e) 2 Pet 3:10: Since Christ had not yet returned, the author of 2 Peter did not want his readers to think they could remain complacent.[1] God has only postponed judgment day (2 Pet 3:3–9).[2]

Therefore, he wrote, “But it will come—the day of the Lord—as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be consumed by heat and destroyed. And the earth and the works in it will be found.”

Each aspect of this cosmic imagery presents difficulty for translators and interpreters.[3]

When studying apocalyptic (end-times) passages of Scripture, which includes 2 Pet 3,[4] we must understand that their authors used heavily symbolic representations.[5]

The author of 2 Peter may not have intended his readers to take what seems to be the fiery end of our planet at face value (Cf. Jer 23:29).[6]

Therefore, we will carefully examine each of the images in this passage to differentiate what is likely metaphorical from what we should accept as literal.[7]

By placing “it will come” first in the sentence, the author emphasized that Jesus will surely return.[8]

In the Old Testament, “the day of the Lord” has several meanings. They include a time of God’s vengeance upon Israel’s enemies (Isa 13:1, 6–10; Ezek 30:1–5), his judgment on Israel and Judah (Amos 5:18–26; Joel 2:1–11), and a day of deliverance for all creation when he shall vindicate righteous people (Zeph 2:1–3; Mal 4:1–3).[9]

New Testament (NT) authors used the term when discussing Christ’s return (1 Cor 1:4–8; Phil 1:6).[10]

Just like a thief, Jesus will come when people least expect him (Matt 24:36–44; 1 Thess 5:1–10).[11]

For those who fail to repent, that day remains a great threat (Rev 3:1–3; Rev 16:15).[12]

In this verse, the author of 2 Peter warned his readers against falling into complacency.[13] The return of Christ can occur at any time.[14]

A second century BC Jewish work conveys a similar idea. It says:

Do not say, “I sinned, and what happened to me?” For the Lord is slow to anger. Do not be so confident of atonement that you add sin to sin.

Do not say, “His mercy is great, he will forgive the multitude of my sins,” for both mercy and wrath are with him, and his anger rests on sinners.

Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will go forth, and at the time of punishment you will perish (Sirach 5:4–7, RSV).

While we know the end of this age will come, we cannot foretell the time of its demise.[15] The signs which precede it are vague enough for us to easily miss them.[16]

A careful reading of the discourse in Matt 24 reveals that Jesus primarily discussed what his disciples should not view as indicators that he will return soon.[17]

Similarly, a rigorous examination of 2 Pet 3:10 discloses that the author conveyed neither the utter destruction of this planet nor its replacement by a new one.[18]

Instead, the Lord shall radically transform our world into an everlasting, unchanging state of perfection.[19]

Contrary to the scoffers’ inferences, everything shall not always continue as it has (2 Pet 3:3–4).[20]

In one sense, “the heavens” (ouranos) refers to the physical sky which envelops the earth.[21]

Yet, Scripture closely links the heavens to the dwelling place of the Lord, giving the typical New Testament (NT) usage of the physical location a cosmic aspect (Matt 3:16–17; John 1:51; Acts 7:55–60). God controls the universe from the heavens (Eph 1:9–11; Heb 9:22–28).[22]

Even that unseen spiritual realm shall come to an end (Matt 5:18; Heb 12:25–29).[23]

This apocalypse will occur so forcefully and rapidly that the heavens will make a roaring noise.[24]

When spoken, “roizēdon” evokes the sound of rapid hissing and crackling.[25] Here it alludes to a sudden rush of flames.[26]

The Essenes wrote this in the Dead Sea Scrolls:

The deeps of the Abyss shall groan amid the roar of heaving mud. The land shall cry out because of the calamity fallen upon the world, and all its deeps shall howl. And all those upon it shall rave and shall perish amid the great misfortune.

For God shall sound His mighty voice, and His holy abode shall thunder with the truth of His glory. The heavenly hosts shall cry out and the world’s foundations shall stagger and sway.[27]

It remains uncertain whether the roaring will emanate from the fire or from the thunder of God’s voice as he comes in judgment (Ps 18:12–14; Joel 3:14–16; 1 Thess 4:16).[28]

The author of 2 Peter’s next phrase also presents us with questions. He wrote, “and the elements will be consumed by heat and destroyed.”

