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Thursday, December 3, 2015

2 Peter

2 Peter is written in the literary form of a farewell discourse. The pending death of the "chief" apostle is used as a setting for an eloquent call to faith. It is worthy of note that the earliest mention of this letter is in Eusebius' Church History (early 300's)  quoting Origen (182-254) who says that "Peter left one authentic epistle and possibly a second, which is doubted." Apparently St Jerome (347-420) had doubts as well. Many contemporary scholars think it was written toward the end of the first century. But the message is revelation. It gives Christians a message of hope and a challenge to live in Christ.

God has bestowed the long promised salvation in Christ. In 1:1 we hear the stunning declaration that if we flee the world which is corrupted (phthora- self caused moral destruction) by lust we can share in the Divine nature (physis). This is a foundational belief of the mystical theology of the church. One aspect of salvation is that Jesus took on our human nature so that we can share in the divine nature. It may be another way of speaking about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or "the life" of God in us. This is how salvation works-- we empty ourselves/ are emptied of the world (the flesh and the devil) so God fills us with Himself (share in His Nature). It is a process of grace and our cooperative discipline. The list: virtue-faith-discernment-self control-perseverance-piety/godliness-care-love reflect the Roman response to a patron; here the Christian understands the Patron to be God the Father. The right living is a response to God's saving kindness, and those who fail to live in such a way are deemed "blind" by the author.

1:16-21 One major argument for the truth of Christianity is that it is incarnate, happening in time and place. Jesus is not a "myth" (like the gods of the pagans) but someone whom eyewitnesses have known. [cf. 1 John 1-2-- "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched"..."the life became visible; we have seen it and bear witness to it]. The reference to the Transfiguration is part of the apostolic witness, it is a reason why these people were willing to suffer and die for Jesus. 2 Peter connected the events of Jesus life with prophecy, that is what is found in the Jewish Bible. However, he warns against private or individual interpretation. Scripture comes from God. Prophecy is the work of the Spirit. It is not simply an human endeavor. People should not pick up their Bible to read and spin their own interpretations outside the received wisdom of the church.

Much of the content in chapter 2 of 2 Peter seems related to the Letter of Jude. [For this reason the chapter is skipped in the lectionary. Jude will be read at the weekend.] The disaster of heresy in the early church was a major concern. While love is central, and theological disputes can often be merely a divisive "wrangling over words," false teaching does have death dealing effects. Lies produce evil behavior, as is documented from Scripture, and God's justice saves His people but also brings wrath on those opposed to Him. Three illustrations are used: fallen angels were sent to Tartarus (Greek mythology, the horrible prison under Hades. Side note, not a reference a Jewish Gallilean fisherman would be likely to conjure up), Noah's flood, and Sodom (for men unprincipled in their lusts). "The Lord knows how to rescue devout men" and "how to punish the wicked up to the day of judgment" the writer says, providing us with both sides of judgement (salvation and perdition). Echoing John 8, he says that we are a slave to whatever overcomes us. The false teachers are advocating the freedom to follow one's passions. Freedom to sin is only bondage.  He accuses the heretical teachers of providing a condition which dehumanizes the human person.

Chapter 3 concludes the short letter. Embrace the Jewish Scripture and teaching of Jesus (the Lord and Savior) he exhorts the readers. In another sign that the letter is of a later Christian generation, the author addresses the issue of the death of the forefathers. From an early time Christian faith was ridiculed because the world seemed to go on just as before. 2 Peter says that the first judgment (Noah) was water, but the second will be fire--the Day of Judgment when God moves against godless men. In a hopeful reframing, 2 Peter says that the Lord is not delaying in judgment but showing patience. One more day, the Lord seems to think, and so many more can be brought into the Kingdom. After all, God experiences time differently than us. For Him a thousand years are as a day, and vice versa. By such an accounting, Jesus was born a couple of days ago, and the Exodus was a day before that... However the stunning revelation is that God is influenced by humans. His plan includes response to human choices.

The logical argument ends with an unavoidable conclusion. If the world is going to end in fire (as we wait for the new heaven and earth--note the apocalyptic imagery) how should we live? Then a stunning statement, our behavior can hasten the coming of the Kingdom. This runs counter to the idea that the "Plan of God" is predetermined and set in stone. Christians are told to help make the Day come sooner. "Our Lord's patience is directed toward salvation."  That is a verse worthy of rumination. God patiently waiting for us to turn to Him...

2 Peter says some of Paul's letters are hard to understand and get misinterpreted. At the time this letter was written Paul's writings were being equated with Scripture. Heretics have long descended on Paul, despite 2 Peter's warnings, to be distorted (interpreting on their own) as advocating false teaching (including lawlessness and licentiousness in the name of grace). 2 Peter makes it clear, "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." Faith is also a way of life.

If you understand the world is passing away, if you know that God is doing all He can to bring us into the kingdom, if you know that salvation is offered--then choose wisely!

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