The World Destroyed by Water: 2 Peter 3:5–6

world destroyed (2)

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4) 2 Pet 3:5–6: The author of 2 Peter wrote these verses to counter the belief that waiting for the return of Christ is absurd because “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:3–4).[1]

He employed three main points in his counterargument that the Lord does indeed intervene in human history.[2]

Only by opting to ignore God’s activities in creating the universe and unleashing the flood could his opponents reach their conclusions.[3]



Much in this passage proves difficult to interpret, especially in 2 Pet 3:5.[4] The theory regarding how the universe works which people of that era accepted accounts for much of our frustration.[5]

He began by writing,[6] “For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice (lanthanō) that the heavens and earth were long ago formed out of water and by means of water by the word of God.”

This did not involve simply forgetting but deliberately choosing to reject the truth.[7]

Josephus (37–100 AD) used the word in a similar way when he wrote, “He could not conceal (lanthanō) his being a liar from Vespasian, who condemned him to die.”[8]



“Heavens and earth” forms a word-pair which encompasses all creation (Matt 5:18; Matt 11:25; Rev 20:11–15).[9]

This common literary device, called a merism, names polar opposites, with the understanding that they include everything between them, such as “from A to Z.”[10]

In other words, the Lord spoke the entire cosmos into existence (e.g. Ps 33:6–9; Prov 8:27–29; Heb 11:3).[11] “And God said” occurs nine times in Gen 1 alone.[12]

Our world exists only because God said it should.[13]



The scoffers in Peter’s day asserted that the universe does not change. In reality, the cosmos requires divine intervention for its existence and stability (Col 1:15–17).[14]

The difficult aspect of 2 Pet 3:5 occurs with the assertion that the heavens and earth were “formed out of and by means of water.”[15]

It alludes to the account where the Lord separated water vapor from liquid water (Gen 1:2, 6–8).[16]

This passage does not assert that water is the element which forms the earth.[17] Instead, God separated and gathered the waters to form dry ground (Gen 1:9–10).[18]



Yet, the clearest reason to assert that the Lord created the world by means of water and his word is that the phrase parallels the way he destroyed it in Noah’s day (Gen 7:4, 11–12).[19]

In his second argument that God remains at work in our world, the author continued, “Through which the world (kosmos) of that time was destroyed by being flooded with water.”

Noah’s flood provided an important point against the mockers’ contention that this world system will always continue.[20]

The Greek verb translated as “was destroyed” (apollumi) has multiple meanings, some of which reflect less than annihilation.[21]

These include “to ruin, to kill, to lose, to fail to obtain,” and “to perish” (Rom 14:15; Matt 2:13; Luke 15:8–9; 2 John 8; Matt 26:52).[22]

Many of these nuances do not indicate that an object ceased to exist, but that it no longer remains in its initial state.[23]

The flood did not annihilate the earth or all its inhabitants. Noah, his family, and some animals survived (Gen 8:15–19).[24]



While it wrought judgment against fallen humanity, the deluge did not wreak complete and utter destruction upon the earth (Gen 7:21–24; Gen 8:6–11).[25]

Consequently, the world (kosmos) in this passage refers to corrupt humanity, not to the planet (Cf. 2 Pet 2:5).[26]

Creation and the destruction of the ungodly both occurred through water and the word of God.[27] The Lord also used them in the days of Noah to purge the world from unrighteousness.[28]

Peter’s interest concerned the judgment of the wicked, not cosmology.[29]

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a) Read 2 Pet 3:5–6. Why did Peter address the issue of the destruction of the world? What did he mean by saying that the earth was formed out of water and by means of water? In what sense was the world destroyed in the days of Noah?




Go to Reserved for Fire (2 Pet 3:7)

[Related posts include Reserved for Fire (2 Pet 3:7); God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8); The Lord Has Patience (2 Pet 3:9); The Day of the Lord Will Come (2 Pet 3:10); Hastening the Day of God (2 Pet 3:11–12); In the Beginning of God’s Creating (Gen 1:1–2); Let There Be Light (Gen 1:3–5); God Separates the Waters (Gen 1:6–8); Dry Ground Appears (Gen 1:9–13); By Twos and Sevens (Gen 7:1–4); A Reversal of Creation (Gen 7:5–16); The Breath of Life Extinguished (Gen 7:21–24); Renewal of the Earth (Gen 8:6–14); Bring Them Out (Gen 8:15–19); A Covenant with All Living Things (Gen 9:8–11); A Bow Set in a Cloud (Gen 9:12–17); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); The Firstborn of All Creation (Col 1:15–18); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 9: A Covenant with Noah (Genesis 8:20–9:17)]


[1]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 168.

[2]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 366–7.

[3]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 297.

[4]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude,168.

[5]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 302.

[6]Whether this letter was written by Peter or only in his name remains a hotly debated topic, even among evangelical New Testament scholars.

[7]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 169.

[8]Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, 425,

[9]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “οὐρανος” (ouranos), BDAG, 737. Note that in Greek, “heavens” normally occurs in plural form. Most English versions translate it as a singular noun.

[10]Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 302.

[11]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 15.

[12]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 376.

[13]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 298.

[14]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 374–5.

[15]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 170.

[16]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 297.

[17]Leonhard Goppelt, “ὑδωρ” (hudor), TDNT 8:314–33, 328.

[18]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 297.

[19]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 170.

[20]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 376.

[21]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,”468, note 77,

[22]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ἀπολλυμι” (apollumi), BDAG, 115–6.

[23]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 468, note 77,

[24]Gale Z. Heide, “What is New About the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” JETS 40, no. 1 (3 January 1997): 53–4,

[25]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 467,

[26]Hermann Sasse, “κοσμος” (kosmos), TDNT 3:867–98, 890.

[27]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 171.

[28]Heide, “What is New About the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” 54,–1/40–1-pp037–056_JETS.pdf.

[29]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 299.