Peter has long been considered one of the most prominent Christian leaders of all time, and with good reason. He was one of the first called to follow Christ (Matt. 4:18-20; Mark 1:16-18; John 1:40-42) and followed Christ faithfully for three years. Aside from a couple of references to Paul meeting Peter in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18-19, 2:7-10; cf., Acts 9:26-27, where the text mentions that Barnabas attempted to introduce Paul “to the apostles,” although Peter is not mentioned specifically by name), the only remaining historical reference to Peter outside the first half of Acts is the difficult passage in Galatians 2:11-14, where Paul confronts Peter for withdrawing fellowship from Gentile Christians in Galatia (modern-day central Turkey, where Paul conducted his first missionary trip). Scholars, both conservative and progressive, find themselves at odds when attempting to square these events described in Galatians with the events described in Acts. Yet these events provide us with incredibly valuable insights into the growth and progression of the Christian mission in the middle of the first century AD.
Record of Peter’s final years, which include the time of his writing the two letters attested to him, fall outside the witness of the New Testament. However, according to the fourth century Christian historian Eusebius, we learn that Peter eventually, following a long mission in Galatia, makes his way to Rome. We see Peter’s concern for the Christians of Galatia and its surrounding districts (the larger area of Asia Minor, again-modern-day Turkey) in the fact that 1 Peter is addressed to Christians in this area (1 Pet. 1:1-2). His letter, which warns of a “fiery ordeal” (4:12; cf., 1:13-16, 2:11-12, 3:13-17, 4:7-11, 5:6-11), is certainly pastoral in nature, written by a shepherd who is deeply concerned with the spiritual well-being of his now-distanced congregation. It is generally accepted that 1 Peter is written shortly after Paul’s execution in July AD 64, and that Peter is crucified about a year later.
This brings up a couple points of concern about 2 Peter, that being who wrote it and when was it written. First, in regards to who wrote 2 Peter, there are some who reject Peter’s authorship based on the advanced quality of the Greek language and rhetorical construction of the letter (in comparison with 1 Peter). This can be quickly corrected by the common acceptance that Peter would have likely used an amanuensis, a kind of secretary, to compose these letters (i.e., Silvanus is noted as serving in this way in 1 Peter 5:12, and Eusebius, citing Papias of Hierapolis notes that Mark served Peter in a similar fashion [Ecclesiastical History 2.15]).
In regards to when it was written, others reject Peter’s authorship because of how closely it was composed and circulated following the first letter. This letter is more confrontational in nature, and seems to target a specific heresy that is left unnamed (which was a common practice in the ancient world).
Those who reject Peter’s authorship and a composition date of early AD 65 argue that the advanced nature of the heresy at work in Peter’s congregation could not possibly exist in Peter’s day. However, as we can see even in Acts, and especially in the writings of Paul and Jude, there were heretical tangents taking root in the church in Peter’s lifetime. Thus, there is no reason why the authorship of Peter and a composition date of early AD 65, during a time when heretical teaching was beginning to course through the church and localized persecution of Christians was becoming more prominent, should not be accepted. Although not as pastoral in tone as 1 Peter, this letter certainly addresses theological, ecclesiastical, and formative concerns of the mid-first century AD.
Series Title: Remember These Things: What We Believe and Why We Believe Them
This four-part series serves as an expository lead-in to a more doctrinal, or teaching, series. Designed for either a well-established congregation or a congregation that specifically targets those not currently affiliating with the Christian faith, this series would focus on the importance of articulating orthodox positions on essential orthodox Christian teachings. Building on the frequent use of “remind” and “remember” throughout the letter, this series seeks to encourage the congregation to assess what they believe and why they believe it in preparation for a more concentrated doctrinal series.
Series Big Idea: In a culture of relative truth, we must be sure of what we believe.
Text: 2 Peter 1:1-11
Title: Remember That You Were Taught
Exegetical Idea: Peter reminds his audience that they have been taught what they need to know in order to live faithfully for Christ.
Big Idea: Stand confidently in your faith in Christ.
Text: 2 Peter 1:12-2:3
Title: Remember What You Were Taught
Exegetical Idea: Peter reminds his audience of his specific teaching, so that they could live faithfully for Christ.
Big Idea: Stand confidently in your knowledge of Christ.
Text: 2 Peter 2:4-22
Title: Remember Why You Were Taught
Exegetical Idea: Peter reminds his audience that his teaching was to prepare them to defend their faith against false teachers.
Big Idea: Stand confidently in your salvation through Christ.
Text: 2 Peter 3:1-18
Title: Remember How You Were Taught
Exegetical Idea: Peter reminds his audience of the practical instruction that he provided to them by demonstrating how to live and think, faithfully.
Big Idea: Stand confidently in your mission for Christ.
Series Title: Precious Faith: Standing Firm in the Grace and Truth of Christ
This five-part expository series builds out of a small group curriculum that I recently worked through with my congregation. It was just before the holidays, and I was looking for a short series that could bring the year to a close. We focus a great deal on “what we believe and why we believe it” in my congregation, addressing the relativism and loss of accepted substantive truth that we are experiencing in our culture. As it was in the first century among Peter’s original audience, it is easy to compromise theologically, to renounce our passionate resolve to follow Christ wholeheartedly, adopting instead an apathetic religious stance that feigns moralism. This series, instead, attempts to ignite passionate faith through a close and careful study of the text, noting Peter’s emphasis on doctrinal purity (which includes missional witness) and receiving God’s grace (lit., “divine favor”) and peace (lit, “well-being”) (1:2).
Series Big Idea: Our knowledge of and life in Christ brings “divine favor” and “well-being.”
