The History of one of the least well-known books of the New Testament.
There are twenty-seven “books” of the New Testament. There were a lot of treatises and writings floating around in the first few centuries after Christ and it took until the late 300s for Christian leaders to cull the list and decide which books to include.
The best-known New Testament books are the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, found at the beginning of the New Testament..
One of the least well-known is II Peter. II Peter is probably the last chronological book of the New Testament; some scholars estimate that it was written as late as 130 AD. There is no historical reference to II Peter until about 220 AD and it does not seem to have been widely distributed for another century after that time.
It is short – in modern English about 1600 words or two-and-a-half typewritten pages.
II Peter puts forth the claim that its author was Saint Peter, who, according to the first three Gospels, was the closest male follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter was the recognized leader of the twelve apostles, mentioned over a hundred times in the four Gospels and another seventy or so times in the Book of Acts which is a type of history of the Christian movement in the first few decades after Jesus Christ.
Peter was married and was a partner with others in the fishing business and may also have owned two homes. Legend and history have it that he traveled to Rome and died there.
Peter was reputed to have been buried on what is now Vatican Hill. In the 300s the emperor Constantine built a church which became St. Peter’s Basilica over the cemetery. The workers filled in the tombs which had the effect of preserving them. The cemetery was discovered in the 1500s during the construction of a new St. Peter’s Basilica and the workers left the tombs undisturbed. The cemetery was discovered again in 1939. At the deepest level a simple grave of an old man was found. In 1968 Pope Paul VI declared that the bones were St. Peter’s.
Jurisdictions are named for him worldwide. In the US we have St. Petersburg (Florida), St. Peters (Missouri). and San Pedro (California). Catholics recognize him as the first Pope.
Peter probably did not write II Peter.
But at the least, II Peter is written in the Petrine tradition and it says several interesting things.
It talks of the earth set for destruction by fire with the very elements melting. Nineteen hundred years later President Harry Truman reflected on this passage when he first considered the awesome destructive powers of atomic weapons.
It weirdly talks of angels being thrown into Hell.
More relevantly to the development of the Christian church, II Peter closes ranks with Christians who were more in the camp of the late Apostle Paul with whom the historical Peter had had conflict.
More relevantly to everyday life two millennia later, II Peter talks of salvation not so much as admission to Heaven after we die but in the sense of intimate union with God, and the importance of practicing kindness toward others, self-control, perseverance, love for others and other good traits.
One way this comes across is the way II Peter deals with the concept of Jesus returning to earth. It notes that scoffers have pointed out that this had not happened. The writer of II Peter brushes this off with the reminder that with God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day and reminds everyone through a rhetorical question that in the meantime they should have good conduct.
II Peter makes appeal to tradition and also rails against false teaching. The first should rest comfortably with the modern world to the extent we remember people and events that happened before our lifetimes.
The second is more jarring but at least reminds us that the early Christian movement had diverse wings.
For those who want to learn more about Christianity, this “book” can be read in ten minutes.