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Peter's Epistles: Short Summaries
by Marcus Booker
In this article are three short summaries:
1. a summary of 2 Peter,
2. a brief defense of an alternate use of the
word "nations" in 1 Peter,
3. a summary of 1 Peter
In this article are three short summaries:
1. a summary of 2 Peter,
2. a brief defense of an alternate use of the
word "nations" in 1 Peter,
3. a summary of 1 Peter
Summary of 2 Peter:
To comfort the afflicted, Peter writes a second letter to the brethren scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. In this correspondence, he speaks of the dissolution of the law, which was to be filled up in the certain hope of a new and better covenant. He calls his brethren to rely upon Christ, as upon a stone, choice and precious. Yet this same stone, so precious to them, is a rock of offense and a stumbling-stone to the disobedient, who were troubling them.
Indeed, Christ was a sign for the fall and rise of many in Israel, a double-sided sign. Similarly, Paul says that Christ is a sign of destruction for the sons of disobedience but of salvation to his church. Peter relies upon this same principle, strongly emphasizing the realization of this twofold hope. Indeed, for Peter, salvation comes to pass through God’s impending judgment upon the circumcision. It is for this reason that Paul says, “Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” He and Peter look forward to vindication, the winning of the victory over their adversaries.
So Peter says, “their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Furthermore, he states that they deny the master who bought them, which is also the cause for their swift destruction. By this language, Peter implicitly likens these wicked men to the generation in the wilderness who, for their part, also denied their redeemer and acknowledged an idol instead; they exchanged God‘s glory for an image. According to Peter, these men are doomed as were those who the flood carried away; they are damned like Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet those who persevere, like Noah and Lot, will be delivered from the wrath that would soon come upon these “accursed children,” who remained under the curse of the law, being slaves to it, “slaves of corruption” in Peter’s words. He says that they are “springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.” He calls them dogs, who return to their vomit. He labels them as swine, who after washing return to wallow in the mud. And he has many similar harsh words for these accusers to demonstrate that they are the ones who are truly unclean.
Peter treats the present age as darkness, in which dwells the law (i.e. the one of sin and death). Not surprisingly, he regards the law’s dissolution as the dawn, the age to come. He calls upon his brethren to “pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your heart.” This “morning star” is Christ, at his second coming, as seen also in Revelation. Inasmuch as they had yet to be vindicated, they had yet to see the onset of the day. It remained night for them. Yet they themselves did not stumble around but were lamps in the midst of this darkness. So, in this context, light was yet to come. Yet, in a way, it was already there. So too, the brethren had a taste of salvation but, at the same time, awaited its fullness.
In the midst of this night roamed the forces of darkness, who would compel them to be circumcised, and thereby to deny Christ (even as they had). As in Revelation, Peter declares that these men have “followed the way of Balaam.” He affirms that they have “forsaken the right way,” which is to trample underfoot the blood of the covenant that sanctified them. He states that “it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness [which came to them by the angels through Moses], than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.” He says that their “last state has become worse for them than the first.” These words accord with those of Christ, who affirms that an unclean spirit who departs from a man and finds no rest will return whence he came and bring with him seven spirits more wicked than himself so that the “last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” Christ continues by saying that this scenario “is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” So, like Christ, Peter refers to the circumcision. He remembers his master‘s words, which would never pass away, unlike the heavens and earth, which were reserved for fire.
The heavens and earth to which Peter refers in this epistle allude to the law, for these are the two witnesses of the covenant. Moses says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you.” Hebrews, for example, contrasts the two covenants in terms of the “heavens and earth,” which can be shaken, versus an unshakeable kingdom. It says that the things which can be shaken [i.e. the heavens and earth] are removed, so that whatsoever cannot be shaken may remain. In another place, Christ says that not one jot or stroke would pass from the law until “heaven and earth” pass away. Yet, in this epistle, the entire law was about to be made useless in Christ, being fulfilled in his body. The elements that Peter describes as being burnt up are the elements of the law (i.e. the elements of the world mentioned by Paul in writing the Colossians and Galatians).
