What makes 2 Peter special?
2 Peter is written in the form of a letter with a general greeting (1.1,2), but it is actually intended to be the farewell message, or last testament, of the apostle Peter. The writer offers some last words of advice and warning to Christians, because he will soon leave his earthly body behind (1.14). In this way, 2 Peter is similar to some other farewell speeches found in the Bible (Mark 13; John 13–17; Acts 20.17-35; Josh 23,24).
Though the letter is written as advice and warning for the future (1.12-15; 3.1,2), its message also refers to ongoing problems affecting the faith of Christians (2.10-22; 3.8,9). Parts of 2 Peter also appear to be very closely related to the letter of Jude. These facts, and others listed under the heading “What’s the story behind the scene,” have caused a certain amount of uncertainty about who wrote 2 Peter and when it was written.
Why was 2 Peter written?
The writer warns Christians about false teachers and prophets who are trying to lead the Lord’s followers away from the truth. When false teachers are at work, he says, Christians must stick to their faith and show others how to live right by living right themselves. The writer wants his readers to live in a way that pleases God (1.3) and to hold firmly to the truth they were given (1.12). He tells his readers that they must never forget that the Lord’s return is certain, even though it has not happened as quickly as some expected (3.4). In the meantime, they are to wait with patience and obey God by living pure and spotless lives (3.14).
What’s the story behind the scene?
This letter claims the apostle Peter as its author (1.1-2). Peter was present on the mountain when Jesus’ true glory was revealed (called the transfiguration; see 1.17,18; Mark 9.2-8; Matt 17.1-9). Most scholars believe that this letter was written by a follower of Peter sometime after he died, as a way of honoring Peter and as a way of defending the teachings of the early apostles against new opponents. Consider the following clues:
- The style of the book more closely reflects the Greek culture of the second century A.D. than any other New Testament book. The apostle Peter was an uneducated Galilean fisherman, who probably died around A.D. 65 in Rome.
- The writer mentions Paul’s letters as if they are being considered as Scripture for the Christian church (3.15-16). When other New Testament writings refer to the “Scriptures,” they mean the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament), which Jesus and his disciples used before the New Testament was written. Paul probably died about the same time as Peter, and it seems unlikely that Paul’s letters would have been regarded as Christian Scripture until a few years after Paul’s death.
- Many New Testament letters looked forward to a time when Christ would soon return (Phil 1.20; 2.16; 3.20,21; 1 Thes 4.13-18). But in 2 Peter, some false teachers are making fun of the Christians who hope for the Lord’s return, saying the church’s first leaders “have already died, and the world hasn’t changed a bit” (3.4). Peter was part of the first generation of church leaders. The writer emphasizes being patient about the Lord’s return and not losing hope, since God isn’t being slow about keeping his promises (3.9). This would not have been an important concern during Peter’s lifetime.
- A comparison of 2 Peter with Jude may indicate that a large part of Jude was borrowed by the author of 2 Peter who used it to support his own arguments (2 Peter 2.1—3.3; Jude 4-19). Since Jude is thought to have been written after most of the other New Testament letters, 2 Peter would then have to have been written even later.
How is 2 Peter constructed?
The letter begins with a brief greeting to a general Christian audience (1.1-2). It does not end with a final set of greetings but rather with a blessing (3.18). The letter can therefore be outlined as follows:
- Please God and hold firmly to the truth (1.1-21)
- Watch out for false prophets and false teachers (2.1-22)
- Be ready, because the Lord will return (3.1-18)
Please God and Hold Firmly to the Truth
The letter begins with a greeting to an unknown group of Christians. The writer tells them to live in a way that pleases God, improving their faith by adding goodness, understanding, self-control, and patience (1.3,5-7). This is the writer’s farewell message (1.14,15), so he wants his readers to remember the truth of his message after he is gone.
Watch Out for False Prophets and False Teachers
Christians are warned to be on guard against false prophets and false teachers who “don’t really belong to the Master” (2.1). The Lord will be hard on these people, and their evil actions will be rewarded with evil (2.13).
Be Ready, Because the Lord Will Return
The final chapter of this letter focuses on the day of Christ’s return, which God has delayed in order to give more time for everyone to turn away from sin (3.9). Christians are not to be upset by people who are making fun of them because this event has not already occurred. When the Lord returns he will bring a new heaven and earth (3.13).
Questions about 2 Peter
1. How were the readers of 2 Peter encouraged to “keep growing”? (1.5-8) What is the purpose for growing in faith? (1.10,11)
2. What false teachings and immoral things did the followers of Christ face? (2.1-3,10-22) What false teachings and immoral things are present in today’s culture? Do these sorts of things go on where you live? If so, how are people, and churches in particular, dealing with these false and immoral things?
3. Why did some people make fun of their Christian neighbors who expected Jesus to return during their lifetime? (3.3,4) According to the writer of 2 Peter, why has God been patient about bringing the day of judgment? (3.8,9)
4. According to the writer, what will the day of the Lord’s return be like? (3.10-13) Do you look forward to the day of the Lord’s return? Why or why not?
5. How are Christ’s followers to act as they wait for his return? (3.14-18)
Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for nearly 200 years.
Help us share God's Word where needed most.
Sign up to receive regular email updates from the Bible Resource Center.