We are starting a new series this week leading up to Christmas, 2 Peter: The Promise of His Coming. 2 Peter is a neglected book that speaks to a church fending off attacks that Christ is not coming so the ethical demands of the faith are not binding. Not exactly a "Christmas cheer" message. The coming of Christ is often associated with hope and the good news of Jesus making the world right. What is sometimes glossed over is that to make the world right, judgment must come.
The letter is short and attributed to Simon Peter (cf. Acts. 15:14), a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:1). He writes that he is going to die soon (1:14), witnessed Jesus' baptism and transfiguration (1:18-19), and that this is the second letter he wrote (3:1). He also has read some of Paul's letters and affirms them as scripture (3:15-16). But there are significant stylistic differences to 1 Peter and its apparent dependence on the book of Jude (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1-17) make it difficult for many to accept a date prior to Peter's martyrdom in the mid- to late 60s AD. For these and other reasons, the authorship of 2 Peter has been heavily disputed, more so than any other book in the New Testament. This was true even in the early church and part of the reason it was among the few books that faced an uphill battle to be included in the NT canon.
The significance is whether 2 Peter is a reliable testimony from an eye witness and apostle of Jesus Christ – the infamous Simon Peter, the "rock," who ministered in Rome. It also matters based on how we read the letter and its circumstances. While it cannot be definitively proven, Richard Bauckham has demonstrated 2 Peter has the qualities of being a "last testament," a Jewish genre often written shortly after the death of a notable hero and accepted as consistent with their teaching. Bauckham therefore argues for a mediating view between traditional authorship and outright rejection that Peter was behind it at all. He contends that it was written by a close associate of Peter, perhaps Linus who was Clement's predecessor in Rome, published after his death in the 70's to 90's AD. He also argues this does not infringe on the letter's integrity or its acceptance as divinely inspired scripture for inclusion in the canon.
But Michael Green and others have argued that we can accept the letter as written by Peter. It still received far greater support than apocryphal works attributed to Peter. 1 Peter's more refined style can be due to the help of Silvanus (1 Pet. 5:12). There is little reason to think just because Peter felt free to use Jude's arguments he could not have penned it or that it would have been too early for that to be possible. The theological concern about the delay of Christ's coming is seen in early Christian writings that are widely accepted so it is not a later development (cf. 1 & 2 Thessalonians). Peter Davids makes an excellent point that both Green and Bauckham offer a reasonable defense for their conclusions but based on historical grounds alone; we simply do not know enough about Peter's life or have a large enough sample of his work to definitely say he did or did not write 2 Peter. The tie then goes to internal testimony of the letter itself combined with church tradition. The best evidence we have is the letter itself.
Accepting that Peter wrote it, late in his life but before his death which Jesus' foreshadowed (John 21), we have his final words to the church. He was pleading with them to remember his testimony to who Jesus was and how we should live in light of his coming. He sharply warns them against those who would lead them astray and again pleads they remain faithful. The coming of the Lord compels us to live by kingdom ethics and his delay is so that as many people as possible may have an opportunity to respond to him in faith (2 Pet. 3:8-10).
Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary, Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.
Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.