This evening, if we could, go to 1 Peter 5:12. The reason we’re in 1 Peter, even though this is a study on 2 Peter, is that 1 Peter and 2 Peter were written by the same man, Peter, at the same time, from the same place, to the same group. So, to get the background on 2 Peter, which is what we’re attempting to do, you have to dovetail a little bit into 1 Peter.
We are starting a new series we started last week on the book of 2 Peter. One of the things I like to do before I just jump into a book is to give people as much information on the background of that book as I can.
“This must be a lot of introductory material, because this is “Introduction, Part 2,” as my wife said. Tonight she will upload the video onto our YouTube channel, and I said, “You can call it Introduction, Part 2.” She said, “Can you come up with anything a little bit snazzier?”
I said, “How about this? “Babbling on about Babylon.” Because 1 Peter and 2 Peter were written from Babylon. But even if you don’t grasp every little nuance of the introduction, my hope is that you use the method, because some of you are teaching or are going to be teaching–you just don’t know it yet. The Holy Spirit hasn’t let you know that yet. But all kinds of surprises happen in our lives when the Holy Spirit puts us in front of people or brings someone along to disciple or whatnot.
You might be in a position where God wants you to lead someone–or a group of people–through a book of the Bible. So, this formula for this methodology that I’m using to trace the introductory matters. You can take exactly what I’m doing and use it in any book of the Bible you study.
Help people understand these background issues. And even if you’re not teaching, you want to understand the background issues in any book of the Bible you study on your own. You can use this method.
Not only is capturing the details here significant, but even more important than that is to give you something that you can use in the ministry God has for you. When you look at the background of a biblical book, these are the issues you want to tackle even before you get into a verse by verse study of the book. We covered numbers one through four last time. I’m hoping, God willing, to finish this list this evening on 2 Peter.
Number one is authorship. Last time we saw that who was the author of 2 Peter? Peter. And I showed you how we derived that and some of the problems associated with authorship of 2 Peter.
Because 2 Peter is kind of like the book of Daniel. Daniel is challenged aggressively, and people don’t think Daniel wrote the book of Daniel. “Someone later wrote the book of Daniel, using Daniel’s name.” They do the same thing with 2 Peter.
That’s called “higher criticism,” and I tried to show you the way to navigate through that. But the bottom line is that Peter wrote 2 Peter.
Then, from there, we began to look at the biography. Here we looked at things in the Gospels and in the book of Acts–and also in latter church tradition when it contributes something–to get to know who this guy Peter is. And the more you get to know biblical writers, the more you can start to see why they talk about the things that they talk about.
Peter, in his two books, talks more about water and the flood than any other biblical writer. Did you know that? Other than Moses in the book of Genesis. And that would make sense when you understand Peter’s vocation as a what? Fisherman. You can see in some of the things he surfaces that God is using Peter’s individual temperament, style, experience, etc. That’s the value of trying to get to know your author.
Then we looked at the date. We saw that the date of the book was when? AD 64. And rather than just memorizing a date, I tried to show you why we dated the book in AD 64. If you didn’t catch this the first time around, you can go back and listen or watch these on our SLBC website as they’re archived.
But I think date and things like this are important to communicate to people that this is a real person who really lived. This is not “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and this is not Veggie Tales. This is real, historical circumstance. So, the date of the book is AD 64.
Then, you always want to look at the recipients of the book. Who is the audience? The more you understand the audience, the more you can understand difficult passages in the book.
Who is the audience of 2 Peter and 1 Peter? Three things.
People living in the north-central portion of modern day Turkey. We know that because in Peter’s first book he says, “To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen.”
All we do is look at a Bible map, and we can see exactly where those places are. This is one of my favorite Bible maps, because it shows you every place in the whole New Testament. If you have a study Bible, sometimes you can run into a map like this. There are a lot of them available.
But we know exactly where those places are. It’s what we call today north-central Turkey, the Asia minor area. As you look at this map, you’ll see Pontus, Bithynia, Cappadocia, Asia, and the other places that are mentioned.
Now, one of the big questions is, “How did the gospel get up there to those folks?” The most likely scenario is that when Paul launched his missionary journeys—and he went on three of them—he always left from which city? Antioch, up north.
Paul traveled through what we would call southern Galatia, and he planted a ton of churches there. You’ll see him planting those churches in Acts 13 and 14. So, it’s probably likely that the folks in southern Galatia went up north to evangelize the folks in northern Galatia. That’s how you get this cadre of believers up north.
Another possible way that the gospel got up north is found in Acts 8:4 and Acts 11:19. This has to do with the persecution that a man named Saul of Tarsus (before he became who? The Apostle Paul) put the early church under. The early church was all Jewish. You don’t have any Gentile converts until Cornelius in Acts 10.
