This entry consists of two articles, the first on 1 Peter and the second on 2 Peter.

1 Peter

Content and Structure.

After opening greetings (1.1–2) the writer moves to a prayer of thanksgiving for the Christians' hope of salvation (1.3–12). Reborn through the resurrection of Christ (1.3–5) they can await the end in hope (1.6–9), for they know more than the prophets (1.10–12). Consequently, they are summoned to a life of holy endeavor and to the avoidance of sin against one another (1.13–21); all this they can achieve because they have been born of the Word and continue to feed on it (1.22–2.3), are members of a holy people built on Christ, and have roots lying in God's choice of Israel (2.4–10).

Building on this, the writer then details the kind of behavior that should distinguish the readers as God's people (2.11–3.12) and lead unbelievers to glorify him (2.11–12). He outlines the duties of free citizens (2.13–17), slaves (2.18–25; Christ should be their example), and wives and husbands (3.1–7), and finally reminds them of their need to hold together and to react gently to outside provocation (3.8–12).

When they suffer, however, it should be because of doing good and not because they have committed some crime (3.13–17). Christ himself, although innocent, had suffered for their salvation; God vindicated him, and they may also expect to be vindicated (3.18–22). They must therefore separate themselves from their former ways of life (4.1–6) and stay together in love, for the end is not far off (4.7–11). They ought not, however, be surprised if, before it arrives, they are persecuted; if persecuted, it must not be as criminals but as Christians (4.12–19). Finally, leaders of the church are addressed (5.1–5), and all are reminded yet once again to stand firm against outside forces (5.6–11). In 5.12–14, the writer gives the closing greetings.

Although it is structured like other letters of the period, 1 Peter contains little of a personal nature; addressed to Christians in a wide area (1.1), it reads more like an address than a letter. Some scholars have therefore viewed it as a baptismal sermon or as a letter that includes, or was derived from, such a sermon or baptismal liturgy. It is preferable to regard it as a letter of a general nature, directed to readers far distant from the writer, who is unfamiliar with the details of their situation. In writing it, he makes considerable use of existing Christian tradition in the way of creedal (3.18, 21b, 22) and catechetical (2.13–3.7) material, as well as of the Septuagint and the traditions about Jesus.

Recipients.

Paul's preaching led to the beginning of the church in the Roman province of Asia (Acts 19.1–20) and in Galatia (see Galatians, The Letter of Paul to the). It is not known how the churches in the other areas mentioned in 1.1 came into existence. Those addressed in the letter had almost all been converted from Greco‐Roman religions (1.14, 18; 4.3) and came from a wide range of social, economic, and educational backgrounds. The churches would not have been large bodies but consisted instead of little knots of believers dispersed over a wide area. They have already been persecuted and expect to be persecuted again; these persecutions, however, were not directed by the state. Those of Nero (64 CE) and Domitian (in the last decade of the first century CE) did not affect the areas to which the letter was addressed; those described by the Roman writer Pliny the Younger as taking place in part of the area are too late (112 CE). The Christians were persecuted rather by members of their own families (3.6), neighbors, and city authorities because of their withdrawal from many common activities and because of their distinctive life‐style (2.12, 20; 3.14–17; 4.3–4, 14–16). Their isolation is reflected in the many exhortations to support one another with mutual love (1.22; 2.17; 4.8) and in their feeling that they are exiles (1.1; 2.11). They need to stand firm and not to retaliate against their persecutors (2.21–24; 3.13–17; 4.12–14).

Authorship.

Three views have been held. According to the first, the letter was written by the apostle Peter (see Simon Peter) because his name appears on it, it has reminiscences of the teaching of Jesus that he could have provided, and 5.1 may suggest the writer was an eyewitness to the death of Jesus. But the Greek in which the letter is written suggests an educated author rather than a simple fisherman; the Septuagint, to which Peter would not have been accustomed, is used in biblical quotations in the way someone brought up with it would use it; the account of the death of Jesus (2.22–24) is not that of an eyewitness but is drawn from Isaiah 53. So it has been suggested that Silvanus (5.12) acted as secretary to Peter; the general thought in the letter would have been that of Peter, but its actual expression that of Silvanus. Since, however, the main support for Peter's authorship comes from the detail of the letter and not its general thought, this makes difficult the idea of Silvanus as secretary. If he had been secretary, we might expect him to add his own greetings (cf. Rom. 16.22). It has been suggested that he wrote it after the death of Peter to preserve Peter's teaching, but it is hardly likely that he would then have introduced the self‐praise of 5.12. Increasingly, therefore, scholars have come to believe that the letter is pseudonymous (writing in the name of another person was not unknown in the ancient world). Disciples of Peter after his death may have continued to expound the special themes of his teaching, believing it should be made known to a wider circle. Each of these theories fits with the belief that the letter was written from Rome (Babylon in 5.13 is probably a code name for Rome) where Peter died.

