What's 2nd Peter Got to Do with Anything?
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, inspired?

    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 thinking.

    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 it.

    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 the reading.

    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 not?

    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 books?

    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 important test.

    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:
   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."