|« Prev||The Second Epistle of St. Peter||Next »|
THE SECOND EPISTLE OF ST. PETER
As in the case of the epistle of Judas, the greeting or address (1-2) is directed to Christians without any specific note of their residence.
1 Symeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have been allotted a faith of equal privilege with ours, by the equity of our God and saviour Jesus Christ: 2 grace and peace be multiplied to you by the knowledge of our Lord.
Symeon, the Semitic form of ‘Simon,’ is used by James in Acts xv. 14, where he tells the council of Jerusalem that ‘Symeon has explained how it was God’s original concern to secure a People from among the Gentiles to bear his Name.’ This may be the meaning of those who have been allotted a faith of equal privilege with ours; but probably the distinction here is not between the Jewish and pagan origins of Christians, but between the apostles (in whose name Peter writes) and the ordinary Christians who owed their faith to apostolic preaching (iii. 2). Allotted implies the free favour and goodness of God, and the equity of our God points to the divine freedom from favouritism; supreme as the work of the apostles was, their religious position was no higher than that of other Christians. The later generations enjoy a faith and fellowship as real, thanks to the impartiality of God; as the ages pass, and as the 177apostolic faith is transmitted, it does not become less direct and immediate.
The description of Jesus Christ as our God and saviour is unique; the adoring cry of Thomas, My Lord and my God’ (John xx. 28), is the nearest parallel to it in the N.T. Elsewhere in the epistle our Lord and saviour is the favourite phrase. But the habit of calling Christ God was becoming more common; thus Ignatius can write that ‘Mary was pregnant with our God, Jesus the Christ’ (Ephesians xviii. 2).
The prayer of First Peter (i. 2) is rounded off by the significant addition of by the knowledge of our Lord (which later editors expanded into ‘the knowledge of our God and of Jesus our Lord’). ‘Knowledge’ (gnosis) was a catchword of the age in religious circles; it had associations of inwardness in Hellenistic mysticism, which recommended it to the writer and others in his age, but it also expressed speculative and esoteric theories which are here tacitly set aside in favour of a personal acquaintance with Christ as divine. The term employed (epignôsis) is a more or less intensive form, but the central idea is that the progress and development of the Church’s life depend on the inward knowledge of Christ, not on fantastic and mystical insight into aeons and theosophic mysteries. Here the theme of the homily is laid down, and in the next paragraph the writer proceeds to expand it. As the meaning of Christ is realized by Christians, they enter more and more into what God’s grace means, i.e. His free favour and forgiving power; also, they experience more and more of His peace, i.e. the bliss and security realized by Christ in the lives of believers. The knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is everything. How it works and 178how it calls upon Christians to work with it, the writer now explains, in 3-7 and 8-11.
3 Inasmuch as his power divine has bestowed on us every requisite for life and piety by the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence—4 bestowing on us thereby promises precious and supreme, that by means of them you may escape the corruption produced within-the world by lust, and participate in the divine nature 5 for this very reason, do you contrive to make it your whole concern to furnish your faith with resolution, resolution with intelligence, 6 intelligence with self-control, self-control with stedfastness, stedfastness with piety, 7 piety with brotherliness, brotherliness with Christian love.
Us answers to ours in ver. 1; the apostles originally receive the revelation, which they transmit to others. The faith was opened up to them that it might be passed on; divine promises were bestowed on us so that by means of them, handed on by the authoritative apostolic tradition (iii. 2), you may enjoy your share in their saving power. But, as the writer has spoken of our God and our Lord, it is plain that he is already grouping apostles and other Christians together, and that he uses you as a preacher addressing his audience; the stress on the validity and authority of the apostolic transmission of the gospel is not so marked as in Hebrews ii. 3, 4. These words played a large part in bringing John Wesley through his spiritual crisis in 1730. About five o’clock on the morning of May 24th, he opened his Bible at the words, ‘There are given to us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature’; that day relief came to him, and (on 179June 4th) he notes in his diary: ‘All these days I scarce remember to have opened the New Testament, but upon some great and precious promise. And I saw, more than ever, that the gospel is in truth but one great promise, from the beginning of it to the end.’
The ideas and even the language about divine power manifesting itself to human beings in order that they might participate in the divine nature through some knowledge of the deity, gained by sacramental or semi-physical means, often of an ecstatic character, were current in the Hellenistic philosophy and religious cults of the age. In terms of this contemporary faith the writer expresses his Christian beliefs, availing himself of forms and conceptions familiar to his readers. The personal fellowship with Christ, first verified by the apostles, is adequate for real life and piety, i.e. for the true life which, in a world of moral corruption, consists in piety or practical religion (see iii. 11 f.). This rules out theosophies which depreciated the historical revelation of Christ or reduced him to a position of relative importance in the saving order of redemption. The divine self-manifestation in Christ is complete; as conveyed in the apostolic tradition it does not require to be eked out by any scheme of aeons and angels, nor is it to be revised (iii. 4), as though some elements in it had been superseded. It is further defined as the intimate knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, i.e. to share his pre-eminent divine life, fully and finally manifested in the next world (ver. 11). Usually God ‘calls’ Christians, but the writer of a contemporary homily called 2 Clement (ix. 5) could write that ‘Christ, the Lord who saved us, though originally Spirit, became flesh and called us,’ and this is the meaning here, 180especially as Christ had personally called the apostles during his lifetime on earth.
