These three epistles are usually grouped with James and the three epistles of John, together called the Catholic Epistles. Greek katholikos means “universal”, and so they are sometimes called the General Epistles, since they’re written universally, to everyone, in general. Once again, there’s not really an overarching theme, so we’re going to play thematic wack-a-mole. Find something significant you like and expand on it.
The author of 1Pe is writing “through” Silvanus (i.e. Silas), according to 1Pe 5:12. Is Silvanus scribe, amanuensis, or more? As with some other letters, characteristics of these three letters have led many scholars to the conclusion that they were not written by the putative author. But again, for sake of ease, I’ll call the author Peter.
1Pe 1:16 Here Peter quotes from Lev 19:2. Funny how much the Old Testament was important to these New Testament authors, and how little attention we pay it.
1Pe 2:4-5 “holy priesthood” and offering spiritual sacrifices Peter again draws on the Old Testament, adapting it to Christian life. cf. 1Pe 2:9-10, which quotes Exo 19:5-6, a familiar passage. Notably, “peculiar” means something very different than “weird,” which is why the NRSV translates it as “treasured possession.”
1Pe 2:11 as aliens (“foreigners”) and strangers in the world, cf. John 17:6. This is not where we belong, and we are here temporarily. Consequently, don’t partake of the worldly stuff. Cf. Wordsworth, “the world is too much with us.” Elder Maxwell, “Let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon” (“A Wonderful Flood of Light”, BYU Devotional, March 26, 1989)
1Pe 2:18-22 I could have included this passage in my post about the challenge of slavery in the New Testament, spelled out in Philemon. Here Peter tells slaves to submit to their masters, even the harsh unjust ones. He goes on to tell them that in doing so, they emulate Jesus, who also was an example of unjust and unmerited suffering.
1Pe 3:15 This is a classic passage. The Greek for defense eventually gives us our English word “apology”, but in the classic sense, like Plato’s Apology. That is not where Socrates says “I’m sorry,” but rather is his defense of himself. An apology in that sense is “the answer back.” Christians are expected to be able to give a reason, make a defense for their faith when asked. This gives rise to the field known as apologetics, which has gotten an unjustly bad name in LDS circles recently.
1Pe 3:18-19 and 1Pe 4:6 Classic passage among LDS about work for the dead. While indeed there is a very old tradition about Jesus descending into hell, that tradition isn’t exactly identical to LDS dogma. Some of the historical creeds include the statement “he descended into hell (Gr. hades)” (see here)
2 Peter and Jude
There is a connection between these two letters in terms of vocabulary and theme, so much that scholars think one author used or knew the other. This is particularly evident in chapters 2 and 3, which seem to use Jude.
2Pe 1:20-1 These verses about the nature of prophecy, scripture, and interpretation, even in context and in Greek, are difficult to understand. What seems clear is that Peter is somehow addressing his opponents, though we cannot reconstruct exactly what their argument is.
2Pe 3:5-6 What’s interesting about this passage is that it explicitly builds on Old Testament creation theology, that the world was created out of water, the Deep/tehom of Genesis 1:1-3, which exists already “in the beginning.” See my old post here.
2Pe 3:8 This passage is well-known, and comes into play when talking about creation and evolution, and the age of the earth. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2Pe 3:8 KJV).” What is the context of this statement in Peter? Recall that Paul had preached (and Matthew 24 implied) the return of Jesus quite soon, within the lives of the hearers. As time goes on, this expectation wanes, and becomes, perhaps, a point of derision.
Instead of refuting the false teachers directly, who have apparently been sneering at the notion of a second coming (2Pe 3:3–7), Peter now turns to his Christian readers (note the “dear friends”) who, influenced perhaps by the skepticism of their opponents, are at least troubled by the delay.- Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1058.
What is not well-known is that this statement in 2Pe 3:8 about time is an interpretation of Psa 90:4. Note that there in Psalms, it seems to be largely metaphorical and poetic, not a hard-and-fast scientific/doctrinal statement about the nature of time.
This formula [of 1 day= 1000 years] seems to have been a standard exegetical rule, derived from Ps 90:4… but existing as a relatively independent formulation. The usual procedure is to quote a text in which the word “day” occurs; then the exegetical rule, “A day of the Lord is a thousand years,” is cited, often with a further literal quotation of Ps 90:4 to support it; the conclusion is therefore that where the text says “day” it means, in human terms, a thousand years.
The exegetical rule was sometimes applied to the Genesis creation narrative, to yield the idea that the history of the world is to last six thousand years, six “days” of a thousand years each, followed by a millennial Sabbath (Barn. 15:4; Irenaeus, Adv Haer. 5.28.3; cf. b. Sanh. 97a): this calculation lies behind the widespread Christian millenarianism of the second century. Similarly the rule could be applied to texts which were thought to mention the “day” or “days” of the Messiah (Ps 90:15; Isa 62:5; 65:22), yielding one, two or seven thousand years of messianic rule (Justin, Dial. 81; b. Sanh. 99a: Midr. Ps. 90:17; Pesiq. R. 1:7).- Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, Word Biblical Commentary ( 306–307).
Indeed, this passage was key to several things.
Early Judaism (much of it later than 2 Peter) and early Christianity appealed to Ps. 90:4 “(1) to define the length of one of the days of creation, (2) to explain why Adam lived one thousand years after his sin, (3) to calculate the length of the Messiah’s day, and (4) to explain the length of the world” –Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 1059.
Notably, this passage also played into early LDS thought and scripture several times. So, for example, D&C 77 talks about the seven seals in Revelation 5 each being one thousand years. Did this mean the world could only be 7000 years old? W.W. Phelps, in the Times and Seasons interpreted it to mean that the universe had been around for 2,555,000 years, and was quoted on occasion by Elder McConkie. Whence this number? 7,000 years x 265 days x 1000 years, since one “day” = 1000 “years.” See here, for example.
As with James, names are a bit odd here. First, Jude and Judas are identical in Greek, but to avoid the mere possibility of Judas the betrayer writing Jude, translators changed the name in English to distinguish them. Second, both are versions of “Judah” and there are 8 men bearing this name in the New Testament.
What’s most interesting in Jude is how it cites as familiar and authoritative several documents which did not make it into the Bible. For example, Jud 1:9 quotes the Assumption of Moses (aka the Testament of Moses.) For more on this in general, see this volume online.
Jude also cites Sodom and Gomorrah, and in light of recent discussion, I would point people back to my post about Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
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