22 Sep 2016

Peter, the Hebrew Bible, the Hope of the World: 2 Peter 3.1-13

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 2 Peter, Bible, Christian hope, eschatology, Exegesis, Gnosticism, Heaven, Hebrew Bible

The universe itself is the offspring of God’s love. It was not created simply because he had the wisdom and power to do it. The element of love entered into the intention, characterized the execution, and approved the completion of his labors”  (Alexander Campbell)

“[T]he impression prevails in many minds that the earth is to be annihilated. Such is not our belief. There is a vast difference between annihilation and change … This earth will will unquestionably be burned, yet through the process of variation and reconstruction of its elements, God will fashion the earth and heavens anew, and fill them with tenants to glorify His name forever”  (Alexander Campbell)

Introduction: Early Christian Hope

What is the destiny of the material world? If you ask ancient Israelites and early Christians the answer you would receive would be considerably different than the one given by many modern disciples. Modern American disciples are often far removed from the worldview of the Hebraic world of Jesus, Paul and the Way and are much more at home (even unaware) in the dualistic world of Plato and Gnosticism.

The early church, in continuity with the Hebrew Bible and most Second Temple Judaism, held that the bodily resurrection of believers and the redemption of the world went hand in hand. More than simply resting on one text here or there, they pointed to the flow of the entire biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation was one of the Creator God redeeming his creation through the work of the Incarnate Son.

Incarnation in the flesh, Resurrection in the flesh and the “Resurrection” of the world as the eternal home where God would dwell with humanity was the Christian hope. For more on the early Christian belief on resurrection see my blog article: Heaven (3): Resurrection & the Belief of the Early Church. And Resurrection: A Medley from the Early Church (a series of quotations from primary sources).

Gnosticism in its various shades rejected this hope.  Gone was a literal incarnation. Gone was an actual resurrection of the flesh.  Gone was the re/newed creation.

As a result the nature of cross was changed and everything else about Christian faith.  This battle in the mid-second to the latter part of the third century remains of immense importance. Gnosticism was defeated.  In the Modern world, however, Platonic dualism and neo-Gnosticism started entering into Western Christianity nearly intravenously.  I am not suggesting that anyone has consciously embraced Gnosticism but it is something for us to be aware.

But this article is not on that history. Rather we will look at one text that some continue to hold up, almost as a battle axe, against the entire biblical narrative – 2 Peter 3.1-10.  These folks generally, though not always, return to incorrect translations of 2 Peter to defend their take.  But the text of 2 Peter 3.10 (for example) did not say in the first, second, and third centuries what it does in the medieval text of the King James Version … this is a point we will revisit. Right now we will step back and look at the whole text and the story that it is in.

Peter and the Hebrew Bible: “You will do well to be attentive to this …”

Peter, like his Lord, was a student of the Hebrew Bible. Indeed he seemed to soak in a great deal from his Master’s crash course in “Old Testament Theology” recorded in Luke 24.44ff. The Apostle explicitly directs, and lays great stress on, his readers to the words and teaching of the Hebrew Bible.  Indeed we find a remarkably heavy emphasis on the so called Old Testament in 2 Peter (for a thorough analysis see Nicholas R. Werse, “Second Temple Jewish Literary Traditions in 2 Peter,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 78 [2016]: 111-130).

What are those references to the prophets and the Hebrew Bible?

very great promises” (1.4) are almost surely the promises that both Peter and Paul refer in the Hebrew Bible.

we have a prophetic message more fully confirmed” (1.19)

no prophecy of Scripture …” (1.20)

Lord not slow about his promise” (3.9)

in accordance with his promise” (3.13)

And at the head of our text in question, Peter writes,

you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets” (3.2).

When we step back, we see that Peter is indeed a student of the Hebrew Bible and its promises. He believes grasping those promises is necessary for understanding his own words. So we will look at those texts.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter rooted his entire sermon in the promises of the Hebrew Bible (Acts 2.14-36).  Beginning with Joel, a prophet who stresses the renewal of creation as part of the Messianic agenda (see Do Not Fear O Earth, Animals and People: Joel’s Cosmic Hope of Redemption). In his promise of salvation, Yahweh explicitly addresses the Earth/Soil/Land (2.21), the Animals (2.22), and Humanity (2.23-24).  It is good news to creation when God comes to “judge” the world (cf. Ps 96.11-13; etc, etc, etc).

