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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Peter Epistles of

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The NT contains two writings bearing the name of Peter. Since the problems connected with these Epistles depend for their solution mainly upon the internal indicia of the documents themselves, a résumé of their content is first in order. It will also be convenient to treat the two letters separately.

A. First Peter

1. Content.-The content of this Epistle may be outlined as follows:

(a) Salutation (1 Peter 1:1 f.).-The apostle Peter greets Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These believers are reminded of the fact that they are merely temporary residents on earth, their real citizenship being in heaven. God the Father, knowing in advance their ultimate destiny, has given them a spiritual sanctification to the end that they may be obedient children and may receive the saving benefits accruing to those who have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ.

(b) Praise to God for the surety of ultimate salvation (1 Peter 1:3-12).-Since Christ has been raised from the dead those who are united to Him by faith are sure of obtaining the Divine salvation to be revealed in the near future when the present world-order shall be brought to an end. On the basis of this certainty believers rejoice exceedingly, notwithstanding temporary afflictions, which only serve to prove the genuineness of their faith. Their salvation has been prophesied by the ancients, it was preached by the spiritually equipped evangelists, and even angels desired to peer into these matters.

(c) The type of personal life befitting individuals who are to inherit so great salvation (1 Peter 1:13 to 1 Peter 3:12).-(1) In view of believers’ blessed condition as heirs of the heavenly inheritance about to be disclosed, they should be pure in their personal life. Since God who has chosen them is holy, as is also Christ who redeemed them, they too should live righteously. They have been re-born to a new and incorruptible condition of being, and, like new-born infants, their nourishment is to be derived from the sphere of the new life into which they have come. They are a new race, a peculiar people, set apart to live the heavenly life while yet on earth (1 Peter 1:13 to 1 Peter 2:10).

(2) But as such they must also live fittingly in relation to their heathen environment. They are to shun all wickedness, and thereby give the lie to the popular charge that they are evil-doers. They are, however, to avoid giving any offence to the authorities. If they are servants in a heathen household, they are to discharge their duties faithfully, bearing buffetings and revilings with Christ-like fortitude. When believers find themselves married to unbelievers, they must exemplify the Christian virtues also in this relationship. In short, they should be living witnesses to the ideal type of conduct in all their relations with outsiders (1 Peter 2:11 to 1 Peter 3:12).

(d) Encouragement to bear persecution with fortitude, in view of the Christians’ certainty of ultimate salvation (1 Peter 3:13 to 1 Peter 5:11).-(1) If zeal for righteousness brings them suffering, they are but following in the footsteps of Christ. Through His suffering they have been made heirs of a sure salvation; consequently they should continue loyally to confess His Lordship. When their opponents revile and persecute them for their peculiar faith, they may reassure themselves by recalling (i.) Christ’s saving mission, which extended even to the spirits in Hades; (ii.) the ordinance of baptism, which formally ensured their spiritual union with the Risen Jesus; and (iii.) the heavenly exaltation of Christ, whereby all authority has been committed to Him (1 Peter 3:13-22).

(2) Hence Christians have a ready answer to give their heathen critics who charge them with unsocial conduct. They are no longer men of the flesh, for, having been united in baptism with the heavenly spiritual Christ, they now enjoy a new state of existence; they are citizens of heaven (1 Peter 4:1-6).

(3) As their stay upon earth, along with all earthly things, draws to a close, their chief endeavour is to cultivate the true fruits of the Spirit in daily living-sobriety, prayerfulness, mutual love, hospitality, ministrations, and constant glorification of God (1 Peter 4:7-11).

(4) Christians ought not to be shocked by the outbreak of severe persecution. In the first place, they should rejoice at the opportunity of becoming actual imitators of Christ. And, secondly, since they do not suffer justly, being guilty of no sins for which God should bring this affliction upon them, their trials are a sign of the approaching end when they are to receive the salvation now being guarded for them in heaven. If the initial stages of the Final Judgment bring such afflictions upon the innocent, how infinitely more terrible will the ultimate fate of the wicked be! Therefore believers should not be ashamed to suffer innocently as Christians, since this is in accordance with the will of God, who always has in mind the ultimate salvation of their souls (1 Peter 4:12-19).

(5) Under these circumstances both the leaders of the community and the members of the congregation should order their lives according to the strictest ideals of perfection, knowing that they will ultimately receive their respective rewards. Their temporary affliction will, through the favour of God, issue in the perfect salvation about to be revealed from heaven (1 Peter 5:1-11).

(e) Conclusion (1 Peter 5:12-14).-The readers are informed of Silvanus’ connexion with the letter, they are exhorted to remain steadfast, greetings are conveyed to them, and they receive the apostolic benediction.