The word translated as “elements” (stoicheion) has three meanings.[29]

In antiquity, Greeks believed that four major elements constituted everything around us.[30]

For example, Plato (ca. 428–348 BC) taught:

It is necessary…to discuss first the problem of fire and its fellow elements. For in regard to these it is hard to say which particular element we ought really to term water rather than fire, and which we ought to term any one element rather than each and all of them…

First of all, we see that which we now call “water” becoming by condensation…stones and earth; and again, this same substance, by dissolving and dilating, becoming breath and air; and air through combustion becoming fire; and conversely, fire when contracted and quenched returning back to the form of air and air once more uniting and condensing into cloud and mist; and issuing from these, when still further compressed, flowing water; and from water earth and stones again: thus we see the elements passing on to one another, as it would seem, in an unbroken circle the gift of birth.[31]

Some scholars believe that the author of 2 Peter wrote of these four building blocks of the universe: water, earth, air, and fire.[32] They assert that God will annihilate everything which exists in a great conflagration.[33]

Others contend that these elements consist of the heavenly bodies separate from the earth, such as the sun, moon, stars, and other planets.[34] This fits well with Isa 34:4–5.[35]

Concerning the attributes of God, a second century AD bishop asserted, “For the heavens are His work, and the earth is His creation, and the sea is His handiwork; man is His formation and His image; sun, moon and stars are His elements.”[36]

In another possibility, “elements” describe the religious rituals which enslave people before they place their faith in Christ (Gal 4:1–10; Col 2:8, 20–23).[37] A few scholars claim that these elements represent hostile spiritual forces which rule over nature.[38]

In either case, these views do not fit the context of 2 Peter,[39] in which “the elements will be consumed by heat and will be destroyed.”

This leaves us with a mystery to unravel. Did the author of 2 Peter mean that flames will consume our planet to the extent that God will have to create a different earth? Or did he have in mind a purifying fire which prepares this world for renovation?[40]

The first verb which the apostle used (kausoomai) occurs in the NT only here and in 2 Pet 3:12.[41] It means “to be beset with burning” or “to suffer from great heat.”[42]

Lucian, a second century AD Greek satirical author declared, “For by all I can learn burning is the quickest of deaths; a man has but to open his mouth, and all is over.”[43]

In contrast, luō, the second verb in the clause, has a wide range of meanings.[44]

These include “to loosen” (Matt 16:19), “ to untie” (Mark 1:7), “to set free” (1 Cor 7:27), “to destroy” (John 2:19), “to break into its parts” (Acts 27:41), “to abolish” (Acts 2:24), “to put an end to” (Matt 5:19) and “to ransom” (Rev 1:5).[45]

While the author wrote of a physical change, luō does not usually indicate annihilation. Notably, he employed the stronger verb (apollumi) in 2 Pet 3:6–7 when he described what Noah’s flood did to the world and its inhabitants.[46]

At this point, 2 Pet 3:10 gets really complicated, which is why so many Bible translations differ on the last word of this verse (Cf. NASB, CSB, and NIV).[47]

Ancient Greek manuscripts which scholars consider fairly reliable include at least five different options.[48]

The most likely candidate to reflect the original verb is “to be found” (heuriskō),[49] as it appears in the earliest and most authoritative manuscripts, including two from the fourth century, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus.[50]

This yields a translation which says, “and the earth and the works in it will be found.”

Many modern versions include translations with little support from the Greek manuscripts because “will be found” does not seem to fit the context of the passage.[51]

However, among text critical scholars, this is precisely why that word is most likely correct, especially coupled with the manuscript evidence. When faced with difficult passages, Greek scribes often substituted words which made more sense in the context of what they were transcribing.[52]

Significantly, only one papyrus (P72, 3rd–4th century) has the word “destroyed” (luō) after “will be found”.[53]

“Will be burned up” (katakaiō) appears in several modern translations.[54]

Yet, the earliest manuscript in its favor dates from the fifth century. A few manuscripts include another form of katakaiō, but these occur no earlier than the tenth century.[55]

Furthermore, a scribe would be highly unlikely to substitute “will be found” for “will be burned up” in this passage.[56]

“Will vanish” (aphanizō) occurs in one fifth century document (C).[57]

Since the manuscripts do not include punctuation, a few commentators suggest adding a third person pronoun and a question mark. This yields the question, “Will [it] be found?” However, most experts reject that notion.[58]

Some scholars suggest adding the word “not” (ou) to “will be found” to make sense of the text.[59] Only two ancient witnesses, texts in the Sahidic language and one Syriac manuscript, support that reading.[60]

The most recent update of the Novum Testamentum Graecae (NA28) includes the word “not,”[61] in contrast to the 27th edition.[62] This reflects a new technique which does not rely upon additional manuscript evidence.[63]

Despite adhering to the NA28  for the entire NT, the United Bible Society’s Greek New Testament, Fifth Rev. Ed. (UBS 5) gives the word “not” a “C” rating in its textual apparatus.[64]

The decision in this case remains highly controversial among textual criticism scholars, with many supporting the previous reading of heuriskō.

