The letter of 2 Peter

Published by 1c15 on

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Who is the Author?


Off the bat, 2 Peter 1:1 gives us the author, his position in relationship to Christ and refers to Jesus as God and saviour.

“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours”

2 Peter 1:1 

External evidence

The external evidence for 2 Peter is seen as not as strong as many other New Testament books. The first clear usage of 2 Peter was by Origen. Although Origen mentions doubts about its authenticity, he does not evaluate these doubts himself.  Before Origen’s time, most scholars would say that no church father either quoted or alluded to 2 Peter that we have record of. 

However, recently, a man by the name of Robert E. Picirilli has written an illuminating essay, “AIIusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers,” in which he challenges this evaluation. Here is his three conclusions.

First, the possibility clearly exists that 2 Peter is reflected in several passages in the Apostolic Fathers. …real possibility obtains in at least twenty-two places, the level of likelihood ranging from merely possible to highly probable. The strongest possibilities have been found in 1 Clement, Pseudo Clement, Barnabas, and Hermas, with at least reasonable possibilities in Ignatius and the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Among possible objections to this is that these allusions are not direct quotations. But such writings usually allude to biblical passages only indirectly, quoting from memory or paraphrasing the general thought.

Another possible objection is that Peter is not named as the source of these allusions. But this also is typical. Many church fathers have quoted the New Testament and make no mention of a book even if they’ve quoted 30+ times. This Harvard referencing standard wasn’t a necessity in the early centuries after Christ.

Second and crucially, one thing has been proved, even if negative: one cannot dogmatically affirm that there certainly are no allusions to 2 Peter in the Apostolic Fathers; the in-common material is clearly there.

Third, following from the first two conclusions is this final one: the authenticity of 2 Peter will have to be debated on grounds other than whether the Apostolic Fathers knew it and alluded to it in this case. 

Simply, a number of apostolic fathers (as well as others, such as Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus of Antioch, Aristides, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus) seem to allude to this letter. If so, then the external evidence for 2 Peter is not nearly as weak as has been supposed. At the least it should be said, Picirilli’s evidence needs to be given a full hearing by New Testament scholars, even if it might turn over the apple cart of one the assured results of higher criticism.

Although the Muratorian Canon omits any reference to either Petrine epistle, as we have suggested in our discussion of 1 Peter, it quite possibly had a lacuna (a space in the manuscript that is missing) at this point. All it can render, therefore, is an argument from silence.

On an increasingly positive note, Eusebius states that most regarded it as authentic, though he himself grouped it with the Antilegomena (significantly, he did not throw it in with the spurious books). Others who cite it are Firmillian of Caesarea, Hippolytus, and Jerome. Since Jerome regarded 2 Peter as authentic, no further doubts were expressed about it until modern times. 

Three other comments are necessary about the external evidence. 

  1. If 2 Peter pre-dates Jude, then Jude is the first book to cite such material from this letter. Many scholars assume the opposite is the case coming from their presuppositions however.
  2. Gnostic works using Peter’s name lead to caution. Certain later works with Peter’s name attributed had a talking cross coming out of the tomb with giant angels! The early church would have to take great caution attributing anything to Peter. One letter from him perhaps they would expect, but they wanted to be wary of a second which makes sense considering the circumstances.
  3.  Even though all other works attributed to Peter were rejected by the church (apart from 1 Peter), there is no evidence from any part of the early church that this epistle was ever rejected as spurious, in spite of the hesitancy which existed over its reception.

Scholarly criticism

There are five main objections to the authenticity of the Epistle of Second Peter which have all been responded to. They are.

  1. The allusions to Peter seem forced 
  2.  Historical problems 
  3.  Literary problems
  4.  Stylistic problems
  5.  Doctrinal problems

For an in depth and thorough answer with scholarly and in depth incite into this question, please see the article below. (I’m afraid I havn’t written a shortened version yet!)

Manuscript evidence for 2 Peter: P72

2 Peter 1: 1-5
Papyrus 72, 200-400AD: 1 & 2 Peter & Jude are part of Papyrus 72 here found together as a single manuscript. 

