By E. H. Plumptre
From the Book The General Epistles of St. Peter & St. Jude
The First Epistle of St Peter.
A glance at the map of Asia Minor will shew that the provinces which are named in the first verse of the Epistle occupied the greater part of the region popularly so described, leaving out only the Southern provinces of Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycia. Pontus had not come within the recorded work of St Paul or any of the Apostles, but there are indications that it had attracted a considerable Jewish population. Jews of Pontus were present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts ii. 9). Aquila the tent-maker came from that country (Acts xviii. 2). So also did the Aquila (probably identical with Onkelos) the translator of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Polemon, its titular king, married the Berenice of Acts xxv. 23, the sister of Herod Agrippa II., and became a proselyte to Judaism by accepting the badge of circumcision (Jos. Ant. XX. 7). How the Gospel had been preached there we can only conjecture. It may have been carried by the unknown pilgrims from Jerusalem. Aquila or Paul may have embraced it in their mission work during the two years in which the latter made Ephesus the centre of his activity, or Luke, whom we find at Troas doing the work of an Evangelist in Acts xvi. 8 10, may have included it in the sphere of his labours. The fact that Marcion, the heretic of the second century, confined his recognition of the Gospel history to a mutilated text of St Luke (Tertull. adv. Marcion. IV. 2), gives a certain confirmation to the last conjecture which is wanting for the other. Of Galatia we know, of course, much more. Most students of the New Testament are now familiar with the story of the settlement of the Gauls in that region in the 2nd century B.C., of their adoption of the orgiastic cultus of Cybele, the earth-goddess, with her eunuch priests, of the illness which led St Paul to prolong his stay among them (Gal. iv. 13), of their loving and loyal devotion to him, of the impetuosity and fickleness which they inherited from their Keltic forefathers (Gal. i. 6), of the success of the Judaizing teachers in bewitching and perverting them (Gal. iii. 1), of St Paul's indignant, sorrowful, tenderly passionate Epistle to them. We have, however, to remember that it was not to these, the Galatians properly so called, that St Peter wrote, but to those of the Dispersion who were sojourning among them (1 Pet. i. 1). They also, however, probably received the Gospel from St Paul, and as being Jews were less likely to be the object of the proselytizing intrigues of the Judaizers. Of Cappadocia we again note that it had sent pilgrims to the Pentecostal feast of Acts ii. 9. The Jewish settlers whom they represented had probably been brought into the region after the removal by Antiochus the Great of two thousand families from Mesopotamia and Babylon to Phrygia. The Western region of the province bordered so closely on Lycaonia that Lystra and Derbe were sometimes reckoned as belonging to it, and the Gospel may have penetrated to it from those cities. Little as it is prominent in the New Testament records, it numbered among its cities many. that were afterwards famous in the history of the Church, Tyana the birthplace of the impostor Apollonius, and Nyssa the see of Gregory, and Caesarea, that of his brother Basil, and Nazianzus, of the other Gregory.
The name of Asia, the proconsular province of that name, of which Ephesus was the capital, recalls to our memory the history of St Paul's three years work there (Acts xx. 31). The Churches there must have been planted by him and his companions Aquila and Priscilla, and Apollos also had been active as a preacher (Acts xviii. 24). The Temple of Artemis made it one of the head-quarters of heathen worship. The Jews of Ephesus were among St Paul's bitterest enemies. Among the believers in that city, however, among the elders who were his fellow-workers he had found those on whom his thoughts dwelt with the most entire thankfulness and satisfaction. He had not shrunk from declaring to them the whole counsel of God (Acts xx. 27). They were able to understand his knowledge in the mystery of God (Eph. iii. 4).
We have no record of any work of St Paul's in Bithynia, but we know that when he was on his second mission journey his thoughts had turned to it as a promising field for his labours (Acts xvi. 7), and that but for the overpowering intimations in which he recognised the guidance of the Spirit of God, he would have turned his footsteps thither. What has been said above as to the probability of St Luke having extended his labours as a preacher of the Gospel from Troas to Pontus holds good also of this nearer region. The report made by Pliny in his official letter, as Proconsul of Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan (circ. A.D. 110) shews that it must have manifested a singular receptivity for the Truth. He describes (Epp. X. 96) multitudes, both men and women, of every age and rank, as embracing the new religion, the temples almost deserted, and the market for sacrifices finding scarcely a single purchaser.
