The First in a Series of Sermons on 2 Peter
We begin an eight-part study of the Second Epistle of Peter, continuing our larger series on 1 and 2 Peter, and Jude. From the moment we open this all-too often overlooked, but very important letter ascribed to the Apostle Peter, it soon becomes apparent that there are a number of problems to faced by anyone who attempts to preach through this letter, or treat it as a genuine apostolic document that belongs among those God-breathed writings which make up the canon of the New Testament. In fact, the problems we encounter with this epistle are significant enough that the vast majority of biblical scholars dismiss even the possibility that this epistle was written by the Apostle Peter–in spite of the opening words in which the author claims to be “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” Despite the judgment of so many scholars to the contrary, I think a good case can be made for Petrine authorship of this short epistle, and that it does indeed belong in the canon of the New Testament.
A sermon is not a good (or really even an appropriate) place to tackle complicated questions of New Testament introduction. Since these difficulties are so apparent in 2 Peter, and since we will spend several Sundays in this letter, we cannot ignore the matter. So, we will address the questions of authorship and authenticity, and then survey some of the theological themes in this epistle, before we conclude by briefly taking up the opening greeting from Peter found in the first two verses.
Called the “ugly stepchild” of the New Testament–because there are so many issues surrounding its authenticity–the reader of this epistle will soon notice two important difficulties. First, even upon a cursory reading, it is clear that there significant differences in the style of writing and choice of words between 1 and 2 Peter–a problem which must be addressed if the Apostle Peter is responsible for both epistles. As Richard Bauckham has pointed out, there are some fifty-seven words in 2 Peter not found anywhere else in the New Testament (so-called hapax legomena), as well as thirty-two words used in 2 Peter which are not found in the LXX. This means that many of the words the author uses are not “biblical” in the sense that they are not drawn directly from the Old Testament. Since many of these unique words are widely used in Hellenistic Greek writings, this fact suggests to many that the author was someone more cosmopolitan than a man like Simon Peter, a Galilean fisherman.
Even John Calvin had reservations about this epistle on this same ground, noting “there were some who were led by the diversity of style to think that Peter was not the author. Although some difficulty can be traced, I admit that there is a clear difference which argues for different writers.” Yet, despite such reservations, Calvin accepts the epistle as genuine on the grounds that the “majesty of the Spirit of Christ expresses itself in all parts of the epistle, [therefore] I have a dread of repudiating it, even though I do not recognize in it the genuine language of Peter.” Calvin raises the question many others have asked as well. How could the same writer produce two letters so different in both style and wording?
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