Peter continues in his Pentecostal sermon by citing David, whom he declares to be a “prophet” (Acts 2.30, citing Pss 16.8-11; 110.1; etc) that Jesus was not abandoned to death and his “FLESH” did not see corruption but was “raised” (Acts 2.31) because “my FLESH will live in hope” (Acts 2.26).  I imagine Peter had vivid recollections, while saying these words, about the Lord’s flesh and bones body, Jesus presented as living proof he was no ghost (Lk 24.37-40).

In Acts 3.11-26 we find this same Peter continuing to drench his Gospel sermon in the Hebrew Bible.  And like Joel and the Psalms, we find stress on fact that redemption is more than dying and going to “spiritual” existence in heaven. The Peter of Acts 3 (same Peter of 2 Peter 3) points to the Prophets and End and also points to the judgment and states as unambiguously as language can make,

so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, appointed for you, that is Jesus, who must remain in heaven UNTIL the TIME OF UNIVERSAL RESTORATION that God announced long ago through his HOLY PROPHETS” (v.20-21).

This is nearly an identical stress as found in Peter in 2 Peter 3, that people want to claim is about the annihilation of the world. But Peter here says (and claims the “prophets” teach) the universal restoration or regeneration.  As Michael Green noted in The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Peter’s words in the epistle follow “the same pattern; the destruction of the wicked, the bliss of the saved and the restitution of all things at the return of Jesus Christ (Acts iii.19-23).”  Green notes this was part of “the apostolic kerygma.”

In this opening part, I have stressed Peter’s rootedness in the Hebrew Bible precisely because he admonishes us explicitly to “remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets” as he introduces the concerns of chapter 3.  Peter believes that he is teaching the same thing the “prophets” were teaching on this matter.  Therefore it is important to know what they taught and Peter’s other uses of the prophets.  From these it is clear that Peter does not understand that the prophet foretold an annihilation of creation but rather a resurrection of the dead and the restoration of everything/restoring all things (cf. Acts 3.21, NIV & ESV).

Throughout our exegesis we will keep the Hebrew Bible in mind just as Peter commanded us.  Peter believes his teaching is in continuity with the prophets.

Of course Peter could have changed his mind from Acts 2 and 3 to 2 Peter 3.  But I do not think he did.

Peter, the Promise of Return, Scoffers and More Prophets

Peter devotes pretty much the entirety of chapter 2 to false teachers that are likely the same as those scoffing at the promise of Jesus’s coming in 3.4.  Peter relies heavily on our Lord’s brother, Jude, for his chastisement of these “blots and blemishes” (2.13) among God’s people.  If these are the same sort of people Jude has in mind, then there is some sort of semi-Gnostic flavor to these false teachers point of view.  The dispute of Michael with the Devil over the “body of Moses” clearly indicates something along these lines (Jude 1.9, why dispute over the body of Moses if it did not matter?).

After doing what Peter tells us to do, that is pay attention to the Prophets, I have rejected the idea that Peter is merely countering the critical notion of the “delay of the parousia.”  Rather there have always been, according to the Hebrew Bible, scoffers that mock the people of God over this or that point but most of the time over God’s coming judgment.

They have spoken falsely of the LORD, and have said,
‘He will do nothing. No evil will come upon us,
and we shall not see sword or famine.'”
(Jeremiah 5.12)

All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
who say, ‘Evil shall not overtake or meet us.”
(Amos 9.10)

In Isaiah we note the scoffers actually appear to taunt God,

who [scoffers of v.18] say,
‘Let him make haste,

let him speed his work
that we may see it;
let the plan of the Holy One of Israel
hasten to fulfillment,
that we may know it
(Isaiah 5.19)

Many more quotes from the Psalms and the Prophets can be reproduced. The unbelief of the scoffers seems rooted in their belief they will not be accountable as in the so called delay of the parousia. The patience of the Lord, a thousand years is like a day and day like a thousand years (an image Peter also gets from the Hebrew Bible, Ps 90.4) is mercy toward even the scoffers.  But in the end, they will be accountable because God will put things right! That is what divine judgment is, putting the world right. Their unrighteousness will be removed from the world!