Date.

The letter must have been written prior to 120–130 CE, for by then other writers know it. It shows the influence of Pauline ideas and terms, and this suggests it must be later than 60 CE, for it was about this time that Paul came to Rome. If Peter himself wrote it from Rome, it was also about this time that he arrived there. The sporadic and local nature of the persecutions means they cannot help in determining the date. Their strength together with the areas to which the letter was written, most of which do not appear to have been evangelized early, suggest a period later than the death of Peter, perhaps around 80 CE.

Significant Features.

In 2.13–3.7 and 5.2–5, we have an example of a type of instruction in common use among the early Christians (see Eph. 5.22–6.9; Col. 3.18–4.1; 1 Tim. 2.8–15; 5.3–8; 6.1–2; Tit. 2.1–10); a code of duties is provided for various areas of behavior in the household, society in general, and the church (see Ethical Lists). These codes came to the church from the Hellenistic world via Judaism. While the areas for which advice was required did not vary in passing from secular writers to Christian, the advice itself did. It relates necessarily to the situation and period of the letter: 2.13–17 presupposes a nondemocratic government, 2.18–25 the existence of slaves, and 3.1–6 a male‐dominated society. In each case, a strong element of subjection is present and a careful attitude toward the non‐Christian world is demanded (cf. 2.11–12). Indeed, one of the main themes of the letter concerns the relation of the Christian community to secular society (2.11–12); such a concern is inevitable where a community is being persecuted.

One of the most puzzling passages in the letter is 3.19, and no agreement exists as to its precise meaning. From it and other New Testament passages (Acts 2.27; Rom. 10.7; Eph. 4.9) the phrase in the Apostles' Creed, “descended into hell” was derived (see Descent into Hell). There are many stories in ancient literature, both Greek and Jewish, of visits to the underworld. The “spirits in prison” have been understood as either the unrepentant dead of Noah's time or the fallen angels (“sons of God”) of Genesis 6.1–4. These angels featured largely in contemporary Jewish thought, especially in 1 Enoch, a writing that some Christians regarded highly (see Jude, The Letter of). It is normally supposed that Christ made the journey mentioned in 3.19 during the period between his crucifixion and resurrection, but it is possible that it is that of his ascension. Whichever it was, on it he preached to “the spirits in prison.” This preaching may have been either of judgment or salvation; if the former, it implied that the power of the spirits was finally broken (cf. v. 22); if the latter, there is no indication that they accepted it, repented, and were saved. The reference in 4.6 may or may not deal with the same event. In it, the “dead” are neither the spiritually dead nor the righteous dead of the Hebrew Bible, but either Christians who have already died (the delay in the return of Christ worried many Christians as to the fate of their dead; cf. 1 Thess. 4.13) or all the physically dead who died before Christ could be preached to them.

Although the letter does not contain the word “church,” it is penetrated throughout by a strong sense of togetherness. Its recipients are being persecuted. This has estranged them from the society in which they live and forced them to cling closely to one another. To sustain them, the writer reminds them that, even if they seem small in number, they belong to a body whose roots lie in the Bible. He does so by applying to them texts that were originally written in relation to Israel (see especially 2.4–10). In an age when antiquity was revered, this gave them a standing both in their own eyes and in those of outsiders. At the same time they are also reminded that they have been chosen by God to be his people. As such, they are depicted as the stones of his temple with Christ the cornerstone, and they themselves also as priests within the temple offering the sacrifice of holy living. The realization of their new position before him should compensate for any loss of position in the secular world and enable them to withstand the physical and verbal abuse of their neighbors. Certainly, they should give no offence to those outside but should be continually seeking to win them to their number by declaring God's wonderful deeds. Even the wife who is abused by her husband because she is a Christian may win him for Christ by her meek and sober behavior (3.1).

The main purpose of the letter, however, is not to encourage the recipients into missionary activity or to teach them the relation of the Christian church to non‐Christian society. The letter is not primarily a handbook of Christian ethics, although it contains much on this subject; nor is it a tract on the nature of the atoning death of Christ. Rather, it is written to give its readers hope in a situation that may terrify them because of its hostility. The situation will not continue for long, because Christ will soon return (1.6; 4.7; 5.10). Let them then rejoice even though they suffer (1.8; 4.13), for they have been born anew to a fresh hope (1.3) in God (1.21), which will be fulfilled when Christ returns.