What is exciting here is having a complete document of 2 Peter, though the date fluctuates, it’s still great to have a complete manuscript of it. What’s also interesting is how it is bound up with 2 Peter and Jude considering the content of 2 Peter and Jude have a lot of crossovers. Considering the average deterioration rate of a Papyri manuscript to be within a few hundred years, these manuscripts are very impressive. 

Peter endorses other writings as scripture

If 2 Peter is written in the first century, this passage (below) would bear the mark that Peter endorses New Testament documents as scriptures and feels the authority to do so!

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

2 Peter 3:15-17

This book has many reasons for importance, but the allusion that other New Testament works are scriptures such as Paul’s writings? This is dynamite on the topic of inspiration when combined with Paul’s comment in his letter to 2 Timothy about all scripture being inspired. So verifying the authenticity of Peter’s letter is helpful in the cause for off the cuff comments about Paul writing “scriptures”.

Audience & purpose

Peter’s theme in his second letter is a simple one: pursue spiritual maturity through the Word of God as a response to false teaching and a right response to heretics in light of Christ’s promised second coming (2 Peter 1:3, 16). When false teachers begin to whisper their sweet words into the ears of immature Christians, the body of Christ begins to break apart, to lose what makes it distinctive in the first place—faith in the unique person and work of Jesus Christ. Peter repeatedly points to the Word of God as the primary means of growth for the Christian (1:4, 19–21; 3:1–2, 14–16).

Peter encouraged his readers to apply themselves to acquiring the true knowledge of God and living out the life of faith with “all diligence,” so that they may “be found by [Jesus] in peace, spotless and blameless” (1:5; 3:14). And if believers did not follow his advice, they would be giving their Christian community over to the heretics, people who look to “exploit . . . with false words” (2:3).


1 and 2 Peter are often considered together with Jude due to the close similarity between 2 Peter and Jude. You’ll see the train of thought as this progresses

We know

  1. Peter as author (1 Pet 1:1). 
  2. He indicates that he was an eyewitness to Christ’s suffering (1 Pet 5:1). 
  3. The letter is written to a collection of churches in Asia Minor (1 Pet 1:1). 
  4. Peter is writing from Rome, however, he feels the need to adopt the code word “Babylon” (1 Pet 5:13) for Rome. We see the code word come up again in the book of Revelation and in other early Christian writings. This will be an important factor in dating the book. 
  5. Mark is with Peter in Rome (1 Pet 5:13).
  6. 1 Peter is written with a knowledge of imminent persecution (1 Pet 1:6, 2:12, 2:19-21, 3:13-17, 4:12-19, 5:8-10). 

There are two things noteworthy about these warnings of persecution. First, unlike many earlier warnings of persecution against early Christians, this time there is no indication that the Jews are involved. 

Second, Peter repeatedly warns his readers to be good citizens (2:13), and the warnings of persecution sound as though the Christians are in a precarious position with the governing authorities, so they need to be on their best behavior. Even good behavior will not eliminate the “fiery trial” that is coming (1 Pet 4:12), but it may ease the consequences.

Therefore, the background of 1 Peter has three conditions:

  1. Mark is in Rome with Peter
  2. There is a background of persecution, and it is coming from Roman authorities rather than the Jews
  3. Peter feels a need to conceal the fact that he is in Rome.

We know that Peter was martyred around 66 A.D., the only time that fits these conditions would be at the beginning of the persecution of Christians under Nero. Nero made the Christians scapegoats for the Roman fire of July 18-19 in 64 A.D. Therefore, the best date for 1 Peter would be around 65 A.D 

Having dated 1 Peter at 65 A.D., which is not long before Peter’s death, the question arises whether 2 Peter actually must follow 1 Peter in time. 2 Pet 3:1 says “This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you”, and this verse is the reason 2 Peter is considered “second.” The author clearly is claiming to be Peter, as he identifies himself as an eyewitness to the transfiguration (2 Pet 1: 16-18). The differences in writing style can be accounted for by Peter simply through the use of different scribes which. 

