A Dive into a Letter from Our First Pope: 2 Peter

John Kubasak

A Dive into a Letter from Our First Pope: 2 Peter

Peter, the first among the apostles, the fisher of men, and the first pope left behind two letters: 1 Peter, covered in this post by Sara and Justin Kraft, and 2 Peter. Side by side, the latter letter goes only three chapters—shorter than 1 Peter by two chapters. Yet in his second letter, Peter does not beat around the bush or waste any space in those three chapters. His letter is packed with advice, exhortation, teaching, warnings, and deep reflections. 

I encourage everyone to pick up their bible and read these letters today—their brevity makes them easy to read in one sitting.



Like all the New Testament epistles, 2 Peter starts with a greeting (1:1-2) and gets right down to business. St. Peter exhorts his readers to live worthy of their calling as disciples as well as what that practically entails (1:3-13). Next, he reminds them of his own witness to Jesus (1:14-21). He takes all of chapter 2 in warning his readers about false prophets—and pulling no punches, Peter also mentions the eternal wages of false prophets. St. Peter finishes the letter covering Jesus’ Second Coming (3:1-13) and a final exhortation (3:14-18).  

We have the advantage of the gospel accounts to know about St. Peter’s background.  This gives even more weight to the themes covered in the letter.  When bringing up his experiences as an eyewitness, we know that Peter saw everything: miracles, walking on water, casting out demons, the resurrected Christ, and more. Peter mentions the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36) as well in 1:16-18. In his admonition against false prophets, we can see behind it his own experience of men trying to tell Jesus what to do (see Matthew 16:21-23). 

In reading this letter, imagine Peter the rugged fisherman and his calloused hands from working.  Add onto that his boldness and leadership. Listen to the voice from Pentecost, thundering out over the crowd and afire with the Holy Spirit. See the man who denied Christ three times and deeply knows the definition of mercy and healing. Hear the apostle who lived the Great Commission, traveling across the known world to make disciples. Most importantly, consider the heart of one intensely devoted to Jesus, who poured himself out for love of Him.


Practical, Daily Advice

In this second letter, Peter joins spiritual lessons with practical applications.  He does this effectively at the beginning and end of the letter.  

In chapter 1, Peter encourages our confidence in the promises of God. Living the Christian life is a calling “to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature” (1:3-4). This is beautiful, but Peter does not leave us in the realm of contemplation: 

“For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (1:5-7)

He covers the end, the means, the why, and the how in these verses. Starting with the goal—the glory of Christ and becoming partakers of the divine nature—Peter moves to the practical application in encouraging us to virtuous living.  He continues onto the ‘why’: “whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (1:9). Finally, he hits on the ‘how’: “be the more zealous to confirm your call and election” (1:10). 

At the end of the letter, Peter brings up the Second Coming of Christ.  It is a weighty topic, considering “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (3:10). The very earth consumed with fire? Coming as suddenly as a thief in the night? Peter the pastor does not let his readers dwell on a world-ending cataclysm: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (3:11). 

Peter’s practical advice works for disciples of every age: the paramount message of living a holy life. 


Scriptural Interpretation

In apostolic times, Christian communities did not have bibles like we have today. They circulated the gospels, letters of Paul, and other letters of the New Testament among the communities.  Throughout his letters, Paul frequently takes false teachers to task; Peter is no different.  Doctrinal disagreement and false teachers have been challenges within the Church since the very beginning. Without the protection of the Holy Spirit, would the Catholic Church even exist today?

The Holy Spirit is also needed when reading Scripture.  “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (1:20-21). Authoritative interpretation rests with the Church and her teaching office (the Magisterium). We can all reflect on the Scriptures, but submit ourselves to what the Holy Spirit has already established in the Magisterium.

Peter has one of the more humorous lines in the New Testament: “there are some things in [Paul’s letters] hard to understand” which should comfort any of us that sputter when we read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Peter continues regarding Paul’s letters: “which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (3:16). Why the warnings about false teachers and twisting the Scriptures? The stakes are high—destruction. 

 The lesson then, as now, is to stick with the Catholic Church. Submit to her teachings and dogmas. Here, the promise of the Holy Spirit is to protect the men and women in the Church from error. There is no promise against confusion, human weakness, or division, unfortunately. 



In chapter 2, Peter takes on wayward souls with his characteristic boldness. Specifically, those who lead souls away from Christ are under the influence of the deadly sins. Such indulging makes us little more than animals (2:12). Peter really goes after the corrupters of souls, to the extent that might make the modern reader wince. Is this charity?  

To that I would respond, look closer at the world around us.  See how it rejects God, spits in His face, and is awash in anti-Christian values. This is familiar territory for Peter. In his day, the corrupters utter “loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh... they promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption” (2:18-19).  

False teachers do not lead to freedom but to destruction. It is to these false teachers that Our Lord issued one of His sternest warnings. “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2). For a little perspective, millstones were enormous. In biblical times, they could be up to two feet long. Imagine a solid stone of that size—how quickly that would sink in the ocean!


The Second Coming of Jesus

In chapter 3, Peter gives his readers more details about the return of Jesus in glory. Building on the false teachers in chapter 2, Peter promises scoffers (3:3-4) who disbelieve God’s promises.  One of the most helpful passages in this letter has us take an eternal perspective on God’s timing:

“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (3:8-9)

Whether we look at the secular world and shake our heads; whether we are under the weight of a heavy cross—it’s very human to question God’s timing. We don’t often know the specifics of His timing, but we can take confidence in God’s plan. Peter teaches us that God is not being slow, but He is allowing everything in order for the salvation of souls. 

It’s no easy task to take a step back and trust God in that way. But His ways are so far beyond ours that even the worst sins or disasters can still be used by God for good. His power is that much stronger than even the most wicked sin!

St. Peter, pray for us and pray for the Church!