Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey

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27. 2 Peter


This chapter should enable the student to

  • summarize what modern scholarship has to say regarding historical background for understanding 2 Peter, including suppositions regarding its genre, date of composition, and intended audience.
  • describe the relationship of 2 Peter to the letter of Jude.
  • articulate what 2 Peter has to say regarding the delay of the parousia and the certainty of judgment.
  • explicate 2 Peter’s pastoral counsel concerning godliness, with reference to both the future and the past.

Pedagogical Suggestions

1. Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

Second Peter has a lot to say about false prophets and teachers. How much of this is rhetorical slander and how much is accurate portrayal? Sifting through the rhetorical portrayal of opponents is part of the work of social historians in their quest to understand New Testament times. Today, only a small portion of the early Christian writings that proliferated in the first and second centuries have survived. Furthermore, these canonical works are the “winners”—those writings that had significant and large enough followings that the writings were preserved over time, recopied, passed along as important tradition, and, eventually, read as scripture. The writings that did not survive (burned as heretical, lost, disappeared when communities disbanded, or were incorporated into more “mainline” kinds of Christianity) are thus lost to us. However, both sets of writings—those that survived and came to represent Christian orthodoxy, and those that were lost—tell us much about the varieties of beliefs, practices, and ways of looking at the world that proliferated in a diverse early Christianity.

In this exercise, ask students to work in small groups and to focus on the false prophets and teachers portrayed in 2 Peter. Recognizing that this portrayal in 2 Peter has a particular rhetorical shape and vehement tone to it, can they sift through the language to reconstruct the positions of the teachers (as Powell shows scholars have tried to do on text pp. 489–90)? Once they have done this, ask students to write a letter from the leader of the “false teachers” to encourage the believers in the same communities to follow their teaching, not that “pack of lies” the “immoral” competition is preaching!


Reconstructing an “opponent” from the writings written against that opponent is quite difficult. However, it is an excellent exercise for students to think their way inside the perspective of the author of 2 Peter and then try to think with the opponent. After attempting to think with “both sides” (although from the perspective of one side), have students identify the problems with this kind of circular reconstruction. This takes their critical thinking and analysis of scholarly arguments to another level.

Discussion Prompts

  1. After reading 2 Peter and Jude side by side, discuss their similarities and differences. How did scholars decide 2 Peter used Jude and not the other way around? What phrasing, concepts, imagery and language does 2 Peter pick up from Jude? Does the argument of 2 Peter also come from Jude? What difference does it make that 2 Peter “copied” Jude’s content and style?
  2. Read the description of a “testament” in Powell (pp. 487–88). How does 2 Peter fit this genre? Obviously 2 Peter is framed as a letter; how else does this letter differ from other “testaments”?
  3. Why would a second-century author write in the name of Peter to counter the false teachers’ “troubling innovations” (see fig. 27.1)?