Scholars are mixed as to whether Peter actually wrote 1 Peter or not. Evidence for Petrine authorship is primarily that many early Christian writers stated that Peter wrote the epistle. There are external issues that cause some scholars to doubt its authenticity. One primary issue is that the Greek letter is eloquent in its writing and based on the Septuagint Old Testament (LXX). Peter may have known some Greek, but would not have been as powerful in writing Greek as in Hebrew. And it is possibly more likely he would have used a Hebrew Old Testament and personally translated it into Greek. That the letter speaks favorably on various Pauline concepts suggests it may have been written by one of Paul’s followers. Finally, the book is written to Gentile areas in Asia, and mentions severe trials brought on by the government. Nero was the Caesar who executed both Paul and Peter ca 63-67 AD, but mostly focused his Christian attacks in and around Rome. Meanwhile, Nero’s successor Domitian did seek to destroy Christians throughout the Roman Empire.
The argument for it being actually written by Peter suggests that Peter wrote it immediately after the death of Paul, with the effect of trying to keep the Church in Asia united under the direction of the apostles.
Peter notes that the epistle is written from “Babylon.” There are three possible locations for this: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Rome. Most scholars believe that Peter was referring to Rome, as there are no early traditions of Peter being in Mesopotamia or in Egypt. It is generally agreed that Peter died in Rome ca 67AD, and if he did write the epistle, it would have to have been just prior to his own death during Nero’s reign, when the Roman saints were being persecuted. That the churches addressed were on the fringes of Paul’s influence (Paul’s followers brought the gospel to the locations) makes sense, as the Church was well established in Ephesus and other locations Paul had personally preached.
Peter gives two main concepts in the epistle.
Faith and Sanctification
1 Pet 1-2:10 teach us regarding the key concepts behind having real faith, even through trials brought on by others In this instance, the trials brought on by Nero and the death of Paul would have weighed heavily on the entire Church. And it is possible that trials were being inflicted upon the newly formed churches in Asia, as they were meeting challenges by pagan worshipers in the same areas.
“ 5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
“6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
“7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1)
Faith and hope cause us to anticipate the glories and rewards of the next life. Even during our difficult trials in mortality, we can focus and even rejoice on such hope. We learn that such trials can refine us, even as gold is refined by very intense heat. As gold is heated, the impurities separate from the gold, and remain as slag or waste, after the purified gold has been tried by fire.
Peter speaks to the members who through their faith have been justified (made guiltless) through the blood of Christ, and now must learn to be sanctified (become holy) through the Spirit and the atonement of Christ (1 Pet 1:2). The aspect of becoming holy through sanctification includes bearing the trials that occur, as well as learning obedience to the commands God gives us. We are not saved by keeping the commandments. We are, however, able to become more holy as we are sanctified, which requires us to strive ever more in the faith of Christ, and that includes learning obedience.
Peter taught that Christ was foreordained, ordained before the world was made, to accomplish his great work. His example becomes our example to follow in faith.
How the Faithful Behave
The second part of 1 Peter (2:11-5:14) is a Midrash, or spiritual explanation of how we should apply Isaiah 53 into our own lives. In that chapter, Isaiah foresaw the “Suffering Servant” Jesus Christ, who would take upon him the pains and sins of the world, and as a lamb going to the slaughter, would not cry out.
“21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
“22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
“23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
“24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
“25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pet 2).
While through basic faith and repentance we are justified or made sinless in Christ, we have yet to be sanctified or made holy through Christ and the Holy Spirit to a greater reward in heaven. If we seek to receive the reward given to Jesus and to sit down on his throne with him (Revelation 3:21), we must follow the path and example he gave us in mortality. As we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we become more holy, more like He is. Following commandments alone cannot save nor exalt us. But when we become holy through sanctification, we BECOME like Christ. It is in the Becoming that the Holy Spirit can then abide within us, purifying us, and making us more and more perfect in Christ.
We are not expected to sit passively through our trials. Instead, God expects us to actively be doing good works (3:13-4:6). As Bible.org adeptly notes: “It is one thing to suffer for simply being a Christian; it is quite another for suffering for living like a Christian before a watching world.”
Preaching to the Spirits in Prison
Peter speaks on an interesting concept regarding the deceased Christ’s efforts in the three days his body lay in the tomb.
“ 18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
“19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
“20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Pet 3).
“ 6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Pet 4).
Here, Peter is talking about Jesus’ descending into hell, or the “harrowing of hell.” According to the early Christian writing, the “Gospel of Nicodemus” Part II (the descent into hell), the dead were in a spirit prison, unable to escape Death. When Jesus died, Satan came to Death and boasted about his victory over Jesus. Death lamented, stating he did not have the power to hold such a powerful being. Jesus soon came and broke down the doors of death, allowing the righteous from Adam on down to resurrect and enter into heaven.
This prison or hell we speak of is a portion of what is known as the Spirit World. This is the place where the spirits of the dead await the resurrection. One part of the Spirit World is known as Paradise, and the other as Spirit Prison or hell. The requirement to escape hell is to be justified in Christ, or to have faith in Christ and fully repent of one’s sins. As Peter discusses sanctification or becoming holy, our reward in heaven then is determined by our good works, and who we truly become (Christ-like or something less).
In his three days in the Spirit World, Christ organized the righteous to preach the gospel to the wicked and those who had not yet received a chance to hear the Good News. In 1918, President Joseph F. Smith saw in vision the Spirit World and how Christ organized the work. He explained first seeing Paradise and the righteous awaiting the coming of Christ to save them:
“18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
19 And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
20 But unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant who had defiled themselves while in the flesh, his voice was not raised;
21 Neither did the rebellious who rejected the testimonies and the warnings of the ancient prophets behold his presence, nor look upon his face.