The object and end of Christian knowledge is moral and spiritual communion with Christ. But this destiny requires active participation on the part of believers. The historical revelation endowed men with exceptional promises of an undying divine life beyond this transient, material order of things; what Christ was and did opened a new outlook for men, encouraging them to hope and all its responsibilities, for thereby refers loosely to every requisite for life and piety. The revelation of the divine nature in Jesus Christ was full of promise. It is assumed that these promises will be fulfilled by the Lord, but what needs to be argued is the moral demand that they make upon Christians (as in iii. 14). Plutarch, in his Life of Aristides (vi.), laments that men feel the passion for immortality (a quality of God which they cannot share) far more than the passion for God’s moral excellence, which is within their reach; but our author links both together. Immortality is a sure promise of God, and hopes of immortality are a moral power and responsibility; to participate in the divine nature, i.e. to reach the final glory and excellence, involves an escape from the moral decay or corruption produced within the world by lust. This is directed against the libertinism of the errorists (see ii. 19, 20). The spirit of lust is the spirit which prompts men to demand, ‘Give me the portion of goods that falls to me,’ the grasping desire for earthly things which results in moral deterioration. Ever since Plato, the idea of resembling God by shunning material preoccupations had been a current thought in religious philosophy; here it is applied to the renunciation of the world by those who aim at the Christian hope.181
The positive response to the divine promises is now sketched (5-7) in a series of seven Christian graces or acquirements with which faith is to be supplied. Faith here, as in ver. 1, is the personal belief which is fundamental. But it must be provided with resolution, moral and mental energy. Someone has described conventional Christian experience as ‘an initial spasm followed by a chronic inertia’; what our writer demands is a challenging, vital quality in faith. The Greek term (aretê) here carries its specific sense of prowess and power. Faith lives in a world of difficulties which have to be met frankly and courageously instead of being dodged. But zeal must be according to knowledge, and this energy requires to be supplied with intelligence, i.e. with insight and understanding, otherwise it may be misdirected. The Greek term (gnôsis) is deliberately applied to this quality of practical wisdom, instead of to the more speculative flights of contemporary theosophy. A resolute faith may be aggressive and enterprising, but it cannot afford to do without sagacity or shrewd intelligence. 6 Nor can intelligence work effectively apart from self-control—a warning much needed in view of the passionate, lax conduct of the errorists (ii. l0 f., iii. 3). The appetites to be mastered were not simply those of the flesh, but any passions of self-assertion and individual impulse; continence is included, but self-control is the opposite of any lack of self-restraint.
Life has to encounter trials, however, as well as incitements to self-indulgence, and so stedfastness is further required in maintaining the Christian hope when it is contradicted (ii. 3 f.), and in adhering to Christian truth when it is denied (i. 16). This tenacity must be religious; supply it with piety. It is not a close-lipped stoical endurance or a dogged determination 182to hold on, but inspired by a sense of the divine purpose which is running through the trials of life. Stedfastness is to be reverent, not defiant. It acquiesces in God’s will, 7 and it also turns kindly to other members of the brotherhood. Supply your piety with brotherliness, i.e. with brotherly kindness (see on 1 Peter i. 22); there was then, as there has always been, the danger of a piety or godliness which was inhuman, wrapped up in its own hopes and fears, and indifferent to the needs of the community. Even this is not enough. The affectionate temper must not be confined to members of the Christian community; supply brotherliness with Christian love for all men.
Only by this discipline and development of the religious life is it possible to attain heaven (8-11).
8 For as these qualities exist and increase with you, they render you active and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; 9 whereas he who has not these by him is blind, shortsighted, oblivious that he has been cleansed so from his erstwhile sins. 10 So be the more eager, brothers, to ratify your calling and election, for as you practise these qualities you will never make a slip; 11 you will thus be richly furnished with the right of entry into the eternal realm of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.
The practical development of the Christian life along these lines deepens and widens our personal experience and sense of Christ; it enables members of the community in their common life to penetrate into the meaning of the Lord’s life and purpose. 9 We learn him as we live with him and for him. Anyone who neglects these graces shows that he has forgotten all about the change wrought in his life at baptism, 183when he was cleansed (so ii. 22) from his erstwhile sins; the great experience has meant nothing to him, for he has failed to follow it up by developing the new nature and under-standing what the divine promises involved. 10 So, in view of all this, be the more eager yourselves. It is an urgent imperative, as in iii. 14. Ratify or attest by a full, consistent life your calling and election (a hendiadys). To make a slip, such as a careless, indifferent Christian might make, is to collapse on the road to the eternal realm; it is a fall into deadly sin (see Judas 24).
The term furnished echoes ver. 5; furnish your Christian faith with all that it requires, and you will be furnished in turn with the entry into the future realm of the Lord. The Greek term for right of entry carries with it a sense of triumph. The phrase, the eternal realm, is quite original, but the thought is the same as in 1 Peter v. 11; it is the characteristically Christian expression for what Hellenistic piety called participating in the divine nature (ver. 4), though realm is nowhere else employed in the epistle.
12 Hence I mean to keep on reminding you of this, although you are aware of it and are fixed in the Truth as it is; 13 so long as I am in this tent, I deem it proper to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know my tent must be folded up very soon as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me. 15 Yes, and I will see to it that even when I am gone, you will keep this constantly in mind.184
In view of the critical importance of the issues, I mean to keep on reminding you of them. The Greek is awkward but the sense is plain. So is the courtesy (as in Romans xv. 14 and Judas 5). The Truth (see on 1 Peter i. 22), as it is means the Christian creed of life in the complete form in which it has reached them (a similar phrase in Colossians i. 5, 6); there is no allusion to any larger experience or insight 13 which may be expected. The metaphorical use of tent for the body was common, 14 and had been introduced into the Christian vocabulary by Paul (2 Corinthians v. 4). Very soon is a poetical term, meaning ‘imminent.’ When and how Christ revealed this to Peter we do not know; the story in John xxi. 18, 19 refers to something quite different, to a long life crowned by martyrdom. The line of thought is, that while he proposes to recall them to their Christian duty during the short time left to him, he will make provision for some lasting record of it, to serve after he has gone. 15 But what was this permanent record by means of which the readers might keep constantly in mind the apostolic testimony? (a) The present epistle as a written statement of the faith, to which reference could be made? (b) The gospel of Mark, in which Peter’s reminiscences were embodied? Or, if the words are taken to mean a direct composition, (c) some Petrine writing like The Gospel of Peter or The Preaching of Peter? The future tense of I will see to it tells against (a), unless he is referring to measures taken for the wide circulation of the epistle. It is in favour of (b) that the earliest tradition (preserved in Irenaeus) about the date of the gospel of Mark ascribes it to Mark ‘after the decease’ of Peter (the same Greek term as is used here for when I am gone), when ‘Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter 185transmitted to us what Peter had preached.’ The data are too few, and faint, however, to enable us to do more than guess, at this point. What the writer does make clear, in the following passage (16-19a), is that such apostolic testimony is worth recalling, since the Christian hope was guaranteed not merely by O.T. prophecy, but by apostolic eye-witnesses of Jesus Christ.
16 For it was no fabricated fables that we followed when we reported to you the power and advent of our Lord Jesus Christ; we were admitted to the spectacle of his sovereignty, 17 when he was invested with honour and glory by God the Father, and when the following voice was borne to him from the sublime Glory, ‘This is my son, the Beloved, in whom I delight.’ 18 That voice borne from heaven we heard, we who were beside him on the sacred hill, 19 and thus we have gained fresh confirmation of the prophetic word.
