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Peter Epistles of

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Of the seven Catholic Epistles, there are two ascribed to St. Peter. The first of these is one of those universally received in the early church. The second ranks among the controverted.

First Epistle of St. Peter

The external evidence in favor of the genuineness of this Epistle is complete. 'One Epistle of Peter,' says Eusebius, 'called the first, is universally received.' 'In fact,' says De Wette, 'if we except its omission in the ancient catalogue in Muratori, and its rejection by the Paulicians, it has been never called in question.'

The internal evidence is equally complete. The author calls himself the apostle Peter (), and the whole character of the Epistle shows that it proceeds from a writer who possessed great authority among those whom he addresses, who were most probably composed chiefly of Jewish Christians. The writer describes himself as 'an elder,' and 'a witness of Christ's sufferings' (). The vehemence and energy of the style are altogether appropriate to the warmth and zeal of Peter's character; and every succeeding critic, who has entered into its spirit, has felt impressed with the truth of the observation of Erasmus, 'that this epistle is full of apostolical dignity and authority, and worthy of the prince of the apostles.'

The only indication as to the place from whence this letter was addressed to the five provinces, is contained in : 'She in Babylon, elected with you, saluteth you.' For whether 'she in Babylon' refers to the church or to an individual (in which latter case Peter's wife is the person generally believed to be referred to), the letter must have been written in, or at least in the neighborhood of Babylon.

The Epistle must have been written before A.D. 67-68, the year of St. Peter's martyrdom. Lardner places the date in A.D. 63 or 64, chiefly from the fact that an earlier date than A.D. 63 cannot be assigned for his arrival at Rome. Hug fixes the date in the eleventh year of Nero's reign, or A.D. 65, a year after the conflagration of the city, and five before the destruction of Jerusalem.

To afford consolation to the persecuted appears to have been the main object of this Epistle. To this the moral instructions are subsidiary. The exhortations to a pure conscience, to rebuke the calumnies of the time by their innocence, to abstain from violent disputes, to pay respect to the existing authorities, to exercise increasing love and fidelity, were exhortations all given with a view to alleviate their fate, or enable them to bear it. The repeated references to the example of Jesus in his death and sufferings are designed to strengthen them for the endurance of calamities. The exhortation to the slaves, too, has reference to the unhappy days, in which, for real or imaginary wrongs and hardships, they frequently became the accusers and betrayers of their masters.

The following is a summary of the contents:—

The salutation and introduction, in which the inhabitants of the five provinces who were purchased by the sufferings of Christ, are exhorted to prepare themselves for a reward higher than the enjoyments of this fleeting life (). They are, therefore, recommended to lay aside anything which could render them unworthy of Christ, the center of their hopes, their pattern and their Savior, and so to regulate their conduct to their superiors that none should be able to reproach them as 'evildoers.' These precepts were to extend to slaves, to whom the meek and suffering Jesus should be an example. Women, too, were to render their submissive noiseless virtue their chiefest ornament, and men should cherish and honor them. All should be full of sympathy and love, and mutual indulgence. Their innocence should be so marked as to shame the calumniator, and they should make preparation for the approaching catastrophe, when they should have an opportunity of imitating Jesus in their sufferings: hoping for them all to have no other reproach than that of being his disciples. The presbyters are enjoined to watch over their flocks, and the subordinate to pay them respect, and all should be on the watch, and lay aside their worldly cares. All these exhortations are enforced by the example of Christ, and by the punishment of the disobedient in the days of Noah, those spirits in prison to whom Christ went and preached ().

Second Epistle of St. Peter

The Second Epistle of St. Peter has been the subject of more discussion than any other book in the New Testament, and its genuineness has been contested by not a few of the ablest critics. We are informed both by Origen and Eusebius that though it was generally received in their time, doubts were entertained respecting its right to a place among the Catholic Epistles. Before the close of the fourth century, however, these doubts had subsided, and this epistle was received as genuine by Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine, and other eminent fathers.

It is enumerated in the canon of Laodicea (A.D. 360?), and in the 85th apostolical canon, and was finally adopted by the councils of Hippo and Carthage, which included among the canonical books all those which are now commonly received.

Although before this period certain books were rejected from the defect of historical evidence, or from internal grounds of suspicion, an undeviating uniformity now took place, and no controversy was raised respecting any of the books of the New Testament until the inquiring age which ushered in the Reformation. The genuineness of this epistle was then called in question by Erasmus and Calvin. It was, however, received by all the Reformed Confessions, as well as by the Council of Trent. It has been since that period rejected by Grotius, Scaliger, Salmasius, Semler, Eichhorn, Schmidt, Walker, Schott, Guericke, Credner, De Wette, Ullman, to some extent, and Neander. Among its numerous defenders it will be sufficient to mention the names of Michaelis, Lardner, Pott, Augusti, Flatt, Dahl, Bertholdt, who, however, rejects the second chapter; Nietzche and Olshausen, with the learned Roman Catholics Hug and Feilmoser: the latter, however, fluctuates in his opinion.

Before proceeding to consider the grounds for and against the rejection of this epistle, it may be useful to inquire into its internal structure and contents.

The writer designates himself here as the apostle Peter () more clearly than in the first epistle; as personally known to Jesus (); as a beloved brother of Paul (); and as the author of the first epistle (). It is addressed to the same persons with the first, whom he presupposes to be acquainted with the writings of St. Paul (; comp. ). He refers to his approaching death (). The main object is the refutation of erroneous teachers. He, therefore, as an eyewitness of the acting and teaching of Jesus, is enabled to give them more accurate instruction than those who would mislead them. He exhorts them to advance in the knowledge and doctrine of Jesus, by adding to their faith fortitude, and every other excellent quality. He denounces (2 Peter 2) punishment against false teachers, by examples drawn from the disobedient angels, the world before the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. He inveighs against those teachers for resigning themselves to impurity, and speaking evil of God and angels, whereas angels have not ventured to do this even of Satan. He compares them to the false prophet Balaam, and to clouds filled with wind. He rebukes those mockers who doubted of the coming of Christ, which was only delayed in mercy, but predicts the dissolution of the world by fire, and warns them to keep themselves in readiness for the new heavens and the new earth.

The main reasons which induced many of the ancients to reject this epistle arose from the difference in style and structure between the first and second epistle. But in compensation for these alleged differences the resemblances are remarkably striking, and there are several words used in a peculiar sense in both epistles.

Some critics have, indeed, vindicated the genuineness of the epistle principally on the ground of resemblance in both sentiment and diction. Of these it will be sufficient for our purpose to refer to Hug and Michaelis. The former of these observes that the resemblance between the two is 'so thorough as to denote an identity of authorship;' and Michaelis had before this asserted that the agreement between them appeared to him to be such, 'that if the second was not written by St. Peter, the person who forged it not only possessed the power of imitation in a very unusual degree, but understood likewise the design of the first epistle, with which the ancients do not appear to have been acquainted.' The principal difference of style, however, is found in the second chapter, the character of which is totally unlike anything contained in the first epistle. The resemblance, indeed, between this chapter and the short epistle of St. Jude is so striking, that it has been at all times perceived that one must have at least read, if not copied from the other.

All those theologians who have disputed the genuineness of Peter's second epistle, have maintained that its writer adopted the sentiments and language of Jude, and this opinion is favored even by many of the modern advocates of its genuineness, including Olshausen and Hug. But which of the two wrote first is, notwithstanding, a question impossible to decide. 'St. Jude's Epistle is so like 2 Peter 2,' says Bishop Sherlock, 'the figures and images in both are so much the same,… that it has been commonly thought that St. Jude copied after St. Peter's Epistle.' This was the more generally received opinion, and was held among the ancients by Œcumenius, and maintained at the time of the Reformation by Luther. One set of critics have supposed that one of the writers of these epistles had intended to illustrate at large what the other had briefly stated; others, that one sought to abridge what the other had stated diffusely. The former of these views is maintained by Hug and Olshausen. The latter writer founds his view on the fact that Peter does not give the minute statements found in Jude, especially in regard to the history of angels; in which passages Jude alone goes into details, while Peter advances a general historical fact—which he conceives to be characteristic of a later composition.

Dr. Sherlock, bishop of London, adopted a middle course, and endeavored to account for the remarkable resemblance between the two writers by supposing that each quotes from a common Hebrew document. But this ingenious conjecture has been found untenable. Attempts have been made to support these arguments against the genuineness of this epistle by other alleged internal marks of spuriousness, such as the anachronisms which it is said to contain. But these arguments have been successfully combated by Nietzche, Olshausen, and other writers.

It is fully conceded that there is no other book in the New Testament against whose authority so many arguments can be adduced as against this epistle. One of the most impartial as well as ablest critics of modern times, after weighing them all, comes to the conclusion that neither its genuineness nor its spuriousness can be demonstrated by undoubted arguments; but, while he admits that unfriendly critics will see occasion for doubt, yet, relying on subjective grounds, he is persuaded of the authenticity of the epistle, and that the arguments which go to disprove its genuineness are not of sufficient weight to establish its spuriousness, or cause it to be 'stricken from the number of inspired books.'

By those who acknowledge its genuineness its date is generally fixed about the year A.D. 65, or not long before Peter's death, which they deduce from . Wetstein concludes from 2 Peter 3 that it must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, in which case none will allege that any but Peter could have been its author. If it were proved that Peter had Jude's epistle before him, this must have been written not long before the same period, which agrees with the time assigned by Dr. Lardner, between 64 and 66 [JUDE]. But if Jude certainly quoted the book of Enoch, and if the result of the investigation of Lücke, who concludes that this book was written in the first century, at the time of the Jewish war, and probably after the destruction of Jerusalem, be correct, this circumstance would of itself, cœteris paribus, settle the question in favor of the priority of St. Peter's second epistle [JUDE]. Bishop Sherlock maintains that there are no less than five years intervening between the date of the two epistles of Peter.





Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Peter Epistles of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​p/peter-epistles-of.html.