2. Purpose.-The main purpose of the Epistle is to comfort and encourage certain communities embarrassed by heathen opposition-an opposition which had broken out into a conflagration of persecution. The writer seeks to strengthen the Christians’ faith by turning their attention to the near future, when God will bring all their troubles to an end by sending Jesus Christ to conduct the Final Judgment and perfect the salvation of believers (1 Peter 1:5; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 1:20, 1 Peter 2:12, 1 Peter 4:5; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 4:17 f., 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Peter 5:6; 1 Peter 5:10). Christians are strongly exhorted to refrain from doing anything for which they might be justly punished. Possibly some among them were disposed to take too literally the doctrine of soul-freedom and so to forget that the earthly order under which they were now living was really an appointment of God (1 Peter 2:13-17, 1 Peter 4:15). St. Paul had to give the Romans a similar warning (Romans 13:1-7; cf. Titus 3:1-3; Clement of Rome, ad Cor. 61). Not improbably the Christians’ sense of superiority to the world tended to engender an unconventional type of conduct which sometimes antagonized the authorities and readily suggested to outsiders that these seemingly recalcitrant people were accustomed within their own private assemblies to east off all moral restraints. The readers of this Epistle are especially exhorted to make their manner of life such that they can by no possible means be justly reckoned among evil-doers. In all their political, social, and personal relationships they are to exercise the utmost caution not to give offence. But they are not to compromise their ideals by resorting to the heathen mode of living, nor are they to hesitate in confessing Christ’s Lordship (1 Peter 3:15). They should always be prepared to give reasons for their unshaken faith in Christ and the coming deliverance, and their type of life should be so noble as to put to shame their accusers. Then, in all the attacks which are made upon them they will suffer unjustly, and such suffering will bring them a rich reward. Having seen to it that they themselves do not merit punishment, the trials through which they are passing must be merely premonitory signs of the approaching end when all sinners are to be condemned, while the righteous are to inherit eternal peace. Thus the author endeavours to cheer and strengthen his readers, and this is manifestly the chief aim of his letter.

3. Historical situation.-What, more exactly, were the conditions under which the readers were living? They are addressed as ‘sojourners of the Dispersion’ (παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς). This expression has sometimes been taken to mean that they were converts from the Jewish Diaspora._ But more probably the language is figurative, used of Christians in general, who are temporarily exiled from their heavenly home and scattered abroad upon the earth,_ just as the Jews were exiled from their holy city and dispersed in strange lands. In this sense these Christians may have been converts from both Judaism and paganism, but certain incidental references in the Epistle suggest that they belonged mainly to the latter class. Before conversion they had been in a state of ‘ignorance’ (1 Peter 1:14; cf. Ephesians 4:18) and had followed their passions as their Gentile contemporaries continued to do (1 Peter 1:14, 1 Peter 4:2 ff.); in time past they were in ‘darkness,’ they were ‘no people,’ and they had not obtained mercy, but now their situation is completely reversed (1 Peter 2:9 f.); at the outset they had been furthest from God, and now they are nearest to Him-all of which seems to point to Gentile antecedents. They are dwelling in different parts of Asia Minor-Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Probably the geographical designations are used in the official sense of the territorial rearrangement into provinces under the Romans. The bearer of the Epistle is thought of as starting his journey from the eastern portion of the province of Bithynia-Pontus, and swinging in a circle back to the western end of it. But the readers will have lived in much the same territory, whether the geographical terms are taken in the technical or in the popular sense. The letter is so uniform in its emphasis upon suffering, and it makes so much of the hope that Christ will soon appear to remedy the present evil, that the writer evidently thought Christians generally throughout this territory were actually enduring, or were soon to experience, very severe persecution. For some of them at least it was already a stunning reality (1 Peter 4:12), but they are exhorted not to shrink from this affliction. They should, however, make sure that they are not guilty of any of the evil deeds which their enemies allege against them (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:15, 1 Peter 3:16 f., 1 Peter 4:4; 1 Peter 4:14-16). They are admonished to refrain from needlessly provoking the authorities, recognizing in the latter Divinely appointed guardians of the civil order (1 Peter 2:13-17), and they are to suffer willingly for righteousness’ sake; that is, they are to stand loyal to their confession of Christ and to affirm unhesitatingly their hope of salvation, and thus they may congratulate themselves on suffering for the name of Christ, although formally they are being punished for crimes with which their opponents are-falsely, the author hopes-charging them. (1 Peter 3:13-17, 1 Peter 4:14-16). Moreover, their situation is not unique, but is characteristic of the brotherhood throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9).

