The New Testament and the Flood
There are many today who consider the early chapters of Genesis
to be "historical myth." The story of Creation and
the Flood didn't really happen--it is not a part of mankind's
actual history they tell us. It is a legend or a story derived
from various sources but these events never took place.
Jesus did not hold to this view. He frequently quoted Genesis,
speaking from it with the same regard and authority He gave to
all the rest of Scripture. The Apostles of Christ also held to
the authority of the Old Testament as God's Word, as historically
accurate. The Apostle Peter devotes a good portion of his second
Epistle to a warning concerning false teachers and skeptics who
distort or deny the fact that God has intervened radically in
human history will do so again in the near future.
The late William Barclay offers the
following comments on Peter's second letter which deals with
the general subject of false teaching, and brings forth a number
of Old Testament illustrations, including the Flood of Noah.
THE PASTOR'S CARE
It is for this reason that I intend constantly
to remind You of these things, although you already know them,
and although you are ready firmly established in the truth which
you possess. I think it is right, so long as I am in this tent,
to rouse you by reminding you, for I know that the time to put
off my tent is coming soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has
told me. Yes, and I will make it my endeavor to see to it that
after my departure you will constantly remember these things.
(2 Peter 1:12-15)
Here speaks the pastor's care. In this passage Peter shows
us two things about preaching and teaching. First, preaching
is very often reminding a man of what he already knows. It is
the bringing back to his memory that truth which he has forgotten,
or at which he refuses to look, or whose meaning he has not fully
appreciated. Second, Peter is going to go on to uncompromising
rebuke and warning, but he begins with something very like a
compliment. He says that his people already possess the truth
and are firmly established in it. Always a preacher, a teacher
or a parent will achieve more by encouragement than by scolding.
We do more to reform people and to keep them safe by, as it were,
putting them on their honour than by flaying them with invective.
Peter was wise enough to know that the first essential to make
men listen is to show that we believe in them.
Peter looks forward to his early death. He talks of his body
as his tent, as Paul does (2 Corinthians 5:4). This was a favorite
picture with the early Christian writers. The Epistle to Diognetus
says, "The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tent."
The picture comes from the journeyings of the patriarchs in the
Old Testament. They had no abiding residence but lived in tents
because they were on the way to the Promised Land. The Christian
knows well that his life in this world is not a permanent residence
but a journey towards the world beyond. We get the same idea
in verse 15. There Peter speaks of his approaching death as his
exodos, his departure. Exodos is, of course, the
word which is used for the departure of the children of Israel
from Egypt, and their setting out to the Promised Land. Peter
sees death, not as the end but as the going out into the Promised
Land of God.
Peter says that Jesus Christ has told him that for him the
end will soon be coming. This may be a reference to the prophecy
in John 21:18, 19, when Jesus foretells that there will come
a day when Peter also will be stretched out upon a cross. That
time is about to come.
Peter says that he will take steps to see that what he has
got to say to them will be held before their memory even when
he is gone from this earth. That may well be a reference to the
Gospel according to St. Mark. The consistent tradition is that
it is the preaching material of Peter. Irenaeus says that, after
the death of Peter and Paul, Mark, who had been his disciple
and interpreter, handed on in writing the things which it had
been Peter's custom to preach. Papias, who lived towards the
end of the second century and collected many traditions about
the early days of the Church, hands down the same tradition about
Mark's gospel: "Mark, who was Peter's interpreter, wrote
down accurately, though not in order, all that he recollected
of what Christ had said or done. For he was not a hearer of the
Lord, or a follower of his; he followed Peter, as I have said,
at a later date and Peter adapted his instruction to practical
needs, without any attempt to give the Lord's words systematically.
So that Mark was not wrong in writing down some things in this
way from memory, for his one concern was neither to omit nor
to falsify anything that he had heard." It may well be that
the reference here means that Peter's teaching was made still
available to his people in Mark's Gospel after his death.
In any event, the pastor's aim was to bring to his people
God's truth while he was still alive and to take steps to keep
it in their memories after he was dead. He wrote, not to preserve
his own name, but the name of Jesus Christ.
For it was not cleverly invented fables
that we followed when we made known to you the power and the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; it was because we were made
eye-witnesses of his majesty. This happened to us on that occasion
when he received honour and glory from God the Father, when this
voice was borne to him by the majestic glory-"This is my
Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased." It was this
voice that we heard, borne from heaven, when we were with him
in the sacred mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)
Peter comes to the message which it was his great aim to bring
to his people, concerning "the power and the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ." As we shall see quite clearly as we
go on, the great aim of this letter is to recall men to certainty
in regard to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The heretics
whom Peter is attacking no longer believed in it; it was so long
delayed that people had begun to think it would never happen
Such, then, was Peter's message. Having stated it, he goes
on to speak of his right to state it; and does something which
is, at least at first sight, surprising. His right to speak is
that he was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and that
there he saw he glory and the honour which were given to him
and heard the voice of God speak to him. That is to say, Peter
uses the transfiguration story, not as a foretaste of the Resurrection
of Jesus, as it is commonly regarded, but as a foretaste of the
triumphant glory of the Second Coming. The transfiguration story
is told in Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36. Was Peter
right in seeing in it a foretaste of the Second Coming rather
than a prefiguring of the Resurrection?
There is one particularly significant thing about the transfiguration
story. In all three gospels, it immediately follows the prophecy
of Jesus which said that there were some standing there who would
not pass from the world until they had seen the Son of Man coming
in his kingdom (Matthew 16:29; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). That would
certainly seem to indicate that the transfiguration and the Second
Coming were in some way linked together.
Whatever we may say, this much is certain, that Peter's great
aim in this letter is to recall his people to a living belief
in the Second Coming of Christ and he bases his right to do so
on what he saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.
In verse 16 there is a very interesting word. Peter says,
"We were made eye-Witnesses of his majesty." The word
he uses for, eye-witness is epoptes. In the Greek usage
of Peter's day this was a technical word. We have already spoken
about the Mystery Religions. They were all of the nature of passion
plays, in which the story of a god who lived, suffered, died,
and rose again was played out. It was only after a long course
of instruction and preparation that the worshiper was finally
allowed to be present at the passion play, and to be offered
the experience of becoming one with the dying and rising God.
When he reached this stage, he was an initiate and the technical
word to describe him was epoptes; he was a privileged
eye-witness of the experiences of God. So Peter says that the
Christian is an eye-witness of the sufferings of Christ. With
the eye of faith he sees the Cross; in the experience of faith
he dies with Christ to sin and rises to righteousness. His faith
has made him one with Jesus Christ in his death and in his risen
life and power.
THE WORDS OF THE PROPHETS
So this makes the word of the prophets still more certain
for us; and you will do well to pay attention to it, as it shines
like a lamp in a dingy place, until the day dawns and the Morning
Star rises within your hearts. For you must first and foremost
realize that no prophecy in Scripture permits of private interpretation;
for no prophecy was ever borne to us by the will of man, but
men spoke from God, when they were carried away by the Holy Spirit.
(2 Peter 1:19-21)
This is a particularly difficult passage, because in both
halves of it the Greek can mean quite different things. We look
at these different possibilities and in each case we take the
less probable first.
(i) The first. sentence can well mean: "In prophecy we
have an even surer guarantee, that is, of the Second Coming."
If Peter did say this, he means that the words of the prophets
are an even surer guarantee of the reality of the Second Coming
than his own experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.
However unlikely it may seem, it is by no means impossible
that he did say just that. When he was writing there was a tremendous
interest in the words of prophecy whose fulfillment in Christianity
was seen to prove its truth. We get case after case of people
converted in the days of the early church by reading the Old
Testament books and seeing their prophecies fulfilled in Jesus.
It would be quite in line with that to declare the strongest
argument for the Second Coming is that prophets foretold it.
(ii) But we think that the second possibility is to be preferred:
"What we saw on the Mount of Transfiguration makes it even
more certain that what is foretold in the prophets about the
Second Coming must be true."
However we take it, the meaning is that the glory of Jesus
on the mountain top and the visions of the prophets combine to
make it certain that the Second Coming is a living reality which
all men must expect and for which all men must prepare.
There is also a double possibility about the second part of
this passage. "No prophecy of the Scripture," as the
Revised Standard Version has it, "is a matter of one's own
(i) Many of the early scholars took this to mean: "When
any of the prophets interpreted any situation in history or told
how history was going to unfold itself, they were not expressing
a private opinion of their own; they were passing on a revelation
which God had given them." This is a perfectly possible
meaning. In the Old Testament the mark of a false prophet was
that he was speaking of himself, as it were, privately, and not
saying what God had told him to say. Jeremiah condemns the false
prophets: "They speak visions of their own minds, not from
the mouth of the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:16). Ezekiel says, "Woe
to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have
seen nothing" (Ezekiel 13:3). Hippolytus describes the way
in which the words of the true prophets came: "They did
not speak of their own power, nor did they proclaim what they
themselves wished, but first they were given right wisdom by
the word, and were then instructed by visions."
