2 Peter: Background, Setting and Themes.

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1a).

What were the reasons for the Apostle Peter’s second epistle? What were his concerns which prompted the Holy Spirit to produce this second inerrant letter by one of Jesus’ most significant disciples?

Since Peter’s first letter, he had become increasingly concerned about false teachers who were infiltrating the churches in Asia Minor. Though these false teachers had already caused trouble, Peter expected that their heretical teachings and immoral lifestyles would result in more damage within the church. Therefore Peter, in a seemingly last will and testament (1:13–15), wrote to warn beloved believers in Christ about the doctrinal dangers they were encountering.

Dr. John MacArthur writes that,”Peter does not explicitly say where he was when he wrote this letter, as he does in 1 Peter (1 Pet. 5:13). But the consensus seems to be that Peter wrote this letter from prison in Rome, where he was facing imminent death. Shortly after this letter was written, Peter was martyred, according to reliable tradition, by being crucified upside down (John 21:18–19).

In his salutation, Peter says nothing about the recipients of this letter. But according to 2 Peter 3:1, Peter was writing another epistle to the same people to whom he wrote 1 Peter. In his first epistle, he explained that he was writing “to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1). These provinces were located in an area of Asia Minor, which is modern Turkey. The Christians to whom Peter wrote were mostly Gentiles facing persecution because of their faith. Now they were facing false teaching.

Therefore, 2 Peter was written for the purpose of exposing, hindering, and defeating the infiltration of false teachers into the church. Peter intended to instruct Christians how to defend themselves against these heretics and their deception. Along with the Epistle of Jude, 2 Peter is the most graphic and penetrating exposé of false teachers in Scripture.

The description of the false teachers is somewhat generic. Peter does not identify some specific false religion, cult, or system of teaching. In a general characterization of false teachers, he informs that they teach destructive heresies. They deny Christ and twist the Scriptures. They bring true faith into disrepute. They mock the second coming of Christ. But Peter was just as concerned to show the immoral character of these teachers as he was to expose their heretical teaching. Thus, he describes them in more detail than he describes their doctrines. Wickedness is not the product of sound doctrine, but of “destructive heresies” (2:1).

Peter also wanted to not only motivate his readers to continue to develop their Christian character (1:5–11), but also to persuade them of the divine character of the apostolic writings (1:12–21). At the end of the letter, he shares reasons for the delay in Christ’s second coming (3:1–13).

Another theme in 2 Peter is the importance of biblical knowledge. The word “knowledge” appears in some form 16 times in the epistle’s three chapters. It is not too much to say that Peter’s primary solution to false teaching is knowledge of true doctrine. It is said that the United States Treasury Department trains its agents to identify counterfeit currency by carefully studying genuine currency. The same principle applies regarding recognizing false doctrine.

Finally, 2 Peter includes a precise statement on the divine origin of Scripture (1:20–21), the future destruction of the world by fire (3:8–13); and the recognition of Paul’s letters as inspired and inerrant Scripture (3:15–16). In light of this, the challenge in the epistle is to rightly interpret 1:19–21, because of its far-reaching implications with regard to the nature and authenticity of Scripture. 2 Peter 1:19-21, along with 2 Tim. 3:15–17, is vital to a sound view of the Bible’s inspiration.

One of the challenging portions of 2 Peter is Peter’s remark that the Lord “bought” false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1). This presents an interpretive challenge with respect to the nature of the atonement. Then there is the question as to the identity of the angels who sinned (2:4). Many who believe that the saved can be lost again, use 2:18–22 as their proof text. That passage, directed at false teachers, must be clarified so as not to contradict a similar statement to believers in 1:4. Further, who does God not want to perish (3:9)? All of these matters will be treated in this study.

I am excited about beginning this examination of 2 Peter. I hope you are as well. When next we meet, we will examine 2 Peter 1:1.

Soli deo Gloria!

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