So, Saul of Tarsus didn’t like this new movement, which by this time probably wasn’t even called Christianity. They weren’t even called Christians until Acts 11. He persecuted this movement; this is before his conversion on the Damascus road. And when he brought persecution against the church, the church was scattered.
Because God said to them, at the very beginning, in Acts 1:8, “You shall be My witnesses…” Where? In Jerusalem. And then where? Judea and Samaria, which is little further out. And then where? To the remote parts of the earth. And God is kind of a sneaky guy. He never told them how he was going to get them into Judea and Samaria. And He never told them how He was going to get them into the remote parts of the earth.
And what we learned in the book of Acts is that God actually used Saul of Tarsus–his persecution of the early church–to get the church moving. So, does God work like that today in our lives? God may give you a vision for some great ministry. And He doesn’t tell you how He’s going to get you to where you need to be–through persecution, or a job layoff, or a transfer, or something like that. But God gets us where we need to be. And that, in essence, is what happened to the early church.
Acts 8:3-4 says, “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the Word.” So, they were in their comfort zone, the early church in Jerusalem.
And God said, “I’ll fix this,” because the church has a global mission. And he used the persecution of Saul of Tarsus to get them out of Jerusalem to fit His divine design of getting the gospel to Judea and Samaria and then the remote parts of the earth.
Then, when you go to Acts 11:19, it continues talking like this. It says, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus [Cyprus is an island off the coast of the Mediterranean] and Antioch [further up north], speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.”
You see Steven’s name there? That’s what really made Saul of Tarsus angry. When Stephen gave his speech in Acts 7 which condemned first century Israel for rejecting their own Messiah, that’s what made Saul of Tarsus so angry. And that’s why he presided over the execution of Stephen.
Saul of Tarsus was actually holding the cloaks of the people who were taking rocks and stoning Stephen to death. So Stephen is the first martyr of the Church Age. Then Saul was so angry at what he heard that he began persecuting this new movement that Stephen was a part of called the church.
So the church was scattered, and they just kept moving up north. And I think they just kept going and going and going until a lot of them reached north-central Turkey. So, that is another explanation of how the gospel got that far north that Peter wants to eventually write to these people about three decades later.
So the audience is in the north-central portion of modern-day Turkey. Now, is the audience saved or unsaved? They’re saved! Because these are the Christians who’ve been persecuted and have gone up north.
And based on what we said last time, is the audience Jewish or Gentile? They’re Jewish! And we gave you the reasoning for that. So this is the audience that Peter is addressing in the north-central portion of modern-day Turkey. They are regenerated, and then they are also Jewish, or Hebrews, meaning the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The next thing you want to look at when you study any book of the Bible is you want to ask yourself, “Where was this written from?” That’s why I had you open to 1 Peter 5:13, which gives you the place of geography where Peter penned his book from. We know who he is writing to, but where is he writing from?
He says this, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.” So Peter there, in his first letter, gives you the location of where the books of 1 and 2 Peter were written from, a place called Babylon.
Now, where is Babylon? Babylon is basically in modern-day Iraq. It’s between the Euphrates and the Tigris, and it’s a place in Hebrew called Shinar. And in Greek it’s called Mesopotamia. “Meso” means middle; “potamia,” as in the word “Potomac,” means “rivers.” So, literally, it’s “between the rivers.” It’s where the Tower of Babel once stood, etc.
There’s another picture of Babylon where Peter wrote this book. Babylon is about 350 miles to the east of the nation of Israel. Babylon is 350 miles east of the city of Jerusalem. It’s where the nation of Israel went into captivity, you’ll recall, for 70 years.
So, a straightforward reading of this tells you that that’s what Peter wrote. He wrote from Babylon.
So far so good, right? The problem is that 99% of the commentators you read will say, “Get your whiteout out. Cross out Babylon, because ‘Babylon’ does not mean ‘Babylon.’ Write the word ‘Rome’ in there instead.” Because we all know that Babylon means Rome, right?
Even the best of the best. I’m a real devotee of Charles Ryrie. I use his Ryrie Study Bible. This is a man who has basically staked his whole ministry on literal interpretation. I love Charles Ryrie. But look what he says here in his study Bible on 1 Peter 5:13, “She who is in Babylon.” Then he says what? “The church in Rome.”
So, most people want you to believe that this book was not written in the circle in the East, Mesopotamia; it was written in the West, in Italy. Because they want you to believe that Babylon means Rome. Babylon, in their mind, is some kind of codeword for Rome.
