What's 2nd Peter Got to Do with
Don R. Camp
I stood in front of the Bibles on the shelf of my Bible bookstore,
intimidated by the new translations that confronted
me. Which one was best? Which was most accurate? Which most
readable. As I struggled with those questions, I began to wonder
about inspiration. Were these Bibles, different as they were,
I had been taught a standard definition of
inspiration by my Bible teacher in Christian school, verbal
plenary. That means every word is inspired and inspired equally.
It was easy to remember, but how did it work with the many new
translations coming out? I asked a pastor.
He said that it only had to do with the
original "autographs." That's a fancy name for the actual document
written by the author, not copies or translations. But that wasn't
very satisfying because I did not have an autograph and wasn't
ever likely to. In fact, it turns out no one has an
autograph. We all have copies and translations. But I wasn't done
I asked my pastor whether maybe God had
inspired the ideas rather than the words. Maybe the issue of which
translation is the best translation is not so important. He was of
a generation older than myself and had received a pretty
fundamental education. He said no; God inspired the specific words
- in the autographs - and that was important. We need to get as
close to those words as we can.
A year or so later, in the same church, we had
a retired Wycliffe missionary visit and speak. He had been a
missionary to a Mayan tribal people in Mexico and had there helped
translate the Bible into the Mayan language. I asked him about his
translation. He said it was rough. But rough as it was it had led
many Mayan people to place their trust in Jesus and had
transformed their lives and tribal culture. At that point I got
Inspiration is not simply about the original
documents written by the prophets or Apostles. It is also about
the way God uses those sometimes imperfectly translated books to
change lives. Being as accurate as possible to the originals is
important, but just as important is the Holy Spirit's presence in
To be fair with the theologians, that is called
"illumination" and distinct from "inspiration." But in real
life one is not sufficient without the other. And as in the case
of my Wycliffe translator friend, God uses the imperfect if that
is all he has to work with. And that is all God does have. We do
not have the theoretically perfect originals. We must depend upon
illumination by the Spirit.
So the next leap in my mind was this
question: how do we know if the books we have are inspired.
I had no idea at the time how complicated the
answer to that question was going to be - or how simple.
The complicated answer is that the process of
deciding which books are inspired was long and messy. As far
as the New Testament books were concerned, it took several
centuries for Christians to come to a settled decision, if it can
even be called that. The fact is, there were a lot of books
written about Jesus or written as instruction to the church. The
shelves of 1st and 2nd century Bible bookstores were
crowded. There were gospels everywhere. There were letters
written to churches and books of instructions and books of stories
and allegories. Most do not show up in our present Bibles. Why
In the late first century and second
century the question of which books to keep on the shelf was
pressed upon the church by the shear numbers of books and the
diversity within those books. Up to that point, there was little
consensus about which books were to be considered authoritative or
inspired. The Hebrew Scriptures, of course, were assumed by nearly
everyone to be God's inspired words. But what about these newer
Some of these newer books were pretty much
accepted by everyone. Among them were the four gospels Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John. They were the foundation of the new list of
books that would become known as the canon or approved list, which
is what the word canon means. Some were rejected outright as being
out of keeping with the word already received and out of keeping
with Jesus as he was revealed in the flesh and in the collected
memories of the disciples and Apostles. Others were on the fringe.
They were accepted as authoritative by some and neglected if not
rejected by others in the churches. Among them were the books of
Revelation, 2nd and 3rd John, James, Jude, and 2 Peter.
It was not until the 4th century and early 5th
century that there was something of a final list drawn up. And
even then, there continued to be less than great enthusiasm about
some of the books. Luther, for example, called the book of James a
"strawy epistle" because it seemed to contradict Paul's firm stand
on salvation by faith. Revelation has always been a puzzle and was
often neglected by teachers of the Scriptures. And lately
questions about 2 Peter have resurfaced.
That gives an idea of how complex and messy
this drawing up a list of inspired books was. However, for most
Christians it was far more simple. The question for them was this:
does God speak in this book. Was there a spark of the Spirit?
The formal selection process included limiting
the books to those written by Apostles or those near the Apostles.
It included the question of unity or theological agreement with
the previously written scriptures in the Old Testament and those
books early deemed authoritative in the first century, the four
gospels. It was an intellectual process. In the end, however, the
books that made the cut were those in which God spoke to the
reader and to the church.
That freshness and sense of God's immediate
word (the Greek word for that is rhema
) to them is what
impressed Christians. It was what impressed people about Jesus'
teaching. They said, "He speaks with authority, not as the Scribes
and the Pharisees." That seems to those who would like something
more measurable as terribly subjective. But to the mature
Christian in the 2nd century or the 21st, it is the final and most
It is with that background in view that we come
to the current challenge to one of the books in our Bibles, the
book of 2 Peter. As I began to considered 2 Peter seriously, I
asked why it had not been embraced as enthusiastically as some of
the other books.
Second Peter was one of the last books to
receive the qualification "canonical." Not until the late 3rd
century was 2 Peter included in the offical canon. In fact,
in several cases it was called a forgery - as it is called by some
today - even though it had been recognized by various groups of
Christians as the rhema
of God from early in the 2nd century.
As I searched for an answer I stumbled upon the web site of
evangelist Steve Cha The
Authenticity of 2nd Peter.
He has done an exceptional job
of defending 2 Peter as an authentic book written by the Apostle
Peter and as the inspired rhema
of God to the church. The
research and thought he put into the defense of 2 Peter is
impressive. But I wondered why an evangelist would be so
interested in 2 Peter. Wouldn't other books be more suitable in
his evangelistic calling?
I wondered also why it is so passionately
opposed by the new atheists.
As I often do, I slept on those questions. I
wanted to allow God time to lead me to the answers. And I woke in
the middle of the night with this:
- Second Peter was not written primarily for the Christian of
the 1st century or the 2nd. It did have a message for them. It
spoke to their circumstances and the challenges they were
facing. It was an encouragement to persevere in the face of
the opposition they faced. It spoke of the hope of new age to
come. But it was more a message about the future. And the
church wasn't there yet. That may be the reason it was not as
often used by the early church as other books.
- Second Peter is God's rhema for our time more than
any other. We are living in the time Peter spoke of. We are at
the end of the age. We are faced with the dangers from the
within the church Peter wrote about and the attacks of
scoffers from outside the church - more than any generation in
the past. This book, and interestingly, and the other books
that were in the early centuries considered a little ify -
Revelation, James, and Jude - were meant for us. They
are time capsules meant to be opened and understood anew
in our age. And that is what evangelist Steve Cha
implies when he ends with this: "In a time when false doctrine
and theories abound (in this case against 2 Peter itself), it
is important that 2 Peter is preserved for the good of the
church’s instruction, which is to combat false teaching and to
uphold the glorious truth of the gospel in a dying world.
Without it, the church is bereft of instruction concerning the
importance of upholding truth and rejecting error."
- Second Peter is opposed by the new scoffers because they are
in it. Nowhere else in the Scriptures are the scoffers of the
end of the age called out and identified as in 2nd Peter.
Peter writes: "Above all, you must understand that in the last
days scoffers will come." They will deny and oppose the truth
of God's word. They will mock believers and seek to destroy
the message and raise doubt by their questions. Yet at the
same time, nowhere is there a message of grace so directly
spoken to them: "God is patient with you, not wanting any to
perish, but all to come to repentance."
That message moves me. I pray that it moves you. If
you are reading this as a Christian, stand firm in your faith
while at the same time holding out grace to those who oppose you.
If you are a scoffer, I beg you to consider God's grace. He loves
you. He holds out to you forgiveness and peace and hope.
Peter ends with this message to his readers -
you and me: "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus
Christ." For us that is the message of the book.
"To Him be glory both now and forever, amen."