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Letters of St Peter

Most mod­ern schol­ars do not think that St Peter actu­al­ly wrote the two let­ters called by his name. They con­sid­er the first let­ter as com­ing from the end of the first cen­tu­ry and the sec­ond let­ter from the first half of the sec­ond cen­tu­ry. The Tra­di­tion of the Church, how­ev­er, main­tains the tes­ti­mo­ny of the let­ters them­selves, ascrib­ing them to the fore­most leader of Christ’s apos­tles writ­ing from “Baby­lon,” which was the ear­ly Church’s name for Rome, on the eve of his mar­tyr­dom there in the lat­ter half of the first cen­tu­ry (see 1 Pet 5:13, 2 Pet 1:14).

The first let­ter of St Peter is a pas­sion­ate plea to all of “God’s Peo­ple” to be strong in their suf­fer­ings in imi­ta­tion of Christ and togeth­er with Him, main­tain­ing “good con­duct among the Gen­tiles,” sub­ject­ing them­selves with­out mal­ice or vin­dic­tive­ness to “every human insti­tu­tion for the Lord’s sake” (2:11–13).

Spe­cial instruc­tions and exhor­ta­tions to god­li­ness are addressed first to the whole Church which is a “cho­sen race, a roy­al priest­hood, a holy nation, God’s own peo­ple” (2:9), and then in turn to the slaves (2:18), to the hus­bands and wives (3:1–7) and to the pres­byters [elders] whom the author, as a “fel­low pres­byter and a wit­ness of the suf­fer­ings of Christ,” calls to “tend the flock of God… not by con­straint, but will­ing­ly, not for shame­ful gain, but eager­ly, not as dom­i­neer­ing over those in [their] charge, but being exam­ples to the flock” (5:1–4).

Through­out the let­ter, the anal­o­gy is con­stant­ly drawn between the suf­fer­ings of Christ and the suf­fer­ings of Chris­tians which is for their salvation.

But if when you do right and suf­fer for it you take it patient­ly, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ suf­fered for you, leav­ing you an exam­ple, that you should fol­low in His steps. He com­mit­ted no sin; no guile was found on His lips. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suf­fered, He did not threat­en; but He trust­ed to Him Who judges just­ly. He Him­self bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to right­eous­ness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were stray­ing like sheep, but have now returned to the Shep­herd and Guardian [lit­er­al­ly Bish­op] of your souls. (2:20–25)

The sec­ond let­ter of St Peter is some­times con­sid­ered to be a ser­mon addressed to those who were new­ly bap­tized into the Chris­t­ian faith. The author wish­es before his death to “arouse… by way of reminder” (1:13, 3:1) what God has done for those who are called, that they might “escape from the cor­rup­tion that is in the world through pas­sion, and become par­tak­ers of the divine nature” (1:3–4). He warns against the appear­ance of “false prophets” and “scoffers” who would lead the elect astray by their “destruc­tive here­sies” and denials of “the Mas­ter who bought them” thus caus­ing them to fall back to a life of sin and igno­rance as “the dog turns back to his own vom­it and the sow is washed only to wal­low once more in the mire” (2:1–22, 3:1–7). The author makes spe­cial warn­ing against the per­ver­sion of the holy scrip­tures, both those of the Old Tes­ta­ment and those of St Paul, “which the igno­rant and unsta­ble twist to their own destruc­tion” (3:16, 1:20).

The third chap­ter of the sec­ond let­ter of St Peter is some­times wrong­ly inter­pret­ed as teach­ing the total destruc­tion of cre­ation by God at the end of the world. The Ortho­dox inter­pre­ta­tion is that it is only sin and evil that will be “dis­solved with fire” on the “day of God,” and that the “new heav­ens and a new earth in which right­eous­ness dwells” wilt be the same “very good” world of God’s orig­i­nal cre­ation, but puri­fied, renewed and purged of all that is con­trary to His divine good­ness and holi­ness (3:8–13).

The rem­i­nis­cence in the sec­ond let­ter of St Peter about the trans­fig­u­ra­tion of Christ is the epis­tle read­ing at the Church’s feast of this sacred event (1:16–18). Read­ings from both let­ters are found in the Church’s lec­tionary, with selec­tions from the first let­ter being read at the vig­il of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.