2nd Peter 1.1-2, Two or One?

This post is directly related to one over the weekend in which I was asked about this passage of Scripture. This deals only with the theology of 2nd Peter, primarily – I hope – from a translation standpoint.

I will consider the ESV as the standard for literalism, and NLT/GWN as the standard for thought for thought:

New Living Translation

English Standard Version

God’s Word

Greek (NA-27)

This letter is from Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: From Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who have obtained a faith that is as valuable as ours, a faith based on the approval that comes from our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.Συμεὼν Πέτρος δοῦλος καὶ ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῖς ἰσότιμον ἡμῖν λαχοῦσιν πίστιν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,
2 May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.2 May good will and peace fill your lives through your knowledge about Jesus, our God and Lord!2 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη πληθυνθείη ἐν ἐπιγνώσει τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν.

The question pertains to the second verse, in which many translations add ‘of’ (including the KJV) to separate God and Jesus, but does the Greek call for it? In the first verse, the author clearly calls Christ ‘God Savior’ and has does not hesitate to call Christ ‘Lord’ in later passages. It the second verse, however, we find that we can either translate a distinction between God and Christ or politely insert a comma, and mimic the first verse.

A.T. Robertson writes,

Of God and of Jesus our Lord (tou theou kai Iēsou tou kuriou hēmōn θεοῦ καὶ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου). At first sight the idiom here seems to require one person as in 2Peter 1:1, though there is a second article (tou) before kuriou, and Iēsou is a proper name. But the text here is very uncertain. Bengel, Spitta, Zahn, Nestle accept the short reading of P and some Vulgate MSS. and some minuscles with only tou kuriou hēmōn (our Lord) from which the three other readings may have come. Elsewhere in 2 Peter gnōsis and epignōsis are used of Christ alone.

Wuest reads,

The construction in the Greek text translated by the words “God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” is the same as in verse one, and requires the rendering, “our God, even Jesus the Lord.”

Gill notes that while the Peshitta removes any reference to God, reading only ‘Lord Jesus Christ‘ (or variation), the Ethiopic text reads, ‘in the knowledge of our God, Christ Jesus our Lord‘.

As Robertson notes above, ‘ἐπιγνώσει’ is used only of Christ although since it used one time (2nd Peter 2.20), therefore it is difficult to use it as a litmus test of the author’s motivation. While we may hesitantly use it as a marker for the author’s intended meaning here, it must remain with hesitance. Also to consider is the author’s use of γνώσει applied only to Christ as well in 2nd Peter 3.18. Neither word is used in 1st Peter perhaps showing some Gnostic opponents to the author’s community.

While the NLT is translated word for word here, the ESV adds ‘of’ creating a distinction not found in the previous verse. God’s Word interprets the author’s intention, I assume, based on the previous verse and places the proper name first, followed by two titles. In the same chapter, Christ is called Lord (v8 and v11) without the mentioned of a second person (God or Father). It is not until verse 16 which we find a distinction in persons:

16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.16 When we apostles told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we didn’t base our message on clever myths that we made up. Rather, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes.16 Οὐ γὰρ σεσοφισμένοις μύθοις ἐξακολουθήσαντες ἐγνωρίσαμεν ὑμῖν τὴν τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δύναμιν καὶ παρουσίαν ἀλλ᾽ ἐπόπται γενηθέντες τῆς ἐκείνου μεγαλειότητος.
17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”17 For example, we were eyewitnesses when he received honor and glory from God the Father and when the voice of our majestic God spoke these words to him: “This is my Son, whom I love and in whom I delight.”17 λαβὼν γὰρ παρὰ θεοῦ πατρὸς τιμὴν καὶ δόξαν φωνῆς ἐνεχθείσης αὐτῷ τοιᾶσδε ὑπὸ τῆς μεγαλοπρεποῦς δόξης· ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός μου οὗτός ἐστιν εἰς ὃν ἐγὼ εὐδόκησα,

Here, the author of 2nd Peter is clearly speaking about the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17) in which the majesty of the Son was revealed – in which both the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) ministered unto the Son. The Father was seen only in a cloud which vanished. The distinction perhaps is between the Incarnation and Heaven. It may be, however, that a distinction appears for the author, only when two are present.

