An Introduction to 2 Peter 2:4
Text and Translation
Εἰ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων ἁμαρτησάντων οὐκ ἐφείσατο, ἀλλὰ σειραῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους,
Is this example an interpretation or a reference?
Research Question Explicated
Most peoples throughout time have acclaimed their god to do whatever they please (mainly because they most likely constructed their own deity). The psalmist contrast this claiming, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3). This includes even the means by which he reveals himself. Most secular theologians and religious scholars peer into the mind of the religious folk assuming naturalism, “I can know everything about your God merely because you have created him.” This overwhelming assumption sometimes seeps into even Christian scholarship. The proper presupposing of problematic texts provides more concise exegesis. Instead of coming to a text as a demanding toddler, one can humbly gander at the grandeur of the God who has revealed himself to his own desires, not humanity’s.
That said, this exegetical attempt will not presume upon God as a mere invention, nor limit God except by which He has limited Himself. The questions mount quickly: Who are the angels? How did they sin? What does this reference? Should we call this reference canonical? What other things referenced by Biblical authors should we call canonical? Is this the Apostle’s interpretation of Genesis 6? Can one say the Apostle’s interpretation is incorrect?
Now some will take the argument about the means of revelation above and say, “Even the most conservative doctrine of scripture does not presume to prescribe what genres the Holy Spirit may or may not have chosen when inspiring scripture, and so the psuedonymity of 2 Peter cannot be ruled out without due consideration.” This carefully crafted statement gives the skeptic too much room to wriggle. Any Christian jumping into epistemological justification must question the authority of scripture. If one foundationally bases the authority on something else, the Bible drops authority; however, if one coherently bases the authority of the Word of God on itself (not precluding other justifications, of course), then the Bible remains fully authoritative.
To say, “Peter wrote 2 Peter because Peter says so,” must not be misconstrued to a mere brute shot of fideism nor begging the question. Douglas Moo gives the options promptly: 1. 2 Peter is a forgery and should not be canonical or 2. 2 Peter is authentic. Does this purporting limit the Holy Spirit as Jobes argues? Not if one were to say that God is going to reveal himself in a way that is consistent with his character.
Though the prologue enumerates no particular recipient, Peter likely wrote to the same groups as his first epistle (cf. 2 Pt. 3:1, 15). Karen Jobes argues that modernity does not have every epistle written by Peter and Paul; therefore, the conclusion does not necessarily have to be the same recipients as 1 Peter. Regardless of knowing the exact recipients, due to the contents of the letter, one concludes that the author was righting to a mixed audience of Jews and Greeks.
God created all things good (Gn. 1:31). Man decided he wanted to be God and rebelled against Him (Gn. 3:1-7). God punishes this rebellion, and gives grace (Gn. 3:14-19, 24). Mankind repeats this same rebellion (possibly with angels; Gn. 6:1-2). God punishes this rebellion with a flood (Gn. 6:13). This passage is traditionally interpreted as being angels procreating with humans.
Peter is writing to a people who are dealing with false teachers (2 Pt. 2:1). These false teachers are denying Christ (v.1), blaspheming holy things (v.10b), and scoffing at the eschaton (2 Pt. 3:3-4). Peter tells of their destruction (2 Pt. 2:3) and the saint’s perseverance (v.9).
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but by casting them to hell in gloomy chains, he handed over those who are being kept to the judgment,
This small text is a small conditional phrase in a chronological line of examples to prove one point: “then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pt. 2:9). Jude also alludes to this same exact concept (Jd. 6). So, is this in reference to something outside the canon? Or is this the Apostle’s interpretation of Genesis 6?