In mentioning the undoing of the first heavens and earth and the establishment of a new order, Peter speaks similarly to John. Both of them refer to the dimming of the first covenant and the shining forth of a new covenant, in which righteousness dwells. Like Peter, John also mentions a “thousand years” and fiery destruction of ungodly men in the same context.
This thousand years, to Peter, is a time of patience which exists for the benefit of the elect, whom God was calling to refinement. Peter says that the Lord is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” He also says, “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” God was testing their faith and perseverance.
Peter, often speaking in a flavor much like Jude’s epistle, warns of mockers in the last days who follow after their own lusts and scoff at Christ and his coming. These mockers are like the false prophets of old who rested complacently in their evil deeds, scoffed at the prophetic call to repentance, and assured the masses in Israel that destruction would by no means befall them. These “last days” are the last days of exile from God’s rest; they are the final moments preceding the gathering of Israel, the elect of God, from the four winds into their fatherland [i.e. a better fatherland in the heavens]. This is the period just before the end of the estrangement, when God has mercy on Jacob and leads him into his very presence. To ensure that his brethren partake of these manifold blessings, Peter concludes his letter with a final warning against the circumcision. He says, “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” He might equally have said, as does Paul, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision (or false circumcision).” He calls them to better things, to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” so that the day would not overtake them like a thief as it would their adversaries.
The use of the word “nations” in 1 Peter: a brief defense:
When Peter speaks of the “nations,” he refers to the circumcision and rhetorically labels them the uncircumcision. The reasons for this view are manifold.
1. Peter’s second epistle attributes these same sins: carousing, adultery, greed, sensuality, and revelling to the disobedient Jews, to those who “turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.” Also, Peter immediately afterwards refers to these men as dogs and swine. Though explicitly called “the nations” in his first epistle, he intimates, in the second, that they are the [true] uncircumcision, the nations. Also, in the second letter, Peter characterizes the rebellious Jews as the flooded world in Noah‘s time, applying the same also in his first epistle. Indeed, the overall line of reasoning is identical between the two epistles. Peter calls them, as he says in Acts, to “be saved from this perverse generation.”
2. The broad context of the epistle is aimed at the antichrists: those to whom Christ is the “rock of offense,” those who slander the brethren as evildoers (i.e. the accusers of the brethren), those who stumble and are disobedient and are appointed to doom. Suddenly referring to the nations after the flesh would be a striking departure from this context and a disruption of the epistle’s argument and theme.
3. Peter calls the church the true Israel: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” This identification would, by implication, make outsiders to this true Israel the nations. This reasoning is in keeping with the role reversal theme so common in the Scriptures, where “the elder shall serve the younger,” and “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Moreover, it is quite common in the Scriptures at large to call the disobedient among Israel “uncircumcised” or to otherwise liken them to the nations.
4. Peter makes references to persecution: “fiery ordeal,” “distressed by various trials,” the adversary, the devil, prowling around and seeking to devour. These are persecutions characteristic of those inflicted by the circumcision upon the brethren, as the one born after the flesh persecuted he who was born after the spirit (in an epistle partly written to the same audience). Also, the apostles identify the devil as a national figure, head particularly over the opposition to Christ among the Jews (as per “synagogue of the adversary” and “the devil is your father”).
5. Peter emphasizes the superiority of the second covenant over the first: “spiritual house,” “holy priesthood,” “spiritual sacrifice,” being born of imperishable seed rather than perishable, the flesh passing away with the word of the Lord enduring, and other flesh and spirit contrasts. These polemics arm the brethren against disobedient Jews, not Gentiles after the flesh. Also, Peter emphasizes, as in his second epistle, the end of the law. He says, “the end of all things is near; therefore be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” This statement corresponds to the impending destruction of the heavens and earth, the basis for which they were to live holy and godly lives. The end of the law would be of no significance to Gentiles outside of the church; it would not bring about the “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” or “the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” On the other hand, the end of the law would have profound implications for the circumcision; it would silence their boasting.
