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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

2 Peter 3

 

 

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Verse 1

1. The fatal error of expecting Christ’s immediate coming, from the immediateness of the terms in which it is predicted, 2 Peter 3:1-13.

1. This—Literally, This epistle, already beloved a second, unto you I write. The first chapter is a general, yet direct, introductory address; the second chapter steps aside to portray the corruptionists to come; this resumes and finishes the direct epistle.

Now—Literally, already; it is already a being-completed second epistle.

Pure minds—In contrast with those corrupt minds whose portraiture occupies the last chapter. Those are the ungodly men of 2 Peter 3:7, bound to perdition; while you, warned of that day of judgment, will (2 Peter 3:17) beware.

Remembrance—The apostle delivers not so much a new prophecy as he recalls, explains, and applies a whole body of old prophecies.


Verse 2

2. The holy prophets—Of the Old Testament, whose predictions of a day of judgment all culminate in the one final day.

The apostles—Literal Greek, your apostles of the Lord and Saviour. These are your apostles as sent to you, and Christ’s, as sent by him. The model comprehensive prediction is that of Matthew 24, 25, on which see our notes.


Verse 3

3. Knowing this first—The great precaution is here now premised in regard to the judgment-day prophecies. The readers must not suppose that the terms of immediacy of time in the prophetic announcements of the second advent really mean that they are now, humanly, at hand. The same caution given in St. Paul’s first epistle, (2 Thessalonians 2:1,) is repeated in this, Peter’s last.

The last days—The very caution defines the phrase. They are the last days before the second advent, however far or near that day may be. That they may be a very distant last days it is the very purpose of the present passage to show, and to explain that the distance of time is not contradictory to the immediacy of the terms. See supplemental note to Matthew 25. Also notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Revelation 1:1; Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:20.

Scoffers—These words, and the entire passage 3-5, we identify with Revelation 20:7-9, when Satan, released from his millennial imprisonment, “the nations” are once more “deceived,” and an apostasy takes place. Compare notes on Mark 13:24-27; Luke 18:8.

After their own lusts—A sceptical spirit and a licentious life.


Verse 4

4. Where is—What has become of? These scoffers truly come from out the millennial Church. They long believed that old promise embraced in the Apostles’ Creed, that Christ would “come to judge the quick and the dead.” But ages have passed, and this coming is proved to be a ridiculous superstition.

His coming—The word here is parousia, and when predicated of Christ, always denotes his literal bodily presence. The verb come, and noun coming, are often used of spiritual interpositions, but this parousia never. Note on 1 Corinthians 15:23. The word parousia occurs in the following passages: Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:37; Matthew 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9; James 5:7-8; 2 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 3:4; 2 Peter 3:12; 1 John 2:28.

The fathers—The old fathers of the Church, who predicted and believed in the second advent. Through all the ages, from their time to the day of these scoffers, no Christ has come. But Satan has come in his spiritual power; and he has deceived these sceptics into the belief that there is no judgment-day, no divine Christ, no true God. Let loose from all religious restraints, they “walk after their own lusts.”

Continue as they were—Literal Greek, remain just so. Dr. Chalmers was the first, we believe, to note that Peter here gives the argument of Hume against all miracle. It is the argument of the visible permanence of the order of nature. This continuous fact of the actual visible and reliable uniformity of nature’s order, is formulated by some presumptuous scientists into such a law as to exclude the Creator from interposing in the very succession of events which his divine will carries on. But every sensible theist can understand that things would stop of themselves if not energized by the constant influx of divine energy, and it is nonsense to doubt whether He who continues the series cannot interpose his power and act between the events that compose the series. God interposed when he originated terrene life; he interposed when he first created man; he interposed by Christ’s first advent; he will again interpose at his second advent. God’s clock is a clock of ages; after a long period it strikes; and sceptics fix their eyes on the length of that period, and forget that the stroke will ever again come.

When God’s hour is complete it is his own hand that strikes.

From the beginning of the creation—Extending their affirmation a great way beyond their knowledge. That no interposition has ever taken place is more than any philosopher ever knew.


Verse 5

5. It is to the Flood that our apostle appeals as an instance of a great interposition. A suitable instance; for its mundane reality is attested by a world-wide spread of traditions among mankind. Whether the deluge was literally world-wide or not, it was a true instance of a mundane catastrophe, justifying the possibility of a still greater catastrophe from the hand of Him to whom this globe is a speck.