Text: 2 Peter 1:1-11
Title: Make Every Effort
Big Idea: Pursue godly characteristics that help us grow in our “divine favor” and “well-being.”
Text: 2 Peter 1:12-21
Title: Keep on Reminding
Big Idea: Pursue godly knowledge that helps us grow in our “divine favor” and “well-being.”
Text: 2 Peter 1:10a
Title: False Teachers Among You
Big Idea: Pursue godly piety and humility that helps us grow in our “divine favor” and “well-being.”
Text: 2 Peter 2:10b-22
Title: The Way of Righteousness
Big Idea: Pursue godly discernment that helps us grow in our “divine favor” and “well-being.”
Text: 2 Peter 3:1-18
Title: Do Not Ignore This
Big Idea: Pursue godly guidance that helps us grow in our “divine favor” and “well-being.”
Peter’s audience was stuck between a theological rock and a hard place. On one hand, Peter was absent from these Christians and those who came in his wake spoke with a persuasive rhetorical flourish that sewed doubt in the minds of those who had come to saving faith in Christ from the former Galilean fisherman. Peter was not there to correct and defend his teaching and witness, having to settle for written communication that could have been interpreted incorrectly. On the other hand, these Christians were beginning to experience the first stings of Roman-sanctioned (although not empire-mandated) persecution. Their faith in Christ was being tested. Peter could not provide them comfort and the smooth talkers seemed to advocate for renunciation.
Preaching from 2 Peter allows us to center contemporary concerns regarding orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthopraxy (correct practice) squarely within the historical witness of the New Testament. Faith in Jesus, Peter argues, is extremely precious. Like us, Peter’s congregation believed in Christ although they had never seen him in the flesh. They embodied the admonition of living by faith, that being “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), much as contemporary Christians are admonished to be today.
This is seen significantly in Peter’s unique apostolic greeting: “May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2). “Grace” and “peace” are very common, as can be seen in the greetings in the letters from Paul, James, and Jude. The use of “knowledge,” however serves to tip off Peter’s reason for writing. Although a focus on knowledge or wisdom appears in the opening verses of James’ letter (1:2-4), it is not offered as a greeting. Therefore, in 2 Peter, this is the only time “knowledge” occurs in a greeting. This “knowledge” is different from the traditional understanding, however, because, as Peter makes clear throughout the letter, this “knowledge” comes from God and is gained through the process of discipleship.
Accordingly, Peter would likely agree with Athanasius’ long-revered dictum for the Christian experience: “faith seeking understanding” (adapted from On the Incarnation 6). For Peter, simply knowing about Christ is not enough if we are not able or willing to articulate how that knowledge guides our lives. Knowledge should lead to spiritual and missionary maturity, seeking an expansion of the borders of God’s kingdom through careful and clear articulation of our beliefs and how those beliefs are lived out in our actions.
Peter is clear that a maturing Christian should immediately recognize the basic teachings of the Christian faith, teachings which they were (and we are) to “remember,” in that these teachings should become so much a part of our identity that we think about them as easily as we breathe.
The Doctrine of God
Peter keeps God at the center of the early Christian movement, noting that all things come from God and fall within God’s divine plan (1:3-4). God’s presence and power can be ignored, but for only so long (3:5-7). As Peter argues, a day is coming when “the day of the Lord” will come as a surprise and set all things back in their divine order (3:8-10). Peter also focuses on God’s “divine power” (1:3), “honor and glory” (1:17) and “authority” (2:10).
The Doctrine of Eschatology
Peter’s concern is that the reality of “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” be understood (1:16). He grounds his understanding of this doctrine in the transfiguration, an event that he was a witness to (1:17-18). This event will serve as a time of judgment of humanity, something that the reader can see in Peter’s litany of biblical examples (2:4-10). As catastrophic as these events were, they are nothing in comparison to the universality of the final judgment (3:4-7), thus Christians must always live in a state of readiness (3:14-18).
The Doctrine of Salvation, and its Demonstration Through Piety
Connected to the doctrine of eschatology, Peter’s understanding of salvation is focused practically—we demonstrate our grasp of the interconnectedness of these doctrines in how we live among those who do not believe or believe in earnest (3:14-18). Peter, however, does not leave this in the abstract—those who will not be saved in the end are not living a pious life currently (2:2-3, 12-16, 18-22). Peter encourages his audience “to be attentive to [his teaching] as to a lamp shining in a dark place” so that they will be deemed worthy of God’s “divine favor” in the end (1:5-9, 19).
My Encounter with 2 Peter
Being a Christian can be quite challenging. It was challenging during the first century, and it is challenging during the 21st century. However, being a Christian is not only challenging because of the external pressure presented by a culture that can, at times, be combative to passionate faith in Christ. There are times when our faith in Christ is challenging because the content itself is challenging.
As I mentioned above, one of the mantras that I have adopted over the past few years is “Know what you believe and why you believe.” The Book of 2 Peter is probably one of the most challenging books in the entire Bible. It compels me to be honest about what I know and what I do not know. Yet, even in this challenge, Peter also offers words of gracious comfort throughout his letter. Getting the answers correct is not what is important. While knowing what we believe is essential to faithful Christian living, at the end of the day, what will really matter is that we “strive to be found by him” (3:14).
Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary 50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983).
Allen Black and Mark Black, 1 & 2 Peter. College Press, NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO:
College Press Publishing Co., 1998).
Norman Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, New International Biblical Commentary, New Testament
Series 16 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992).
Pheme Perkins, First and Second Peer, James, and Jude, Interpretation: A Biblical
Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995).
Rob O’Lynn teaches preaching at Kentucky Christian University, Johnson University, and Fuller Theological Seminary, and is a minister in Ashland, Kentucky.