1902 Encyclopedia > Epistles of Peter

Epistles of Peter

PETER, EPISTLES OF. Peter.-The first of the two canonical epistles which bear the name of St Peter is addressed " to the elect who are sojourners of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia., and Bithynia." Most commentators in both ancient and modern times (e.g., of the former, Atlianasius„Jeroine, Epiphanius ; of the latter, Lange, Weiss, and Beyschlag) have interpreted this phrase to refer primarily to Jewish Christians. But this interpretation creates a difficulty. The countries named were countries in which St Paul and his companions had been especially active, and in which they had formed many communities, chiefly from the Gentile population. If therefore " the sojourners of the dispersion " be understood to refer to Jews, it becomes necessary to suppose the existence side by side in the same countries of two sets of communities, Pauline and Petrine, and further to suppose either (with Weiss) that the latter were already in exist-ence when Paul preached, or (with the majority of writers) that Peter followed Paul upon his own ground. Both these suppositions are improbable, and it is preferable to understand the phrase of the "children of God that are scattered abroad " whether Jews or Gentiles. That some of the latter were included in it seems clear from i. 21, ii. 10, which imply that before they were Christians they knew not Glod, and from iii. 6, which implies that their wives had only now become daughters of Abraham.

The epistle was evidently- written 4.1t a, time when the Christians of Asia lfinor were both calumniated (ii. 12, iii. 16, iv. 4, 14) and persecuted (i. 6, iii. 14-17, iv. 12-19). It exhorts those to whom it was addressed not only to bear their trials patiently, and even to rejoice inasmuch as they were " partakers of the sufferings of Christ " (iv. 13), but also to give no occasion to the hostile world which surrounded them to reproach them as evil-doers (ii. 12, 15, iv. 14, 15), and it specializes this ex-hortation to well-doing by addressing separately servants (ii. 18-25), wives (iii. 1-6), and husbands (iii. 7). This fact that Christianity had come to be persecuted, and also the fact, which is manifested in its whole tone, that Christians were in danger of retrograding, show that the epistle cannot be placed in the earlier part of the apostolic age. The time of the Neronian persecution is the earliest that will satisfy the required conditions ; and some (e.g., Schwegler, Baur, Hilgenfeld) have thought that even this is too early for those conditions, and that it must be referred to the time of Trajan. It may, however, be said in reference to this latter view that the words of Tacitus in regard to the Christians under Nero, if they be not merely a reficxion from his own time, exactly suit the circum-stances to which this epistle refers ; " quos per fiagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat " (Ann., xv. 44).

Like most documents of the apostolic age, it deals less with doctrine than with practice. But, though the doctrine is incidental, it is clear ; taken in connexion with the Petrine speeches in the Acts of the Apostles, with which it is on the whole in harmony, it probably gives a faithful transcript of the original apostolic teaching. The Messiah of whom the prophets had spoken had been revealed (i. 10-12); He had come to suffer (i. 11) for sins (ii. 24, iii. 18), and by His sufferings Ile had rescued the elect from their former evil life (i. 18-20) and brought them to God (iii. 18), and in His conduct under suffering left an example for them to follow (ii. 21-23). Belief in God who raised Him from the dead on the one hand is a purification of the soul and an obedience to the truth, and on the other it results in love of the brethren (i. 22); it constitutes a bond of brotherhood, like that which had existed between the children of Abraham, and made the elect, what the Jews had failed to be, "a royal priesthood, a. holy nation " (ii. 9, from Exod. xix. 6). But the fulfilment of the promise is not for this world ; Christians are "strangers and tra-vellers " (ii. 11) ; the end of all things is at band (iv. 7), and that is the revelation of the glory of the .Messiali in which those who believe in Him will be partakers (iv. 13, v. 1).

The picture of the Christian communities which the epistle presents is of the simplest, and is in entire harmony with the general facts of the apostolic and sub-apostolic a,ge. The organization was that of the Jewish synedria ; the " elders " were as shepherds of the flock, exercising over the younger members the control of a shuple discipline. The ministering to the wants of those who needed help was the common and personal duty of all who had where-with to minister (iv. 10), and a special class of officers for the purpose was not yet needed. It is evident that "liberty of prophesying" prevailed ; the only injunction on the point is, " if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God " (iv. 11).