On this view the passage means that, when the prophets spoke,
it was no private opinion they were giving; it was it revelation
from God and, therefore, their words must be carefully heeded.
(ii) The second way to take this passage is as referring to
our interpretation of the prophets. A situation was confronting
peter in which the heretics and the evil men were interpreting
the prophets to suit themselves. On this view, which we support,
Peter is saying: "No man can go to Scripture and interpret
it as it suits himself."
This is of first-rate practical importance. Peter is saying
that no man has the right to interpret Scripture, to use his
own word, privately. How then must it be interpreted? To answer
that question we must ask another. How did the prophets receive
their message? They received it from the Spirit. It was sometimes
even said that the Spirit of God used the prophets as a writer
uses a pen or as a musician uses a musical instrument. In any
event the Spirit gave the prophet his message. The obvious conclusion
is that it is only through the help of that same Spirit that
the prophetic message can be understood. As Paul had already
said, spiritual things are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians
2:14, 15). As the Jews viewed the Holy Spirit, he has two functions--he
brings God's truth to men and he enables men to understand that
truth when it is brought. So, then, Scripture is not to be interpreted
by private cleverness or private prejudice; it is to be interpreted
by the help of the Holy Spirit by whom it was first given.
Practically that means two things.
(a) Throughout all the ages the Spirit has been working in
devoted scholars who under the guidance of God have opened the
Scriptures to men. If, then, we wish to interpret Scripture,
we must never arrogantly insist that our own interpretation must
be correct; we must humbly go to the works of the scholars to
learn what they have to teach us because of what the Spirit taught
(b) There is more than that. The one place in which the Spirit
specially resides and is specially operative is the Church; and,
therefore, Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the
teaching, the belief and the tradition of the Church. God is
our Father in the faith, but the Church is our mother in the
faith. If a man finds that his interpretation of Scripture is
at variance with the teaching of the Church, he must humbly examine
himself and ask whether his guide has not been his own private
wishes rather than the Holy Spirit.
It is Peter's insistence that Scripture does not consist of
any man's private opinions but is the revelation of God to men
through his Spirit; and that, therefore, its interpretation must
not depend on any man's private opinions but must ever be guided
by that same Spirit who is still specially operative within the
There were times when false prophets arose
among the people, even as amongst you too there will be false
teachers, men who will insidiously introduce destructive heresies
and deny the Lord who bought them; and by so doing they will
bring swift destruction on themselves. (2 Peter 2:1)
That there should arise false prophets within the Church was
something only to be expected, for in every generation false
prophets had been responsible for leading God's people astray
and for bringing disaster on the nation. It is worth while looking
at the false prophets in the Old Testament story for their characteristics
were recurring in the time of Peter and are still recurring today.
(i) The false prophets were more interested in gaining popularity
than in telling the truth. Their policy was to tell people what
they wanted to hear. The false prophets said, "Peace, peace,
when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14). They saw visions
of peace, when the Lord God was saying that there was no peace
(Ezekiel 13:16). In the days of Jehosaphat, Zedekiah, the false
prophet, donned his horns of iron and said that Israel would
push the Syrians out of the way as he pushed with these horns;
Micaiah the true prophet foretold disaster if Jehosaphat went
to war. Of course, Zedekiah was popular and his message was accepted;
but Jehosaphat went forth to war with the Syrians and perished
tragically (I Kings 22). In the days of Jeremiah, Hananiah prophesied
the swift end of the power of Babylon, while Jeremiah prophesied
the servitude of the nation to her; and again the prophet who
told people what they wished to hear was the popular one (Jeremiah
28). Diogenes, the great cynic philosopher, spoke of the false
teachers of his day whose method was to follow wherever the applause
of the crowd led. One of the first characteristics of the false
prophet is that he tells men what they want to hear and not the
truth they need to hear.
(ii) The false prophets were interested in personal gain.
As Micah said, "Its priests teach for hire, and its prophets
divine for money" (Micah 3:11). They teach for filthy lucre's
sake (Titus I:11), and they identify godliness and gain, making
their religion a money-making thing (I Timothy 6:5). We can see
these exploiters at work in the early church. In The Didache,
The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which is what might be called
the first service-order book, it is laid down that a prophet
who asks for money or for a table to be spread in front of him,
is a false prophet. "Traffickers in Christ" The Didache
calls such men (The Didache 11). The false prophet is a covetous
creature who regards men as dupes to be exploited for his own
(iii) The false prophets were dissolute in their personal
life. Isaiah writes: "The priest and the prophet reel with
strong drink; they are confused with wine" (Isaiah 28:7).
Jeremiah says, "In the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen
a horrible thing; they commit adultery and walk in lies; they
strengthen the hands of evil-doers....They lead my people astray
by their lies and their recklessness" (Jeremiah 23:14, 32).
The false prophet in himself is a seduction to evil rather than
an attraction to good.
(iv) The false prophet was above all a man who led other men
further away from God instead of closer to him. The prophet who
invites the people: "Let us go after other gods," must
be mercilessly destroyed (Deuteronomy), 13:1-5; 18:20). The false
prophet takes men in the wrong direction.
These were the characteristics of the false prophets in the
ancient days and in Peter's time; and they are their characteristics
THE SINS OF THE FALSE PROPHETS AND THEIR END
In this verse Peter has certain things to say about these
false prophets and their actions.
(i) They insidiously introduce destructive heresies. The Greek
for heresy is hairesis. It comes from the verb haireisthai,
which means to choose; and originally it was a perfectly honourable
word. It simply meant a line of belief and action which a man
had chosen for himself. In the New Testament we read of the hairesis
of the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Nazarenes (Acts 5:17;
15:5; 24:5). It was perfectly possible to speak of the hairesis
of Plato and to mean nothing more than those who were Platonist
in their thought. It was perfectly possible to speak of a group
of doctors who practiced a certain method of treatment as a hairesis.
But very soon in the Christian Church hairesis changed
its complexion. In Paul's thought heresies and schisms go together
as things to be condemned (I Corinthians 11:18, 19); haireseis
(the plural form of the word) are part of the works of the flesh;
a man that is a heretic is to be warned and even given a second
chance, and then rejected (Titus 3:10).
Why the change? The point is that before the coming of Jesus,
who is the way, the truth, and the life, there was no such thing
as definite, God-given truth. A man was presented with a number
of alternatives any one of which he was perfectly free to choose
to believe. But with the coming of Jesus, God's truth came to
men and they had either to accept or to reject it. A heretic
then became a man who believed what he wished to believe instead
of accepting the truth of God which he ought to believe.
What was happening in the case of Peter's people that certain
self-styled prophets were insidiously persuading men to believe
the things they wished to be true rather than the things which
God had revealed to be true. They did not set themselves up as
opponents of Christianity. Far from it. They set themselves up
as the finest fruits of Christian thinking; and so it was gradually
and subtly that people were being lured away from God's truth
to other men's private opinions, which is what heresy is.
(ii) These men denied the Lord who had bought them. This idea
of Christ buying men for himself is one which runs through the
whole New Testament. It comes from his own word that he had come
to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The idea was
that men were slaves to sin and Jesus purchased them at the cost
of his life for himself, and, therefore, for freedom. "You
were bought with a price," says Paul (I Corinthians 7:23).
"Christ redeemed us (bought us out) from the curse of the
law" (Galatians 3:13). In the new song in the Revelation
the hosts of heaven tell how Jesus Christ bought them with his
blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation (Revelation
5:9). This clearly means two things. It means that the Christian
by right of purchase belongs absolutely to Christ; and it means
that a life which cost so much cannot be squandered on sin or
on cheap things.
The heretics in Peter's letter were denying the Lord who bought
them. That could mean that they were saying that they did not
know Christ; and it could mean that they were denying his authority.
But it is not as simple as that; one might say that it is not
as honest as that. We have seen that these men claimed to be
Christians; more, they claimed to be the wisest and the most
advanced of Christians. Let us take a human analogy. Suppose
a man says that he loves his wife and yet is consistently unfaithful
to her. By his acts of infidelity he denies, gives the lie to
his words of love. Suppose a man protests eternal friendship
to someone, and yet is consistently disloyal to him. His actions
deny, give the lie to, his protestations of friendship. What
these evil men, who were troubling Peter's people, were doing,
was to say that they loved and served Christ, while the things
they taught and did were a complete denial of him.
(iii) The end of these evil men was destruction. They were
insidiously introducing destructive heresies, but these heresies
would in the end destroy themselves. There is no more certain
way to ultimate condemnation than to teach another to sin.