22 Where these were, darkness reigned, but among the righteous there was peace;...
30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
31 And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
32 Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.
33 These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
34 And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (D&C 138).
In this way, we see that the Almighty God has prepared a way for all mankind to hear the gospel message, believe and repent, and be saved from eternal damnation and hell. The Jews and Gentiles that lived prior to Christ in most of the world, the person who lived behind the atheist Iron Curtain of the 20th century, and the millions who today dwell under Islam and other non-Christian faiths; will finally have a chance to have the gospel preached to them.
This is significant. Some Christians believe that anyone who does not accept Christ in this life will be cast into hell, regardless of the reason. Now we know that Christ gives all mankind a chance to know Him and accept Him. And why would he do that?
“ 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3).
Many scholars believe that Peter did not write 2 Peter. It is dated anywhere from 60-160 AD for its writing, depending on just which scholar is asked. Since Peter discusses Paul’s writings, 2 Peter could not have been written prior to 60 AD. Even early Christian leaders, such as Origen, had some doubts as to the authenticity of 2 Peter. Many scholars believe that it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, for Peter states that Israel now consists of the followers of Jesus, and not the Jews, who after the Roman destruction were scattered to the winds. According to 2 Peter, the apostle was anticipating his death: “Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me” (2 Pet 1:14), and so it could not have been written much before that concluding event. Tradition has it that the Romans chose to crucify Peter, but he asked to be crucified upside down, because he did not feel himself worthy of imitating the Lord in his own death on the cross.
Peter also makes reference to the epistle of Jude, which could not have been written any earlier than 66 AD, one year before Peter’s death, and therefore probably not giving Peter time to read it and discuss it in his own epistle. That Peter discusses Jude’s epistle, which includes writings from Enoch which St Jerome rejected in compiling the books of the Bible, caused that it cast a questionable light on 2 Peter’s authenticity.
2 Peter is also tied closely to another ancient pseudepigraphic writing entitled the Apocalypse of Peter, which details a major revelation given to Peter.
Partakers of the Divine Nature
2 Peter 1:4-8
Peter begins by speaking of how we become sanctified, or made holy. We can become “partakers of the divine nature” which literally means we can become as Christ is. In doing so, Peter makes a list of principles of those things that can make us Christ-like, grace by grace:
“ 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”
In some Christian traditions, God is made of pure Spirit or substance that is unlike any other creation. Some believe that nothing impure can ever become quite like God’s nature or substance. Yet, here we are told we can partake of that divine nature, and exactly how to do it through being sanctified. To add “godliness” means one must be god-like! Peter shows us a path from one level of grace and goodness to the next, until we are perfected through charity/love.
In going from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace (D&C 93), we become perfected until we can receive our “calling and election made sure” (2 Pet 1:10). It is at this point that we have achieved a level of grace and godliness through sanctification that we are promised exaltation.
More Sure Word of Prophecy
2 Peter 1:19-21
“19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Peter is establishing a very important concept among those who struggle with the writings and scriptures floating around the Christian communities in his day. There is a better way to understand prophecy than by “private interpretation.” That method is to listen to living apostles and prophets explain the scriptures and interpret them according to the will and inspiration of God. Perhaps this is one of the most important concepts that separates traditional Christianity from restorationist Christianity one finds in Mormonism.
There are thousands of Christian churches today because individuals have read the Bible and disagreed one with another regarding concepts and teachings therein. Some believe baptism is necessary, others do not. Some believe in immersion in water, while others think sprinkling or not baptism is fine. Some believe salvation comes only through pure grace, while others believe that works is also a necessary component. Some believe in free will, while others teach predestination. The American Baptist church was torn in half over the issue of slavery in 1845. Today, many churches are divided over abortion and issues of sexuality..
With modern prophets and apostles, modern witnesses of the resurrected Christ, even as Peter was an ancient witness of the resurrected Christ, we have inspired men who can give us a God-approved interpretation of scripture.
Peter states later in chapter 3:
“15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
That Paul’s writings have long been a point of major disagreement in the Christian Church is well noted even in Peter’s day. For those who seek a personal interpretation of the scriptures, without guidance of modern prophets to clarify the will and mind of God is to risk wresting the scriptures onto our own destruction.
Peter even notes that some scoff at the scripture because they do not heed the prophets or apostles:
“ 2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet 3).
Peter noted that there would be scoffers in the “last days” prior to the Second Coming. Sadly, his prophecy has come true in the modern age. Today, we have many Christians and their pastors who do not believe in the Second Coming of Christ. For example, retired Episcopalian Bishop John Spong wrote and spoke for years on his version of Christianity, questioning the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, insisted miracles do not happen, nor is there a physical resurrection, etc.
Yet, we have living prophets and apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who proclaim the divinity of Christ today. They are called as “special witnesses of Jesus Christ.” In his day, the Prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed,
“ 19 And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.
20 And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness;
21 And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.
22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:19-24).
The living prophets and apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ have also born their modern witness of the Lord in the “Living Christ, a Proclamation.”
First Peter - wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Epistle_of_Peter
First Peter - bible.org: http://bible.org/seriespage/first-peter-introduction-argument-and-outline
Gospel of Nicodemus: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelnicodemus.html
Second Peter - wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_epistle_of_peter
Second Peter - Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/2peter.html
Second Peter - bible.org: http://bible.org/seriespage/second-peter-introduction-argument-and-outline
Peter’s Death: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Peter#Death
The Living Christ, a Proclamation from the living prophets and apostles: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2000/04/the-living-christ-the-testimony-of-the-apostles-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints?lang=eng
The Apocalypse of Peter: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-roberts.html