About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Lynn Wallmark at Simpson University during my senior year for a class on the General Epistles.
The Bible is clear about some things and unclear about others. The reason for this is the fact that the authors of the Bible had purposes for writing. They were seeking to clear up certain issues and trusted that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the other issues would be dealt with. However, the areas that the Bible does address ought to receive some special attention. The second epistle of Peter and the epistle of Jude are no exception. These epistles contain some very harsh words and exhortations, and although they do not cover every aspect of life, what they do should be noted. The second epistle of Peter and the epistle of Jude contain some very practical information regarding the spiritual life of believers, and therefore I am going to focus on four of the many important topics addressed in these letters dealing with virtues (2 Peter 1:5-7), false teachers (2 Peter 2:20-22), the Day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:8-10), and keeping the faith (Jude 20-22). Michael Green’s book in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series covering these epistles (2 Peter & Jude, edited by Leon Morris, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) proves to be a helpful resource to unpacking these four important topics.
THE FOUR FOCI
THE FIRST FOCUS: VIRTUES (2 PETER 1:5-7)
Second Peter gives us a good list of virtues to add on to faith. Peter exhorts his readers to add on goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (NIV). Peter is saying that it is not enough to simply know the Lord or have faith; being a Christian entails much more than just believing. This echoes the epistle of James (cf. Js. 2:18-19, 26). We ought to take an extra careful look, then, at to what precisely Peter is calling us to add to our faith.
Green does well to mention that Peter is urging believers to go to painstaking efforts to bring these virtues alongside faith, which are demonstrative of a healthy Christian life (75). He mentions that “add” in the English translation is a mental picture relating to the Athenian drama festivals, thus conveying the idea of generosity and expensive co-operation (76). Peter’s point, then, is that Christians must actively engage in a sort of co-operation with God to produce a Christian life that is worthy of their calling in Him (76). These virtues, it should be noted, are added onto faith for this very purpose.
Faith is the commencement into the love of God (76). It is the foundation upon which all other virtues build. The first virtue Peter lists to be added to faith is goodness. Peter uses a rare word here, meaning “excellence,” denoting proper fulfillment of anything (76). Green understands this to mean that humans or Christians are to reflect Christ in their lives (77). Thus, it is important to have faith and to also demonstrate Christ’s character in one’s life. Yet, Christianity is not simply about faith and goodness; Peter calls Christians to add on knowledge as well.
Christianity entails a certain academic virtue to add knowledge to good deeds. Christianity is intellectual and it ought not shrink back in the face of academic adversity: “The cure for false knowledge is not less knowledge, but more” (77). But in addition to knowledge, so also self-control should be added to faith and goodness. This word in the Greek means to control one’s passions and not to be mastered by them (77-78). Peter tells us that alongside of knowledge comes not freedom from self-control but freedom to self-control (78). But alongside of self-control also comes perseverance.
Perseverance, Green mentions, is the mind frame that is unmoved by difficulties or miseries, and is able to stand against the pressing desires of the world and the flesh (78). Perseverance is what enables Christians to not give up against temptation or persecution. Perseverance has this capability because it is what helps Christians deal with sorrows and to endure hardships (78). Peter says that along with perseverance, however, godliness must also be added. Green notes that the Greek word for “godliness” should be translated “reverence” instead (79). He understands that Peter is trying to convey an idea of proper behavior towards both God and men (79). Green writes, “Peter is at pains to emphasize that true knowledge of God manifests itself in reverence towards him and respect towards men” (79). Still, brotherly kindness must come with godliness.
Brotherly kindness is essential for the believer as it is a distinguishing mark of Christ’s true disciples (79). Representing those who have partaken in the divine nature, brotherly kindness demonstrates believers’ new birth (79). Green notes that this is done by bearing one another’s burdens and by guarding the unity of the Holy Spirit (79). Indeed, it takes much work to fulfill the law of Christ and to put a stop to gossip, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness (79). But along with brotherly kindness must also come love. Love is the capstone to the virtues built on faith. We have a list of virtues given by Peter that is built on a foundation of faith, and a roof of love holds it together. The word for “love” denotes the attitude that God has shown towards us, and the attitude that He demands of us towards others as well as towards himself (80). Green defines this kind of love in a magnificent way: “This agapê might be defined as a deliberate desire for the highest good of the one loved, which shows itself in sacrificial action for that person’s good” (80). We are called by Peter to put on this kind of love, and thus hold together all the other virtues built on faith.
And so we have it. Peter exhorts his readers (or listeners) to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to faith in an effort to actively engage in a faith that is demonstrative of a person who has been called according to God’s purpose.
THE SECOND FOCUS: FALSE TEACHERS (2 PETER 2:20-22)
Second Peter gives us some good information regarding false teachers. We know that the false teachers mentioned were once orthodox Christians (129; cf. v. 21). These false teachers were orthodox believers who had been polluted by the world (129). Green writes that “the world” is the society separated from God (129). These false teachers once escaped this isolated society but then became entangled in it once again and were overcome by its pollutions (129). Green notes that they became full of head knowledge and without practice; they did not follow the virtues Peter called them to add to faith, mainly goodness, knowledge and self-control in particular (130). The knowledge that they did possess was destructive.
