“ A Brief Word” Occasional Sermons.

The Letters of Peter 2021

There is a song we used to sing at “Saturday Morning Pictures” when I was a boy – “The Old Grey Mare she ain’t what she used to be”. Faced with the task of sorting through the scholarship surrounding these letters, particularly the first, I felt like paraphrasing it as “the old grey cells they ain’t what they used to be!”

I have to admit, having looked at these issues over forty years ago, I put them to bed and forgot about them. Both letters are worth their place in Scripture in their own right, although the place of 2 Peter has been disputed. Most, though not all the argument has been about authorship.

I want to begin not with the first letter, but the second. It needs saying that there is little historical or literary evidence to connect the authorship of this letter to either Simon Peter himself or the writer of 1 Peter. As I’ve gone on to say later for 1 Peter, I suspect the Petrine ascription owes its place to the source being ‘headquarters’ i.e. Rome. It is apparently the latest book in the canon, and even as late as the 4th Century it was still considered a “disputed book”, whilst being included among the ‘catholic’ (ie universal) epistles. Since part of the letter follows closely the letter of Jude, I’ll leave Fr Robert to cover that material. Suffice to say the author was passionately concerned that his readers should not lose their promised entry into the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ, so it behoves us to take note.

To move on; 1 Peter presents us with a number of scholarly conundrums. Whilst there are still some genuine reasons for holding that this is the work of Peter himself, I believe, looking at the evidence, that this is unlikely. My own opinion, for what that is worth, is that it was written in the post-apostolic age to the growing gentile congregations of what we would now call Asia Minor. Written in “Babylon” – a pseudonym for Rome, although I can find no-one specifically attesting this, it seems to me possible it was a letter “from headquarters” under the authority (name) of Peter. Although it has been suggested, as I was indeed taught, that it was basically a baptismal homily or liturgy amended into the form of a letter.

I am now persuaded that it was, from the off, a pastoral letter.

We can see its relevance to us if we consider the lives of its first recipients, who once participated in the social and cultural lives of their communities, but since their conversion had become marginalised and abused. If you think I’m wrong, try publically declaring traditional Christian belief and see what happens. We’ve seen it in the press from Irish bakers to the owners of b&bs – prosecuted and abused for upholding their beliefs.

This letter is not a theological essay but born of deep theological reflection, and it behoves us to consider it as seriously. Set within it the writer (who describes himself as “an elder”) gives us a credal statement that God created the world and that He chose an elect people. He then sent His Son who was rejected “by men” but exalted by Himself. He then sent His Spirit and Christian evangelists to establish a new people of God (of which we are). And He will send His Son to usher in the final judgement. We therefore, just as the letter’s first recipients are living in this time of God’s waiting.

I heard, not so long ago, a Christian minister tell his congregation that the Creed (presumably in whatever form) is “rubbish”. I want to now affirm, as does the author of 1 Peter that, for us, that is the opposite of the truth. Amongst other things, reciting together God’s mighty acts reminds us of our new identity as the elect and holy people of God. “Therefore,” he writes, “prepare your minds for action.”

And so he sets out five imperatives for us:

  • The first is to live in hope of the grace you shall receive when Christ is revealed.

  • Secondly, he says, live holy lives set apart for God’s service, though we live in this corrupt world.

  • The third imperative is to live in reverent fear of God rather than this oppressive culture.

  • The fourth imperative is love.

  • And the fifth is to long for spiritual nourishment so that you “may grow into salvation”.

There will be some who cavil at the social reflections of the today, particularly about the relationship of husbands and wives, understandably so. Don’t let them put you off the rest of the letter’s contents.

There is so much of value. I want to end with four quotes, etched in my mind, to share with you.

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith.” – wise advice.

And a reminder to us of who we are. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into His own marvellous light” – majestic, humbling.

Leading on from that, words I offer in humility and in fear and trembling “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.”

And finally through all this: “Cast all you anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Amen to that. Amen.

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