The we now is the apostles once more, as in ver. 1. ‘Our testimony is not a handful of illusions; we repudiate the charges and the methods of the errorists.’ The reference in fabricated fables is either to teachers who thus discredited the historical testimony of the gospels, or to the fantastic speculations of some gnostic schools; the Greek word for fables is rendered myths in passages like 2 Timothy iv. 4 and 1 Timothy i. 4. Ultra-spiritualists derided particularly the divine promise of the second Advent (iii. 4), and this promise is reaffirmed; it was no hallucination, our account of the power and advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, i.e. the risen power which will be manifested fully at his second Advent (so Mark viii. 38, ix. 1).186
The term for advent (parousia) suggested a royal visit or arrival, and this regal significance is brought out do what follows; we were admitted to the spectacle (literally, initiated into the supreme mystery) of his sovereignty or divine majesty at the transfiguration, when we first realized his divine honour and authority. The apostolic report of his power and advent, was a testimony to what was yet to be manifested fully; but there had been a significant anticipation during his lifetime, of which Peter and his fellows had been eye-witnesses. For some reason the transfiguration is appealed to as a foreshadowing of the second Advent rather than the resurrection; 17 there Jesus received honour and glory from God the Father (i.e. his Father), shown in the dazzling light which we saw shining from his person. There too from—the original apo of the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac versions was soon altered into the hupo of the traditional text (i.e. ‘by’)—the sublime Glory (a reverential periphrasis for heaven or the divine Presence), the voice came to him, which is quoted freely. The writer assumes that his readers knew the synoptic tale, but his citation agrees with none of the three versions; he inserts the Greek term for ‘I’ in the clause in whom I delight, for the sake of emphasis. 18 We heard that voice, he declares, we who were beside him on the sacred hill, sacred because it was the scene of this divine manifestation. All this stress on the transfiguration as heralding the second Advent sounds at first sight strange, for in the gospels no such interpretation of the scene is suggested. But in all three traditions (Matthew xvi., Mark viii.–ix., and Luke ix.) it is introduced immediately after a reference to the second coming of the Lord ‘in glory’ or ‘with power,’ and in the Ethiopic text of The Apocalypse of Peter (see M. R. James, 187The Apocryphal N. T., pp. 518 f.) the transfiguration is blended with the ascension, whilst Peter speaks of ‘the hill on which he showed us the second coming in the kingdom that passeth not away.’
It is not difficult to understand why the writer omitted the words ‘hear ye him’ from the divine voice, for this concentration of attention upon Jesus in contrast to the O.T. law and prophets, who are thereby superseded, would not have suited his purpose. So far from viewing the transfiguration as superseding the O.T. prophecies, 19 he explains that thus (by our experience of the transfiguration) we have gained fresh confirmation of the prophetic word, i.e. of the O.T. prophecies about Christ, especially in connexion with his glory and second Advent; this fulfilment has strengthened our faith in these prophecies. It is an argument on the lines of that urged in the apostle’s speech in Acts iii. 18 f., where he finds O.T. predictions of the second Advent as well as of the sufferings of Christ, who is ‘kept in heaven till the period of the great Restoration,’ of which ‘ages ago God spoke by the lips of His holy prophets.’ By the time that this epistle was written, the engrossing interest of Christian apologetic lay in the proof from prophecy. Not long afterwards Origen declared that ‘clear proofs of the inspiration of the O.T. could not well be given until Christ came to earth. Till then the Law and the prophets were liable to suspicion as not being truly divine, but the coming of Christ set them forth clearly as records made by the gracious aid of heaven’ (De Principiis, iv. 6). It was all the more important for the writer to emphasize this value of the O.T., as some errorists depreciated it.
But the connexion between this sentence and the following 188lies here; ‘if we apostles have been led to appreciate the O.T. prophecies, how important they must be for you!’ Hence he pleads for close attention to them (19a-21).
19 Pray attend to that word; it shines like a lamp within a darksome spot, till the Day dawns and the daystar rises within your hearts—20 understanding this, at the outset, that no prophetic scripture allows a man to interpret it by himself; 21 for prophecy never came by human impulse, it was when carried away by the holy Spirit that the holy men of God spoke.
‘The O.T. prophecies, especially as they are confirmed by such facts as the transfiguration just mentioned, will illuminate your minds sufficiently about the second Advent till it actually happens. So ponder them’ amid—
The smoke and stir of this dim spot
Which men call Earth.
The present world is a darksome spot, where you need this lamp of prophecy to guide your steps; all will be clear when the Day of the Lord’s Advent dawns. The writer twists the metaphor to suit his purpose. The daystar rises before the dawn, but here it is the outward signs of the Day which clear up the inward uncertainties of Christians; the open manifestation of the Advent is the means of enlightening them.
Attend to the prophetic anticipations of Christ, but under-stand the principle of their interpretation. False teachers (ii. 1, 2 f.) were disseminating novel views of the O.T., claiming revelations which superseded the prophets of old or which undervalued their witness to Christ as the Church 189understood it; hence this protest against such unauthorized interpretations as out of keeping with the nature of the prophecies themselves. No prophetic scripture allows a man to interpret it by himself, out of his own head; it is not susceptible of ‘any private interpretation,’ the Greek term for ‘private’ or ‘out of his own head,’ being the familiar opposite to ‘authoritative’ or ‘inspired.’ Individual ingenuity cannot solve the problems of prophecy, because 21 individual ingenuity was not at the origin of prophecy; prophecy never came by human impulse, by any conscious cleverness on the part of an individual, but it was when carried away by the holy Spirit (under an overpowering divine impulse) that the holy men of God spoke, i.e. the prophets, holy as possessed by God.
Here, as in iii. 16, the writer warns his readers against the danger of unauthorized interpretations of the O.T. Apart from the Spirit which produced the prophecies, how can they be understood? It is implied that the Spirit belongs to the Church where the apostolic testimony is preserved, but the writer does not enter into further details. He is simply putting members on their guard against plausible contemporary misapplications of the O.T.; no interpretation is valid if it ignores the Spirit, for that is to miss the genius of prophecy. We to-day ask, how are such prophecies to be interpreted according to the Spirit? but there is no answer to this question any more than to the other, How did the Spirit act upon the consciousness of the original prophets?—except that the use of carried away as an equivalent for ‘inspired’ suggests that the writer considered the prophets had been mouthpieces of God in the sense popularized by the Hellenistic theology of a man like Philo. ‘Those who prophesy,’ says 190Justin Martyr (Apol., i. 33), speaking of the O.T. prophets, ‘are divinely inspired (literally, carried away by God) by nothing but the divine Word.’ This current view went back to Philo, who (e.g. in Quis Rerum Div. Haer., 51, 52) explains that the state of inspiration is an ecstasy, in which the human faculty of reason is replaced by the divine Spirit; the true prophet is rapt into a frenzy in which the Spirit uses his unconsciousness to predict and reveal the future. Such ecstasy is only possible to pure, godly souls; ‘for the prophet utters nothing that belongs to himself; Another is prompting him to utter what lies beyond his own range. And as it is wrong for any worthless man to be an interpreter of God, so no rascal can be divinely inspired, in the strict sense of the term; the wise alone is the echoing instrument of God, sounding as he is invisibly struck by Him.’ This corresponds to the theory behind our writer’s words on holy men of God alone being swept into prophecy by the divine Spirit.
