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THE SECOND EPISTLE GENERAL OF ST. PETER.
THE First Epistle of St. Peter was written at a time when a persecution of the Church was imminent, as appears from internal evidence; and for this and other reasons already stated, the date to be assigned to that Epistle is probably the year A.D. 64 1.
The Second Epistle is addressed to the same parties as the First, and seems to have been written soon after it'; and was composed at a time when St. Peter was anticipating his death 3. St. Peter died A.D. 68.
The date of this Epistle may therefore be placed in A.D. 66, or a.d. 67.
To this conclusion there have been made the following objections:
(1) It is not probable-it is alleged by some persons-that St. Peter would write two Epistles to the same parties at nearly the same time.
(2) Nor is it probable, it is said, that the same Author would write in so different a style as that of the Second Epistle, compared with the First, especially if he were writing to the same parties, at nearly the same time.
The First Epistle, which was generally acknowledged in primitive times to be a genuine work of St. Peter, is composed in a quiet and subdued tone; but the Second is characterized by impassioned vehemence, and poetic exuberance of language. This is more remarkable, because if this Epistle is genuine, it was written by him when he was old, and looking forward to the near approach of death".
This Second Epistle is rarely quoted by primitive writers; even in the third and fourth centuries some doubts were expressed concerning its genuineness; and in later days many Critics deny it. to be a work of St. Peter'.
Let us consider these objections.
It cannot be doubted, that there is great diversity of feeling and style between this Epistle and that which was generally received as St. Peter's, namely, his First Epistle.
But there were good reasons for this difference.
St. Peter had a twofold work to do; first, to declare the truth, next, to refute error.
1 See above, Introduction to that Epistle, p. 40.
2 See below, on iii. 1.
3 See i. 14.
See Introductions to the First Epistle, and to the Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy, pp. 423, 424.
$ See 2 Pet. i. 14.
• It is reckoned among the ἀντιλεγόμενα, but γνώριμα τοῖς Toλλois, by Eusebius, iii. 25; and in another place he says, THV φερομένην αὐτοῦ (of Peter) δευτέραν οὐκ ἐνδιάθηκον μὲν εἶναι παρειλήφαμεν· ὅμως δὲ πολλοῖς χρήσιμος φανεῖσα μετὰ τῶν ἄλλων ἐσπουδάσθῃ γραφῶν. S. Jerome is more explicit as to his own belief (Scr. Eccl. c. 1): "Simon Petrus duas Epistolas, quæ catholicæ nominantur, quarum secunda à plerisque (by many persons) ejus esse negatur, propter styli cum priore dissonantiam." And Epist. 120, he says, "Dua Epistolæ, quæ feruntur Petri, stylo inter se discrepant, structurâque verborum; ex quo intelligimus pro necessitate rerum diversis eum usum Interpretibus." And Epist. 50, he says, "Jacobus, Petrus, Joannes,
Judas Apostoli septem Epistolas ediderunt, tam mysticas quàm succinctas, et breves pariter et longas, breves in verbis, longas in sententiis."
As to the statement of S. Jerome's master, Didymus (in Bibl. Patrum Max. iv. 236, or in Gallandi Biblioth. Patr. vi. p. 294), "Non est ignorandum, præsentem Epistolam esse falsatam;" if the words are genuine, they mean only, that this Epistle voleverat, i. e. is accounted spurious by some. But these words, ascribed to Didymus, are probably not genuine, but added by a later hand, as Wolf, Pott, Mayerhoff, Guerike, and others suppose. See Guerike, p. 465, and Davidson's Introduction, iii. p. 415.
7 The genuineness of this Epistle is questioned by Eichhorn, De Wette, Schott, Neander, Credner, Mayerhoff, Richter, Reuss, and others; but its genuineness is maintained by Michaelis, Pott, Augusti, Storr, Hug, Flatt, Dahl, Windischmann, Heydenreich, Guerike, and others.
He had executed the first of these two tasks in his former Epistle; he performs the second in the latter.
In the first Epistle he had proclaimed the great goodness and infinite love of God the Father to all mankind, in giving His own Son, to redeem the world by His death, and to open the gate of everlasting life to all; and on this basis of Christian doctrine, he had reared a superstructure of moral duty. He had stated the obligations, under which all men lie, by reason of Christ's Incarnation, and their inedification as living stones in Him, Who is the Living Stone; and he had urged the motives which ought to constrain all to imitate Him Who died for all, in order that, being dead to sin, they may live to righteousness, and Who has left us "an example, that we should follow His Steps '."
St. Peter had applied these principles, in a practical and didactic manner, to the inculcation of various precepts, concerning civil, social, and domestic duties. As a wise master-builder he had thus completed a solid work of construction.
If the Church of Christ had not had any enemies, who would assail her doctrinal foundations, St. Peter might have been content with having executed this work of building up the fabric of Christian Life, grounded on Christian Faith.
But his position was like that of the valiant and wise leader of God's ancient people, Nehemiah, in building up the Holy City after the Babylonish captivity. He and his associates were encountered by Sanballats and Ammonites, who interrupted the work, and endeavoured to overthrow it.
They had therefore a double work to do: they must fight as well as build.
This was also the case with St. Peter; he had likewise a double work to do; first, to build up the Church; and next, to fight against the foes of the faith, who scoffed at the work, and were eager to destroy it.
False Teachers were stirred up by the Evil One to assail the Apostolic builders of the spiritual Sion, and to hinder the work, as Sanballat, Tobiah, and the Ammonites, had conspired to attack and harass Nehemiah and his comrades when building up the fortifications of Jerusalem. As then Nehemiah and his friends carried in one hand an instrument for building, and had in the other hand a weapon for defence, so it was with St. Peter. In his First Epistle he had raised up the fabric of Christian Faith and Duty. In his Second Epistle he represents that foundation as already laid, and he comes forward to contend against those who would destroy it. In the one Epistle he is a Christian Builder raising up the fabric of truth; in the other he is a Christian Soldier repelling its enemies and assailants.
Here is the solution of the supposed difficulties that have been just stated. Here is an answer to the objections, grounded on the alleged improbability, that two Epistles, of different styles, would be addressed by the same person to the same parties about the same time.
We have a striking parallel here in the Epistles of St. Peter's "beloved brother Paul'," as he is called in this Epistle.
St. Paul had recently written two Epistles at about the same time from the same place, Rome, to the inhabitants of the same country; first, the Epistle to the Ephesians; and, secondly, that to the Colossians".
Those two Epistles of St. Paul correspond in a remarkable manner with the two Epistles of St. Peter. They treat of the same doctrines: the Love of God to man in the Incarnation and Death of Christ, and of the Christian privileges and duties growing therefrom.
The Epistle to the Ephesians is of a constructive and didactic character, and is similar to St. Peter's first Epistle.
The Epistle to the Colossians, with its polemical protests and denunciatory warnings against those heresies which impugned the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ, and His Incarnation and Atonement, and the immoral consequences of those heresies, resembles the Second Epistle of St. Peter.
There was great wisdom in this arrangement, adopted by both these Apostles, distributing their work into two parts, in two Epistles respectively; the one Epistle of each being designed for the statement of truth; the second, for the refutation of error.
Many there were then in the Christian Church, as there ever have been, and are now, who were imbued with a loving and reverent spirit, and dwelt devoutly on the attributes of their Heavenly
1 See the passages cited above in the Introduction to the First Epistle, p. 43.
2 Neh. iv. 7, 8.
3 Especially the Simonians, Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Nicolaitans. See them described more fully in the note below, on 2 Pet. ii. 1.
4 Neh. iv. 17.
5 2 Pet. iii. 13.
6 See above, Introduction to the Epistle to the Colossians, and
on Col. iv. 16.
7 See Col. ii. 8. 16-23.
Father reconciling the World to Himself by his well-beloved Son; and who rejoiced to sit, like Mary, in quiet gentleness and meek docility at the feet of Jesus, and to learn their duty from His teaching and example; and who would shrink with feelings of pain, distress, and horror, as from a withering pestilence, from all heretical cavils, which might seem to cast any disparagement on the glorious Name of their adorable Redeemer, Who of His infinite love and mercy had condescended to take their Nature and to die for them on the Cross.
For such pious and loving minds as these, the two Holy Apostles have provided divine food: St. Peter in his First Epistle, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians. The former Apostle wrote particularly for the use of Jewish believers, the latter for Gentile Christians. They both taught the same truth, as it is in Christ, in those two Epistles; they taught it clearly and simply, without any reference to the Heresies by which it was assailed.
But these two Apostles knew, that it is not enough, to teach the Truth; it is necessary also to drive The Christian Builder must be a Christian Soldier. While he works with the trowel, he must be girded with a sword'. He must build up himself and others upon our most holy faith; and he must also contend earnestly for it3.
They saw false Teachers speaking proud and swelling words against the Truth, and vaunting their own knowledge, and undermining the Doctrines of Christ's Divinity, Lordship, Incarnation, and Atonement, and denying the Lord that bought them, and scoffing at the doctrine of a Resurrection and Judgment to come. They beheld the anarchical lawlessness which followed from these heresies, and the impure and dissolute practices, which were the fruits of the teaching of those, who, like Balaam, were seducers of others to works of lust, and who, on the plea of Christian Liberty, destroyed the foundations of Christian Truth, Christian Holiness, and Christian Charity, and turned the grace of God into lasciviousness; and they foresaw, that the same errors in doctrine would produce the same evil consequences in succeeding ages of the Church. Therefore each of these two Apostles, having declared severally the true doctrine in one Epistle, proceeds to complete his work, by delivering also an Apostolic protest and caution against error in another Epistle.
This is done by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians, and by St. Peter in his Second Epistle.
Thus these two Apostles, the one the Apostle of the Gentiles, the other of the Jews, are seen united in proclaiming to every age the love of God in Christ; and in warning the Church against the dangerous and deadly errors of those, who impugn the Doctrine of His Divinity and Humanity, and of the Sacrifice offered, and of the Atonement made, by Him on the Cross.
When these circumstances are considered, it will not seem surprising that the feeling and language of the Second Epistle of St. Peter should be very different from that of the First.
This difference is seen specially in the second Chapter of the second Epistle, where the Author is describing the erroneous and strange doctrines of the heretical teachers. That chapter of the second Epistle is very different in tone from the first Epistle; but it also differs from the two other chapters of the second Epistle'.
There are also many points of resemblance between those two Chapters and the first Epistle of St. Peter
The reasons of this difference between the second Chapter of the Second Epistle and the First Epistle may be thus stated. In the first Epistle St. Peter had been like a faithful and affectionate Shepherd, feeding and tending Christ's sheep and lambs; but in the second Epistle he is like the same Shepherd driving away the wolves, who were ready to tear and devour those sheep and lambs, which Christ had purchased with His own blood, and had specially committed to his care
1 Neh. iv. 17, 18.
2 Jude 20.
3 Jude 3.
2 Pet. ii. 1. Cp. Jude 4.
52 Pet. ii. 13-15. 17. 19.
6 Jude 4. Cp. 2 Pet. ii. 10.
7 As is well observed by Bp. Sherlock, Dissertation on the Authority of this Epistle, Discourses, vol. iv. p. 130.
8 Thus, for example, in the First Epistle, St. Peter dwells on the sufferings of Christ and of Christians as the appointed path to glory for Him, and through Him, for them. See i. 7. 11. 21; ii. 12; iv. 12-14. 16; v. 1. 4. 10, 11. So likewise in the Second Epistle, i. 3. 17; ii. 10; iii. 18. Compare his language on the nature of the Christian calling, in the First Epistle, i. 15; ii. 9; v. 10, with the language on the same subject in the Second
Epistle, i. 5. The word avaσтpoon, of frequent occurrence in the
10 John xxi. 15-17.
The gestures and features of the Shepherd, when, like David, he is killing the bear and the lion', or when, like the Shepherd described by Amos, he is taking out "of the mouth of the lion two legs or a piece of an ear?," are very different from the Shepherd's aspect, when watering his flock at the well in the evening, or when with the pastoral crook in his hand he is leading his sheep into green pastures and beside the waters of comfort.
If we consider St. Peter's natural temperament, eager, vehement, impassioned, if we contemplate the fervent and courageous Apostle, such as he was after the Day of Pentecost, and when he opened his mouth in the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem against the Chief Priests and Rulers, and preached to them Jesus of Nazareth, "whom ye crucified;" and "this is the Stone set at nought by you builders, which is become the headstone of the corner 3;" if we remember his ardent love to Christ, a love intensified by remorse; if we bear in mind the pastoral commission given him by Christ, and the prophecy of Christ, that he would follow his Master in laying down his life for Him; if we recollect that he did glorify God by following Him in the manner of his death; if we remember the evidences which Christ had given to St. Peter of His tender love to him, by admitting him to the secret retirements of His Transfiguration, and His Agony; if we recollect all the personal proofs that St. Peter had of Christ's gentleness and kindness, and also of His Divine Truth, and Power, and Glory, in His Teaching, His Miracles, His Passion, His Glorious Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven, and in His sending down the Holy Ghost with the wind and fire from heaven, Whom St. Peter had as a Divine Guest living and dwelling in his heart; surely, we may say without fear of contradiction, that St. Peter would not have been St. Peter, if,—when viewing as he does in his Second Epistle the audacious boasting and outrageous contumelies, and insolent scoffings, and impious blasphemies of the Heretics, "who denied the Lord that bought them," and renewed the indignities of the Crucifixion, and rejected as a cunningly-devised fable the doctrine of the Union of the two Natures of God and Man in the Person of Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification, and derided the promise, and defied the Majesty of His Second Coming to Judgment, and when he saw the sensuality and debauchery in life and manners, which flowed like polluted streams from the impure source of these Heresies,- he had stood quietly by, and looked on with calmness, and had spoken in unimpassioned language, such as he uses in his first Epistle.
The difference of style between the two Epistles is a natural consequence of the difference of their matter; and of the identity of their Author.
There is the same St. Peter in both. And if the second Epistle had not been very different in tone from the former, if it had been composed in the same equable and tranquil style as the First Epistle, every judicious critic, who has studied the character of St. Peter, and the history of the heresies of the Apostolic age, would have been reluctant to believe that the Second Epistle is from him.
The style of the Second Epistle is precisely that, which might have been anticipated from an enlarged and clear view of the circumstances of the writer. St. Peter, ardent by nature, and inspired by the Holy Ghost, speaks here with the oratorical vehemence and impassioned energy and holy indignation, and with the poetic enthusiasm of an inspired Hebrew Prophet. He becomes like a Jeremiah rebuking the errors and corruptions of the False Prophets, or like an Ezekiel looking through the hole of the wall in the Temple, and seeing the abominations wrought in the Sanctuary, and what the idolatrous priests did in the chambers of their imagery 7.
The force of the Holy Spirit, stirring within him, vents itself in bold comparisons and imaginative metaphors, and in an impetuous flood of words. Nor was his old age any bar to this poetic outpouring of his soul. What Moses was in his old age, when he sang his last song, what David was in his old age, when he chanted his last Psalm, full of ardour and energy imparted by the Holy Ghost, Who inspired him; such was the aged Apostle, St. Peter, when he wrote his Second Epistle, before his martyrdom for Christ.
There remains another point to be considered.
As has been already observed, the Second Epistle of St. Peter was not universally received in primitive times as a genuine work of the Apostle, and as a part of Canonical Scripture. If it was written by St. Peter and is an integral portion of Holy Writ, how is this to be accounted for?
1 1 Sam. xvii. 36.
