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THE atmosphere of this tract is described in the introduction to the epistle of Judas. Indeed the writer has drawn upon that earlier pamphlet, since it seemed to him to characterize the false teachers against whom he is warning the churches. Antinomian errors are still rampant. But the specific feature of the later development of the movement is a repudiation of belief in the second Advent, and the author seeks to rehabilitate this doctrine as the source of good, Christian faith and morals. He writes a pastoral letter for Christendom in general. It is a strongly worded manifesto against unworthy antinomian teachers, who were propagating a view of Christianity which, under a cloak of liberalism, seemed to him to produce moral indifferentism in the lives of its adherents.
The course of the argument is easily followed; there are no real difficulties in the transition from one paragraph to another. Everything becomes plain, once it is borne in mind that the writer has the tract of Judas before him, and that he is writing under the name of Peter, throwing himself back (e.g. at iii. 1) into the position of the apostle as a prophet and defender of the authentic faith. The latter feature is characteristic and unique. Here we find a second-century author who writes under the name of Peter, modestly employing the apostle’s name in order to discredit views which, 174he felt certain, were unapostolic. The Greek style is totally unlike that of First Peter; so is the tone of the manifesto. And the differences of language cannot be explained by the supposition that Peter used two different amanuenses or dictated the two letters roughly to different secretaries. Second Peter stands by itself, in its florid, Hellenistic vein. The discrepancies of language and thought are too well-marked to allow of both homilies coming from the same author. The author of Second Peter has First Peter before him, as well as the tract of Judas; but he writes with much less ease and lucidity. His object is to controvert the dangerous teachers of his age, and he does so by appealing to the prestige of St. Peter as the representative of the primitive, orthodox faith. The literary device was recognized in these days. It was a development of the method which allowed an historian to compose speeches for characters in his narrative, and an author evidently felt no scruples about adopting this literary device in order to win a hearing for counsels which he felt to be both timely and inspired.
‘The real author of any such work had to keep himself altogether out of sight, and its entry upon circulation had to be surrounded with a certain mystery, in order that the strangeness of its appearance at a more or less considerable interval after the putative author’s death might be concealed.’55Dr. V. H. Stanton, Journal of Theological Studies, ii. 19. Hence, the origin of the manifesto is obscure. One or two scattered echoes of its phraseology are heard in the literature of the second century, as for example in a letter written by the churches of Lyons and Vienne in Gaul, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, and in a treatise written about the same time by Theophilus, the bishop of Antioch; 175but the first time it is definitely mentioned is by Origen, who admits that ‘there are doubts about it,’ i.e. about its title to be in the canon. In the next century Eusebius of Caesarea declares that of all the writings under the name of Peter he recognizes ‘only one epistle as genuine,’ i.e. First Peter. ‘As for the current Second epistle, it has not come down to us as canonical, though it has been studied along with the rest of the scriptures, since it has seemed useful to many people’ (he means, to Origen and others). One reason why so many denied the genuineness of the Second epistle was, as Jerome allowed, its disagreement in style with the First. No N.T. writing won so limited and hesitating a recognition. So far as its connexions with the other Christian literature of the early. church go, they prove no more than that it must be later than the tract of Judas, which it incorporates freely, and earlier than the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Possibly, like the tract of Judas, it emanated from some circle in the Egyptian church; but all theories that attempt to link it to a definite community are sheer guess-work.176
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