Ernest Best

2 Peter

2 Peter presents itself as a testament or farewell discourse of the apostle Peter (see Simon Peter), written in the form of a letter shortly before his death (1.14). Its object is to remind readers of Peter's teaching and to defend it against false teachers, who were casting doubt on the Lord's coming to judgment (the parousia) and advocating ethical libertinism.

Structure.

(For the symbols, see below, Genre.)

  • Address and Greeting (1.1–2)
  • T1 Theme: a summary of Peter's message (1.3–11)
  • T2 Occasion: Peter's testament (1.12–15)
  • A1 First apologetic section (1.16–21)
  • Reply to Objection 1: the apostles based their preaching of the parousia on myths (1.16–19)
  • Reply to Objection 2: biblical prophecies were the products of human minds (1.20–21)
  • T3 Peter's prediction of false teachers (2.1–3a)
  • A2 Second apologetic section (2.3b–10a)
  • Reply to Objection 3: divine judgment never happens (2.3b–10a)
  • E1 Denunciation of the false teachers (2.10b–22)
  • T4 Peter's prediction of scoffers (3.1–4) (including Objection 4: v. 4)
  • A3 Third apologetic section (3.5–10)
  • Two replies to Objection 4: that the expectation of the parousia is disproved by its delay (3.5–10)
  • E2 Exhortation to holy living (3.11–16)
  • Conclusion (3.17–18)

Genre.

2 Peter is clearly a letter (1.1–2). But it also belongs to the literary genre of “testament,” which was well known in Jewish literature of the period. In such testaments a biblical figure, such as Moses or Ezra, knowing that his death is approaching, gives a final message to his people, which typically includes ethical exhortation and prophetic revelations of the future. In 2 Peter, four passages (marked T1–T4 in the analysis) particularly resemble the testament literature and clearly identify the work as Peter's testament. In 1.12–15, a passage full of conventional testament language, Peter describes the occasion for writing as his awareness of approaching death and his desire to provide for his teaching to be remembered after his death. This teaching is summarized in 1.3–11, which is in form a miniature homily, following a pattern used in farewell speeches. There are also two passages of prophecy (2.1–3a; 3.1–4) in which Peter foresees that after his death his message will be challenged by false teachers.

The rest of 2 Peter is structured around the four passages belonging to the testament genre. It includes three apologetic sections (A1–A3), which give the work a polemical character and whose aim is to answer the objections the false teachers raise against Peter's teaching. There are four such objections, only the last of which is explicitly stated as such (3.4). In the other three cases, the objection is implied in the author's denial of it (1.16a, 20; 2.3b). Finally, there are two passages (E1, E2) that contrast the libertine behavior of the false teachers, denounced in 2.10b–22, with the holy living expected of readers faithful to Peter's teaching (3.11–16).

Author and Date.

Testaments were generally pseudepigraphal, attributed to biblical figures long dead, and probably understood as exercises in historical imagination. The use of the genre suggests that 2 Peter is a work written in Peter's name by someone else after his death, though it is possible that the testament genre could have been used by Peter to write his own, real testament. But it should also be noticed how the predictive character of the testament is used in 2 Peter. Nothing in the letter reflects the situation in which Peter is said to be writing; the whole work is addressed to a situation after Peter's death. The predictions of false teachers function as pegs on which is hung the apologetic debate about the validity of Peter's message. Moreover, whereas the testamentary passages speak of the false teachers in the future tense, predicting their rise after Peter's death (2.1–3a; 3.1–4; cf. 3.17), the apologetic sections and the denunciation of the false teachers refer to them in the present tense (2.3b–22; 3.5–10, 16b). It is scarcely possible to read 2 Peter without supposing the false teachers to be contemporaries of the author. The alternation of predictive and present‐tense references to them is therefore best understood as a deliberate stylistic device to convey the message that these apostolic prophecies are now being fulfilled. In other words, Petrine authorship is a fiction, but one that the author does not feel obliged to maintain throughout his work. In that case, it must be a transparent fiction, a literary convention that the author expected his readers to recognize as such.

For these and other reasons, most modern scholars consider 2 Peter to be pseudepigraphal, though some still defend Petrine authorship. The most cogent additional reasons for denying Peter's authorship are the Hellenistic religious language and ideas, and the evidence for dating the work after Peter's death in the mid‐60s CE. Scholars differ widely on the date of 2 Peter, which many consider to be the latest New Testament writing, written well into the second century CE. But the clearest evidence for a postapostolic date is 3.4, which indicates that the first Christian generation has died, and this passage may well suggest that the letter was written at the time when this had only just become true, around 80–90 CE. This was the time when those who had expected the parousia during the lifetime of the apostolic generation would face the problem of the nonfulfillment of that expectation, but there is no evidence that this continued to be felt as a problem in the second century.

