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Epistles of Peter

These two epistles will be treated under the following heads: I. Authenticity; II. Recipients, occasion, and object; III. Date and place of composition; IV. Analysis.


A. Authenticity

The authenticity, universally admitted by the primitive Church, has been denied within the past century by Protestant or Rationalist critics (Baur and the Tubingen School, Von Soden, Harnack, Jülicher, Hilgenfeld, and others), but it cannot seriously be questioned. It is well established by extrinsic and instrinsic arguments.

(1) Extrinsic arguments

(a) in writings of the first and second centuries, e.g., Justin's letter to the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Papias, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, the "Didache", the "Pastor" of Hermas, and others. The Second Epistle of St. Peter, admitted to be very ancient even by those who question its authenticity, alludes to an earlier Epistle written by the Apostle (iii, 1). The letter therefore existed very early and was considered very authoritative. (b) Tradition is also unanimous for St. Peter's authorship. In the second and third centuries we have much explicit testimony to this effect. Clement and Origen at Alexandria, Tertullian and Cyprian in Africa, the Peshitto in Syria, Irenaeus in Gaul, the ancient Itala and Hippolytus at Rome all agree in attributing it to Peter, as do also the heretics, Basilides and Theodore of Byzantium. (c) All the collections or lists of the New Testament mention it as St. Peter's; the Muratorian Canon, which alone is at variance with this common tradition, is obscure and bears evident marks of textual corruption, and the subsequent restoration suggested by Zahn, which seems much more probable, is clearly favourable to the authenticity. Moreover Eusebius of Caesarea does not hesitate to place it among the undisputed Scriptures.

(2) Intrinsic arguments

Examination of the Epistle in itself is wholly favourable to its authenticity; the author calls himself Peter, the Apostle of Jesus Christ (i, 1); Mark, who, according to the Acts of the Apostles, had such close relations with Peter, is called by the author "my son" (v, 13); the author is represented as the immediate disciple of Jesus Christ (i, 1; v, 9, 11-14); he exercises from Rome a universal jurisdiction over the whole Church (v, 1). The numerous places in which he would appear to be the immediate witness of the life of Christ (i, 8; ii, 21-24; v, 1), as well as the similarity between his ideas and the teaching of the Gospels, are eloquently in favour of the Apostolic author (cf. Jacquier, 251). Finally, some authors consider that the Epistle and the sermons of St. Peter related in the Acts show an analogy in basis and form which proves a common origin. However, it is probable if not certain that the Apostle made use of an interpreter, especially of Sylvanus; St. Jerome says: "the two Epistles attributed to St. Peter differ in style, character, and the construction of the words, which proves that according to the exigencies of the moment St. Peter made use of different interpreters" (Ep. cxx ad Hedib.). Peter himself seems to insinuate this: Dia Silouanou houmin . . . egrapha (v, 12), and the final verses (12-14) seem to have been added by the Apostle himself. Without denying that Peter was able to use and speak Greek, some authors consider that he could not write it in the almost classic manner of this Epistle. Nevertheless it is impossible to determine exactly the share of Sylvanus; it is not improbable that he wrote it according to the directions of the Apostle, inserting the ideas and exhortations suggested by him.

Objections: (a) The relation between the First Epistle of Peter and the Epistles of Paul, especially Romans and Ephesians, does not prove, as has been claimed (Jülicher), that the Epistle was written by a disciple of Paul. This relation, which has been much exaggerated by some critics, does not prove a literary dependence nor prevent this Epistle from possessing a characteristic originality in ideas and form. The resemblance is readily explained if we admit that Peter employed Sylvanus as interpreter, for the latter had been a companion of Paul, and would consequently have felt the influence of his doctrine and manner of speaking. Moreover, Peter and Sylvanus were at Rome, where the letter was written, and they would naturally have become acquainted with the Epistles to the Romans and the Ephesians, written some months before and intended, at least in part, for the same readers. (b) It has been claimed that the Epistle presupposes an official and general persecution in the Roman Empire and betokens a state of things corresponding to the reign of Vespasian, or even that of Domitian or Trajan, but the data it gives are too indefinite to conclude that it refers to one of these persecutions rather than to that of Nero; besides, some authors consider that the Epistle does not al all suppose an official persecution, the allusions being readily explained by the countless difficulties and annoyances to which Jews and pagans subjected the Christians.

