In the last study we completed our study of 1 Peter. In this study we introduce 2 Peter and look at 1:1-11. Peter’s salutation is fairly typical. He names himself as the author of the letter, addresses it in a very general way to those who believe in Jesus, and adds a Christian blessing.
The main introductory issue in respect to this letter is the question of authorship. Many scholars, including many evangelicals, believe that Peter did not write this letter. They are convinced that someone else wrote it in his name in the second century. I am not going into the arguments on either side. Let me just say that those who believe that the author was someone other than Peter can and do build an impressive case. On the other hand Donald Guthrie, among others, does a masterful job of presenting the case for authorship by the apostle Peter. My interpretive approach is to take biblical books at face value unless someone proves that it can’t be done. To this point no one has demonstrated that the apostle Peter could not have been the author of this letter.
As for the date of the letter, if a second century person wrote it, obviously it had to be written that late. But if Peter wrote it, it would have been written before his death in the mid-sixties of the first century. The only evidence we have regarding who the recipients are is found in chapter three, verse one, which suggests that the recipients were the same as in 1 Peter. But that assumes authorship by Peter. If someone else wrote the letter in the second century, then the recipients are unknown.
In verse one Peter says of the recipients that their faith was as precious, meaning precious to God and themselves, “as ours,” meaning the apostles and other early believers. In other words they weren’t second class Christians. God values the faith of all Christians, and our faith admits us to the same privileges as the apostles and other early believers.
Then in verse two notice that Peter mentions “knowledge of God.” Knowing God, or Christ, is an important concept to Peter, as we shall see, beginning in verse three.
The body of the letter begins with verse three: “His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us.” Thus Peter opens his letter with a discussion of knowing Christ. Certain benefits come from knowing him. Knowing Christ is the way to life and godliness. And those are just the first of several benefits Peter says come from knowing Christ. By “life” he means eternal life in contrast to eternal death; and by “godliness,” he means being like God, being just and holy. And notice that these benefits come form “his divine power.” We have no power in ourselves to enter eternal life, or to be godly. Those become part of our lives by the divine power of the One who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Now then, Peter continues in verse four to say that knowing Christ provides us with “precious and very great promises.” And these promises, backed of course by God’s power, enable us in two ways. First, they enable us to “escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust.” There is hope for those mired in an addiction to shopping or pornography. We must never underestimate the power of God and his promises.
Then second, God’s promises backed by God’s power enable us to “become participants of the divine nature.” Wow! This is the most blatant expression in the New Testament of our spiritual union with God in Christ. Peter mentioned sharing “in the glory to be revealed” in his first letter (5:1), but he said nothing this clear. The apostle John taught something very similar in John 17:21, where he quoted Jesus’ famous high priestly prayer. Jesus prayed on behalf of the believers to come, which includes us “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.”
In other words there is a mystical union of believers with Christ in Christ; and Peter declares us “participants,” or literally “sharers” (koinonoi), in the divine nature. Now he doesn’t explain what that means, but what we know is enough for me. We are God’s children in a real way. We are one with him in Christ in a real way; and thus we are empowered in a real way to live lives of holiness and service. The Eastern Orthodox churches traditionally have made more out of this idea of participation in Christ than those of us in the western churches. They have a doctrine of theois that says the union with Christ in some sense deifies our humanity. It never has been completely clear to me what they mean by that, but some of them have talked about absorption of our humanity by God’s divinity.
All right, having sketched the benefits of knowing Christ, Peter next turns in 1:5-7 to the part we have to play in the process. And he does it in an interesting way. He gives one virtue after another that that we should “make every effort” to add to our faith. Barclay calls the series a “Ladder of Virtues,” because Peter pictures it as a building of these virtues one upon another.
Since knowing Christ is so important, Peter gives us, here, a way to grow in the faith and thus in knowledge of Christ. He assumes the recipients have faith, because they are believers. But then they are to make every effort to add to that faith “goodness,” “knowledge,” “self-control,” “perseverance” (“endurance” in NRSV), “godliness,” “brotherly kindness” (“mutual affection” in NRSV), and love. In Greek the word for “brotherly kindness” is philadelphian, “brotherly love;” and the word for love is agapen, which is unconditional love.
Notice that these virtues have to do with moral development and that unconditional love is the capstone of the process. It seems unfortunate to me that our churches are saying so little about moral development these days. We cannot assume that the people in our churches, especially the young people, are characterized by these virtues.
All right, in verses 8-11 Peter gives some results of growth in the knowledge of Christ and lack of growth in them. Peter mentions two positive results in verse eight. If we have these virtues and they are increasing in our lives, we will be neither ineffective nor “unfruitful” (NIV “unproductive”) in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus. That suggests that we will be effective and fruitful in that knowledge.
On the other side, in verse nine, if we aren’t growing in these virtues, it will mean we are we nearsighted, which leads to blindness and being “forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.” The mentioning together of near-sightedness and blindness is a bit unusual. The idea is either that “being nearsighted he becomes in effect blind,” or by blinking he shuts his eyes to what he doesn’t want to see, “shutting his eyes to the truth” (Kelly, p. 308). In either case those who do not pursue the virtues end up blind to spiritual truth. And the blindness is self-imposed.
The idea of being forgetful of the cleansing of one’s past sins is interesting. Most scholars mention Baptism here, I suppose because most Christians in those ancient times received the forgiveness of their past sins at their Baptism. But the idea is that if we aren’t willing to grow and develop morally, that demonstrates that we are forgetting what God has done for us.
“Therefore,” based on what he has said, Peter calls upon the recipients, and us as well, to quote, “be all the more eager to make your call and election sure” (verse 10, NIV). He keeps driving home the point that we must do our part. By developing these virtues in our lives we will make firm, or sure, our calling and election.
Let me use an imperfect, but perhaps useful, analogy. A few years ago it was in the news that a rich man went to an inner city school where very few of the children graduated from high school, let along from college. I am uncertain what grade he went to. I think it was the seventh, but that may be incorrect. At any rate he promised all of those seventh graders that he would pay their way through all four years of college if they could make it. The event was given rather wide exposure on TV. The man stayed in touch with the kids, rather than just make the promise and leave for five years. I saw a TV follow up on that story when those kids reached collage age. I was amazed at how many of those kids stayed in school and went to college. I no longer remember the numbers or the percentages; but it was impressive.
The point is a lot of those kids had sufficient incentive to work hard at their academics, to stay in school, and to make it through college. They experienced a kind of grace, the undeserved favor of a rich man. But they had to do their part. And by doing their part, they entered the world of the educated as a result.
Peter is telling us that we have experienced the grace of God. Our sins have been forgiven, and we have spiritual opportunity ahead of us. But we must do our part. If we will add the seven virtues he has set forth to our faith, and develop morally, we will make sure our calling and election. We won’t stumble, and we will enter the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ.