2

5For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:5-7, KJV

It's easily understood that the flood overtook all that had breath on earth. But, in what sense that Peter include the 'heavens' in the phrase 'the heavens and the earth, which are now' — the 'heavens' did not perish with the world which was then, did they?

5

It's widely understood that the flood overtook all that had breath on earth, in what sense that Peter include the 'heavens' in the phrase 'the heavens and the earth, which are now' if the heavens didn't 'perish' with the world which was then?

Yes, there is a clear implication in this passage that the destruction of the flood was in some sense universal, including both heavens and earth.

The implication is there in the Genesis flood narrative too, Note the following verses:

  1. We see that the destruction wasn't confined to the surface of the earth:

    7So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Genesis 6:7, ESV

  2. The heavens are themselves a conduit for the destruction, and the destructive agent is delivered via them:

    11In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. Genesis 7:11, ESV

  3. The water does not merely wash over the surface but covers it, occupying much of the space previously regarded as being 'heaven' (or 'sky'):

    19And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. Genesis 7:19, ESV

More subtly, but more importantly, the flood narrative as a whole has strong negative echoes of the creation narrative in Genesis 1. We are invited to understand the flood as an act of uncreation (albeit partly symbolic), followed by a new creation as the waters recede and the world is repopulated. Here are a few of the most obvious examples of the parallels:

  • 7then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:7, ESV


    17For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. Genesis 6:17, ESV

  • 22And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” Genesis 1:22, ESV


    26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26, ESV
    17Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” Genesis 8:22, ESV

This helps considerably in understanding the re-creation logic of 2 Peter. Peter is attacking the scoffers who deny an impending uncreation and recreation event. He responds to…

4They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 2 Peter 3:4, ESV

…with the argument that there has already been a similar uncreation/recreation event since "the beginning of creation", to which they would do well to take heed:

5For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:5-7, ESV

Note that the judgement and destruction does not stand alone, is the prelude for another creation:

12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:12-13, ESV


Conclusion

Peter interprets the flood event to symbolise a full 'uncreation' and 'recreation' of the entire creation — 'the heavens and the earth' is shorthand for 'all of creation'. It is true that the flood is a less literal uncreation/recreation, but the flood narrative invites us to understand the event as having the full symbolic force.

There is also an implicit contrast between the (ineffective) water of the flood, and the (effective) 'fire' of the final judgement. Peter isn't trying to persuade the readers that the two events are equivalent, merely that the one foreshadows (and warns about) the other. The failure of the flood to cleanse the earth should lead us to expect later effective action rather than to fall into complacency — this is a common pattern of Bible logic, and is, for example, analogous to the (ineffective) law, written externally on tablets of stone, foreshadowing the (effective) law, written on the flesh of regenerate hearts.

  • Excellent explanation of how the flood destroys and then recreates as a means of foreshadowing the ultimate destruction and recreation of the eschaton. Great answer! – P. TJ Mar 17 '17 at 13:28
2

Let's start with a much clearer translation that also includes a bit more of the surrounding context:

"They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." 2 Peter 3:4-7, ESV translation

I think it immediately becomes more clear what the author is saying, but let's work through the flow of the argument.

First, the context is important because he is discussing "scoffers" who reject the Word of God (see verses 1-3). These scoffers are essentially saying that God has never intervened in the world and so they do not believe that he will in the future. So the author responds to that by citing creation, the flood and the future judgment. Here's how he builds the argument:

  1. "The heavens (οὐρανοὶ) existed long ago..." This is a reference to Gen 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens..."
  2. The earth (γῆ) was formed "out of and through water" (ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ δι’ ὕδατος). This is a reference to Gen 1:9-10 - "And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good."
  3. All of this happened by the Word of God (τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ) (Gen 1:4, "God said... and it was so.")
  4. "By the same means" (δι’ ὧν) of God's word, the world (κόσμος) was then judged with water and the people perished. Note that not only is are the earth and the heavens distinct, but "the world" (κόσμος) is not the same as "the earth" (γῆ). The earth was not physically destroyed, but the people perished. This is, of course, a reference to the flood, Genesis 6-9.
  5. But now, both the heavens and the earth (οὐρανοὶ καὶ ἡ γῆ) which now exist by the word (αὐτῷ λόγῳ) are "stored up" for fire that will come "by the same word", that is, the word of God.
  6. They are kept until the day of judgment, when the destruction of the ungodly will come.

