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Commentary on The Second Letter of Saint Peter

1:1 Simon: Several ancient manuscripts list the name as Symeoon, a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name "Simeon" (Lk 2:25; Rev 7:7). Symeon is probably the original reading, though it is unclear why the name is used here but not in 1 Pet 1:1. It appears elsewhere only in Acts 15:14. Peter: The name Jesus gave to Simon, meaning "rock". See word study: Peter at Mt 16:18. To those who: The readers are not identified beyond the fact that they are Christians. See introduction: Destination. our God and Savior: The expression in Greek indicates that both titles are given to Christ, the former affirming his divinity and the latter affirming his redemptive mission. This same construction is used elsewhere in the letter to assert that he is both "our Lord and Savior" (2 Pet 1:11; 2:20; 3:18). Some translate the phrase "our God and the Savior", thereby distinguishing the Father from the Son, but this rendering is less likely to represent the author's intention (see textual note a). Back to text.

1:2 May grace and peace: The identical formula appears in 1 Pet 1:2 but nowhere else in the NT. In general, however, opening wishes of grace and peace are standard in early Christian letters (Rom 1:7; Phil 1:2; Rev 1:4). knowledge: A key concept of the letter (1:3, 8; 2:20; 3:18). Growth in knowledge means increasing our understanding of God's ways and deepening our relationship with him. True knowledge is emphasized because false knowledge was beginning to seep into the Christian community (2:1-3; 3:17). Back to text.

1:3-11 Everything necessary to mature in godliness and attain glory is made available by God to believers. Our proper response is to supplement the gift of faith with a full range of virtues that conform us to Christ and grant us admittance to his kingdom (1:11) (CCC 1810-13). For similar lists that begin with "faith" and end with "love", see Rom 5:1-5 and 2 Cor 8:7. Back to text.

1:4 escape: The aim of Christian living is to rise above the sinful and decaying world toward an imperishable life with God (2:20). partakers of the divine nature: This does not mean that believers are made deities or come to stand on an equal footing with God. Similar expressions were used in the Hellenistic world to say that man was made in the likeness of divine immortality (Wis 2:23), that a king could imitate the divine nature by governing men as God does (Philo, On Abraham 144), or that some had come to share in the divine nature by possessing extraordinary wisdom and foresight (Josephus, Against Apion 1, 232). Here it denotes human participation in the divine life of God, a mystery of grace that Paul describes as the indwelling of the Son (Rom 8:10; Gal 2:20) and the Spirit (Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 6:19). Believers thus become sons and daughters of God by sharing in the divine Sonship of Christ (Rom 8:14-16; Gal 4:4-7). This doctrine of "deification" or "divinization" is grounded on the truth that Jesus Christ assumed our humanity in order to fill it with his divinity (CCC 460). • Participation in the divine life is a gift that comes to us through the sacraments (CCC 1692). It is especially in the Eucharist that we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity (CCC 1129, 19962000). • Since he granted us his image and his Spirit, and we failed to guard them, he took to himself our poor and weak nature in order to cleanse us, to make us incorruptible, and to establish us once again as partakers of his divinity (St. John of Damascus, Orthodox Faith 4, 13). Back to text.

1:5 virtue: I.e., a life of moral excellence. See word study: Excellence at Phil 4:8. Back to text.

1:9 cleansed from . . . sins: Experienced first in Baptism (Acts 22:16) and then in an ongoing way by confessing our faults and seeking the Lord's mercy (Mt 6:12; 1 Jn 1:9). The point here is that forgiveness obliges us to mend our ways and to make progress in holiness (2 Pet 1:3). Back to text.

1:10 your call and election: Believers are chosen and called by God to be his own people in Christ (1 Pet 2:9). This status is maintained and confirmed by living the faith and attaining the virtues of gospel morality outlined in 2 Pet 1:5-7. It is jeopardized, however, if one becomes reentangled in a life of sin (2:20-22). The danger that one might fall shows that confirming one's election is a matter of real and crucial importance, i.e., it cannot be reduced to a merely subjective or personal reassurance that one's salvation has already been eternally secured. Back to text.

1:11 the eternal kingdom: Union with God in heaven is the kingdom of God in its fullness and perfection (2 Tim 4:18). Back to text.

1:12-15 Peter wants readers to remember what he taught them after his death. This focus on the future leads some scholars to claim that 2 Peter exhibits characteristics of a "testament", a popular literary form in Judaism in which great figures of biblical history bequeath to posterity a series of prophesies and ethical instructions on their deathbeds. Back to text.