We are able without much risk of error to determine both the occasion and the date of the First Epistle which St Peter addressed to the Jewish Christians of these Churches. Silvanus had come to him bringing tidings that they were exposed to a fiery trial of persecution (1 Pet. iv. 12). They were accused of being evil-doers, preaching revolutionary doctrines (1 Pet. ii. 15, 16) The very name of Christian then, as afterwards under Pliny's régime, exposed them to odium and outrage (1 Pet. iv. 16). The teachers to whom they owed so much, Paul and Aquila and Luke, were no longer with them. The state of things described in the First, and yet more in the Second Epistle, exactly answers to that which we find in St Paul's Epistles to Timothy, and we can scarcely be wrong in as signing them to the same period. When a wave of fanatic hatred directed against the name of Christian was flowing well-nigh over the length and breadth of the Empire, rulers in the provinces were but too likely to follow the example which Nero had set them in the capital. The Apostle felt that he could not withhold his words of comfort and counsel from those who were thus suffering, and though, in scrupulous conformity with the partition treaty to which St Paul refers in Gal. ii. 9, he addresses himself primarily, if not exclusively, to those who looked to him as the Apostle of the Circumcision, we may well believe that he did not shut out the Gentiles from his thoughts and prayers. The absence of any messages sent by name to those to whom he writes favours, though it does not prove, the conclusion that he had not known them personally. In the stress laid on their being in "the true grace of God" (1 Pet. v. 12), in the admission that they had known all that he had to teach them (2 Pet. i. 12), in the tribute borne to the wisdom of his beloved brother Paul (2 Pet. iii. 15, 16), yet more in the re production, which can hardly have been other than deliberate, of St Paul's most characteristic thoughts and phrases, we trace an almost anxious desire to shew that he and the Apostle of the Gentiles were still of one mind and heart in the fellowship of the Truth. As far as the First Epistle is concerned it does not appear that he was cognisant of any controversies or heresies that called for special warnings and reproofs. Possibly the storm of persecution had driven the false teachers who shrank from martyrdom into holes and corners. Possibly Silvanus had dwelt, naturally enough, on the more immediate and threatening dangers and had left the others untold.
As a preparation for the study of the Epistle, it will be well to give a brief analysis of its contents, tracing the sequence of its thoughts. The reader who has followed that analysis will be prepared for two or three other lines of enquiry, the results of which will, it is believed, be in many ways interesting and suggestive. We have seen that the influences which were chiefly at work in fashioning St Peter's character were (1) the teaching of our Lord as recorded in the Gospels, (2) his association with St James, the brother of the Lord, in the superintendence of the Church of the Circumcision, (3) his friendship with St John, (4) his knowledge of St Paul's teaching as communicated orally or embodied in his Epistles. It is believed that a careful study of the two Epistles now before us will shew that they present many traces, sometimes in their thoughts, sometimes in their words and phrases, of each of these influences. For a fuller examination of the parallelisms that thus present themselves, the reader is referred to the foregoing life of the Apostle and to the notes. It will be enough in this place to present the results in a tabulated form so that he may follow up the line of enquiry for himself.
A. ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST PETER.
Chap. I. The Apostle salutes the sojourners of the "dispersion" of the Asiatic Churches (1, 2) and blesses God for His mercies to them (3, 4). The joy and salvation which spring from these more than balance their afflictions (59). Of that salvation prophets and angels sought to know, yet knew not fully (10 - 12). Looking to it, men should learn to be patient and holy (13 - 17), leading the life of those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ (18 - 21), but from their faith and hope should spring the love which belongs to this life of those who are re generated by the indwelling Word of God (22 - 25).
Chap. II. As thus begotten again, they should lead the lives of new born babes in their simplicity and innocence (1 - 3), coming to the Lord as the living stone on which they who believe are built up (4 - 6), while it is a stone of stumbling to those who believe not (7 - 9). They are a royal priesthood and the people of God, and their lives as subjects under rulers, slaves under masters, should be such as to refute all slanders (9 - 18). In all their sufferings they should follow in the footsteps of the patience and meekness of Christ, the shepherd of their souls (19 - 25).
Chap. III. The duty of submission involved in the relations of society extends to wives as well as subjects and slaves. Christian wives must seek to win their heathen or Jewish husbands, not by argument, but by their life (1 - 6). Husbands in their turn must remember that authority implies the duty of protection (7). For all alike there are the broad rules of holy living, such as Christ had taught (8 - 11). Those who so live may trust in God's protection, and their highest blessedness will come through suffering wrongfully (12 - 14). They will know how to defend themselves, but their best defence will be the silent wit ness of their lives (15, 16). The suffering of Christ might teach them that death might be but the entrance to a wider sphere of activity. He had preached to those who had perished in the Flood (18 - 20). In that flood, the washing of the world from its pollutions, they might see the type of the baptism which was to them, when united with the faith of a good conscience, the means of salvation (21). They also, though they might suffer, would share in his Resurrection and Ascension (22).
