“Chapter 51: 1 Peter and 2 Peter,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 51,” New Testament Student Manual
The Apostle Peter was the preeminent witness of Jesus Christ in the early Christian Church. His two epistles were written at a time of great persecution and apostasy. Peter sought to help Church members understand that if they endured persecution well, they would receive salvation and eternal glory (see 1 Peter 1:6–9; 3:12–14; 4:12–14; 5:7–10). He reminded the Saints that they were “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), and as such, they were to be holy even as Jesus Christ is holy (see 1 Peter 1:15–16). In his first epistle, Peter wrote about Jesus Christ’s ministry to the spirit world following His Crucifixion (see 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6).
In his second epistle, Peter encouraged disciples of Jesus Christ to seek after the traits that would enable them to obtain a divine nature like the Savior. By so doing, their knowledge of God would grow and they could make their calling and election sure (see 2 Peter 1:2–10). To help the Saints avoid being deceived, Peter also warned of “false prophets” and “false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1).
A theme found throughout the First Epistle of Peter is that through the Atonement, disciples of Jesus Christ can faithfully endure suffering and persecution. Every chapter of 1 Peter speaks of trials or suffering, and Peter taught that patiently enduring trials was “more precious than … gold” and would help believers gain perfection and “the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:7, 9). Peter reminded the Saints of their identity and destiny as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). Modern readers will find hope, encouragement, and strength in Peter’s timeless counsel.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” is the author of this epistle (1 Peter 1:1). As the chief Apostle who held the priesthood keys of the kingdom, Peter held a position similar to that of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in our day. Near the conclusion of this letter, Peter mentioned that Silvanus had served as a scribe (see 1 Peter 5:12). Silvanus, also known as Silas, had previously served as both a scribe and a mission companion to Paul (see Acts 15:22, 32–34, 40; 1 Thessalonians 1:1).
Peter wrote the First Epistle of Peter from “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13), which may have been a symbolic reference to Rome (see Revelation 14:8; 17:5). It is generally accepted that Peter’s death occurred sometime during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero—probably after A.D. 64, when Nero began a widespread persecution of Christians. Therefore, the epistle was likely written between A.D. 62 and 64.
Peter addressed this epistle to Church members “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”—the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor, located in modern-day Turkey (1 Peter 1:1). Peter considered his readers to be the “elect” of God (1 Peter 1:2). Peter wrote to strengthen and encourage the Saints in the “trial of [their] faith” (1 Peter 1:7) and to prepare them for a future “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12). Peter’s message also taught them how to decrease persecution through their righteous actions (see 1 Peter 2:20–23; 3:14–15).
Peter’s counsel was very timely because Church members were about to enter a period of heightened persecution. Until A.D. 64, about the time when Peter wrote this epistle, the Roman government displayed a general tolerance for Christianity. In July of that year a fire destroyed much of Rome. It was rumored that Emperor Nero himself ordered the fire to be started. In an effort to divert blame for the disaster, Nero accused the Christians of starting the fire. This led to the intense persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Some of the mistreatment experienced by Christians came from their former friends and neighbors. Peter indicated that when the Saints “suffer as a Christian” (1 Peter 4:16), they can feel joy knowing that they are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ (see 1 Peter 2:19–23; 3:15–18; 4:12–19).
Peter knew that the Saints could strengthen each other as they faced increasing persecution. To help alleviate their suffering, Peter exhorted his readers to turn to one another in love and tenderness (see 1 Peter 1:22; 3:8). Furthermore, in 1 Peter 5, Peter specifically explained how congregations and Church leaders could strengthen one another.
Peter’s words contain perhaps the clearest biblical references to the spirit world and what takes place there. Peter briefly mentioned that Jesus Christ visited the spirit world to preach to the disobedient spirits who had lived in Noah’s day (see 1 Peter 3:18–20). He added that the gospel was preached to the dead to allow deceased individuals a chance to be judged equitably (see 1 Peter 4:5–6). Peter’s writings demonstrate his growth from a simple fisherman to a mighty Apostle.
