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The Petrine Epistles

First Peter

Audience

  • “To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1)
  • Is exile a metaphorical depiction of Christians as strangers on earth whose true homeland is in heaven or a literal description of Christians as marginalized and socially displaced persons (cf. John Elliott)?

Author: the Apostle Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1)
  • Could a Galilean fisherman attain the literacy skills to write in polished Greek, demonstrate fine rhetorical skills, and extensively engage with the Septuagint? This leads to larger questions about the extent of the Hellenization of Galilee, the literacy rates in the ancient world and first-century Palestine, and the question of whether Acts 4:13 implies that Peter was illiterate or merely an untrained religious layperson.
  • Some scholars appeal to the use of a scribal assistant in composing the letter and 1 Peter 5:12 notes that dia Silouanou… egrapsa (“through Silvanus . . . I wrote”). Yet this may be an idiomatic expression to identify Silvanus as the mail-carrier who delivers the letter (see Ignatius’s Epistles to the Smyrnaeans 12:1, Philadelphians 11:1, Magnesians 15:1, and Romans 10:1).
  • The use of his Greek nickname “Peter” rather than the Aramaic Cephas, along with the lack of personal memories of Jesus or discussion about the debates over Torah-observance (cf. Galatians 2:9-14), is striking.
  • The arguments for a later date count against Petrine authorship. However, this may be mitigated if one does not accept the tradition of Peter’s martyrdom in Rome around 64 CE as part of Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians as a scapegoat to blame for the fire in Rome (see John 21:18-19; 2 Peter 1:14; 1 Clement 5:4; Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans 4.2-3; Dionysius of Corinth in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.26; Acts of Peter 36-39; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3).

Date: between 60-110 CE based on the decisions on the points below

  • 1 Peter is referenced in 2 Peter 3:1, Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (1:3; 2:1; 8:1), and the lost text of Papias of Hierapolis (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.2; 3.39.17).
  • The Christ movement has spread throughout Asia Minor (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) and the label “Christian” is applied to the group in distinction from the Jews (4:16; cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28).
  • The coded reference to “Babylon” (=Rome) may presuppose the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Alternatively, “Babylon” may be part of the metaphorical imagery of living in exile.
  • Past commentators correlated the “fiery trial” that the Christians were undergoing with the correspondence between the governor of Bithynia-Pontus Pliny the Younger and the Roman emperor Trajan on how to deal with the Christians. More recently, scholars have pointed out that the persecution in 1 Peter involves local harassment and social ostracism rather than official state suppression.
  • 1 Peter had access to a variety of sources including creeds, sayings of Jesus, extended scriptural exegesis (cf. Isaiah 53), parenetic material (similarities with Paul and James), and possibly some Pauline Epistles (e.g., Romans) (cf. David G. Horrell).

Purpose:

  • To encourage Christians in the midst of persecution and loss of social ties for their abandonment of traditional cultic practices, since they are following Christ’s example of suffering.
  • To reinforce a new collective identity as a “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] God’s own people” (2:9).
  • To implore Christians to be otherwise law-abiding citizens who honor the emperor and obey household codes.
  • To model a united front against opposition, the epistle itself harmonizes diverse streams of tradition. The Apostle Peter is their symbolic figurehead and two of Paul’s historical co-workers, Silvanus and Mark, are pictured as his assistants.

Second Peter

Audience:

  • Uncertain. This “second letter” seems familiar with 1 Peter, unless this is a reference to an unknown writing in Peter’s name (cf. 2 Pet 3:1), and may imply that the audience is the same as 1 Peter.

Author: Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). The use of the Semitic “Simeon” is paralleled in Acts 15:14 where it is places on the lips of Jesus’ brother and the Jerusalem leader James.
  • 2 Peter faces the same questions about whether the author’s facility in Greek and rhetorical skill matches the Galilean preacher Cephas. Further, the grandiose “Asiatic” Greek style and the allusions to Old Testament narratives rather than direct citations is quite different from the style of f 1 Peter. The Church Fathers recognized the different style of the two epistles, leading to debates over the apostolic authorship and canonicity of 2 Peter (cf. Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3).
  • 2 Peter 1:12-15 has elements that characterize other fictional “testaments” or farewell speeches including the protagonist’s predictions of his/her death and of what the future holds along with other ethical exhortations to the survivors (cf. Richard Bauckham). For example, check out The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Date: between 64-150 CE based on scholarly decisions on these points.

  • 2 Peter 1:14 presupposes Peter’s death unless it is a prediction of the author. There seems to be a tense shift in which the implied author’s predictions of future false teachers becomes a present reality for the audience.
  • The “fathers” have died (2 Peter 3:4); either the past Christian generation or the patriarchs in Genesis are the referent.
  • 2 Peter 2:1:22 extensively parallels Jude 3-19 in wording and order, though it adds a few examples (Noah, Lot) and drops others (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses). Although a few scholars have argued that Jude borrowed from 2 Peter or that both writings have a common source, the majority view is that the epistle of Jude has been almost totally incorporated into the later epistle of 2 Peter.
  • 2 Peter 3:1 shows that the letter must date after 1 Peter.
  • Certain doubters criticize the expectation of Christ’s imminent “coming” (3:4) and 2 Peter responds that a thousand years is like a day to the Lord (3:8), so the reader must not give up hope for the second coming even if it seems to have been delayed.
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16 appears to know a collection of Pauline Epistles that are placed on par with other “scriptures.”
  • 2 Peter may have access to Matthew’s Gospel (cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18; 2:20), while the references to the other New Testament Gospels are debatable.
  • Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-254 CE) offers the earliest explicit reference to 2 Peter (Homilies on Joshua 7.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.8), but other commentators argue for allusions to 2 Peter in earlier church authorities. The literary relationship of 2 Peter with the Apocalypse of Peter and the Acts of Peter is debated.

Purpose:

  • The text wishes to defend the apostolically “Petrine” witness that Jesus will return against antinomian “scoffers” who deny that Christ will return in the final judgment and allegedly use this as an excuse for immoral living.
  • The text combines Jewish apocalyptic with a Hellenistic ethos from its list of virtues that enable the reader to take on the “divine nature” or immortality (2 Peter 1:3-11) to its possible contacts with Epicurean philosophy (cf. Jerome H. Neyrey).
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