2 Peter and the Return of Jesus

The implied opponents in 2 Peter denied the return of Jesus (1:16, 2:1-3, 14, 18). There are several reasons for this, but primarily it was because the first generation of believers were old or dead. Peter himself is about to die, Paul will die about the same time. Yet Jesus has not returned – why is this?

It is possible that the opponents charged the older generation with creating the return of Jesus, it is a “cleverly devised myth (1:16). Bauckham suggests that the opponents might have claimed the apostles made up the return of Jesus in order to control the early church (Jude, 2 Peter, 154).” I am not sure how that would work, it almost sounds like the first generation knew they were creating a cult and they came up with a story and brainwashed their converts.

I think that it is more like that the phrase “cleverly devised myth” implies that they opponents claimed that the (Jewish) apostles over-interpreted the words of Jesus because of there apocalyptic world view. As the church became increasingly Gentile, it became more rational. The second and third generation Gentile believers were not reading Daniel and 1 Enoch, they were reading Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. As a result the “apocalyptic” aspect of early Christianity was muted. These false-teachers deny the return of Jesus because they do not share the apocalyptic assumptions of Paul and Peter!  (This suggestion has the advantage of explaining the missing text from Jude, especially the citation of 1 Enoch which concerns the apocalyptic return of the Lord. Peter avoided them since they would cause more trouble from his opponents.)

The opponents also denied a future judgment as well as the return of Jesus. The coming of Messiah is bound up with the idea of a judgment on the nations in Jewish apocalyptic. When Messiah comes, he will judge the nations and punish those who are not considered “righteous.” In Matt 25: 31-46, for example, when Jesus returns he will punish the nations that mistreated his children. If the Messiah is not coming back, then he is also not going to judge people for their present behavior (2:19).

Peter’s strategy for countering his opponents is interesting especially since we now live some 2000 years after Jesus.  It is fairly easy to mock the  idea of a “return of Jesus” given that he has been away for quite some time, and some of his followers keep failing at predictions of the day and hour.   Rather than point to so-called fulfilled prophecies or trends in society which “prove” Jesus is coming very soon, Peter argues first that God keeps his promises, even if there is a long time between promise and fulfillment.  Second, if there is a delay, that delay is a reflection of God’s mercy and his hope that those facing judgment will repent.  I think this is  the point of 3:8 (“a day is like a thousand years”) is to point out that God often gives a long time for repentance.

Does this sort of “strategy” work today?  How does a Christian firmly hold to the return of Jesus while separating from the more embarrassing examples of recent years?

2 Peter and Pseudepigraphy

Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept the idea historical Peter was the author of the book. As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, Bauckham), there has been little change in this consensus. Bart Erhman deals with this issue in his popular book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility the traditional authors of many of the books in the New Testament are not likely the real authors.

In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11). Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.

Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter. Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter were rejected by the church because they were not authentic. If there was a possibility Peter was not authentic, it would have been treated the same as other spurious documents.

Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it? It is true that the second letter of Peter is very different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship. Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if the amanuensis was given a more free hand in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case the two letters are related. Statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.

There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.” In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed. Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31. And again, this evidence cuts both ways. Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter in order to “sound like” Peter, I would include these details to give the letter the “ring of truth.” In fact, it is odd the is to Matthew when Peter was associated with Mark. The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This allusions sounds is too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than Galatians 2 might imply. Still, there is evidence for either side of the discussion.

Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view. As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers. The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.

Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter be less authoritative? Suppose someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to deal with important issues in the late first century. Does this make it less worthy of the canon? J. D. Charles (Faithful to the End, 129f) would say that it does indeed matter. If we now know for sure Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, a letter written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, most scholars are confident there was a “historical Clement” who wrote 1 Clement. If 1 Clement is authentic and 2 Peter is not, why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?

Bibliography:

Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71.
Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.

The World is Surprised When We Do Not Join Them – 1 Peter 4:3-4

Peter lists a series of vices that were acceptable in the Greco-Roman world. Some of these are associated with entertainment (theater, the games), others may be associated with banquets in the temples. While some of these might be family celebrations and fairly innocent, a meal at a temple would be an opportunity for drunkenness, gluttony, sexual excess.