In our dispensation, President Joseph F. Smith was pondering the meaning of 1 Peter 3:18–20 and 1 Peter 4:6 when he received a revelation clarifying doctrines regarding the spirit world (see D&C 138).
Peter wrote of the need for the Saints to grow spiritually in order to receive eternal rewards. The promise of salvation is made possible through the precious blood of Jesus Christ. God’s people obtain His mercy and are to become part of His house.
Disciples of Jesus Christ seek to honor all men and submit to civil authorities and laws. Peter addressed specific groups of Saints: free citizens, servants, wives, and husbands.
When persecution causes the Saints to suffer, they are to remember the patient example of Jesus Christ, who suffered and then gained exaltation (see 1 Peter 3:22). Jesus Christ preached the gospel to the dead so that they might receive a fair judgment. Those who are called to minister follow the example of “the chief Shepherd” in caring for the flock of God (1 Peter 5:4). The sustaining grace of the Lord comes when we humble ourselves and cast all of our cares upon Him.
Peter greeted his readers by calling them the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that being elect in the premortal world is not enough to receive God’s greatest blessings, for we must also be elect in mortality: “If the full blessings of salvation are to follow, the doctrine of election must operate twice. First, righteous spirits are elected or chosen to come to mortality as heirs of special blessings. Then, they must be called and elected again in this life, an occurrence which takes place when they join the true Church. (D. & C. 53:1.) Finally, in order to reap eternal salvation, they must press forward in obedient devotion to the truth until they make their ‘calling and election sure’ (2 Pet. 1), that is, are ‘sealed up unto eternal life.’ (D. & C. 131:5.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 216–17). For help understanding what it means to have one’s calling and election made sure, see the commentary for 2 Peter 1:10–11.
Peter wrote that the “lively hope” that comes from Jesus Christ’s Resurrection is one of the choice blessings experienced by faithful followers of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3). To read more about how knowledge of the Resurrection gives us a “lively hope,” see the commentary for 1 Corinthians 15:12–19.
Peter knew that Church members were facing ridicule for their beliefs; however, he wrote that trials of faith are “more precious than … gold” (1 Peter 1:7). Like gold, our faith in Jesus Christ is refined when we faithfully endure fiery trials. Jesus is our Exemplar in all things—His crown of thorns came first and then His crown of glory. There is an eternal principle associated with suffering. After affliction and tribulation—which bring sorrow and the need to be long-suffering—come joy, blessings, and exaltation (see 1 Peter 4:12–16; Alma 7:5; 26:27; D&C 58:4; 122:7). Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“The Apostle Peter identified something he called a ‘trial of your faith’ [1 Peter 1:7]. He had experienced it. Remember Jesus’s words:
“‘Simon, … Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
“‘But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not’ [Luke 22:31–32].
“Peter later encouraged others: ‘Think it not strange,’ he said, ‘concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you’ [1 Peter 4:12; italics added].
“These fiery trials are designed to make you stronger, but they have the potential to diminish or even destroy your trust in the Son of God and to weaken your resolve to keep your promises to Him. …
“How do you remain ‘steadfast and immovable’ [Alma 1:25] during a trial of faith? You immerse yourself in the very things that helped build your core of faith: you exercise faith in Christ, you pray, you ponder the scriptures, you repent, you keep the commandments, and you serve others.
“When faced with a trial of faith—whatever you do, you don’t step away from the Church! Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view” (“Trial of Your Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 39–40).
Peter told the Saints, “Ye rejoice with joy unspeakable … : receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9). “The end” in this passage can also be translated as “outcome” or “goal” (1 Peter 1:9, footnote a); therefore, Peter’s point was that Saints who endure adversity can receive their ultimate goal of salvation through Jesus Christ. For some Christians in Peter’s day, enduring in faith did not mean enduring mortal difficulties such as illness. For them, enduring in faith resulted in their deaths. Peter’s testimony was intended to strengthen all the Saints of his time, including those whose faith would cost them their lives.
