1 Peter: Authorship, Audience, and Purpose

August 18, 2009

That the apostle Simon Peter is the author of the letter we call 1 Peter has been overwhelmingly supported from the earliest times. Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Cyprian, and Tertullian all not only quoted from the book, but also explicitly attributed it to Peter.

The author of the book we call 2 Peter, on the other hand, has been questioned by some, almost exclusively because of the differences in the style of Greek between 1 Peter and 2 Peter. 1 Peter is written in a polished, well structured, almost formal style. 2 Peter, on the other hand, is rougher and more unsophisticated. This naturally raises the question as to whether the two books were written by the same author.

However, this objections can be easily overcome.

1Pe 5:12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

Silas (Gk Silvanus) has always been widely accepted to be the same person as the Silas who traveled with Paul and who assisted him in writing 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Silas was not merely an amanuensis but also a prophet (Acts 15:32). If he truly did participate in the composition of 1 Peter as well as the two Thessalonian letters of Paul, is no surprise that the organization and style of 1 Peter resembles Paul’s letters. I will say a bit more about this similarity later.

2 Peter, on the other hand, mentions no amanuensis. It therefore is not surprising that an unschooled, ordinary man such as Peter (Acts 4:13) would write in that style.

It should also be noted that a portion of 2 Peter 3:8 is clearly quoted (but not attributed) by Irenaeus in Against Heresies, book V: “a day of the Lord is as a thousand years.” Irenaeus used the same phrasing as in Peter’s letter, and not the phrasing from the similar OT passage. He quoted this passage in proof of his argument, implying that he assumed his readers would know and accept the validity of the reference. So it is evident from this reference that 2 Peter was well known and accepted before the end of the 2nd century. (Justin Martyr makes a similar reference in his Dialogue with Trypho. There are other alleged references to 2 Peter by Polycarp, Clement, Ignatius, and others, though some of these are less certain.)

Internal evidence for Peter’s authorship of 2 Peter is strong. First of all, the author claims to be “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:1). He claims to have been an eyewitness, present on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Pet 1:16-18) He claims to have written a previous letter (2 Pet 3:1). Even the fact that this author refers to the flood of Noah (2 Pet 3:6) as a “type” or parallel of future events, just as Peter did in 1 Pet 3:20, weighs in favor of the same author writing both books.

It is impossible to determine the precise place and time when 1 Peter was written. 1 Pet 5:13 refers to the church in Babylon sending greetings, but there are multiple theories about what “Babylon” refers to, and no real evidence to use in choosing which theory is best. Of course 1 Peter was written before Peter was martyred (traditionally believed to be around AD 64), and obviously before he wrote his second letter. Most scholars seem to place the time in the late 50’s or early 60’s of the first century. It was written to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor. While it is apparent that there were elders in at least some of these churches (1 Pet 5:1-4), he addresses all members of the churches in a general sense, rather than directly addressing the letter to their leaders.

Peter wrote this letter for the purpose of “encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” (2 Pet 5:12) We should study the letter and teach it with that same purpose.

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