The Second Letter of Peter - Introduction
The Second Letter of Peter follows the typical form of a letter, except that it lacks the customary final greeting. It also shares the characteristics of a testament (especially in 1.12–14 ), the final advice and warnings of a patriarch before his death (compare Paul's final address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.25–35 ). This combination of forms has resulted in the modification of each. Testaments are usually presented as a third‐person report of the last spoken words of a patriarch to his sons before his death. Second Peter, however, is a first‐person, written delivery of the last words of Peter to all who are of like faith ( 1.1 ). The writer makes use of a rich cultural heritage, including Hellenistic philosophical speculation, Jewish exegetical and apocalyptic traditions, the Hebrew Bible, traditions about Jesus, the Letter of Jude, and a collection of Paul's letters. The Greek style of 2 Peter is an example of the popular Greek rhetorical style of that age, characterized by grandiose, elaborate language.
There is little historical or literary evidence to connect the author of this letter either to Simon Peter or to the author of 1 Peter. The author wrote in the name of Peter, not to transmit a particular form of Petrine tradition, but to convey the common apostolic tradition of the church. Peter is chosen because of his reputation and his closeness to Jesus. Such pseudepigraphical attribution is frequent in the Bible and in other ancient literatures. The writer takes pains to appeal to the common apostolic teaching ( 3.2 ), explicitly including Paul ( 3.15–16 ). The letter was probably written from Rome around the end of the first century CE or the beginning of the second.
Second Peter is characterized by an apocalyptic vision of this world as corrupt because of lust ( 1.4 ) and bound for destruction. It urges the reader to escape by means of the knowledge of Christ and of God and by earnest moral striving that is grounded in the promises and gifts of God. The goal is to participate in the divine nature and to enter the eternal kingdom ( 1.11 ).
After a brief greeting, the letter opens with an ethical exhortation to pursue a chain of virtues based on the all‐sufficient promises and gifts of God and achieved through knowledge and remembering ( 1.1–11 ). Three statements follow that establish the solemnity of the exhortation. The letter represents Peter's final “testament” ( 1.12–15 ); the heavenly voice guarantees the power and coming of Jesus ( 1.16–18 ); and the scripture is certain ( 1.19–21 ). Chapter 2 (much of which is adapted from Jude) is a warning against false teachers who want to exploit the unstable for the sake of greed and licentiousness. Their final destruction is as sure as is the final salvation of the godly. Those who are enticed by their empty promise of freedom are likewise doomed. Chapter 3 returns to the admonitions of chapter 1 and warns of the certainty of judgment. Just as the heaven and earth in Noah's time were destroyed through water, so the present heavens and earth will be destroyed through fire. Finally, there will be “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” ( 3.13 ). Those who wait for these things should take Paul's advice and use the time that remains to repent. They should abstain from the defilement of the world, avoid being led astray by the error of the lawless, and grow in grace and knowledge.