THE WORK OF FALSEHOOD
And many will follow the way of their blatant
immoralities and through them the true way will be brought into
disrepute. In their evil ambition they will exploit you with
cunningly forged arguments. Their sentence was settled long ago,
and now it is not inactive, and their destruction is not asleep.
(2 Peter 2:2, 3)
In this short passage we see four things about the false teachers
and their teaching.
(i) We see the cause of false teaching. It is evil ambition.
The word is pleonexia; pleon means more and exia
comes from the verb echein, which means to have. Pleonexia
is the desire to possess more but it acquires a certain flavor.
It is by no means always a sin to desire to possess more; there
are many cases in which that is a perfectly honorable desire,
as in the case of virtue, or knowledge, or skill. But pleonexia
comes to mean the desire to possess that which a man has no right
to desire, still less to take. So it can mean covetous desire
for money and for other people's goods; lustful desire for someone's
person; unholy ambition for prestige and power. False teaching
comes from the desire to put its own ideas in the place of the
truth of Jesus Christ; the false teacher is guilty of nothing
less than of usurping the place of Christ.
(ii) We see the method of false teaching. It is the use of
cunningly forged arguments. Falsehood is easily resisted when
it is presented as falsehood; it is when it is disguised as truth
that it becomes menacing. There is only one touchstone. Any teacher's
teaching must be tested by the words and presence of Jesus Christ
(iii) We see the effect of the false teaching. It was twofold.
It encouraged men to take the way of blatant immorality. The
word is aselgeia which describes the attitude of the man
who is lost to shame and cares for the judgment of neither man
nor God. We must remember what was at the back of this false
teaching. It was perverting the grace of God into a justification
for sin. The false teachers were telling men that grace was inexhaustible
and that, therefore, they were free to sin as they liked for
grace would forgive.
This false teaching had a second effect. It brought Christianity
into disrepute. In the early days, just as now, every Christian
was a good or bad advertisement for Christianity and the Christian
Church. It is Paul's accusation to the Jews that through them
the name of God has been brought into disrepute (Romans 2:24).
In the Pastoral Epistles the younger women are urged to behave
with such modesty and chastity that the Church will never be
brought into disrepute (Titus 2:5). Any teaching which produces
a person who repels men from Christianity instead of attracting
them to it is false teaching, and the work of those who are enemies
(iv) We see the ultimate end of false teaching and that is
destruction. Sentence was passed on the false prophets long ago;
the Old Testament pronounced their doom (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
It might look as if that sentence had become inoperative or was
slumbering, but it was still valid, and the day would come when
the false teachers would pay the terrible price of their falsehood.
No man who leads another astray will ever escape his own judgment.
THE FATE OF THE WICKED AND THE RESCUE OF THE RIGHTEOUS
...if God did not spare even angels who
had sinned, but condemned them to the lowest hell and committed
them to the pits of darkness, where they remain kept for judgment;
if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved in safety
Noah, the preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when
he dispatched the flood on a world of impious men; if he reduced
the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes, when he sentenced
them to destruction and so gave an example of what would happen
to those who would one day act with impiety, but rescued righteous
Lot, who was distressed by the blatantly immoral conduct of lawless
men, for, to such a man, righteous in his looking and in his
hearing, it was torture for his righteous soul to live his daily
life amidst such people and amidst such lawless deeds if all
this is so, you can be sure that the Lord knows how to rescue
truly religious men from trial and how to preserve the unrighteous
under punishment, until the day of judgment comes, especially
those whose lives are dominated by the polluting lusts of the
flesh and who despise the celestial powers. Audacious, self-willed
men they are; they do not shrink from speaking evil of the angelic
glories, whereas angels who are greater in strength and power
do not bring an accusation of evil against them in the presence
of the Lord. (2 Peter 2:4-11)
Here is a passage which for us combines undoubted power and
equally undoubted obscurity. The white heat of its rhetorical
intensity glows through it to this day; but it moves in allusions
which would be terrifyingly effective to those who heard it for
the first time, but which have become unfamiliar to us today.
It cites three notorious examples of sin and its destruction;
and in two of the cases it shows how, when sin was obliterated,
righteousness was rescued and preserved by the mercy and the
grace of God. Let us look at these examples one by one.
1. THE SIN OF THE ANGELS
Before we retell the story which lies behind this in Jewish
legend, there are two separate words at which we must look.
Peter says that God condemned the sinning angels to the lowest
depths of hell. Literally the Greek says that God condemned the
angels to Tartarus (tartaroun). Tartarus was not a Hebrew
conception but Greek. In Greek mythology Tartarus was the lowest
hell; it was as far beneath Hades as the heaven is high above
the earth. In particular it was the place into which there had
been cast the Titans who had rebelled against Zeus, the Father
of gods and men.
The second word is that which speaks of the pits of darkness.
Here there is a doubt. There are two Greek words, both rather
uncommon, which are confused in this passage. One is siros
or seiros which originally meant a great earthenware jar
for the storing of grain. Then it came to mean the great underground
pits in which grain was stored and which served as granaries.
Siros has come into English via Provençal in the
form of silo, which still describes the towers in which grain
is stored. Still later the word went on to mean a pit in which
a wolf or other wild animal was trapped. If we think that this
is the word which Peter uses, and according to the best manuscripts
it is, it will mean that the wicked angels were cast into great
subterranean pits and kept there in darkness and in punishment.
This well suits the idea of a Tartarus beneath the lowest depths
But there is a very similar word seira, which means
a chain. This is the word which the Authorized Version translates
when it speaks of chains of darkness (verse 4). The Greek manuscripts
of Second Peter vary between seiroi, pits, and seirai,
chains. But the better manuscripts have seiroi, and pits
of darkness makes better sense than chains of darkness; so we
may take seiros as right, and assume that here the Authorized
Version is in error.
The story of the fall of the angels is one which rooted itself
deeply in Hebrew thought and which underwent much development
as the years went on. The original story is in Genesis 6:1-5.
There the angels are called the sons of God, as they commonly
are in the Old Testament. In Job, the sons of God come to present
themselves before the Lord, and Satan comes amongst them (Job
1:6; cp. 2:1 ; 38:7). The Psalmist speaks of the sons of gods
(Psalm 89:6). These angels came to earth and seduced mortal women.
The result of this lustful union was the race of giants; and
through them wickedness came upon the earth. Clearly this is
an old, old story belonging to the childhood of the race.
This story was much developed in the Book of Enoch, and it
is from it that Peter is drawing his allusions, for in his day
that was a book which everyone would know. In Enoch the angels
are called The Watchers. Their leader in rebellion was Semjaza
or Azazel. At his instigation they descended to Mount Hermon
in the days of Jared, the father of Enoch. They took mortal wives
and instructed them in magic and in arts which gave them power.
They produced the race of the giants, and the giants produced
the nephilim, the giants who inhabited the land of Canaan and
of whom the people were afraid (Numbers 13:33).
These giants became cannibals and were guilty of every kind
of lust and crime, and especially of insolent arrogance to God
and man. The apocryphal literature has many references to them
and their pride. Wisdom (14:6) tells how the proud giants perished.
Ecclesiasticus (16:7) tells how the ancient giants fell away
in the strength of their foolishness. They had no wisdom and
they perished in their folly (Baruch 3:26-28). Josephus says
that they were arrogant and contemptuous of all that was good
and trusted in their own strength (Antiquities 1.3.1). Job says
that God charged his angels with folly (Job 4:18).
This old story makes a strange and fleeting appearance in
the letters of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 11:10 Paul says that women
must have their hair covered in the Church because of the angels.
Behind that strange saying ties the old belief that it was the
loveliness of the long hair of the women of the olden times which
moved the angels to desire; and Paul wishes to see that the angels
are not tempted again.
In the end even men complained of the sorrow and misery brought
into the world by these giants through the sin of the angels.
The result was that God sent out his archangels. Raphael bound
Azazel hand and foot and shut him up in darkness; Gabriel slew
the giants; and the Watchers, the sinning angels, were shut up
in the abysses of darkness under the mountains for seventy generations
and then confined for ever in everlasting fire. Here is the story
which is in Peter's mind; and which his readers well knew. The
angels had sinned and God had sent his destruction, and they
were shut up for ever in the pits of darkness and the depths
of hell. That is what happens to rebellious sin.
The story does not stop there; and it reappears in another
of its forms in this passage of Second Peter. In verse 10 Peter
speaks of those who live lives dominated by the polluting lusts
of the flesh and who despise the celestial powers. The word is
kuriotes, which is the name of one of the ranks of angels.
They speak evil of the angelic glories. The word is doxai,
which also is a word for one of the ranks of angels. They slander
the angels and bring them into disrepute.
