Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary New York.
The Epistles of Peter
|The life and character of the apostle
Peter are familiar to all readers of the Gospels and Acts. It has already
been shown in the Introduction to the Gospel of Mark how the style and
diction of that gospel exhibit the influence of Peter, and how the
characteristics which appear in the Acts, in those scenes in which Peter
was the only or the principal actor, reappear in the second gospel. If
these epistles are from his pen, we may therefore expect to find in them
traces of the keen-sightedness, the ready application of what is observed,
and the impulsiveness and promptness which appear in the other two books,
always allowing for the difference between a narrative and a hortatory
It has been observed that “the sight, and what it should do and reap, fills a great space in Peter's letters.” Accordingly, we read that God's salvation is ready to be revealed in the last time (1,1Pe 1:5); the angels desire to look into the mysteries of the gospel (1, 1Pe 1:12); Christ was manifested at the end of the times (1, 1Pe 1:20); the Gentiles shall behold your good works (1, 1Pe 2:12); unbelieving husbands shall be convinced by beholding the chaste behavior of their wives (1, 1Pe 3:2); the apostle was a witness of Christ's sufferings (1, 1Pe 5:1), and an eye-witness of his majesty (2, 2Pe 1:16); the elders must exercise oversight of the flock (1, 1Pe 5:2). Similarly he speaks of the day of visitation, or, lit., overlooking (1, 1Pe 2:12); Christ is the bishop, lit., overseer, of souls (1, 1Pe 2:25); he who lacks Christian graces is blind, seeing only what is near (2, 2Pe 1:9); Lot was vexed at seeing the wickedness of his neighbors (2, 2Pe 2:8); the wicked have eyes full of adultery (2, 2Pe 2:14).
Equally apparent is his readiness to apply what he sees and hears. “Not one thought,” says Canon Cook, “connected with the mystery of salvation is presented without an instant and emphatic reference to what a Christian ought to feel, and what he ought to do. No place in the spiritual temple is so humble that he who holds it has not before him the loftiest sphere of spiritual action and thought. Injunctions which touch the heart most powerfully are impressed upon us as we contemplate the eternal glory, the manifestations of Christ's love.” Thus we have sanctification of the spirit unto obedience (1,1Pe 1:2); be holy in living (1, 1Pe 1:15). The first epistle abounds in exhortations to personal religion (1Pe 2:10-18; 3:1-16; 1Pe 4:1-11; 1Pe 5:1-9). Christian graces shall make believers to be neither idle nor unfruitful (2, 2Pe 1:8); they shall not fall if they do these things (2, 2Pe 1:10); he exhorts to holy living and godliness (2, 2Pe 3:11).
It is in such pointed and practical exhortations as these that the prompt and energetic character of the apostle reappears. Dr. Davidson observes that the writer is “zealous, but mild, earnest, but not fervid;” a statement which is adapted to provoke a smile from one who has felt the nervous grip of the first epistle, and which becomes palpably absurd if we admit, as of course Dr. Davidson does not, the authenticity of the second. The “mild tone” assuredly is not dominant there; but, in any event, it would be strange if the letters did not show traces of the mellowing of years, and of the ripening of the spirit of Christ in this once passionate and headstrong disciple. The second chapter of the second epistle is no feeble reminder of the Peter who smote off the ear of Malchus.
The graphic and picturesque character of these letters is notable. In the two epistles, containing eight chapters, the longest of which consists of but twenty-five verses, there are one hundred and nineteen words which occur nowhere else in the New Testament. Picture-words abound, such asὠρυόμενος, roaring (1, 1Pe 5:8); ὁπλίσασθε, arm yourselves (1, 1Pe 4:1); ἐπικάλυμμα, cloke (1, 1Pe 2:16) ; φιμοῦν, put to silence, lit., muzzle (1, 1Pe 2:15); σκολίς, froward, lit., awry or twisted (1, 1Pe 2:18); ἐκτενῶς, fervently, lit., on the stretch (1, 1Pe 1:22); ἀπόθεσις, putting off (2, 2Pe 1:14); ἔξοδος, decease (2, 2Pe 1:15); διαυγάζειν, dawn (2, 2Pe 1:19); αὐχμηρός, dark or dry (2, 2Pe 1:19); ἐπίλυσις, interpretation, lit., untying (2, 2Pe 1:20); στρεβλοῦσιν, wrest, as with a windlass (2, 2Pe 3:16), and many others.
