Chapter 3

“Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”: 2 Peter and Jude

I’ve heard it said that the best way to identify counterfeit money is to become thoroughly acquainted with real money. If you know the real, you can quickly identify the fake. This is very much the message of 2 Peter and Jude. The best way to identify counterfeit religion is to get to know the real thing. Knowing sound doctrine drawn from the Word of God is the best defense against false teaching.

Second Peter

If 1 Peter concerns external pressure on the church from persecution and trials, 2 Peter concerns internal pressure from false teachers within the church.

The Author. Of all the books in the New Testament, 2 Peter is perhaps the most questioned in terms of its authenticity. The letter was not widely quoted in the early church and the style is significantly different from 1 Peter. Some scholars think it was written after Peter’s life and is pseudonymous, falsely attributed to Peter. Others claim that the letter was written by his close disciples after his death as a “testament” honoring Peter.

While it is true there are some significant differences between 1 and 2 Peter, these could be attributed to Peter’s use of a scribe or editor (known as an amanuensis) for one or both letters. There’s actually some evidence for this since, at the end of 1 Peter, the apostle says that he has written the letter “with the help of Silas” (5:12). So perhaps the differences in style are attributed to Silas’s input, as Peter dictated the letter to him. In any case, the differences in style and theology do not seem significant enough to overrule centuries of church tradition affirming the letter’s identification with Peter, nor the testimony of the Holy Spirit as to the book’s inspiration and authority.

The Purpose and Key Themes of 2 Peter. Peter’s primary purposes in the letter are to encourage these believers in godly living and to warn them against false teaching. The first chapter focuses on authentic Christian faith. Believers can stand firm against false doctrine by holding firm to the message passed down by the eyewitnesses and confirmed by the prophets, and then by putting it into practice through godly living. Through his divine power, God has given us everything we need for a life of faith and godliness through our knowledge of him (1:3).

Through his divine power, God has given us everything we need for a life of faith and godliness through our knowledge of him (1:3).

“Make every effort” Peter says, “to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Pet. 1:5–7).

Chapter 2 has the primary warning against false teachers. While Peter does not specifically identify these false teachers, he describes them as immoral, arrogant, deceptive and greedy, exploiting people for their own gain. Their judgment by God is certain.

Chapter 3 focuses on the Second Coming of Christ. Evidently some false teachers were denying Christ’s return, mockingly saying, “Where is this coming he promised?” (3:4). Peter responds, first, by pointing out that God does not track time the way we do. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Second, Peter says the delay does not point to God’s failure, but to his patience and mercy: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (3:9). In the end, God will be vindicated on the final day of Judgment, when “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (3:10). Peter’s application is that in light of God’s coming judgment, “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (3:11).

The Letter of Jude

Who was Jude? The author of this letter identifies himself simply as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1). This is almost certainly James, the half-brother of Jesus, a key leader in the early church, and the author of the New Testament letter of James. This would mean that Jude is another half-brother of Jesus and that we have two letters in the NT written by Jesus’ brothers.

We know almost nothing about Jude except a few sparse facts gleaned from the New Testament. Like his brother James, he did not believe in Jesus during his public ministry (John 7:5). From Paul’s report in 1 Corinthians 15:7, we know that James saw Jesus alive after his resurrection and we can assume that the other brothers did as well. In 1 Corinthians 9:5 Paul also speaks of “the brothers of the Lord” as traveling preachers, so Jude probably was an itinerant evangelist.

Why Did Jude Write? At the beginning of this short letter Jude claims that he originally planned to write about “the salvation we share” (v. 3), but because of an urgent situation, he felt compelled to write instead about contending for the faith against false teachers: “For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you” (v. 4). So like 2 Peter, Jude was written to defend against false teachers.

As in 2 Peter, the specific identification of the false teachers is not given, but based on the descriptions, it seems to have been some form of antinomian Gnosticism. Antinomian means “opposed to the law” and so refers to immoral behavior. Gnostics believed the material world was evil and salvation came through higher spiritual “knowledge,” or gnsis. Some Gnostics used this denial of the material world as an excuse for sexual immorality, claiming that what they did to their bodies made no difference spiritually. Jude says that these false teachers “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (v. 4).

In the end, Jude calls his readers to counter this false teaching by living out an authentic Christian life: “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 20). Faith, hope and love—centered on Christ and his Word—is the answer to all the counterfeits the world has to offer.

Faith, hope and love—centered on Christ and his Word—is the answer to all the counterfeits the world has to offer.

Jude’s Citation of Other Works. One somewhat controversial aspect of Jude is the fact that twice he quotes from non-biblical Jewish writings. Verse 9 alludes to a story about Michael the Archangel that scholars believe comes from an intertestamental Jewish work known as the Assumption of Moses. And in verses 14–15, Jude quotes from the Jewish apocalyptic work known as 1 Enoch.

Yet the fact that Jude quotes from these works does not mean that he viewed them as inspired Scripture. While Paul occasionally quotes Greek writers (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12), he does not present them as authoritative or inspired by God.

What is actually more surprising than Jude’s citations here is the fact that virtually every other quotation in the New Testament comes from the Old Testament. This is especially significant in light of the popularity in the first century of other Jewish writings like 1–2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Ben Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Despite their widespread use, none of these apocryphal writings is ever cited in the New Testament as authoritative Scripture. The few extrabiblical passages quoted by Jude and Paul would seem to be exceptions that prove the rule.