Most experts strenuously avoid adding words to the ancient Greek manuscripts, unless there is no other way to understand the text.[65]

Consequently, the Tyndale House Greek New Testament continues to omit the word “not.”[66]

The United Bible Society gave “will be found” a grade of “D” for authenticity, noting that it “seems to be devoid of meaning in the context.” Yet, as the oldest available reading,[67] that word remains the best option we have.[68]

However, examining other appearances of the verb minimizes the enigmatic nature of this conundrum.

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the NT, “to be found” (heuriskō) often connotes having one’s morals or religious nature scrutinized. Either people or God can conduct this judicial investigation (Gen 44:16; Dan 5:22–28; Ezra 10:17–19; 1 Cor 15:15; 1 Pet 1:7–8; Rev 14:5).[69]

A similar concept occurs in the Psalms of Solomon, a first century BC Jewish work. It says:

Sinners rose up against us because of our sins; they laid hold of us and expelled us; those to whom you did not promise removed us with force, and they did not glorify your honored name…They desolated the throne of David in arrogance…

And you, God, will cast them down and remove their seed from the earth…You will repay them according to their sins, God, so that it will be found against them according to their works.

God will have no pity on them; he searched their seed and let not one of them go; the Lord is faithful in all his judgments that he makes upon the earth.[70].

Consequently, we can interpret this clause in 2 Pet 3:10 as, “and the earth and the works in it will be laid bare” (Rom 2:14–16; Heb 4:8–13).[71]

Our planet has served the center stage throughout human history. A scorching flame shall reveal all the evil which people have perpetrated upon the earth, exposing their sin (Isa 2:19–21; Isa 26:20–211 Cor 3:10–15; Rev 6:12–17).[72]

Indeed, the author used the same verb to admonish the recipients of this letter to be found blameless in God’s sight at the time of Christ’s return (2 Pet 3:14).[73]

Thus, he emphasized the impending judgment of people, rather than the destruction of the universe.[74]

The same conflagration which will annihilate unrighteousness will purify the earth (Zech 13:8–9; Mal 3:1–6; 1 Cor 3:10–17).[75] Those whom the Lord sees as righteous shall survive this process.[76]

This interpretation meshes with the Wisdom of Solomon, an apocryphal Jewish work (2nd century BC–1st century AD):

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.

For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.

In the time of their visitation they will shine forth and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever (Wisdom 3:1–8, NRSVCE).

The Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 80–120 AD) affirms this:

It is good therefore to learn the ordinances of the Lord…and to walk in them. For he that doeth these things shall be glorified in the kingdom of God; whereas he that chooseth their opposites shall perish together with his works. For this cause is the resurrection, for this the recompense…

The day is at hand, in which everything shall be destroyed together with the Evil One. The Lord is at hand and his reward…

And may God, who is Lord of the whole world, give you wisdom, judgment, learning, knowledge of His ordinances, patience. And be ye taught of God, seeking diligently what the Lord requireth of you, and act that ye may be found in the day of judgment.[77]

On the day of the Lord, God will lay bare the heavens and earth.[78]

Everything will be exposed as it really is and be purified from all evil, just as fire removes the dross from metal ore.

During Noah’s flood, the Lord cleansed the world by water (Gen 17:17–24; Gen 8:6–11). In the future, he shall decontaminate it with fire.[79]

Total annihilation shall not be necessary (Rom 8:16–25).[80] Instead, God shall renew the heavens and the earth (Rev 21:1–5).[81]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read 2 Pet 3:10. What are the implications of the day of the Lord coming like a thief? How will fire affect the cosmos? What will this conflagration do to people? How does knowing this impact you?






Go to Hastening the Day of God

[Related posts include The World Destroyed by Water (2 Pet 3:5–6); Reserved for Fire (2 Pet 3:7); God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8); The Lord has Patience (2 Pet 3:9); Hastening the Day of God (2 Pet 3:11–12); The Waters Prevail (Gen 7:17–20); The Breath of Life Extinguished (Gen 7:21–24); Renewal of the Earth (Gen 8:6–14); Not Knowing the Day or the Hour (Matt 24:36); As in the Days of Noah (Matt 24:37–39); One Will Be Left (Matt 24:40–41); Continually Watch! (Matt 24:42–44); Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); The Summing up of All Things (Eph 1:9–11); Greek Translation of the Old Testament; New Testament Textual Criticism; and Ancient Literature]

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


[1]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 383. Whether the apostle or someone writing in Peter’s name penned this letter remains controversial, even among evangelical scholars.

[2]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 314.

[3]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 189.

[4]Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 2nd Ed., 275.

[5]Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd Ed., 445.

[6]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 464, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[7]Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd Ed., 445.

[8]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 383. In Koine Greek, the word “but” cannot come first in a sentence.

[9]Richard H. Hiers, “Day of the Lord,” ABD 2:82–3, 82.