Willingly… ignorant—Men do not know the truth because they wish not to know it.

Heavens… earth—The same antithesis as in Genesis 1:1, where the heavens precede the earth.

Were of old—The celestial long preceded the terrestrial.

Out of… in—Rather, through.

The water—The isles and continents project up out of the water, and stretch their long extensions through the water. The one phrase describes the upward rise of the lands from water, the other, the horizontal projection of lands through it.


Verse 6

6. Whereby—Literally, through which; that is, through, or by means of, the doubly-mentioned waters. By means of the waters the earth was overflowed with water.

Perished—Not was annihilated, but wrecked and ruined; so as to require a renewal for any purpose of a moral kingdom of God on earth. A type, though perhaps a feeble one, of the final dissolution. As Adam Clarke notes, the divine fiat separating the oxygen of the atmosphere from the other elements could reduce the world to molten fluid. The same divine fiat could renew the earth in a new and divine perfection. All these changes may, under divine authority, take place in the natural order of cause and effect, or by the special interposition of the divine cause.


Verse 7

7. Which are now—In antithesis to then was, in 2 Peter 3:6.

By the same wordSame as the word of 2 Peter 3:6. By that word the cosmos was created; by this, it is retained in existence.

Kept in store—Literal Greek, are treasured.

Perdition—Same Greek word as perished, in 2 Peter 3:6.


Verse 8

8. Our apostle now returns to the all-important caution in regard to time. It is on this point that the sceptical scoffers will fix. Remember that God’s hours are ages. Note on Acts 1:7.

One day… a thousand years—In the prophetic predictions of the second advent the Spirit speaks by the arithmetic of God, in which the terms soon, quickly, humanly indicating a few days, divinely allow a few ages. Psalms 90.

And now the question may well arise, Why has inspiration thus used phrases of such nearness to designate an event which was to be, as near two thousand years’ experience has proved, so distant? Or, to express the thought in higher terms, Why has a divine arithmetic been thus used to express such a distance to human minds? Our reply would be this: The Spirit’s purpose is, to preserve in our minds an impressive conception of its nearness in spite of its distance. The divine intention is, to prevent our banishing it from our thoughts on account of its far futurity. In its momentousness to us it is nigh at hand, and time is no rightful factor in our calculations. Nay, the very greatness of its distance, far millenniums, perhaps, hence, demands that thought and language should bring it near. Sensible time is very relative. To us in the intervening spirit-world millenniums may pass with inconceivable rapidity. There ever is to us but a step, as it were, to the judgment-day. Note on Matthew 25:6. Hence, Scripture uniformly points us, with warning, not to the day of death, but to the resurrection and the judgment-seat of Christ.


Verse 9

9. SlackBehind time; like a rail-train that does not “come to time.” The divine programme is not unfulfilled because the nearness of the advent does not fulfil the human words.

Is longsuffering—He suffers long. The apostle here illustrates God’s long delay with the world by his long delay with the impenitent. He spares a world as he spares a guilty man, in hopes of a result dear to the divine heart.


Verse 10

10. Will come—With an emphatic will. For what we may call the Apocalypse of St. Paul, we look to 1 Corinthians 15:22-57; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; and 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8. And so we find the Apocalypse of St. Peter in this chapter, 5-13. But it was reserved for St. John to furnish the great Apocalypse of the New Testament. All three supply special points, but all three agree in the great sublime whole.

As a thief—With a sudden surprise to the sceptic scoffers. It will catch them in the midst of their scoffs, and rob them of their argument.

The heavens shall pass away— Note that the passing away is not of the earth, but of the atmospheric heavens of our earth. The visible heavens, as seen to the terrene spectator, are seen to be swept away. They vanish as a scroll. Compare descriptions of the same scene in Revelation 6:12-17; Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 25:31-46.

With a great noise—The Greek word ροιζηδον expresses the whiz or friction of the air or other substance, as by a bird’s wing or other sudden motion. It seems intended to describe the sound effected by a most violent collision of the atmospheric forces, or perhaps of the rushing earth and the air.

The elements—Of which the material earth is composed. We have no reason to suppose that the solar system will be involved in the dissolution of our earth.

Melt with fervent heat—Greek, the elements about-being-burned will be fused. The particles composing the material earth will be separated by the heat, and be ready for reconstruction into new and more perfect forms.

Earth… and… works… therein—As an effect of the divided elements the surface-earth, and all its contents, are consumed and forever disappear. The theatre of human history goes down into non-existence. In the matter of consumption of the earth by physical fire, St. Paul and St. Peter agree; but John is silent. The “lake of fire” of St. John does not seem to belong to the same category, but is analogous to Gehenna, the figurative image of divine wrath exerted in penalty.

The expectation of the destruction of the world by a diluvium ignis— deluge of fire—analogous to the diluvium aquae—deluge of water—was a traditional idea among the ancients, both poets and philosophers, especially the Stoics. We give passages from Wetstein. The philosopher Seneca says: “At that time the foam of the sea, released from laws, was borne on without restraint. By what cause, do you inquire? By the same cause by which the conflagration will take place when to God it seems good to establish a better order of things, and to close the old. Water and fire rule terrene things: from the former comes origination; from the latter, destruction.”

Cicero says: “Our philosophers suppose that at last the whole world will take fire, when, the moisture being consumed, neither the earth can be nourished nor the air circulate, so that nothing will be left but fire; from which, again, under the animating power of God, a renovation of the earth will take place, and the same fair order will be reproduced.”

Eusebius says: “It is the opinion of the Stoic philosophers, that all substance should go into fire, as a seed, and from it again should spring the same organization as before.”

Lenormant, the eminent French archaeologist and historian, (Contemporary Review, Nov. 1879,) says: “The result, then, of this long review authorizes us to affirm the story of the deluge to be a universal tradition among all the branches of the human race, with one exception, however, of the black. Now a recollection thus precise and concordant cannot be a myth voluntarily invented. No religious or cosmogonic myth presents this character of universality. It must arise from the reminiscence of a real and terrible event, so powerfully impressing the imagination of the first ancestors of our race as never to have been forgotten by their descendants. This cataclysm must have occurred near the first cradle of mankind, and before the dispersion of the families from which the principal races were to spring.”


Verse 11

11. Two verses our apostle now interposes to warn his readers of the personal holiness they ought to maintain in view of so great a destruction.

Conversation—Conduct.


Verse 12

12. Looking for—Maintaining expectation of; unlike the scoffers, who denied and forgot.

Hasting untoIntensely earnest in regard to.

Heavens—The atmospheric elements.

Dissolved—Decomposed.

Elements—Material constituents.

Melt—By calorical separation of particles.


Verse 13

13. Nevertheless—Our hopes do not, like the scoffers’, go down with the old earth; our faith looks for the new.

According to his promise—God’s one great promise of eternal life and glory for the elect in Christ. All the prophecies of the Old Testament presuppose it; and the New Testament is one great expression of it. The phraseology, only, of Isaiah 65:17, is used here to describe a greater renewal than Isaiah was enabled explicitly to express.

New heavens and a new earth—Compare notes on Revelation 21:1. The language of St. John would seem to imply that the new is not to be made out of the substance of the old, but that it is to be wholly a new sphere. And the phraseology of Peter might naturally be construed in the same way. We might then suppose (according to our note on 1 Thessalonians 4:17) that the new heavens and earth were the sphere formed of a portion of the departed energies of the old universe crystallized into a new and glorious world. And the second advent may take place when the renewed sphere corresponding to our earth is, by such final crystallization, completed. Yet, on the other hand, the old traditions generally held that the new would be simply a transformation of the old, and such might seem the natural, but not necessary, impression derived from Paul’s language, Romans 8:18-23, where see note. A renovation of the same substance may be indicated by Peter’s analogy of the flood, (2 Peter 3:6,) but that seems rather adduced only as instance of a supernatural break of the ordinary course of events, and is applicable to either view.

On these points astronomy neither aids nor impedes us much. If we suppose a new sphere made from the old energies, such an event need not be supposed ever yet, in the physical history of the universe, to have been completed, at least within reach of the astronomer’s glass. New stars have been supposed to be observed to come into existence, but that supposition was probably the result of inaccurate observation. Stars have been seen apparently in conflagration; so that a burning world is no unsupposable thing. Stars have been seen for a while in apparent conflagration, and then resuming a natural appearance; so that a burned and renewed world is not, astronomically, unthinkable. To the eye of the astronomer the conflagration of a star may look accidental, like the burning of a house. But to the Omniscient eye there is no accident. Every particle of the most confused masses is not only ruled by law, but taken into the divine plan. Pope has well said,

“All nature is but art unknown to thee,

All chance, direction which thou canst not see.”