1:13 this body: Literally, "this tent", an image that signifies the temporary duration of our bodily life on earth (Wis 9:15; Is 38:12). For the saints, these tents are folded away at death and give way to a permanent dwelling in resurrected bodies. See note on 2 Cor 5:1Back to text.

1:14 Christ showed me: Jesus warned Peter that he would die as a martyr in old age (Jn 21:18-19). Now that Peter is an elderly man writing in the early or mid-60s, he knows that the end of his life is drawing near. Some think that Peter is referring to a personal revelation from Christ that is not recorded in the NT but concerns the timing of his death. Back to text.

1:15 my departure: Or, "my exodus". See word study: Departure at Lk 9:31. Back to text.

1:16 eyewitnesses: The apostles Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus on the mountain of Transfiguration (Mt 17:18). Their testimony to Christ was therefore based on the facts of history and firsthand experience, quite unlike the imaginative tales spun by the false teachers denounced in the letter (2 Pet 2:3). This past revelation of Christ's glory is considered a preview of the future revelation of Christ's glory at his Second Coming (CCC 554-55). Back to text.

1:18 the holy mountain: Traditionally identified as Mount Tabor in lower Galilee. Perhaps an analogy is implied with Mount Sinai, which was likewise sanctified or made holy by the manifestation of God's glory (Ex 3:1-5). See note on Mt 17:1-8Back to text.

1:19 the day dawns: The eschatological "day of the Lord". For its meaning, see note on 2 Pet 3:10. morning star: Ancient writers used this expression for the planet Venus, which is sometimes visible in the morning sky just before daybreak. • In addition, the expression is probably an allusion to Num 24:17, where the star that rises out of Jacob is seen in Jewish and Christian tradition as a prophetic image of the Messiah (Rev 22:16). Peter connects this with the return of Christ in glory, an event that will dawn upon the world at the end of history and bring joy to the heart of every believer who is eagerly awaiting him (Heb 9:28). Back to text.

1:20 one's own interpretation: The Spirit who inspired the prophecies of the OT is alone capable of interpreting them. By contrast, merely human intelligence can never ascertain their proper meaning without the divine assistance of the Spirit. The ramifications of this teaching are implied rather than stated, for Peter does not identify those who are authorized to give a correct interpretation of Scripture. Some contend that every believer who possesses the Spirit is automatically qualified for this task, but no such teaching can be found in the NT. On the contrary, we learn from other passages that the Spirit guides the Church into all truth through her apostolic leaders and their successors (Jn 14:26; 16:13), who serve as teachers and guardians of the Christian faith (1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 1:14; 2:2). This explains why Peter, being an apostle, expects readers to accept his teaching on Scripture as authoritative and reliable, whereas the false teachers among them are denounced for twisting its meaning (2 Pet 3:15-16) (CCC 104, 109-14). See note on Jn 14:26Back to text.

1:21 by the Holy Spirit: A description of prophetic inspiration, whereby God uses the prophet to speak his divine message to others. Peter's stress on this point may suggest that the false teachers disputed such inspiration or at least made interpretive claims at variance with it. History knows of heretical Jewish-Christians, called Ebionites, who claimed that the biblical Prophets spoke of their own accord, apart from divine assistance or influence (CCC 105-107). For the related mystery of biblical inspiration, see word study: Inspired by God at 2 Tim 3:16. Back to text.

2:1-22 Peter cautions readers against false teachers who are out to corrupt and deceive the faithful. Lest believers be led astray by their novelties, he insists that a frightful doom awaits them (2:4-9) for their perversity (2:10-22). Many scholars maintain that 2:1-18, along with 3:1-3, draws material from Jude 4-13 and 16-18. This is certainly possible, though some think that Jude is the one who borrowed from 2 Peter, and others that Jude and 2 Peter made independent use of a common source. None of these possible scenarios need imply that Peter himself could not have written the letter, as though it were beneath his dignity as the preeminent apostle to utilize the work of a lesser figure such as Jude. Back to text.