B. Recipients of the Epistle; Occasion and Object

It was written to the faithful of "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (i, 1). Were these Christians converted Jews, dispersed among the Gentiles (i, 1), as was held by Origen, Didymus of Alexandria, etc., and is still maintained by Weiss and Kuhl, or were they in great part of pagan origin? The latter is by far the more common and the better opinion (i, 14; ii, 9-10; iii, 6; iv, 3). The argument based on i, 7, proves nothing, while the words "to the strangers dispersed through Pontus" should not be taken in the literal sense of Jews in exile, but in the metaphorical sense of the people of God, Christians, living in exile on earth, far from their true country. The opinions of authors admitting the authenticity are divided with regard to the historical circumstances which occasioned the Epistle, some believing that it was written immediately after Nero's decree proscribing the Christian religion, in which case the difficulties to which Peter alludes do not consist merely of the calumnies and vexations of the people, but also include the judicial pursuit and condemnation of Christians (iv, 14-16; v, 12; ii, 23; iii, 18), while iv, 12, may be an allusion to the burning of Rome which was the occasion of Nero's decree. This is the opinion of Hug, Gloire, Batiffol, Neander, Grimm, Ewald, Allard, Weiss, Callewaert, etc., while others date the Epistle from the eve of that decree (Jacquier, Brassac, Fillion, etc.). The Epistle, they say, having been written from Rome, where the persecution must have raged in all its horror, we naturally look for clear and indisputable indications of it, but the general theme of the epistle is that the Christians should give no occasion to the charges of the infidels, but that by their exemplary life they should induce them to glorify God (ii, 12, 15; iii, 9, 16; iv, 4); besides, the way of speaking is generally hypothetical (i, 6; iii, 13-14; iv, 14), there being no question of judges, tribunals, prison, tortures, or confiscation. The Christians have to suffer, not from authority, but from the people among whom they lived.

The Apostle Peter wrote to the Christians of Asia to confirm them in the Faith, to console them amid their tribulations, and to indicate to them the line of conduct to follow in suffering (v, 2). Except for the more dogmatic introduction (i, 3-12) and a few short instructions strewn throughout the letter and intended to support moral exhortations, the Epistle is hortatory and practical. Only an absurd a priori argument could permit the Tubingen critics to assert that it had a dogmatic object and was written by a second-century forger with the intention of attributing to Peter the doctrines of Paul.

C. Place and Date of Composition

The critics who have denied Peter's sojourn at Rome must necessarily deny that the letter was written from there, but the great majority of critics, with all Christian antiquity, agree that it was written at Rome itself, designated by the metaphorical name Babylon (v, 13). This interpretation has been accepted from the most remote times, and indeed no other metaphor could so well describe the city of Rome, rich and luxurious as it was, and given over to the worship of false gods and every species of immorality. Both cities had caused trouble to the people of God, Babylon to the Jews, and Rome to the Christians. Moreover this metaphor was in use among the early Christians (cf. Apoc., xiv, 8; xvi, 19; xvii, 5; xviii, 2, 10, 21). Finally, tradition has not brought us the faintest memory of any sojourn of Peter at Babylon. The opinions of critics who deny the authenticity of the Epistle range from A.D. 80 to A.D. 160 as the date, but as there is not the slightest doubt of its authenticity they have no basis for their argument. Equally diverse opinions are found among the authors who admit the authenticity, ranging from the year A.D. 45 to that accepted as that of the death of Peter. The most probable opinion is that which places it about the end of the year 63 or the beginning of 64; and St. Peter having suffered martyrdom at Rome in 64 (67?) the Epistle could not be subsequent to that date; besides, it assumes that the persecution of Nero, which began about the end of 64, had not yet broken out (see above). On the other hand the author frequently alludes to the Epistle to the Ephesians, making use of its very words and expressions; consequently the Epistle could not be prior to 63, since the Epistle to the Ephesians was written at the end of Paul's first captivity at Rome (61-63).