Peter and Three Worlds

In our work Embracing Creation, John Mark Hicks, Mark Wilson and myself, argue that 2 Peter 3 envisions three different worlds (pp. 194-196).  The judgment of the first world is the paradigm or pattern for the judgment of the second world.  We can visualize the text in the following manner

1) First Heaven and Earth (Gen 1-8)

the world at that time was destroyed (apollumi) by water” (2 Pt 3.5-6)

2) Present Heaven and Earth (Gen 9-Rev 20)

the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire” (2 Pt 3.7)

3) Future heavens and earth (Rev 21-22)

the re/newed heavens and earth the home of the righteous (2 Pt 3.13)

The present heavens and earth were the new heaven and new earth that emerged from the world that was “destroyed” in the Flood. The present world will be destroyed (ἀπώλετο) in the pattern set by the demise of the first world. Peter intends us to understand the second destruction in light of the first which is why he uses the same word. A “new” world that was drastically changed by the Flood did in fact emerge.  But the first world was hardly annihilated. It was not a different planet. The fish of the sea did not die.

If we learn anything from Peter’s previous use of the Flood narrative in discussing its parallel to baptism in 1 Peter 3.20-21, it is not that the world or baptismal subject is annihilated, rather they are cleansed! It was purification by the Flood.  On this whole theme see Michael J. Svigel, “Extreme Makeover: Heaven and Earth Edition–Will God Annihilate the World and Re-create it Ex Nihilo?” (Bibliotheca Sacra) 171: 401-417.

Peter and the στοιχεία

Peter tells us that the “στοιχεία will be loosed/dissolved/destroyed.” There are a number of exegetical and translation issues involved in this short clause.  We must use the two rules for reading the Bible – Context and Context – to avoid anachronistic imposition upon the biblical text.  Whatever Peter means by “elements” (NRSV), he does not mean the list we call the Periodic Table for the simple reason neither he nor anyone else had ever heard of it! Some do not mind making this word mean what they think it means today in light of 21st century science.  Peter does not, in fact, mean the basic atomic “elements” of the universe (hydrogen, helium, oxygen, iron, etc).

There are a couple possibilities for a historically contextual meaning of στοιχεία. First, and this meaning has biblical support, is that the στοιχεία are the rebellious angelic beings that will be “destroyed” with the return of Christ.  This view finds support in the prophets in Isaiah 24.21-22; 34.3; etc.  The apostle Paul understood στοιχεία as referring to these “spirits” as we can see in Galatians 4.3 and 9 as well as in Colossians 2.8 and 20.  It was a common view among second Temple Jews as we can see also in 1 Enoch 60.12; etc and Jubilees 2.2; etc.  A number of the Church Fathers understood the στοιχεία in this manner.  If this is the correct interpretation then it is plainly not talking about the Periodic Table’s basic constituents of the Universe.  Another possibility, one held by most modern scholars, is that στοιχεία refers to planetary or astral deities. This view however does not have to be rigidly separated from the first as astral deities were commonly associated with the planetary bodies in the ancient world.

Peter does not say “all στοιχεία” nor even “the  στοιχεία” will be “dissolved.”  There is no article in the Greek text.  As Svegil’s notes “This lack of the article may very well indicate that the most severe fiery judgments of the coming Day of the Lord, in which elements are destroyed, will be localized and limited, not universalized and total.” Peter simply says something is going to happen to στοιχεία he does not say it will happen to all.

But what will happen to the στοιχεία? Peter uses a word from λύω. There is nothing inherent in this word or in the context that suggests annhilationism. Translations of “melt,” “dissolve,” even “loose” are legitimate here.  The same word can be used for untying sandals but hardly means such shoes ceases to exist.  Peter is using traditional language from the apocalyptic portions of the prophets that Peter has already warned us to pay attention too.

