Divine Power and Promises of God
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.
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.
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.
references: 2 Corinthians 13:13; Philippians 2:1;
Herews 6:4; 12:10; 1
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
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).
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
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
Servants of the Word, a lay missionary brotherhood of men living single
for the Lord.