Here is where the second turn of the story comes in. Obviously
this story of the angels is very primitive and, as time went
on, it became rather an awkward and embarrassing story because
of its ascription of lust to angels. So in later Jewish and Christian
thought two lines of thought developed.
First, it was denied that the story involved angels at all.
The sons of God were said to be good men who were the descendants
of Seth, and the daughters of men were said to be evil women
who were the daughters of Cain and corrupted the good men. There
is no scriptural evidence for this distinction and this way of
escape. Second, the whole story was allegorized. It was claimed,
for instance by Philo, that it was never meant to be taken literally
and described the fall of the human soul under the attack of
the seductions of lustful pleasures. Augustine declared that
no man could take this story literally and talk of the angels
like that. Cyril of Alexandria said that it could not be taken
literally, for did not Jesus say that in the after-life men would
be like angels and there would be no marrying or giving in marriage
(Matthew 22:30)? Chrysostom said that, if the story was taken
literally, it was nothing short of blasphemy. And Cyril went
on to say that the story was nothing other than an incentive
to sin, if it was taken as literally true.
It is clear that men began to see that this was indeed a dangerous
story. Here we get our clue as to what Peter means when he speaks
of men who despise the celestial powers and bring the angelic
glories into disrepute by speaking slanderously of them. The
men whom Peter was opposing were turning their religion into
an excuse for blatant immorality. Cyril of Alexandria makes it
clear that in his day the story could be used as an incentive
to sin. Most probably what was happening was that the wicked
men of Peter's time were citing the example of the angels as
a justification for their own sin. They were saying, "If
angels came from heaven and took mortal women, why should not
we?" They were making the conduct of the angels an excuse
for their own sin.
We have to go still further with this passage. In verse 11
it finishes very obscurely. It says that angels who are greater
in strength and in power do not bring a slanderous charge against
them in the presence of God. Once again Peter is speaking allusively,
in a way that would be clear enough to the people of his day
but which is obscure to us. His reference may be to either of
(a) He may be referring to the story to which Jude refers
in Jude 9; that the archangel Michael was entrusted with the
burying of the body of Moses. Satan claimed the body on the grounds
that all matter belonged to him and that once Moses, had murdered
an Egyptian. Michael did not bring a railing charge against Satan;
all he said was: "The Lord rebuke you." The point is
that even an angel so great as Michael would not, bring an evil
charge against an angel so dark as Satan. He left the matter
to God. If Michael refrained from slander of an evil angel, how
can men bring slanderous charges against the angels of God?
(b) He may be referring to a further development of Enoch
story. Enoch tells that when the conduct of the giants on earth
became intolerable, men made their complaint to the archangels
Michael, Uriel, Gabriel and Raphael. The archangels took this
complaint to God; but they did not rail against the evil angels
who were responsible for it all; they simply took the story to
God, for him to deal with (Enoch 9).
As far as we can see today, the situation behind Peter's allusions
is that the wicked men who were the slaves of lust claimed that
the angels were their examples and their justification and so
slandered them; Peter reminds them that not even archangels dared
slander other angels and demands how men can dare to do so.
This is a strange and difficult passage; but the meaning is
clear. Even angels, when they sinned, were punished. How much
more shall men be punished? Angels could not rebel against God
and escape the consequences. How shall men escape? And men need
not seek to put the blame on others, not even on angels; nothing
but their own rebelliousness is responsible for their sin.
2. THE MEN OF THE FLOOD AND THE RESCUE OF NOAH
The second illustration of the destruction of wickedness which
Peter chooses may be said to lead on from the first. The sin
introduced into the world by the sinning angels led to that intolerable
sin which ended in the destruction by the deluge (Genesis 6:5).
In the midst of this destruction God did not forget those who
had clung to him, Noah was saved together with seven others,
his wife, his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives. In
Jewish tradition Noah acquired a very special place. Not only
was he regarded as the one man who had been saved; but also as
the preacher who had done his best to turn men from the evil
of their ways. Josephus says, "Many angels of God lay with
women and begat sons, who were violent and who despised all good,
on account of their reliance on their own strength. But Noah
displeased and distressed at their behaviour, tried to induce
them to alter their dispositions and conduct for the better"
Attention in this passage is concentrated not so much on the
people who were destroyed as on the man who was saved. Noah is
offered as the type of man who, amidst the destruction of the
wicked, receives the salvation of God. His outstanding qualities
(i) In the midst of a sinning generation he remained faithful
to God. Later Paul was to urge his people to be not conformed
to the world but transformed from it (Romans 12:2). It may well
be said that often the most dangerous sin of all is conformity.
To be the same as others is always easy; to be different is always
difficult. But from the days of Noah until now he who would be
the servant of God must be prepared to be different from the
(ii) The later legends pick out another characteristic of
Noah. He was the preacher of righteousness. The word for preacher
used here is kerux, which literally means a herald. Epicletus
called the philosopher the kerux of the gods. The preacher
is the man who brings to men an announcement from God. Here is
something of very considerable significance. The good man is
concerned not only with the saving of his own soul but just as
much with the saving of the souls of others. He does not, in
order to preserve his own purity live apart from men. He is concerned
to bring God's message to them. A man ought never to keep to
himself the grace which he has received. It is always his duty
to bring light to those who sit in darkness, guidance to the
wanderer and warning to those who are going astray.
3. THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH AND THE RESCUE OF
The third example is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
and the rescue of Lot.
The terrible and dramatic story is told in Genesis 18 and
19. It begins with Abraham's plea that God should not destroy
the righteous with the guilty and his request that, if even ten
just men are found in these cities, they may be spared (Genesis
18:16-33). Then follows one of the grimmest tales in the Old
The angelic visitors came to Lot and he persuaded them to
stay with him; but his house was surrounded by the men of Sodom
demanding that these strangers might be brought out for them
to use for their unnatural lust (Genesis 19:1-11). By that terrible
deed--at once the abuse of hospitality, the insulting of angels
and the raging of unnatural lust--the doom of the cities was
sealed. As the destruction of heaven came upon them Lot and his
family were saved, except his wife, who lingered and looked back
and turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:12-26). "So
it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God
remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow,
when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt" (Genesis
19:29). Here again is the story of the destruction of sin and
the rescue of righteousness. As in Noah, we see in Lot the characteristics
of the righteous man.
(i) Lot lived in the midst of evil, and the very sight of
it was a constant distress to him. Moffatt reminds us of the
saying of Newman: "Our great security against sin lies in
being shocked at it." Here is something very significant.
It often happens that, when evils first emerge, people are shocked
at them; but, as time goes on, they cease to be shocked at them
and accept them as a matter of course. There are many things
at which we ought to be shocked. In our own generation there
are the problems of prostitution and promiscuity, drunkenness
and drugs, the extraordinary gambling fever which has the country
in its grip, the breakdown of the marriage bond, violence, vandalism
and crime, death upon the roads, still-existing slum conditions
and many others. In many cases the tragedy is that these things
have ceased to shock and are accepted in a matter-of-fact style
as part of the normal order of things. For the good of the world
and of our own souls, we must keep alive the sensitiveness which
is shocked by sin.
(ii) Lot lived in the midst of evil, and yet he escaped its
taint. Amidst the sin of Sodom he remained true to God. If a
man will remember it, he has in the grace of God an antiseptic
which will preserve him from the infection of sin. No man need
be the slave of the environment in which he happens to find himself.
(iii) When the worst came to the worst, Lot was willing to
make a clean break with his environment. He was prepared, however
much he did not want to do so, to leave it for ever. It was because
his wife was not prepared to make the clean break that she perished.
There is a strange verse in the Old Testament story. It says
that, when Lot lingered, the angelic messengers took hold of
his hand (Genesis 19:16). There are times when the influence
of heaven tries to force us out of some evil situation. It may
come to any man to have to make the choice between security and
the new start; and there are times when a man can save his soul
only by breaking clean away from his present situation and beginning
all over again. It was in doing just this that Lot found his
salvation; and it was in failing to do just this that his wife
THE PICTURE OF THE EVIL MAN
Verses 9-11 give us a picture of the evil man. Peter with
a few swift, vivid strokes of the Pen paints the outstanding
characteristics of him who may properly be called the bad man.
(i) He is the desire-dominated man. His life is dominated,
by the lusts of the flesh. Such a man is guilty of two sins.
(a) Every man has two sides to his nature. He has a physical
side; he has instincts, passions and impulses which he shares
with the animal creation. These instincts are good if they are
kept in their proper place. They are even necessary for the preservation
of individual life and the continuation of the race. The word
temperament literally means a mixture. The picture behind it
is that human nature consists of a large variety of ingredients
all mixed together. It is clear that the efficacy of any mixture
depends on each ingredient being there in its proper proportion.
