Skip to main content

Peter, Epistles of

PETER, EPISTLES OF

Since the two Epistles that bear St. Peter's name are quite different in many ways, they are treated separately here, according to the contents, authenticity, destination, time and place of composition, and theology of each.

1 Peter. After the writings of the Pauline corpus, this is probably the best-known and most important of the New Testament Epistles. It is written with rare unction. Among the catholic epistles, it has the greatest claim to have been written by the person whose name it bears, contemporary scholarship generally holds that it was written some time after the death of the Apostle Peter.

The author opens with a salutation (1.12) and blesses God, who has given rebirth, through the Resurrection of Christ, and an imperishable inheritance (1.35). He states that this is a source of joy even under trials (1.67) and that Jesus is now the object not of sight but of faith (1.89). Christian salvation was foreseen by the prophets (1.1012); his readers must therefore be holy (1.1317), being aware that they were ransomed by the blood of Christ (1.1821). They are to love one another since they have been born anew of imperishable seed (1.2225). They are newborn infants, living stones in God's building, a holy priesthood, God's own people (2.110). They must keep clear of fleshly passions, conduct themselves becomingly among the Gentiles, and be subject to human authority (2.1117). Servants should be submissive; for all Christians must be willing to suffer, even unjustly, since Christ did so for them, dying on the cross that they might live (2.1825). Wives and husbands are to practice the virtues appropriate to each (3.17). Mutual love is to prevail among all (3.812). They should be zealous for good, even if this involves suffering (3.1317), since Christ, the righteous one, died for sinners and saves people, in Baptism, though His Resurrection (3.1822). In conformity with Christ, who suffered in the flesh, they should live no longer by human passions, as formerly, and as the Gentiles now do (4.16). In view of the proximity of the end, they must practice all virtue (4.711). They are not to be surprised that they must suffer; rather, they should rejoice in sharing Christ's sufferings (4.1219). The elders are to tend the flock with diligence, and the young are to be subject (5.15). All are to be humble and watchful; God will soon restore and strengthen them (5.611). The author concludes with a final greeting (5.1214).

Authorship. The Petrine authorship of this letterasserted in 1.1, confirmed by the reference to Babylon (a veiled reference to Rome; see babylon, city of) and Mark (see mark, evangelist, st.) in 5.13, and never challenged in antiquityin modern times has been and remains the subject of considerable debate. Reasons for questioning authenticity include: (1) the excellent Greek style of the letter an ready familiarity with the Septuagint Bible, both of which would scarcely be possible for an unschooled Galilean fisherman (see Acts 4.13); (2) numerous similarities to Pauline theology and expression;(3) references to persecutions in the provinces (especially4.1217), which would be historically improbable until several decades after the death of Peter. In answer to these objections it is pointed out that: (1) In 5.12 Silvanus (silas) is mentioned as the one through whom the letter has been written. In accordance with ancient practice in writing letters, this prominent Christian (Acts 15.22) and companion of Paul's journeys (Acts 15.2217.15; 1 Thes1.1; 2 Cor 1.19) may be responsible for the literary qualities of the letter. (2) Much of the similarity to Pauline writings may be attributable to a tradition of Christian doctrinal and paraenetic formulas common to New Testament authors. Likewise the influence of Silvanus's extensive contact with Paul is pertinent. (3) The allusions to persecutions do not necessarily imply official governmental persecution of Christianity as such, particularly in view of the exhortation to submission to temporal authorities in 2.1317.

While nothing in the letter is directly contrary to Petrine authorship, many tend to see it as a pseudonymous work of the 80s (Elliott, Brown). Nonetheless, the composition's use of fictional details is relatively sparse when compared with other samples of the pseudepigraphical genre (Brox). Although Brox is skeptical about the oftrepeated notion that this is a deliberate amalgam of Pauline themes and Petrine window dressing written in the interests of Church unity, he points out that further work is yet to be done.

The familiar thesis of Preisker (1951) that 1.14.11 constitutes a baptismal homily, followed in 4.125.14 by parenesis about persecution has been seriously called into question. Though a two sermon approach still has its defenders (Blevins), the style is more and more seen as consistent throughout the letter (Shimada), and 1.312 has been thought to establish the program of the whole letter (Kendall).

There is growing consensus that the letter is wholly parenetic, and it is a parenesis affected partly by liturgical language: the "spiritual sacrifices" of 2.5 refer both to the Eucharist and to the addressees' everday lives (Hill); the "appeal" to God for a clean conscience (3.21) is derived from the baptismal adjuration to leave the way of death by obeying God's commands (Tripp).