Chap. IV. But Christ suffered that we, suffering with Him, might cease from sin and live to God (1, 2). The evil past must be left behind, even though men wonder at us and accuse us (3, 4). We and they shall stand hereafter before the Judge whose righteousness and mercy were shewn in a Gospel preached to the dead as well as to the living, in judgments that led to life (5, 6). Looking to that judgment as not far off, men should love one another, and use all gifts they have received from God as faithful stewards (7 - 11). If in the meantime there comes a fiery trial, that should be cause of joy. To suffer as a Christian was a thing to thank God for (12 - 16). Not even the righteous could be saved easily, but what then would be the end of the unrighteous? In that thought, the sufferers might commend their souls to God (17 - 19).
Chap. V. From the body of believers at large the Apostle turns to men who like himself are office-bearers, elders or bishops, and exhorts them to feed the flock, and so to do their work that they may receive a crown of glory from the Chief Shepherd (1 - 4). The younger in age or office are, in like manner, to be subject to the elder, mutual subjection being the very law of the Church's life. Not the haughty, but the lowly, are exalted by the hand of God. All anxious care about work or position may be left in His hands (5 - 7). Yet the absence of care is not to lead to carelessness. Christians need to watch, for the great Enemy is watching for them (8, 9). In view of their conflict with him or his agents, the Apostle ends with a prayer for their preservation and perfectness (10), and ends with commending Silvanus to them, and sending salutations from Marcus and a female disciple at Babylon.
The above parallelisms are, it will be seen, sometimes in thought, sometimes (and here the Greek, for the most part, makes the coincidence clearer) in the use of unusual or characteristic words. It does not follow, of course, that the agreement implies derivation in each single instance. What does follow may, it is believed, be thus briefly stated.
(1) They shew, and this is my main object in bringing them together in this tabulated form, that the Epistle ascribed to St Peter indicates the presence of elements of thought corresponding to the influences which we know to have been working on him in the several stages of his life.
(2) They shew that by far the most dominant of these influences had been the personal teaching of our Lord, and the personal or written teaching of St Paul. The mind of St Peter is, as it were, saturated with thoughts and phrases derived from the two sources, and thus over and above the direct references to each, they furnish an indirect proof of the genuineness of the documents in which we now find them, sc. the Gospels and the Epistles of St Paul.
(3) They prove, in regard to the last-named writings, that the idea of an antagonism between St Peter and St Paul, in which some historical critics have found the secret of the development of the Apostolic Church, is singularly at variance with facts, if we admit the genuineness of the First Epistle that bears the name of the former. The wretched caricature of an Apostle, a thing of shreds and patches, which struts and fumes through the Ebionite romances known as the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, would not have been likely to write with thoughts and phrases essentially Pauline flowing from his pen at every turn.
EXTERNAL EVIDENCE. It remains in conclusion to state briefly the external evidence for the reception of the First Epistle of St Peter into the New Testament Canon. The internal has, it is believed, been already stated with adequate fulness.
(1) The Second Epistle, even were we to assume its spuriousness, bears witness to the existence of a Letter already extant and of so much authority as to tempt a pseudonymous writer to mask himself as following it up by a second.
(2) Polycarp quotes the Epistle frequently, though he does not name it (Phil. c. II. V. VI. VIII.), and Eusebius (H. E. III. 39) says that Papias did the same. Irenaeus (iv. 9. 2; 16. 5) both quotes and names, as also does Clement of Alexandria (Strom. in. p. 544, 584, 585). Origen (Euseb. H. E. VI. 25) quotes it frequently and speaks of both Epistles, acknowledging, however, that they stand on a different footing as regards authority, and that the second was much questioned. Tertullian (Scorp. c. 12, 13) quotes and names it It is found, though the second is not found, in the Peschito or early Syriac version. The only fact of any weight on the other side is that it is not named in the Muratorian Fragment. From the time of Tertullian the authority of the Epistle, it need hardly be said, has remained unquestioned, till within the last century, when it has been attacked by some German critics, De Wette, Baur. Schwegler, on purely subjective and, it is believed, quite in adequate grounds.