Knowing the Apostolic Faith – 2 Peter 1:1-2
We read these words as believers and therefore are ready to take the text at face value. Only the unredeemed come to the text of Holy Scripture with a predetermined doubt. We will approach this text, not to determine its genuineness, but to discover its meaning. While Peter’s initial greeting may not seem all that significant at first glance, there is much here that will support our faith in this text as well as prepare us for our study of it. Peter introduces himself, his audience, and his purpose for writing in the span of two short verses.
“Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who received the same faith as us in the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”
The Faithful Apostle (v. 1a)
“Simeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ.”
While most of our English Bibles read “Simon Peter” the Greek reads Συμεὼν or Simeon. This apparent discrepancy does more to bolster our faith in Peter’s hand than it does to discredit him. The name “Simon” was a common Greek name in the 1st century and so was widely adopted by Jews bearing the name “Simeon” as a rough equivalent in an ever-growing Hellenized world. Peter was called “Simeon” in Acts 15:14, a strong Jewish context where his given name was utilized by James.
What marks this introduction as interesting is the combination of the Jewish “Simeon” with the Greek “Peter.” If Peter intended to present himself with a purely Jewish flare, we might expect him to use “Cephas” rather than “Peter.” While both “Cephas” and “Peter” mean “Rock,” the first is Aramaic while the second is Greek. Peter presents himself with his Jewish given name and his Greek nickname bestowed upon him by our Lord. The effect is a presentation of the man that has become the apostle Peter. He was a Jewish finisherman named Simeon. He is the disciple who boldly confessed Jesus as the Christ and Son of God and was later commissioned to feed Christ’s sheep. Now, nearing the end of his sojourn, Peter is close to completing the transformation Jesus began on the shores of Galilee.
This transformation is a key part of Peter’s argument. Unlike modern evangelicalism, the apostles taught that Christianity was more than an intellectual acceptance but that the faith demanded and assumed a transformation of the whole person. False teachers should be readily obvious by their lack of transformation (2:1-4) while true believers are expected to reveal their transformation by putting their knowledge into action (1:5-9). Peter tips his hand in regards to this transformation in this simple yet effective introduction of his name.
By calling himself both a slave (δοῦλος) and an apostle (ἀπόστολος) of Jesus Christ, some see a two-fold presentation that appeals to his readers on equal terms (slave) yet maintains his authority (apostle). That is not quite right, for he calls himself both a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). Both these terms work to bind Peter to Jesus Christ more so than they appeal to the readers. By calling himself a slave of Jesus Christ Peter does not suggest that he is on equal footing with his readers in that they are all slaves of Christ (though this may be true). He presents himself as one who is totally owned by Jesus Christ, whose status is not his own. His identity is forever bound to his Master, and he can do nothing but obey His will. Peter places himself in the same category as Moses (Ex. 14:31; Num. 12:7; Josh. 1:2), David (2 Sam. 3:18; 1 Kings 11:13; Is. 37:35), and the prophets (2 Kings 9:7; Ezek. 38:17; Amos 3:7; Dan. 9:6) who have been called Yhwh’s servants. If anything, this title sets Peter apart rather than making him more relatable.
The title of apostle defines the service already implied. An apostle is one who is sent with a specific mission. We know what mission Jesus has sent Peter on. He is to be a witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8) and is commanded to feed Jesus’ sheep (John 21:15-17). Jesus Christ has sent His disciple into the world to testify all that he has seen and all that he knows to be true concerning the risen Lord. He is not a sinless apostle, for he needed strong rebuke at times (Gal. 2:11-14). But he has proven to be a faithful apostle, bringing the gospel first to Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26), Samaria (Acts 8:14-25), and to the ends of the earth (Acts 10:34-48).
It is not Peter’s intention to present himself as relatable but as a chosen and proven emissary of the King of kings and Lord of lords. His letter contains weighty matters of eternal implications. It is necessary that his readers take him seriously and accept this letter with the fear and love due the Master whom Peter serves. How sad, after Peter has gone to such lengths to prove this point, that the church today commonly rejects Peter as the author of this letter and thus guts it of the authority it claims.
The Faith-Filled Audience (v. 1b)
While we certainly wish that Peter would have plainly stated who the recipients of this letter were (1 Pet. 1:1), we are left with two encouraging thoughts. First, the recipients knew who they were. This letter would have no greater impact on the original audience if they were named and carries no less weight for their names being omitted. Second, we are not left without any clues. As we have already discussed in the introduction, the obvious implications of Peter’s words in 3:1-2 indicate that this letter was written to the same churches of Asia Minor. It is curious, however, that Peter does not name them in his introduction. We must assume that this was done quite purposefully.
