August/September 2013 - Vol. 69
The Divine Power and Promises of God 
(2 Peter 1:3–4)

by Dr. Daniel A. Keating

The following brief commentary from the Second Letter of Peter, Chapter 1 is excerpted from the book, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude, by Dr. Daniel Keating, published by Baker Academic, 2011. While it was written from a Roman Catholic perspective, the material can be beneficial for Christians from other traditions as well. – ed.
Utter dependability of God's Word
In this first main section of the letter Peter’s goal is to set his audience on a firm foundation by reminding them of the truth. Like a good builder he begins with the foundation, which is what God has already done for us (vv. 3–4). Then he moves on to describe the progress that they ought to be making in virtue (vv. 5–11). Finally, he assures them of the reliability of God’s Word and the sure promise of Christ’s return (vv. 12–21). In short, Peter sums up for us where we have come from, how we should be making progress, and where we are headed. Everything he says here is governed by the power of God and the utter dependability of his Word.

3 His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion,   through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power.  4 Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.

NT references: 2 Corinthians 13:13; Philippians 2:1;
Herews 6:4; 12:10; 1 John 2:16

v. 3: Peter opens with broad strokes: His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion. The subject of “his” is most likely God the Father – it is by his power that we have been granted “everything” pertaining to true spiritual life and godly living. Peter assures us that by God’s own power everything we need for a godly life has already been granted to us. “Devotion”1 is a key term for 2 Peter (see also 1:6, 7; 3:11), denoting the practice of a way of life pleasing to God in all respects.

How did God’s power come to us? Through the knowledge of him who called us. This is most probably a reference to Jesus. We have come into “everything” through one Person – through Christ – and our knowledge of him, both knowledge of who he is and the way of life that he teaches. 

How did Christ call us? By his own glory and power. “Power” is literally “virtue,” or “excellence.” There are two possible ways to understand this. Christ has called us either by his own glory and excellence (NAB), that is, by means of his saving work, or he has called us to his own glory and excellence (RSV), that is, to share in his own glory and power. The first is the means, the second is the goal. Both in fact are true. It is by his glory and excellence that we are called, not by our own efforts, yet he also calls us to share in his own glory and excellence, as verses 4–8 will make clear.

v. 4:  Peter continues: Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises. “These” refers back to Christ’s “glory and power” and the knowledge we have gained through them. In summary, we have come to know Christ Jesus, and through this knowledge and by his power he has begun the fulfillment of his very great promises that will be fulfilled completely in the age to come. As we shall see, these promises refer both to the prophetic predictions in the Old Testament and to the words of Jesus himself. The use of the perfect tense here, “has bestowed,” shows the permanence and finality of the promises that have been given to us. They are stable and certain, and we can fully rely on them.

What is the purpose of these promises? That through them you may come to share in the divine nature, literally, that “you may become partakers of the divine nature.” This is perhaps the most debated and controversial phrase in the entire letter. Some commentators, past and present, believe that the phrase “partakers of the divine nature” shows clear signs of a Hellenistic worldview in which salvation means fleeing from this material world and being joined in a pantheistic way to the divinity. Others, wishing to rule out this interpretation, reduce the phrase “partakers of the divine nature” to mean nothing more than an ethical life lived by the power of grace.

Here I believe we can look both to the New Testament and to the Christian tradition for a better and more accurate way of understanding this wonderful and perplexing phrase. The New Testament often uses the language of “sharing,” “participation,” and “communion” when referring to our life with God. For example, we are called to share in God’s own holiness (Hebrews 12:10); we are made “partakers” of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4) and have “communion” with the Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:13; Philippians 2:1); and we have “communion” with Christ in theLord’s Supper or Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16). Christian life is not just something we do – that is, ethics – but is grounded in a real communion with God, a sharing in his own life.

To become partakers of the divine nature, then, does not mean that we become God by nature but that we have a real share in God’s own life and power – a life and power that enables us to know him, hear his Word, follow his teaching, and live a way of life pleasing to him. In the Christian tradition, 2 Peter 1:4 is normally understood to refer to God’s life that comes to us through faith and baptism, that increases in us day by day as we live out a way of life in communion with him, and that comes to completion when we are fully transformed and divinized in eternal life. It is important to recognize that the beginning of this participation in the divine life is already underway.

We can become partakers of the divine nature only after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. Peter is not saying that we must flee from the world itself, but from the corruption that is in the world because of disordered desire. “Desire”2 in 2 Peter always has the connotation of “sinful desire” (1:4; 2:10, 18; 3:3; see 1 John 2:16). “Corruption” here carries primarily a moral meaning. When human beings follow their sinful desires, the result is a corrupt way of life, a disfigured human society. Peter is telling us that we need to flee from this sinful pattern of life.

In short, Peter is describing in verses 3–4 what happens for Christians when they turn away from sin, put their faith in Christ, undergo baptism, and receive God’s power and life through the Holy Spirit. Having escaped from the corruption in the world through our incorporation into Christ, we have been given a share in God’s own divine life, and now are called to exert ourselves to make our “call and election firm” (1:10). 

Reflection and application (1:3–4)
The problem with most of us is not that we aim too high but that we expect too little. We underestimate what God wants to do for us and what he wants us to do for him. We see the faith as a set of demands, as a bar that we must clear, and so we try a little harder and hope to jump a little higher. But the gospel expressed here in 2 Peter is very different than this. It begins with the good news that God has already given to us freely all that we need to live for him. And it tells us that the goal is nothing less than becoming “partakers of the divine nature.” 

Day-to-day progress can seem slow, and we wonder whether we can ever reach the goal. Our own enthusiasm quickly ebbs and fails. This is why the opening of 2 Peter is so crucial. To know that “his divine power” is at work energizes us to “make every effort” (vv. 3, 5). Conviction that he has already made us partakers of the divine nature emboldens us to press on to see this work completed. 

In my own life the awakening to God’s call only came about when I invited the Holy Spirit to act more deeply in me. As I began to experience God’s presence and power, my faith increased, my understanding of spiritual things sprouted and grew, and I started to grasp just how much I had to change to become like Christ. 

When we come to know experientially God’s divine power at work within us, we are encouraged to make every effort to see this work of God in us come to completion.

1 Greek eusebia
2 Greek epithymia
3 The 

Dr. Daniel A. Keating (Doctor of Philosophy, University of Oxford) is associate professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA and an elder of The Servants of the Word, a lay missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. 

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