3 Acts iv. 8 - 12.
5 John xiii. 36; xxi. 22.
7 Ezek. viii. 1–12.
2 Amos iii. 12.
4 John xxi. 15—18.
8 Deut. xxxii, one of the noblest poems in the Hebrew Scriptures; written when Moses was one hundred and twenty years of age.
92 Sam. xxii., and probably Ps. xviii.
Here is a question of great importance, and which concerns some other of the Catholic Epistles', and therefore is entitled, on general grounds, to a full and serious consideration.
We, who live now, see all the books of the New Testament collected in one printed Volume. And thus we are prone at first to form erroneous notions with regard to them. But let us divest ourselves of modern prepossessions. Let us imagine ourselves living in the second or third century. The several parts of the New Testament were originally given to the world, singly, as different Volumes, at different times, and in different places. If we had lived then, those books would have reached us one by one, and in Manuscript. Each book was to be examined separately, before it could be received as inspired. A serious question was then at issue. Is this book the work of him whose name it bears? Is it the writing of an Apostle, or no? Is it the Word of God, or not?
Such questions as these were to be asked and answered with respect to each of the Twentyseven Books which now compose the New Testament. They were to be asked by each particular Church in succession, before a book could be said to be received by the Church Universal, which is formed of all particular Churches throughout the world. Such an examination demanded much caution, and much time was requisite before it could be completed.
However, in course of time, this process was performed. Each book was scrutinized. Each in succession passed through this searching ordeal. Some Books of the New Testament were immediately received by all Churches. This was the case with the Four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and with thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, and with the first Epistle of St. Peter, and with the first Epistle of St. John. No doubts were entertained with respect to any of those books by any Church. They were received at once by all as genuine, and as the Word of God. And thus the New Testament, as we now possess it, was, as to its main substance, received in the Apostolic age, and was acknowledged to be the Word of God.
It was received as such, as to its main substance. For, doubtless, there were some few other and smaller books, which are now received by us as integral parts of the New Testament, and which were indeed received as genuine and inspired by some Churches as soon as they were written; but other Churches suspended their judgment concerning them for a time.
One of those Books was this Second Epistle of St. Peter.
Some Churches of Christendom, in the second and third centuries, did not know this Epistle, and some reserved their judgment, and entertained doubts with regard to its genuineness and inspiration.
Let us consider how this happened.
This Epistle claims to be by St. Peter. It bears his name at the beginning. The Author speaks of an event, the Transfiguration, of which he professes to have been a witness, and at which St. Peter, with only two others of the Apostles, were present. But it was not therefore safe to conclude that it was written by St. Peter. Writings were forged in early times by heretics in the name of Apostles, especially in the name of St. Peter'. It was therefore incumbent on Christian Churches to be on their guard, and not to receive any book as written by an Apostle, and as dictated by the Holy Spirit, before they were convinced by irrefragable proofs that it was Apostolic and inspired. Little harm would arise from a temporary suspension of judgment. If the Epistle was what it professed to be, viz., a work of the Apostle St. Peter, then, in due time, it would not fail to be universally received as such. But if it was not what it claimed to be, then perhaps Heresy might steal into the Church under the venerable guise of an Apostolic name, and the Church might be convicted of reading a forgery as the Word of God; and then the Credibility and Inspiration of those other Books, viz., the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the thirteen epistles of St. Paul, which had been already received by the Church, would be impugned; they too might be exposed to suspicion; and thus the foundations of the faith would be in danger of being overthrown.
It was therefore the duty of all Churches to take time to consider, before they received any book as the writing of an Apostle. It was their duty to doubt.
1 "Among those writings which are controverted (avriλeyóueva), but are recognized by the majority of persons (Tois ToAAois), are the Epistles of James and Jude, and the Second of Peter, and the Second and Third of John." Eusebius, iii. 25, where he distinguishes these writings from the dμoλoyoúμeva on the one side, and the vóta on the other.
2 2 Pet. i. 18.
Namely, "the Acts of Peter," and "the Gospel of Peter," and
"the Apocalypse of Peter," and "the Preaching of Peter," and