The same graphic character appears in what may be styled reminiscent words or phrases, in which the former personal experience of the writer is mirrored. Thus, gird yourselves with humility (1,1Pe 5:5, see note there) recalls the picture of the Lord girded with a towel and washing the disciples' feet. To look into (1, 1Pe 1:12) expresses a stooping down to gaze intently, and carries us back to the visit of Peter and John to the sepulchre on the morning of the resurrection, when they stooped down and looked into the tomb. In feed the flock (Rev., tend, 1, 1Pe 5:2) is reflected Christ's charge to Peter at the lake. The recurrence of the word ἀπροσωπολήμπτως, without respect of persons (1, 1Pe 1:17), used in a kindred form by Peter, Act 10:34, would seem to indicate that the scene in the house of Cornelius was present to his mind; and be watchful (1, 1Pe 5:8) may have been suggested by the remembrance of his own drowsiness in Gethsemane, and of Christ's exhortation to watch. So, too, it is interesting to read the words buffeted (1, 1Pe 2:20), the tree (τὸ ξύλον, an unusual word, used by him, Act 5:30; Act 10:39), and stripe or weal (1, 1Pe 2:24), in the light of the gospel narratives of Christ's sufferings. Christ had called Simon a rock, and a little later a stumbling-block. Peter combines both words into one phrase, a rock of offence (1, 1Pe 2:8). A very striking instance appears in the reference to the Transfiguration (2, 2Pe 1:17, 2Pe 1:18), where he uses the peculiar word ἔξοδος, decease; lit., going out, which occurs in Luk 9:31, and also in Heb 11:22. Compare, also, tabernacle, in 2, 2Pe 1:13, 2Pe 1:14, with let us make three tabernacles.
Both epistles are pervaded with an Old-Testament atmosphere. The testimony of Old-Testament prophecy, teaching, and history is emphasized (1,1Pe 1:10-12; 1Pe 3:5, 1Pe 3:6, 1Pe 3:20; 2, 1Pe 1:19-21; 1Pe 2:1, 1Pe 2:4-8, 1Pe 2:15, 1Pe 2:16; 1Pe 3:2, 1Pe 3:5, 1Pe 3:6). Old-Testament quotations and references are brought into the text, though the introductory formulas, because it is written, and wherefore it is contained in scripture, do not occur in the second epistle; and the interweaving, as of familiar expressions, is not so conspicuous there as in the first epistle (see 1, 1Pe 1:16, 1Pe 1:24, 1Pe 1:25; 1Pe 2:6, 1Pe 2:7, 1Pe 2:9, 1Pe 2:10, 1Pe 2:23,1Pe 2:24; 1Pe 3:6,1Pe 3:10,1Pe 3:14; 1Pe 4:8, 1Pe 4:18; 1Pe 5:5,1Pe 5:7; 2, 1Pe 1:19-21; 1Pe 2:5,1Pe 2:6, 1Pe 2:7, 1Pe 2:15, 1Pe 2:21; 1Pe 3:5, 1Pe 3:6, 1Pe 3:8, 1Pe 3:13). The church of Christ is represented as the church of Israel perfected and spiritualized (1, 1Pe 2:4-10); the exhortation to holiness (1, 1Pe 1:15, 1Pe 1:16) is given in the language of Lev 11:44; Christ is described (1, 1Pe 2:6) in the terms of Isa 28:16, and Psa 118:22; and the prophetic utterance of Isaiah concerning the servant of Jehovah (52:13-53:12) reappears in 1, 1Pe 2:23, 1Pe 2:24.
The epistles are evidently the work of a Jew. We find, as we might expect, the writer illustrating his positions from Jewish history and tradition, as in his references to Noah, Sarah, Balaam, and his use of the wordῥαντισμὸς sprinkling (1, 1Pe 1:2), a peculiarly Levitical term. He shows how the spirit of Christ dwelt in the Old-Testament prophets, and how Christians are a royal priesthood.