Peter reminded the Saints that they had been called by Jesus Christ to be holy, as He is (see 1 Peter 1:15–16). President Russell M. Nelson spoke of our potential to become holy like Jesus Christ:
“[The scriptures] hold the promise that we shall, if faithful in all things, become like Deity. …
“… Encouragement comes as we follow the example of Jesus, who taught, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy’ [1 Peter 1:16]. His hope for us is crystal clear! He declared: ‘What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am’ [3 Nephi 27:27]. Thus, our adoration of Jesus is best expressed by our emulation of Jesus. …
“This divine entreaty is consistent with the fact that, as begotten children of heavenly parents, we are endowed with the potential to become like them, just as mortal children may become like their mortal parents” (“Perfection Pending,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 87–88).
The word “redeem” means to purchase back, to ransom, or to rescue from captivity (1 Peter 1:18). Peter taught his Gentile Christian readers that their spiritual ransom had been paid not with silver or gold but “with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19). He also taught that Christ’s role as our Redeemer was “foreordained” before the earth was created (1 Peter 1:20; see also Revelation 5:5–10; Moses 4:1–4; Abraham 3:22–26). President Russell M. Nelson taught:
“Before the foundation of the earth, the plan of salvation was prepared. It included the glorious possibility of a divine inheritance in the kingdom of God.
“Central to that plan was the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In premortal councils, He was foreordained by His Father to atone for our sins and break the bands of physical and spiritual death. Jesus declared: ‘I … was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. … In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name’ [Ether 3:14]” (“How Firm Our Foundation,” Ensign, May 2002, 75).
The phrase “all flesh is as grass” comes from Isaiah 40:6–8, which compares man’s frailties to the withering of vegetation in the hot desert wind (see also Psalm 103:15–16). Unlike the withering grass, the word of the Lord “abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23); it gives life and strength to all who embrace it and are born again.
The term “laying aside” in 1 Peter 2:1 means that believers should lay aside past sins. Peter taught that when the Saints come unto Jesus Christ, who is the “living stone,” they become a “lively stone” that is added to the building of God’s spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4–5). Peter also called Christ the “chief corner stone,” emphasizing that the house is built upon the resurrected Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:6; see also Isaiah 28:16; Acts 4:10–12; Ephesians 2:20–21; Helaman 5:12). In contrast to Christ’s role as the chief cornerstone, Peter also called Jesus Christ “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8), emphasizing that the Savior would be a barrier in the path of those who wish to be disobedient (see Isaiah 8:14–15).
Peter called the Saints “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). Peter’s message was that by embracing the gospel, gentile converts had become part of God’s chosen people, the new Israel. They were the chosen nation (see Isaiah 43:20), a royal “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Concerning the term “peculiar people,” President Russell M. Nelson taught:
“In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term from which peculiar was translated is segullah, which means ‘valued property,’ or ‘treasure.’ In the New Testament, the Greek term from which peculiar was translated is peripoiesis, which means ‘possession,’ or ‘an obtaining.’
“Thus, we see that the scriptural term peculiar signifies ‘valued treasure,’ ‘made’ or ‘selected by God.’ For us to be identified by servants of the Lord as his peculiar people is a compliment of the highest order” (“Children of the Covenant,” Ensign, May 1995, 34).