6. Peter, who most likely wrote from Jerusalem (i.e. John‘s “Babylon”), being a pillar of the churches there, calls the city from which he writes “Babylon.” He identifies the rebellious city with a past adversary among the nations. Also, the “day of visitation” mentioned by Peter is mentioned elsewhere only by Luke (among the apostles). In Luke’s context, these words refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.
7. This letter has partly the same audience as the letter to the Galatians, where Paul’s chief end is to confront slavery to the law and the compulsion to be circumcised. Also, the sins committed under the law in Galatians (“the works of the flesh”) have the following explicit similarities with Peter’s list: sensuality, drunkenness, carousing, and idolatry. These sins characterize the rebellious Jews of the perverse generation, as also the words of the other apostles and of Christ affirm. It would be tedious to list them all.
Summary of 1 Peter:
Peter addresses his first epistle, as he does his second, to the brethren scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. His chief concern is to ensure the steadfastness of his brethren, to guard them against the sins of their adversaries (i.e. the false brethren).
Peter expects future vindication (by Christ‘s second coming): a “salvation ready to be revealed,” and a “grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” He encourages them by looking forward to the surpassing glory that is in Christ, whose covenant would soon be fully disclosed by the dissolution of the law with its inferior glory (i.e. the flesh withering like grass and the “end of all things” that he mentions as being near). Like Paul, Peter views the law’s filling up in Christ as the salvation and inheritance soon to be revealed to the churches. Peter therefore emphasizes the law of Christ and calls them to be members of a “spiritual house,” as “living stones” (unlike the dead ones, which would not be left one upon another). He calls them a “holy priesthood” performing “spiritual sacrifices” in this temple not made with hands. Moreover, in contrast to the children of slavery, he affirms that they were born again, not of perishable but imperishable seed. He hereby claims that his beloved brethren are the seed of Abraham, born not according to the flesh merely (as was Ishmael and their current adversaries), but according to the spirit. Indeed, his reasoning is much like Paul’s, in his letter to the Galatians. Peter comforts the churches with the promise of the “inheritance,” and this inheritance, as it turns out, belongs to the son of the free woman and not to Hagar’s seed, who is cast out. Yet, in Peter’s epistle (as in Paul‘s), the persecution of the spiritual seed from the fleshly was being seen anew.
Thus, in the midst of this argument, Peter acknowledges their trials, a “fiery ordeal” as he later describes them. He understands that the adversary, the devil, prowled in their midst seeking to devour them. Yet he encourages them, saying, “do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” He promises vindication in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Judeans (i.e. the making useless of the law). Peter likens this vindication to Noah’s salvation from the sins of his contemporaries and from the wrath that befell them, perverse and corrupt as they were. He then extols the baptism that likewise saves them from destruction, which is the appeal to God for a good conscience.
Peter calls upon his brethren to put aside malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (which were characteristic of the Pharisees and scribes). He says instead to long for the pure milk of the word. Peter continues throughout this correspondence to contrast the righteous with the wicked (i.e. the two covenants). He calls their enemies (i.e. those who rejected Christ and continued to do so), “evildoers,” “foolish men,” “the proud (whom God would oppose),” and “those who do not obey the gospel of God.” He even goes so far as to liken them to the [unclean] nations, the same over whom these hand-washers believed themselves to be so superior. Conversely, he calls the church the true Israel of God: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”
Peter then affirms authority, expounding upon the duties of a servant to his master and a wife toward her husband. His aim is to “put to shame” their adversaries and to “silence” their ignorance. He tells them to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that they have. Undoubtedly, some inquirers from among their adversaries would turn to God upon observing their faithful endurance in the midst of trials. Also, Peter tells them to love and serve one another for the glory of God. Moreover, he expresses the mutual duties between youths and elders, diligently seeking solidarity between them (to silence the foes). His concluding message is for them to “stand firm” in the grace of God. He thus encourages his brethren on the basis of the promises that would soon be fulfilled among them.