1 and 2 Peter

As the two letters attributed to Peter do not take up the argument that we know (from Paul's letters) existed between the two great apostles, the letters may not accurately present the beliefs of Peter. The letters, in fact, seem quite consistent with the teaching of Paul. 1 Peter seems to reflect an awareness of Romans 9:32-22 (in 1 Peter 2:6 and 2:8) and 1 Peter 3:1-7 is much like Ephesians 5:22-28. The second letter, moreover, even refers to letters from Paul (2 Peter 3:15) without so much as a hint of disagreement. This evidence suggests that the letters were not written by Peter but bear his name to bring encouragement from the apostolic leadership to besieged churches in Asia Minor.

In addition, because the letters do not mention the gospels, we can assume their authors were not influenced by the gospels. Nonetheless, one or more of the gospel writers may have known these letters or at least some of the materials in them. For instance, the image that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief," found in 2 Peter 3:10 as well as in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians (5:2), is also in the gospels of Matthew (24:43) and Luke (12:39).

The first letter attributed to Peter begins with a greeting similar to Paul's: "Grace and peace." Praise is given to God, because: "In his great mercy by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, he gave us new birth into a living hope." Like the letter of James, the first letter of Peter offers encouragement to those suffering persecution: "These trials come so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." The letter promises that those who suffer will reap "the harvest" of their faith — that is, "salvation" for their souls, because they trust in the Christ they have not seen.

1 Peter uses the image of a cornerstone, which has become a stumbling stone for those who rejected it, as a way of evoking the authority of the prophecies of Isaiah (8:14-15 and 28:16). Because the image of Isaiah 8:14-15 is also used in Paul's letter to the Romans, it may be that the author of the letters of Peter is familiar with this particular letter of Paul. In addition, the instructions to submit to the authorities and honor the Emperor are consistent with the way Acts portrays Paul as a loyal Roman citizen as well as an apostle and also with the teaching about obeying Caesar that is found in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke.

The letter is primarily concerned, however, with good deeds. "Let your conduct among unbelievers be so good that, although they now malign you as wrongdoers, reflection on your good deeds will lead them to give glory to God on the day when he comes in judgment." Those with faith are to live "as those who are free" but to understand that in their freedom they have become "slaves in God's service." They are to endure suffering without complaint, treat one another with respect, and to be united in affection. Rather than "repay wrong with wrong, or abuse with abuse," they are to "respond with a blessing." For, as scripture says (Psalm 34:13-14), "If anyone wants to love life and see good days he must restrain his tongue from evil and his lips from deceit; he must turn from wrong and do good, seek peace and pursue it."

The letter of 1 Peter confirms in the face of persecution, which is seen as marking the end of time and the coming day of judgment, that love is the key to salvation as "love cancels a host of sins." Those with gifts of the Spirit are urged to use their gifts "in service to others." The letter mentions, in particular, the gifts of speaking and giving service — gifts that Paul also emphasized in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Finally, we read that the letter is being sent by Silvanus, who we know to have been a companion of Paul, because he is mentioned in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and also in Paul's two letters to the Thessalonians.

2 Peter is also attributed to Simon Peter, "servant and apostles of Jesus Christ," and is addressed "to those who share equally with us in the privileges of faith through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ." The author of 2 Peter reminds his listeners that "through knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" they may "come to share in the very being of God." They are called, therefore, to develop the gifts of the Spirit by adding virtue to "faith, knowledge to virtue, self-control to knowledge, fortitude to self-control, piety to fortitude, brotherly affection to piety, and love to brotherly affection."

The letter warns that "false teachers" will come among them. "In their greed for money they will trade on your credulity with sheer fabrications." Apparently, these teachers are succeeding with their "empty bombast" and "sensual lusts and debauchery" in drawing people away from the church, for the author of 2 Peter spares no words in castigating them. "These men are springs that give no water, mists driven by a storm; the place reserved for them is blackest darkness."

2 Peter also warns against "scoffers" who will mock the faithful by saying that God's promises have not been fulfilled. But those with faith must remain alert, because "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." On that day, "the heavens will disappear with a great rushing sound, the elements will be dissolved in flames, and the earth with all that is in it will be brought to judgment." Those who rely on the promises of God, however, can look forward to this day when they will receive justice in a "new heavens and a new earth."

 Bob@rtraer.com © Robert Traer 2016