The false teachers called darkness, “light,” and bondage, “liberty” (130). They were guilty, Green writes, of the unforgiveable sin—not because God would not forgive them, but because they persisted to refuse to accept God’s forgiveness to them (130). They had apparently tasted the faith, but then they turned away from the path of righteousness (131). Green says that the first stage to this apostasy was the false teachers’ rejection of law (131). He writes, “Rejection of God’s law is the first step to the rejection of God, for God is a moral being” (131). Clearly when one gives up ethics then doctrine will also fall; both are crucial in the life of the believer (132). The false teachers gave up both, and it is no wonder that they apostasized. Peter uses two proverbs to convey the peril of their apostasy.
The first proverb Peter quotes is, “A dog returns to its vomit.” The second proverb Peter quotes is, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” The former is biblical (Proverbs 26:11) while the latter is not (132). Green writes that the punishment for the false teachers is that they are “given over to the lot they have chosen” (132). God supports ones active and deliberate choice, whether it be for heaven or for hell, and therefore everyone will end up in the place of his or her choice (132). The dog that rids itself of its inward corruption by vomiting it up ends up sniffing it once again, and the pig which has rid itself of its outward corruption through washing cannot resist wallowing in the mud once again (132).
False teachers are guilty of knowing the way of the Lord but then rejecting it and pursuing a path of destruction instead. They are dogs and pigs that cannot resist their own filth. These animals are unclean to Jews, and to the Christian they represent those who are lost and out of touch with God (133). As believers we ought to be wary of people who claim to be Christians but seem to wallow in licentious, perverted, selfish and indulgent desires. Why should anyone want to follow them back to their vomit or mud?
THE THIRD FOCUS: THE DAY OF THE LORD (2 PETER 3:8-10)
Second Peter has some good information regarding the end times. For starters, Peter writes that time is not the same to the Lord as it is to man (146). Quoting Psalm 90:4, Peter writes, “a day is like a thousand years,” thus asserting God’s sovereignty over time (146). Green writes that God views the linear timeline with a perspective that we do not have (146). Thus, time is relative, and when concerning the return of Jesus Christ, we must bear this in mind (146). Green notes that the comparison being made is between God’s timing and the impatience of human speculations regarding the Lord’s return (146). Many people have become impatient; yet, God will come at the right time, and not when we should predict.
The Lord will come at the necessary time. That time is not delayed because God is slow to sending His Son, but because of his patience for repentant sinners to come into the fold (148). Indeed, God is patient in relation to judgment, for he does not want any man, woman or child to perish, but rather, he wants them all to live (148). This delay, then, gives God’s children ample opportunity to preach the gospel so that those who hear it might believe and be saved (149).
Peter echoes the words of Jesus in verse 10 regarding the Day of the Lord: it will come like a thief (149; cf. Mt. 24:43-44; Lk. 12:39-40). The coming of the Lord will be sudden and unexpected, and it will be a disastrous event to all those being unprepared in the same way that a burglary is at night (149). And so, despite the delay aforementioned, the Lord will indeed come (149). As Christians we are expected to leave the timing up to the Lord, yet still watch for His return (149). Green notes that Peter makes three points regarding the Day of the Lord here in verse 10.
Peter writes, “the heavens will disappear with a roar” (150). The Greek word for “roar” has the idea of an arrow swishing through the air, the rumble of thunder, crackling flames of fire, the crack of a whip, rushing white water rapids, or the hissing of a serpent (150). One author suggests, Green notes, that all of these are possibly to be understood in this one word as Peter’s intent (150). However, Peter is quite fond of “fire” (cf. v. 7) and thus it is more likely that he understands this word to mean “the crackling of flames” (150-51).
Peter writes next, “the elements will be destroyed by fire” (151). The word for “elements” mean the physical elements understood by the Greeks to compose all things—earth, air, fire and water (151). Green does well to note that it could also mean the heavenly bodies, such as the sun, moon and stars (151). Either way, the world as we know it will be coming to a close through the destruction of fire.
Finally, Peter writes, “and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed” (NRSV). Peter is anticipating that all the things of the earth will be disclosed—they will either disappear, be burned up, or be laid bare (151). To sum it up Green quotes Bo Reicke’s remarkable words: “The solar system and the great galaxies, even space-time relationships, will be abolished . . . All elements which make up the physical world will be dissolved by heat and utterly melt away. It is a picture which in an astonishing degree corresponds to what might actually happen according to modern theories of the physical universe” (151-52).