The coincidences of thought and expression between some pass-ages of this epistle and some passages in the epistle of James and in both the disputed and undisputed epistles of F.,:t Paul have given rise to much dismission. The chief coincidences are the fol-lowing :-(1) between 1 Peter and James, i. 6, 7, and i. 2, 3, i. 12 and i. 25, i. 22 and iv. 8, ii. 1 and i. 21, iv. 8 and v. 20, v. 5, 9, and iv. 6, '1, v. 6 and iv. 10 ; (2) between 1 Peter and Romans, i. 14 and xii. 2, ii. and xii. 1, ii. 6-10 and ix. 32, ii. 13 and xiii. 1, iii. 9 and xii. 17, iii. 22 and viii. 34, iv. 3, 7, and xiii. 11, 12, iv. 9 and xiii. 13, iv. 10 and xii. 6 ; (3) between 1 Peter and Ephe-sians, i. 1 sq. and i. 3 sq., i. 14 and ii. 3, ii. 18 and vi. 5, iii. 1 and v. 22, iii. 22 and i. 20, v. 5 and v. 21. Of these coincidences several explanations have been given. -Weiss (Die petrinische Lehrbcgrille, 1855, and Biblical Theology of the Netv Testament, E. T., vol. i. p. 167) holds that this epistle preceded the other epistles and gave rise to the expressions which they contain. The Tubingen school hold that the contrary is the case, and that it represents either a late and weakened form of Paulinism (Baur, , Zeller, Pfleiderer), or an attempt to mediate between the Pauline and Petrine parties by clothing the doctrines of the latter in the phraseology of the former (Schwegler). Others (notably Mayerhoft, Einlcitung in dic par. Schriften,1835) consider that there is no copy-ing on either the one side or the other, but that all the coincidences of expression come from a common stock of apostolic teaching.

The epistle was used by Papias and is possibly referred to by Polycarp, and it is expressly quoted by Iremeus and Tertullian ; it is not mentioned in the Muratorian Fragment, but it is trans-lated in the Peshito version, and is included by Eusebius among the admitted books (homologo2tmena). Its genuin ell ess was generaIly admitted until the present century ; and some of its peculiarities have been accounted for by the hypothesis of its having been originally written in Aramaic, and translated, or possibly amplified, by Mark or Silvanus. On the other hand there are some who hold that the attacks -upon it by Schwegler, Baur, Pfleiderer, Holtz-mann, and others have been stronger than the defence of it.

(c. ii.); and it reasserts the reality of the SeCond Coming, resting it upon the reality of the supernatural evidence of the First Coming (i. 16-18).

The correspondence between this epistle, especially c. and that of Jude is too strong to be a mere coincidence. It was at one time supposed to be the original which Jude imitated (so Semler and Michaelis, and more recently Luthardt and Hofmann), but the preponderance of opinion in modern times is in favour of the opposite view (not only by those who question the authenticity' of this epistle but by some also of those who maintain it, e.g., Weiss). A lea-ding argument in favour of the latter hypothesis is that 2 Peter ii. 13-17 is an amplification (and some main-tain also a misapplication) of Jude 11, 12, and that 2 Peter ii. 11 requires Jude 9 for its explanation. An equally well marked correspondence has recently been pointed out between this epistle a,nd Josephus, and the balance of prob-ability is in favour of the priority' of the latter.' The differences of style which distinguish the second from the first epistle have been noted since the time of Jerome (De Vir. ./RUSii., C. 1, and Epist. //e(M., c. 11). They are soinetimes explained on the ground of the epistles having had different purposes, or having been written at different times ; they are more commonly used as indica-tions of a difference of authorship ; and, although the argu-ment front differences of style in comparatively short documents cannot be held to be decisive where the external evidence in their favour is strong, such is not the case with this epistle. The external evidence for it is singularly weak ; there are no certain traces of it earlier than the 3d century, when Origen (ap. Euseb., II. E., vi. 25), who is the first to mention it, also mentions that it was questioned. It is not included in either the !sluratorian Fra-gment or the Peshito-Syriae (though it is in the later Philoxenian). Eusebius (II. E., iii. 3) ranks it among the disputed books (tattilegoniena), and Jerome, adthough he included it in his translation (which fact probably accounts for its general acceptance in the -Western churches), mentions that many rejected it. These doubts of early writers, which 'WU° revived by Erasmus and Calvin, have been shared by a large proportion of those who have written on the book in modern times ; at the same tittle it cannot be said that there is a consensus of opinion against it.

The best editions of both the epistles arc those in the comment-aries of Do Wette and Meyer, as reYised the former by Brackner and the latter by Huther (this has been translated, with the rest of Meyer's Cominentary, into English); there is a convenient short English commentary by Dean Plumptre in the Cambridge Bible for Sthools. For the doctrinal and other questions which arise out of the two epistles reference may be made, in addition to the works mentioned in. the coume of the article, to Weiss, "Die petrinische Frage," in. Stud. u. Kra., 1865, p. 619 ; " Das Problem d. ersteo Petrusbr.," ibid., 1872, p. 657; Schmid, Xew Tes-tament Theology, translated in Clark's Foreign Theological Library ; Ale5sner, Die, 'Akre der Apostel, 1856; Farrar, Early Days of Christ-ianity, vol. i. pp. 121, 174 ; and SieiTert, s.v. "Petrus," in Herzog-Plitt's Real-En.cylclopiiclie, 21 ed. vol. xi. (E. HA.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries