Commentary on 2 Peter: Chapter One

by Ray C. Stedman

Work Out Your Own Salvation

1:1 SIMON PETER: Certain Greek texts employ the name Symeon here rather than Simon. Symeon is Peter's Hebrew name and the one by which he was addressed by his associates (See Acts 15:14). Its use here would suggest Peter is thinking of his old unredeemed life (Symeon) and his new life in Christ under the name the Lord gave him, Peter. This would fit the theme of this letter which moves on from salvation, the theme of the first letter, to sanctification, the growth of a Christian into maturity.

Perhaps the terms BONDSERVANT and APOSTLE reflect the same progression. Already Peter is laying the groundwork for his primary emphasis in this letter---that Christians should "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" (3:18). This is what he himself had to do as a disciple of Jesus and it is expected of all disciples. He began as a bondservant of Christ, as all Christians are, and as he grew in faith and knowledge he was given a calling---that of an apostle. With this term (found also in the first letter) Peter identifies himself as an authorized spokesman for the truth which Jesus proclaimed. In vv. 1-4 he describes the resources his readers possess which will make growth in grace and knowledge possible. His apostleship is the first of these. They have a reliable instructor in the things of Christ---one of His chosen apostles!

1:1 LIKE PRECIOUS FAITH: This v. and 3:1 are the only clues in the letter as to who his readers may be. Some suggest this phrase identifies them as Gentiles, sharing the same faith as Peter and the Jewish disciples.

Chapter two, with its vivid description of the licentious lifestyle of certain false teachers, does suggest a pagan (i.e. Gentile) background. The phrase could also mean a faith of equal worth with that of the apostles. The point Peter is stressing is that they do not come behind anyone in the value of their faith. God is no respecter of persons. Whoever has faith in Him has equal standing and equal access with any other believer. It is the second great resource which his readers possess. It was obtained when they were given the gift of righteousness i.e. justification) from our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The righteousness believers are given is the righteousness of Christ himself. The full title of deity given here to Jesus reflects Peter's great confession in John 6:69,"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!"

1:2-3 GRACE AND PEACE: Though this is a common Christian greeting in many epistles, combining the Greek and Hebrew salutations, yet it means more than that to Peter for he sees these blessings as springing from the knowledge of God and of Jesus. Since that knowledge is a growing thing, grace and peace are said to be multiplied, i.e. experienced many times. The more we grow in Jesus the more grace and peace we shall know. There is thus a parallelism between grace and peace and the all things that pertain to life and godliness mentioned in v. 3. These all things also flow from the knowledge of Him who called us. It is clear that knowledge is a key word in this epistle. It is the Greek term epignosis which appears also in 1:8 and 2:20. 1:5 and 3:18 employ the simple form gnosis. Both describe knowledge, but epignosis is a fuller and deeper knowledge than gnosis.

This is another key word of the epistle. It ties to 1:16 where the two major themes of the letter appear: the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul identifies this as "the power of his resurrection" (Philippians. 3:10). It is a power which all true believers possess which enables them, if they choose to count on it, to do "all things through Christ who strengthens" (Philippians. 4:13). Thus any failure to live a godly life is due to our weakness or folly and not to God's lack of supply. As has been suggested, this power is meted to us as our knowledge of God and Jesus increases. This is the third of the resources for godly living which Peter lists.

1:3 BY GLORY AND VIRTUE: These words suggest the means by which the divine call is exercised in our lives. They refer to the qualities in Jesus which attracts believers to him. The glory (doxa) which John saw in Jesus (John 1:14) was his authority and power; that which Peter saw probably refers to the Transfiguration, described in 16-18. Jesus' virtue (arete) is that moral excellence which so continually awed his disciples.

1:4 GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISES: These promises are the offers of divine provision found in the scriptures. They offer the glory and virtue of Christ to us as the basis for a growing participation in the divine nature. We have Him within us, as he promised, (John 14:23), to enable us to become increasingly Christlike (2 Corinthians. 3:18). Because we have become new creatures in Christ we have already escaped, by new birth, the corruption (moral ruin) that is in the world through lust (perverted desire). There only remains that we shall make this escape evident to all by our changing behavior. It is clear from this verse that participation in the divine nature is the starting point of Christian living, and not its goal. This participation becomes more and more evident as we allow our thinking to be renewed (Romans. 12:2) by understanding and appropriating the great and precious promises found in the scriptures. These promises are the fourth resource upon which believers may continually draw for sustaining help.

1:5 ADD: The verb epichorego has a colorful and fascinating history. In Greek drama the plays were put on by the combined effort of a poet (who wrote the script); the state (which provided the theater); and a wealthy individual called a choregos, who paid the expenses. This called for a generous but sometimes costly effort on his part. In Peter's view, God has written in the blood of Jesus the captivating script for a Christian life; the world is the theater wherein it will be played out; but the believer must cooperate by expending his diligent efforts to make the script come alive in vivid display. This exhortation begins a section, from 5-15, where Peter describes the responsibility which the believer's resources create.