[10]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 383.

[11]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 189.

[12]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude. 314–5.

[13]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 383.

[14]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 189.

[15]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 314.

[16]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 383.

[17]Keener, IVPBBCNT, Matt 24:6–8.

[18]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 465, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[19]Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 305.

[20]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 467, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[21]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “οὐρανος” (ouranos), BDAG, 737–9, 738.

[22]Helmut Traub, “οὐρανος” (ouranos), TDNT, 5:497–543, 514.

[23]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “παρερχομαι” (parerchomai), BDAG, 775–6, 776.

[24]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “ροιζηδον” (roizēdon), BDAG, 907.

[25]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 315.

[26]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 189.

[27]Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 1QHa Col xi, 198–9, https://archive.org/stream/pdfy-Uy_BZ_QGsaLiJ4Zs/The%20Dead%20Sea%20Scrolls%20%5BComplete%20English%20Translation%5D#page/n313. Italics mine.

[28]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 315.

[29]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 189.

[30]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 315.

[31]Plato, “Timaeus,” 49b–d, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0180%3Atext%3DTim.%3Asection%3D49b.

[32]Gerhard Delling, “στοιχεῖον” (stoicheion), TDNT 7:666–87, 686.

[33]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 384–5.

[34]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 316.

[35]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 384.

[36]Theophilus, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) (ANF02) (ed. Philip Schaff; Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 1.4, 90, https://archive.org/stream/antenicenefather027898mbp#page/n101/mode/2up.

[37]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 384.

[38]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 316.

[39]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 190.

[40]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 385.

[41]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “καυσοω” (kausoō)” BDAG, 536.

[42]Johannes Schneider, “καυσοω” (kausoō)” TDNT  3:644.

[43]Lucian, “The Death of Peregrine,” in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, Volume IV (trans. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler; Oxford: Clarendon, 1905), 21, 86, https://archive.org/stream/worksoflucianofs04luciuoft#page/86. Italics mine.

[44]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “λυω” (luō), BDAG, 606–7.

[45]Friedrich Büchsel, “λυω” (luō), TDNT, 4:335–7.

[46]Heide, “What is New About the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” 53, www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-1/40-1-pp037-056_JETS.pdf.

[47]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 190.

[48] Nestle and Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, 28th edition, 714.

[49]Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd. Ed., 636.

[50]Nestle and Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, 28th edition, 714. Fourth century AD.

[51]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 385.

[52]Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 191.

[53]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 385.

[54]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 317.

[55]Nestle and Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, 28th edition, 714.

[56]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 317.

[57]Nestle and Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, 28th edition, 714.

[58]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 386.

[59]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 317.

[60]Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd. Ed., 636.

[61]Erwin Nestle et al, Novum Testamentum Graecae, 28th Ed (NA28) (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2013), 714, http://www.nestle-aland.com/en/read-na28-online/text/bibeltext/lesen/stelle/71/30001/39999/.

[62]Erwin Nestle Eberhard Nestle Barbara Aland, Novum Testamentum Graecae, 27th Edition (NA27) (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006), 614.

[63]Nestle and Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, 28th edition, 714.

[64]Barbara Aland, et al., The Greek New Testament, 5th Rev. Ed. (Muenster, Germany; Stuttgart: Institute for New Testament Textual Research, 2014), 781.

[65]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 318.

[66]Dirk Jongkind and Peter Williams, eds., The Greek New Testament Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge (Cambridge: Crossway, 2017), 314.

[67]Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd. Ed., 636.

[68]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 468, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[69]Herbert Preisker, “εὑρισκω” (heuriskō), TDNT 2:769–70.

[70]Brannan, et al., The Lexham English Septuagint, Ps Sol 17:6–12.

[71]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 468, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.

[72]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 319–20.

[73]Heide, “What is New About the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” 50, www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-1/40-1-pp037-056_JETS.pdf.

[74]Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 319.

[75]Heide, “What is New About the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” 54, www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-1/40-1-pp037-056_JETS.pdf.

[76]Wolters, “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10,” 408, www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk/Wolters/AMW2Peter3.pdf.

[77]J. B. Lightfoot, trans., “The Epistle of Barnabas,” in The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 2 (New York; London: MacMillan, 1891), 21:1–6, 287–8, https://archive.org/stream/apostolicfathers00lighuoft#page/286. Italics mine.

[78]Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 386.

[79]Wolters, “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10,” 407–8, www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk/Wolters/AMW2Peter3.pdf.

[80]Heide, “What is New About the New Heaven and the New Earth? A Theology of Creation from Revelation 21 and 2 Peter 3,” 55, www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/40/40-1/40-1-pp037-056_JETS.pdf.

[81]Moo, “Nature and the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” 469, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-3/JETS_49-3_449-488_Moo.pdf.