Apostles do reference things outside the canon. In Acts 17:28, Luke records one of Paul’s sermons as quoting two secular writers. Paul is not trying to say we find our being in Zeus, nor is he saying we should go find these writings and make them canonical. Also, Paul quotes a secular writer in Titus 1:12. He makes these quotations as points of contact to contextualize the Gospel. Peter also wants to relate his points well to his audience. He uses the hapax legomenon ταρταρώσας most likely to relate to his Greek audience. He also uses writings that his Jewish audience would be familiar with, such as 1 Enoch 6ff. Just because the non-canonical writings use Biblical characters does not necessitate the reference to make those concepts biblical. For example, if a pastor today uses an example from the recent film Noah, that by no means makes the movie canonical. Also, if a young boy has fanciful visions in his near death experience that involve biblical characters, that does not make his visions canonical (nor should they validate a believer’s faith in any way).
However, all of the references Peter makes are from Genesis 6-19 and are in chronological order. Some make the argument that this refers to a prehistoric fall of the angels (before the fall of humanity). However, Peter makes references to Genesis and events that would be familiar with the audience. It is also very unlikely every fallen angel was bound from the beginning given the amount of exorcisms recorded in the synoptic Gospels. Therefore, Peter is referring to an event in Genesis before the flood that has to do with a specific group of angels.
“The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (Gn. 6:2). Three major interpretations march through history. (1) Angelic theory: that the sons of God are angels. Collectively, angels are “the sons of God” throughout scripture (Ps. 29:1, Jb. 1:6, et. al.). (2) Sethite theory: The Godly line of Seth intermingled with the ungodly line of Cain. (3) Royal theory: the sons of God are kings that accumulate for themselves power by committing the sin of polygamy. Some even combine the angelic and royal theories to say that demons possessed rulers to take human wives. Sadly, other than the Davidic king, nowhere else in the Bible is a plurality of kings referred to as “sons of God.” Augustine and some reformers acclaimed the Sethite theory. The major problem with this view is spiritualizing the term sons of God to mean godly men; whereas, the phrase daughters of men cannot necessarily be spiritualized to mean wicked people. The difficulty with the angelic theory is Jesus statement, “they neither marry nor give in marriage” (Mt. 22:30). This verse does not preclude ability, however. Marriage could be one of the very sins for which the angels were punished.
Therefore, humans repeated the sin of Adam and Eve: exalting themselves to be more like God; however, this time to have relationships with angelic beings. The angels left their proper abode upon their sinful desires (lust of the eyes). God hands over both groups to judgment.
Peter makes two main points with his list of conditional illustrations from the Old Testament: God is not idle in his judgment of false teachers and God preserves the righteous. This provides a warning and comfort for modern believers. First, because God is/will punish(ing) false teachers, believers are warned to not stray into heresy. This punishment also gives hope to believers in the midst of persecution that they will overcome. Second, God preserves the righteous. Because of this preserving, believers can endure every type of situation because Christ is the strength (Phil. 4:13). Believers rejoice that the Lord knows how to preserve the righteous and punish the wicked (2 Pt. 2:9-10).
Peter is not merely referring to a non-canonical source like a simple illustration for a sermon. He has pointed chronological references to Genesis. This is also not a simple reference to a plausible interpretation of Genesis; this is an Apostle’s interpretation of a particular passage. This leaves the exegete with two plausible conclusions: Apostles writing under inspiration are still fallible, or Peter correctly interpreted Genesis 6:1-2. Of course, if one goes with the former, where does the line of infallibility begin? One could dare push it past the resurrection and say the authors “misinterpreted” historical events. Therefore, Peter is properly interpreting the Old Testament passage of Genesis to give an example of God’s judgment.
Appendix I: Greek Exegesis and Syntax
Εἰ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ἀγγέλων ἁμαρτησάντων οὐκ ἐφείσατο, ἀλλὰ σειραῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους,
|τηρουμένους||Present||Middle/ Passive||Participle||Accusative||Masculine/ Plural||τηρέω|
Lexical and Syntactic Notes:
Εἰ is a first class conditional clause assumed to be true both by audience and author (Wallace, 694).
γὰρ is an explanatory post positive linking this to the previous passage (the condemnation for false teachers is not idol).
