Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 27 April 2016; Revised 29 August 2018
Scripture Text: Scripture quotations may be taken from different versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited and resources consulted may be found at the end of the article.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Judah (Jude), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament). The abbreviation LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB."
Abstract: This article provides an General Introduction to the letters of Simon Peter. For an overview of the life and ministry of Peter see the article here. Links to individual introductions to First Peter and Second Peter may be found at the end of this article.
1. Correspondent │ 2. Chronology │ 3. Composition │ 4. Canonicity
Both letters identify the author as an apostle of Yeshua the Messiah. The word apostle (Grk. apostolos; Heb. shaliach) identified someone who acted as the agent of another. The first mention of the word apostolos in the Besekh is Matthew 10:2 where the Twelve disciples are listed. These men had been called as followers and students of Yeshua, but they were also given authority for ministry. First century Judaism institutionalized the office of shaliach (pass. part. of shalach), who acted as an official messenger or a proxy for and with the full authority of the sender, as the Mishnah says, "the agent (Heb. shaluach) is as the one who sends him" (Ber. 5:5).
The chief qualification of being an apostle of Yeshua was having seen him as risen from the dead (Acts 9:27; 1Cor 9:1; 15:5-8; 1Jn 1:1), so several other apostles were added to the Twelve. All true apostles had the authority to proclaim the good news, determine orthodox doctrine, impose requirements ("bind and loose," Matt 16:19; 18:18), and shepherd the congregations they founded (cf. 1Cor 14:37). While the gift of apostleship (e.g., serving as a cross-cultural missionary), continued beyond the first century (1Cor 12:28), the unique authority of the apostolic office ended with the original apostles and the publication of their sacred writings.
The letters of Peter were written during a momentous time in history. Significant events of the first century contemporary with the life of Peter include:
14–37: Reign of Caesar Tiberius.
37–41: Reign of Caesar Caligula.
41–54: Reign of Caesar Claudius.
54–68: Reign of Caesar Nero.
Rulers in Judea
1–39: Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas over Galilee and Perea (Luke 3:1).
1–34: Tetrarchy of Herod Philip over Gaulantis, Ituraea and Trachonitis (Luke 3:1).
26–36: Procuratorship of Pontius Pilate over Judaea (Matt 27:2).
52–60: Procuratorship of Marcus Antonius Felix over Judaea (Acts 23:24). [Josephus, Ant. XX, Chap. 7]
60–62: Procuratorship of Porcius Festus over Judaea (Acts 24:27). [Josephus, Ant., XX, 8:9-11]
30: Crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Yeshua.
49/50: Expulsion from or restriction on Messianic Jews from Rome under Caesar Claudius (Acts 18:2). The edict remained in effect until the accession of Nero. [Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Book V, 25:4; Cassius Dio, Roman History, LX, 6:6-7; Paulus Orosius, History Against the Pagans, Book VII, 6.15]
64: Fire of Rome, for which Nero blamed Christians. [Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome, 15.44]
66: Jewish war against Rome.
68: Suicide of Caesar Nero.
70: Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.
The assignment of dates to events in the lifetime of the apostles is largely guesswork. The apostolic writings do not assign dates to events, other than references to the reign of a ruler (e.g., Luke 2:1-2; 3:1). The Church Fathers also date lives of the apostles in the same manner. Apostolic writings also mention periods of time from one event to another, e.g., "two years" (Acts 19:10; 24:27; 28:30), "three years" (Acts 20:31; Gal 1:18), "fourteen years" (2Cor 12:2; Gal 2:1), and "several years" (Acts 24:17). The timeline of apostolic activity is typically computed from the year assumed for Yeshua's death. Some scholars date Yeshua's death in AD 33, but the evidence is strong for Yeshua's death in AD 30, which is the starting point for my timeline. I also consider the dating information of Eusebius in his Church History.
Given the important role Peter played both during the lifetime of Yeshua and in the proclaiming of the good news in the early days of the Yeshua movement (Acts 2―5), it is not surprising that two epistles should come from his hand (Kaiser 333).
Some scholars assume that Peter had little education and could not have written the two letters attributed to him. This estimation is probably based on the statement by the Sanhedrin that Peter and John were "uneducated, common men" (Acts 4:13 ESV). The word "uneducated" is Grk. agrammatos, which in Greek culture could mean either (1) unable to read or write or (2) without formal learning (LSJ). The word "common," Grk. idiōtēs, meant "one who lacks the sophistication or credentials of insiders" (Danker). The TLV has a better translation, "laymen without training." The perception of Peter is comparable to what the Sanhedrin said of Yeshua, "How does this man know letters, not having been educated?" (John 7:15 mine) The word "letters," Grk. gramma, is a word for formal education or training.