The problem I’m having with this whole mindset is when you don’t take God at His Word at a certain point, that opens the door to say, “Well, maybe I could rewrite the Bible elsewhere.” It’s sort of like dealing with a really good attorney who is cross-examining a witness. He’s not trying to completely demolish the witness’s testimony. He’s just trying to show inconsistencies or problems. And his hope is that the jury in the jury room will say, “Well, if the witness was wrong on point A, maybe they could be wrong on point B–or point C–or point D.
So, that’s why, to me anyway–and people think I overreact to these things–calling Babylon “Rome,” when the Bible doesn’t say “Rome,” I think is moving us in more of an allegorical direction. And even really esteemed people, like Charles Ryrie, do this.
Why, then, do I think that Babylon means Babylon? Four quick reasons. Number one, everybody takes 1 Peter 1:1 literally. To whom were these books written? Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Everybody takes those at face value. “Those are literal pieces of geography,” everybody tells us, “at the beginning of 1 Peter.”
So why, all of a sudden, would I put on a different set of eyeglasses and say, “The geography at the end of book of 1 Peter is nonliteral.” Pontus, Galatia, Asia are very real, literal places. So why can’t Babylon be a literal place?
Number two, people at this point like to give you a long-winded lecture on how things in the Bible are not always literal; they can be allegorical. And they’ll take you over to different places of geography in the Bible that aren’t meant to be construed with ironclad literalism.
For example, they will take you over to Galatians 4:24-25, where it speaks of Jerusalem corresponding with the Law. So, Jerusalem is used as an object lesson to describe the Law, and you will see that in Galatians 4:24-25. And they say, “Well, if it can happen in Galatians 4:24-25, then it can happen in 1 Peter 5:13 also.”
The problem is… What do you see there in Galatians 4 that you don’t find in 1 Peter 5? “Allegorically speaking.” Here the biblical text tells you, “Let’s use two cities (Mount Sinai and Jerusalem) as an allegory.” And when the Bible does that, you’re free to take it allegorically.
The Bible itself will interpret what the allegory means, but it gives you a clue in the text as to why it’s speaking allegorically. But do you see the words “allegorically speaking” in 1 Peter 5:13? You don’t see it.
They like to take you to Revelation 11:8, “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city [what city would that be? Jerusalem] which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” So you’re free in Revelation 11:8 to take the word or concept of Jerusalem and attach a spiritual meaning to it. And what word gives you that permission? The word “mystically. Do you see the word “mystically” in 1 Peter 5:13? It’s not there.
So, people give you these long-winded lectures about “not every city in the Bible is meant to be understood literally.” My answer to that is, “Yeah, you can allegorize certain things in the Bible when the text gives you permission to do it.” The text itself conspicuously gives you permission to do it in Galatians 4:24-25. It gives you permission to do it in Revelation 11:8. It does not give you permission to do it in 1 Peter 5:13, because you see no clue telling you that an allegorical interpretation is acceptable.
Number three, Peter, in Galatians 2:7-8, is the apostle to the Jews or the Gentiles? Peter is the apostle to the Jews. Who is the apostle to the Gentiles? Paul, the apostle.
So, if Peter’s ministry is to the Jews, ask yourself a real simple question. Where were the Jews, most of them? Many of them were in the land of Israel, obviously. But remember, the nation of Israel went into captivity where? In Babylon for 70 years, back in the sixth century BC. And when they came out of that captivity as recorded in the census in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, a very small fraction of them came back. Most of them continued to stay in Babylon.
So, if Peter is the apostle to the Jews, wouldn’t going to Babylon be a logical place for him to go? Because that’s where who was? The Jews. In fact, did you know, according to Acts 2:9, that there were residents from Mesopotamia (between the rivers) who heard Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost?
Acts 2:9-11 records all these people that heard Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost. We know from Acts 2:9 that there were residents from Mesopotamia (or Babylon). Peter had 3000 converts, didn’t he, on the Day of Pentecost? What did those 3000 converts do? They went back to their respective places and started what? Churches!
So, there actually was a functioning church in Babylon; it’s very reasonable to believe that. And that’s why Peter, the apostle to the Jews, traveled to Babylon from where he would write his two letters.
Who is Josephus? He is a first century Jewish historian. He wrote just a little after the time of Christ. And he talks here about Jews living in great numbers where? In Babylon. So Babylon means Babylon. There is no reason not to take Babylon literally.
I put this on my doctoral dissertation, and they really didn’t like what I was saying. One of my readers kept quoting Strabo, who wrote Geography. Strabo, who died about AD 25, talks about how the population was decimated in Babylon. So most people believe, errantly, that Babylon was deserted by the time Peter wrote his books. And that’s one of the reasons they say, “He couldn’t be in Babylon. He must’ve gone to Rome instead.”
The problem is that you must read Strabo very carefully. Here’s a quote from Lang’s commentary in Revelation. He says, “Strabo, who died in AD 25, is cited in proof that by this time no city was left [in Babylon].”
Lang says, “This is an instance of how easily lax quotation or assertion may falsify both an author and an issue, which being once done, other writers too easily follow suit. What Strabo says is: ‘And now indeed [Selucia] (or Babylonia) has become greater than Babylon [look at the language here], which for the most part has become deserted’.”
Strabo never said the whole area became deserted. He says that part of it became deserted. And you get this conclusion by actually reading what Strabo says. But people don’t go back to Strabo, and they don’t read Strabo. Instead, they just quote each other.
Scholars quote scholars. Scholar A says it was deserted, so everybody quotes Scholar A. See that? The fact of the matter is that Babylon was not completely deserted–by Strabo’s own words.
All of that to say, my third point here, is when the Bible says Peter wrote these books from Babylon, Babylon would be a very logical place for Peter to go, because Peter is the apostle to the Jews. And where were most of the Jews living outside of the land? There were living in a place called Babylon.
Then, my fourth point is people say, “You know, we all know that Babylon is a code word for Rome.” Why is Babylon a code word for Rome? “Because we have extra biblical writings that tell us that the early church was so afraid of Rome–and they were afraid of persecution from Rome–that they used Babylon as a code word for Rome.”
The problem with that is, as Morris says in his commentary, “Paul was not afraid to speak directly against Rome in his writings, so why should John [or Peter] be?” Don’t we have a whole book of the Bible called the book of Romans? Paul’s not afraid to use the word “Rome,” is he, in Romans? I guess not, or we wouldn’t have the name “Romans.”
He talks about Rome all the time. So, if Paul never felt the need to use Babylon as a code word for Rome, then Peter doesn’t feel the need either. By the way, those extra biblical writings that they quote are all second century writings. So, yeah, over time Babylon did become used as a code word for Rome. But we’re still on the first century; this is still AD 64.
Where did Peter write these two books from? He wrote them from where? He wrote them from Babylon.
Now, a problem is, “Who is the ‘she’?” It says, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings.” Who is the “she”? I think we have an answer to that. The she could be his wife.
Peter had a wife, right? We know Peter had a wife because he had a mother-in-law (Luke 4:38). It’s hard to have a mother-in-law unless you’re married. Beyond that, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:5, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife.” In other words, your wife traveling with you in your missionary journeys.
Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Cephas is the Aramaic name for whom? Peter. So Paul there clearly tells us that Peter had a wife. So, that probably is who the “she” is.
Now, would you drag your wife 350 miles to the east? That would be a tough journey. Another possibility is that the “she” could be the church in Babylon. Because people were present to hear Peter preach three decades earlier on the Day of Pentecost from Mesopotamia. They were some of the 3000 converts that the Holy Spirit won to Christ. They went back home; they started churches. So, we assume that not only was there a vibrant Jewish community in Babylon, but there was most likely a believing church in Babylon.
What’s the Greek word for “church”? EKKLESIA. And in the Greek language, nouns and genders are a big deal. Guess what the gender is of EKKLESIA (the Greek noun “church”)? Feminine! And that could be the “she.”
“She who is in Babylon…sends you greetings.” Who is the “she”? Maybe it’s his wife. That’s a possibility. I would have a hard time telling my wife, “Come on, Honey, we’re going to go 350 miles east–by horseback–to Iraq. I think Anne would be up for that, but we’re not dealing with airliners or anything like that. I mean, this is rough terrain. Actually, she could make it there in much better shape than I could.
But it’s just hard for me to believe that he dragged his wife out there. Now, that’s a possibility, but I think it’s more likely that the “she” is the church in Babylon, because we know that there was a believing community in Babylon. The Greek noun for “church” is EKKLESIA, and EKKLESIA is a feminine noun.
So, when the Bible says that “She who is in Babylon…sends you greetings,” he’s talking, most likely, about the church in Babylon.
So what is the bottom line to the whole thing? Where did Peter write this letter from? Babylon.
Who is he writing to? Regenerated Hebrews in north-central Turkey. See, you always want to nail down where the book was written from and who the book was written to.
By the way, you know the people who hate this interpretation that I just gave? It’s the Roman Catholic Church, because they want Peter to be the—what? The first pope. So, they have a vested interest in getting Peter connected to Rome.
There is some church tradition that tells us that Peter died in Rome, but what they don’t tell you is that tradition doesn’t arise until a full century–100 years–after the real Apostle Peter died. So, you really have your choice on this. Are you going to believe church tradition connecting Peter to Rome that rose a century after Peter died? And if you believe that, you’ve got to rewrite the Bible. Apparently, that’s what Charles Ryrie thinks.
Or you can go the opposite way. You can believe what the Bible says–and hold loosely to church tradition. As for me and my house, we chose to do the latter. But every interpreter has to make their decision on this point.
In fact, on one of our recent trips we went through Vatican City, toured the whole thing. We went to where, allegedly, Peter’s grave was—and all this stuff. It was one of these trips where they had us back on a cruise boat. And after we were safely out of Italy, they gave me a chance to speak before our little group. The title of my talk was, “Everything You Just Saw is a Lie.”
I mean, they have a vested economic interest in connecting Peter to Rome, and there is big money that comes into that place. Because Peter was the “first pope” and all this stuff. And my point was, “If Babylon means Babylon–and not Rome–then everything that they’ve just taught us disintegrates.” You see that?
So that’s why whether Peter was in Rome or Babylon is a big bone of contention, because of the gravy train coming in with tourism and making this a holy site. Vatican City is all connected. They have a vested interest in connecting Peter not to Babylon but to Rome.
But if you take the Bible for what it says, he was not in Rome; he was in Babylon. And I’ve given you some logical reasons why we can take God at face value.
The next issue you want to look at when you study any book of the Bible is the occasion for writing. You guys like my animation here? That is supposed to be Paul Revere. And what did Paul Revere say? “The British are coming.” What is Peter saying? “The false teachers are coming.”
So, what is the occasion of this particular book? Peter is warning about false teachers. In fact, look at 2 Peter 2:1, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you.” So, he’s predicting false teachers are coming.
Now, Jude, the Lord’s half-brother, who wrote maybe six years after Peter, gave this warning. Do you know what Jude says in Jude 4? Jude doesn’t say, “The false teachers are coming.” He’s saying, “They’re here.”
It’s like that little girl, remember, in the movie? What was that movie? Poltergeist. She says, “They’re here!” And if you didn’t see the movie, you’re better for it. But that’s what Jude is saying. Jude is saying, “They’re here.” Peter is saying, “They’re coming.”
What false teaching is he warning about? He is warning about something that was coming into north-central Turkey (his audience) called incipient Gnosticism.
The Gnostics taught dualism. They taught that the physical world is bad, and the spiritual world is good. It’s called dualism; it was coming into Christian thought. And you know that that cannot be true.
The physical world is not bad. Certainly it’s corrupted, but it’s not evil in and of itself. Because what did God say after the six days of creation on day six? He doesn’t even just say, “It’s good”; He says, “It’s very good.”
But they taught that matter is evil, and the spiritual world is good. And if you think matter is evil, then that’s going to do damage to your Christian doctrine. By the way, this is where amillennialism comes from–that there will be no earthly kingdom. It arises out of Gnostic thought early on in church history.
And if you think the physical world is bad, then you say, “How could Jesus come back and rule on this earth? Because the earth is bad.” So, you start to allegorize all the prophecies related to an earthly kingdom.
So, amillennialism comes out of incipient Gnostic thought. Then, what starts to get damaged is your doctrine of the Incarnation (or the enfleshment of Christ). And you start to say things like, “Jesus really didn’t have a body. He just appeared to have a body.” That’s called Docetism, coming from the Greek word DOKEO, which means “to seem or appear.”
And that’s why you read all these statements like the one in 1 John 4:2-3, which says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” Why would John in his little letter make a big deal about how Jesus came in a body?
I mean, why does John keep saying, “we heard, we felt, we touched”? Why does he keep making reference to the fact that Jesus was actually in a body? He’s countering Gnostic dualism. See that? He’s countering Docetism.
That’s why, in 2 Peter 2:1, there are all these references to the fact that Jesus came and died in a body. 2 Peter 2:1 talks about “false teachers…who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who…” What? “…bought them.” Didn’t Jesus do that in a body? Why would Peter emphasize that? He’s countering incipient Gnosticism.
And if you think that the physical body is evil, then Jesus didn’t come the first time in a body. And guess what? He’s not coming back the second time in a body. That’s why, over in 2 John 7, you find another similar statement from John. It says, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.”
So, why is John making such a big deal about how Jesus came in the flesh and is coming back in the flesh? He’s countering incipient Gnosticism’s corruption of Christian doctrine which said, “If the physical world is bad, then Jesus really didn’t have a body. It just seemed like He had a body.” That helps us understand why the biblical writers are surfacing the things that they are.
That’s why 2 Peter 3:4 says that people will say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” What’s his audience doing? They’re denying the Second Coming of Christ.