D. Analysis

The Epistle as a whole being but a succession of general ideas without close connection, there can be not strict plan of analysis. It is divided as follows: the introduction contains, besides the address (superscription and salutation, i, 7), thanksgiving to God for the excellence of the salvation and regeneration to which He has deigned to call the Christians (3-12). This part is dogmatic and serves as a basis for all the moral exhortations in the body of the Epistle. The body of the Epistle may be divided into three section: (a) exhortation to a truly Christian life (i, 13-ii, 10), wherein Peter successively exhorts his readers to holiness in general (13-21), to fraternal charity in particular (i, 22-ii, 1), to love and desire of the true doctrine; thus they shall be living stones in the spiritual house of which Christ is the cornerstone, they shall be the royal priesthood and the chosen people of the Lord (2-10). (b) Rules of conduct for Christians living among pagans, especially in time of persecution (ii, 11-v, 19). Let their conduct be such that the infidels themselves shall be edified and cease to speak evil of the Christians (11-12). This general principle is applied in detail in the exhortations relating to obedience to civil rulers (13-17), the duties of slaves to their masters (18-25), the mutual duties of husband and wife (iii, 1-7). With regard to those who, not having the same faith, calumniate and persecute the Christians, the latter should return good for evil, according to the example of Christ, who though innocent suffered for us, and who preached the Gospel not only to the living, but also to the spirits that were in prison (8-22). The Apostle concludes by repeating his exhortation to sanctity in general (iv, 1-6), to charity (7-11), to patience and joy in suffering for Christ (12-19). (c) Some special recommendations follow (v, 1-11): let the ancients be careful to feed the flock entrusted to their keeping (1-4); let the faithful be subject to their pastor (5a); let all observe humility among themselves (5b); let them be sober and watchful, trusting the Lord (6-11).

In the epilogue the Apostle himself declares that he has employed Sylvanus to write the letter and affirms that the Divine grace possessed by his readers is the true grace (12); he addresses to them the salutations of the Church in Rome and those of Mark (13), and gives them his Apostolic blessing.


A. Authenticity

In the present state of the controversy over the authenticity it may be affirmed that it is solidly probable, though it is difficult to prove with certainty.

(1) Extrinsic arguments

(a) In the first two centuries there is not in the Apostolic Fathers and other ecclesiastical writers, if we except Theophilus of Antioch (180), a single quotation properly so called from this Epistle; at most there are some more or less probable allusions in their writings, e.g., the First Epistle of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, the "Didache", St. Ignatius, the Epistle of Barnabas, the "Pastor" of Hermas, the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, the Dialogue of St. Justin with Trypho, St. Irenaeus, the Clementine "Recognitions", the "Acts of Peter", etc. The Epistle formed part of the ancient Itala, but is not in the Syriac. This proves that the Second Epistle of Peter existed and even had a certain amount of authority. But it is impossible to bring forward with certainty a single explicit testimony in favour of this authenticity. The Muratorian Canon presents a mutilated text of I Peter, and Zahin's suggested restoration, which seems very probable, leaves only a doubt with regard to the authenticity of the Second Epistle.

(b) In the Western Church there is not explicit testimony in favour of the canonicity and Apostolicity of this Epistle until the middle of the fourth century. Tertullian and Cyprian do not mention it, and Mommsen's Canon (360) still bears traces of the uncertainty among the Churches of the West in this respect. The Eastern Church gave earlier testimony in its behalf. According to Eusebius and Photius, Clement of Alexandria (d. 215) commented on it, but he seems not to have ranked it with the first. It is found in the two great Egyptian versions (Sahidic and Bohairic). It is probable that Firmilian of Caesarea used it and ascribed it to St. Peter, as Methodius of Olympus did explicitly. Eusebius of Caesarea (340), while personally accepting II Peter as authentic and canonical, nevertheless classes it among the disputed works (antilegomena), at the same time affirming that it was known by most Christians and studied by a large number with the other Scriptures. In the Church of Antioch and Syria at that period it was regarded as of doubtful authenticity. St. John Chrysostom does not speak of it, and it is omitted by the Peshitto. That the Epistle formerly accepted in that Church (Theophilus of Antiocy) was not yet included in the canon was probably due to dogmatic reasons.