1:5 DILIGENCE: The noun here and the verbal form in v. 10 describe a determined zeal which marks a daily goal. It is what Jesus asks for in Matthew. 6:33: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

1:5-7 FAITH, VIRTUE, etc.: Faith is the beginning point of this search for excellence. Everywhere in the New Testament it marks the beginning of the Christian life (See Acts 3:16, Romans. 3: 28 et al). Genuine faith results in God's impartation of eternal life to a spiritually dead individual (See Ephesians. 2:1). Having received that life the believer is now to add virtue. This is the same word found in v. 3 as the character of Christ. It is plain that a Christian cannot produce this from himself, but he adds it only in the sense of choosing to act in such a way as to reflect the moral excellence of Jesus who dwells within him. He chooses goodness rather than corruption. To this must be added knowledge (gnosis) i.e. practical wisdom, obtained by acting on the understanding which truth imparts. Third in the list is self-control (enkrateia). This means mastering one's moods, rather than being controlled by them. The false teachers, whose views Peter is preparing to expose, believed that knowledge freed them from the need to control their passions. But Peter is showing that submission to Christ means evil moods can be rejected and Christian character exhibited instead. The fourth quality, perseverance (hupomone), naturally follows, for if one exercises self-control he or she will not easily succumb to discouragement or the despair that tempts one to quit. The habit of viewing all circumstances as coming from a loving Father's hand who is in control of all events is the secret of perseverance. To this (fifth) is to be added godliness (eusebeia). The pagans used this word to describe a religious individual who kept in close touch with the gods. But there is no sense of religiosity here but of a continual awareness of God's presence affecting and governing every aspect of life. It is never a burden to bear but a delight to enjoy, as it was with Jesus. The sixth quality to be added, that of brotherly kindness (philadelphia) is so closely linked with godliness that 1 John 4:20 says, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar." As Jesus taught in John 15:12-17, love for the brethren involves serving one another (laying down one's life); sharing with one another, practically and intimately; and praying for one another. It would be, He said, the mark of a true disciple. Such an attitude would immediately reject any display of prejudice, class or race distinction, or any form of exclusiveness or elitism in the Christian community. Finally, the seventh quality to be manifested is love (agape). This is God's kind of love in which the origin lies not in the one loved but in the one who loves. God loves because He is love; we are to love, because we are of God! It reaches beyond the Christian community to love anyone, anywhere, manifesting itself by seeking that person's highest good, even at cost to ourselves. It is not inconsistent with justice and punishment but tempers these by aiming at redemption and renewed usefulness if the recipient will permit.

1:8 BARREN NOR UNFRUITFUL: The presence of the qualities listed above marks a healthy Christian. The lack of them would suggest that though one claims to have the knowledge (epignosis) of the Lord Jesus something is terribly missing. Peter is thinking of the false teachers whose lifestyle he will examine in chapter two. This v. parallels the teaching of Hebrews 6:7-8. A barren (indolent) and unfruitful (unproductive) life, if continued, may be a sign of spiritual death.

1:9 BLINDNESS. . .FORGOTTEN: On the other hand, it may be a temporary condition caused by two factors: blindness and forgetfulness. The blindness is due to shortsightedness (muopazos, from which we get myopia). A myopic person is one who sees only that which is close at hand. Here it designates one who looks only at earthly and material values and does not see spiritual realities. Concerned only with this present life, he is blind to the things of God, and needs to return to the One who says, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness." Also he has forgotten the wonderful sense of cleansing that was his when he first turned to Christ. That cleansing needs to be renewed by confessing his present miserable condition and claiming again the cleansing grace of God (I John 1:9). Temporary barrenness can be cured if prompt action is taken.

1:10 CALL AND ELECTION: These two words, found frequently in the N.T., are listed here in the order of a believer's experience. In reality election comes first, consisting of God's sovereign choice of each believer to be in Christ, which choosing was done before the foundation of the world! (Ephesians. 1:4). God's call occurs in time, when He begins to draw the individual to Christ by various experiences and contacts (See John 6:44, Galatians. 1:15). Peter here speaks of the individual's assurance of being in Christ, as indicated by the middle voice of the verb "to make" (poieisthai) coupled with the word "firm" (bebaian), i.e. "to make firm to oneself." Doubts of one's election often come from inconsistent behavior. When diligence is exercised to make the walk agree with the talk, assurance of salvation increases, stumbling is avoided, and God's elective call of the individual becomes visible to all.

1:11 ENTRANCE. . .ABUNDANTLY: Peter here distinguishes between a just-barely-made-it entrance (which Paul describes in 1 Corinthians. 3:15), into the eternal kingdom, i.e. heaven, and a richly abundant one like that of an athlete returning in triumph to his home city. The parable of the talents and other scriptures suggest that fruitful and faithful living in this life is rewarded by greater opportunity for service in glory. Both the entrance and the reward are gifts of a generous God who supplies according to his sovereign choice.