The author has adapted some imagery from Judaism, including "convenantal" language (Pryor). One Old Testament phrase, "aliens and strangers" (2.11) has been argued to be a technical term in addition, referring to resident aliens/migrant workers brought to Asia Minor to work in the fields or from rural areas to be house servants (Elliott). In this view, "persecution for the name" need not be linked to a major threat either from Nero or Domitian, but may refer to the ongoing hostility and suspicion accorded the resident aliens by their neighbors.

The injunctions to slaves and wives to obey the head of the household (2.133.12) have been seen as a needed apologia (3.15) to a culture deeply suspicious of the dire consequences for the Empire of adopting Eastern deities perceived as promoting egalitarianism (Balch). The thesis Presupposes as common currency the notion in Aristotle, among others, that the Household of the gods, of the state, and of the individual are interrelated. The Thesis seems supported by the fact that the "code" is surrounded by reference to the slander of pagans (2.12;3.1316). The thesis has been criticized for asserting, though not sufficiently proving, that there were Christian households in which this egalitarianism was functioning (Neyrey). Moreover, the codes may serve as much to provide internal cohesion as to provide the group a defense to outsiders (Elliott).

The codes have been seen as part of a late-stratum of material imposed on the Pauline and Petrine corpus (Munro) and have been called a corruption of the original ideal of "equal discipleship" (Schüssler-Fiorenza). The attitude of 1 Peter toward the codes is further complicated by the partial critiques of patriarchy which may exist in his presentation of them (Balch).

Interpretive Problems and Models. Suggestions for more accurate translations have focused on 1.2, "because of the obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (Agnew); 3.2, "chaste behavior with reverence (to your husbands)" (Sylva); 4.15, "let none of you suffer as a murderer, thief, sorcerer, or embezzler" (Bauer).

Concerning the term "spirits" of 3.19, 4.6, since 2 Peter may have been aware of 1 Peter, 2 Peter may be helpful in understanding general problem passages in 1 Peter. On this theory, the spirits of 3.19 are seen to be evil because of the portrait in 2 Pt 2.4, 5; those who have died, but are "alive in the spirit" (4.6) are those who have died awaiting a new heaven and earth (2 Pt 3.9, 13) (Dalton).

2 Peter. This Epistle is a precious witness to the trials that were being inflicted on the Church by false teachers toward the end of the apostolic age.

The author opens with a salutation (1.12). He states that the divine goodness and promises, which include even a participation in the divine nature, should motivate Christians to the practice of all virtue, by which they may enter into the eternal kingdom (1.311). In view of his imminent death, the author wishes to leave this written memorial to the faith, based on his personal witness (e.g., of the Transfiguration) and on the prophetic testimony of the Scriptures (1.1221). His readers are to beware of false teachers (2.13), whose punishment will correspond to that of the sinners of old (2.49); they give themselves over to every kind of evil, lead others astray, and revert to their original corruption (2.1022). His readers must not be misled by those who scoff at the delay of the Lord's coming (3.110), Rather, their lives are to be lived in holy expectation, in accord with the genuine (not the twisted) teaching of the letters of Paul (3.1118a). The author concludes with a doxology (3.18b).

Author and Genre. There is a general willingness to see the 2 Peter work as pseudepigraphical, and one commentator suggests that the letter comes from turn of the century Rome that also gave us 1, 2 Clement and Hermas (Bauckham). Whatever its geographical origins, the author is seen as having used Jude and straightened out its chronology (Neyrey). However, the reference to "my first letter" (3.1) is not a reference to Jude, but to 1 Peter (Johnson). The choice of a Petrine pseudonym is seen as a necessity in view of the Pauline canon being already known as closed (Farkasfalvy).

The parenetic nature of the letter is defended with the thesis that it displays appeals to memory (1.9; 1.1215;3.12, 5, 8), models (2.6), and maxims (1.57) typical of parenesis (Johnson).

There is a renewed appreciation of the fact that a denunciation of false prophets is appropriate to literature describing the End Time (Cavallin). This motif is often present in testamentary literature, and works with the author's prediction of his imminent dissolution (1.13, 14) to justify the description of the letter as a testament of sorts.

The appeal to the transfiguration is used by the author as a defense of the proclamation about the parousia (Neyrey). The author is not so concerned to defend the meaning of parousia as the second coming per se, since he feels free to use parousia for the "presence" of Jesus at the Transfiguration (Kee). But the author is concerned to answer those, Probably influenced by Epicurean notions, who think that death brings only Dissolution and not judgment. He attacks as false, the "freedom" which such a notion can offer (2.19), and insists on God's power to judge, both in the past and in the future (Neyrey). The letter, therefore, amounts to a Christian theodicy.

The letter shares with some gnostic texts the description of a deity who punishes throughout successive ages of world history; indeed, a study that traces the Petrine trajectory in relation to the Nag Hammadi library suggests that the letter is aimed at gnostics (Smith). But that position might be called into question in part because the letter was known in Justin's time, a generation before Irenaeus fought the gnostics (Thiede). More importantly, the anti-Epicurean polemic described by Neyrey does not need gnostics on the horizon to be coherent.