The only education the Pharisees, who dominated the Sanhedrin, considered as sufficient and valuable was that provided by their schools. For the critics of Yeshua and Peter to call them "uneducated" meant that they had not studied in their school. In more general terms for one who claimed to be a teacher, as Yeshua and Peter, had violated a value they held dearly, later transcribed in the Mishnah, "Appoint for yourself a teacher" (Avot 1:6). In contrast the apostle Paul studied under Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel (Acts 22:3). The implication is that if Yeshua and Peter had studied under a great Pharisee teacher, they would not openly criticize or violate the traditions the Pharisees believed sacrosanct and they would not speak of fulfillment of Messianic expectations and God's plan of redemption through Yeshua.
Paul may have studied in the School of Hillel under Gamaliel, but Peter studied at least two years under the greatest rabbi who ever lived. Then, being filled with the Holy Spirit made Peter a powerful and articulate public speaker. Even the Sanhedrin noted that Peter's capability was derived from Yeshua (Acts 4:13).
Peter identifies the recipients of his first letter as disciples living in the Roman provinces of Asia, Cappadocia, Galatia, Pontus and Bithynia (1Pet 1:1) (see the map here). He also sends greetings from the congregation in Rome of which he was a member (1Pet 5:13). The recipients of the second letter were also in the same regions since he says "this is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you" (2Pet 3:1 NASB). These disciples were no doubt Jews and proselytes from Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia, Phrygia (a territory in Galatia), and Rome who had been in Jerusalem on Pentecost in the year 30 and heard Peter proclaim the good news of the Messiah (Acts 2:9-11).
The first planting of congregations in Asia and Galatia may be credited to Paul's ministry, but he was specifically forbidden to go to Bithynia and Pontus (Acts 16:7). It's very likely that Peter followed up on the Pentecost pilgrims who received the Spirit and visited the territories that Paul bypassed. Paul mentions that Peter had an itinerant ministry (1Cor 9:5).
Eusebius said that Peter wrote to "the Hebrews of the dispersion" (Church History, Book III, 4:2). Some commentators characterize the recipients as "Jewish Christians," but this is tautology. When modern Christians read "Christian" in Peter's letter (1Pet 4:16), they typically insert their own definition of "Christian" into the text. However, Christianos is a Jewish term meaning "Messianic" and coined by a Jew (Paul; Acts 11:26) to describe Jewish believers in Yeshua. Indeed the constituency of congregations in the apostolic era was predominately Jewish, i.e., "Messianic Jews," but they also included proselytes and God-fearing Gentiles who had formerly worshipped at synagogues. See my article The Apostolic Community.
Dating the two letters of Peter is problematic. Conservative scholars date First Peter c. 64 A.D. and Second Peter c. 66 A.D., both written from Rome during the latter period of Nero's reign and persecution of Christians. Unfortunately, Peter offers no confirmation of these assumptions. He does not mention Nero or any persecution in Rome. The first letter mentions being in Rome with Mark and Silvanus present with Peter. The second letter does not specify Peter's whereabouts. Edmundson has made a strong case for Peter ministering in Rome three separate times: A.D. 42-45; 54-56; and 63-65 (178f). The first letter could have been written during the first visit Rome and the second letter during the last visit to Rome or while en route to the city.
Apostolic letters to congregations were intended to be "circular letters." In the first century disciples met together in private homes or halls owned by wealthy patrons (Acts 2:46; 12:12; 15:15, 40; 17:4-5; 18:7; 19:9; 20:20; 21:8; Rom 16:1-5; 1Cor 16:19; Col 4:15 and Phm 1:2). Thus, Peter intended for his letters to be read publicly and passed from one group meeting-place to another within the provincial regions he identified (1Pet 1:1; 2Pet 3:1).
The two letters of Peter are Jewish letters written by a Jew to Jews. The theological vocabulary is Jewish and the content of the letters presume the readers have a knowledge of the Tanakh (Old Testament). He doesn't have to explain what he means as he would if he were writing to Gentiles with no former knowledge of Judaism or Scripture.
Peter's letters are organized in a commonly used form with an introduction, body and conclusion. In the introduction of each letter Peter identified himself as the sender with his title "apostle [Heb. shaliach] of Messiah Yeshua." Both letters end with a doxology.
Each letter is noted for a significant number of words that are not found in any other apostolic writing, including a high count of hapax legomena, a Latin expression meaning words that occur only once in a given literary work. Many of the unique words are found in other Jewish literature, such as the LXX, Josephus, Philo and the Apocrypha, but the vocabulary also indicates competence with contemporary Greek. The fact that many of the words are found elsewhere only in classical Greek writers is not significant. This does not mean the writer was a student of Greek philosophers. Rather, there was a finite Greek vocabulary and if there had been a Greek dictionary at the time these words would have been found in it. While much has been made of the different styles of the letters, Blum quotes one scholar as saying, that on the basis of cumulative sum analysis on a computer First and Second Peter are "linguistically indistinguishable."
The vocabulary of both letters includes many significant theological words, all rich in meaning: e.g., grace, faith, love, peace, Messiah, Yeshua, Father, Holy Spirit, holy ones, salvation, good news, prayer, holiness, righteousness, sanctification, sin, inheritance, redemption, and forgiveness. Not always considered by commentators is that all of these words have their origin in the Tanakh and Jewish usage. Christianity did not invent any of these words.