In 1 Peter 2:18–25, Peter specifically addressed household servants, who in the Roman Empire were almost always slaves and were often mistreated by their masters. He taught about the difference between suffering for one’s faults and enduring undeserved punishment (see 1 Peter 2:20). Peter encouraged servants to learn from the example of Jesus Christ, who was falsely accused before Jewish and Roman leaders and yet did not retaliate (see 1 Peter 2:23). The Greek word Peter used that was translated as buffeted (1 Peter 2:20) literally means “to be struck with fists” and is the term used by both Matthew and Mark to describe the treatment of the Master (see Matthew 26:67; Mark 14:65). Peter hinted at the contemptuous scorn of the Jewish leaders and Christ’s silent acceptance of it (see 1 Peter 2:23). Peter mentioned the stripes the Lord received, using the word which means “bruise” or the “bloody welt which results from lashing with a whip,” which is exactly the result of a Roman scourging (see Isaiah 53:5–12).
While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Alexander B. Morrison taught: “Peter, the great apostle, who himself suffered a martyr’s death (see John 21:18–19), recognized that divine merit is associated with patient suffering for Christ’s sake but that little glory accrues to us if we suffer for our own sins. [1 Peter 2:19–20.] As we endure undeserved suffering, we develop Christlike attributes that perfect our souls and bring us closer to Him” (Feed My Sheep: Leadership Ideas for Latter-day Shepherds , 166).
In 1 Peter 3:1–6, Peter encouraged Christian wives to be “in subjection” to their nonbelieving husbands who “obey not the word” in order to win them over for Christ by their righteous conduct (1 Peter 3:1). The use of the word subjection should not be understood as a passive or docile obedience. Rather, the words subjection and submissive are used in the scriptures to mean selflessness, humility, and love within relationships (see Hebrews 12:9; Alma 7:23). The teachings of the Restoration make clear that both the husband and the wife should be humble, submissive, and selfless in their interactions with one another (see the commentary for Ephesians 5:21–25). Peter taught that female Saints who show devotion to God follow in the tradition of holy women, such as Sarah the wife of Abraham (see 1 Peter 3:5–6; for additional insights, see the commentary for 1 Timothy 2:9–10).
When Peter described women as the “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), he could have simply meant that in most cases women have less physical strength than men. Peter did not imply that women are any less worthy than men; in fact, he went on to say that women are “heirs together [with men] of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7; see also the commentary for Ephesians 5:21–25).
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of Heavenly Father’s plan to exalt His sons and His daughters: “Surely we must agree that our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ know best which opportunities the sons and daughters of God need to best prepare the human family for eternal life” (“Let Us Think Straight” [Brigham Young University campus education week devotional, Aug. 20, 2013], 3; speeches.byu.edu).
On another occasion, President Ballard spoke of the equality of women and men in God’s eyes: “In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. In other words, in the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife” (“This Is My Work and Glory,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 19).
After addressing husbands and wives specifically, Peter next gave counsel to all members of the congregations on how to be more holy (see 1 Peter 3:8–22). This counsel centered on becoming one in mind through their actions and the words they spoke.
Peter counseled his readers to “be ready always to give … a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The gospel of Jesus Christ gives believers a hope of receiving the promised blessings of righteousness, and Peter reminded his readers that by bearing their testimonies, they would help others learn about this source of hope. In the phrase “be ready always to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15), the word “answer” is translated from the Greek word apologia, which can also be translated as “defense” (see 1 Peter 3:15, footnote b). This Greek word is the root of apologetics, a term used to describe the defense of religious beliefs. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that the Saints have a responsibility to defend truth:
“Articulate advocacy is surely needed now to respond to some of the secular sophistry we see and hear in the world. …
“Austin Farrer warned, ‘Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned.’ [Light on C. S. Lewis (1965), 26.] Peter said, ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.’ (1 Peter 3:15.)” (Notwithstanding My Weakness , 90).
President Russell M. Nelson explained how best to share our religious beliefs with others:
“Each member can be an example of the believers. … Your good works will be evident to others. The light of the Lord can beam from your eyes. With that radiance, you had better prepare for questions. …
“Let your response be warm and joyful. And let your response be relevant to that individual. Remember, he or she is also a child of God, that very God who dearly wants that person to qualify for eternal life and return to Him one day. You may be the very one to open the door to his or her salvation and understanding of the doctrine of Christ” (“Be Thou an Example of the Believers,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 48).
