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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.