2 Peter and Jude should be discussed together, since there is a sharp similarity between the two, especially in the second chapter of 2 Peter. Both books warn of false teachers and have the unusual discussion of, among other items:

  • Angels that sinned (Jude 6, 2 Pet 2:4)
  • Sodom and Gomorrha (Jude 7, 2 Pet 2:6)
  • Balaam (Jude 11, 2 Pet 2:15)

A key to the connection between Jude and 2 Peter has been suggested by Robinson, [Robinson, John A.T., Redating the New Testament, p193ff]. Jude 3 says he was intent on writing a letter dealing with the “common salvation”, but events intervened to change the focus of the letter to warn of false teachers and encourage the recipients to contend for the faith. Peter probably wrote both his letters with the help of a scribe – for 1 Peter it appears to be Sylvanus (Silas) (1 Pet 5:12). With 2 Peter the scribe could well be Jude. This type of connection between Peter and Jude would explain the sharp similarities between the two books. It would also mean that 2 Peter and Jude should be dated to essentially the same time (but we’ll get to that more in the article on Jude).

When would this time be? 2 Peter 3:16 carries a reference to Paul’s letters, thereby negating the possibility of a very early date for the book. Likewise, Jude 17 looks back on “the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ”, so no very early date is possible. On the other hand, Jude presents himself as “the brother of James”, James being the half brother of Jesus and head of the Jerusalem church. Since James was executed in 62 A.D., and no hint of such an event is in either Jude or 2 Peter, both books could be placed before that date. It was also around 62 that Peter went to Rome. For Jude to be Peter’s scribe, both would probably need to still be in Jerusalem. The most likely date window for 2 Peter and Jude therefore narrows to around 60 A.D.

Canonical status

What was the acceptance rate of 2 Peter as canonical by those early and later witnesses of the text? Like stated earlier, this book received the most caution due to the nature of heretics attributing Peter’s name to material later on, so it was required to sift through the critics and establish why 2 Peter was genuine. It isn’t really until Origen and Eusebius, whom both seem familiar with 2 Peter that the questions get asked. However, as highlighted earlier, Robert E. Picirilli sees how the writings of 1 Clement, Pseudo Clement, Barnabas, and Hermas, with at least reasonable possibilities in Ignatius and the Martyrdom of Polycarp could all contain earlier allusions to the text of 2 Peter.

See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)

It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
  • Ig = Ignatius
  • Po = Polycarp
  • M = Marcion
  • Va = Valentinus
  • JM = Justin Martyr
  • IR = Irenaeus 
  • C = Clement of Alexandria 
  • T = Tertullian
  • MC = Muratorian Canon
  • O = Origen
  • E = Eusebius
  • CS = Codex Sinaiticus
  • A = Athanasius
  • D = Didymus the Blind
  • P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
  • V =  Latin vulgate 
taken from 

Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

2 Peter 1:16 

2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection

Acts 1:21-22

One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)

John 19:34-35

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.

Acts 2:32

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!

Acts 3:15

We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:32

“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

Acts 10:39-43

[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.

Romans 9:1

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

1 Corinthians 15:3-9

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:

1 Peter 5:1

Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name. 

“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.

Caius, Church leader

How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected. 

So these summarised standards are these:

  1. Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
  2. Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
  3. Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
  4. Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
  5. Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?


Right from the bat in 1:1 we get that Peter is the author, the apostle and potentially has Jude as a scribe considering the textual parallels we’ve discussed briefly. Peter is the lead apostle and certainly one of significance. His death is mentioned even by non-christian sources.


Jesus warns us against false teaching, those who would try to sway Christians from their walk, as does Paul. This letter to encourage Christians to stand strong, to stand firm against false teaching is highly orthodox in nature.


There’s no church fathers attributing the work to someone else but it has had a stigma due to Gnostics and other heretics misusing the name of Peter. It took a while for it to be widely agreed upon that came about in the first quarter of the 300’s but with possible earlier allusions in the first century from 1 Clement, this would grant levels of acceptance within the first century. 


The church faced those who turned back to Judaism, those who kept Jewish actions such as circumcision. Then there’s Docetism, Gnosticism, Marcionism and the false teachings go on. If Christians were not being persecuted, they were fighting heresies and so a letter from Peter would be of significant influence in keeping the Christians focused on critical Christian doctrine. Today we have new-age beliefs and other Gnostic in nature style beliefs emerging which has echoes of the past which Christians must stand against. The letter is certainly timeless in it’s relevance.


Apostles are sent by God, literally meaning God’s messengers. Peter was such a messenger and in Jesus’ inner circle. Peter fits the above criteria and would make sense to say his work is inspired and be considered scripture.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *