Examining the books of Peter

The wisest approach to studying anything of significance is to get some fundamentals down about the material. Specifically the purpose of the material, who wrote the material, who was the audience, when was the material written, what was going on with the author as well as the recipients at the time. What were the circumstances or occasions that generated such material.  We will take this same approach as we begin the study of the epistles of Peter.

When we begin reading 1 Peter, it immediately states that the book was from Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ. Seems straight forward, but we need to know the whole story and situation of the authorship of the material.

The first reason Peter’s authorship is questioned is that at the end of the first epistle, when final greetings are given, there is a greeting to the people from Silvanus, which indicates his involvement in the production of the letter. As a result people indicate the letter is from Silvanus, not Peter.

The second problem we encounter with the authorship of the letter as Peter’s is that the Greek of the particular epistle is highly elegant. Many think of Peter as some wild fisherman, an unschooled sailor and would most likely not be able to write such an elegant Greek letter.

The third challenge is the targeted audience. The epistle is addressed to the exiles, sojourners, pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Traditionally, pilgrims or sojournors was the term used by the Jews to describe Gentiles. The churches established in Asia Minor in this time were established among Gentiles, and since Peter was an the Apostle of the circumcised, Jews, not to the Gentiles, this was a challenge to explain.

It was also evident by this letter that circumstances that prompted the writing of this letter presumably involved suffering under persecution. History tells us though that persecution by the Roman Empire against Christians did not extend beyond the city of Rome until much later, toward the end of the first century and into the second century for persecutions of Diocletian and Domitian. Since the letter was to comport people in persecution, the critics say it could not have been written during the lifetime of Peter because Peter was martyred in Rome in 64AD.  Peter and Paul both were executed under the rule of Nero and the persecutions did not extend into the provinces mentioned, particularly not as far out as the northern and western regions of Asia Minor.

Paul-vs-PeterAnother critique is that the letter of Peter seems to be very similar to the types of letters Paul wrote. We know from the book of Acts that Peter and Paul did not always get along, yet the letter almost seems like a carbon copy of Paul’s letters.  This builds the theory that the letter was not from Peter, but actually from Silvanus, which is just the formal long version of the name Silas. The only Silas we know in the bible is the one that was Paul’s companion on the missionary journeys.

With the theory that the letter was written later in the first or second century comes the notions that the letters were not Apostolic but had origins based on Gnostic literature.  This is an approach to discredit the bible and this practice continues today.

Historical information

The history of the early Christian church is universal and unanimous.  This epistle was received in the very earliest times of Christian history, in the middle of the first century, as having come from Peter.  That testimony is seconded by the greatest minds of the times. It was affirmed by Irenaeus in his dispute against heresies, and by Turtullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and the historian Eusebius. These are the most respected authorities outside the Bible in the early centuries of the church.  It actually was not until the 1800’s when the letter come under scrutiny.

The problem about the Greek language and the references to Silvanus at the end of the letter can be addressed as well. The natives of Galilee in ancient Palestine were bilingual. They spoke Aramaic and Greek. Therefore, Greek was a native language of Peter.  Even though he had no formal schooling under such people as Gamaliel, Hillel, or any rabbi in Jerusalem, he was certainly not unintelligent. He was actually quite articulate, as we read the accounts of his speeches through the book Acts, particularly on the day of Pentecost when he led thousands to Christ.  The use of Silvanus in the production of the letter was very customary in those times. We read often where Paul had scribes/secretaries assist him in his letters.  We don’t know what language Peter dictated it in, but we do know the original letter is in Greek.  If Silvanus was the Silas we are aware of, he would have been capable of writing at a high level of the Greek language, and if he wrote the epistle under the supervision and even the dictation of the Apostle Peter, that would account for the eloquence of the Greek without denying that Peter was the author.

In the final greetings of 1 Peter chapter 5 it indicates that the letter was written from Babylon, which in biblical code in that day was for Rome or Jerusalem. In this case it would have been most certainly Rome.  In the greetings it also mentions Mark, that would be John Mark. Remember, Mark was not an Apostle. He was apart of the Acts movement, he had traveled with Paul on a missionary journey but was sent home following a dispute between Paul and Barnabas.  We know from church history that John Mark became Peter’s spokesman, and the apostolic authority that stands behind the Gospel of Mark is the authority of the Apostle Peter.  The idea that Mark was included in the greetings gives it even more validity that the letter was authored by Mark’s mentor, Apostle Peter.

Even though official Christian persecution did not happen in the outlying regions until long after Peter was martyred, there was persecutions constant in every decade, regardless of whether it was backed by Roman authority.  There were persecutions on all of Paul’s journeys and that was even when the Gospel was first being shared in the regions. People that converted to Christianity in those areas constantly faced local hostility and persecution.

The letter is similar in style to that of a Pauline letter, even though at one point Peter and Paul were opposed when it came to Judizers. That was so much under debate, James the head of the Council in Jerusalem had to settle the problem. Paul rebuked Peter in public for falling away from the purity of the gospel by being seduced by the Judaizing heretics, but the issue was resolved way before their execution in the 60’s.

Even though Peter and Paul were separate men and had separate emphases in their ministries, they both wrote under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, and the message they communicated was the same gospel, the same ethic, the same truth.  Having their writing styles be consistent is actually what would be expected if we believe in the one and only Holy Spirit.

