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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on 2 Peter

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Salutation and Exordium ( 1:1–15 )

2 Peter begins in a manner typical of contemporary letters: X to Y plus salutation ( 1:1–2 ). The use of Simeon (transliteration of the Heb. name, elsewhere used of Peter only in Acts 15 .14) rather than Simon (the standard Gk. equivalent) adds a ring of authenticity to the letter, though this could be a deliberate ploy. This divergence from 1 Peter shows that there is no attempt at imitation, despite the similar use of ‘abundance’ in the salutation (paralleled in many Jewish letters, though only at Jude 1 in the NT). The addressees are not specified but are assured that their standing is equal to that of Peter's. The description of Jesus as ‘God’ is noteworthy (attempts to construe the phrase differently are forced), although it has parallels (some of which are also disputed) elsewhere in the NT (Jn 1:1; 20:28; Heb 1:8; Titus 2:13; 1 Jn 5:20; Rom 9:5 ).

vv. 3–15 from the exordium—the theme of the letter is introduced and the reason for listening to it is highlighted. God has given the addressees the knowledge of God necessary for them to escape from the immoral world surrounding them and enter the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ. However, the time for such an escape has not yet come. In the meantime, two paths are open to those with this knowledge: if they live a righteous life the divine calling will be confirmed; if they do not, they will become forgetful and the knowledge ineffectual, and when the time comes they will not enter the kingdom. The readers should listen carefully because pursuing the correct path is vital, so vital in fact that Peter has put his exhortation in writing so that it will continue to be heard even after his impending death. Crucial to this exhortation is the maintenance of the distinction between the past (v. 3 —the ‘divine power has given… everything needed’; v. 4‘has given’ the promises), the present (vv. 5–7 —‘you must make every effort’; v. 8 —‘keep you from being ineffective’; v. 9 —‘is nearsighted and blind, and…forgetful’; v. 10 —‘be…eager to confirm your call’), and the future (v. 4 —‘you may escape from the corruption…become participants in the divine nature’; v. 10 —‘you will never stumble’; v. 11 —entry into the…kingdom will be…provided’: emphases added). Others were doubting that this future component would ever happen ( 3:3–13 ), but its importance is reaffirmed here in Peter's articulation of the Christian message. Ch. 2 will describe and oppose those who despite possessing the knowledge are following the path to destruction (hinted at in v. 9 ). Overall, the exordium provides a positive message, while the body of the letter expands on this by dealing with those who are, in Peter's view, stumbling.

2 Peter distinguishes between two different word groups when dealing with ‘knowledge’ (the distinction is not as clear elsewhere in the NT): one coming from the root gnos—general understanding ( 1:5, 6, 16, 20; 3:3, 18 ); and the other from epignos—knowledge of God gained in conversion ( 1:2, 3, 8; 2:20 ). The idea that knowledge is central to religion has extensive Jewish roots (e.g. Prov 2:5; Jer 31:34; Hos 4:1 ): it does not represent a later development in Christianity. ‘Participants in the divine nature’ (v. 4 ) is striking, but this Hellenistic terminology had already been absorbed into the Jewish tradition (cf. Wis 2:23; 4 Macc 18:4 ; Philo, Quaes. Ex. 2.29) signifying not ‘becoming part of God’ but ‘the achievement of immortality and incorruptibility’ (precisely the context here): its pairing with escape from the corruption of the world shows that it is a future reference.

Probatio Part 1 ( 1:16–21 )

The probatio (presentation of the case) has three sections: 1:16–21 forms the first. Peter gives two proofs that the message that Jesus will return (v. 16 —his ‘power and coming’) is trustworthy. In doing so Peter cuts to the heart of the dispute because, as we have seen, this future event was central to Peter's understanding of the divine economy, but others denied that Jesus would return (v. 16 —‘cleverly devised myths’; 3:4 ), and that judgement would come ( 2:4–10; 3:5–13 ). Indeed Peter takes Jesus' coming as synonymous with the eschatological judgement. The first proof is that Peter was an eyewitness to the transfiguration (vv. 16–18 ). This is relevant, in general because it demonstrates that the Christian message is about real events not myths, and in particular because the transfiguration revealed that God does break into the flow of the world (cf. 3:4–7 ) and that Jesus was God's majestic Son/Agent. Furthermore, the divine proclamation of his Son on a mountain points to Ps 2:6–7 —which goes on to speak of that Son/Agent's role in judgement (cf. Rev 2:26–8 ; Ps. Sol. 17.22–4). The connection of the transfiguration to Jesus' coming in judgement is also made in the Synoptic Gospels (esp. Mk 8:38–9:8 —although analysis, e.g. by Bauckham ( 1983 ), suggests that 2 Peter is independent of the Synoptics).

The second proof is the ‘prophetic message’ (i.e. OT) which also speaks of an eschatological denouement ( 1:19 can be translated as either ‘the prophetic message more confirmed’ (i.e. the prophecies are confirmed by the transfiguration) or ‘the very reliable prophetic message’ (i.e. they are independent confirmation)). Furthermore, these prophecies were truly from God and not man's invention (vv. 20–1 ). The light (i.e. revelation) provided by the prophetic message is vital but only partial—‘a lamp…in a dark place’. Eventually, however, ‘the day dawns and the morning star rises’ (cf. Test. Levi, 18.3–4; Num 24:17; Rev 22:16 )—the eschatological age will arrive, and bring complete light (‘in your hearts’, because knowledge of God is in view; cf. 1 Cor 13:12 ). ‘[N]o prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation’ (v. 20 ) appears to focus on the interpretation of prophecy not its origin (cf. 3:16 ). However, v. 21 clearly deals with the origin of prophecy, and if Peter's opponents rejected prophecy's divine origin they would not be engaged in its interpretation. Coherence is best achieved by taking v. 20 as referring to the way that the prophetic writings themselves are interpretations of the revelations the prophets received. Hence both verses are about the origin of the prophetic writings, both in general (v. 21 ) and in particular the interpretation given by the prophets of the revelations they received (v. 20 ). The reference to prophetic interpretation of revelations fits the context of Peter's interpretation of the transfiguration event.

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