by Ed Gallagher
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.1 Peter 2:9
This lesson covers three short letters.
- 1 Peter, written from Rome, written to Asia Minor, mid-60s
- 2 Peter, written from ???, written to Asia Minor, mid-60s
- Jude, written from ???, written to ???, early 60s
How does Peter describe the readers of his letter in 1 Peter 1:1 and 2:11? They are “aliens and strangers.” What does he mean by this description? These Christians are not characterized by the world. They recognize that “this world is not my home”; it is merely the place of their sojourn (1:17), whereas their inheritance is reserved in heaven (1:4). Are Peter’s readers Jews or Gentiles? See 1:14, 18; 2:10; 4:3. Peter is addressing Gentiles, people who once did not belong to God (2:10), who had been in ignorance (1:14) and had inherited a “futile way of life” (1:18). According to the letter’s address (1:1), these readers lived in northern Asia Minor.
Peter sends greetings from “Babylon” (5:13). What could he mean by that word? It is unlikely that he means the actual Babylon, because we have no traditions locating Peter so far east. Traditionally this reference has been taken as a code-word for Rome, as also in Revelation (14:8; 17:5; etc.). (Not everyone believes that Peter was in Rome, but it is still the common view.) With Peter are Mark and Silvanus, the latter apparently serving either as secretary or letter-carrier (5:13). What do you know about Mark and Silvanus? Presumably this is the same Silvanus (or Silas) known as a companion of Paul (Acts 15:22–24, 40; etc.), and this is the same Mark who is a cousin of Barnabas and occasional companion of Paul (Acts 15:37; Col. 4:10; Phlm 24; 2 Tim 4:11). Early Christian tradition asserted that Mark’s Gospel is a summary of the preaching of Peter, an idea accepted by some scholars.
Apparently Peter’s Asian readers were experiencing some form of persecution. The issue of trials and afflictions appears throughout the letter, from beginning to end. At 1:6–7, Peter encourages his readers to think about their trials as the fire that tests gold. What does Peter mean by this analogy? He is arguing that the trials are ultimately beneficial to the Christians’ faith, as it refines their faith (cf. 4:1–2, 12). Peter also stresses that a life of suffering means following the example of Jesus, who in turn provides the model for how to endure suffering (2:21–24). The Christian should anticipate sharing the sufferings of Christ (4:13), which results in a blessing (3:14; 4:14). Suffering—provoked by the devil—will last but “a little while” (5:8–10).
Peter does not describe the type of suffering experienced by his readers. It probably was not systematic oppression perpetrated by government officials, though that type of persecution did sometimes happen. (See this letter exchange between the emperor Trajan and Pliny, the governor of part of Asia Minor in the early second century.) More probable at this time and place is that the new lifestyle and religion of Peter’s readers were evoking curiosity and hostility from their families, business associates, and the wider community (cf. 4:4). Occasionally this probably involved physical violence, more often simply open criticism, prejudice, intimidation. How does Peter think his readers should respond to these trials? See 2:12–16. Peter thinks that the good behavior of Christians will lead to tolerance. In general, Peter thinks that Christian morality will win unbelievers to the cause of Christ (cf. 3:1–2). This thinking, of course, puts a high demand on Christians to live moral lives, as Peter instructs (1:13–16).
Jude and 2 Peter belong together because they are so similar. Jude describes himself as the brother of James (v. 1), who likely is the brother of Jesus known from the Gospels (Mark 6:3), Acts (15:13–21; 21:18), and Paul’s letters (Gal 1:19; 2:9; 1 Cor 15:7), meaning that Jude himself is the brother of Jesus. We do not know where he is or to which community he is writing. He wants to encourage his readers “to contend earnestly for the faith” (v. 3) against false teachers.
2 Peter calls itself “the second letter,” evidently sent to the same community as 1 Peter (see 2 Pet 3:1), apparently written late in Peter’s life (cf. 1:14). Peter reflects on the Transfiguration (1:16–18; cf. Mark 9:2–8), emphasizing that the Christian message is no fairy tale. The end of the letter (ch. 3) concerns the patience of God, and why the Day of the Lord seems to delay.
2 Peter’s middle chapter (ch. 2) has a great deal in common with Jude’s letter, so much so that scholars have usually thought that there must be some sort of connection between the two. Both texts describe false teachers in very similar terms, e.g., unreasoning animals (2 Pet 2:12; Jude 10) for whom black darkness is reserved (2 Pet 2:17; Jude 13). We are told not so much about the doctrines of these teachers as their lifestyles, which is characterized by sensuality (2 P 2:2) or licentiousness (Jude 4). They are greedy (2 Pet 2:3). Biblical examples of God’s judgment—soon to be levied against these wicked teachers—come from the post-exodus Israelites (Jude 5), fallen angels (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6), Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7), Cain (Jude 11), and Balaam (2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11). Both texts mention that these teachers revile angelic majesties (2 Pet 2:10; Jude 8), though only Jude elaborates with a story about Michael and the Devil (Jude 9), a story that was apparently a part of Jewish tradition. Jude later (vv. 14–15) appears to quote 1 Enoch 1:9 in support of his contention that the false teachers are soon to be judged by God. (See the Additional Resources below.)
The bottom line regard the false teachers is that they face judgment, as do any who follow them. It is not their doctrines that lead to condemnation so much as their ungodly behavior.
Peter and Jude want to assure their readers that if they maintain their faithfulness to God in spite of trouble-makers inside and outside the church, God will maintain his faithfulness to them.
Additional Questions for Discussion
What does 1 Peter 1:10–12 teach about prophecy?
What significance would Peter’s readers have derived from being described with the terms of 1 Peter 2:9? See also Exodus 19:5–6; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6.
What sort of connection does Peter see between the flood and baptism? See 1 Peter 3:21.
What is Peter’s expectation for the future, according to 2 Peter 3:8–13?
How does Jude characterize the false teachers against whom he is writing?
The dates for these letters are difficult to determine. Peter is traditionally believed to have died in the mid-60s, and his two preserved letters probably originate late in his life (see 2 Pet 1:14). Scholars often doubt that Peter actually wrote these two letters, especially 2 Peter, though others have defended the authenticity of the letters. The date of Jude is tied to the date of 2 Peter, since there seems to be some sort of literary relationship between the two (i.e., one author used the other text as a source). Usually scholars think that Jude is first, and 2 Peter expands upon it, which would mean Jude was written in the early 60s.
On Jude’s use of 1 Enoch, this video describes 1 Enoch and then addresses Jude’s use of 1 Enoch starting at 21:10, and the quotation in v. 14 at 26:25.
Here are the Bible Project videos.