Prophecy? Yes, but while there were holy men of God, there were pseudo-prophets too, as there are to-day. This leads the writer to the special theme of his letter; the next section (ii. 1–22) is a sustained indignant exposure of their practices and principles, moulded on the epistle of Judas.
1 Still, false prophets did appear among the People, as among you also there will be false teachers, men who will insinuate destructive heresies, even disowning the Lord who ransomed them; they bring rapid destruction on themselves, 2and many will follow their immorality (thanks to them the true Way will be maligned); 3 in their lust they will 191exploit you with cunning arguments—men whose doom comes apace from of old, and destruction is awake upon their trail.
False teachers, the term for these pseudo-leaders of religion, does not occur elsewhere in the N.T.; in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue (lxxxii.), ‘as there were false prophets in the days of your holy prophets, so among us to-day there are many false teachers,’ and The Apocalypse of Peter begins with this statement of the Lord, ‘many of them will be false prophets and teach various destructive dogmas and ways.’ The heresies which they adroitly and subtly spread affected both faith and morals, though the only explicit charge on the former score is that they actually disowned the Lord (literally liege, as in Judas 4) who ransomed them—probably alluding to some heretical view of the person of Christ. But the repudiation of the Saviour might refer to inconsistent life; it is to this at anyrate that the writer turns, to their immorality (the charge of Judas 4), which brings discredit on true Christianity (here called the Way, as the practical aspect is to the front).
In the homily called 2 Clement (xiii.) we read: ‘When pagans hear from our lips the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness; but afterwards, when they discover that our deeds are unworthy of our words, they turn to malign the faith, declaring that it is a fable and a delusion’—a comment on Isaiah lii. 5 which is quoted here as by Paul (in Romans ii. 23, 24). 2 Many will follow their lead, so plausible and persuasive are their arguments; in their lust (particularly for money—the writer uses deliberately a term which suggested lower sensual cravings such as 1923 those to which their principles pandered) they will exploit you (see on Judas 11, 16) cunningly, turning their religious views to personal profit. This is to put the readers on their guard. But before describing the deplorable and deadly effects of their teaching on their victims (in 18-22), the writer depicts the rapid destruction which they bring upon themselves. It is swift and certain. God’s judgment may seem to be delayed, as these teachers actually declared (iii. 3 f.), but the Advent is imminent; they may pooh-pooh the idea of a final retribution, but they are doomed men, on the verge of punishment. The writer does not find any prophetic prediction of their fate, as Judas did (4, 14-15), but it was a commonplace of Christian apocalyptic that the appearance of such errorists was a sign of the last days (Matthew xxiv. 24 and 1 Timothy iv. 1). The doom that from of old overtook such impious offenders is hot upon their trail.
Then follows in one long, involved sentence (4-10a) a denunciation of the errorists, combined with reassurance for the faithful. Three historical examples of God punishing sin are given, but the second and the third suggest the companion thought of God preserving the loyal minority; so, instead of concluding that God will punish these errorists, he alters the thought in ver. 9, putting foremost God’s mercy to the good.
4 For if God did not spare angels who had sinned, but committing them to pits of the nether gloom in Tartarus, reserved them under punishment for doom: 5 if he did not spare the ancient world but kept Noah, the herald of righteousness, safe with seven others, when he let loose the deluge on the world of impious men: 6 if he reduced the cities of Sodom 193and Gomorra to ashes when he sentenced them to devastation, and thus gave the impious an example of what was in store for them, 7 but rescued righteous Lot who was sore burdened by the immoral behaviour of the, lawless (8 for when that righteous man resided among them, by what he saw and heard his righteous soul was vexed day after day with their unlawful doings)—9 then be sure the Lord knows how to rescue pious folk from trial, and how to keep the unrighteous under punishment till the day of doom, 10 particularly those who fall in with the polluting appetite of the flesh and despise the Powers celestial.
The underlying thought is that God will act as He has always done, to punish sinners and to preserve the faithful. This is His character in the moral order, and it may be relied upon; history offers examples of His procedure which are a salutary warning and a consolation. Instead of beginning with the first instance cited by Judas (5, 6), he starts more chronologically with the second, the doom upon the rebellious angels, adding some touches of his own (ver. 4). The Greek term for pits, seirois, is so unusual that it was soon altered to seirais (‘chains’), which had the recommendation of agreeing with the language of Judas. Tartarus had been already introduced into Jewish apocalyptic by the book of Enoch (xx. 2); it had a certain appositeness, since in Greek mythology it was the place of punishment for rebellious celestial powers like the Titans.
In the second example, of the deluge, Noah is called the herald of righteousness, herald meaning ‘preacher’ as in 1 Timothy ii. 7. ‘Noah preached repentance, and those 194who obeyed were saved’ (Clem. Rom. vii.). This tradition went back to Jewish sources, where Noah had already acquired the halo of a preacher to his evil generation. ‘Many angels of God,’ says Josephus (Antiquities, i. 3, 1), ‘lay with women and begat sons who were violent and who despised all good, on account of their reliance on their own strength; for tradition goes that they dared to act like the giants of whom the Greeks tell. But Noah, displeased and distressed at their behaviour, tried to induce them to alter their dispositions and conduct for the better.’