I think the phrase "which are now" or "which now exist" may be the source of confusion as if the author is distinguishing between a past world and present world. But in reality, he is building his argument on repeated references to God's word (λόγῳ). The phrase "which are now" is implied, not stated. Again, look at the flow of the argument:

  • Verse 5 - the heavens and earth were created "by God's word" (τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ).
  • Verse 6 - the world was flooded with water "by the same means" (δι’ ὧν) of the word.
  • Verse 7 - the heavens and earth now exists "by the same word" (αὐτῷ λόγῳ).
  • This word will eventually bring judgment on all the ungodly, this time with fire.

This is all given in response to scoffers who say that God's word will fail. So the author is building an argument for God's faithfulness to his word. Hopefully that helps clarify the passage.

-1

It certainly appears a rendering issue.

Statements as in 2 Peter 3:5 cannot be taken on face value.

The phrase ...'standing together' ,as it's in the original, makes its referent the 'heavens and earth'.

REF; Isaiah 48:13 & 2 Esdras 16:59, etc. It's no novel concept.

Undoubtedly scoffers make the context, however that aspect doesn't bear on the reality of the nature of the heavens and the earth having been different before the deluge, but which heavens and earth, then, were by the same ''Word'' that scoffers despise. One then sh'd ask what 'heavens' he did mean.

The phrase 'heavens and earth' imply sentient beings, because the earth that was 'standing together' with the heavens 'perished', but the heavens arent indicated as having 'perished,' which implying a state of free association, written of in

Genesis 6:1-6,
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
3 And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

Which state of things precipitated the floods judgement of Noah. If the 'heavens' were as before, these sons of God are spirit and would do it allover again, since they are spirit.

  • "The phrase 'heavens and earth' imply sentient beings." This is contrary to every Greek (and Hebrew) source I have ever encountered. You need to provide evidence if you're going to make a claim of this nature. This strikes me as a purely allegorical reading of the text. – P. TJ Mar 15 '17 at 18:37
  • @P TJ What you ask of me is quite broad, but I will try. What you refer to as allegories are literal things in the spirit. Peter spoke by the HolySpirit and Who often speaks in ''allegories,''...Deut 31:28 ''I call heaven & earth as witness..'' these entities so signified were as literal witnesses to that covenant as you and I to today's events, only that they are invisible, forming part of whom were the symbolic 'cloud and pillar.' that 'lead and followed' Israel. Paul alludes to such 'witnesses' in Acts 7:53, they're the 'heavens. – Ted O Mar 15 '17 at 19:59
  • By the time of Jer 4:23 (way after the flood),--the earth, and, lo...was without 'form', and 'void'.. the heavens, and they had no light.'' formless and void are states of waywardness. (Isa 40:23-princes(not men) rendered 'formless'By the time of Jer 4:23 (way after the flood),--the earth, and, lo...was without 'form', and 'void'.. the heavens, and they had no light.'' formless and void are states of waywardness. ((Isa 40:23-princes(not men) rendered 'formless')). The 'stars' that fall from heaven, the powers of the heaven, or simply the heavens, in Mat 24:29. – Ted O Mar 15 '17 at 19:59
  • 1
    Ted you give further examples of this interpretation, but you don't site any source for it or explain how you arrive at these conclusions. I agree that Peter wrote by the inspiration of the Spirit and I agree that the Bible frequently uses metaphor and symbolism. However, I believe it is deeply misguided to look for symbolism in every word or to read symbolism into places it is not found. It makes far more sense of this passage to interpret the heavens and earth as exactly that and not to look for metaphors that only obscure Peter's words. – P. TJ Mar 16 '17 at 0:11
  • 2
    Ted, I just don't see it that way at all in the passage above. Yes, the term earth is sometimes used symbolically to mean all people, such as in the Isaiah passage you site, but that is a far cry from saying that it represents some distinct category of spirit beings. – P. TJ Mar 16 '17 at 19:13

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