Wherever there is either excess or defect the mixture is not
what it ought to be. Man has a physical nature and also a spiritual
nature; and manhood depends on a correct mixture of the two.
The desire-dominated man has allowed his animal nature to usurp
a place it should not have; he has allowed the ingredients to
get out of proportion and the recipe for manhood has gone wrong.
(b) There is a reason for this loss of proportion--selfishness.
The root evil of the lust-dominated life is that it proceeds
on the assumption that nothing matters but the gratification
of its own desires and the expression of its own feelings. It
has ceased to have any respect or care for others. Selfishness
and desire go hand in hand.
The bad man is he who has allowed one side of his nature a
far greater place than it ought to have and who has done so because
he is essentially selfish.
(ii) He is the audacious man. The Greek is tolmetes,
from the verb tolman, to dare. There are two kinds of
daring. There is the daring which is a noble thing, the mark
of true courage. There is the daring which is an evil thing,
the shameless performance of things which are an affront to decency
and right. As the character in Shakespeare had it: "I dare
do all becomes a man. Who dares do more is none." The bad
man is he who has the audacity to defy the will of God as it
is known to him.
(iii) He is the self-willed man. Self-willed is not really
an adequate translation. The Greek is authades, derived
from autos, self, and hadon, pleasing, and used
of a man who had no idea of anything other than pleasing himself.
In it there is always the element of obstinacy. If a man is authades,
no logic, nor common sense, nor appeal, nor sense of decency
will keep him from doing what he wants to do. As R. C. Trench
says, "Thus obstinately maintaining his own opinion, or
asserting his own rights, he is reckless of the rights, opinions
and interests of others." The man who is authades
is stubbornly and arrogantly and even brutally determined on
his own way. The bad man is he who has no regard for either human
appeal or divine guidance.
(iv) He is the man who is contemptuous of the angels. We have
already seen how this goes back to allusions in Hebrew tradition
which are obscure to us. But it has a wider meaning The bad man
insists on living in one world. To him the spiritual world does
not exist and he never hears the voice from beyond. He is of
the earth earthy. He has forgotten that there is a heaven and
is blind and deaf when the sights and sounds of heaven break
through to him.
DELUDING SELF AND DELUDING OTHERS
But these, like brute beasts, knowing no
law but their instincts, born only for capture and corruption,
speak evil of the things about which they know nothing; they
will be destroyed with their own corruption, and, like a man
who is cheated, they will even lose the reward at which their
iniquity aimed. They regard daylight debauchery as pleasure.
They are spots and blots, reveling in their dissipations, carousing
in their cliques amongst you. They have eyes full of adultery,
eyes which can never gaze their fill on sin. They entrap souls
which are not firmly founded in the faith. They have a heart
which is trained in unbridled ambition for the things they have
no right to have. They are accursed. (2 Peter 2:12-14)
Peter launches out into a long passage of magnificent invective.
Through it glows the fiery heat of flaming moral indignation.
The evil men are like brute beasts, slaves of their animal
instincts. But a beast is born only for capture and death, says
Peter; it has no other destiny. Even so, there is something self-destroying
in fleshly pleasure. To make such pleasure the be-all and the
end-all of life is a suicidal policy and in the end even the
pleasure is lost. The point Peter is making Is this, and it is
eternally valid-if a man dedicates himself to these fleshly pleasures,
in the end he so ruins himself in bodily health and in spiritual
and mental character, that he cannot enjoy even them. The glutton
destroys his appetite in the end, the drunkard his health, the
sensualist his body, the self-indulgent his character and peace
These men regard daylight debauchery, dissipated reveling,
abandoned carousing as pleasure. They are blots on the Christian
fellowship; they are like the blemishes on an animal, which make
it unfit to be offered to God. Once again we must note that what
Peter is saying is not only religious truth but also sound common
sense. The pleasures of the body are demonstrably subject to
the law of diminishing returns. In themselves they lose their
thrill, so that as time goes on takes more and more of them to
satisfy. The luxury must become ever more luxurious; the wine
must flow ever more freely; everything must be done to make the
thrill sharper and more intense. Further, a man becomes less
and less able to enjoy these pleasures. He has given himself
to a life that has no future and to pleasure which ends in pain.
Peter goes on. In verse 14 he uses an extraordinary phrase
which, strictly, will not translate into English at all. We have
translated it: "They have eyes full of adultery." The
Greek literally is: "They have eyes which are full of an
adulteress." Most probably the meaning is they see a possible
adulteress in every woman, wondering how she can be persuaded
to gratify their lusts. "The hand and the eye," said
the Jewish teachers, "are the brokers of sin." As Jesus
said, such people look in order to lust (Matthew 5:28). They
have come to such a stage that they cannot look on anyone without
As Peter speaks of this, there is a terrible deliberateness
about it. They have hearts trained in unbridled ambition for
the things they have no right to have. We have taken a whole
phrase to translate the one word pleonexia which means
the desire to have more of the things which a man has no right
even to desire, let alone have. The picture is a terrible one.
The word used for trained is used for an athlete exercising himself
for the games. These people have actually trained their minds
to concentrate on nothing but the forbidden desire. They have
deliberately fought with conscience until they have destroyed
it; they have deliberately struggled with their finer feelings
until they have strangled them.
There remains in this passage one further charge. It would
be bad if these people deluded only themselves; it is worse that
they delude others. They entrap souls not firmly founded in the
faith. The word used for to entrap is deleazein, which
means to catch with a bait. A man becomes really bad when he
sets out to make others as bad as himself. The hymn has it:
All the mischief we have wrought,
All forbidden things we've sought,
All the sin to others taught:
Forgive, O Lord, for Jesus' sake.
Every man must bear the responsibility for his own sins, but
to add to that the responsibility for the sins of others is to
carry an intolerable burden.
ON THE WRONG ROAD
They have left the straight road and have
gone awandering, and have followed the road of Balaam, the son
of Beor, who loved the profit which unrighteousness brings and
who was convicted of his lawlessness. A dumb ass spoke with a
man's voice and checked the prophet's folly. (2 Peter 2:15, 16)
Peter likens the evil men of his time to the prophet Balaam.
In the popular Jewish mind Balaam had come to stand as the type
of all false prophets. His story is told in Numbers 22 to 24.
Balak, King of Moab, was alarmed at the steady and apparently
irresistible advance of the Israelites. In an attempt to check
it he sent for Balaam to come and curse the Israelites for him,
offering him great rewards. To the end of the day Balaam refused
to curse the Israelites, but his covetous heart longed after
the rich rewards which Balak was offering. At Balak's renewed
request Balaam played with fire enough to agree to meet him.
On the way his ass stopped, because it saw the angel of the Lord
standing in its path, and rebuked Balaam.
It is true that Balaam did not succumb to Balak's bribes,
but if ever a man wanted to accept a bribe, that man was he.
In Numbers 25 there follows another story. It tells how the Israelites
were seduced into the worship of Baal and into lustful alliances
with Moabite women. Jewish belief was that Balaam was responsible
for leading the children of Israel astray; and when the Israelites
entered into possession of the land, "Balaam the son of
Beor they slew with the sword" (Numbers 31:8). In view of
all this Balaam became increasingly the type of the false prophet.
He had two characteristics which were repeated in the evil men
of Peter's day.
(i) Balaam was covetous. As the Numbers story unfolds we can
see his fingers itching to get at the gold of Balak. True, he
did not take it; but the desire was there. The evil men of Peter's
day were covetous; out for what they could get and ready to exploit
their membership of the Church for gain.
(ii) Balaam taught Israel to sin. He led the people out of
the straight and into the crooked way. He persuaded them to forget
their promises to God. The evil men of Peter's day were seducing
Christians from the Christian way and causing them to break the
pledges of loyalty they had given to Jesus Christ.
The man who loves gain and who lures others to evil forever
THE PERILS OF RELAPSE
These people are waterless springs, mists driven by a squall
of wind--and the gloom of darkness is reserved for them. With
talk at once arrogant and futile, they ensnare by appeals to
shameless, sensual passions those who are only just escaping
from the company of those who live in error, promising them freedom,
while they themselves are the slaves of moral corruption; for
a man is in a state of slavery to that which has reduced him
to helplessness. (2 Peter 2:17-22)
If they have escaped the pollution of the world by the knowledge
of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and if they allow themselves
again to become involved in these things and to be reduced to
moral helplessness by them, the last state is for them worse
than the first. It would be better for them not to have known
the way of righteousness than to have known it and then to turn
back from the holy commandment which was handed down to them.
In them the truth of the proverb is plain to see: "A dog
returns to his own vomit" and "The sow which has been
washed returns to rolling in the mud."
Peter is still rolling out his tremendous denunciation of
the evil men.