While the Gospels do not mention details about Jesus Christ’s experiences between the time of His Crucifixion and His Resurrection, Peter provided the insight that Jesus “went and preached unto the spirits in prison; some of whom were disobedient in the days of Noah, while the long-suffering of God waited” (Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Peter 3:19–20 [in 1 Peter 3:19–20, footnote 20a]).
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) was pondering the meaning of 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6 when he received a vision, now recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138. In this vision he learned that following the Savior’s death, the Lord ministered in the spirit world, preparing the way for the gospel to be preached to the spirits of the wicked. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught of the work that is taking place in the spirit world:
“In the justice of the Father, he is going to give to every man the privilege of hearing the gospel. Not one soul shall be overlooked or forgotten. This being true, what about the countless thousands who have died and never heard of Christ, never had an opportunity of repentance and remission of their sins, never met an elder of the Church holding the authority? …
“The Lord has so arranged his plan of redemption that all who have died without this opportunity shall be given it in the spirit world. … All those who did not have an opportunity here to receive it, who there repent and receive the gospel, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God. The Savior inaugurated this great work when he went and preached to the spirits held in prison, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh (or in other words, according to the principles of the gospel) and then live according to God in the spirit, through their repentance and acceptance of the mission of Jesus Christ who died for them” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:132–33).
Regarding this work in the spirit world, President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) shared his thoughts: “When the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable” (“Discourse by President Lorenzo Snow,” Millennial Star, Jan. 22, 1894, 50).
In speaking about Christ’s suffering, Peter taught his readers that they should arm themselves with the same attitude He had and be ready to suffer as well. When Peter said, “Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1), he was encouraging the Saints to think and act the way the Savior did as they faced opposition (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). The Joseph Smith Translation of 1 Peter 4:1–2 emphasizes that our suffering should cause us to forsake our sinful lives: “For you who have suffered in the flesh should cease from sin, that you no longer the rest of your time in the flesh, should live to the lusts of men, but to the will of God” (in 1 Peter 4:1, footnote b).
The Savior’s preaching to the spirits in prison is an example of God’s fairness and justice. This doctrine of salvation for the dead makes it possible for all mankind to accept the gospel even though they may never have heard it in mortality. The doctrine of salvation for the dead is unique to Latter-day Saints.
In the King James Version, Peter’s words are translated as “charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). The Joseph Smith Translation modifies this verse to read, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity preventeth a multitude of sins” (in 1 Peter 4:8, footnote a).
Peter encouraged his readers to “think it not strange” when they are faced with a “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12). Peter’s advice is relevant to any persecution that Christians suffer in behalf of their beliefs, and he reminded his readers that they ought to rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (see 1 Peter 4:13–14).
Elder Robert D. Hales (1932–2017) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how our suffering can bring us closer to God: “Suffering is universal; how we react to suffering is individual. Suffering can take us one of two ways. It can be a strengthening and purifying experience combined with faith, or it can be a destructive force in our lives if we do not have the faith in the Lord’s atoning sacrifice. The purpose of suffering, however, is to build and strengthen us” (“Your Sorrow Shall Be Turned to Joy,” Ensign, Nov. 1983, 66).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell noted the value of trials when he said: “Spiritual refinement is not only to make the gross more pure but to further refine the already fine!” (“Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign, May 1991, 90).
Writing specifically to the elders of the Church, Peter taught that those called to lead and direct the Saints act as undershepherds who “feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). Church leaders are to follow the example of Jesus Christ, “the chief Shepherd,” in their efforts to care for the flock; those who do so will receive “a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4). To read more about how modern shepherds feed the flock of God, see the commentary for John 21:15–17.
Peter may have written his second epistle shortly before his death in Rome; if so, this Second Epistle of Peter is one of his last testimonies. As an eyewitness of Jesus Christ’s transfiguration (see 2 Peter 1:16–18), Peter exhorted his readers to grow in their knowledge of Jesus Christ and to seek to obtain divine attributes so they can partake of the “divine nature” (see 2 Peter 1:4–7). Peter assured his readers, both then and now, that this spiritual growth would lead to having their “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Modern readers will also be strengthened as they study Peter’s description of latter-day scoffers who would doubt the reality of the Second Coming (see 2 Peter 3).
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) said: “I consider the Epistles of Peter among the finest writings we have in the New Testament. When I am wanting to pick up something that would give me some inspiring thoughts I have gone back to one of the Epistles of Peter” ([address given at the regional representatives’ seminar, Apr. 5, 1973], 2).
The Second Epistle of Peter states that it was written by “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Church members and leaders have traditionally accepted Peter as the author. Some modern scholars, however, have questioned whether the epistle was truly written by Peter because the style and language differ from 1 Peter, which was written with the scribal aid of Silvanus (Silas). It may be that 2 Peter was written with the help of a different scribe, or that the epistle was put into its current form by others but contains authentic material from Peter himself.
The text of 2 Peter does not identify where the epistle was written, but it is commonly assumed that Peter wrote it in Rome. Peter mentioned Paul’s epistles (see 2 Peter 3:15–16), so it is likely that 2 Peter was written after many of Paul’s letters had been gathered together. This suggests that 2 Peter could not have been written earlier than A.D. 60. Scholars believe that it was written sometime between A.D. 64 and 68.
Peter stated that he was writing “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us” (2 Peter 1:1). This may indicate that Peter was writing to the same Gentile Christians who received his First Epistle (see 2 Peter 3:1). The content of 2 Peter 1:12–15 shows that Peter meant this letter to be a farewell message to his readers. Unlike the First Epistle of Peter, which helped the Saints deal with external persecution, Peter’s Second Epistle addressed the internal apostasy that threatened the future of the Church. False prophets and teachers were spreading “damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). Peter wrote the letter to encourage the Saints to grow in their knowledge of the Lord and to make their “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).
A dominant theme in 2 Peter is the importance of gaining knowledge of Jesus Christ. Peter promised his readers that if they would seek godly attributes and develop a divine nature, they would “neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” and they would have their “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:8, 10). In chapter 2, Peter contrasted the true knowledge of Jesus Christ with the false knowledge and heresies perpetrated by apostates, writing that one can escape “the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:20). At the close of this epistle, Peter gave a final admonition for the Saints to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
The language of 2 Peter 2 and the Epistle of Jude are similar, suggesting that perhaps one author borrowed language and ideas from the other; indeed, some modern scholars believe that Peter borrowed from Jude.
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) said, “Peter penned the most sublime language of any of the apostles” (in History of the Church, 5:392). Sublime means exalted in thought, of outstanding worth, and tending to inspire.
Peter explained that God’s promises allow the Saints to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). He encouraged them to make their “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Peter recalled his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, when he witnessed the glorified Christ, heard the voice of the Father, and received “a more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19).
Peter warned Church members of false prophets and false teachers who would come among them and seek to lead the Saints astray. These wicked teachers would deny the Lord and speak evil of the “way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2). Peter taught that it was better not to accept the gospel than to make covenants and not live up to them.
Peter affirmed the certainty that Christ will come in His own time, cleanse the earth by fire, destroy the wicked, and save the diligent and faithful. Peter encouraged the Saints to grow in grace and in knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout his second epistle, Peter emphasized the significance of having a knowledge of God (see 2 Peter 1:2–3, 5, 8; 2:20; 3:18). At the opening of this epistle, Peter taught that as God’s followers receive increased knowledge of Him, “grace and peace [will] be multiplied” in their lives and “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” will be provided (2 Peter 1:2–3).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught about the importance of coming to know God: “It is one thing to know about God and another to know him. We know about him when we learn that he is a personal being in whose image man is created; when we learn that the Son is in the express image of his Father’s person; when we learn that both the Father and the Son possess certain specified attributes and powers. But we know them, in the sense of gaining eternal life, when we enjoy and experience the same things they do. To know God is to think what he thinks, to feel what he feels, to have the power he possesses, to comprehend the truths he understands, and to do what he does. Those who know God become like him, and have his kind of life, which is eternal life” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:762).