Peter in fact seems to have in mind the same kind of refining that the Wisdom of Solomon does when it speaks of judgment and the “elements.”  They are changed/refined like in a smelters furnace but hardly annihilated.

For the elements [στοιχεία] were changed in themselves by a kind of harmony, like as in a psaltery notes change the name of the tune, and yet are always sounds. . . . For earthly things were turned into watery, and the things, that before swam in the water, now went upon the ground. The fire had power in the water, forgetting its own virtue: and the water forgot its own quenching nature” (Wisdom 19.18-21).

It would seem, to me, that annihilationists that envision the entire universe suddenly exploding into nothingness go far beyond what Peter actually says in regard to the “elements.”

Peter, Fire, and the Day of the Lord in the Prophets

Peter has shown that he not only can refer to, but explicitly quote, a text that talks about strange cosmic phenomena without thinking it was literally the “end of the world.”  In the temple at Pentecost, Peter cites Joel 2 that uses this language

I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,

blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,

before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.”
(Acts 2.19-20 citing Joel 2.30-31)

Though Peter explicitly cites a “day of the Lord” text from Joel, I do not know any annhilationist who assumes that Joel believed (or Peter) this cosmic upheaval literally took place at any time, yet Peter said it happened.  “This is that” he said in Acts 2. But the sun did not “disappear,” the Moon did not have hematopoietic fluid dripping from it.  Yet the “day of the Lord” in Joel 3.31 must be the same day spoken of in Joel 1.15, a “day of destruction.”

Peter explicitly draws on the prophetic traditions of “the day of the Lord” for describing the fate of the present heavens and earth in 3.10.  The “Day of the Lord” is found in several texts in the Prophets and usually follows the same paradigm.

Peter’s message to his readers contains the major elements of the Day of the Lord from the Prophets.  There are several places we can camp to get a decent grasp on the prophetic message but I will examine quickly the small book of Zephaniah that seems to focus nearly in its entirety on the “day.”  We will find that he includes all the basic elements that Peter mentions.

The Day of the Lord is mentioned explicitly in Zephaniah 1.7; 1.14 (2x); 1.18 and 2.2-3 with further references in chapter 3 without that title.  The day of the Lord is a

+ day of fire

+ day of destruction

Yet we find

+ an inheritance remains

+ the humble are saved

Fire. Destruction. Hope of land. Hope of salvation.

All of these are present when we read 2 Peter 3.1-13.  In Zephaniah we find that the scoffers rest “complacently” before the Lord declaring that Yahweh could care less about what is going on.

I [Yahweh] will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm!
” (1.12).

Zephaniah is dealing with the same kind of people Peter is.  Thus he appeals to the “day of the Lord.”  It will be a day of setting things right in this world.  It will be a day of wrath, distress, anguish, “ruin and devastation” (1.15-16).   It will be a day when “the whole earth is CONSUMED” or “burned up” (NCV) as the prophet says in 1.18.  In fact it will be a day in which there “is no inhabitant left” (2.5).

If we are poor readers of Zephaniah, we would assume that the earth is literally annihilated and that the inhabitants are literally gone. Yet, clearly, Zephaniah did not mean that and neither does Peter.  In the wake of fire and destruction on the Day of the Lord there emerges inheritance, preservation of the faithful AND even the praise of the nations.  None of this is possible if the world is literally “burned up” as the New Century Version renders Zephaniah 1.18 and 3.8.

Instead of annihilation, in light of the Day of the Lord, we find the emergence of God’s faithfulness to his covenant with the world and Abraham.  Though Israel is subject to judgment along with the peoples, specifically the Philistines, Israel will inherit the land.

The seacoast shall become the possession
of the remnant of the house of Judah …
For the LORD will be mindful of theme and restore their fortunes
” (1.7).

This is possible because Israel is told to “seek the LORD, seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps on the day of the LORD’s wrath you will be hidden” (2.3).  This is expanded in chapter 3.8-12 were we learn after the earth is explicitly stated to be “consumed” (the language is identical to 1.18) we read in the very next verse these remarkable words.

At that time I will change the speech of the peoples [nations, non-Israelites]
and serve him with one accord …”

This will happen because Yahweh spares his people in his grace.