The important factor here, Green mentions, is not the actual fulfillment of these apocalyptical ideas but of the moral implications of the second coming of the Lord (152). The Day of the Lord will certainly come, and it will come like a thief; in the mean time, we have a calling to live lives that reflect Christ’s work in us and to patiently wait for his coming. When talking of the Day of the Lord, this moral implication ought not to be separated from the events that will ensue from the Day of the Lord.
THE FOURTH FOCUS: KEEPING THE FAITH (JUDE 20-21)
Jude contains some particularly good information on managing one’s faith. Jude exhorts his readers (or listeners) in vv. 20-21 on how to keep the faith; it’s a lesson on maintaining growth in faith. The passage contains one indicative verb (the key verb)—“keep yourselves in the love of God” (NRSV)—and three participles, which I take to be modal, thus indicating how one is to keep him or her in God’s love. Green indicates that these exhortations (the indicative and three participle verbs) help Jude’s readers to withstand the false teachers (he holds to the traditional view regarding Jude and false teachers). Before we look into the participles, perhaps we should know what it means to keep ourselves in the love of God and how it might relate to the alleged false teachers.
Green argues that in contrast to the false teachers, his readers should do everything in their power to remain in God’s love (200). He argues for them to cultivate their love relationship with God, which the false teachers did not do (200). Green sums up the false teachers’ position in this: “It was by flagrant disobedience that the false teachers had fallen out of love with him, and thus, inevitably, with men as well” (200). Therefore, to keep one in the love of God means to actively place one’s self in God’s love. And how exactly are Christians to carry out this exhortation? I am glad you asked; let me tell you!
Jude gives three modal participles (as I see it), which identify the mode by which we are to keep ourselves in the love of God. First, Christians are to build themselves up in the revelation that was handed down to them by the apostles—the most holy faith (199). This faith is “most holy” because it is distinct both in its content and in its result: “It is unique in the message it teaches and in the moral transformation it produces” (200).
Second, believers are to continually pray in the Holy Spirit. Green sees this exhortation as a weapon against false teaching (200). He suggests that the false teachers had given up prayer altogether, as have many in today’s day and age (200). The exhortation is in the present tense, thus indicating that it is a continual act or deed. It does not happen once, but it happens all the time.
Third, Christians are expected to wait for the mercy of the Lord unto eternal life. Green notes that they must fuel the fire of Christian hope (200). While they are doing this, however, they must not give too great attention to future hope, lest they become useless in this present world, nor must they not neglect it, lest they become “a mere religious adjunct to the social services” (200-01). Christians are to live and rejoice in this world (having a world-affirming attitude) while still recognizing that it will all come to an end when the Lord returns (having a world-denying attitude) (201). Green gives considerable attention to the idea of mercy here in verse 21, and we should briefly unpack it.
Christians are called to focus on God’s mercy on them on a daily basis (201). It is by this mercy that we are not destroyed and that we have been given eternal life (201). Yet, as Green rightly notes, this mercy that we are to focus on is that which Christ made possible for us by enduring the cross (201). This mercy yields eternal life, which Green says Jude uses it in reference to the unrealized part of the life of the new age which already began in the believers, which is the resurrection life of the parousia (201). Jude is calling believers, then, to keep themselves in the love of God, by building themselves up in the most unique faith, by continually praying in the Spirit of God, and by awaiting God’s eschatological mercy that will be realized in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life. Faith management is, or to keep the faith, means to build yourself up in the faith, to pray in the faith, and to wait in faith.
Michael Green’s commentary on 2 Peter and Jude was quite helpful. It worked through some very difficult material in both epistles. It was able to cogently and succinctly deliver some needed explanation of some texts of the epistles, and furthermore to shed new light in some familiar passages. I was particularly satisfied with the treatments on 2 Peter 1:5-7; 2:20-22; and 3:8-10. This is why I focused on these passages. I was somewhat pleased with Green’s treatment of Jude 20-21, but I think something must be said regarding his material.
Green mentions that four participles are given that equip Jude’s readers to live Christian lives in a context of false teaching (200). However, upon research I found that there are only three participles and one indicative verb. I wonder if Green was wrong or if he was using an older edition of the Greek New Testament. I doubt that a book of this quality would have a misinformed author, although it is possible, though not probably, and so I expect that the more likely of the two is that he had an older version. Therefore, a new edition of this commentary is in need, at least in part for Jude.
Michael’s Green proved helpful for looking at the practical information regarding virtues, false teachers, the Day of the Lord, and keeping the faith. Peter gives a fundamental list of virtues for all Christians to exhibit. Peter gives some very good information regarding false teachers and what to be weary of concerning them. Peter also gives good information regarding the outcome of this world in the Day of the Lord and the heart of the believer. Finally, Jude gives good information regarding managing one’s faith in the love of God. Green’s commentary helped to unpack all that is entailed in these four concepts and proved to be a helpful aid despite its need for an updated edition. With Green’s beneficial exegesis one can faithfully determine how to live by coming to an understanding of virtues, false teachers, the Day of the Lord, and keeping the faith in 2 Peter and Jude.