The time has come to challenge our Evangelical presumptions about the Scriptures. This won’t be easy for some of us to hear, I know. But I really want to stretch our thinking a little. Here it is: Peter probably didn’t write 2 Peter.
Now there ought to come a flood of objections to what I just said. Doesn’t this kind of thinking weaken the fabric of Scripture? How can it be God’s Word if there’s such a blatant misrepresentation in it? Can we trust any of what is in this book if the authorship is in doubt?
Relax. And let’s work on this.
In the ancient world it was considered a great testimony to a significant thinker and writer for one of his students to so emulate him that they write under his name. The internal evidence of this letter (it is quite different in style from 1 Peter), and some of the things this “Peter” knows are things that happened after, or at least nearly simultaneous with Peter’s death. And Peter himself was no greater model of holiness than were his students. Thus, if Peter had already died and one of his students wrote a posthumous letter under his name, and if the content of that letter was deemed worthy by the early church Fathers of inclusion in the canon of Scripture, then we have no argument with the truths put forward.
Remember the test of Scripture we talked about a few days ago. Does the content agree with the Old Testament prophecies? Does it agree with the rest of what we know to be Scripture? Does it have “God’s voice” in it?
That having been said, if we date the letter to the latter third of the First Century, there is an intriguing possibility that comes up as we read the text at hand. “Peter” begins the end of his letter this way (2 Peter 3:10ff), “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!”
Peter died around 67 AD. What if the author of this letter had just lived through the destruction of the Temple and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD? It seems to me this would give a whole different spin to his question, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be?”
Peter was a Jew. His students were probably also largely Jews. And while he himself most likely was martyred in Rome (at about 61 years of age), it is entirely plausible that one of his students saw not only his death, but the destruction of the central focus of Jewish worship. He probably saw (or at least heard first-hand accounts of) the fires in Jerusalem, the sacking of the city, the breaking down of everything that had represented Judaism since the time of Zerubbabel (516 BC).
“Because the world we knew is crumbling and burning around us,” the author writes, “and because we know from Scripture that the whole earth is to be burned by fire, how should be then live?”
Now the author answers his own question. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
A world in which righteousness dwells. Since that is the future home for all believers, “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” I don’t think he means that we have to live perfect lives. Only One did that. But our world knows very little of what it means to “be diligent”. We are a sloppy people, at best, when it comes to righteousness. I can say that every major change that has happened in me in the course of my life has been because Christ found me, not because of any diligent searching on my part. The great compensation I have had in the past six months for being out of work has been the complete renovation of my spiritual life. It wasn’t my doing. He came to me with the Word in the void where I was mainly searching for work. If I were to enter back into pastoral ministry tomorrow (which I may), I know that the whole character of the work would be different. Why? Remarkably, I am at peace.
In verses 15-16 “Peter” further establishes evidence for dating the letter after 70 AD. Paul died in 64 AD, and it took some time before his letters were being talked of as Scripture. Listen to what the author writes: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
So, unless Peter wrote this letter essentially on his way to the cross, it is unlikely that he would have had access to the last of Paul’s letters (2 Timothy). Again, what is important isn’t the specific authorship, but the gracious way in which this Peter tells us why God has not yet ended the world. “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” God has given us time to correct the twisting of Scripture, to understand the weightier matters of the faith, and to lead others to Christ.
And notice what the absolute priority for the church must be: live at peace, be diligent to live lives of constancy toward God, dig into the hard stuff that handling the Scriptures presents. How many of our churches are doing that today? You know, The Morning Watch goes out to something like 250 people every day. Sure, most of those people just press delete. But while I get a lot of compliments on my writing (er…thanks…), I hardly ever get anyone wanting to really “have at it” about some point in the Scriptures. And my experience has been that more churches are about politics than they are about piety.
Well, I’m here any time one of you wants to really dig. It is my hope and prayer that many of you are digging in church and group settings. Those are so much more valuable than an email conversation. And beloved, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.