Peter’s introduction focuses on the eternal status of his readers rather than their geographical location. He writes to those who have received the faith. As such, this letter is not contained to a particular region, but to the whole church wherever they are to be found. The application, therefore, is attached to all believers throughout the known world.
The Quality of Their Faith
“To those who received the same faith as us”
In his first epistle, Peter capitalized on God’s sovereign choice of his audience for salvation when he called them “elect aliens” (ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις). Here he does something similar when he states that their faith was “received” (λαχοῦσιν). The Greek root (λαγχάνω) originally described the casting of lots to divide possessions. What was received was appointed by the lot. This faith was not conjured up by the recipients of this letter but was received by them as apportioned by God. Their faith is a gift.
The real meat of this line is found in the way Peter defines this faith. He states that their faith is the same faith as “us.” The adjective ἰσόμιτος describes equality in both kind and value. It is stronger than indicating a similarity between two things but indicates that the two are identical. By “faith” (πίστις) Peter speaks of the objective content that is trusted and believed. The facts of the gospel message. The realities of the promises of God. The totality of the Scriptures. All these things are bound up in that small word “faith.” The point here is that Peter’s audience trust is placed in the exact same object possessed by “us.” But who is “us”?
Many suggest that Peter speaks as a Jew to Gentiles. Evidence for this is supposedly found in Peter’s introduction of himself and the use of the Semitic version of his name (Simeon). Yet this fails to consider the Greek version of “Rock” or “Peter” and misinterprets the force and intention of Peter in combining these terms. Peter’s point is not to show some unity between Jew and Gentile (hardly the point of the letter) but to reveal in himself the transformation wrought by Jesus Christ. We should expect the introduction to introduce the topic and purpose of the letter. Peter never mentions the equality of faith possessed by both Jew and Gentile. He does however persist in the perseverance of the biblical gospel and the Scriptures.
Peter plainly states that this is the second time he has written in order to stir up the readers’ minds so that they remember what the prophets have spoken and what the Lord Jesus has commanded through the apostles (3:1-2). Fidelity to the gospel is the purpose of this letter. This gospel was spoken of by the prophets, pondered by angels, and preached by the apostles (1 Pet. 1:10-12). By “us” Peter speaks on behalf of the apostles. His point is that his readers have received the same faith that apostles have received. The content of what the apostles bear witness of is the same content that the readers trust to be true. Their faith is identical to the apostles’ faith. This is a key statement that will drive much of the letter, for a similar faith is not acceptable. If the object of our faith varies from the apostles, we have an altogether different faith. He writes to those whose faith was received as an exact duplicate of the apostles who testify of the reason and returning Savior.
The Object of Their Faith
“in the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Peter never speaks for long before basking in the glory of the gospel. This faith is not only measured according to its fidelity to the apostle’s message. It is also measured according to its intrinsic quality. This apostolic faith is “in the righteousness of our God and Savior” meaning that this faith is connected with this same righteousness. The righteousness Peter speaks of is the right standing before God that has been accomplished by Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. This is the object of our faith, that we are made right through Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary, and penal propitiation. The righteousness we trust in is not our own, but that of God’s beloved Son. It is the righteousness which belongs to our God and our Savior, who is Jesus Christ.
Peter plainly refers to Jesus as both God (τοῦ θεοῦ) and Savior (σωτῆρος). Any student of the Old Testament would be familiar with the many promises of God that He would save His people (Is. 25:9; 33:22). God’s plan to save His people would be executed through His Anointed One, or His Christ (Ps. 2). This One is none other than Jesus, God of very God, begotten not made. It is He whom Peter unashamedly calls God and Savior, for He will save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
The Faith-Based Ambition (v. 2)
A traditional introduction for a letter would not be complete without a greeting. Our letters (for those who still engage in letter writing) usually begin with the recipient, followed by a short greeting, only to conclude with the sender’s identity. This is indeed a strange way to send a message. Letters in antiquity began with announcing the sender, followed by the recipient. This certainly gets all the necessary information out of the way. The next item to follow would be a personal greeting or salutation. Peter follows this pattern, but nor simply for form’s sake. Even his greeting helps to introduce the main content of his letter.