Bacchus

Sensuality (ἀσέλγεια) refers to a “lack of self-constraint” that goes beyond what is socially acceptable. Traditionally this is translated as “licentiousness” and turns up in sin lists along with fornication. It is the kind of insolence that makes a mockery of what is considered acceptable in polite society.

Passions (ἐπιθυμία) is the typical word used for lust, although that is not always a sexual lust; gluttony, for example, is an inordinate craving for food, etc.) The word can refer to any sort of desire that goes beyond what is necessary.

Drunkenness (οἰνοφλυγία) is not the typical word used in the New Testament for one who gets drunk, but implies that the person is gluttonous for wine. Philo of Alexandria uses this word in his discussion of coveting:

Philo, Spec. Laws, 4.91 When it [coveting] affects the parts about the belly it makes men gluttonous, insatiable, intemperate, debauched, admirers of a profligate life, delighting in drunkenness, and epicurism, slaves to strong wine, and fish, and meat, pursuers of feasts and tables, wallowing like greedy dogs; owing to all which things their lives are rendered miserable and accursed, and they are reduced to an existence more grievous than any death.

The word translated orgies (κωμος) refers to a festive meal usually in honor of Dionysus/Bacchus, the god of wine. The word appears twice in the LXX, in 2 Macc 6:4 it describes the revelries of the Gentiles in the Temple courts before the Maccabean revolt, and in Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 it appears in a detailed sin list (translated as “frenzied revels.”

2 Maccabees 6:4 (NRSV)  For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.

Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 (NRSV)  For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs

Similarly, “drinking parties” (πότος) refers to carousing, although this is not always with the connotation of drinking in a sleazy bar. The elite often held banquets to discuss literature or philosophy (a symposium) while drinking heavily. BDAG suggests that Peter “has less sophisticated participants in mind.”

Lawless idolatry (ἀθέμιτος εἰδωλολατρία). This final item is scathing in its condemnation of the religious practices of the Roman world.  The word Peter uses here is used for wanton, unseemly behavior, things that even the Roman world would consider too disgusting. In addition, Peter calls these gods idols, something that would not be considered politically correct in the Roman world. You might not worship someone else’s god, but you did not call it a disgusting idol! Not only do these people commit acts that are unseemly, they do so in the service of a worthless idol.

Imagine contemporary celebrations like Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, or Super Bowl parties. There are all excuses for indulging in behavior that would be inappropriate at other times. But this goes beyond the pale: imagine someone behaving so badly at Mardi Gras that people thought they were crossing the line.

Peter implies that his readers have participated in some of these things. This is usually taken as a “proof” that the congregation is made up of Gentile converts, since Jews would not have participated in these kinds of debaucheries. But as Karen Jobes points out, this may be an overly idealized view of diaspora Jews living in a pagan culture. That some of them at some point did attend the theater or the gladiatorial games is entirely possible.

Christians developed the reputation for being different because they chose not to participate in such behaviors. In the ancient world, different was always bad. If a Christian choose to not participate in some civic event because it is an excuse for debauchery, they are likely going to be view with suspicion. If the event was dedicated to the gods of the city, perhaps the Christians were endangering the prosperity of the city. If the event was a family celebration, then refusing to participate would have created tension within the most basic unit of Roman culture.

This goes beyond modern Christians abstaining from the drunken festivals of our time. To use the analogy of Mardi Gras, if someone refused to participate in the festivities, they might be considered a kill-joy, or holier-than-thou, or judgmental. But few would consider them traitors to the city of New Orleans, and no one really thinks that the gods are going to bless the city since everyone participates in the revels. This radical call to holiness opened many early Christians to accusations of disloyalty.

 

By His Wounds You Have Been Healed – 1 Peter 2:24

In 1 Peter 2:24, Peter alludes to Isaiah 53:5 when he declares that Christ’s death provides “healing.”  He is clearly referring to the death of Jesus on the cross (“he bore our sins on the tree”).  But Peter adjusts the wording of Isaiah 53 slightly. In both the Hebrew and Greek versions, the line reads “we are healed,” Peter has “you (plural) are healed.”  This may simply be a case of a pastor inserting his congregation into a text for rhetorical purposes.