They flatter only to deceive. They are like wells with no
water and like mists blown past by a squall of wind. Think of
a traveler in the desert being told that ahead lies a spring
where he can quench his thirst and then arriving at that spring
to find it dried up and useless. Think of the husbandman praying
for rain for his parched crops and then seeing the cloud that
promised rain blown uselessly by. As Bigg has it: "A teacher
without knowledge is like a well without water." These men
are like Milton's shepherds whose "hungry sheep look up
and are not fed." They promise a gospel and in the end have
nothing to offer the thirsty soul.
Their teaching is a combination of arrogance and futility.
Christian liberty always carries danger. Paul tells his people
that they have indeed been called to liberty but that they must
not use it for an occasion to the flesh (Galatians 5:13). Peter
tells his people that indeed they are free but they must not
use their freedom as a cloak of maliciousness (I Peter 2:16).
These false teachers offered freedom, but it was freedom to sin
as much as a man liked. They appealed not to the best but to
the worst in a man. Peter is quite clear that they did this because
they were slaves to their own lusts. Seneca said, "To be
enslaved to oneself is the heaviest of all servitudes."
Persius spoke to the lustful debauchees of his day of "the
masters that grow up within that sickly breast of yours."
These teachers were offering liberty when they themselves were
slaves, and the liberty they were offering was the liberty to
become slaves of lust. Their message was arrogant because it
was the contradiction of the message of Christ; it was futile
because he who followed it would find himself a slave. Here again
in the background is the fundamental heresy which makes grace
a justification for sin instead of a power and a summons to nobility.
If they have once known the real way of Christ and have relapsed
into this, their case is even worse. They are like the man in
the parable whose last state was worse than his first (Matthew
12:45; Luke 11:26). If a man has never known the right way, he
cannot be condemned for not following it. But, if he has known
it and then deliberately taken the other way, he sins against
the light; and it were better for him that he had never known
the truth, for his knowledge of the truth has become his condemnation.
A man should never forget the responsibility which knowledge
Peter ends with contempt. These evil men are like dogs who
return to their vomit (Proverbs 26:11) or like a sow which has
been scrubbed and then goes back to rolling in the mud. They
have seen Christ but are so morally degraded by their own choice
that they prefer to wallow in the depths of sin rather than to
climb the heights of virtue. It is a dreadful warning that a
man can make himself such that in the end the tentacles of sin
are inextricably around him and virtue for him has lost its beauty.
THE PRINCIPLES OF PREACHING
Beloved, this is now the second letter that I have written
to you, and my object in both of them is to rouse by reminder
your pure mind to remember the words spoken by the prophets in
former times, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior which
was brought to you by your apostles. (2 Peter 3:1, 2)
In this passage we see clearly displayed the principles of
preaching which Peter observed.
(i) He believed in the value of repetition. He knows that
it is necessary for a thing to be said over and over again if
it is to penetrate the mind. When Paul was writing to the Philippians,
he said that to repeat the same thing over and over again was
not a weariness to him, and for them it was the only safe way
(Philippians 3:1). It is by continued repetition that the rudiments
of knowledge are settled in the mind of the child. There is something
of significance here. It may well be that often we are too desirous
of novelty, too eager to say new things, when what is needed
is a repetition of the eternal truths which men so quickly forget
and whose significance they so often refuse to see. There are
certain foods of which a man does not get tired; necessary for
his daily sustenance they are set before him every day. We speak
about a man's daily bread. And there are certain great Christian
truths which have to be repeated again and again and which must
never be pushed into the background in the desire for novelty.
(ii) He believed in the need for reminder. Again and again
the New Testament makes it clear that preaching and teaching
are so often not the introducing of new truth but the reminding
of a man of what he already knows. Moffatt quotes a saying of
Dr. Johnson: "it is not sufficiently considered that men
more frequently require to be reminded than informed." The
Greeks spoke of "time which wipes all things out,"
as if the human mind were a slate and time a sponge which passes
across it with a certain erasing quality. We are so often in
the position of men whose need is not so much to be taught as
to be reminded of what we already know.
(iii) He believed in the value of a compliment. It is his
intention to rouse their pure mind. The word he uses for pure
is eilikrines, which may have either of two meanings.
It may mean that which is sifted until there is no admixture
of chaff left; or it may mean that which is so flawless that
it may be held up to the light of the sun. Plato uses this same
phrase - eilikrines dianoia-in the sense of pure reason,
reason which is unaffected by the seductive influence of the
senses. By using this phrase Peter appeals to his people as having
minds uncontaminated by heresy. It Is as if he said to them:
"You really are fine people-if you would only remember it."
The approach of the preacher should so often be that his hearers
are not wretched creatures who deserve to be damned but splendid
creatures who must be saved. They are not so much like rubbish
fit to be burned as like jewels to be rescued from the mud into
which they have fallen. Donald Hankey tells of "the beloved
captain" whose men would follow him anywhere. He looked
at them and they looked at him, and they were filled with the
determination to be what he believed them to be. We always get
further with people when we believe in them than when we despise
(iv) He believed in the unit), of Scripture. As he saw it
there was a pattern in Scripture; and the Bible was a book centered
in Christ. The Old Testament foretells Christ; the gospels tell
of Jesus the Christ; and the apostles bring the message of that
Christ to men.
THE DENIAL OF THE SECOND COMING
To begin with, you are well aware that
in the last days there will come mockers with their mocking,
guiding their steps by the law of their own lusts and saying,
"What has happened to the promise of his Coming'? For, since
the day when our fathers fell asleep, everything remains the
same as it was from the foundation of the world." (2 Peter
The characteristic of the heretics which worried Peter most
of all was their denial of the Second Coming of Jesus. Literally,
their question was: "Where is the promise of his Coming?"
That was a form of Hebrew expression which implied that the thing
asked about did not exist at all. "Where is the God of justice?"
asked the evil men of Malachi's day (Malachi 2:17). "Where
is your God?" the heathen demanded of the Psalmist (Psalm
42:3; 79:10). "Where is the word of the Lord?" his
enemies asked Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:15). In every case the implication
of the question is that the thing or the person asked about does
not exist. The heretics of Peter's day were denying that Jesus
Christ would ever come again. It will be best here at the beginning
to summarize their argument and Peter's answer to it.
The argument of Peter's opponents was twofold (verse 4). "What
has happened," they demanded, "to the promise of the
Second Coming?" Their first argument was that the promise
had been so long delayed that it was safe to take it that it
would never be fulfilled. Their second assertion was that their
fathers had died and the world was going on precisely as it always
did. Their argument was that this was characteristically a stable
universe and convulsive upheavals like the Second Coming did
not happen in such a universe.
Peter's response is also twofold. He deals with the second
argument first (verses 5-7). His argument is that, in fact, this
is not a stable universe, that once it was destroyed by water
in the time of the Flood and that a second destruction, this
time by fire, is on the way.
The second part of his reply is in verses 8 and 9. His opponents
speak of a delay so long that they can safely assume that the
Second Coming is not going to happen at all. Peter's is a double
answer. (a) We must see time as God sees it. With him a day is
as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day. "God
does not pay every Friday night." (b) In any event God's
apparent slowness to act is not dilatoriness. It is, in fact,
mercy. He holds his hand in order to give sinning men another
chance to repent and find salvation.
Peter goes on to his conclusion (verse 10). The Second Coming
is on the way and it will come with a sudden terror and destruction
which will dissolve the universe in melting heat.
Finally comes his practical demand in face of all this. If
we are living in a universe on which Jesus Christ is going to
descend and which is hastening towards the destruction of the
wicked, surely it behooves us to live in holiness so that we
may be spared when the terrible day does come. The Second Coming
is used as a tremendous motive for moral amendment so that a
man may prepare himself to meet his God.
Such, then, is the general scheme of this chapter and now
we look at it section by section.
DESTRUCTION BY FLOOD
What they willfully fail to see is that
long ago the heavens were created and the earth was composed
out of water and through water; and through these waters the
ancient world perished, when it was overwhelmed in a deluge of
water. (2 Peter 3:5, 6)
Peter's first argument is that the world is not eternally
stable. The point he is making is that the ancient world was
destroyed by water, just as the present world is going to be
destroyed by fire. The detail of this passage is, however, difficult.
He says that the earth was composed out of water and through
water. According to the Genesis story in the beginning there
was a kind of watery chaos. "The Spirit of God moved over
the face of the waters. God said, Let there be a firmament in
the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from
the waters" (Genesis I:2, 6). Out of this watery chaos the
world was formed. Further, it is through water that the world
is sustained, because life is sustained by the rain which comes
down from the skies. What Peter means is that the world was created
out of water and is sustained by water; and it was through this
same element that the ancient world was destroyed.
Further to clarify this passage we have to note that the flood
legend developed. As so often in Second Peter and Jude the picture
behind this comes not directly from the Old Testament but from
the Book of Enoch. In Enoch 83:3-5 Enoch has a vision: "I
saw in a vision how the heaven collapsed and fell to the earth,
and, where it fell to the earth, I saw how the earth was swallowed
up in a great abyss." In the later stories the flood involved
not only the obliteration of sinners but the total destruction
of heaven and earth. So the warning which Peter is giving may
be put like this: "You say that as things are, so they have
ever been and so they ever will be. You build your hopes on the
idea that this is an unchanging universe. You are wrong, for
the ancient world was formed out of water and was sustained by
water, and it perished in the flood."
We may say that this is only an old legend more than half
buried in the antiquities of the past. But we cannot say that
a passage like this has no significance for us. When we strip
away the old Jewish legend and its later development, we are
still left with this permanent truth that the man who will read
history with open eyes can see within it the moral law at work
and God's dealings with men. Froude, the great historian, said
that history is a voice sounding across the centuries that in
the end it is always ill with the wicked and well with the good.
When Oliver Cromwell was arranging his son Richard's education,
he said, "I would have him know a little history."
In fact, the lesson of history is that there is a moral order
in the universe and that he who defies it does so at his peril.
DESTRUCTION BY FIRE
But by the same word the present heavens
and earth are treasured up for fire, reserved for the day of
judgment and the destruction of impious men. (2 Peter 3:7)
It is Peter's conviction that, as the ancient world was destroyed
by water, the present world will be destroyed by fire. He says
that that is stated "by the same word." What he means
is that the Old Testament tells of the flood in the past and
warns of the destruction by fire in the future. There are many
passages in the prophets which he would take quite literally
and which must have been in his mind. Joel foresaw a time when
God would show blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke (Joel 2:30).
The Psalmist has a picture in which, when God comes, a devouring
fire shall precede him (Psalm 50:3). Isaiah speaks of a flame
of devouring fire (Isaiah 29:6; 30:30). The Lord will come with
fire; by fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh
(Isaiah 66:15,16). Nahum has it that the hills melt and the earth
is burned at his presence; his fury is poured out like fire (Nahum
1:5, 6). In the picture of Malachi the day of the Lord shall
burn as an oven (Malachi 4:1). If the old pictures are taken
literally, Peter has plenty of material for his prophecy.
The Stoics also had a doctrine of the destruction of the world
by fire; but it was a grim thing. They held that the universe
completed a cycle; that it was consumed in flames; and that everything
then started all over again, exactly as it was. They had the
strange idea that at the end of the cycle the planets were in
exactly the same position as when the world began. "This
produces the conflagration and destruction of everything which
exists," says Chrysippus. He goes on: "Then again the
universe is restored anew in a precisely similar arrangement
as before ... Socrates and Plato and each individual man will
live again, with the same friends and fellow-citizens. They will
go through the same experiences and the same activities. Every
city and village and field will be restored, just as it was.
And this restoration of the universe takes place, not once, but
over and over again--indeed to all eternity without end. For
there will never be any new thing other than that which has been
before, but everything is repeated down to the minutest detail."
History as an eternal tread-mill, the unceasing recurrence of
the sins, the sorrows and the mistakes of men--that is one of
the grimmest views of history that the mind of man has ever conceived.
It must always be remembered that, as the Jewish prophets
saw it, and as Peter saw it, this world will be destroyed with
the conflagration of God but the result will not be obliteration
and the grim repetition of what has been before; the result will
be a new heaven and a new earth. For the biblical view of the
world there is something beyond destruction; there is the new
creation of God. The worst that the prophet can conceive is not
the death agony of the old world so much as the birth pangs of
THE MERCY OF GOD'S DELAY
Beloved, you must not shut your eyes to
this one fact that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years
and a thousand years as one day. It is not that God is dilatory
in fulfilling his promise, as some people reckon dilatoriness;
but it is that for your sakes he patiently withholds his hand,
because he does not wish any to perish, but wishes all to take
the way to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8, 9)
There are in this passage three great truths on which to nourish
the mind and rest the heart.
(i) Time is not the same to God as it is to man. As the Psalmist
had it: "A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday
when it is past, or as a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4).
When we think of the world's hundreds of thousands of years of
existence, it is easy to feel dwarfed into insignificance; when
we think of the slowness of human progress, it is easy to become
discouraged into pessimism. There is comfort in the thought of
a God who has all eternity to work in. It is only against the
background of eternity that things appear in their true proportions
and assume their real value.
(ii) We can also see from this passage that time is always
to be regarded as an opportunity. As Peter saw it, the years
God gave the world were a further opportunity for men to repent
and turn to him. Every day which comes to us is a gift of mercy.
It is an opportunity to develop ourselves; to render so service
to our fellow-men; to take one step nearer to God.
(iii) Finally, there is another echo of a truth which so often
lies in the background of New Testament thought. God, says Peter,
does not wish any to perish. God, says Paul, has shut them all
up together in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all (Romans
11:32). Timothy in a tremendous phrase speaks of God who will
have all men to be saved (I Timothy 2:4). Ezekiel hears God ask:
"Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not
rather that he should return from his way and live?" (Ezekiel
Ever and again there shines in Scripture the glint of the
larger hope. We are not forbidden to believe that somehow and
some time the God who loves the world will bring the whole world
THE DREADFUL DAY
But when it does come, the Day of the Lord
will come as a thief and in it the heavens will pass away with
a crackling roar; the stars will blaze and melt; and the earth
and all its works will disappear. (2 Peter 3:10)
It inevitably happens that a man has to speak and think in
the terms which he knows. That is what Peter is doing here. He
is speaking of the New Testament doctrine of the Second Coming
of Jesus Christ, but he is describing it in terms of the Old
Testament doctrine of the Day of the Lord.
The Day of the Lord is a conception which runs all through
the prophetic books of the Old Testament. The Jews saw time in
terms of two ages- this present age, which is wholly bad and
past remedy; and the age to come, which is the golden age of
God. How was the one to turn into the other? The change could
not come about by human effort or by a process of development,
for the world was on the way to destruction. As the Jews saw
it, there was only one way in which the change could happen;
it must be by the direct intervention of God. The time of that
intervention they called the Day of the Lord. It was to come
without warning. It was to be a time when the universe was shaken
to its foundations. It was to be a time when the judgment and
obliteration of sinners would come to pass and, therefore, it
would be a time of terror. "Behold the Day of the Lord comes,
cruel with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it" (Isaiah 13:9). "The
Day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and
of gloom, a day of clouds and of thick darkness" (Joel 2:1,
2). "A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a
day of clouds and thick darkness" (Zephaniah 1:14-18). "The
sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before
the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" (Joel 2:30,
3 1). "The stars of the heaven and their constellations
shall not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising
and the moon will not shed its light.... Therefore I will make
the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its
place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce
anger" (Isaiah 13:10-13).
What Peter and many of the New Testament writers did was to
identify the Old Testament pictures of the Day of the Lord with
the New Testament conception of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Peter's picture here of the Second Coming of Jesus is drawn in
terms of the Old Testament picture of the Day of the Lord.
He uses one very vivid phrase. He says that the heavens will
pass away with a crackling roar (roizedon). That word
is used for the whirring of a bird's wings in the air, for the
sound a spear makes as it hurtles through the air, for the crackling
of the flames of a forest fire.
We need not take these pictures with crude literalism. It
is enough to note that Peter sees the Second Coming as a time
of terror for those who are the enemies of Christ.
One thing has to be held in the memory. The whole conception
of the Second Coming is full of difficulty. But this is sure--there
comes a day when God breaks into every life, for there comes
a day when we must die; and for that day we must be prepared.
We may say what we will about the Coming of Christ as a future
event; we may feel it is a doctrine we have to lay on one side;
but we cannot escape from the certainty of the entry of God into
our own experience.
THE MORAL DYNAMIC
Since these things are going to be dissolved
like that, what kind of people ought you to be, living a life
of constant holiness and true piety, you who are eagerly awaiting
and doing your best to hasten on the Day of the Lord, by whose
action the heavens will burn and be dissolved and the stars blaze
and melt! For it is new heavens and a new earth, as he promised,
for which we wait, in which righteousness has its home. So, then,
beloved, since these are the things for which you eagerly wait,
be eager to be found by him at peace, without spot and blemish.
(2 Peter 3:11-14)
The one thing in which Peter is supremely interested is the
moral dynamic of the Second Coming. If these things are going
to happen and the world is hastening to judgment, obviously a
man must live a life of piety and of holiness. If there are to
be a new heaven and a new earth and if that heaven and earth
are to be the home of righteousness, obviously a man must seek
with all his mind and heart and soul and strength to be fit to
be a dweller in that new world. To Peter, as Moffatt puts it,
"it was impossible to give up the hope of the advent without
ethical deterioration." Peter was right. If there is nothing
in the nature of a Second Coming, nothing in the nature of a
goal to which the whole creation moves, then life is going nowhere.