In the allusion to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra (the third example, as in Judas), the Greek word for reduce to ashes is an out-of-the-way term, which commonly meant ‘covering with ashes’ (as in an eruption of Vesuvius). A punishment by fire follows a punishment by water. In the third book of Maccabees, which for a time had a vogue in the Eastern Church, this passage occurs (ii. 4, 5): ‘Thou didst destroy those who aforetime worked iniquity, among whom were Giants relying on their strength and boldness, letting loose on them a boundless flood of water. Thou didst burn up with fire and brimstone the men of Sodom, workers of arrogance, who had become notorious for their crimes, making them an example to all who should come afterwards.’ Our passage seems like a reminiscence of this as well as of Judas 7, 7 but the writer proceeds to dwell on the rescue of righteous Lot. The Wisdom of Solomon (x. 6, 7) had already spoken of the rescue of this ‘righteous man, while the impious were perishing, who fled from the fire falling on Pentapolis, of whose wickedness a waste land still smoking is still appointed as a testimony’ (see on Judas 7). Sore burdened may be another reminiscence of 3 Maccabees (iii. 2), 195where the prayer is, ‘Give ear to us who are sore burdened by an unholy and profane man.’8 Lawless (only here and in iii. 17 in the N.T.) means those who defy the divine law. In Clem. Rom. xi. 1, ‘For his hospitality and piety Lot was saved from Sodom when the entire countryside was condemned by fire and brimstone, and the Lord made it clear that he does not forsake those who hope in him, but delivers to punishment and torture those who turn to others.’ 9 This is the thought of 9 and 10, where trial is exposure to surroundings that bear hard on faith and goodness. Pious folk sometimes, like Noah, can do their best to testify publicly; sometimes they can do no more than be shocked and distressed as they maintain their character. (‘Our great security against sin,’ said Newman, ‘lies in being shocked at it.’) But they are never left to themselves. The Lord knows how to rescue them, and that soon, by a similar catastrophe (iii. 9 f.), it is assumed.
The writer now returns to the errorists, their antinomian practices (as in ver. 2), and their irreverent attitude towards angels (as in Judas 8). This blasphemous depreciation of angels leads him into a bitter attack on their general bearing and behaviour (10b-16). The severity of tone is not unexampled. Thus Bunyan (see on Judas 19) speaks of the ‘cursed principles’ of the Ranters, the seventeenth-century English analogue to these antinomians; and Richard Baxter, who also loathed and lashed them as he encountered them in the Commonwealth army, declared, ‘I am an unreconcileable enemy to their doctrines. I had as lieve tell them so as hide it. The more I pray God to illuminate me in these things, the more I am animated against them. The more I read their own books, the more do I see the vanity of their 196conceits. But above all, when I do but open the Bible I can seldom meet with a leaf that is not against them.’ This is one of the most pugnacious leaves.
10 Daring, presumptuous creatures! they are not afraid to scoff at the angelic Glories; 11 whereas even angels, superior in might and power, lay no scoffing charge against these before the Lord. 12 But those people!—like irrational animals, creatures of mere instinct, born for capture and corruption, they scoff at what they are ignorant of; 13 and like animals they will suffer corruption and ruin, done out of the profits of their evil-doing. Pleasure for them is revelling in open daylight spots and blots, with their dissipated revelling, as they carouse in your midst!—14 their eyes are full of harlotry, insatiable for sin; their own hearts trained to lust, they beguile unsteady souls. Accursed generation! 15 they have gone wrong by leaving the straight road, by following the road of Balaam son of Bosor, who liked the profits of evil-doing—16 but he got reproved for his malpractice: a dumb ass spoke with human voice and checked the prophet’s infatuation.
The first charge is repeated from Judas (8, 9), but in rebuking their audacity the writer generalizes the allusion to Michael and omits the details about. 11 Satan, so that against these (i.e. the devil and his angels) is left vague, whereas in Judas it is pointed. 12 Before the Lord is a pictorial detail, added to make up for the omission of the retort, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’ In ver. 12 the thought of Judas (10) is less happily expressed. The fatal result of scoffing at angels was often noted in connexion with the story of Sodom, as, 197e.g., in The Testament of Asher (vii.): ‘Be not like Sodom, my children, which sinned against the angels of God and perished for ever.’ 13 Done out of the profits of their evil-doing is a play on words already present in the Greek—adikoumenoi . . . adikias; but as this use of adikoumenoi was unfamiliar, it was changed into komioumenoi, or ‘receive,’ in the traditional text.
The writer had already mentioned (in ver. 3) the self-seeking temper of the errorists, and he returns to it in ver. 15, but meantime he dwells on their immoral practices. In open daylight seems to be a reminiscence of The Assumption of Moses (vii. 4 f.), where the proud religionists are ‘cunning in all their affairs, loving banquets at every hour of the day . . . filled with lawlessness and iniquity from sunrise to sunset.’ They were luxurious and self-indulgent, disgracefully dissipated. The Greek term apatais literally meant ‘deceivings’ (A.V.), but in Hellenistic Greek had acquired the sense of ‘pleasure’ or ‘delight’ (as in Mark iv. 19); at an early period it was changed to agapais (love-feasts), 14 perhaps owing to the parallel in Judas 12. The context shows that lust here (see above, on ver. 3) denotes sensual indulgence; the doctrine that spiritual natures could with impunity indulge in sexual excesses and that these might even be practised as expressions of mystical love, was only too likely to appeal to certain natures, unsteady souls, as the writer calls them (in contrast to i. 12). 15 But he turns back to the errorists themselves (15, 16), who like Balaam claimed prophetic visions and set their hearts on gain (see Judas 11). He leaves out Cain and Korah, but expands the reference to Balaam by mentioning the incident of the ass (Numbers xxii. 21 f.). 16 Bosor was the name of a town in 198Gilead, which had no connexion with Balaam; it is a mistake for Beor, and the correction was made in some early texts.
A closing paragraph (17-22) on their iniquities describes the disastrous effect of their teaching upon their adherents.
17 These people are waterless fountains and mists driven by a squall, for whom the nether gloom of darkness is reserved. 18 By talking arrogant futilities they beguile. with the sensual lure of fleshly passion those who are just escaping from the company of misconduct—19 promising them freedom, when they are themselves enslaved to corruption (for a man is the slave of whatever overpowers him). 20 After escaping the pollutions of the world by the knowledge of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, if they get entangled and overpowered again, the last state is worse for them than the first. 21 Better had they never known the Way of righteousness, than to know it and then turn back from the holy command which was committed to them. 22 They verify the truth of the proverb:
The dog turns back to what he has vomited,
the sow when washed will wallow in the mire.’
The writer changes the rainless clouds of Judas (12) into waterless (same Greek word as rainless) fountains (yielding nothing to help men, for all their appearance) and mists (darkening the light, for all their pretences to enlightenment), but this leaves the allusion to nether gloom out of place. 18 The seductive appeal of their moral or rather immoral principles, backed by rhetoric (which is contemptuously called arrogant futilities), has been already denounced (14), but the writer is indignant and underlines his warning. Beguile 199implies the clever use of a bait or lure. ‘I, using adroit words,’ says Milton’s Comas—
‘Baited with reasons not unplausible,
Wind me into the easy-hearted man,
And hug him into snares.’