On the other hand, it is not clear in Isaiah who the suffering servant benefits – who is the “we” in this verse?  A common first-century answer was “Israel.” The nation as a whole suffers in order to bring redemption to the world.   This could be an example of Peter re-using a text from the Hebrew Bible and applying it more specifically to the Church. It is not the nation of Israel who is healed by the death of the messiah, but rather the ones who follow Jesus.

The verb translated “healed” (ἰάομαι) can easily be misunderstood. While it is often used for physical healing, it is also used for being delivered from spiritual blindness. What is more, it is used in Isaiah 6:10 to describe what might happen if the people of Isaiah’s day turned their hearts to the Lord and really understood the message of the prophet – “they would be healed.” This text from Isaiah is used several times in the New Testament to describe the spiritual blindness of those who witnessed Jesus’ ministry. They were spiritually insensitive and therefore rejected the Suffering Servant when he revealed himself.

John 12:37-44 is a remarkable combination of Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1. This is John’s summary of the ministry of Jesus. No one heard the message of the Suffering Servant, so no one turned as was healed! Like John, Peter is saying that those who follow Christ are healed of their spiritual blindness in a way which separates them from those who heard the teaching of Jesus and failed to respond.

Isaiah 53 forms a foundation for Peter’s Christology, and probably for the Christology of the earliest apostolic preaching. Based on the suffering of Jesus Christ, his followers experience redemption.  But there is a pastoral application of Peter’s theology of salvation.  If Jesus suffered so intensely so that you can have salvation, then those who follow Jesus ought to suffer in the same way.  Look back a few verses:  1 Peter: 2:20 is an ethical statement about servants who are unjustly suffering at the  hands of their masters.

In fact, Peter’s point is that how you follow Jesus ought to be based on the way in which Jesus lived, suffered and died.  This is not some sort of sugary “WWJD” pep-talk.  Peter bases his ethical teachings on the suffering of Jesus, not his “good life” or other moral teachings.  It is remarkable that Peter does not say, “Love your neighbor the way Jesus loved his neighbors.” I am sure that is true and that Peter would agree with that sort of a statement.   But Peter says, “suffering in silence, the way Jesus suffered.”

My guess is that most people who wore the WWJD bracelets were not thinking about being silent while they were beaten unjustly for their commitment to their Lord and Savior.

Jesus is the Precious Cornerstone – 1 Peter 2:4, 6-8

Peter describes Jesus as a “living stone” that was rejected by men (2:4). What is a “living stone”? Some take this as an uncut rock. Altars in the Old Testament were to be built from unhewn rock, not dressed stone.  Water that is used in a Jewish mikveh was called “living water” since it had to come from a “living source” (rain or a spring).  On the other hand, the stone may have been cut, carved and prepared for use as the Temple cornerstone.

Jesus is the “rejected stone” that becomes the chief stone in a New Temple (2:6-8) Peter draws several verses from the Hebrew Bible together in this paragraph. He first quotes Isa 28:16, where the Lord says he is “laying a stone in Zion.” In the original context, this saying referred to the establishment of a stable dynasty in Jerusalem, despite threats against it from the Assyrians.

Herodian Stones

The massive Herodian era foundation stone at the Temple Mount

The first line is fairly clear, but the expansion of stone into a “chosen cornerstone” needs to be unpacked.  The Greek word (ἀκρογωνιαιος) refers to a “capstone,” an ornate stone that would be the final stone added to a building. But a “cornerstone” refers to a stone laid as a foundation. Unlike modern “cornerstones” that are largely ceremonial, the cornerstone for a large building was critical for the building up of the rest of the building.

The second verse Peter quotes is from Psalm 118:22-23. The idea of a chief stone connects the Psalm to Isa 28:16. Jesus called himself the “stone that the builders rejected” after the Parable of the Vineyard in Mark 12:9-11. In Mark 12, Jesus calls the rejected stone the “head corner stone” (κεφαλή and γωνία, corner), although “head” can mean “chief” here. The context of the psalm is a restoration of Israel at the end of the exile, and it appears that the text was considered messianic based on the similarity of the word stone (eben) and son (ben) in Hebrew. David was the son who was rejected, yet he was the chose king who laid the foundation of the line of kings that would result in the coming of the Messiah.

