Second Peter: Stand Fast against Heresy and Sin by Peter Kreeft

This letter was written just before Peter’s anticipated death by martyrdom (1:14–15), between a.d. 62 and 66, from Rome. It is the last recorded words of the first recorded pope.

Peter refers to Paul’s letters (3:15–16) as already well-known in the Church, thus proving they were written quite early. By the way, if you find Paul’s writings difficult, you are in good company: so did Peter (3:16).

This short letter is Peter’s “reminder” (1:12) of the familiar, essential gospel truth and of its solid foundation in two public facts. Only Judaism and Christianity are religions of public record, eyewitnessed facts. All others are (pagan) myths, (Oriental) mysticisms, or (modernist) moralisms.

The two facts are (1) the disciples’ and Peter’s own eyewitness experience of Jesus (1:16–18) and (2) the written prophecies of Scripture that Jesus fulfilled: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.… And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. First of all, you must understand that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (1:16, 19–21). This passage seems clearly to reject both the modernist view of Scripture as human interpretation rather than divine intervention, and the Protestant principle of private interpretation.

Peter’s first letter dealt with external dangers to the Church: persecution and sufferings. His second letter deals with internal dangers: heresies and sins. The early Church and the early Christians were being confused and harmed by false teaching. This is why the New Testament is so consistently harsh on false doctrine: down the road it always harms people, and Christians love people. It’s out of liberal-hearted love and compassion for people that the Church has always been so hardheadedly conservative about doctrine.

Just as there were false as well as true prophets throughout the history of Israel, they persisted in the early Church. And not only the early Church. Does anyone really doubt who they are today? Who can read without embarrassment the many passages in Scripture denouncing false teachers, and who can’t? Who do and who do not believe there are such things as false teachings because there are such things as objective truth and divine revelation?

Peter points out the connection between false doctrine and false practice. The saints are always orthodox. They are the living refutation of all who say orthopraxy alone is enough—or orthodoxy alone. For just as true doctrine naturally produces true living (since good works are the fruit of faith; see James), false doctrine always produces false living: licentiousness (2:2), greed (2:3), arrogance and the despising of authority (2:10), lust (2:10, 13, 14), and a false “freedom”: “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2:19). As George MacDonald put it, “A man is a slave to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself.”

These false teachers were also scoffing at the belief that Christ would return to judge them (3:3–10). Peter writes some very disturbingly strong words against these teachers, just as Jesus used similar words against the Pharisees and scribes—not out of hatred but out of the kind of “tough love” that shouts, “Danger!” when someone is near the edge of a cliff or on thin ice.

For God cannot change His essential nature, which is both love and justice. He delays His punishments to give us time to repent (3:9–15), but punishment for sin is inevitable (2:4–6; 3:9, 12, 17). This is a theme taught on every page of Scripture, yet one hardly taught on a single page of modern books of “religious education”. The God of infinite and unchangeable love cast His rebel angels into Hell, destroyed the world with a flood, and rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah. It is not possible that He will wink sleepily at New York or San Francisco.

The best antidote for Christians against heresies is the positive one: understanding the truth. That is why Peter the Rock writes this reminder of the foundations of the faith (1:12–13; 3:1–2). “Reminding” is the business of the Magisterium and the papacy, the Rock. Buildings with a strong rock as their foundation, like those on Manhattan Island, can grow to skyscrapers. A foundation has to be conservative, a “stick-in-the-mud”, like an anchor.

Also included in 2 Peter is the most explicit passage in Scripture about the high, exalted, and incredible destiny of believers actually to share God’s nature: “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (1:3–4). The Eastern Orthodox churches call this theosis (“divinization”). It is only in light of this revealed destiny and ultimate identity that the uncompromisingly idealistic, otherworldly, and countercultural moral exhortations found in every book of the New Testament make perfect sense.

Kreeft, P. (2005). You Can Understand the Bible: A Practical Guide to Each Book in the Bible (pp. 297–300). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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