4. Date.-There is much difference of opinion as to the date of composition (see J. Moffatt, LNT_, pp. 338-342). A most important question in this connexion is, When were the Christians of northern Asia Minor suffering this type of affliction? Of the various answers which have been given in the past, only three demand detailed consideration._ According to one hypothesis, these events took place in the latter part of the reign of Nero (54-68), a second view locates them under Domitian (81-96), while still another refers them to the time of Trajan (98-117). Notwithstanding numerous discussions of the subject, there is still much uncertainty regarding the exact extent and character of the persecutions which are commonly supposed to have occurred under these three Emperors._ Our first explicit information outside the NT about the persecution of Christians in Asia Minor is found in the extant correspondence which Pliny the Younger and Trajan carried on about the year 112 (Ep. xcvi. f.). When Pliny became governor of Bithynia he soon found himself in conflict with the Christians, of whom he put a number to death, or, if Roman citizens, held them for transportation to Rome. Pliny had not started out with any well-defined anti-Christian policy, and so he was much perplexed by the situation which early developed. When he found that the Christians were not guilty of the crimes usually charged against them, he was in doubt as to whether it was proper to punish them merely for their loyalty to the name of Christ, and he did not know what disposition ought to be made of those who were willing to recant. Further, he wanted to know to what extent Christians were to be deliberately sought out for punishment. To Pliny’s inquiries the Emperor replied that (1) flagrant cases were to be punished, but (2) no active search for Christians was to be made, nor (3) were anonymous accusations to be entertained, and (4) all who recanted, proving their sincerity by denying the name of Christian and observing the rites of the State religion, were to be pardoned regardless of any former suspicions against them. This, so far as our extant information is concerned, is the first time in history when the mere confession of the name ‘Christian’ itself constituted a punishable offence in the eyes of the law, but henceforth persecution for the ‘Name’ was the ordinary form of procedure._ In earlier times the name ‘Christian’ might have aroused suspicion, but apparently suspected persons had to be convicted of some particular crime-or at least the crime was assumed by the authorities to be capable of proof-before punishment was inflicted. This, indeed, seems to have been the principle upon which Pliny himself had acted at first, for he was at a loss to know what to do when he found that the Christians were innocent of the usual charges brought against them, and that they had even obeyed the edict forbidding private assemblies. In the case of those who refused to recant, he justified his own severity on the ground of their criminal obstinacy, but Trajan’s rescript removed all necessity for any such special justification. Henceforth, if one persistently confessed Christianity, that in itself was sufficient basis for legal action. Christianity was now, in the eyes of the law, a religio illicita.

Is this the situation of the Christians to whom 1 Peter is addressed? Scholars who answer this question in the affirmative do so mainly because of the reference in 1 Peter 4:14-16 to suffering for the Name._ But were the readers as yet technically suffering for the Name? Apparently not, in the formal sense. Their opponents are certainly bringing specific charges against them (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 2:19 f., 1 Peter 3:9; 1 Peter 3:16 f., 1 Peter 4:4), reviling their manner of life in order to persuade the authorities to act. Believers are not being arraigned because it is a crime per se to be a Christian, nor are they condemned on this charge; it is only from the point of view of their own clear conscience that they can glory in being reproached for the name of Christ. The stress which the writer places on false accusations, and his earnest admonitions to avoid all criminal conduct, show that the letter was written to persons who were being charged-though falsely, the author hoped-with specific crimes. Moreover, by a correct and cautious mode of conduct they may hope to gain the favour of the governor who is thought capable of giving praise to them that do well (1 Peter 2:14), while even their accusers may be silenced and put to shame by the Christians’ good manner of life in Christ (1 Peter 2:15, 1 Peter 3:16)._ This encouragement would have been quite pointless if the mere acknowledgment of the ‘Name’ already constituted a capital offence in the eyes of the law. The Christians might console themselves with the thought that they were in reality being reproached simply for the name of Christ, but apparently their enemies were still obliged to make specific criminal charges against believers in order to effect legal action.

1 Peter can hardly have been designed to meet the new condition of affairs following the rescript of Trajan, if, as seems probable, the mere confession of Christianity was henceforth the only point needing to be established in law (‘si deferantur et arguantur [i.e. if they are proven to be Christians], puniendi sunt’). But a date shortly before Trajan’s rescript during Pliny’s preliminary activity, would suit admirably certain details in the situation. Under the immediately preceding governors little attention had been paid to the internal affairs of the province, which was in a wretched state generally. Pliny was a more efficient executive, and his efforts to establish better conditions must almost immediately have brought the Christians to his attention. They were held largely responsible for the general decline, because they had interfered with traditional religion and with that part of civic life which depended upon religion for prosperity. Even in the villages and country districts the temples had been forsaken and the trade in fodder for the victims had been almost ruined. So Pliny, in order to restore the commercial prosperity of the province, took action against the Christians. He put to death a few who had refused to recant and induced others to resume their former manner of life. This action encouraged the enemies of the new religion to bring still others to his attention, and even anonymous charges were entertained. This procedure must have seemed to the Christians like the sudden outburst of a devastating conflagration, a veritable activity of their adversary the devil (1 Peter 4:12, 1 Peter 5:8). But still there was a hopeful side to the situation. The governor had shown a disposition to investigate the charges, and if Christians would only take care always to be found innocent they might hope for favours from the courts and at the same time put their accusers to confusion. According to Pliny’s testimony, this was the course which the Christians of his province were actually pursuing. In obedience to his edict they had ceased holding meetings, and the criminal charges preferred against them proved on investigation to be wholly false.

Thus we might easily suppose, on the basis of conditions described by Pliny, that 1 Peter had shortly before been received by the Christian community and had borne good fruit. Furthermore, the problems which it treats have several points of correspondence with the situation presupposed in Pliny’s letter to the Emperor. He had called upon believers to revile Christ and worship Caesar, and they are especially admonished in 1 Peter to sanctify in their hearts Christ as Lord (1 Peter 3:15 ff.), to remain loyal to His name (1 Peter 4:14 ff.), and to refuse to return to their former mode of living (1 Peter 4:2 ff.). The last item was the thing which Pliny was especially desirous of bringing about, and he says that his efforts in this direction had been measurably successful. This fact may have furnished one of the incentives for the writing of 1 Peter, exhorting believers to maintain a firm defence of their faith in Christ, yet a defence to be made with meekness and fear, while they thus retain a good conscience and hope for the best (1 Peter 3:15 f.). Many items in the letter are admirably suited to the early days of Pliny’s governorship, previous to his appeal to Trajan and the issuance of the Emperor’s rescript.