(c) In the second half of the fourth century these doubts rapidly disappeared in the Churches of the East owing to the authority of Eusebius of Caesarea and the fifty copies of the Scriptures distributed by command of Constantine the Great. Didymus of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, St. Epiphanius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Gregory Nazianzen, the Canon of Laodicea, all regard the letter as authentic. The addition to the text of Didymus, according to which it was the work of a forger, seems to be the error of a copyist. So in the West relations with the East and the authority of St. Jerome finally brought about the admission of its authenticity. It was admitted to the Vulgate, and the synod convoked by Pope Damasus in 382 expressly attributes it to St. Peter.

(2) Intrinsic arguments

If tradition does not appear to furnish an apodictic argument in favour of the authenticity, an examination of the Epistle itself does. The author calls himself Simon Peter, servant and Apostle of Jesus Christ (i, 1), witness of the glorious transfiguration of Christ (i, 16-18); he recalls the prediction of His death which Christ made to him (i, 14); he calls the Apostle Paul his brother, i.e., his colleague in the Apostolate (iii, 15); and he identifies himself with the author of the First Epistle. Therefore the author must necessarily be St. Peter himself or some one who wrote under his name, but nothing in the Epistle forces us to believe the latter. On the other hand there are several indications of its authenticity: the author shows himself to be a Jew, of ardent character, such as the New Testament portrays St. Peter, while a comparison with the ideas, words, and expressions of the First Epistle affords a further argument in favour of the identify of the author. Such, at least, is the opinion of several critics.

In examining the difficulties raised against the authenticity of the Epistle, the following facts should be remembered: (a) This Epistle has been wrongly accused of being imbued with Hellenism, from which it is even farther removed than the writings of Luke and the Epistles of Paul. (b) Likewise the false doctrines which it opposes are not the full-blown Gnosticism of the second century, but the budding Gnosticism as opposed by St. Paul. (c) The difference which some authors claim to find between the doctrine of the two Epistles probes nothing against the authenticity; some others have even maintained that comparison of the doctrines furnishes a new argument in favour of the author's identify. Doubtless there exist undeniable differences, but is an author obliged to confine himself within the same circle of ideas? (d) The difference of style which critics have discovered between the two Epistles is an argument requiring too delicate handling to supply a certain conclusion, and here again some others have drawn from a similarity of style an argument in favour of a unity of authorship. Admitting that the manner of speaking is not the same in both Epistles, there is, nevertheless, not the slightest difficulty, if it be true as St. Jerome has said (see above under FIRST EPISTLE), that in the composition of the Epistles St. Peter made use of different interpreters. (e) It is also incorrect to say that this Epistle supposes the Epistle of St. Paul to have been already collected (iii, 15-16), for the author does not say that he knew all the Epistles of St. Paul. That he should have regarded Paul's letters as inspired forms a difficulty only to those who do not admit the possibility of a revelation made to Peter on this point. Some authors have also wrongly contested the unity of the Epistle, some claiming that it consists of two distinct epistles, the second beginning with ch. iii, others maintaining that the ii, 1-iii, 2, has been interpolated. Recently M. Ladeuze (Revue Biblique, 1905) has advanced an hypothesis which seems to end numerous difficulties: by an involuntary error of a copyist or by accidental transposition of the leaves of the codex on which the Epistle was written, one of the parts of the Epistle was transposed, and according to the order of sections the letter should be restored as follows: i-ii, 3a; iii, 1-16; ii, 3b-22; iii, 17-18. The hypothesis seems very probable.

Relations of II Peter with the Epistle of Jude

This Epistle has so much in common with that of Jude that the author of one must have had the other before him. There is no agreement on the question of priority, but the most credited opinion is that Peter depends on Jude (q.v.).

