John Owen on “Heavens and Earth” in 2 Peter 3

I like John Owen, I really do. His books like The Mortification of Sin and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ are wonderful and time-tested treatments that should be read more than once.

Recently, though, while preaching through 2 Peter at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I was studying the verses in chapter 3 where Peter speaks of the “heavens and earth,” and disagreement with Owen arose when I read one of his sermons.

In a sermon called “Providential Changes, An Argument for Universal Holiness,” he takes 2 Peter 3:11 as his main text but also addresses the larger context as he sees it. Owen’s statements about the “heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3:7 and 3:10 are not the traditional take on the phrase.

First, the verses under consideration:

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….But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the [elements] will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:7, 10).

Next, Owen’s interpretation of the phrase “heavens and earth”:

“…the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, and day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state…” 

And later in the same sermon, “[Jesus] will come, he will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God himself planted,–the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church,–the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinacy against the Lord Christ,–shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed.”

Essentially he is arguing:
(1) “heavens and earth” (in 3:7 and 3:10) refer to the Old Covenant with Israel, not to creation
(2) the coming of Jesus on the “day of judgment” (3:7) and “day of the Lord” (3:10) is not his Second Coming but his judgment on the Jerusalem temple in AD 70
(3) the fiery judgment foretold in 3:7 and described in 3:10 refers not to a final judgment of the ungodly but to the end of the Old Covenant at the AD 70 temple destruction
(4) this means the “new heavens and a new earth” in 3:13 refer not to a future new physical creation but to the New Covenant fully established

I’m not convinced Owen is right. In his sermon he provides other arguments and texts to bolster his reading, but I think there are better arguments and interpretations of those same texts that point away from Owen’s interpretation.

What do you think of the quotes above? Does his interpretation seem like the natural reading of “heavens and earth” in 2 Peter 3? I say no.


3 thoughts on “John Owen on “Heavens and Earth” in 2 Peter 3

  1. I say “Amen” to Owen myself, especially since it’s obvious Peter was referring to Isa. 65 & 66 in which no one believes the heaven and earth are literal (at least not as far as I know; such wouldn’t make much sense in the context).

    • Tony Denton! Didn’t you write a commentary on Hebrews? If so, I have read it and enjoyed it. And I agree with you! :) I also agree that Peter was referencing Is. 65 and 66. Most people ignore the immediate context to Is. 65, which outlines judgment against Israel, which then immediately follows with a New Heavens and New Earth. That, of course, makes sense when Israel (the covenanted Old Heavens and Earth) was destroyed. A new people with a new covenant and a New Heavens and Earth would therefore, be demanded!

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