In the Gospels, Jesus quotes Psalm 118 as a conclusion to the parable of the Vineyard, which concludes with the son of the vineyard’s owner being taken out of the vineyard and killed. This is a thinly veiled prediction of what will happen to Jesus in just a few days and is a clear statement from Jesus that his death will be in some ways a fulfillment of Psalm 118, the rejected son (ben) becomes the chief stone (eben) in the building.

The third text Peter quotes is Isa. 8:14. In response to the rejection of the stone, judgment will come. In the original context of Isaiah 8, God has given the sign of Immanuel (a son, ben) to king Ahaz, and now Isaiah is warned to honor only the Lord as holy and to only fear the Lord (rather than the king). The Lord will be a sanctuary (a holy place, the word mikdash is used for the tent of meeting and the Temple) for those who honor him, but for those who have rejected the Lord as their God, he will be a “stone of stumbling.”

Stones

At the Southwest corner of the Temple Mount

It is easy enough to connect sanctuary with temple (although the LXX has ἁγίασμα), but the image of what kind of stone Jesus is changes here – he is no longer an honored stone at the highest point in the Temple; rather he is a stone on the ground that trips people up and causes them to stumble. Sometimes this “stumbling-block” is described as a mostly-buried rock that someone does not really see until they trip over it and are injured.

Those who honor Jesus will be honored, those who do not will be shamed. This refers to eschatological judgment. When Jesus returns, there will be a separation of those who honored the stone as precious, or tripped over him and stumbled. Paul used these same verses in a very similar way in Romans 9:33, 10:11. In the present age, Peter says, there are some will believe in the cornerstone, and be honored ‘in that day,” while those who reject the stone will be shamed.

In summary, Peter describes Jesus in this passage as the most important stone in a Temple. If Jesus is the cornerstone or capstone, then the people of God are stones building on that foundation. What is Peter’s main point in this metaphor? Is it just a scriptural argument for Jesus as Messiah, or there are pastoral emphasis as well? Within the metaphor of a Temple, what is the relationship between the living stones of the church and Jesus?

Since You Have Been Born Again – 1 Peter 1:21-22

In 1 Peter 1:15-16, Peter said the reason a believer ought to be holy is that they were ransomed by God with the greatest price imaginable, the blood of Jesus, the perfect and spotless lamb. The second reason Peter gives for his call to holiness is that the believer has been born again (1:22-23). The believer has experienced a change in status before God, we are now his children.

Peter’s description of salvation as being “born again” is drawn from the teaching of Jesus (John 3), but is consistent with Paul’s “new creation” and adoption language. Like Paul in 1 Cor 15, Peter says that the believer has been changed fundamentally, from perishable seed but imperishable. The believer’s salvation is imperishable because it is through the “living and abiding word of God.” The “seed” that creates this new, imperishable life in the believer is the Word of God.

Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8, although his words echo that whole passage. The original context of Isaiah 40 was a call for the exiles to leave Babylon and return to the land, the long exile of Israel was over.  Peter addressed his readers as those living in the Exile and claims to write “from Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). The good news preached to his readers was that the exile is over and those who are born again in Jesus Christ are able to be the holy people that God desired from the beginning.

Baby with CandyIf the believer has really “tasted that the Lord is good,” then they ought to crave more and better food. When children are born, they are only able to drink milk, but they crave it so intensely that when a baby is hungry, everyone knows it!  When kids are young, parents try to get them to eat new kinds of food in order to provide more nutrition than Mac and Cheese with a hotdog. Most kids will not eat stuffed mushrooms or anything that “looks weird” (unless a stranger offers it to them in a store as a “free sample”!) This is the whole Green Eggs and Ham syndrome – if you taste it you will like it (Sam I Am).

The words “Taste that the Lord is good” is an allusion to Psalm 34:8. In that psalm David describes the blessed man who has found refuge in the Lord. The one who is protected by the Lord is safe, while the oppressors (“young lions”) go hungry. Since the believer has in fact “tasted the good things of the Lord,” it is only natural that they should crave.

