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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Peter, Letters of

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The Christians addressed in 1 Peter lived mainly in the northern provinces of Asia Minor bordering the Black Sea (1 Peter 1:1). These were places that Paul had not been allowed to enter (Acts 16:7-8), but that Peter had helped to evangelize, most likely with John Mark as his assistant (1 Peter 5:13).

Purpose in writing 1 Peter

It was the era of the Roman Emperor Nero (who ruled from AD 54 to 68) and persecution against Christians was increasing everywhere. At the time of writing, Peter was apparently in Rome. This was the heart of the Empire and the place that Christians referred to as Babylon, the symbol of arrogant opposition to God and his people (1 Peter 5:13). Paul had recently been executed (2 Timothy 4:6), and Peter felt that a more violent persecution was about to break out.

Peter therefore wrote to warn Christians not to be surprised or ashamed when they met persecution (1 Peter 4:12; 1 Peter 4:16). They were to bear their sufferings with patience, even if it meant death, and they were to bear intelligent witness to their faith in Christ (1 Peter 2:20-23; 1 Peter 3:14-15; 1 Peter 4:19). Always, however, they had the assurance of a living hope and a glorious future (1 Peter 1:3-8).

Contents of 1 Peter

At the outset Peter reminds his readers that although God wants his people to have assurance of their salvation, he also tests their faith to prove its genuineness (1:1-12). True faith produces qualities of holiness and love in the lives of Christ’s followers (1:13-2:3) and builds them into a community whose life and vigour should bring blessing to people everywhere (2:4-10).

This leads Peter to consider the responsibility Christians have to maintain good conduct in society (2:11-17), even when people in general are against them (2:18-25). Likewise in the home and in the church they must work towards peace and harmony (3:1-12).

Suffering is inevitable if Christians live rightly, and in this matter Christ is the perfect example (3:13-22). But just as Christ’s suffering was not without purpose, so neither is the suffering of his followers. It should lead them to more disciplined and fruitful lives for God (4:1-11) and help them to experience that deep-seated joy that Christ himself experienced (4:12-19).

Because church leaders have such a vital work to do among believers in times of difficulty, Peter gives some special instruction for them (5:1-5). He concludes his letter by urging all his readers to be humble and to keep alert at all times (5:6-14).

Purpose in writing 2 Peter

It seems that Peter wrote the letter known as Second Peter only a year or so after he wrote First Peter, and that he sent it to the same people (cf. 2 Peter 3:1 with 1 Peter 1:1). It seems also that Peter was in prison, most likely in Rome, and expected to be executed soon (2 Peter 1:14-15). When he heard that false teachers were moving around the churches causing trouble, he promptly sent off this short but uncompromising letter.

The main error that Peter opposed was the claim by the false teachers that, since faith alone was necessary for salvation, Christians could live as they pleased. Immoral practices were not wrong for those who had gained a higher knowledge of spiritual things, and in fact were evidence that they had gained true freedom (2 Peter 2:1-3). (Concerning the similarities between 2 Peter and Jude see JUDE.) The other error of the false teachers was their mockery of the return of Jesus Christ.

Contents of 2 Peter

Peter counters the false teaching about Christian behaviour by showing that when people are saved by faith, their lives are changed in the direction of virtue, morality, self-control, godliness and love (1:1-15). God’s power to change lives is a fact to which Old Testament writers and New Testament apostles bear witness (1:16-21). Then, in a strong denunciation of the false teachers, Peter describes their immoral character and announces their certain punishment (2:1-22).

As for Christ’s return, it also is certain, and the scoffers are only deceiving themselves (3:1-7). Any apparent delay in his return is for the purpose of giving sinners the opportunity to repent and escape the coming judgment. Christians likewise must be ready for his return, for they too are accountable to God (3:8-18).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Peter, Letters of'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/p/peter-letters-of.html. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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