What chance have recent converts from paganism against the specious argument of these religionists that Christian freedom means freedom from the moral law? The words throb with the righteous passion of a man who had seen such men and women suffering a moral collapse under libertine ‘spiritual’ teaching. 19 Promising them freedom from the law of God, when they are themselves the slaves of passion! The inconsistency of it!
Licence they mean when they cry Liberty;
For who loves that must first be wise and good.
Paul had had to warn his converts long ago (Galatians v. 13) on this very point, but our writer is dealing with leaders who instilled religious teaching that led to moral anarchy, and in 20-22 he depicts the ruinous consequences of it for the victims. If newly converted people (he uses the language of i. 3-4) relapse, i.e. give way to the very immorality from which Christianity saves them, then the last state for them is worse than the first. 20 This is a reminiscence (see on iii. 10) of the saying of Jesus preserved in Matthew xii. 45. The responsibility is placed upon the converts themselves. They may be unsteady souls, inexperienced and raw, but they are not mere dupes; those who mislead them are blamed and doomed, but the converts themselves are treated as morally accountable for their actions. 21 The Way of righteousness is practically synonymous with the true Way (ver. 2) or the 200straight road (ver. 15), and another expression for Christianity as a practical authoritative code of life is the holy command (see iii. 2) committed to Christians (see Judas 3), i.e. the faith viewed as the revelation of God’s will as the standard and inspiration of life for His People. For individuals just emancipated from paganism and still swayed by the associations of the lax morality of the age, to make the inner light the supreme criterion of right and wrong, or to regard mere morality as beneath the level of an emancipated Christian, was to court wild dangers. It was the sense of this that helped to recommend the O.T. with its decalogue and ethical teaching to the church, when gnostic religious philosophers would have rejected it. Our writer does not enter into this, however; he simply reiterates that Christianity is a revelation which involved moral enterprise and moral obedience.
As for apostates, who forsake true Christianity for such circles of sanctified licentiousness, they merely illustrate the old adage about the dog and the sow! It is a double proverb. The first part occurs in Proverbs xxvi. 11, the second is from an ancient Oriental story preserved in The Book of Ahikar, a pre-Christian collection of parables and sayings, where we read, ‘My son, thou hast behaved like the swine which went to the bath with people of quality, and when he came out, saw a stinking drain and went and rolled himself in it.’ The combination of the dog and the pig as proverbial illustrations of unclean instincts was not uncommon; Horace (Epp. i. 2. 26) says that if Ulysses had drunk the cup of Circe he would have sunk to the low level of’ a dirty dog or a pig that loves the mud.’ There is an implicit allusion here to the cleansing water of baptism (as in i. 9). The stern, 201severe warning of the whole passage (20-22) is clinched by this rough proverb; the writer evidently felt that plain speaking was wisest in the circumstances, and his speech is even more plain than the equally serious warning in Hebrews vi. 4-6 that any deliberate renunciation of Christ is past forgiveness; in ver. 22 there is a note of contempt for low natures upon whom baptism has produced no effect what-soever. The leaders had been dubbed mere animals (ver. 12), actuated by physical instincts, for all their spiritual pretensions. Their adherents are now compared to what an Oriental regarded as the dirtiest of brutes, not simply worse than any ‘pagan suckled in a creed outworn’ (21), but on a level no higher than the existence of dogs and pigs.
1 This is the second letter I have already written to you, beloved, stirring up your pure mind by way of reminder, 2 to have you recollect the words spoken by the holy prophets beforehand and the command given by your apostles from the Lord and saviour.
The first letter, to which this is a sequel, is First Peter, which had by this time become well known to the Church at large, and it is to this catholic Church that the present epistle is addressed by the writer in the name of Peter. ‘It is not sufficiently considered,’ says Dr. Johnson as a moralist, ‘that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.’ Our author had considered this. His allusion to the pure mind of Christians is another touch of courtesy, such as in i. 12. Philosophers like Plato had spoken of pure 202intellect or mind,’ meaning thought detached as far as possible from the bodily senses, and the writer uses this phrase for the Christian mind which had been uncontaminated by any taint of heresy’ (i. 4, ii. 20). It is a loose, untechnical application of the phrase.
2 The language of Judas 17 is then expanded by the addition of an allusion to the holy prophets of the O.T., with their predictions of the Advent—the idea already urged in i. 19 f. He has already referred to Christianity as an authoritative revelation or command (see above on ii. 21), embodying the divine will for life. This language of command became popular in Johannine circles, particularly in connexion with the new command of love. But the writer here does not refer to any specific command of Jesus; he is thinking of the Christian creed as the decisive rule for regulating faith and morals, for determining not only what was to be believed (3-10) but what Christians were to do in the light of their beliefs about the Advent. He prefers command to ‘law,’ possibly to avoid confusion with the Mosaic code of Judaism.
The words your apostles are not unambiguous. Had the epistle been directed to a special church or group of churches, the apostles might be those missionaries who had founded them. But in a general pastoral like the present, the phrase means the twelve apostles (i.e. men like myself, i. 16) regarded as the transmitters of the gospel to the church at large. They were in closer touch with the church than the prophets of the O.T.; hence he calls them your apostles, as Judas had called them ‘the apostles.’ One writer calls them ‘the holy apostles’ (Ephesians iii. 5); our writer, however, confines the term holy to the O.T. prophets (i. 21). He reminds Christians that they must attend to the apostolic gospel no 203less than to the prophetic messages (i. 19) which anticipated it, and especially to that prediction in the apostolic tradition which announced the rise of scoffing objections to the doctrine of the immediate Advent.
In what follows, the writer starts from Judas 17-18, but he develops his argument (3-7) along independent lines. No prospect of any change in the universe, such as the Advent implies? Yes, there has been a violent change already, and there will be another and a final.
3 To begin with, you know that mockers will come with their mockeries in the last days, men who go by their own passions, 4 asking, ‘where is His promised advent? Since the day our fathers fell asleep, things remain exactly as they were from the beginning of creation.’ 5 They wilfully ignore the fact that heavens existed long ago, and an earth which the word of God formed of water and by water. 6 By water the then-existing world was deluged and destroyed, 7 but the present heavens and earth are treasured up by the same word for fire, reserved for the day when the impious are doomed and destroyed.
