Sunday, 6 November 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 32

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

by G.R. Balleine


This Epistle claims to be written by `Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ', and no New Testament book has stronger external testimony.

Its authenticity was never questioned by any ancient writer. And Early Fathers were not as credulous as some suppose. Eusebius, speaking of writings attributed to Peter, says: `The Fathers of former days quoted the Epistle called the First as indisputably authentic. The so-called Second Epistle we do not accept as canonical, though many consider it edifying. The Acts and Preaching, which bear his name, are unknown to Catholic tradition. The Apocalpse of Peter must be pronounced spurious. The Go0spel of Peter is a forgery to be shunned as thoroughly impious.'

In the second century Peter's authorship of the First Epistle was acknowledged in all parts of the Church. Clement at Alexandria constantly writes, `As Peter says in his Epistle'. Tertullian in Carthage declares, `Peter's rule about modesty in dress is plain,' and quotes I Peter iii. 3. Irenaeus in Gaul refers to `what Peter taught the people of Pontus'.

Recently, however, his authorship has been questioned, mainly on three grounds. First, the scholarly Greek in which the Epistle is written. The author, says Beare,' `is a stylist of no ordinary capacity. He writes some of the best Greek in the New Testament, far smoother and more literary than that of the highly trained Paul, a fact plainly beyond the power of a Galilean fisherman'. Secondly, its Pauline vocabulary. `Whole verses,' says Beare, `are a kind of mosaic of Pauline words and forms of expresssion.'

But both these objections lose force when we notice that Peter says, `I have written to you by (dia) Silvanus'. Silvanus was the writer of the letter; and he (who is often called Silas) was no nonentity. Acts calls him `a leading man among the Brethren'. He was joint-author with Paul of both Epistles to the Thessalonians. If an educated Jew like Josephus employed Greeks to polish his style, Peter, who was according to Luke `unlearned' (R.V.), may have left the wording of his message to Silvanus. This would explain the cultured Greek, and also the Pauline expressions, for Silvanus had accompanied Paul on his second missionary tour, and must have grown familiar with Paul's phraseology.

A third argument against Peter's authorship is that the Epistle reflects a later stage in the persecution than the reign of Nero. Under Nero Christians were charged with definite crimes like arson, whereas the Epistle speaks of arrests merely for being a Christian-'If any man suffer as a Christian'. In Trajan's reign in 112 this was the case in Pontus; so, it is argued, the Epistle must be as late as that.

But Tacitus shows that the name `Christian' was well known in Rome under Nero, and that Christians were regarded as `haters of the human race'. This would surely have made them liable to arrest. Moreover Mark, whose Gospel was written just after the reign of Nero, makes Jesus say, `Ye shall be hated by all men for My Name's sake'.

Points in the Epistle clearly suggest the earlier date. If it was written as late as 112, we have documents with which we can compare it. Even before Trajan's reign heresy had become an urgent problem in Asia Minor. The Apocalypse shows that the Nicolaitans were busy in Ephesus and Pergamum, and a Prophetess was seducing many in Thyatira; and these were three of the Churches to which I Peter was sent.

Ignatius in 115 wrote letters to five of the Churches to which I Peter was addressed, denouncing teachers `who mingle poison with Christ', `mad dogs biting by stealth'. If this controversy was raging in Asia, when this Epistle was written, the writer could not have ignored it. Yet he says not a word about heresy.

As we have seen, the only Church officers mentioned are the Elders. They are to `tend the flock of God, exercising the oversight'. Yet Ignatius shows that by 115 Episcopacy was firmly established in Asia. He mentions the Bishops of Ephesus, Magnesia, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and Tralles; and in every letter he exalts the Bishop's authority: `Obey your Bishop."Do nothing without your Bishop.'

If I Peter was written at this time, how strange that it says nothing of these important officials!

Nothing in this Epistle makes Nero's reign an impossible date or Peter's authorship improbable. An overwhelming majority of English scholars accept it, including Bigg (International Critical Commentary), Wand (West)vinster Commentaries), Chase (Dictionary of the Bible), McNeile (Introduction to the New Testament), Bennett (Century Bible), Selwyn, Lightfoot, Hort, Hatch, Salmon, Moffatt, Vincent Taylor, and Ramsay, though the last makes the odd suggestion that Peter outlived Nero and wrote under Vespasian.

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