Why would they be denying the Second Coming of Christ? Because of incipient Gnosticism: “The physical world is bad. So, Jesus didn’t come in a body, and He is not coming back in a body.” See that?
Beyond that, if you think the physical world is bad, what can you blame all your sin on? Your body! So, you start to deny moral responsibility. And you start to say things like, “Gosh. It’s really not me gossiping, Lord. It’s this tongue that’s gossiping.”
“And we know that the physical world is evil. My tongue is evil. So, the tongue has a life of its own.” And if that’s the way you think, then that leads into licentiousness. See that?
Licentiousness is just, “Sin up a storm!” “It’s not me gossiping, Lord; it’s my tongue. And I’m gossiping because the physical world is evil.”
That’s why you find all these statements in 2 Peter concerning morality and holiness. So, when I sin, I can’t blame it on my tongue. I can’t blame gossip on my tongue. I made a moral decision to misuse my tongue. See that? So, a lot of the statements Peter makes start making sense when you understand it against the background of incipient Gnosticism.
Now, why were the Gnostics called Gnostics? What does the word “Gnostic” mean? It comes from the Greek word GNOSIS, which means “knowledge.” So, the Gnostics were people who say, “We have a special knowledge that your average Christian doesn’t have. I mean, the poor fundamentalist–he just has his Bible. But if you come through our system, we’ll give you the secret knowledge!”
And that helps us explain why Peter talks very aggressively in this book about the doctrine of Scripture. In other words, what’s contained in Scripture is everything that we need (2 Peter 1:3-4) for all matters of faith and practice.
He keeps talking about the doctrine of Scripture (that we call bibliology) over and over again. Why does he keep talking about that? Because he’s countering the secret knowledge mentality of the Gnostics.
By the way, if you have some kind of secret knowledge that other Christians don’t have, what do you think that does to your pride? Inflates it or deflates it? Radically inflates it!
Paul himself (2 Corinthians 12:2-3) was caught up to the third heaven, and he heard things that other Christians don’t hear. That caused pride in his life which he wrestled with his whole life. And that’s why God gave him (2 Corinthians 12:7) a what in the flesh? A thorn in the flesh, “to keep me from exalting myself” on behalf of these private revelations.
So, as Gnostics taught their doctrines of secret knowledge, it inflated their pride. And that’s why you see Peter dealing with the subject of pride in false teachers in our book, 2 Peter 2:10-11.
My point is that a lot of things Peter will surface for us in this book are understandable the more you understand the incipient Gnosticism that Peter is trying to counter. That’s my point. And that all comes under the heading “Occasion for Writing.” Why did he write this book?
The next thing we want to look at is the purpose of the book. And that gets to the “Why?” question. The occasion was incipient Gnosticism. But why did he write it? What’s he trying to accomplish?
In other words, when his original audience read this book, what impact did he want to have in their hearts and lives? He simply wanted to do this. And this is what we call purpose, the “Why?” question. The purpose of the book is to build up his readers in the faith so that they will be insulated from the coming false teachers.
So, he’s not trying to get these people saved. They are already saved! We talked about that under “Audience.” They’re regenerated.
What he’s trying to do is to build them up in the things of God and get them to a certain level of maturity so that they could say “No” to the incipient (or early) form of Gnosticism that was coming through north-central Turkey that was on the way. Do you see that?
That’s why this book, I think, is so relevant to us. Because we’re living in a time period where false teaching is just exploding everywhere–outside the church and inside the church. We, too, need to learn how to fortify ourselves so that we can say “No” discerningly to false teaching, which is everywhere outside the church and, sadly, inside the church.
Peter writes with a very different purpose in 2 Peter than he wrote 1 Peter. Both books are written by the same man, at the same time, from the same place, to the same group; but their purposes are totally different. 1 Peter is about suffering. 2 Peter is about false teaching.
1 Peter is about external opposition and 2 Peter about internal opposition. 1 Peter, persecution; 2 Peter, false teaching. 1 Peter, suffering; 2 Peter, error.
1 Peter, hope through suffering; 2 Peter is about knowledge. Because the more knowledgeable you are in the things of God, the more you can say “No” to false teaching.
1 Peter is an encouragement; 2 Peter is an expose. 1 Peter is a comfort in the midst of suffering; 2 Peter is a caution. 1 Peter is about holiness in the midst of suffering; 2 Peter is about maturity.
1 Peter is about pain with a purpose; 2 Peter is about poison in the pew.
1 Peter holds up Christ as our example of suffering: He suffered; so we too suffer. 2 Peter is not dealing with that so much as it’s talking about Christ’s return.
Two dramatically, radically different purposes of these two books. What you’re facing in your life determines whether you read book A or book B, because they have completely different purposes.
