Simon Peter is the author of this epistle (see 2 Pet. 1:1). However, the Petrine authorship of this epistle has been challenged more than the authorship of any other book in the New Testament. Dr. W. G. Moorehead wrote years ago, “The Second Epistle of Peter comes to us with less historical support of its genuineness than any other book of the New Testament.” Nevertheless, this challenge caused conservative scholars to give adequate attention to this epistle so that today it is well established that Peter wrote this letter.
In my teaching I spend very little time on issues of introduction, that is, on the authorship and other critical issues that have been raised concerning the different books of the Bible. I would ordinarily just pass over this because, to me, 2 Peter is a part of the Word of God and I think there is an abundance of evidence both internal and external. However, since I would not want to be accused of not even being familiar with the questions that have been raised concerning its authorship, we will face the facts on this issue.
The Second Epistle of Peter was a long time in being accepted by the church into the canon of Scripture. It was accepted at the council that met at Laodicea in A.D. 372 and then again at Carthage in A.D. 397, which was really the first time that the church had taken that kind of stand. Jerome accepted 2 Peter for the Vulgate version of the Scriptures, but it was not included in the Peshitta Syriac version. However, that version is not an acceptable one at all—there are other things about it that I am sure we would all reject—and, therefore, it is perfectly meaningless that 2 Peter was not included in it. Eusebius, one of the early church fathers, placed 2 Peter among the disputed books. Origen accepted it. Clement of Alexandria accepted it, and he wrote a commentary on it. Second Peter is quoted in the Apocalypse of Peter, which, of course, is not accepted as canonical. The Epistle of Jude apparently draws from 2 Peter and demonstrates that Jude was well acquainted with it. There are allusions and quotations from 2 Peter by some of the early church writers, including Aristides, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Ignatius, and Clement of Rome. You will also find that Martin Luther accepted it as genuine. Calvin actually doubted it but did not reject it. Erasmus did reject it.
That gives you some of the history of the background of this epistle, but the reasons that this epistle has been rejected by some cannot be substantiated. There is a great deal of internal evidence, especially certain autobiographical sections (see 2 Pet. 1:13–14; 1:16–18; and 3:1), which are to me absolutely conclusive that Simon Peter wrote this epistle.
Peter’s second epistle was written about A.D. 66, shortly after his first epistle (see 2 Pet. 3:1) and a short while before his martyrdom (see 2 Pet. 1:13–14).
Second Peter is the swan song of Peter, just as 2 Timothy is the swan song of Paul. There are striking similarities between the two books. Both epistles put up a warning sign along the pilgrim pathway the church is traveling to identify the awful apostasy that was on the way at that time and which in our time has now arrived. What was then like a cloud the size of a man’s hand today envelops the sky and produces a storm of hurricane proportions. Peter warns of heresy among teachers; Paul warns of heresy among the laity.
Both Peter and Paul speak in a joyful manner of their approaching deaths (see 2 Pet. 1:13–14; 2 Tim. 4:6–8). Paul said that he knew that the time of his departure had come. He had finished his course. He had been on the racetrack of life, and now he was leaving it. He had fought a good fight, and he had kept the faith. A crown of righteousness was laid up for him. You will find that same triumphant note here in 2 Peter as Peter also faced the prospect of death.
Both apostles anchor the church on the Scriptures, on the Word of God, as the only defense against the coming storm of apostasy. It is no wonder that the enemy has attacked 2 Peter, because this is one of the finest shields that has been given to us to ward off the darts that the Wicked One is shooting at us today.
The similarities between 2 Peter and Paul’s last epistle, 2 Timothy, also explain the sharp contrast between Peter’s first and second letters. The subject of the second epistle has changed from that of the first; and the difference is, therefore, as great as that which exists between Paul’s letters to the Romans and to Timothy.
In 2 Peter we see that apostasy is approaching, the storm is coming. How are we to prepare to meet it? There is only one way, Peter says, and that is through knowledge. Not only through faith in Christ, not only by believing in Him, but also to know Christ. “And this is life eternal,” the Lord Jesus said, “that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). We are to know Him and not only know about Him. I read the other day of an American preacher in Europe who is trying to start what he calls a Christian church without using the names of God and Christ. That is the most ridiculous thing that any man could possibly do. If he wants to start some kind of organization, let him go ahead and do it, but he cannot start anything that is Christian without Christ! To attempt to do that would be just like trying to make a peach pie without peaches or like trying to drive a car without any gasoline in the tank. If you are a Christian, you must know Christ. That means not to know about Him but to know Him—there is a great difference there.
The great subject of this epistle is going to be not only the apostasy but also that which will be our defense—knowledge. Where is this knowledge, and how does it come to us? Peter will say that the only way is through the Word of God, “a more sure word of prophecy,” which he will talk about (2 Pet. 1:19).
You see, my friend, the Christian life is more than just a birth. It is a growth, and it is a development. The key to this entire epistle is the last verse: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18). Throughout the years of my ministry, I have often made the statement that I am not an obstetrician, I am a pediatrician. An obstetrician brings the little baby into the world. I thank the Lord that hundreds of people have been converted through listening to the Word of God, but actually I began my radio ministry of teaching the Word of God with the intention of helping believers to grow up in the faith. I am not an obstetrician bringing babies to birth, but a pediatrician whose job it is to give believers the milk of the Word and then to try to give them a porterhouse steak now and then. My friend, you will not be able to live for God in these days of apostasy unless you have a knowledge of the Word of God—and that is Peter’s theme.
The theme of this second epistle is explained on the basis of the words which Peter uses here as contrasted to his first epistle. He does use certain words in both epistles. One word is precious which occurs twice in the first chapter. Peter, a great, big, rugged fisherman talked about things that are precious—that’s a woman’s word. The word faith is used again in this epistle and occurs twice in the first chapter. But the word that is especially characteristic of this second epistle is knowledge. It occurs sixteen times with cognate words. The epitome of the epistle is expressed in the injunction given in the final verse. This man Simon Peter went off the air saying, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” This is what true Gnosticism is all about. The Gnostic heresy was that they had some little esoteric knowledge that no one else had. They had a form or formula, a rite or ritual, a secret order or password that you had to get on the inside in order to find out. Peter says that real knowledge is to know Jesus Christ.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 55: 2 Peter. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)