ἁμαρτησάντων is an attributive participle describing ἀγγέλων (the genitive direct object).
σειραῖς (K L P p72 vg syr boh al) several texts with the variant σειροῖς (A B C 81vid copsa al). See discussion in Bauckham, 244.
Ταρταρώσας translated as participle of means due to the lack of article and case.
Τηρουμένους translated as substantive article (acting as indirect object in English).
εἰς acts to show the goal of the main verb (παρέδωκεν): God handed the angles (those being kept) over to (the) judgment.
Carson, D. A., and G. K. Beale, eds. Commentary On the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Nottingham, England: Baker Academic, 2007.
Davids, Peter H. 2 Peter and Jude: A Handbook On the Greek Text. Baylor Handbook On the Greek New Testament. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2011.
Gentry, Peter J., and Stephen J. Wellum. Kingdom through Covenant: a Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis. (New International Commentary On the Old Testament Series) 1-17. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990.
Jobes, Karen H. Letters to the Church: a Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis, New American Commentary, vol. 1a. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 1996.
Moo, Douglas J. 2 Peter, Jude (The NIV Application Commentary). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.
Walton, John. Genesis: from Biblical Text… to Contemporary Life, The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
Wenham, Gordon J. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 1, Genesis 1-15. Waco, TX: Thomas Nelson, 1987.
 For parsing of text’s verbs, see appendix 1.
 Explanatory γὰρ Peter H. Davids, 2 Peter and Jude: A Handbook On the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook On the Greek New Testament (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2011), 68.
 First class conditional clause: “assume this is true for sake of the argument” Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 694. Wallace uses this passage under a reference that the author and the audience assume this is true.
 Dative of location; Davids, 69.
 Substantival participle; Davids, 69.
 εἰς prepositional phrase of purpose/goal; Davids, 70.
 All quotations of scripture, unless otherwise noted, are from the English Standard Version.
 Karen H. Jobes, Letters to the Church: a Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 364. Granted, Jobes seems to lean toward Petrine authorship in her arguments.
 Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude (The NIV Application Commentary) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 24. A good amount of scholars denies Petrine authorship, but approve of canonicity of the “testament.” Moo does well to exclude that middle.
 If God reveals himself through the genre of “testament”, it would be a glorified lie (i.e. against his nature) and not respected by the early church. Also, though the length of this paper denies me the space to discuss authorship in detail, Daniel Wallace has a very helpful article discussing the five major doubts of Petrine authorship (personal allusions forced, historical problems raised by Guthrie, literary problems, stylistic problems, and doctrinal problems). Cf. https://bible.org/seriespage/second-peter-introduction-argument-and-outline
 Karen H. Jobes, Letters to the Church: a Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 367-8.
 His use of Jewish literature similar to Jude and references to Greek paganism (i.e. “send to Tartarus”) alludes to the mixed audience and catholicity of this epistle.
 1 Enoch 6:2ff, LXX, Philo, Josephus cf. Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Thomas Nelson, 1987), 139.
 D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale, eds., Commentary On the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Nottingham, England: Baker Academic, 2007), 1049.
 Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: a Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 149.
 Nearly every commentary on this passage will mention these three views. The particular terminology utilized for the theories come from Wenham WBC, 138-9.
 Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis (New International Commentary On the Old Testament Series) 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 264.
 There is an instance where judges are referred to as sons of God in Ps. 82:6 (cf. Jn. 10:33); however, one is farfetched to apply this to a plurality of kings.
 Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis, New American Commentary, vol. 1a (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 1996), 331. Also, of which this author is a proponent.
 John Walton, Genesis: from Biblical Text… to Contemporary Life, NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 293.
 Considering the gnomic statement of Christ in Matthew’s Gospel, it is reasonable to conclude that if angels are giving in marriage, that is something that is precluded from them; therefore, they are sinning.
 Again, these are first class conditions which Wallace further qualifies as already assumed true by the author and audience (Wallace, 694).