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the importance of gaining knowledge: “The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent; and every one that does not obtain knowledge sufficient to be saved will be condemned. The principle of salvation is given us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 212).
Peter said that God’s “exceeding great and precious promises” allow us to partake of the divine nature as we escape “the corruption that is in the world” (2 Peter 1:4). Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that “exceeding great and precious promises” refer to “promises of eternal life, which is ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God.’ (D. & C. 14:7.)” Elder McConkie also taught that to be “partakers of the divine nature” means to “become as God is, enjoying to the full every characteristic, perfection, and attribute which he possesses and which dwell in him independently” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:352).
While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Spencer J. Condie listed some of God’s promises that help us become more like our Heavenly Father:
“The Lord’s countless exceeding great and precious promises include forgiveness of our sins when we ‘confess them and forsake them’ (D&C 58:43; see also D&C 1:32). Opening the windows of heaven is a promise claimed by those who pay a faithful tithe (see Malachi 3:10), and finding ‘great treasures of knowledge’ accrues to those who observe the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:19).
“Becoming unspotted from the world is a promise to those who keep the Sabbath holy (see D&C 59:9; Exodus 31:13). Divine guidance and inspiration are promised to those who ‘feast upon the words of Christ’ (2 Nephi 32:3) and who ‘liken all scriptures’ unto themselves (1 Nephi 19:23).
“The Lord also promised that ‘whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you’ (3 Nephi 18:20). We are promised that the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion when we ‘let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly’ (see D&C 121:45–46). We can claim the spiritually liberating promise of fasting, which will ‘loose the bands of wickedness,’ undo our ‘heavy burdens,’ and ‘break every yoke’ (Isaiah 58:6).
“Those who are sealed in holy temples and who faithfully keep their covenants will receive God’s glory, which ‘shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever’ (D&C 132:19)” (“Claim the Exceeding Great and Precious Promises,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 16–17).
Speaking of the “divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) that we can obtain through God’s promises, President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) explained:
“The Apostle Peter spoke of the process by which a person can be made a ‘partaker of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4). This is important, for if we truly become partakers of the divine nature, we shall become like [the Savior]. …
“The virtues outlined by Peter [in 2 Peter 1:5–7] are part of the divine nature, or the Savior’s character. These are the virtues we are to emulate if we would be more like Him” (“Godly Characteristics of the Master,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 45).
Furthermore, by attaining these attributes, we grow in our knowledge of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Peter said that if the Saints seek virtue, knowledge, patience, and the other virtues listed in 2 Peter 1:5–7, they will gain “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). The term “these things” in verses 8–10 and 12 refers to the attributes listed in verses 5–7. Peter explained that when these attributes “abound” in a person, they will not be “barren nor unfruitful,” they can see things that are “afar off,” and their “calling and election” can be made sure (verses 8–10). Because the process of gaining knowledge and godlike attributes is so important, Peter declared, “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things” (verse 12).
Peter exhorted the Saints to “make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). He promised that those who do so “shall never fall” and will receive “an entrance … into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord” (2 Peter 1:10–11). Teaching on this subject, Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “To have one’s calling and election made sure is to be sealed up unto eternal life; it is to have the unconditional guarantee of exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is to receive the assurance of godhood; it is, in effect, to have the day of judgment advanced, so that an inheritance of all the glory and honor of the Father’s kingdom is assured prior to the day when the faithful actually enter into the divine presence to sit with Christ in his throne, even as he is ‘set down’ with his ‘Father in his throne.’ (Rev. 3:21.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:330–31).