Ambition Described (v. 2a)
“Grace and peace be multiplied to you”
Avid readers of the New Testament are not very surprised by this greeting as a great many epistles begin with a wish of grace and peace. This formula was obviously a favorite of Paul (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Th. 1:1; 2 Th. 1:2; Philem. 1:3) but was used by Peter (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:2) and John as well (Rev. 1:4). The greeting of “grace” would have been a common enough greeting in the Roman world of the 1st century. The term (χάρις) indicates a desire for the recipient to find favor with both the gods and with men. It’s a general expressing of goodwill. The Christian would read much more into this simple term, for grace is immediately associated with God’s salvific favor whereby He provides undeserved life to those who are dead in their trespasses and sins. The Christian church transformed a mundane secular greeting into an expression of joy shared by all who have repented and believe the gospel.
To this the writers of the New Testament add “peace” (εἰρήνη), betraying the Jewish roots of this budding religion. A desire for peace is a desire for the restoration of creation. Peace describes the non-existence of strife from the molecular level upwards. Thus, these two terms which describe God’s undeserved favor and the promise of compete restoration have been joined to form a uniquely Christian greeting. Peter’s wish is that both this grace and peace be multiplied to his readers.
We have already assumed that Peter writes to believers, but with these words it is confirmed. If grace and peace are to be multiplied, that is to be added abundantly, it stands to reason that to some extent this grace and peace are already known to the readers. They are those who have already experienced the grace and peace which God supplies to those whom He redeems. Peter’s desire is that their knowledge of this grace and peace continues to grow. The next line not only makes this clear, but also expresses how grace and peace are multiplied within the life of a believer.
Ambition Defined (v. 2b)
“in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”
Here we have the main thrust of Peter’s argument boiled down to its most basic point. Knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις) is one of the dominant themes in 2 Peter (1:2, 3, 8; 2:20). A sister term, usually also translated as knowledge (γνῶσις) also runs the course of this letter (1:5, 6; 3:18). While there is a large overlap of meaning between these two terms, the consensus is that the more emphatic ἐπίγνωσις indicates a true or deep knowledge that, by very definition, cannot be a false knowledge. The grace and peace which Peter desires to be multiplied to his readers is found in the true knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
While the gospel of grace is more than intellectual knowledge, it is never less than an understanding of and submission to the facts of the message. Peter defines the concepts of grace and peace by equating them with the knowledge of God. Where is this knowledge found if not in the Scripture? All that the prophets proclaimed, and the apostles preached summarizes this true knowledge of God and of Jesus. In verse 1 both the titles God and Savior were attributed to God the Son, Jesus Christ. Here both the Father and the Son are on display. Both grace and peace will be multiplied according to their knowledge of God the Father and God the Son. The more they know and understand the prophets and apostles (what we call the Old and New Testaments) the more they will experience the grace and peace which God supplies.
Peter introduces himself in the most urgent of terms. His desire is not to become relatable, but to present himself as clearly as possible with the fewest number of words. He is the disciple that called, restored, and commissioned. He is one who serves and is sent by the Lord Jesus Christ. This message carries weight and should be treated accordingly. He writes to those who share the apostolic faith, the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ of God, the God-Man incarnate who came to live a sinless life, die an atoning death, rose, and is returning again to claim His Kingdom. His desire is that his readers grow in grace and peace found only in the knowledge of God. Knowledge that is found only on the pages of Scripture. This knowledge of God will be their first defense against the coming storm of heresy.
Peter wrote his first epistle to prepare the saints of Asia Minor against the coming storm of persecution. It was imperative to him that the Christian church understand that they are but strangers and aliens in enemy occupied territory. Only with this understanding will they be able to suffer well for the sake of righteousness as they await the coming return of the King. This second epistle addresses a danger vastly more grave than persecution. Here Peter writes to warn of coming false teachers. What a million enemy soldiers fail to do over the course of a decade, one heretic can accomplish in a fortnight. False teachers pose the greatest threat to the Christian faith.
In a world that scorns theological precision and doctrinal clarity, it is little wonder that 2 Peter is dismissed, ignored, and disavowed by many leading evangelical minds. It seems that Peter wrote to warn the church of the same fellows who cast the most shade upon this little epistle. We would do well to carefully study this letter so that we might persevere against the continuing storm of false teaching.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Peter Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2006), p. 160.  Ibid, p. 161. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 249.  Davids, p. 162.