from God (cf. Eph. 2:8–9). Indeed, this faith was obtained “by the righteousness of God” (2 Pet. 1:1; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). Peter then wishes his readers “grace and peace” (2 Pet. 1:2), a traditional Greek and Hebrew salutation.
In 2 Pet. 1:3 Peter makes that important claim that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” This, of course, means that any failure to be sanctified lies with believers, not with God or His revelation. In writing that God has called believers “by glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3), Peter is saying that God effectually saves men on the basis of who he is (i.e., his glory) and what he did (i.e., his death on the cross—that is, his virtue). In salvation, Peter writes, God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Pet. 1:4). Indeed, believers are imputed with Jesus’ righteousness and imparted with the divine nature via the indwelling Holy Spirit.
While Peter had brought up the doctrine of election in regard to justification in 2 Pet. 1:1, here in 2 Pet. 1:5 the apostle appeals to human effort in regard to sanctification. Peter notes that because we are saved and equipped for growth “giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue.” The apostle then lists seven moral virtues. The phrase “giving all diligence” refers to exerting maximum effort. Peter’s point is that believers are to do all that they can to cultivate Christ-likeness. Indeed, the apostle notes that if one attains moral virtues, then one is not “barren nor unfruitful” (2 Pet. 1:8)—that is, one’s faith will not be sterile (cf. Jas. 2:17). Yet, if one does not cultivate Christ-likeness, then one’s faith is “shortsighted,” perhaps even to the point of suffering from “blindness” (2 Pet. 1:9)—that is, the individual may not even be regenerate.
- What do you know about the book of 2 Peter? What in this book has been particularly helpful to you in times past?
- Do many Christians today give much thought to false teachers in the church?
- What is the cure for false doctrine? How can we identify false teachers?
- Whom do most people blame for their lack of sanctification? What are the “all things” (2 Pet. 1:3) Peter references that believers have been given?
- What are some ways for believers to cultivate moral virtues (cf. Phil. 2:12)?