The believer should put away things that are not consistent with that growth. As with human children, some things do not promote healthy growth. As parents, we tell our kids to eat the broccoli and asparagus because it is healthy and they need the vitamins, and we restrict their junk food because it is just that, junk. This restriction is not because parents are mean (or are hoarding the candy for themselves), but because they want to help their children grow up healthy.

He mentions specifically “all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” These are the sorts of things that destroy any community, but especially Christian communities. Malice (κακία) is the opposite of virtue (ἀρετή), but appears frequently in vice lists for a kind of “mean-spirited or vicious attitude” (BDAG). It appears with anger, hatred, rage, and even bitterness. It is a kind of attitude that finds fault with everything and cannot see any good at all in something.

Deceit (δόλος) is sometimes translated “underhandedness” or “treachery.” It is the word that appears in the LXX to describe the treachery of Jacob when he stole the blessing from his brother (Gen 27:35) and the treachery of Simeon and Levi when they attacked the people of Shechem.  The word appears in Psalm 34:13, which may supply Peter with his list of vices in this verse.

But it does not take a major sin to stunt our growth in the Lord – simple distractions are usually more effective for destroying our growth than “malice and deceit.” Peter’s point here is that the believer is a child of God and ought to act like it. It is only natural that the believer is growing and developing in holiness.

Be Holy! – 1 Peter 1:15-21

In his first chapter, Peter has described the salvation his readers experienced as unimaginably great. If the readers have such a great salvation as this, they ought to be holy (1:15-16). Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44: “You shall be holy because I am holy.” This section alludes to many texts and ideas drawn from the Old Testament. In fact, the more one is aware of the overall plot of the Old Testament, the clearer this passage is. Peter is assuming the “salvation history” of the Jewish people in these verses. He is not just quoting the Hebrew Bible; he is alluding to the whole plot of sin and redemption from Genesis through the Prophets.

Passover Lamb

The first reason Peter gives for this is that the believers have been “ransomed from their futile ways” (v.18). For a Jewish or Gentile reader, the “ransom” language Peter used would evoke the practice setting a slave free. The verb (λυτρόω) refers to paying a price to set a slave free. A price would be deposited at a temple, and the slave was then considered to be purchased by the god. For the Jewish reader, the idea of “ransom” is far more theologically rich. The Jewish people as a whole were redeemed out of their slavery in Egypt and therefore became the people of God in the Exodus.

Since Israel they broke the covenant and went into exile. The prophet (Isaiah especially) described the return from exile as a New Exodus. When Israel is called out of the nations they will once again be “redeemed” by their God. It is for this reason that the coming messianic age could be called the “redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:25 Simeon).

Peter makes a connection between the Passover Lamb and Jesus, who is the ultimate price to pay. The price paid was not with perishable things, gold or silver, but with a life. The sacrificial system from the Hebrew Bible required a life as a substitute for sin. When the first Passover happened, the blood of the lamb was placed on the doorposts so that the family in the home would be saved from the final plague and redeemed out of Egypt. The people did not give gold or silver to a temple, but they gave up a precious life.

Isaiah 55:1 may be a parallel here since the people are called out of the exile to eat and drink with the Lord, food provided without money. That section ends with a reference to the Word of God “not returning void” as the new eschatological age dawns. The blood of Christ’s sacrifice is even more “precious” (τίμιος) than the Passover Lamb. This word is often used for precious stones, jewels, etc. Something that is precious is held in highest honor. Since the contrast is with gold and silver, the value of the blood of the sacrifice of the Messiah is as high as imaginable.

A “lamb without blemish or spot” is an allusion to the Passover Lamb. Any sacrificed animal is to be pure and spotless (the same idea appears in Heb 9:14). But the word (ἄμωμος) is often used for moral purity as well. Since the lamb of a sacrifice was offered to God, it was to be as perfect as possible. In fact, Peter’s description of the death of Jesus as a ransom may be drawn from the teaching of Jesus himself. In Mark 10:45 Jesus describes the giving up of his life as a “ransom for many.”

Peter therefore connects the salvation experience of the believer to the Passover (the salvation experience of the Hebrew Bible) and draws the same ethical implications that the Torah did. Since believers in Christ has been “bought with a price” they ought to live a holy life. Based on 1 Peter 1-2, what does this holiness “look like”?