No Backwater Fishing Hole (2 Peter 1:1–2)

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“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:1–2 ESV).

2 Peter is regarded by some as a backwater fishing hole, aptly, but inaccurately attributed to the uncouth fisherman from Galilee. “2 Peter has been termed the ‘ugly stepchild’ of the NT,” writes Peter Davids. “It is not just that the extended prophetic denunciation is unpalatable to some people and the apparent description of the destruction of the universe in ch. 3 is disturbing, but that many readers wonder whether the book is genuine and belongs in the canon at all.”

It might be surprising to learn that the first two seemingly innocuous words of this letter are likely it’s most controversial and among some of the most contested in the New Testament. There are multiple arguments against Petrine authorship, but I’ll just pick out only a couple since they’re all equally ridiculous.

Some say there are too many unique terms in this letter for it to have been written by Peter. Some 57 words are found here and nowhere else in the New Testament. We have two short letters bearing Peter’s name, each with a different focus, and from so small a sampling can we draw such a conclusion? When R.C. Sproul received his first assignment for doctoral studies in Holland it included 25 titles in Dutch, a language of which he knew nothing. He painstakingly began the task by consulting his Dutch-English dictionary and writing each Dutch word that he came to on one side of a card with a corresponding English word on the other. The first day he worked through just over a page. The first two books Dr. Sproul read in this way were by the same author on the same subject and when the final tally was in, there were over 5000 words in the second volume that were not in the first. Such objections make me think of Dr. Budziszewski’s remark that, “Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve.”

Akin to this, others say that the style of 2 Peter is too different from 1 Peter for him to have written it. Many critical scholars also argue that the Greek of 1 Peter is too refined for Peter to have written that letter. So we have the same pool of scholars telling us that Peter couldn’t have written 2 Peter because its style is too different from that other letter he didn’t write. Huh? Further, it is not as if the church has never known someone who could write children’s fantasy, adult science fiction, popular apologetic works, and critical academic pieces. No, C.S. Lewis could not have written the Narnia tales, the Perelandra series, Mere Christianity, and Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

Let’s turn from the opinions of modern scholarship to that of the church. The best Biblical scholarship has historically been done within the church. The Trinitarian orthodoxy of the early creeds cannot be improved on or matched and it was produced not by some isolated scholars operating in institutions of education, but by churchmen serving the church. Michael Allen and Scott Swain argue that “Christian theology flourishes in the school of Christ [meaning the church]… The Spirit of Christ teaches the church in sufficient and unmixed verity such that the church need not seek theological understanding from any other source or principle.” They liken the church to the Spirit-cultivated field God designed theology to grow in.

Though some in the church have wrestled with the authenticity of 2 Peter the overwhelming testimony has been that of affirmation. We should listen to this testimony not because the Bible is determined by majority vote, nor because the church stands over the Word as Rome argues. We should listen to the opinion of the church because it is to her that the self-authenticating Word bears witness. Sheep shouldn’t ask goats for their opinion concerning food. 

Scholars who deny the authenticity of 2 Peter are the scoffers Peter goes on to speak of.

“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:1–4 ESV).

Such scoffers speak with a snake’s lisp asking, “Did God really say?”

This is no backwater fishing hole. It is an ocean of grace upon grace (1:2). It is scoffer-scholars who would have us drink from the stagnant waters of human autonomy.

Nicely Packed (1 Peter 5:5–14)

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed… Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ —1 Peter 5:1, 5 (ESV)

Do not make the mistake of thinking that the authors of the Bible are as bad of Scripture-writers as we are Scripture-readers. We often read the Bible as if it were a buffet, looking for what we like, picking a bit here and there. So it is that lo mien comes to sit alongside mac and cheese.

The Bible’s authors planned feasts. There is a theme to the meal. Things are tied together. There is a logical order to the courses.

As you come to the end of this letter, you may think Peter is just filling the empty space on his plate with the victuals he’d like. You theorize that Peter had some extra space on this parchment and means to fill it up like the poor preacher who looks at his watch and thinks, “Hey, I’ve got twenty more minutes!” and conjures up the favorite bits he returns to again and again.

Peter began a new section in 5:1 addressing the elders, but that section starts with “so” linking it back to the previous one where Peter was again expounding the theme of the letter, nicely summarized in 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” Elders are to do the good work of shepherding the flock of God among them, despite present suffering in hope of eternal glory. Peter then ends his exhortation to elders holding forth this promise of glory (5:4)

In 5:5 Peter turns to address the saints as a whole. He begins with the word “likewise.” He is now exhorting the church for the same reason he exhorted elders, because of present suffering, and future glory, and the good they are called to do. Peter ends his exhortation to the church holding forth the same hope of glory (5:10).

Peter has not neatly packed his suitcase up to this point only to randomly cram the remaining empty space with whatever else he thinks might be handy. Even in every element of his closing (5:12–14) Peter relentlessly returns to his theme. I would unpack this for you, but my exhortation here is simply for you to notice that things are exquisitely packed. Let’s endeavor to be as tenacious in our reading as Peter was in his writing.

