No New Testament book was more disputed by the Early Church regarding authorship and authenticity than 2 Peter. The similarities between chapter two and Jude’s letter have caused scholars to question whether Peter borrowed from Jude, Jude from Peter, or if they both borrowed from another common source. There are at least three strong reasons that support Peter as the genuine author of this letter and that he wrote before Jude.
First, there is some difference in the language used between 1 and 2 Peter. On the one hand, if 2 Peter were a forgery, someone simply using Peter’s name for credibility would have attempted to make it sound as much as possible like the letter already received and trusted. The difference in language actually supports its authenticity. On the other hand, the differences are not so great as to obviously come from two different people. A comparison of 2 Peter with Peter’s sermons recorded in Acts reveal similar language, although he preached them twenty years earlier. Thus, the similarities point to an older, more mature version of the same speaker/writer.
Second, Peter’s account of the Transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:16-19 seems to be a personal reflection, not just a repeat of the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – each of whom wrote about that second-hand. 1 Since there is nothing like that in Acts or 1 Peter, it seems unlikely that a forger would try to credit that to Peter, supporting the case that this is Peter’s own letter.
Third, like the other later writers (Hebrews, Jude, John, and even Paul’s later writings), Peter was concerned about the false teachers that would certainly infiltrate the church (2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:3-4). However, whereas in Peter, Hebrews (Hebrews 13:9), and Paul (Acts 20:28-30) these teachers were still future, Jude and John referred to them as already present in the churches (Jude 4, 17-19; 1 John 4:1-6). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that Jude followed Peter and that he quoted from Peter in Jude 6-13 and Jude 17-18, as he fought against those Peter only prophesied.
This last reason also points to the primary theme of 2 Peter: truth versus falsehood. Throughout this short letter, starting even in the second verse, Peter repeatedly emphasized the importance of growing in our knowledge of God and Jesus. Though knowledge itself is not the only step in our spiritual growth, we have no recourse against false teachers without the full knowledge of God as revealed in the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21). This “FULL KNOWLEDGE” (2 Peter 1:2, 3, 5, 8) is not to be confused with the cultic ideas of “secret” knowledge accessible to a select few. All believers (2 Peter 1:1) have access to the full knowledge of God because God has made it readily available to us.
Chapter one begins by presenting the path or process of spiritual growth in a succinct way. After stating that God had already granted believers “EVERYTHING NECESSARY FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS” (2 Peter 1:3), Peter commanded that we add to our saving faith seven qualities, each one cementing and building on the previous and producing the next (2 Peter 1:5-7). This process is based on our pursuit of truly coming to know Jesus better and love him more, without which we wander through this life blindly, forgetting God’s past grace and unable to see his promised future (2 Peter 1:9-11). You can read more about this spiritual growth process in my book, Biblical Discipleship.
Knowing that he was about to die soon (2 Peter 1:14-15), Peter wrote this letter to make sure that his followers focused on the one thing that matters: knowing Jesus. (Some scholars believe Peter’s “TESTIMONY” also meant Mark’s Gospel, which is traditionally understood to have been Peter’s account.) For them to accomplish this, Peter insisted that they not rely on personal testimonies, even his own eyewitness account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18). Instead, he pointed them to the Scriptures, the timeless account that was created by the Holy Spirit himself (2 Peter 1:19-21). Peter called these “AN ALTOGETHER RELIABLE” witness, something that they all had. Not only were the Hebrew Scriptures complete and available, the Greek apostolic writings were becoming more and more available (see Peter’s comment on Paul’s letters in 2 Peter 3:15-16), verifying that the older prophecies had come true in Christ: “IN THESE LAST DAYS HE HAS SPOKEN TO US IN A SON” (Hebrews 1:2).
- Even though Matthew was one of the Twelve, he was not at the Transfiguration, and Jesus told Peter, James, and John to not talk about it until after the Resurrection (Matthew 17:9). ↩