2 Peter 3 Commentary

v.1 “‘Dear friends’ (lit., ‘beloved’) is repeated in vv. 8, 14, and 17 in this chapter (see also 1Pe 2:11; 4:1). ‘This is now my second letter to you.’ Does this refer to 1 Peter? Most commentators say yes. But this is not certain because (1) it has not been established that the recipients of the two letters are the same; (2) 1:12, 16 may imply a personal ministry to the recipients of this second letter that 1 Peter gives no indication of; (3) the description of the two letters (‘both of them as reminders’) here does not fit 1 Peter very well; and (4) other letters of apostles have not been preserved (cf. 1Co 5:9; Col 4:16). None of these points is in itself very strong; yet taken together and when coupled with the lack of use of 1 Peter in 2 Peter, they raise a doubt that leaves the question open.

v.2 “The ‘words spoken in the past’ are the prophetic oracles with special reference here to the day of the Lord. The “command” is a way of referring to the moral demands of the Christian faith and primarily to the command of love. These prophecies and commands were given to the early Christians by the NT prophets and apostles (cf. Eph 2:20).”[1]

v.3 “Peter next states a primary thing to be remembered from the prophetic and apostolic deposit: the appearance of scoffers in the last days, who deny biblical truths and live in an ungodly way (cf. Da 7:25; 11:36-39; Mt 24:3-5, 11, 23-26; 1Ti 4:1ff.; 2Ti 3:1-7; Jude 17-18). The “last days” are the days that come between the first coming of the Messiah and his second coming. The “scoffers” are the false teachers of ch. 2 who deny a future eschatology.”[2]

vv.3-4 “The “scoffer” or “mocker” is certainly not a new phenomenon in the history of God’s people. The psalmist pronounced a blessing on the person of God who does not “sit in the seat of mockers” (Ps. 1:1). And three times Proverbs presents the mocker as someone whose ways are to be avoided by the righteous (Prov. 1:22; 9:7 – 8; 13:1). Mocking is one all-too-typical response to the truth of God’s revelation. Mockers do not so much reason against the truth of God as they disdain and belittle it. Rather than standing under God’s Word, mockers, as Peter points out, follow “their own evil desires.” “Evil desires” translates a single Greek word (epithymia) that Peter uses to encapsulate the ungodly orientation of such people (see 1:4; 2:10, 18). These scoffers, Peter says, insist on “going” their own way rather than following the will of God.

Mockery is a general response to the truth of God. But the mockers or scoffers that Peter is particularly concerned about were not, apparently, mocking the faith generally. Indeed, they claimed to be following the faith (e.g., 2:18 – 22). Rather they were scoffing at one particular teaching of the faith: the belief that Christ will return in glory at the end of history. “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” they kept asking. By putting “coming” in quotation marks and adding the word “this,” the NIV rightly suggests that the word has a special reference here. The Greek word is parousia, used throughout the New Testament as a technical term referring to the “coming” of Christ in the last day.”[3]

v.4 “Part of the early church proclamation was the announcement of the return of Jesus to complete the work of salvation and to punish the wicked (e.g., Mt 24:3ff.; Jn 14:1-3; Ac 1:11; 17:31; Ro 13:11; 1Co 15:23; 1Th 4:13-5:11; 2Th 1:7-10; Heb 9:28; Rev 1:7). The false teachers ask, “Where is this `coming’ he promised?” Mocking the faith of Christians, they support their own position by claiming, “Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” “Our fathers” most likely means the OT fathers (see Jn 6:31; Ac 3:13; Ro 9:5; Heb 1:1). “Died” (lit., “fell asleep”) is a lovely metaphor for the death of believers (cf. Ac 7:60; 1Th 4:13-14). The argument of the false teachers is essentially a naturalistic one–a kind of uniformitarianism that rules out any divine intervention in history.”[4]

v.5-6 “But they ‘deliberately [lit., willingly] forget’ the great Flood, when God intervened in history by destroying the world. What they forget is not only the Flood but also God’s prior activity by his word–the existence of the heavens and the watery formation of the earth (Ge 1:2-10). It seems unlikely that Peter is seeking to affirm that water was the basic material of creation. He does not use the verb “create” but says that the earth “was formed out of water and with water.” In Genesis the sky separates the waters from the waters by the word of God, and the land appears out of the water by the same word.

At the beginning of v. 6, the phrase “by these waters” (lit., “through these”) probably refers to both water and the word as the agents used by God for destroying the former world (v. 6), just as word and fire will be the destructive agents in the future (v. 7). “The world of that time” obviously means that the inhabitants of the earth were destroyed (the world itself was not destroyed).”[5]

“What Peter is reminding these false teachers about, then, is the creation of the entire universe. Both the world we can experience through our senses (“the earth”) and the unseen spiritual realm (“heavens,” or better, “heaven”) were brought into being “by God’s word.” As Genesis 1 repeatedly makes clear, all of creation is the effect of God’s powerful word. He spoke, and it came to pass. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made” (Ps. 33:6); “the universe was formed at God’s command” (Heb. 11:3).”[6]

v.7 “Peter’s reference to a future conflagration to destroy the present cosmos is highly unusual. The OT speaks of fire in the day of the Lord (Ps 97:3; Isa 66:15-16; Da 7:9-10; Mic 1:4; Mal 4:1). And Mt 3:11-12 speaks of the future baptism of fire by the Messiah in which he will destroy the “chaff” (cf. 2Th 1:7). Peter argues that just as in the past God purged the then-existing world by his word and by waters, so in the future he will purge the world by his word and by fire. Whether this will take place before the Millennium or after, Peter does not say. Matthew 3:11-12 supports the former, while the sequence of Rev 20-21 puts the new heaven and new earth after the thousand years (cf. 2Pe 3:13).”[7]

v.9 “The third argument against the scoffers grows out of the second one. God’s delay is gracious; it is not caused by inability or indifference. The scoffers argued that God was slow to keep his promise of the new age, and evidently some Christians were influenced by this thinking. God’s time plan is influenced by his being “patient”an attribute of God prominent in Scripture (cf. Ex 34:6; Nu 14:18; Ps 86:15; Jer 15:15; Ro 2:4; 9:22). In Ro 9:22 Paul says that God “bore with great patience the objects of his wrath.” Here in v. 9 that patience is directed “to you.”

v.10 “Peter’s fourth argument against the false teachers reaffirms the early church’s teaching that the day of the Lord will come suddenly. Jesus taught that his coming would be as unexpected as the coming of a thief (Mt 24:42-44), an analogy often repeated in the NT (cf. Lk 12:39; 1Th 5:2; Rev 3:3; 16:15). The “Lord” in these texts is Jesus in his exaltation and should be so understood here. In that catastrophic day “the heavens will disappear” with a loud noise made by something passing swiftly through the air. The sky will recede “like a scroll, rolling up” (Rev 6:14), and the earth and sky will flee from the presence of God (Rev 20:11).

“The elements”could be the basic materials that make up the world; those commonly thought of in NT times were air, earth, fire, and water. But it is also possible that Peter is looking at three realms (the heavens, that of the heavenly bodies, and the earth), and that the “the elements” refers to “heavenly bodies,” those mentioned in other eschatological passages (Joel 2:10; Mk 13:24-26; Rev 6:12-13). The phrase “the earth and everything in it” probably refers to all human products that will be destroyed.”[8]

v.11 “Peter now makes the impending disintegration of the universe the ground for a personal challenge to his readers.  In view of what is in store for the world, Peter asks his readers, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Since the day of the Lord will soon come to punish the wicked and reward the righteous, believers should live “holy and godly lives.” Holiness entails separation from evil and dedication to God; godliness relates to piety and worship.”[9]

v.13 New heaven and a new earth. The place God has prepared for his people for eternity.  Though this language may be somewhat figurative, we know this will be a place without sin where God will live with his saints forever.”[10]

vv.15-16 “[...] “Just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you” is significant in the light of Paul’s rebuke of Peter (Gal 2:11-14).  Peter had recognized the ministry of Paul and Barnabas to the Gentiles.  What had Paul written to the recipients of 2 Peter? We cannot answer that question. Nor is it necessary to do so in view of Peter’s general statement: “He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters.” In Ro 2:4 Paul says that “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.” Peter goes on to affirm that Paul’s letters contain “some things that are hard to understand.” The difficulty in Paul’s letters stems from the profundity of the God-given wisdom they contain. Apparently false teachers were seeking to use Pauline support for their opposition to Peter. Paul’s letters contain things–e.g., slogans and arguments–that can be given meanings far beyond what Paul intended.

The unlearned (NIV, “ignorant”) are those who have not learned the apostolic teaching (Ac 2:42), nor have they been taught by the Father (Jn 6:45). They are “unstable” because they are without a foundation (cf. comment on 2:14). They “distort” the things in Paul’s letters as they do the “other Scriptures.” Like Satan, the false teachers and their followers can quote Scripture out of context for their purpose (cf. Mt 4:6). Does Peter’s expression “the other Scriptures” imply that Paul’s writings were already considered Scripture by this time (c. A.D. 64)? This is the normal understanding of the Greek. That Paul’s writings should be considered “Scripture”–i.e., authoritative writing–is not surprising, for from the moment of composition they had the authority of commands of the Lord through his apostle (Ro 1:1; 1Co 14:37; Gal 1:1).

Twisting the Scriptures leads to “destruction” because it is the rejection of God’s way and the setting up of one’s own way in opposition to God (cf. Ro 8:7). In a time when the Christian church is plagued by heretical cults and false teaching, Peter’s warning about the irresponsible use of Scripture is important. Correct exegesis must be a continuing concern of the church.”[11]

vv.17-18 “With the word “therefore” and an affectionate reference to his readers, Peter begins his conclusion. These two verses touch on the main themes of the letter and summarize its contents. First, there is the reminder for his readers to watch out lest the false teachers lead them astray. Second, there is the exhortation to grow in Christ. The dominant motivation for writing this letter was Peter’s love and concern for the flock (cf. the repeated use of “dear friends”). Since he has told the believers beforehand about the false teachers, they are able to be on guard.

The “lawless men” will attempt by their error to shift the believers off their spiritual foundation. The word translated “secure position” occurs only here in the NT, but the related verb and adjective are important in Peter’s life (cf. Lk 22:32 of Jesus’ command to Peter) and also in this letter. The Christians’ guarding against false teachers includes (1) prior knowledge of their activities, (2) warning against their immoral lives (ch. 2; cf. Mt 7:16), (3) reminders of the historicity of the apostolic message (1:16-18), (4) the prophetic teaching of the past (1:19; 3:1-2), and (5) the warning of judgment (e.g., the Flood).

Now Peter speaks positively: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In 1:3-11 he has already stressed the necessity for progress in Christian living. If Christians do not keep moving forward, they will regress or fall back. As Paul says, Christians never in this life attain all there is in Christ; so their goal is to know Christ in a fuller, more intimate way (Php 3:10-13; cf. Eph 1:17).

The closing doxology is notable for its direct ascription of “glory” to Christ. For a Jew who has learned the great words in Isa 42:8–”I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another”–this doxology is a clear confession of Christ (cf. Jn 5:23: “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father”). This supreme honor belongs to Jesus Christ today (“now”) and “forever.” So Peter finally points his readers to the new age, “the day of the Lord,” when Christ will be manifested in all his glory.”[12]


[1] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:2.

[2] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:3.

[3] Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 166.

[4] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:4.

[5] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:5-6.

[6] Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, The NIV Application Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996) 169.

[7] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:7.

[8] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:10.

[9] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:11.

[10] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2003) 1695.

[11] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:15-16.

[12] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) note on 2 Peter 3:17-18.

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