1:12 TO REMIND YOU: Three times in vv. 12-15 the apostle speaks of his desire to keep them reminded of the truth he has shared. To do otherwise, he says, would be negligence on his part since even established Christians can lose sight of the importance of pressing on to the end. Perhaps he is thinking of his own wavering which led to a momentary denial of his Lord even when he was most confident that he would never fail Him.

1:13-14 THIS TENT: As Peter writes he is conscious of the shortness of time in the body which he has left. Paul also views his body as a tent or tabernacle (2 Corinthians. 5:1) i.e. a temporary abode. Peter has never forgotten that Jesus told him plainly that when he was old he would be taken captive and put to death in an undesirable manner (John 21: 18-19). Now that he is over 60 he feels he has little time left to arouse his readers to seize their opportunity to display Christ while they can.

1:15 CAREFUL TO ENSURE: Several early church Fathers took these words as Peter's promise to leave behind a testimony of truth for his readers, which they felt referred to the Gospel of Mark. Irenaeus, early in the 2nd century, wrote: "After their (i.e. Peter and Paul's) death Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter's preaching." This would fulfill Peter's urgent sense of the need for a continuing reminder of all that he has said. He describes his decease as an exodus or departure, the same word which Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus about on the Mt. of Transfiguration.

1:16 CUNNINGLY DEVISED FABLES: These words give us some insight as to what the false teachers whom Peter is confronting were saying about the teaching that Jesus rose from the dead, was living within the believer by the Holy Spirit, and is coming again to take his own to himself. They called these concepts cunningly devised fables. But Peter counters this with an eyewitness account. He had actually seen, he says, a foreview of the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are the twin themes of this letter: the power of Jesus available for holy living; and the coming (parousia, presence) of Jesus as the glowing hope of each believer, and the executor of God's promises of justice and recompense.

1:17-18 A VOICE: Along with James and John, Peter heard the voice of the Father during the Transfiguration scene, recorded in three gospels, Matthew., Mark and Luke. That voice conferred honor upon Jesus by identifying him clearly as "My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," and His glory was displayed in the garments shining with light. Thus the apostolic witness to Jesus is established by three senses: they saw the transfigured Lord; they heard the voice of the Father (and the conversation with Moses and Elijah though Peter does not mention the latter here); and they remembered the event as taking place on the holy mountain. This grounds the event in history, and removes it from the realm of myth or fable.

1:19 THE PROPHETIC WORD CONFIRMED: It is possible to read these words as saying that the scriptures (the prophetic word) are confirmed (made more sure) by such events as the Transfiguration. Since there is no prediction of the Transfiguration in the Old Testament this seems hardly likely, and the Jews always held the written word to be superior to any experience. The words may be better taken as saying, "we have the prophetic word as a surer confirmation." Strong as an eyewitness account may be, there is even a stronger: the ancient written scriptures! They prove even more trustworthy for they cast a light which shines like a lamp in a murky place and will continue to do so till the day dawns and the morning star rises (the parousia of Christ). See also Romans. 13:12-14.

1:20 ANY PRIVATE INTERPRETATION: Perhaps no phrase in scripture has been more misunderstood than this. Many have taken it to mean (1) that no individual Christian has the right to interpret prophecy for himself but only the Church, or (2) no private interpretation of prophecy is any better than any other person's interpretation. This has given rise to much confusion. The problem is caused by the translation of epiluseos as "interpretation." The noun only occurs here, but the verb form is found in Mk. 4:34 and Acts 19:39 where it clearly means to solve a problem or unravel a mystery. The NKJV margin translation of origin is to be preferred since it gives full meaning to v. 21. There is no private origin of scripture. The prophets did not supply their own solutions or explanations of the mysteries of life, but God spoke throgh them and He alone is responsible for such utterances.

1:21 NEVER CAME BY THE WILL OF MAN: Here it is clear that origin is in view, not explanation. No mere man chose to utter his own thoughts as though they were God's. On the contrary, God chose holy men to be his spokesmen, who uttered thoughts given to them by the Holy Spirit. They were moved (borne along) by the Holy Spirit. The metaphor is that of a ship raising its sails into the wind and going in the direction the wind blows. This may possibly reflect Peter's memory of Jesus' words to Nicodemus in John 3:8. At any rate, vv. 16-21 provide a powerful introduction to chapter two where Peter confronts directly the teaching and lifestyle of the false teachers. They claimed Christian doctrine was based on myths and fables; Peter says no, it was based on eyewitness experience. They claimed that prophecy originated with the knowledge (gnosis) of the prophets. No, says Peter, it originated with the Holy Spirit speaking through the consciousness of holy men.

Text of 2 Peter, RSV and NIV Versions
Chapter Two
Chapter Three