B. Recipients, Occasion, and Object

It is believed that this Epistle, like the First, was sent to the Christians of Asia Minor, the majority of whom were converted Gentiles (iii, 1-2; ii, 11-12; etc.). False teachers (ii, 1), heretics and deceivers (iii, 3), of corrupt morals (ii, 1) and denying the Second Advent of Christ and the end of the world, sought to corrupt the faith and the conduct of the Christians of Asia Minor. Peter wrote to excite them to the practice of virtue and chiefly to turn them away from the errors and bad example of the false teachers.

C. Date and Place of Composition

While those who reject the authenticity of the Epistle place it about 150, the advocates of its authenticity maintain that it was written after 63-4, the date of the First Epistle, and before 64-5, the date believed to be that of the death of St. Peter (i, 14). Like the First, it was written at Rome.

D. Analysis

In the exordium the Apostle, after the inscription and salutation (i, 1-2), recalls the magnificent gifts bestowed by Jesus Christ on the faithful; he exhorts them to the practice of virtue and all the more earnestly that he is convinced that his death is approaching (3-15). In the body of the Epistle (i, 16-iii, 13) the author brings forward the dogma of the second coming of Christ, which he proves, recalling His glorious transfiguration and the prediction of the Prophets (i, 16-21). Then he inveighs against the false teachers and condemns their life and doctrines: (a) They shall undergo Divine chastisement, in proof of which the Apostle recalls the punishment inflicted on the rebel angels, on the contemporaries of Noe, on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (ii, 1-11). (b) He describes the immoral life of the false teachers, their impurity and sensuality, their avarice and duplicity (12-22). (c) He refutes their doctrine, showing that they are wrong in rejecting the second coming of Christ and the end of the world (iii, 1-4), for the Judge shall certainly come and that unexpectedly; even as the ancient world perished by the waters of the flood so the present world shall perish by fire and be replaced by a new world (5-7). Then follows the moral conclusion: let us live holily, if we desire to be ready for the coming of the Judge (8-13); let us employ the time given us to work out our salvation, even as Paul taught in his Epistles which the false teachers abuse (14-17). Verse 18 consists of the epilogue and doxology.

DRACH-BAYLE, Epitres catholiques (Paris, 1873); HUNDHAUSEN, Die beiden Pontificalhereiben des Apostelfursten Petrus (Mainz, 1878); CORNELY, Hist. Et crit. Introductio in U. T. libros sacros, III, Introductio specialis (Paris, 1886); BEELEN, Hetniewe Testament (Bruges, 1891); JULICHER, Einleitung in das neue Testament (1894); KUHL, Briefe Petri und Judoe (Gottingen, 1897); HORT, The First Epistle of St. Peter (London, 1898); VON SODEN, Briefe des Petrus (Freiburg, 1899); HARNACK, Gesch. der altchrist. Literatur, die Chronologie (Leipzig, 1900); MONNIER, La premiere epitre de Pierre (Macon, 1900); ZAHN, Grundriss der Gesch. des neutestamntlichen Kanons (Leipzig, 1901); TRANKLE, Einleitung in das neue Test. (Freiburg, 1901); BIGG, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Ep. of St. Peter and St Jude (Edinburgh, 1902); CEULEMANS, Comment. in epist. catholicas et apocalypsim (Mechlin, 1904); HENKEL, Der zweite Brief des Apostelfursten petrus gepruft auf seine Echtheit (Freiburg, 1904); BELSER, Einleitung in das neue Test. (Freiburg, 1905); CALMES, Epitres cathol. Apocalypse (Paris, 1905); WEISS, Der erste Petrus brief und die neuere Kritik (Lichterfelde, 1906); DILLENSEGER, L'authenticite' de la II Petri in Melanges de la faculte' orientale (Beirut, 1907); CALLEWAERT in Revue d'hist. eccles. (Louvain, 1902, 1907); JACQUIER, Hist. des livres du N. Test. (Paris, 1908); BRASSAC, Manuel bibl. (Paris, 1909); VANSTEENKISTE-CAMERLYNCK, Comment. in epist. cathol. (Bruges, 1909).

A. Vander Heeren.

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