That, in fact, was the heathen position. If there is no goal,
either for the world or for the individual life, other than extinction,
certain attitudes to life become well-nigh inevitable. These
attitudes emerge in heathen epitaphs.
(i) If there is nothing to come, a man may well decide to
make what he can of the pleasures of this world. So we come on
an epitaph like this: "I was nothing I am nothing. So thou
who art still alive, eat, drink, and be merry."
(ii) If there is nothing to live for, a man may well be utterly
indifferent. Nothing matters much if the end of everything is
extinction, in which a man will not even be aware that he is
extinguished. So we come on such an epitaph as this: "Once
I had no existence; now I have none. I am not aware of it. It
does not concern me."
(iii) If there is nothing to live for but extinction and the
world is going nowhere, there can enter into life a kind of lostness.
Man ceases to be in any sense a pilgrim for there is nowhere
to which he can make pilgrimage. He must simply drift in a kind
of lostness, coming from nowhere and on the way to nowhere. So
we come on an epigram like that of Callimachus. "Charidas,
what is below?" "Deep darkness." "But what
of the paths upward?" "All a lie." "And Pluto?"
(The God of the underworld). "Mere talk." "Then
we're lost." Even the heathen found a certain almost intolerable
quality in a life without a goal.
When we have stripped the doctrine of the Second Coming of
all its temporary and local imagery, the tremendous truth it
conserves is that life is going somewhere-and without that conviction
there is nothing to live for.
HASTENING THE DAY
There is in this passage still another great conception. Peter
speaks of the Christian as not only eagerly awaiting the Coming
of Christ but as actually hastening it on. The New Testament
tells us certain ways in which this may be done.
(i) It may be done by prayer. Jesus taught us to pray: "Thy
Kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). The earnest prayer of the
Christian heart hastens the coming of the King. If in no other
way, it does so in this-that he who prays opens his own heart
for the entry of the King.
(ii) It may be done by preaching. Matthew tells us that Jesus
said, "And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout
the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the
end will come" (Matthew 24:14). All men must be given the
chance to know and to love Jesus Christ before the end of creation
is reached. The missionary activity of the Church is the hastening
of the coming of the King.
(iii) It may be done by penitence and obedience. Of all things
this would be nearest to Peter's mind and heart. The Rabbis had
two sayings: "It is the sins of the people which prevent
the coming of the Messiah. If the Jews would genuinely repent
for one day, the Messiah would come." The other form of
the saying means the same: "If Israel would perfectly keep
the law for one day, the Messiah would come." In true penitence
and in real obedience a man opens his own heart to the coming
of the King and brings nearer that coming throughout the world.
We do well to remember that our coldness of heart and our disobedience
delay the coming of the King.
PERVERTERS OF SCRIPTURE
Regard the Lord's willingness to wait as
an opportunity of salvation, as indeed our beloved brother Paul
has written to us, in the wisdom which has been given to him,
and as he says in all his letters, when he touches on these subjects,
letters which contain some things which are difficult to understand,
things which those who lack knowledge and a firm foundation in
the faith twist, as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their
own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15, 16)
Peter here cites Paul as teaching the same things as he himself
teaches. It may be that he is citing Paul as agreeing that a
pious and a holy life is necessary, in view of the approaching
Second Coming of the Lord. More likely, he is citing Paul as
agreeing that the fact that God withholds his hand is to be regarded
not as indifference on God's part but as an opportunity to repent
and to accept Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of those who despise
the riches of God, s goodness and forbearance and patience, forgetting
that his kindness is designed to lead a man to repentance (Romans
2:4). More than once Paul stresses the forbearance and the patience
of God (Romans 3:25; 9:22). Both Peter and Paul were agreed that
the fact that God withholds his hand is never to be used as an
excuse for sinning but always as a means of repentance and an
opportunity of amendment.
With its reference to Paul and its tinge of criticism of him,
this is one of the most intriguing passages in the New Testament.
It was this passage which made John Calvin certain that Peter
did not himself write Second Peter because, he says, Peter would
never have spoken about Paul like this. What do we learn from
(i) We learn that Paul's letters by this time were known and
used throughout the Church. They are spoken of in such a way
as to make it clear that they have been collected and published,
and that they are generally available and widely read. We are
fairly certain that it was about the year A.D. 90 that Paul's
letters were collected and published in Ephesus. This means that
Second Peter cannot have been written before that and, therefore,
cannot be the work of Peter, who was martyred in the middle sixties
of the century.
(ii) It tells us that Paul's letters have come to be regarded
as Scripture. The misguided men twist them as they do the other
Scriptures. This again goes to prove that Second Peter must come
from a time well on in the history of the early Church, for it
would take many generations for the letters of Paul to rank alongside
the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
(iii) It is a little difficult to determine just what the
attitude to Paul is in this passage. He is writing "in the
wisdom which has been given to him." Bigg says neatly that
this phrase can be equally a commendation or a caution! The truth
is that Paul suffered the fate of all outstanding men. He had
his critics. He suffered the fate of all who fearlessly face
and fearlessly state the truth. Some regarded him as great but
(iv) There are things in Paul's letters which are hard to
understand and which ignorant people twist to their own ruin.
The word used for hard to understand is dusnoetos, which
is used of the utterance of an oracle. The utterances of Greek
oracles were always ambiguous. There is the classic example of
the king about to go to war who consulted the oracle at Delphi
and was given the answer: "if you go to war, you will destroy
a great nation." He took this as a prophecy that he would
destroy his enemies; but it happened that he was so utterly defeated
that by going to war he destroyed his own country. This was typical
of the dangerous ambiguity of the ancient oracles. It is that
very word which Peter uses of the writings of Paul. They have
things in them which are as difficult to interpret as the ambiguous
utterance of an oracle.
Not only, Peter says, are there things in Paul's writings
that are hard to understand; there are things which a man may
twist to his own destruction. Three things come immediately to
mind. Paul's doctrine of grace was twisted into an excuse and
even a reason for sin (Romans 6). Paul's doctrine of Christian
freedom was twisted into an excuse for unchristian license (Galatians
5:13). Paul's doctrine of faith was twisted into an argument
that Christian action was unimportant, as we see in James (James
G. K. Chesterton once said that orthodoxy was like walking
along a narrow ridge; one step to either side was a step to disaster.
Jesus is God and man; God is love and holiness; Christianity
is grace and morality; the Christian lives in this world and
lives in the world of eternity. Overstress either side of these
great two-sided truths, and at once destructive heresy emerges.
One of the most tragic things in life is when a man twists Christian
truth and Holy Scripture into an excuse and even a reason for
doing what he wants to do instead of taking them as guides for
doing what God wants him to do.
A FIRM FOUNDATION AND A CONTINUAL GROWTH
As far as you are concerned, beloved, you
have been forewarned. You must, therefore, be on your guard not
to be carried away by the error of lawless men and so to fall
from your own foundation; rather, you must see to it that you
grow in grace and in understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus
Christ. To him be glory both now and to the day of eternity.
(2 Peter 3:17, 18)
In conclusion Peter tells us certain things about the Christian
(i) The Christian is a man who is forewarned. That is to say,
he cannot plead ignorance. He knows the right way and its rewards;
he knows the wrong way and its disasters. He has no right to
expect an easy way, for he has been told that Christianity means
a cross, and he has been warned that there will always be those
who are ready to attack and to pervert the faith. To be forewarned
is to be forearmed; but to be forewarned is also a grave responsibility,
for he who knows the right and does the wrong is under a double
(ii) The Christian is a man with a basis for life. He ought
to be rooted and founded in the faith. There are certain things
of which he is absolutely certain. James Agate once declared
that his mind was not a bed to be made and remade but that on
certain things it was finally made up. There is a certain inflexibility
in the Christian life; there is a certain basis of belief which
never changes. The Christian will never cease to believe that,
"Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:11); and he will
never cease to be aware that there is laid on him the duty of
making his life fit his belief.
(iii) The Christian is a man with a developing life. The inflexibility
of the Christian life is not the rigidity of death. The Christian
must daily experience the wonder of grace, and daily grow in
the gifts which grace can bring; and he must daily enter more
and more deeply into the wonder which is in Jesus Christ.
It is only on a firm foundation that a great building can
tower into the air; and it is only because it has a deep root
that a great tree can reach out to the sky with its branches.
The Christian life is at once a life with a firm foundation and
with an ever outward and upward growth.
And so the letter finishes by giving glory to Christ, both
now and to the end of time.
(Excerpt from William Barclay's commentary
on 2 Peter, Westminster Press, Philadelphia 1976).