Recent suggestions about the translation of individual verses include a defense of the reading "found" at3.10, a term often used absolutely in an eschatological context of both persons and things (Lenhard); and an interrogative reading of the same passage: "shall the earth and everything in it be found?" (Overstreet).

Bibliography: e. best, I Peter (1971; Grand Rapids 1982). e. g. selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter. The Greek Text With Introduction, Notes and Essays (1947; 2nd ed. Grand Rapids 1981). l. goppelt, Der Erste Petrubrief, ed. f. hahn (Gottingen 1978). d. kendall, "The Literary and Theological Function of 1 Peter1.312," c. h. talbert, ed., Perspectives on First Peter (Macon, Georgia 1986). w. munro, Authority in Paul and Peter. The Identification of a Pastoral Stratum in the Pauline Corpus and 1 Peter (Cambridge 1983). j. calloud and f. genuyt, La première épître de Pierre: Analyse semiotique (Paris 1982). d. c. arichea and e. a. nida, A Translator's Handbook on the First Letter from Peter (New York 1980). c. perrot, ed., Études sur la première lettre de Pierre (Paris 1980). d. l. balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter (Chico, California 1981). j. neyrey, "Let Wives Be Submissive" (review), The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49 (1987) 69091. r. e. brown and j. p. meier, Antioch and Rome (New York 1983). j. w. pryor, "First Peter and the New Covenant," Reformed Theological Review 45 (1986) 14; (1986) 4451. e. schÜssler-fiorenza, "Discipleship and Patriarchy: Early Christian Ethos and Christian Ethics in a Feminist Theological Perspective," Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics Dallas, Texas (1982) 13172. d. hill, "To Offer Spiritual Sacrifices (1 Peter2.5): Liturgical Formulations and Christian Parenesis in 1 Peter," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 16 (1982) 4563. d. sylva, "Translating and Interpreting 1 Peter 3, 2," Bible Translator 34 (1983) 14447. d. h. tripp, "Eperotema (1 Peter 3.21). A Liturgist's Note," Expository Times 92 (1981) 26770. w. j. dalton, "The Interpretation of 1 Pet 3, 19 and 4, 6; Light from 2 Peter," Biblica 60 (1979) 54755. j. b. bauer, "Aut maleficus aut alieni speculator (1 Petr 4, 15)," Biblische Zeitschrift 22 (1978) 10915. n. brox, "Tendenz und Pseudepigraphie im ersten Petrus-brief," Kairos 20 (1978) 11020. n. brox, "Der erste Petrusbrief in der literarischen Tradition des urchristentums," ibid. 20 (1978) 18292. d. l. balch, "Early Christian Criticism of Patriarchal Authority: 1 Peter 2.113.12," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 39 (1984) 16173. j. l. blevins, "Introduction to 1 Peter," Rev 79 (1982) 40113. f. h. agnew, "1 Peter 1.2An Alternative Translation," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45 (1983) 6873. j. h. elliot, 1 Peter (AB 37B; New York 2000). p. j. achtemeier, 1 Peter (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress 1996). t. smith, Petrine Controversies in Early Christianity: Attitudes Toward Peter in Christian Writings of the First Two Centuries (Tubingen 1985). r. e. brown, et al., eds., Peter in the New Testament (New York 1973). j. h. neyrey, "The Form and Background of the Polemic in 2 Peter," Journal of Biblical Literature 99 (1980) 40731; "The Apologetic Use of the Transfiguration in 2 Peter 1.1621," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980) 50419. r. l. overstreet, "A Study of 2 Peter 3.1013," Biblioteca Sacra 137 (1980) 35471. h. c. c. cavallin, "The False Teachers of 2 Pt as Pseudo-Prophets," Novum Testamentum 21 (1979) 26370. h. lenhard, "Noch einmal zu 2 Petr 3.10 d," Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche 69 (1978) 136. f. w. denker, "2 Peter 1: A Solemn Decree," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40 (1978) 6482. d. farkasfalvy, "The Ecclesial Setting of Pseudepigraphy in Second Peter and Its Role in the Formation of the Canon," Second Century 5 (198586) 329. c. p. thiede, "A Pagan Ready of 2 Peter: Cosmic Conflagration in 2 Peter 3 and the Octavius of Minucius Felix," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26 (1986) 7996. j. h. neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude (AB 37C; New York, 1993).

[t. w. leahy/

m. kiley]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Peter, Epistles of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Oct. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Peter, Epistles of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 24, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peter-epistles

"Peter, Epistles of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 24, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/peter-epistles

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.