The Prophet Joseph Smith further explained: “After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter” (in History of the Church, 3:380; see also John 14:16–18, 21, 23).
Peter’s witness of Jesus Christ was not based on myths or “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16) but rather on his firsthand experiences with Jesus Christ, including his witness of the Savior’s Transfiguration (see 2 Peter 1:17–18). To read more about the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, see the various commentaries for Matthew 17:1–13.
Peter taught that he had received what he called “a more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19). The Prophet Joseph Smith defined what this term means: “The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood” (D&C 131:5). On another occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith instructed further: “I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it” (in History of the Church, 5:389).
The Joseph Smith Translation of 2 Peter 1:19 states: “We have therefore a more sure knowledge of the word of prophecy, to which word of prophecy ye do well that ye take heed” (in 2 Peter 1:19, footnote a).
The Joseph Smith Translation of 2 Peter 1:20 clarifies that “no prophecy of the scriptures is given of any private will of man” (in 2 Peter 1:20, footnote a). Scripture is given by God to men through the Holy Ghost; thus, true interpretations of scripture must come through the Holy Ghost.
Peter pointed out that false prophets had plagued ancient Israel, and then he prophesied that false teachers would come into the fledgling Church (see 2 Peter 2:1). These false prophets and false teachers would bring “damnable heresies” among God’s people, and many followers of Christ would be deceived (2 Peter 2:1). Peter described false teachers as “wells without water” and as “clouds that are carried with a tempest” (2 Peter 2:17). Further, he said that these false teachers would meet the same destruction that came upon the wicked in ancient times (see 2 Peter 2:4–7). To read more about false teachers in our day, see the commentary for Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:5–6, 9, 22; Matthew 24:4–5, 11, 24.
Peter condemned false prophets and false teachers who speak evil of leaders in God’s Church. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) warned that the actions of Church members who criticize authorities of the Church stem from the spirit of apostasy: “They ‘speak evil of dignities’ and ‘of the things that they understand not,’ says Peter. (2 Pet. 2:10, 12.) They complain of the programs, belittle the constituted authorities, and generally set themselves up as judges. After a while they absent themselves from Church meetings for imagined offenses, and fail to pay their tithes and meet their other Church obligations. In a word, they have the spirit of apostasy, which is almost always the harvest of the seeds of criticism. … As Peter puts it, they ‘perish in their own corruption’ [2 Peter 2:12]” (The Miracle of Forgiveness , 42–43).
Peter spoke about people who “count it pleasure to riot in the day time” (2 Peter 2:13). Excessive drinking and eating were generally looked down upon in Peter’s day; therefore, many chose to participate in such behavior at night in order to avoid the shame and embarrassment of being discovered. In contrast, Peter pointed out that false teachers and their followers were not ashamed to do their evil work in public, for all to see.
To read about Balaam, see the commentary for Revelation 2:14.
Speaking of those who had “escaped the pollutions of the world” through Christ and then become “again entangled therein,” Peter said, “It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:20–21). Doctrine and Covenants 82:3 similarly states: “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.” In other words, we are more accountable to God after we accept the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Alma 24:30).
Some of Peter’s readers may have been concerned by a perceived delay in the arrival of the Second Coming. To illustrate the folly of becoming impatient while waiting for the Second Coming, Peter pointed out that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8; see also Psalm 90:4). In the Book of Mormon, Alma similarly stated that “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8). Elder Neal A. Maxwell provided the insight that “God lives in an eternal now where the past, present, and future are constantly before Him (see D&C 130:7). His divine determinations are guaranteed, since whatever He takes in His heart to do, He will surely do it (see Abraham 3:17). He knows the end from the beginning! (see Abraham 2:8)” (“Care for the Life of the Soul,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 70).