I will leave in the midst of you
a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD –
the remnant of Israel” (3.12)

This will lead, as Zephaniah notes at the close of his book, to the “praise of the peoples of the earth” (3.20).

The Day of the Lord tradition in the prophets does not envision the annihilation of planet Earth.  Even where the explicit language of “burned up” and “no inhabitants left” is given, we see that the prophet did not intend that to be a literal, scientific, statement.

Not only is the world not destroyed but Israel inherits the land.
Not only are the people not annihilated they are given new tongues to praise God.
Not only is Israel not wiped out but they are saved

This all happens because God judges the world! (So many misunderstand that biblical word too.  As we noted earlier judgment is frequently seen as good news, Ps 96, etc)

Again the same themes from 2 Peter 3.1-13 are present in Zephaniah: the scoffers, the fire, the destruction which leads to inheritance of the land, the redemption of God’s people and the praise of the nations.  When Peter draws on the theme of the “Day of the Lord” he does not mean anything different than Zephaniah or the other prophets for that matter.  He told us to go to them to understand his own use of the term.

On this whole section see John de Jong’s 2015 dissertation, Making Sense of Zephaniah: An Intertextual Reading (PhD, Laidlaw College, 2015)

Peter’s Fire

It is clear that fire did not mean the annihilation of the world in Zephaniah and when we take a close look in 2 Peter 3 we will find that it does not for the apostle either.  Peter’s use of καυσούμενα is rooted in the Day of the Lord traditions.  We have already examined Zephaniah and learned literal annihilation is not part of the “pattern” for that Day.

Peter turns his readers yet again to the prophets, this time to Malachi, in clarifying the purpose of God’s fire or “intense heat.”  Malachi dovetails with what we have seen already in previous texts that the focus is on purification and refinement specifically to the day of the Lord in Malachi 3.2-5 (cf. 4.1—3)

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment …

The Day of the Lord is about judgment, yes, but it is also about refining and cleansing. Yahweh “comes near” for judgment upon the wicked; Yahweh “comes near” to bless the righteous.

Notice also that Malachi demonstrates God’s desire for forgiveness and his patient longing for repentance, and the last verse of the book says that Yahweh “comes near” for restoration and reconciliation and then promises, in the context of messianic prophecy,

I will not come and strike the land with a curse/destruction” (4.6)

Much of Malachi lies behind what Peter is saying in our text. “Mockers,” “the Day of the Lord,” “God’s promise of justice,” “The ‘coming’ of the Lord,” “fire,” “judgment,” “repentance” are all used in 2 Peter 3 and they are all rooted in the authority of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

The prophetic literature about the Day of the Lord always includes symbolic imagery, and often it will include cosmic imagery of the whole cosmos falling apart, even though they are simply describing the fall of Babylon or Jerusalem or some other temporal, physical judgment … or as we see on Pentecost to the renewing of God’s covenant not the annihilation of his people much less the world. So we are to be working out of that framework when we are reading 2 Peter 3.

The very use of kauso by Peter implies something besides annihilation.  First the prophets understood the day of the Lord as at of cleansing as with “fuller’s soap.”  Second the word itself, according to Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon (9th edition), implies renovation or renewal (p.932).  This use of “fire” as God’s cleansing and purifying agent is exactly how Peter uses it in his two other uses of the exact same word, and in an eschatological context.

you have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1.7, this text combines two words used by Peter in 2 Pt 3, fire and being found)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4.12)

Fire purifies, tests, and brings glory to God.  It does not annihilate. It rather brings renovation and renewal.

On this section see Craig Blaising, “The Day of the Lord will Come: An Exposition of 2 Peter 3.1-13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 169 (2012): 387-401; and Matthew Emerson, “Does God Have a Death Star? The Destruction of the Cosmos in 2 Peter 3:1-13,” Southwest Journal of Theology 57 (2015): 281-293.

Peter and the World that is Found

Alexander Campbell wrote nearly 200 years ago that he could not think of a greater hindrance to the cause of Reformation than the 1611 King James Version. This is especially true in the KJV’s translation of 2 Peter 3.10, “the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up (κατακαήσεται).

The KJV is based on late, medieval, manuscripts that scholars have for centuries known to be frequently inaccurate.  The medieval reading of “shall be burned up” is simply not how the early church ever heard 2 Peter read.  As Al Wolters in a his article “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10,” notes,

With the rise of modern textual criticism, this reading was soon rejected. This was due especially to the discovery and publication of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the two great fourth century uncials, both of which read heurethesetai, “will be found.” To my knowledge, all critical editions of the New Testament text since that of Tischendorf (1872), notably including the landmark edition of Westcott and Hort (1881), have adopted the latter reading, which is also supported by early patristic evidence (Origen) and is now attested by an early papyrus (p72).

No edition of the Greek New Testament has carried the inaccurate KJV reading since the mid-19th century.  Standard modern translations follow the correct reading as we see in the NIV, TNIV, ESV, NEB, REB, NRSV, CEB, God’s Word, HCSB, NCV, NET, etc.

Though Peter does not say that the world will be “burned up” (κατακαήσεται) this does not stop annihilationists from running back to the King James Version in an attempt to prop up neo-gnostic eschatology (though again unintentionally).  But what is so interesting is that though men like Robert Haldane, Alexander Campbell, Moses Lard, and J. W. McGarvey all read the KJV, they still did not interpret (as noted in the opening quotes) 2 Peter 3.10 in the manner that 20th and 21st century annihhilationists have done so. Annihilationism is an imposed interpretation even upon the King James Version.

What Peter says is “and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed/laid bare/exposed” (εύρεθήσεται) ” (NRSV, NIV, ESV).  There is a significant difference between saying the world is burned up and the world is disclosed.  Our exegesis up to this point, regardless of the textual variant, has shown that Peter is not talking about the annihilation of the world regardless of the textual variant. However the medieval reading of the KJV is incorrect and the early church read in their copies of 2 Peter that on the Day of the Lord the world would be εύρεθήσεται, not burned up.

But what does it mean for the world to be εύρεθήσεται. Wolters suggests a metallurgical meaning for εύρεθήσεται that fits the refinement imagery we have already noted in this passage. Considered in this way, “its meaning would then be something like ‘emerge purified’ (from the crucible); with the connotation of having stood the test, of being tried and true.”

This in fact is the way Peter uses εύρεθήσεται in his two other usages. We have already seen in 1 Peter 1.7 above where the apostle combines heurethe with fire, and just a few verse away from 3.10 Peter writes, “Therefore, beloved while you are waiting for these things, strive to be εὑρεθῆναι (found/exposed/laid bare) by him at peace.” That is, these disciples will emerge from the fiery crucible in a state that is pleasing to the Lord.  The present world will likewise emerge from a fiery ordeal in a state that is pleasing its Creator.

What is eliminated in the Day of the Lord is not materiality nor the cosmos.  What is purged by the fire is Sin and Death. The focus of judgment is not on matter but on unrighteousness that permeates humanity and has polluted God’s good creation. The victory of the Cross and Resurrection are made manifest and God has not surrendered even one particle to the Enemy.

On this section see three important articles: G. A. van den Heever, “In Purifying Fire: Worldview and 2 Peter 3.10,” Neotestamen 27 (1993): 107-118; David Wenham, “Being Found on the Last Day: New Light on 2 Pet 3:10 and 2 Cor 5:3,” New Testament Studies 33 (1987): 477-490; Al Wolters, “Worldview and Textual Criticism of 2 Peter 3:10,” Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987): 405-413

Peter and the Hope of the World: A Renewed Heaven and Earth the Home of the Righteous

Peter warns the scoffers of his day by pointing them to the Hebrew Bible. Do not mock God’s gracious and merciful patience.  Drawing on the very prophets we are told to “be attentive,” the apostle points to the reality of the Day of the Lord.

They mocked Noah.
They whispered at Jeremiah.
They scoffed at Zephaniah, Malachi and the rest.

But God judged “the godless” (2 Pet 3.7) and saved both his servants and his creation in the Flood.  The target of God’s wrath in the Flood was not the planet, but human sin and the water cleansed the world.