Then, something else you want to look at in Bible study methods is you want to look at the structure of the book. In other words, if you had to step back to the 10,000 foot level and take the birds eye view, how would you outline this book?
Any book of the Bible you study, you want to see if you can put the thing together in a simple outline. Before you get into all the details, step back. Instead of studying the veins on the leaves of the trees, step back for a minute and look at the forest.
So, what’s the big picture? Well, it’s a very simple three-point outline. Chapter 1 is part one, “Call to Maturity.” Chapter 2 is part two, “Characteristics of False Teachers.” Their general characteristics—here is what they’re like. Chapter 3 is part three, “Doctrine of the False Teachers.” Here is what they’re going to teach.
By the way, when we get to that section, I’ll make the point that the very doctrine that Peter is warning about in chapter 3 is the exact same thing your children and your grandchildren are being hit with right now as I speak. It’s called uniformitarianism, which is where the whole theory of evolution comes from. It’s probably the dominant philosophy in the 20th and the 21st century, and this humble fisherman saw the whole thing 2000 years in advance as God gave him insight.
So, there is your outline. Chapter 1–grow up. Now, let me ask you question. Why would Peter, in a book on false teachers, start the book by emphasizing maturity? Because false teachers prey on the unstable.
Notice 2 Peter 2:14. Describing false teachers, “having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls.” See that? The more a person is immature, the more they’re a sitting duck for a false teacher. I’m not talking about unsaved people. I’m talking about saved people.
When my daughter was really little she would crawl on the ground, and everything she saw on the ground she would put in her mouth. She had no discernment for knowing, “This is good for you. This is bad for you.” Because she was too immature to discern.
That is what an immature Christian is like. Everything they hear, as long as it comes from someone with the three G’s (the gift of gab, good looks, and a guitar), “It’s got to be of God.” Anything they hear on the radio, “It’s got to be of God.” Anything in the Christian bookstore, “It’s got to be of God!”
My daughter starts to grow, she comes of age, and she starts to say, “I can eat that, but I can’t eat that.” That’s what a growing Christian is like. You hear something and you say, “Well, that doesn’t sound quite right. I’ll screen that through my biblical worldview.” An immature Christian has no ability to do that.
That’s why Peter starts this book by emphasizing maturity. And you can jot down Ephesians 4:11-16, because that’s what church is supposed to be doing for Christians. That’s what the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher is supposed to be doing for Christians. It’s supposed to be helping them mature. And as they mature, they are no longer unstable, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.
So the first chapter is how to grow up. Not just to grow up, but how to grow up. Chapter 2, then, is the basic characteristics of false teachers. In chapter 3 he zeroes in on them like a laser beam–on their teaching. He tells you what they’re going to teach, even before they showed up–the doctrine of uniformitarianism–which we’ll be going into in this study.
Then, something else you want to look at is the basic message of the book. And this answers the “What?” question. The purpose is the “Why?” question–why was it written? And the better you understand the occasion for writing–in this case it’s incipient Gnosticism–the better you can understand the purpose.
But then you want to go a step further, and you want to be able to step back and say, “What is the book about?” In other words, “If I had to summarize the book in a sentence, can I do that?” And that’s what’s called the message.
So here is what I think is a pretty good message statement for the entire book. And your message statement really needs to sum up all the book’s contents in just a sentence.
So what is the book about? It is about protection from the negative influence of the coming false teachers. That’s called your subject. What is the book about? Protection from the negative influence of false teachers. Then you see the linking verb “is.” Then, what comes after “is” is “What does the rest of the book say about the subject?” And that’s called a complement. And a subject and a complement together linked by “is” gives you the message of the book, answering the “What?” question.
So, what is the whole book about? Subject–protection from the negative influence of the coming false teachers “is”–here comes your complement. What does the rest of the book say about the subject? This is accomplished through an exhortation to maturity. “Hey, that’s chapter 1!” And exposing the characteristics of false teachers. “Hey, that’s chapter 2!” And exposing the doctrines of these coming false teachers. “Hey, that’s chapter 3!”
So we have a subject, “protection from the negative influence of coming false teachers”… is… and then a complement. What does the rest of the book say about the subject? The subject is “accomplished through exhortation to maturity and exposing the characteristics and doctrines of these coming false teachers.”
There it is in a nice, neat package. I can step back and say, “Okay, I can jot that down in my Bible.” I can say, “Okay, that’s what 2 Peter is about.” Obviously, a totally different purpose than 1 Peter. The message statement of 1 Peter is suffering for the cause of Christ in the hope of future glory.