Watching Sitcoms in the Midst of a Battle (1 Peter 4:1–6)

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“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” —1 Peter 4:1 (ESV)

“Arm yourselves!” The word has as clear a military connotation in the original language as the English translation suggests. The noun form of the word translated “arm” is often rendered “weapons.” This is a call to weaponize.

With what are we to arm ourselves? “The same way of thinking.” It would be progress for much of the evangelical church to arm herself with any kind of thinking. Mark Noll has lamented, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” As you sit in the average American church, is the mood predominantly one of amusement or muse-ment? Here’s a test, if you lose electricity, does the worship gathering fall flat? Often a lot of thought goes into such gatherings, but are they thinking about thinking? If their thinking has any links to the academy, it is likely to the one in Hollywood.

We mustn’t pit the mind against the heart, but when the heart is mindlessly moved we have a word for this—manipulation. Collectively, the Christian masses aren’t so much moved by the Spirit as they are manipulated by men. What we want is for the heart to be moved by the mind. If this isn’t so, then our hearts are affected by our own imaginations rather than God’s revelation and we’re found to be worshipping an idol. Ours should be the ambition of Jonathan Edwards, “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”

If we are far from arming ourselves with thinking, how much more so from arming ourselves with a kind of militant thinking that is ready to suffer? We are at leisure in the living room of the world rather than at the ready in God’s armory. If the Christian mind isn’t fighting, it’s surrendered. If our minds are not sober, they’re drunk (1 Peter 1:13–14).

The August Theologian: Total Depravity and Original Sin

“At Rome my arrival was marked by the scourge of physical sickness, and I was on the way to the underworld, bearing all the evils I had committed against you, against myself, and against others—sins both numerous and serious, in addition to the chain of original sin by which ‘in Adam we die’ (1 Cor. 15: 22). You had not yet forgiven me in Christ for any of them, nor had he by his cross delivered me from the hostile disposition towards you which I  had contracted by my sins. How could he deliver me from them if his cross was, as I had believed, a phantom? Insofar as the death of his flesh was in my opinion unreal, the death of my soul was real. And insofar as the death of his flesh was authentic, to that extent the life of my soul, which disbelieved that, was inauthentic.” —Augustine, Confessions

The Baptism that Saves Us (1 Peter 3:20–21)

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“…because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” —1 Peter 3:20–21 (ESV)

The salvation of Noah and his family through the waters of judgment corresponds to baptism. The phrase “corresponds to this” is a single word in the original language which, though rarely used, can come straight into English—antitype. We speak of David being a type of Jesus. This means Jesus is the antitype. When you hear this kind of language think of those ancient and obsolete machines known as typewriters or the printing press. Picture the metal die with a letter etched into it, say the letter “B.” The metal die is the antitype. When it strikes the paper, you see the type, the letter “B”. When we say David is a type of Christ, we mean that Christ actually came first and that David is a copy, an impression of Christ. David being patterned after Christ anticipates Him.

Noah’s salvation through the waters of judgment is a type of paptism. Baptism is the antitype of Noah’s salvation. We could say that the flood was a sign of baptism. Baptism is itself a sign. The salvation of Noah through the waters of judgment then is a sign of a sign. When Peter goes onto say that baptism saves us, he makes it clear that he is speaking not of the sign, but of the thing signified.

Rome has a sacerdotal view of baptism. The term sacerdotal comes from the Latin word for priest. Rome believes that the priest is able to convey saving regenerating grace through the sacrament of baptism. This happens ex opere operato, which amounts to “by the working of the work.” By this Rome means that the efficacy of the sacrament isn’t dependent on the goodness of the priest but on the validity of the act. Thus when Rome baptizes you, you’re made new and infused with real righteousness. Contra the Reformers, Rome doesn’t say this righteousness is imputed to you but imparted to you. You are not counted, but made righteous.

Additionally, the Church of Christ believes that baptism is necessary for the remission of sins. Across all denominational lines, professing Christians need to hear this: the physical act of water baptism does not save you. How can I say this? Peter just wrote, “baptism…now saves you,” right? Isn’t this a clear contradiction of the text? No, I am saying precisely what Peter said. The kind of baptism that saves is “not the removal of dirt from the body.” In other words, it isn’t the sign, but the thing signified that saves. So what is signified in baptism? Union with Christ in His death and resurrection.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” —Romans 3:3–5 (ESV)

Being put into Christ, baptized into Jesus, is a work of the Spirit. Here Paul speaks not of the sign, but the thing signified.

But how does this jive with Peter’s definition of the kind of baptism that saves, namely, “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” or, as I believe it can be better translated, “as an appeal to God from/of a good conscience?” When the Spirit regenerates you and makes you new, this is a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As soon as you are born again, you believe. Faith is “an appeal to God from/of a good conscience.” Faith is the cry of the new heart in response to the gospel by which we were born again (1 Peter 1:23–25). This salvation, signified in water baptism, is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). Because of this new birth, through Jesus, we believe. “Through [Jesus we] are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1:21).