Peter says the great and final Day of the Lord is coming. It will be a day when humans will be put to the test to see what they are made of. God’s people will be purified along with God’s world from all unrighteousness.  Out of this baptism of purifying heat will emerge “in accordance with his promise,” a “new heavens and a new earth” (3.13).

Peter once again explicitly links his words with the Hebrew Bible. Pointing to Isaiah 65.17-25 (but the same reality is spoken of in Amos, Joel, Zechariah, Hosea, and other places) where the great prophet promises that God make his creation “new.”  There is no notion in Isaiah, nor the other texts, of God annihilating his creation.  Rather he makes it “new.” (On the whole notion of “new” and “renew” see my article Explorations on ‘New’ and ‘Renewed’ in the Bible.). Instead we have the very last words in the Hebrew Bible are the promise that Yahweh would not destroy the land!

What Peter teaches in 2 Peter 3 is in complete harmony with Paul in Romans 8 and Colossians 1.  The Gospel proclaims the redemption of creation not the annihilation of it.

My critics in the Spiritual Sword have claimed that the early Christian belief in a material heavens and earth that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ is Premillennial.  This is absurd! The great irony here is the SS does not know early Christian teaching nor what the Premillennialists have taught.

Dispensational Premillennialism has been, just like my critics, annihilationists!  John Walvoord, the guru of the premillennialists for a generation writes in his Major Biblical Prophecies on 2 Peter 3,

In view of the tremendous energy locked into every material atom, the same God who locked in this energy can unlock it and destroy it, reducing it to nothing Since the power of God that locked in atomic power can also unlock it, it is possible that the destruction of the physical earth and heaven will be a gigantic explosion in which all goes back to nothing” (p. 414)

Besides the anachronistic “exegesis” in Wolvoord, this is not the view of the ancient church.  This is the view of the Spiritual Sword!

Annihilation is the resurgence of Gnostic eschatology in the modern church.  It is not the hope of Israel in the Hebrew Bible.  It is not the belief of Second Temple Judaism.  It is not the hope of the early church in the Apostolic Fathers or the Church Fathers. It is not the Christian hope. The resurrection of our bodies from the dead, the “redemption of our bodies,” and creation sharing in the redemption of the children of God is the hope the Bible speaks of.  I know of no early Christian thinker in the first five centuries that held to the annihilation of creation that was not a Gnostic.

Peter teaches the same thing in 3.1-13 that he had earlier in Acts 3.11-26. God holds the resurrected Christ in heaven until the time of “universal regeneration that was announced long ago through his holy prophets” (3.21).

Conclusion: A Translation of 2 Peter 3.10f Reflecting our Exegesis

The following translation was suggested by Justin Mooney at the Christian Workers Meeting in 2006.  I think it is a good one and captures well what the apostle was saying.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then God will come near with a loud noise, and the whole cosmos will be both judged and set free in the overwhelming presence of God, and the earth and everything that has been done on it will be made known. Since everything is to be refined in this way, what kind of people should you be? Conduct yourselves in holiness and godliness, in anticipation of the coming presence of God, since his overwhelming presence will result in both judgment and redemption of all things!

I am so looking forward to our inheritance, as resurrected people, with the resurrected Son of Man in his resurrected world.

In addition to the links already present in this article to other supporting arguments you may be interested in reading the following three links:

In Defense of Romans 8: A Response to its Spiritual Sword Critics

Heaven (10): Christ the Creator, Conqueror, and Reconciler of His Cosmos

Heaven (9): A Place for the Resurrected Lord & His Resurrected People – 2

Additional Helpful Sources on 2 Peter 3

Richard Bauckham, 2 Peter and Jude (Word Biblical Commentary)
Peter Davids, 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary)
John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, Mark Wilson, Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission

One Response to “Peter, the Hebrew Bible, the Hope of the World: 2 Peter 3.1-13”

  1. Rob Says:

    Regarding the elements discussion, Isaiah 24 actually supports the idea that the “elements” in Colossians are in fact the “hosts of heaven” represented by celestial bodies, sun and moon (vs 23). It seems that it might also be that there is double or triple representation as the “powers” that are stripped publically might be the human powers where the celestial powers exercise their influence.

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