Suffering for the cause of Christ in the hope of future glory–everything in 1 Peter will relate to that message. Everything in 2 Peter–every little nook and cranny of it–will relate to this message statement here.
So, the book argument that I gave you takes you through the major sections of 2 Peter, and it tells you how each section develops the message that I have here on the screen. So what you have in your hands is not really a commentary. But as you look at every major paragraph you say, “How does this paragraph contribute to the message?”
They had me do this in my PhD program for all 66 books of the Bible. To be honest with you, it was the most laborious–but at the same time one of the most wonderful–things I’ve ever done or been allowed to do. Because now I can think my way through the whole Bible.
I may not know every little detail for Bible trivia. But if you open to a section of the Bible, I can basically tell you why that section is there and how it contributes to the big picture of that book.
Then, this last thing. With this we’ll stop. What are some of the unique characteristics of the book? What are some things that would be missing if we didn’t have 2 Peter in the New Testament?
Well, Peter talks a lot about knowledge. He talks about bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture). He talks about how this world is going to be destroyed one day by fire.
He talks a lot in the form of a polemic. And this is very interesting what Peter does here in a polemical format. The Gnostics’ language is knowledge. They are promoting the secret knowledge, which leads to pride.
He takes the Gnostics’ language—the exact same language–and refills that language with a biblical meaning. He says, “They’re talking about knowledge? Let me tell you what knowledge is from God’s perspective.”
This book is unique because it’s Peter’s last will and testament. It’s the last book Peter wrote. And you can parallel it with 2 Timothy. 2 Timothy was the last book Paul wrote. That’s why Paul, in 2 Timothy 4:6 says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”
Over in 2 Peter 1:14 he says, “knowing that shortly I must put off my tent,” which he calls his body, “just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me.” (NKJV) Remember what Jesus said about Peter 30 years earlier? “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”
So, in 2 Peter 1:14, he is getting ready to die. Just like Paul is getting ready to die in 2 Timothy. Did y’all know that when people are getting ready to die, they get really serious? I mean, they tell you what’s on their mind.
In fact, in the legal system we have something called the “hearsay rule,” an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. This is where a witness says, “Well, Joe said…” And the lawyer will say, “Objection. Hearsay. Joe’s not here to be cross-examined.”
But if you can prove that Joe made that statement on his deathbed, that becomes an exception to the hearsay rule. So, even our legal system will attach greater weight to the things people say when they’re ready to die. That’s what’s happening in 2 Peter. He is getting ready to die, and he’s getting down to brass tacks and telling us what’s most important to him, as Paul did in 2 Timothy.
What else about 2 Peter, very fast. It’s very similar to Jude. You read Jude, and you say, “I read that already in 2 Peter.” We believe that Jude wrote after 2 Peter, and Jude was depending largely on 2 Peter.
Jude wrote, basically, to demonstrate that Peter’s prophecies about coming false teachers (Paul Revere, remember?) came to pass. Because Jude doesn’t say, “They’re coming.” Jude says what? “They’re here.”
Then, the last unique characteristic that I have is that this is a book about remembrance. Peter keeps saying, “Remember.”
“Remember, so that you don’t forget you’ve been cleansed from your sins.”
“I will always remind you these things,” like a finger with a string around it to cause you to remember something.
“It is right to refresh your memory.”
“You will always be able to remember these things.”
“I have written both of them as reminders.”
“Bear in mind,” etc.
And I’m so grateful for this, because I used to think that I had to get into the pulpit every week and come up with something new. And it was Dr. Toussaint in a PhD class taking us through 2 Peter, bringing up this point of remembrance, who told us, “Don’t feel like you have to come up with something new every week. People don’t need something new. What they need is to be reminded of what they already know and exhorted to live in it.”
And once Dr. Toussaint said that, it was like a weight just fell off my shoulders. I don’t have to be Mr. Innovative as a Bible teacher. And that’s what Peter is doing here. He is just saying, “Remember. Remember. Remember.”
In review, authorship. Who wrote it? Peter.
In terms of biography, we can piece a lot of data together about him from the Gospels and Acts.
When was this written? AD 64.
And we know a lot about the audience: Regenerated, in Asia Minor, and they are Jews.
Where was it written? Rome? No, Babylon.
What’s the occasion for writing? Incipient Gnosticism coming through north-central Turkey.
What’s his purpose? It’s to insulate his readers from the false teaching they’re about to be hit with.
In terms of the structure, we have a three part outline.
The message (or the “What?” of the book) is protection from false teachers.
And there’s a lot of unique characteristics about this, including knowledge–Peter taking Gnostics’ terms and refilling it with the biblical meaning.
I hope that helps you in terms of background and notes. Next week when were together we’ll be ready to start the book verse by verse.