The literary relationship between 2 Peter and Jude is another consideration relevant to the date of 2 Peter. There are such close resemblances (especially between Jude 4–13, 16–18 and 2 Peter 2.1–18; 3.1–3) that some kind of literary relationship seems certain. Some scholars have held that Jude is dependent on 2 Peter or that both depend on a common source, but most conclude that 2 Peter has used Jude as a source. Of course, this requires a late date for 2 Peter only if Jude is dated late.

If 2 Peter was written not by Peter, but after his death, why did the author present his work in the form of Peter's testament? Probably because his intention was to defend the apostolic message in the period after the death of the apostles (cf. 3.4) against teachers who held that, in important respects, the teaching of the apostles was now discredited. By writing in Peter's name he claims no authority of his own, except as a faithful mediator of the apostolic message, which he defends against attacks. The form of the letter as an apostolic testament is therefore closely connected with its apologetic purpose as a vindication of the normative authority of the apostolic teaching. That the author chose to write Peter's testament is probably best explained if he was a leader of the Roman church, which had counted Peter as the most prestigious of its leaders in the previous generation.

Opponents.

The opponents have usually been identified as gnostics, but this identification, as recent scholarship has recognized, is insecure. The only features of their teaching that are clear from our author's refutation of it are eschatological skepticism and moral libertinism. The parousia had been expected during the lifetime of the apostles, but the first generation had passed away and in the opponents' view this proved the early Christian eschatological hope mistaken (3.4, 9a). This attitude seems to have been based on a rationalistic denial of divine intervention in history (cf. 3.4b) as well as on the nonfulfillment of the parousia prophecy. But it was also related to the ethical libertinism of the opponents. Claiming to be emancipating people from fear of divine judgment, they felt free to indulge in sexual immorality and sensual excesses generally (2.2, 10a, 13–14, 18).

There is no basis in 2 Peter itself for supposing that these teachings of the opponents had a gnostic basis. They are more plausibly attributed to the influence of popular Greco‐Roman attitudes. The false teachers probably aimed to disencumber Christianity of elements which seemed to them an embarrassment in their larger cultural environment: its apocalyptic eschatology, always alien to Hellenistic thinking and especially embarrassing after the apparent failure of the parousia hope, and its ethical rigorism.

In response to this challenge the author of 2 Peter mounts a defense of the apostolic expectation of judgment and salvation at the parousia and of the motivation for righteous living which this provides. The author argues that the apostles' preaching of the parousia was soundly based on their witnessing of the transfiguration, when God appointed Jesus to be the eschatological judge and ruler (1.16–18), and on divinely inspired prophecies (1.19–21). Scriptural examples prove that divine judgment does happen and prefigure the eschatological judgment (2.3b–10a). As God decreed the destruction of the ancient world in the Flood, so he has decreed the destruction of the present world in the fire of his eschatological judgment (3.5–7, 10). The problem of the delay of the parousia is met by arguments drawn from Jewish tradition: that the delay is long only by human standards, not in the perspective of God's eternity, and should be seen as God's gracious withholding of judgment so that sinners may repent (3.8–9). Throughout his work, the author is concerned that the hope for the vindication and establishment of God's righteousness in the future (cf. 2.9; 3.7, 13) necessarily motivates the attempt to realize that righteousness in Christian lives (3.11, 14).

Theology.

The peculiar theological character of 2 Peter lies in its remarkable combination of Hellenistic religious language and Jewish apocalyptic ideas and imagery. For example, the author summarizes Peter's teaching in a passage that, in its ethical and religious terminology, is perhaps the most Hellenistic in the New Testament (1.3–11). On the other hand, he accurately and effectively reproduces Jewish apocalyptic ideas, especially in 3.3–13. This combination of theological styles is to be explained by the author's intention of interpreting and defending the apostolic message in a postapostolic and Hellenistic cultural situation. But this is a delicate task; in the author's view, in his opponents' attempt to adapt Christianity to Hellenistic culture they were compromising essential features of the apostolic message. In order to defend the gospel against this excessive Hellenization, therefore, the author resorts to sources and ideas close to the apocalyptic outlook of early Christianity, including the letter of Jude. The author thus keeps a careful balance between a degree of Hellenization of the gospel message, and a protest, in the name of apocalyptic eschatology, against extreme Hellenization that would dissolve the substance of the message. The letter is a valuable witness to Christianity's difficult transition from a Jewish to a Hellenistic environment, and provides an instructive example of how the message of the gospel was preserved through the process of cultural translation.

Richard J. Bauckham