by Robert Brow    April 1999

2 Peter

Many scholars have questioned whether Peter could have written this Epistle. Whoever he was, we will call him Peter and we wonder what kind of model of Christian faith he had in mind.  1:3-4 Peter evidently had some change in mind for his readers. They already had the same faith as the other Christians (1:1). But now they were to expect a transformation by believing in all the valuable and very great promises that were included (1:4). That -dia touton genysthe theias koinonoi phuseos- through these you might become sharers of the divine nature (1:4).

Becoming sharers of the divine nature seems to describe a real change in their lives, which includes -ta panta . . .ta pros zoyn kai eusebeian- all things needed for life and godliness (1:3). Becoming sharers of the divine nature seems to look back to "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness" (Genesis 1:26), and that would connect with the Greek Orthodox model of -theosis- being perfected in love by the Holy Spirit.

The change was to be effected by -tys theias dunameos autou- his divine power (1:3). In the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans  I suggested that the whole Epistle was about -dikaiosune- a being made right by the power of God which is the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 1:16, 5:5, 8:5-11, 15:13).  Paul's problem with the flesh could also relate to -apophugontes tys en to kosmo en epithumia phthoras- having escaped the corruption which is inevitably part of the world due to fleshly desire (1:4).

2 Peter 3:3-13

What did Peter have mind when he wrote the words : - prosdokontas kai speudontas tyn parousian tys tou theou ymeras, di yn ouranoi puroumenoi luthysontai kai stoikeia kausoomena tyketai- expecting and eager for the coming of the day of the Lord, in which the heavens will burn and be destroyed, and the heavenly bodies melt with heat (3:12). Here are some models which might fit:

(a) This is the end of the world, which we can now imagine would be in a final atomic destruction. But one wonders why this would be looked forward to so eagerly? The parallel picture of destruction by water (2:4-5) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (2:6-8 ) suggest a wrath destruction which is followed by a new world which the righteous will live to enjoy.

(b) A cataclysm will occur, which will not be the end of the world, but will certainly destroy a vast area (e.g. Sodom and Gomorrah, and the destruction of the island of Thera).

(c) Peter is using the same metaphorical model in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, where the language picks up the portents from Isaiah 13 of the toppling of a great city. The sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling, and the powers of heaven being shaken (Mark 13:24) describe in vivid metaphorical terms the catastrophic end of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70. The destruction is also preceded by false prophets (2:1) as in Mark 13 and Matthew 24.

Peter deliberately uses the expressions Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10) and -parousia- coming (3:4, 6, 12) in exactly the same way as the Old Testament prophets. But every Day of the Lord is an end for some, but a new beginning for others (see Commentary on Matthew 24 and the book on Advent: Comings of the Lord Among the Nations).

This does not deny that this world system will one day be terminated when the Lord has finished his purposes. But meanwhile since the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 the Lord has continued his reign by interventions, comings, and Days of the Lord (as in the Old Testament) as civilizations and cities have been terminated. And in each case we tend to use metaphors to describe the horror. The Holocaust is literally a whole burnt offering by fire.

A model which fits in with the models used in other New Testament books is obviously more likely to reflect the mind of the early Christians than a model which seem to be way out. Which is why model (c) seems the most elegant way of interpreting 2 Peter, and the Epistle fits nicely into our model studies in the rest of the New Testament.

1 John .....