On the other hand, several interpreters prefer a Domitianic date, believing that it furnishes a more appropriate setting for the conditions described in 1 Peter. The situation under Trajan is thought to exhibit a too advanced type of persecution._ Even in comparison with Revelation, which is supposed to have been written in the last years of Domitian’s reign, 1 Peter is believed to reflect a slightly earlier situation. The persecution seems to have broken out only recently (1 Peter 4:12), and resentment toward the authorities has not yet had time to develop (1 Peter 2:13-17); while in Revelation the persecutors are hated bitterly and Christians have been enduring afflictions for some time (Revelation 2:13, Revelation 6:10, Revelation 18:24). It is also said that in 1 Peter Christians are not being called upon to pay homage to the Emperor’s image (but see 1 Peter 3:14), while this demand has become very offensive by the time Revelation was written (Revelation 13:15, Revelation 20:4). Therefore 1 Peter is placed in the earlier part of Domitian’s reign (e.g. von Soden, c._ 90; McGiffert, before 90; Knopf, 81-90; Harnack, 83-93).

This line of argument assumes that conditions north of the Taurus were practically identical with those of eastern Asia Minor, and that Revelation is a reliable witness to the Domitianic persecution. The former assumption might easily be disputed, and perhaps the latter is open to some question. Certainly the popular belief that Domitian instituted a vigorous persecution in the East is not substantiated by the earliest authorities._ Perhaps the Christians’ troubles described in Revelation may have been brought on by certain local authorities acting on their own initiative and being zealous for the cult of the Emperor which had been prominent in Asia since the time of Augustus, its chief seat being at Pergamum (Dio Cassius, li. 20; Tacitus, Annals, iv. 37; cf. Revelation 2:13). But there is manifestly little similarity between the situation reflected in 1 Peter and that of the Christians in Revelation, nor is it certain that the two situations stand to one another in the relation of antecedent to consequent.

Those who adopt a Neronian date-a view which has been widely accepted_-have even greater difficulties in obtaining substantial evidence for a persecution of the desired type in northern Asia Minor in the sixties. There is, however, very explicit evidence for a severe persecution in Rome during Nero’s reign. Tacitus (Annals, xv. 44), writing about a.d. 115, says that Nero, in order to free himself from the charge of incendiarism, alleged that the Christians were responsible for the great fire of the year 64. While Tacitus does not think they were guilty, he does regard them as malefactors deserving the severest of the punishments which they received at Nero’s hands. Likewise Suetonius (Nero, 16), writing about five years later, says that Nero severely punished the new and mischievous superstition, though he does not make the great fire the occasion for this action. Clement of Rome (ad Cor. 5-7), about the year 95, speaks less explicitly, but in the light of the statements of Tacitus and Suetonius it seems altogether probable that Clement has in mind the Neronian persecution. Whether Tacitus is right in connecting the fire with Nero’s action against the Christians is sometimes disputed,_ but the evidence for a Neronian persecution some time after the conflagration of the year 64 is overwhelming. The ground of the persecution was crimes of one sort or another commonly charged against these people who were ‘hated for their enormities’ (so Tacitus). Clement says that ‘envy’ was the cause of the trouble, and his language doubtless reflects the same popular animosity of which Tacitus speaks. The new religionists probably were hated ‘as Christians,’ and from their point of view they might regard themselves as suffering for the name of Christ, but legally they were being punished for crimes of which they were accused by their enemies.

This situation might be said to correspond fairly well with that of 1 Peter, but we have no certain knowledge that the Neronian persecution reached to the East, and particularly to the peoples addressed in 1 Peter 1:1. Advocates of the Neronian date quite plausibly remark that members of the new cult, because of their hostility to contemporary customs, would everywhere become objects of hatred, a hatred which might break out in fiery persecution at any time when the magistrates could be induced to act. Some such hypothetical situation may have existed in northern Asia Minor during the reign of Nero, but this is only a possibility and not a certainty.

From the standpoint of the persecutions, the advantage would seem to be with a date shortly before the rescript of Trajan and during the early days of Pliny’s governorship. But if the letter was written at this time, or even under Domitian, it must have been pseudonymous (or anonymous). Peter cannot possibly have been alive in the second decade of the 2nd cent., nor is he likely to have lived until the time of Domitian._ Pseudonymity of itself is not inconceivable. The use of some ancient worthy’s name to lend authority to a message, especially in crises, was a literary phenomenon familiar to that age._ But for many interpreters other considerations weigh heavily in favour of Petrine, or near-Petrine, authorship, and this conviction necessitates the choice of a Neronian date. Thus the question of date shades into that of authenticity.

5. Authenticity.-Outside the NT the earliest specific testimony to Petrine authorship is by Irenaeus (IV. ix. 2, xvi. 5; V. vii. 2), and, from this time on, similar statements are common (e.g. Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius). But the book was not mentioned in the Muratorian Canon, and it seems to have been less well known at Rome than in the East and in Africa. Echoes of its language have been suspected in certain passages of Clement of Rome, but the resemblances are not sufficiently strong and distinctive to establish literary interdependence._ The same thing is true in the case of Hermas_ and Ignatius._ But Polycarp and Papias seem beyond doubt to have been acquainted with the letter, although we have no information from them on the question of authorship. Of Papias, Eusebius (HE_ III. xxxix. 16) says: ‘he used testimonies from the First Epistle of John and likewise from that of Peter’; and in Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians there are several passages so closely akin to the language of 1 Peter that Polycarp’s acquaintance with the document is commonly thought to be beyond question._ This opinion was expressed as early as the time of Eusebius (HE_ IV. xiv. 9). It is remarkable that Polycarp never mentions the name of Peter, and on the strength of this fact Harnack (op. cit. p. 457 ff.) believes that the document was anonymous in Polycarp’s day and that the opening and closing verses (1 Peter 1:1 f., 1 Peter 5:12-14) were added later, probably by the author of 2 Peter, in the interests of canonization. This view is adopted, in a somewhat modified form, by McGiffert (op. cit. p. 598 ff.), who makes Barnabas the original author. Thus the external evidence leaves the question of authorship in some doubt, although it establishes the fact that the letter was known in the East as early as the second decade of the 2nd cent., when Polycarp wrote to the Philippians (c._ 115). But even this conclusion would admit the possibility of a Neronic, or a Domitianic, or a Trajanic date. Jülicher, it is true, would date the letter about the year 100 in order to allow time for Polycarp to become familiar with the document; but so early a date is not necessary, since Polycarp was in a position to become acquainted with the letter almost immediately after it was dispatched. Moreover, the habit of diligently exchanging letters during these trying days is brought out clearly in Polycarp’s own epistle (iii. 1, xiii. 1 f.; also Ignatius, ad Polyc. viii. 1).

Further data on the problem of authenticity have to be drawn from internal indications. Petrine authorship is explicitly affirmed in the salutation, and this, apparently, is corroborated by 2 Peter 3:1. Yet several traits in the letter have often been thought to count seriously against its authenticity. Much stress has been placed upon its alleged ‘Paulinism.’ Possible parallels to the earlier Pauline letters have been pointed out (e.g. 1 Peter 5:8 = 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 1:4 f., 1 Peter 2:16, 1 Peter 3:6 = Galatians 3:23; Galatians 4:7; Galatians 5:13; Galatians 4:24; 1 Peter 2:1 ff. = 1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 3:16 f.), but the closest affinities in both language and thought are with Romans; and, with few exceptions (e.g. B. Weiss, Kühl), scholars generally admit the priority of Romans. A comparison, e.g., of 1 Peter 2:13-17 with Romans 13:1-7 shows close similarity not only in language and subject-matter but also in the very arrangement of the ideas. In various other places there is a striking parallelism between the two documents._ The points of agreement between 1 Peter and Ephesians are so close that even identity of authorship has sometimes been assumed._ This is an extreme conclusion, yet literary interdependence can hardly be doubted, and priority is generally allowed to rest with Ephesians. This distinctly Pauline, or deutero-Pauline, character of 1 Peter is thought by many interpreters to make Petrine authorship impossible. Still other data are also brought forward in favour of this scepticism. The close affinities of 1 Peter with certain late NT writings, such as the Pastorals and James, is said to show that it belongs to the same period as, even if it is not dependent upon, those books._ Nor would Peter, it is said, write to Christians belonging to Paul’s territory without so much as mentioning the latter’s name; and a writer who had been a personal companion of Jesus would surely have made more frequent reference to that relationship. Even stronger is the objection that Peter, originally a Jewish Galilaean fisherman, cannot, for purely linguistic reasons, have been the author of a letter the Greek of which is not only thoroughly idiomatic but shows a richness of vocabulary and an appreciation of style thought to be quite beyond his ability.

Although this is a formidable array of objections, the force of which has led several well-known scholars to doubt the authenticity of the letter, others prefer an explanation of the difficulty which will admit the possibility of some form of Petrine authorship. Among more recent writers, the arguments in favour of full authenticity have been stated most elaborately by F. H. Chase (op. cit. p. 785 ff.). He would account for the ‘Paulinism’ of the letter by supposing that Peter had been summoned to Rome by Paul ‘with the supreme object of showing to the Christians at Rome and to the brotherhood in the world the unity of the Body and of the Spirit.’ The time spent by Peter in missionary work outside Palestine is believed to have been sufficient to give him the necessary linguistic equipment for writing in Greek; and failure to mention Paul, or absence of other personal data, is to be explained by the fact that Silvanus, who carried the letter himself, supplied such information.

Other scholars would defend only a secondary form of Petrine authorship. Peter wrote ‘through Silvanus’ [διὰ Σιλουανοῦ]; that is, the Apostle was responsible for the general content of the letter, but the diction and even to some extent the thought were due to Silvanus. Since the latter, who is identified with the Silas of Acts (Acts 15:22; Acts 15:27; Acts 15:32; Acts 15:40, Acts 16:19; Acts 16:25; Acts 16:29, Acts 17:4; Acts 17:10; Acts 17:14 f., Acts 18:5), had been a personal companion of Paul (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:19), it was quite natural that 1 Peter should show a Pauline colouring and should be written in a more excellent style than Peter himself could command. This supposition also allows room for the recognition of the stylistic resemblances between this Epistle and the early chapters of Acts as well as certain portions of the Synoptic Gospels._ They all contain, so it is said, a more or less strong Petrine cast, due ultimately to the influence of the Apostle. On this hypothesis 1 Peter will have been written from Rome in the time of Nero._ Failure to mention Paul may be taken to imply that he was already dead. Others would not attach any special significance to this silence, and would assume that the letter was sent from Rome before the death of either of the two leading apostles.

A few minor problems remain to be considered briefly.

6. Place of writing.-The only hint which the author gives as to the place of writing is contained in 1 Peter 5:13, ‘the co-elect’ [fem. sing._] in Babylon salutes you.’ The ‘co-elect’ (ἡ συνεκλεκτή) probably refers to the church with which he is associated at the time, although it has been supposed that he might be referring to some individual, and more particularly to his wife (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5). This is the view of several older commentators and, more recently, of Bigg. As for the location of this church, there are three possibilities, viz. (1) Babylon on the Euphrates, (2) Babylon in Egypt, or (3) Rome. The first of these possibilities has several advocates, both among the defenders of the letter’s authenticity (e.g. B. Weiss, Kühl) and among those who make it post-apostolic (e.g. R. A. Lipsius, H. J. Holtzmann, P. W. Schmiedel). The former opinion is based upon the assumption that 1 Peter is too early to allow time for the Apostle to have reached Rome, and the latter view presupposes that the (fictitious) tradition about his Roman residence had not yet grown up when the letter was written-or, at least, that this tradition was not approved by the author. Both positions are open to serious doubt, as is also the supposition that the author was residing in the Egyptian Babylon. This town, located on the site of the present Cairo, is mentioned by Strabo (XVII. i. 30), and apparently it was at that time mainly a military station and is not likely to have been the home of a Christian community in the 1st century. Furthermore, ecclesiastical tradition does not connect Peter’s name with Egypt in any such way as we should expect if he had actually worked there or if tradition regarding his alleged activities in that territory had been sufficiently general to make the reference to ‘Babylon’ intelligible in a pseudonymous epistle. Hence the probabilities favour the view that Babylon is used metaphorically for Rome, as is the case in Revelation (Revelation 14:8, Revelation 16:19, Revelation 17:5, Revelation 18:2; Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:21; cf. Sib. Orac. v. 143, 158; Eusebius, HE_ II. xv. 2). Mark, who is included in the greeting, was also closely associated with Rome in early tradition (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11; cf. Irenaeus, III. i. 1; Eusebius, HE_ II. xv. 1 f., VI. xiv. 6 f.).

Does the assumption that Rome was the place of composition meet the implied conditions regarding the delivery of the letter? The phrase ‘through Silvanus’ probably means that he was the bearer, yet he may also have been the amanuensis. Similar expressions in the writings of this period commonly refer, however, more particularly to the bearer._ Apparently he is supposed to take a route bringing him first to Pontus, whence he swings in a circle through Galatia, Cappadocia, and Asia, completing his journey in Bithynia. To accomplish this he would follow one of the main lines of travel by water from Italy to the Black Sea, landing perhaps at Amastris or Sinope, and after completing his mission he may have returned to Herakleia, where he would take ship again for Italy (see F. J. A. Hort, The First Epistle of St. Peter I. 1-II. 17, London, 1898, pp. 157-184).

7. Literary structure and integrity.-Is this document a ‘homily,’ an ‘epistle,’ or a ‘letter’ in the proper sense of the term? That is, was it originally simply a hortatory discourse intended for general edification, or was it such a discourse thrown into epistolary form mainly for literary effect; or was it a specific message from a writer whose heart went out in sympathy to particular persons in the hour of their great affliction?_ The first of these views is held by Harnack, who, as previously observed, thinks the epistolary introduction and conclusion are later additions. The second view, which is essentially the same so far as literary considerations are concerned, is more generally adopted. In its favour one may note that the document is addressed to a wide circle of readers with whom the writer does not appear to be in immediate personal contact, items of personal intimacy are conspicuously lacking, and the moral and religious exhortations of the document are capable of very general application. On the other hand, there is much to suggest that the writer has a very strong personal interest in the welfare of his readers. He knows the specific trials and temptations which beset them, and he is strongly moved with compassion for them in their affliction. In this respect we have a real ‘letter,’ notwithstanding the wide circle of readers addressed-if one allows that a circular letter can be a real ‘letter,’ as would seem unquestionably true of Galatians, for example. The writer of 1 Peter, whether the Apostle or not, had much the same personal interest in the problem which the persecution had raised among his readers as Paul had in the problems which the legalistic controversy had aroused in the churches of Galatia.

As for literary analyses of the letter, there have been a few proposals which are more thorough-going than Harnack’s. D. Völter (Der erste Petrusbrief, seine Entstehung und Stellung in der Geschichte des Urchristentums, Strassburg, 1906) works out in detail an original document, written by Peter or one of his pupils, which is wholly free from Pauline colouring-so free, in fact, that the mention of the name ‘Jesus Christ’ was studiously avoided. This original document, composed some time before the persecution of Domitian, was freely interpolated by a Paulinist in the time of Trajan. Still another hypothesis is advanced by W. Soltau, ‘Die Einheitlichkeit des ersten Petrusbriefes,’ in SK_ lxxviii. [1905] 302-315, lxxix. [1906] 456-460. By excising a series of supposed interpolations he recovers the original document which contained 1 Peter 1:3-22 a, 1 Peter 2:6-11, 1 Peter 2:13 to 1 Peter 3:18, 1 Peter 4:1-4; 1 Peter 4:7-19, 1 Peter 5:6-11. This was a hortatory homily written during the reign of Domitian. More recently a third theory has been proposed by R. Perdelwitz, Die Mysterienreligion und das Problem des ersten Petrusbriefes: Ein literarischer und religionsgeschichtlicher Versuch, Giessen, 1911. He distinguishes two originally independent and self-consistent parts, (1) 1 Peter 1:3 to 1 Peter 4:11 and (2) 1 Peter 1:1 f., 1 Peter 4:12 to 1 Peter 5:14. The former was a discourse to candidates on the occasion of their baptism, and the latter was a letter written later by the same person and probably addressed to the same community. It aimed at encouraging and admonishing the readers. The two documents, after lying for some time in the archives of the community, were either intentionally or accidentally copied together and henceforth circulated as one letter.

None of these several partition hypotheses has proved at all convincing.

8. Text and interpretation.-For a full discussion of textual and interpretative questions recourse must be had to the standard commentaries cited below. The text presents comparatively few difficulties, and only one or two points of interpretation, which have been the subject of more recent or more especial discussion, interest us at present.

Perhaps the most difficult passage in the letter Isaiah 3:18-20, relating to the preaching to ‘the spirits in prison.’ Four main questions have to be answered, viz. (1) Who did the preaching? (2) To whom was it addressed? (3) When was this mission performed? (4) What was its purpose? Each of these queries has been answered in different ways, and the answers have been blended variously in the final interpretation of the passage._ As for the first question, the usual text makes Jesus Himself the preacher to these imprisoned spirits. But this reading is rejected by a few interpreters, who think the present Greek is corrupt. The clause which reads: ‘In which he [Jesus] went and preached also to the spirits in prison,’ has been treated as a marginal gloss which originally referred to Enoch, reading Ἐνὼχ for Ἐν ᾧ καὶ. Others would make this substitution in the text itself, or else add the word ‘Enoch’ to the present text, on the assumption that the four letters ΕΝΩΧ might easily have dropped out after the similar ΕΝΩΚΑΙ. In that case we should read: ‘In which [spirit] Enoch also went and preached to the spirits in prison._ But it is very doubtful whether there are really substantial grounds for questioning the integrity of the text. Probably we ought to concede that, in the author’s opinion, Jesus was the preacher.

To whom, then, was the message addressed? It may have been directed (1) either toward Noah’s contemporaries generally, who are now dead (cf. 1 Peter 4:6), or (2) toward those ‘giants’ of Noah’s time whose wickedness brought down Divine wrath in the Flood (cf. Genesis 6:1 ff., 2 Peter 2:4). The latter view is to be preferred, since it is in line with the beliefs of that age regarding the angelic powers which were being held in temporary bondage in the lower world. In view of the fact that Christ’s mission extends not only to ordinary men but even to the notorious sinners of antiquity, the readers are exhorted to be confident in the power and surety of the new salvation which has been mediated through Him.

When did Christ preach to these ‘spirits’? Some have said that it was while these giants were still upon earth, the pre-existent Christ being present in Noah and using him as a means of expression. This was Augustine’s suggestion (Ep. 164, ‘ad Euodium,’ 15 ff.), and he has had many followers, who have held this opinion much more confidently than Augustine did. It is a very unnatural interpretation, and has in recent years given way to the idea that Jesus, in the interim between His death and resurrection, visited the nether regions, where He preached to the giant spirits there imprisoned.

What, finally, was the content of His message? It may have been either a proclamation of judgment or an offer of salvation. The context strongly supports the latter supposition, which is probably the correct one; although the former has been defended, particularly by interpreters who desired to emphasize the hopeless condition of all who die in sin.

According to 1 Peter, the fallen angels are not the only persons in the nether world to be included within the range of the new salvation. A similar opportunity of hearing the gospel has been extended to human beings who have passed on to the lower regions (1 Peter 4:5 f.). All humanity falls into two classes, the living and the dead. Both groups are to be brought into judgment, but not without first having had an opportunity to hear the gospel. The author would strengthen the confidence of those who are suffering the agonies of present persecution and would give them new courage by reminding them that the Christian salvation is so comprehensive and powerful that it can bring deliverance to the condemned angels and to all mortals even in the under world, if the dead will exercise faith as the living Christians have done. The pertinence and force of this appeal become more evident when we note current belief about the nature of a full salvation. In the Book of Enoch there are indications that the expected Messianic salvation will be efficacious even for the fallen angels (50:5, 25, 59:26), while Justin Martyr (Dial. lxxii. 4) and Irenaeus (III. xx. 4, IV. xxii. 1) affirm that the Jewish Scriptures (Isaiah or Jeremiah) had originally contained a promise of salvation for the dead. These Fathers are probably assigning to Isaiah or Jeremiah words which really belonged to some other Jewish writing. (For similar ideas in Bercshith Rabba, see F. Weber, Jüdische Theologie, Leipzig, 1897, pp. 342 f., 368.) But for the readers of 1 Peter there was still another realm of religious imagery, even more immediately accessible than the Jewish, which could be used in interpreting the supreme significance of the Christian salvation. In the Hellenistic religious syncretism with which the peoples of Asia Minor had long been familiar, the notion of redemption had been pictured in terms of the activity of a Divine or semi-Divine deliverer mediating blessings not only to people of the earth but even to the inhabitants of the under world; and it was very fortunate for the progress of Christianity in Hellenistic circles that the Christian preachers and teachers were able to affirm the adequacy and supremacy of Jesus Christ in these respects._ A number of other items in 1 Peter, such as the efficacy of blood-sprinkling (1 Peter 1:2), the new birth (1 Peter 1:3), and the saving significance of baptism (1 Peter 3:21), will doubtless have been interpreted through association with current religious imagery.

B. Second Peter.-As compared with 1 Peter, the problems of 2 Peter are less perplexing and will be treated much more briefly.

1. Content.-The Epistle may be outlined as follows:

(a) Salutation (2 Peter 1:1 f.).-The author, styling himself ‘Symeon Peter, slave and apostle of Jesus Christ,’ addresses fellow-Christians in general.

(b) The surety of the Christian salvation (2 Peter 1:3-21).-Certainty is guaranteed (1) by the present experience of believers who share in the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:3 f.), and who should therefore be diligent in cultivating the Christian virtues (2 Peter 1:5-11). Further assurance is given (2) through the personal testimony of the apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:12-18) and (3) through ancient prophecy, which is a true expression of God’s own will (2 Peter 1:19-21).

(c) Condemnation and refutation of false teachers (2 Peter 2:1 to 2 Peter 3:10).-(1) The errorists are successors of the false prophets of former times, and a sure judgment, like that which befell the sinners of old, awaits them (2 Peter 2:1-9). (2) Their depravity is displayed (i.) in a disposition to throw off all Divine restraints (2 Peter 2:10-12), and (ii.) in the licentious life which they themselves live, and persuade others to live, in the name of liberty (2 Peter 2:13-18). As a result (iii.) they have become slaves of licentiousness and are worse than before they associated themselves with the Christian community (2 Peter 2:19-22), (3) Consequently, impending judgment threatens them, notwithstanding their scepticism regarding the Parousia. They should remember that (i.) a catastrophic end has been predicted by apostles and prophets (2 Peter 3:1-4), and that (ii.) the order of nature is first a destruction of the world by water and then a destruction by fire (2 Peter 3:5-7). Furthermore, (iii.) the delay is easily explicable, since God reckons time in larger units than do men, and by temporarily holding off the Judgment He is giving men opportunity to repent (2 Peter 3:8 f.); but (iv.) of the certainty of impending judgment there can be no reasonable doubt (2 Peter 3:10).

(d) Duty of Christians in the present situation (2 Peter 3:11-18 a).-(1) They will live a pure life, thus making ready for the new life of righteousness in which they are to participate after the earth has been purified (2 Peter 3:11-14). (2) They will not misinterpret the delay, nor will they pervert the Christian doctrine of liberty, particularly as stated by St. Paul (2 Peter 3:15 f.). (3) They will steadfastly resist the false teachers and will derive their spiritual instruction and nourishment from the Lord only (2 Peter 3:17-18 a).

(e) Benediction (2 Peter 3:18 b)

2. Historical situation.-The chief purpose of the Epistle undoubtedly is to combat false teachers who, in the opinion of the author, are making the Christian teaching of liberty identical with licence and are ridiculing the notion of an impending punitive catastrophe as preached by an earlier generation of Christians. Thus the main purpose of the writing is clear, but more exact information about the actual historical situation in which it arose is hard to obtain. Although the writer calls himself ‘Symeon Peter,’ the document is notably devoid of specific temporal and local indicia. There is no clear statement as to its destination, and, unlike most of the other NT letters, the conclusion does not contain any personal items which might help to identify the circumstances more exactly. In fact, the writing is epistolary only in a very liberal sense of the term, for in reality it is a homily addressed to Christians at large (2 Peter 1:1). And the errors which the author would correct seem not to have been confined to one particular congregation, but to have been somewhat widespread.

In order to ascertain more accurately the historical situation, we must examine more closely the character of the heresy. The false teachers are distinguished by two distinct, though not unrelated, traits: they are antinomians and anti-eschatologists. They are not open antagonists of the Christian movement, but are actually within the community, where they propagate their pernicious doctrines among their unwary brethren (2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 2:13 f., 18f.). They lay stress upon freedom, claiming St. Paul as their authority (2 Peter 3:16), and apply their doctrine so literally in daily conduct that their character is severely impugned by the writer, who accuses them of gross immorality. Their sin is classed with that of the fallen angels mentioned in Genesis 6, and their fate is to be like that which overtook the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are bestial debauchees, given over to adultery and insatiable wickedness, and they persist in drawing others down to their own base level. Furthermore, they have cast off that restraint which belief in an impending judgment would naturally impose, and they even scoff at the teaching of the early Christian worthies who made so much of this belief (Genesis 6:3 f.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Peter Epistles of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/peter-epistles-of.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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