Within Christianity First and Second Peter are included in the list of letters known as "Catholic" or "General," a label bestowed on the assumption these letters were not written to individual congregations as Paul's letters. The label also serves to identify the letters as canonical to distinguish them from other letters written in the first and second centuries from leaders in the Yeshua movement, such as the letters of Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp (Eusebius, Church History, Book II, 23:25; Book III, 25:2-3; Book VI, 13:6). First Peter was among the books that were accepted by church fathers without any doubt.
Eusebius says that Papias (c.60 c.130) "used witnesses from the first epistle of John and similarly from Peter" (Ibid., Book III, 39:17). There are probably traces of First Peter in 1 Clement (c.96) and even more in Ignatius, Hermas, and Barnabas (all in the early second century A.D.). In his Epistle to the Philippians, Polycarp (c.70-150/166) unmistakably refers to First Peter. After the Polycarp reference, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen all attest Peter's authorship of the book. There is no question of the canonicity of First Peter.
The authorship of Second Peter was originally a matter of some discussion since some monographs appeared in the second century purporting to have been written by Peter (Acts of Peter and Apocalypse of Peter). However, the pseudonymous works were treated as definitely spurious and were never considered canonical. There is no assured reference to Second Peter in the early patristic writings until Origen (c.185-c.254), who first attributed it to Peter (Blum). The very early (third-century) Bodmer papyrus designated p72 shows acceptance of both First and Second Peter as canonical, for in that manuscript these two letters share with Jude a blessing on the readers of these sacred books.
Eusebius includes Second Peter in a list of writings (including James, Jude, 2nd John, and 3rd John) about which authorship was debated (as distinguished from spurious), but nevertheless recognized as canonical (Church History, Book III, 3:1; 25:3). By the time of Cyril of Jerusalem (c.315-86), Second Peter was considered canonical; and Cyril's acceptance of it as well as its acceptance by Athanasius, Augustine, and Jerome settled the issue for the church in the patristic era (Blum).
Ironically, both letters have been rejected as authentic to the apostle Peter by many modern scholars, the second much more so than the first. A refusal to accept the author's self-identification is a slippery slope. Maybe Paul didn't write the letters to which his name is affixed. Indeed, it is incredible that in the era of the church fathers who kept meticulous records that an anonymous figure should go unremembered as the author of these two great letters. If "Peter" is a mere pseudonym then the inspiration and authority of the letters are undermined. And, maybe that is the whole point of rejecting Petrine authorship. The Body of Messiah has been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20; 2Pet 3:2) and the two letters of Peter are part of that foundation. They are inspired Scripture by a great apostle.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Blum: Edwin A. Blum, 1 & 2 Peter. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Software version 2.6.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Edmundson: Charles Edmundson, The Church in Rome in the First Century. Longmans, Green and Co., 1913. Online.
Gray: James M. Gray, Simon Peter, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Edited by James Orr, published in 1939 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Website HTML, 2011.
Green: Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. IVP Academic, 1987. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 18.
Guarducci: Margherita Guarducci, The Date of Peter's Martyrdom. Eternal Word Television Network, 1996.
Hamp: Douglas Hamp, Discovering the Language of Jesus. Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2005.
HBD: Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1991.
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan, 2008.
Kruger: Michael J. Kruger, "The Authenticity of 2 Peter," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42.4 (1999): 645-671. Online. (PDF)
LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon. Rev. ed. Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online.
Robinson: John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. The Westminster Press, 1976.
Serrão: Jean Serrão, "The Letters of James, Peter and Jude," Chapter 19, Discovering the New Testament: Community and Faith. ed. Alex Varughese. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2005.
Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889. online.
TLV: Messianic Jewish Family Bible: Tree of Life Version. Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, 2014. Online.
In addition to the Works Cited above the following books and articles were consulted in preparation of this article.
William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter. The Daily Study Bible Series. Revised Ed. The Westminster Press, 1976.
William P. Barker, Everyone In the Bible. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1966.
Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible. (1826). Ed. Ralph Earle. Baker Book House, 1967. Online.
Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006. Pillar New Testament Commentary.
W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. rev. ed. Harper Torchbooks, 1967.
Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel's Bible Commentary: The Messianic Jewish Epistles. Ariel Ministries, 2005.
John Gill (1697-1771), 1 Peter, Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.
E.M.B. Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered. Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1960. Online. (PDF)
Michael R. Greenwald, Annotations on 2 Peter, Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction. Third Ed. (Rev.) InterVarsity Press, 1970.
Douglas Hamp, Discovering the Language of Jesus. Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2005.
James Moffat (1870-1944), General Epistles: James, Peter and Judas. The Moffat New Testament Commentary. Hodder and Stoughton, 1928. PDF-Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2012. Online.
Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. Annotations by the author.
Henry Morris, Defenders Study Bible. World Publishing Co., 1995.
Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 Vols. Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997)
Claudia Setzer, Annotations on 1 Peter, Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.
David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey. Rev. ed. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1985.
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