In some quarters the death of Christians before the return of Jesus from heaven roused anxious fears, for their friends wondered whether they had not thus missed salvation. This perplexity, felt by genuine believers, we have already met in 1 Peter iv. 6. In other quarters the same fact roused sceptical questionings about the Advent itself, especially as the first generation passed away and there was no sign of the end at all. 4 Our fathers have died, men said; the Advent of the Lord promised in their day has not come; the Advent was to be the end of the present world, and the world is as 204it has always been. This objection had apparently passed into writing. Clement of Rome (xxiii.) quotes a ‘scripture’ in which sceptics are rebuked for doubting the Advent by saying, ‘We have heard these things even in the days of our fathers, and here have we grown old and none of these things has happened to us.’ The same word is cited in the homily called 2 Clement (xi.) from ‘a prophetic word,’ evidently some primitive Christian apocalypse which has not come down to us. Our author has it in his mind here. The objection he has to meet is not merely that the Advent has not occurred during the previous generation when it was promised and expected, but that it is contradicted by the stability of the universe. His answer is (5-7) that the deluge proves the universe is not stable, and that it is to be ended by fire. A convulsion of water ended the first world with 5 its heavens and earth which had been formed or composed of water and by water. This is an allusion to the cosmogony of Genesis i., where God’s word fashioned the earth or dry land out of the primaeval watery chaos by separating the waters of the sea; it is a loose, amplifying phrase such as the writer loved, to bring out the fact that water was the medium of the original earth’s creation. The sentence is awkwardly expressed. Heavens existed long ago stands by itself, but the skies were also composed by the word of God, and both skies and earth (the Hebrew equivalent for the universe) represent the then-existing world which was deluged and destroyed at the flood; water constituted the first world and water destroyed it. 6 Another loose term is di hôn (the plural), rendered by water; the singular would have been correct, but the plural probably was used to suggest the two waters referred to above. In the vision of the 205deluge seen by Enoch (Enoch lxxxiii.), ‘the heaven collapsed and fell on the earth . . . and the earth was swallowed up in a great abyss,’ whereas in Second Peter the doom concentrates upon the earth, at the inundation. The argument is that while water once destroyed the world—so that things have not remained exactly as they were from the beginning of creation—fire is to be the doom of the present heavens and earth, which are treasured up (a grim destiny!) by the same word (as created the first universe) for fire, i.e. for God’s doom on the impious (see ii. 5).
This is the solitary reference in the N.T. to the current idea of the universe ending in a conflagration. Josephus (Antiquities, i. 2) mentions a prediction of Adam that the world would be twice destroyed by water and by fire, and the far-spread idea of a final bonfire of the universe had entered Jewish apocalyptic; it is voiced specially in the Sibylline oracles, where it differs from the Stoic cosmogony, in which there was a periodic renovation of the universe by means of fire. ‘The Sibyl and Hystaspes,’ says Justin Martyr (Apol., i. 20), “said that corruptible things would be dissolved by fire; the philosophers who are called Stoics declare that God himself is to be dissolved into fire, and that after this change the world will be renewed. . . . In asserting that there will be a conflagration we use the language of the Stoics, but,’ he adds, our doctrine is not theirs in essence. The belief was popular in Roman as well as in Greek mythology, and it entered Christian apocalyptic at an early period. The writer alludes to it here as a familiar conception of the end, in order to meet the first objection taken to the doctrine of the Advent. He shows some independence in his development of the general theme. Thus he follows the, book of 206Enoch in adding the heavens to the earth as having been destroyed at the deluge; the tale of Genesis spoke only of the earth in this connexion. But he, adds the heavens to the earth in the expectation of the future (ver. 13), whereas the book of Enoch confined its outlook to a new heaven; thus in xci. 16:
The first heaven shall depart and pass away,
and a new heaven shall appear.
Our author, like the prophet John (Revelation xxi. 1), expects a new earth as well as a new heaven, though, unlike John, he anticipates the removal of the first stained universe by fire. This idea caught the imagination of the later church, as is plain from the opening lines of the great mediaeval hymn:
Dies irae, dies ilia
Solvet saeclum in favilla.
George Herbert echoed it in the last stanza of his poem on Decay:
I see the world grows old, when as the heat
Of Thy great Love, once spread, as in an urn
Doth closet up itself and still retreat,
Cold sin still forcing it—till it return,
And calling Justice all things burn.
His second argument is against misconceptions of the divine delay (8-9). It is addressed to believers who were apt to be impatient.
8 Beloved, you must not ignore this one fact, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years, and a thousand 9 years are like a single day. 9 The Lord is not slow with what he promises, according to certain people’s idea of 207slowness; no, he is longsuffering for your sake, he does not wish any to perish but all to betake them to repentance.
The scoffers wilfully ignored one fact; believers were apt to ignore another, namely, the truth underlying the words of Psalm xc. 4, ‘with the Lord a thousand years are like a single day.’ Jewish writers had used this text, as Christian writers afterwards did, to explain the use of the term ‘day’ in the Creation-tales of Genesis, but this is a new application of it. The writer ignores any doctrine of a millennium. That line of prophecy was popular in his day, but evidently it did not appeal to him. He simply quotes the text to show that delay as measured by actual time does not apply to the eternal God;
Long the decrees of Heaven
Delay, for longest time to him is short.
What is time to God? If He seems to delay, it is not, as 9 certain people imagine, because He is careless or powerless, but because He is merciful and patient, longsuffering (see 1 Peter iii. 20) for your sake. The early reading dia brings this out better than eis (‘to us-ward’), and your is more apposite than our. He does not wish any to perish, but all to betake them (only here in N.T.) to repentance. Do you not know, says Paul, speaking of this patient longsuffering, though not in connexion with the Advent, ‘that his kindness is meant to make you repent?’ In 1 Timothy ii. 4, ‘God our Saviour desires all men to be saved.’ This is the interpretation of the delay offered by the writer; God is really putting off the end as long as He can, to give you a fuller chance. If He seems slow with what he promises, it is in 208order to make the promise available to as large a number as possible.
10 The day of the Lord will come like a thief, when the heavens will vanish with crackling roar, the stars will be’ set ablaze and melt, the earth and all its works will disappear. 11 Now as all things are thus to be dissolved, what holy and pious men ought you to be in your behaviour, 12 you who expect and hasten the advent of the Day of God, which dissolves the heavens in fire and makes the stars blaze and melt! 13 It is new heavens and a new earth that we expect, as He has promised, and in them dwells righteousness. 14 Then, beloved, as you are expecting this, be eager to be found by him unspotted and unblemished in serene assurance.