The resemblance, both in ideas and expressions, to passages in the epistles of Paul and James is marked, especially in the first epistle. It will be instructive to compare the following:
Nor are such resemblances wanting in the second epistle, though they are resemblances in tone, subject, and spirit, rather than verbal. It is in this epistle that Peter designates Paul's writings as scripture (2Pe 3:16). Compare:
Into the much-vexed question of the authenticity of the second epistle we are not called upon to enter. The point of differences of style between the two epistles is a fair one. There are such differences, and very decided ones, though perhaps they are no more and no greater than can be explained by diversity of subject and circumstances, and the difference in the author's age. Some of the expressions peculiar to the second epistle are - granting things which pertain unto life and godliness (2Pe 1:3); precious and exceeding great (2Pe 1:4 :); adding all diligence, and supply virtue (2Pe 1:5); an entrance richly supplied (2Pe 1:11); receiving forgetfulness (2Pe 1:9); sects of perdition (2Pe 2:1); cast down to Tartarus (2Pe 2:4); the world compacted out of water and by means of water, (2Pe 3:5), etc.
But, while allowing for these differences, and recognizing the weakness of the external evidence for the authenticity of the epistle, the internal evidence of style and tone seems to us to outweigh the differences, and to show that both epistles were from the same hand. There is the same picturesqueness of diction, and a similar fertility of unusual words. Of the one hundred and twenty words which occur only in the writings of Peter, fifty-seven are peculiar to the second epistle; and, what is still more noteworthy, only one of these words,ἀπόθεσις, putting off, is common to the two epistles - a fact which tells very strongly against the hypothesis of a forgery. That hypothesis, it may be observed, is in the highest degree improbable. The Christian earnestness, the protest against deception, the tender and adoring reminiscence of Christ, the emphasis upon the person and doctrine of the Lord Jesus which mark this epistle, imply a moral standard quite inconsistent with the perpetration of a deliberate forgery.
Comparisons of expressions in this epistle with those used or inspired by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles exhibit a close correspondence; and a correspondence, which, however, must not be too strongly pressed, appears on a comparison with certain passages in the gospels. Thus the verbδωρέομαι, to give, occurs only in Mar 15:45, and 2Pe 1:3, 2Pe 1:4 (see Introduction to Mark, on the relations between Mark and Peter); and the recurrence of the words exodus, or decease, and tabernacle in the same connection (2Pe 1:13-15, 2Pe 1:17, 2Pe 1:18) is very striking from the pen of one who, at the Transfiguration, heard the heavenly visitants conversing of Christ's decease, and who proposed to build tabernacles for their abode. The repeated use of the word στηρίζω, stablish, and its derivatives (2Pe 1:12; 2Pe 3:17; 2Pe 2:14; 2Pe 3:16) is also suggestive, in view of the admonition of Jesus to Peter by the same word - strengthen thy brethren (Luk 22:32).
There is the same retrospective character in both epistles. In both the writer teaches that prophecy does not carry its own interpretation; in both he alludes to the small number saved from the flood; both have the same sentiments oil the nature and right use of Christian liberty, and on the value of prophecy; in bothἀρετή, virtue, is attributed to God, a use of the word occurring nowhere else in the New Testament.
The style of both epistles is vigorous rather than elegant, strong, and sometimes rough, the work of a plain, practical man, and of an observer rather than a reasoner, whose thoughts do not follow each other in logical sequence. The fervid spirit of the writer appears in his habit of massing epithets, and repeating his thoughts in nearly the same words and forms (see, for instance,1Pe 1:4; 1Pe 2:4, 1Pe 2:11; 1Pe 1:19; 1Pe 2:9. Also, 1Pe 1:7, and 1Pe 4:12; 1Pe 1:13, and 1Pe 4:7, 1Pe 5:8; 1Pe 1:14, and 1Pe 2:11, 1Pe 4:2; 1Pe 2:15, and 1Pe 3:1, 1Pe 3:16; 1Pe 2:19, and 1Pe 3:14, 1Pe 4:14. 2Pe 1:4, 2Pe 1:8, 2Pe 1:17; 2Pe 2:10, 2Pe 2:11, 2Pe 2:12-15; 2Pe 3:15). Professor Ezra Abbot has brought out some remarkable correspondences between this epistle and the writings of Josephus, and maintains that the author of the letter is largely dependent upon the Jewish historian (Expositor, 2d series, iii., 49). The second epistle of Peter cannot be studied apart from The Epistle of Jude.
List of Greek Words Used by Peter Only
Of these, fifty-five are peculiar to the second epistle, and only one,ἀπόθεσις, putting off, is common to the two epistles.
Taken from: "Vincent's Word Studies" By Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.