Word Study

Moved (2 Pet 1:21)

Pherō (Gk.): a verb meaning "carry", "bring", "bear", or "move". It is used 66 times in the NT. The term can describe how one person carries another (Mk 9:17) or how Christ, by his divine power, upholds the universe (Heb 1:3). Likewise, God is said to endure or bear with sinners (Rom 9:22), and a vine is said to bear fruit in its time (Jn 15:2). The word can even describe how wind rushes or moves along (Acts 2:2) to drive ships across the water and waves of the sea (Acts 27:15, 17). Peter uses it to recount how the voice of the Father was carried or borne to Jesus at the Transfiguration (2 Pet 1:17). Only a few verses later, he explains how the Prophets of the Bible were moved by the Spirit to speak words that came directly from God (2 Pet 1:21).

2:1 heresies: The Greek term can refer to such things as political parties, schools of thought, and distinctive opinions. Peter is referring to false doctrines that deviate from Christian truth (CCC 2089). See word study: Sect at Acts 24:5. Back to text.

2:2 truth . . . reviled: The faith is discredited when those who profess it deny the Lord by their lawless behavior (Tit 1:16). On the other hand, the gospel can gain ground in the world when believers lead exemplary lives of honesty, integrity, and holiness (Tit 2:11-12). Back to text.

2:4-10 To demonstrate that the wicked face certain punishment, Peter recalls God's judgment on the fallen angels (2:4), on the sinners of Noah's generation (2:5), and on the perverse cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6). These same Genesis stories also illustrate God's mercy, which reached down to deliver the families of Noah (2:5) and Lot (2:7). Back to text.

2:4 the angels: Probably a reference to Jewish traditions I surrounding Gen 6:1-4, according to which the "sons of God" are rebel angels, called the Watchers, who had sexual relations with women and begot a generation of giants (1 Enoch 6-21; Jubilees 5, 1-11). See note on Jude 6. into hell: Literally, "into Tartarus", the lower region of the underworld, where, according to Greek mythology, the wicked are imprisoned. Scripture elsewhere refers to the netherworld as Sheol, Hades, the Abyss, or the Pit. • The scenario described by Peter recalls one of the visions of Isaiah, in which the ungodly of heaven (angels) and earth (kings) are hurled as prisoners into a pit to await their final punishment (Is 24:21-22). Back to text.

2:5 Noah, a herald: Sometimes, Jewish retellings of Genesis portray Noah as a preacher of righteousness before the onset of the flood (Josephus, Antiquities 1, 74; Jubilees 7, 20-39; Sibylline Oracles 1, 128). • This tradition probably developed from the biblical description of Noah as a godly man favored by the Lord (Gen 6:8-9; 7:1). seven other persons: I.e., Noah's wife along with his three sons and their wives (Gen 7:13; 1 Pet 3:20). Back to text.

2:7 Lot, greatly distressed: Genesis does not elaborate on Lot's character by stating that he was outraged or offended by the depravity of Sodom. • Nevertheless, his righteousness is presupposed in Abraham's dialogue with the Lord in Gen 18:22-33 and is later asserted in Wis 10:6. Back to text.

2:10 indulge in the lust: The false teachers were known to engage in sexual impurity (2:14, 18). Peter implied as much when he selected the wicked angels (2:4) and the Sodomites (2:6) to exemplify sinners headed for destruction. See note on Jude 7. the glorious ones: I.e., the angels (Jude 8). It seems the deceivers are guilty of an irreverent arrogance that presumes to denounce, not merely sinners, but even fallen creatures of a higher order of being. This is all the more shocking when we consider that not even angels pronounce judgment on sinful men (2 Pet 2:11). Back to text.

2:12 they are ignorant: On the basis of this and similar verses, some identify Peter's opponents as Gnostics—heretics of the second century who claimed to possess a knowledge (Gk. gnosis) of secret revelation unknown to the Church. At most, the troublemakers in view are only forerunners of the Gnostics. Back to text.

2:13 carousing with you: Or, "feasting with you". This may be an allusion to Christian fellowship meals called "love feasts" (Jude 12). Back to text.

2:15 the way of Balaam: The way of stubbornness and greed. • Numbers 22-24 tell how the Moabites hired Balaam to place a curse on Israel (cf. Deut 23:5; Neh 13:2). Though Balaam was unsuccessful after several persistent attempts, his willingness to do evil for pay makes him a prototype of the false teachers, who peddle their errors in order to pocket the proceeds (2 Pet 2:3). Back to text.

2:16 donkey spoke: Not by nature but by the miraculous power of God (Num 22:28). Back to text.

2:19 promise them freedom: Presumably they offered freedom from the moral restraints of the gospel (1 Cor 6:12-13). The promise is empty, however, because the deceivers cannot give what they themselves do not have. Having misused their freedom, they have become slaves to sin all over again (Rom 6:15-18; 1 Pet 2:16). Back to text.

2:20-21 Peter warns that genuine believers can fall from God's grace and ultimately lose their salvation. The false teachers exemplify such a danger, for they have slid back into wicked ways, even though they were "bought" by the Lord (2:1; 1 Cor 6:19-20) and once "washed" clean of their iniquities (2:22; Acts 22:16). One who has never known the Christian message is better off than one who has previously embraced it but later chooses to reject it (Mt 12:45; Lk 11:26). Back to text.

2:21 the holy commandment: The gospel with its moral and religious demands (Jn 13:34). Back to text.

2:22 the true proverb: The first saying comes from Prov 26:11, and the second is a variation on a familiar maxim from the Hellenistic world. In this context, the point of both is that sinners once saved can again become defiled in sin. Jewish tradition disliked dogs and swine as filthy and objectionable animals (Ex 22:31; Lev 11:7; Mt 7:6). Back to text.

3:1 the second letter: The first letter was probably 1 Peter. Back to text.

3:2 your apostles: Probably refers to the missionary apostles who evangelized the readers. Included in this group is the Apostle Paul (3:15). Back to text.

3:3 the last days: An expression taken from the Greek OT that often refers to messianic times (Dan 2:28; Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1). Early Christian prophecy warned that skeptics would arise in the last days to spread confusion and doubt among believers (2 Tim 3:1-5; Jude 18). Thus, ironically, the appearance of scoffers who mock the reliability of prophecy is itself a fulfillment of prophecy. As a result, confidence in apostolic predictions should be strengthened rather than weakened by their activity. Back to text.

3:4 Where is . . . his coming?: The apparent delay in Christ's return led skeptics to doubt the promise of the Second Coming altogether. In their minds, the stability of the world since the dawn of creation is proof that God has no plans to intervene in a dramatic way in the affairs of natural and human history. Peter disproves this thinking that "nothing ever changes" with a reminder of the biblical flood: for this was a cosmic judgment by God that affected the entire inhabited world and forever altered the course of human history (3:6). Here and elsewhere Scripture gives the name "scoffers" to those who deny that God's judgments are heading their way (Prov 19:29; Is 28:14-15; Zeph 2:8-11). the fathers: This title is normally given to the Patriarchs and Prophets of Israel (Jn 7:22; Heb 1:1). Others interpret this to mean the apostles and the first generation of the Church, though the expression is never used in this way in the earliest Christian literature. fell asleep: A euphemism for death (1 Cor 15:20). Back to text.

3:5 the word of God: Peter recalls the creation traditions of the Bible, in which God spoke the universe into existence (Gen 1:3; Ps 33:6) and caused the earth to emerge from the waters that engulfed it in the beginning (Gen 1:2, 9-10). Fashioning the world "out of" and "by means of" water is probably a reference to God separating and gathering the primeval waters in order to make the earth a place of habitation and life (Gen 1:6-7, 20; Ps 33:7). Back to text.

3:8-13 Peter foresees the final catastrophe of history, when the structure of the visible universe will melt down in flames. The goal of this judgment is not annihilation of the world per se; rather, it is the dramatic prelude to the "new heavens" and "new earth" that God will unveil in the end (3:13). • Scenes of cosmic catastrophe were used by the OT Prophets as metaphorical depictions of spiritual and political upheaval. In a sense, the ultimate end of the world was prefigured on a smaller scale every time Yahweh laid waste to a wicked nation. Judgments on the ungodly are thus envisioned as world-shaking events, e.g., the destruction of Babylon (Is 13:9-13), the fall of Edom (Is 34:1-5), the overthrow of kingdoms (Hag 2:21-22), and the devastation of Judah and Jerusalem (Jer 4:23-28). Peter employs the same type of apocalyptic language used by the Prophets, only he foretells the end of the world as we know it on a truly cosmic scale. • God delays the destruction of the world on account of Christians. Were it not so, the fire of judgment would come down and dissolve all things, just as in former times the flood left no survivor except Noah and his family. Thus we claim that there will be a conflagration (St. Justin Martyr, 2 Apology 7). Back to text.

