2 Peter is a letter full of concern about the community to which it was written. Low moral standards, divisiveness, false teaching, uncertainty about Jesus’ return and claims of superiority all appear to be causing problems. The letter is striking for its flowery language, but also for its deep concern for the church's welfare.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1.3)
5For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. (2 Peter 1.5–7)
The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3.9)
The condemnation of those who undermine belief in the return of Jesus can make modern readers uncomfortable, since many people today are also sceptical about Jesus’ return. It will be important to be alert to how this makes you feel and to ask yourself the question of where you place yourself on the issue.
Authorship is ascribed to ‘Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ’ (1.1). It may or may not be significant that this is different from the opening of 1 Peter: ‘Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1.1).
Most scholars do not think that the same person wrote both 1 and 2 Peter. The style, focus and contents are very different in the two epistles. You may want to read them both together and see what you think.
Peter is the best known of all of Jesus’ original 12 disciples. Although the other gospels say nothing of his ancestry or place of birth, John’s Gospel identifies him as the son of John and from Bethsaida (John 1. 42–44). In Mark's Gospel, by the time he met Jesus he appears to be living in Capernaum, or at least his mother-in-law was (Mark 1.30). He also had a brother called Andrew (see Matthew 4.18 and John 1.44). The gospels all identify Peter as a fisherman, hence the assumption by some that he would not have been trained in Greek philosophy or rhetoric.
Peter is presented in all four Gospels as being very close to Jesus even though he regularly got things wrong, a tendency that led in the end to him denying Jesus three times just before his trial. Christian tradition states that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and was crucified there during the reign of the Emperor Nero (in the mid-60s AD). It is also held by some that the Gospel of Mark contains Peter’s eyewitness testimony of the life and death of Jesus.
If the letter was not written by Peter we know nothing of the author at all.
The focus of the letter is on whether people continue to believe that Jesus would return, which suggests a later date when the earliest followers had begun to die, which would have shaken the faith of those remaining.
Many scholars suggest a date around the 80s-90s AD, though if Peter did in fact write the letter it would need to be dated before his death in the mid-60s AD.
Reading between the lines, when 2 Peter was written various people were challenging key features of the Christian faith. It is not unlikely that the people were feeling anxious and unsettled.
Epistle – it is certainly addressed with passion to a particular audience, but some scholars argue that ‘testament’ might be a better description, arguing that these could be the final words and encouragements of Peter just before his death.
1-2 Opening and greeting
1.3–11 Recap of what we believe
1.12–15 Why the author is writing
1.16–3.13 The main argument of the letter – the importance of Christ’s return; the importance of the Scriptures; the problem of false teachers; the importance of the last judgement
3.14–18 Final encouragements
There will be names you may not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
As you read, notice how important character is to the author – see if you can decide what you think Christian character is from the perspective of 2 Peter.
Also look out for the importance of judgement and the second coming. As you read, ask yourself why this is so important in this letter.
2 Peter is vehemently opposed to ‘false teachers’ – look out for what he says about them and try to work out what they might be saying that so upsets the author.
Reflect on your view of Jesus’ second coming – what do you think of 2 Peter’s emphasis?