If human art can by divine provision overlay the potter’s clay with a most beautiful enamel, surely divine art can enamel the earth, which has passed through the divine furnace, with a sublime perfection, fitting it for the dwelling-place of righteousness.


Verse 14

14. Wherefore—In view of this presentation of the time and nature of the day of judgment.

Found of him—Namely, at his glorious appearing.


Verses 14-18

2. By the true interpretation of time in the prophecies of the second advent believers may be preserved from apostasy, and attain salvation, 2 Peter 3:14-18.

Whilst others wrest the apparent non-fulfilment of the immediateness of the second advent to their own apostasy, (especially as predicted in Paul’s epistles,) you, being aware of the true interpretation, will rightly understand God’s long-suffering, and may persevere unto salvation. Commentators seem not generally to have observed that Peter’s intimation of difficulties of interpretation is really limited to this one point, namely, his using terms of immediacy in regard to the possibly very distant second advent.


Verse 15

15. Longsuffering—God’s endurance of the world’s wickedness and weakness.

Is salvation—As of a single sinner God forbears for the sinner’s good, so of the world.

Salvation—The gathering of saved millions into glory is the very essence of God’s patience through ages.

As… also—In addition to my thus writing.

Paul—A memorable mention of a brother apostle.

According… wisdom—Whether Paul wrote clearly or obscurely, it was according to the measure of inspiration by God vouchsafed unto him. See notes on Matthew 28:1, (introductory;) Acts 27:22.

Written unto you—Who is meant by this you? Plainly, not all Christians, but the particular body to whom Peter is writing. For this epistle written by Paul unto you is antithetical to all his epistles in next verse. Of all his epistles there was a single one written unto you. Now, Peter’s first epistle was written (1 Peter 1:1) to the Hebrew dispersion, and this second is written to the same readers, as appears by 2 Peter 3:1, of this epistle.

Song of Solomon 1:1, though addressing Christians, means the Hebrew Christians. This you, therefore, must mean the Hebrew part of the Christian Church. Paul’s one epistle unto you, therefore, must have been the Epistle to the Hebrews. And, as we have shown in our Introduction to Hebrews, Peter’s word, in 2 Peter 3:16, δυσνοητα, hard-to-be-understood, so corresponds to Hebrews 5:11, δυσερμηνευτος, hard-to-be-interpreted, as to leave little doubt of the real reference. In Hebrews such a passage as Hebrews 10:37 might easily be wrested without Peter’s rule of prophetic-time interpretation. In all his epistles we find such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:51, and 1 Thessalonians 4:15, which last is explained by Paul himself. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5.


Verse 16

16. These things—The second advent and its apparently near approach.

Hard to be understood—Without due explanation as to the law of prophetic time.

Unlearned—Ignorant of the true law.

Unstable—Fickle in moral character, and ready at any difficulty to waver.

Wrest—Twist, as with a windlass or hand-screw. They so put their forcible screws onto the time-words in the predictions of the judgment day as to declare them unfulfilled, and to maintain that no judgment day will ever come, and that Christianity itself is a fiction.

Other scriptures—The same unlearned and fickle perversity will find plenty of other difficulties in scripture to wrest to their own destruction. He who wants a cavil will never fail to find one. And here it is to be noted that Paul’s epistles are ranked by Peter as scriptures, and are held by him to be authoritative scriptures for the Christian Church. Even so early as the writing of this epistle a canon of New Testament scriptures was recognised in the Church of these Hebrews, and St. Paul’s writings were included in it with the express endorsement of St. Peter.

Destruction—The same as the perdition of 2 Peter 3:7, and these apostates are of the same class as the ungodly men of that verse.


Verse 17

17. Know… before—The same as knowing this first, of 2 Peter 3:3; namely, the law by which the judgment-day time is to be interpreted.

Ye also—Like the scoffers of 2 Peter 3:3.


Verse 18

18. Grow—Instead of apostatizing.

In grace—The opposite of the fickleness, or unstable, of 2 Peter 3:16.

The knowledge—The opposite of unlearned of 2 Peter 3:16.

To him be glory—That is, to Christ; an attribute never ascribed in doxology to any creature in scripture.

Forever—Greek, ημεραν αιωνος, day of perpetuity, perpetual day; a day without end; eternity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Peter 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-peter-3.html. 1874-1909.

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