The issue of who the letter was written to can be clarified with some clear facts.  Peter was not writing to Gentiles but to Jewish converts numbered among the Diaspora. Those were Jews who had fled from Jerusalem, expelled under Emperor Claudius, and they had settled in the little communities in Asia Minor (Turkey). If you recall on many of Paul’s missionary journeys he would go into the synagogues first to preach the gospel to Jews and many were converted during those messages.  We need to realize that some of the first converts were from the Jewish communities.  They already knew the law, they just needed to be explained the prophecy that was fulfilled with Jesus.

These Jewish Christians, referenced as members of the Diaspora, are addressed here as pilgrims or sojourners, a common label for Jews expelled from Israel, from the holy city, and living in a pagan environment that was not their sacred heritage.

Gnostic Heresy

The word gnostic comes form the Greek word gnosis, which is Greek for ‘knowledge’. When you get sick and you want to get advice you are seeking a diagnosis.  When it is is explained to you by a doctor, you get a prognosis. Prognosticators are those who think that they have knowledge of future events. The term Gnosticism is rooted in the Greek word for knowledge.

Gnostics believed that truth was not discovered by reason, sense perception, or scientific inquiry, but only through direct mystical apprehension, and then only by an elite few. The only way the Gnostics could seduce Christians to believe heresy was to undermine the authority of the Apostles, so they suggested that the Apostles lacked the higher knowledge that only Gnostic practitioners could achieve.

You might of heard of agnostic before and think it is the same as gnostic, but they are actually the opposite. Agnostic is reference people that have no knowledge of God.  A gnostic person is one who claims to be 100 per cent sure of the existence of God. On the contrary, an agnostic person is only doubtful about the divine existence. Also don’t combine atheism into agnostic. Agnosticism lies in between theism and atheism. According to atheists, they believe that there is no God. But according to an agnostic, he just believes that it could not be proved if there is a God and if there isn’t.

There is the argument that the letters of Peter were produced in the second century under the impetus of Gnostic heresy. We have seen products of ancient Gnosticism in the recent years with such works as The Da Vinci Code, which features an idea that they have the bones of Jesus.  There were many letters written during the second century with the full intent to monopolize and sway congregations. Material such as the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas, claiming further gnostic teachings.

Who was this man?

We are going to see the true man’s character come out in this next month or so. Peter the bold; the one at Caesarea Philippi who made the great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16); the big fisherman who gave his life being a fisher of men; the one who paradoxically refused to agree to Jesus’ teaching immediately after the Caesarea Philippi confession, saying, “This shall not happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). In a matter of minutes, Peter went from being the rock to being the spokesman of Satan; from the blessing that Jesus gave him, saying “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, from flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17) to a dreadful rebuke from the lips of Jesus (Matthew 16:23). This is the same Peter who said he would follow Jesus to the death, and when Jesus told him that he would deny Him three times, Peter protested with all his might, only to prove Jesus’ prophecy accurately. This was the one who vacillated but nevertheless, over the course of the early church history, did become the rock, a leader who remained faithful to Jesus until his death.

Here are just a few…

Acts 2:41 – Peter boldly preaches and thousands are converted at PentacostActs 10:28 – Peter went against tradition and visited a gentile, actually lead him to Christ (before Paul converted a gentile, Peter converted Cornelius)
Acts 12 – Peter is in jail, awaiting trail and execution by Herod when Angel comes and frees him.
Peter was married (see Matthew 8:14)
Peter and his brother Andrew may have been the first followers of Jesus
John 1:35-36 – Peter met Jesus through his brother Andrew, who had followed Jesus after hearing John the Baptist proclaim that Jesus was the Lamb of God (John 1:35-36)
Peter, James and John were Jesus closest friends…
Matthew 17:1-9 – invited with John and James to go up the mountain together with Jesus and witness the transfiguration.
Mark 5:37-42 – along with John and James, witness Jesus raise Jarius’s daughter from the dead.
Mark 8:32-33 – Peter scolded Jesus for saying he was going to go to Jerusalem, suffer, die and be resurrected. Peter gets called out by Jesus “Get away from me, Satan!”
Peter founded and led the fledgling church in Jerusalem
John 13 – Peter makes a scene when Jesus humbles himself enough to wash the disciples feet, and Peter refuses
Matthew 14:22 – walks on water, then sinks…
Mark 14:37-38 – Peter is invited along into the garden of Gethsemane and asked to watch, but falls asleep. This was after proclaiming that he would never leave Jesus’ side, but abandoned him emotionally as prophecy was fulfilled.
Luke 22:8 – Peter and John were given the special task of preparing the final Passover meal
Peter was no where to be found when Jesus was nailed to the cross.
John 18 – Peter witnesses the arrest of Jesus and slashes the ear off of Malchus
Matthew 26:74-75 – out of fear, Peter repeatedly denies his association with Jesus.
John 21:15 – the resurrected Christ searches Peter out and restores him with love and forgiveness. Then charges him with the task to show his love by feeding His sheep.
The most commonly accepted church tradition in regard to the death of an apostle is that the apostle Peter was crucified upside-down on an x-shaped cross in Rome in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18)

What are some of the stories or characters of Peter that you can reflect on?

Hope for us

Peter was enthusiastic, strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times, brash. But for all his strengths, Peter had several failings in his life. Still, the Lord who chose him continued to mold him into exactly who He intended Peter to be. This character in the bible, in history, gives us all that hope of perseverance. Many times in our own life we fail or we know we have not followed through on something, but knowing who God is gives us the foundation to stand on.

As we go through the two epistles of Peter we will undoubtedly learn more about Peter, ourselves and most importantly Jesus. May this time we spend together be fruitful in ways we don’t understand.



1-2 Peter (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary) – RC Sproul

Be Hopeful – Warren Weirsbe