Among the Patristics, I couldn’t find a single use of this passage; however, one early writer comes close to what I think is the intention of the author, Tertullian would go on to say,

I will therefore not speak of gods at all, nor of lords, but I shall follow the apostle; so that if the Father and the Son, are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father “God,” and invoke Jesus Christ as “Lord.”7917 Rom. i. 7. But when Christ alone (is mentioned), I shall be able to call Him “God,” as the same apostle says: “Of whom is Christ, who is God over all, he is blessed for ever.”918 Rom. ix. 5. For I should give the name of “sun” even to a sunbeam, considered in itself; but if I were mentioning the sun from which the ray emanates, I certainly should at once withdraw the name of sun from the mere beam. For although I make not two suns, still I shall reckon both the sun and its ray to be as much two things and two forms919 Species. of one undivided substance, as God and His Word, as the Father and the Son. (Ad. Prax XIII)

Then, perhaps, there is no distinction in verse 2, just as in verse 1, and no distinction in the mind of the writer until a distinction is needed. For the author here, God is but one in eternity, and then in temporality, two, Father and Son. We note that the only mention of the Spirit is in 2nd Peter 1.21, given the place of Scriptures, as we find in Hebrews 10.15, in which the Spirit is seen as the power of God upon the writers of Sacred Writ.

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14 Replies to “2nd Peter 1.1-2, Two or One?”

  1. There’s a rare phenomenon in language where in “X and Y,” X and Y can have the same referent.

    An example in English is, “This is Brian, my friend and your teacher,” where Brian is both my friend and your teacher. Sometimes there are even syntactic implications to the semantics. For example, (1) “my friend and your teacher are coming to visit”; and (2) “my friend and your teacher is coming to visit. In (1) there are two people coming and in (2) there’s only one person. I don’t know of a technical term to describe this, but for convenience I’ll call it “disjoint coreference.”

    As nearly as I can tell, the English “of God and of Jesus our Lord” doesn’t allow disjoint coreference for two reasons. First, the repetition of “of” makes disjoint coreference awkward in English (as in, (?)”this is a description of my friend and of your teacher”). Secondly, disjoint coreference in English doesn’t work with proper names. For example, (*)”Brian and your friend is coming to dinner” doesn’t work.

    I’m pretty sure that the genitive in Greek was compatible with disjoint reference, so the Greek “of God and of Jesus…” could have the same force as “of God and Jesus” in English.

    And because the Greek has tou theou (“the God”) here instead of the proper name “God,” it may have been easier to get disjoint coreference. We can compare that to English: “the mayor of New York City and my best friend is coming for dinner” is certainly better than “Blumberg and my best friend is….”

    Disjoint coreference is different than accidental coreference. For example, “Chris” could be the same person as “Mr. Smith.” But (surprisingly in light of (2) above), even if they are the same person, when they are conjoined they still get a plural verb: “Chris and Mr. Smith are both coming to dinner because they are the same person!”

    So even if “Jesus our Lord” is “God,” there’s still a question whether, in that sentence, the two phrases had the same referent.

    I have no idea how universal the behavior of disjoint coreference is, but because of the Greek determiner and because of the case system, it seems at least plausible to me that the Greek here is using two phrases for one referent, in which case the English should be, “knowledge of God, Jesus our Lord.”

    It’s a great question.


    1. Could the author change the referent in such a short sentence? In Verse 1, Jesus is clearly God but in verse two, some wish to separate God from Jesus. What say you?

      Excellent comment, which will give me more to think about.

      1. I’m not sure the first verse is any clearer than the second. Both have the same structure: “noun the-GEN god-GEN and Jesus-GEN…” I think 1:1 is ambiguous in the same say that 1:2 is.

        1. FWIW,
          The NRSV also inserts the ‘of’ in v2. I am unable to discover why and I think the only way to find out would be to contact some of the actual translators. Quite a number of translations did so there must be a good reason.

          Gk translators who are well known in their classical Gk. knowledge rendered this a little differently.

          Ann Nyland (NT)

          From: Simon Peter, a slave servant and apostle of Jesus the
          Anointed One.
          To: Those people who have an equal privilege with us, who received their
          share of faith, given to us by Jesus the Anointed One, our God and Savior, who
          makes us right with God. May your favor and peace increase as you come to know about God and Jesus our Lord!

          Eugene Peterson (Message Bible)

          I, Simon Peter, am a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. I write this to you whose experience with God is as life-changing as ours, all due to our God’s straight dealing and the intervention of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace to you many times over as you deepen in your experience with God and Jesus, our Master.

          The assignment of deity in V1 I’m pretty solid with just because of the majority, however I’m unsure with v2.

  2. Nice follow-up Joel. This may change how I look at that part of Peter. It’s good to know there’s two directions one could go when translating here. What this does prove is the strength and legitimacy of the NLT as a translation.

    1. Indeed it does. I believe that the more we look at the NLT, the more we find that it might be more literal than previously thought.

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