3:8 one day . . . thousand years: A reminder that God's plan will unfold according to his timing, not ours. In point of fact, the Lord is being patient—not procrastinating—when he holds back his judgment long enough for sinners to repent (3:9; Rom 2:4). • Peter is alluding to Ps 90:4, which contrasts the eternal perspective of God, who stands outside of history, with the brief existence of man. Back to text.

3:9 all should reach repentance: God desires every person to be saved (CCC 1037). See note on 1 Tim 2:4Back to text.

3:10 the day of the Lord: A biblical expression for times of divine judgment on the world. • It is used repeatedly in the OT for those turning points in history when God called nations to account for their sinful ways, whether it be Israel (Amos 5:18-24; Joel 2:1-11; Zeph 1:7-13) or one of its Near Eastern neighbors (Jer 46:10; Joel 3:11-15; Obad 15-18). Even the holy city of Jerusalem was the recipient of the Lord's justice on more than one occasion (Lam 2:22; Zech 14:1-5; Mal 3:15; 4:1-6). Each of these localized judgments serves as a foreshadowing of the universal judgment of the world envisioned by Peter. like a thief: I.e., unexpectedly and without warning. The simile goes back to Jesus (Mt 24:43-44) and was also used by Paul (1 Thess 5:2) and the Book of Revelation (Rev 3:3; 16:15). the elements: Writers in antiquity often used this Greek term for the foundational substances of the material world (Wis 7:17), usually thought to be earth, air, water, and fire (e.g., Josephus, Antiquities 3, 183). It can also refer to heavenly bodies. See word study: Elemental Spirits at Col 2:8. Back to text.

3:11 lives of holiness: The coming judgment provides incentive for heroic Christian living. Back to text.

3:12 hastening: In the sense that God is quick to respond to human repentance. Usually it is God himself who is said to hasten the day of his judgments (Sir 36:8) and blessings (Is 60:22). Back to text.

3:13 new heavens . . . new earth: Peter borrows words from Isaiah to describe the future transformation and renewal of the cosmos. • Isaiah used this language to promise a new beginning of peace and blessedness for Israel and the world (Is 65:17-25). The universal worship of Yahweh by all flesh will be one of its defining characteristics (Is 66:2223). Like Peter, the Book of Revelation makes use of these prophetic oracles in its description of the glorified heaven and earth that awaits the saints (Rev 21:1-5). Paul too anticipates a future liberation of the created order from its bondage to death and decay (Rom 8:19-21) (CCC 1042-48, 1405). • Our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven with glory on the last day. For there will be an end to this world, and the creation will be made new again. To prevent this dwelling from remaining forever filled with iniquity, this world will pass away to make way for a more beautiful world (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 15, 3). Back to text.

3:15 Paul wrote to you: The recipients of 2 Peter were also among the recipients of at least one Pauline epistle. It could be a letter now lost (like the one mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9) but is more likely a letter in the NT canon. If the previous letter implied in 2 Pet 3:1 is 1 Peter, an epistle written to believers in Asia Minor, then the list of candidates can be reduced to Galatians and possibly Ephesians and Colossians, each of which was written to congregations in Asia Minor. Back to text.

3:16 all his letters: Peter is aware that Paul wrote several epistles and is knowledgeable about their contents. Some think this mention of "letters" refers to a purportedly well-known collection of Pauline writings that was put together in the late first century. Unfortunately, there is no real evidence to confirm this hypothesis, nor is there a convincing reason why the epistles of Paul could not have been assembled earlier, even within the apostle's lifetime. After all, Paul encouraged his Churches to share and exchange his letters among themselves (Col 4:16). hard to understand: I.e., susceptible to misinterpretation. the ignorant: Or, better, "the uninstructed". The idea is that Paul's teaching is not easily or rightly understood by those who lack sound formation in apostolic doctrine. The false teachers denounced in the letter are a case in point: most likely, they are the primary culprits guilty of twisting Paul's doctrine to fit the mold of their own heretical beliefs. There is no insinuation in this verse that Peter himself found the letters of Paul particularly difficult or obscure. the other Scriptures: Indicates that Paul's epistles were revered and credited with the same level of authority as the books of the OT. Concretely, this probably means they were being read aloud in the context of the Christian liturgy. Back to text.

3:18 To him be the glory: Ascribing glory to Christ presupposes his divinity (1:1; Rev 5:12). A similar doxology appears in 1 Pet 4:11. Amen: It is uncertain whether this final "Amen" was in the original letter or not. Back to text.

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