Like a thief is another (see on ii. 20) reminiscence of a saying of Jesus about the unexpectedness of the Advent; ‘like a thief (in the night)’ was one of the most uncommon figures for the sudden return of the Lord in primitive Christianity. But the writer lays more stress on the cosmic conflagration at the end. ‘Heaven and earth will vanish,’ Jesus had predicted; our author adds, with crackling roar, using an onomatopoetic word in a rare sense. Set ablaze is another unusual term, generally employed for feverish heat. The Greek term stoicheia, rendered ‘elements’ in A.V., means the literal stars here, not the Elemental Spirits or 209angels closely connected with the planets and constellations (see on Judas 6) as in Galatians iv. 3.
The last word of the sentence is obscure. The primitive reading is not shall be burned up, as we might expect, but heurethesetai, ‘be found’ (as in ver. 14). The old Egyptian Sahidic version reads ‘not be found,’ i.e. disappear, which yields quite a good sense, and is a common phrase in similar connexions (e.g. in Revelation xvi. 20). Other conjectures have been offered, of verbs meaning destruction or burning, but the hypothesis that the negative was omitted by accident by the author or some early copyist meets the case adequately. What the earth and all its works denotes, is shown by the description in The Sibylline Oracles (ii. 251 f., translated by Professor Terry):
For stars from heaven shall fall into all seas.
And all the souls of men shall gnash their teeth,
Burned both by sulphur stream and force of fire
In ravenous soil, and ashes hide all things.
And then of all the world the elements
Shall be bereft, air, earth, sea, light, sky, days,
Nights; and no longer in the air shall fly
Birds without number, nor shall living things
That swim the sea swim any more at all,
Nor freighted vessel o’er the billows pass,
Nor kine straight-guiding plow the field.
The terror and pathos of this are not what the writer stresses; it is (11–14) the moral and spiritual effects which such an expectation ought to have upon life to-day, 12 on those who expect and hasten the advent of this Day of God. Good men hasten the Advent by their repentance (see Acts iii. 19 f.), for it is the sins of men that retard the coming of the Day (see above, ver. 9). Even by their prayers, like 210‘Thy kingdom come,’ they bring faith to bear upon the fulfilment of the divine purpose; for the order of the world is not mechanical but moral, and Jesus had taught that his followers might, as it were, 13 thus shorten the interval of waiting. The expectation of a new order of things, embodying righteousness, calls for a clean, honest life to answer to it. One writer put the thought thus: ‘Everyone who rests this hope on him purifies himself as he is pure’ (1 John iii. 3). 14 Our author writes, be eager (so i. 10) to be found by him at his coming (see Philippians iii. 9) unspotted and unblemished (not like these errorists, ii. 13), in serene assurance, as you are expecting this. A pure and consistent life is the one ground for serene assurance, the peace of i. 2, and the deep thought is that the Christian hope ought to produce a moral and spiritual quickening of conscience. It is a privilege, but it is also an obligation. For the writer it was impossible to give up the hope of the Advent without ethical deterioration. He had already marked the disastrous consequences of this in the errorists, and now he drives home the positive counsel to his readers.
The permanent lesson of the passage (as of i. 3-4) is that Christian hope must react upon the lives of those who entertain it. As Ruskin puts it in his famous application of the passage in The Stones of Venice (vol. iii, chap. iv): ‘It is indeed right that we should look for, and hasten, so far as in us lies, the coming of the Day of God; but not that we should check any human efforts by anticipations of its approach. We shall hasten it best by endeavouring to work out the tasks that are appointed for us here.’
The writer now returns to the thought of ver. 9, but this leads him to assure his readers that the teaching of the 211apostle Paul is in agreement with his, whatever these errorists might say to the contrary (15-16).
15 And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord means salvation; as indeed our beloved brother Paul has written to you out of the wisdom vouchsafed to him, 16 speaking of this as he has done in all his letters—letters containing some knotty points, which ignorant and unsteady souls twist (as they do the rest of the scriptures) to their own destruction.
The thought of God’s longsuffering is more prominent in Romans (see ii. 4, iii. 25, ix. 22, and xi. 22) than in any other of Paul’s extant epistles, but the writer is not alluding to this or to any one epistle which the readers were supposed to have received for themselves. The you means the catholic church. All the Pauline epistles were held to be meant for the church at large. In the Muratorian canon it is expressly argued that while Paul wrote to separate churches by name yet ‘one church is recognized as spread over all the world,’ i.e. the Pauline epistles are catholic. So here. No one epistle, neither some lost epistle nor one of the canonical, is meant. By a natural hyperbole the writer declares that Paul treated the doctrine of God’s saving patience 16 in all his letters, but he hurries on to explain that the errorists had no right to claim as they did the authority of Paul for their antinomian views. If Paul said, ‘You are free from the Law,’ he did not mean ‘free from moral claims.’ The knotty points (only here in N.T.) refer to Paul’s views on Christian freedom and the like, which even in his lifetime had been misrepresented (see Romans vi. 1) and exaggerated. By 212the time this epistle was written, they were being warped into a defence of moral laxity as the right of truly ‘spiritual’ persons, by ignorant and unsteady (see ii. 14) souls. What N.T. writings are included along with the O.T. in the rest of the scriptures we do not know, but it is clear that the Greek term loipas means not ‘the scriptures as well,’ but the rest of the scriptures, and that graphas means scriptures in the technical sense, not ‘writings or books’ in general. Fatal (see ii. 1) distortions of Paul’s meaning were abroad when this epistle was written, and this implies that his epistles were being appealed to as authoritative.
A last word of exhortation (17, 18): be on your guard against error and grow in grace.
17 Now, beloved, you are forewarned; mind you are not carried away by the error of the lawless and so lose your proper footing; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory now and to the day of eternity: Amen.
Error is the word rendered misconduct in ii. 18, but it means here the pernicious principles and practices of the lawless (see on ii. 7) errorists, not pagan morals. To lose your proper footing (only here in N.T.) answers to the warning 18 of Judas (24) about slipping. The writer then repeats (i. 2-8) his counsel about Christian growth; all depends on personal communion with Christ, a personal communion which deepens steadily. The knowledge of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ is not a mere means of rescue (ii. 20), but the one means of maturity and health, which enables the Christian to throw off pernicious errors. And it is a knowledge which 213depends upon the Lord’s grace, not on speculative acuteness and individual enlightenment (see on i. 2). In the doxology, addressed to Christ (a rare practice in the N.T.), the phrase to the day of eternity is unexampled, though it does occur in Sirach xviii. 10. There, ‘as a drop from the sea or a grain of sand, so are man’s few years to the day of eternity’; but here it seems chosen as a special variant for the day of the Lord or of God, no period or episode but an eternal Day.214215
|« Prev||The Second Epistle of St. Peter||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version