7. The Writings of the Circumcision: Peter’s Epistles

 The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures

TURNING now to Peter’s first epistle we find the address as follows:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen expatriates of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Capl'padocia, the province of Asia, and Bythynia, according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, in holiness of spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.

The AV translates “strangers” here, but “pilgrims” in 1 Peter 2:11 (where it uses “strangers” for another word) and Heb.11:13, the only other occurrences. It is a form of the word “public,” and refers to a foreigner living among an alien people. Our word “expatriates” is very close to the meaning intended.

Peter limits his letter even more than James. The whole tone of his introduction is distinctly more spiritual. Jacob was Israel’s physical name; Peter is Simon’s spiritual name. He writes to the “elect”; James to all in the twelve tribes.

There are two dispersions spoken of in the Scriptures. Our Lord spoke of those who had left the land, doubtless for mercenary reasons, for the religious Jew had no right to leave the land and the allotment Yahweh had given to him. Of such were Paul’s parents, Jews of Tarsus. We cannot help contrasting his father with Peter’s, who was in God’s appointed place.

The other dispersion was of an opposite character. Unfaithfulness led many away from Yahweh’s land, but later faithfulness drove many away from their patrimony.

Stephen’s martyrdom proved a crisis for many in Israel. Those in Jerusalem, except the apostles, were driven throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1-4). Some went as far as Venice and Cyprus and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto Jews only. Later some spoke to the Hellenists also (Acts 10:19,20). The reason there was no outcry against this procedure, as when Peter preached to Cornelius, lies in the fact that these Hellenists or “Grecians,” though they did not follow the customs as the true Jews did, were of the Circumcision and the stock of Israel and not aliens of the other nations, not Greeks.

Peter undoubtedly writes to this second dispersion. It is only as we, in spirit, enter into their experiences that we can appreciate this epistle. A letter written to us is easy to understand. The references to our own life and affairs are a part of us and we cannot miss their point. A letter written to another is more difficult to apprehend. Our comprehension is limited by our acquaintance with the recipient and his private circumstances.

To illustrate! Their allotment, or “inheritance” in the land has been spoiled and defiled and has faded quite away so far as their enjoyment of it is concerned. They have been chased from it. But they have a living expectation, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, of obtaining a better allotment, kept in heaven for them.

Who cannot see, in the opening strain of Peter’s letter, a distinct allusion to the exodus, when the nation, having been chosen in the patriarchs, with the foreknowledge of their deliverance and destiny, a separate or sanctified people in Goshen, sprinkle the blood of the lamb in obedience to Yahweh's command? In spirit, Israel has come to precisely the same crisis once more. They are in the midst of the wilderness. The allotment lies ahead to cheer them in their manifold trials. They are redeemed, not with corruptible things as silver and gold (Ex.30:11-16), not with the “atonement money,” but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.

They are the regeneration of which our Lord spoke (Matt.19:28; 2 Peter 1:23).

Even if the address on Peter’s first epistle had been obliterated and it had been sent to the dead letter office, there is abundant internal evidence to ensure its proper delivery and to keep us from “appropriating” it to ourselves. People smile when we speak of the legal penalty attached to the stealing of mail matter. If this is the case with our letters, which are of so little importance, is it not tremendously serious when we dare to tamper with God’s?

Surely we cannot forget His words to Moses at the foot of Sinai: “Thus are you saying to the house of Jacob, and telling the sons of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians when bearing you on vulture’s wings and bringing you to Myself. And now, if you are hearing to hearken to My voice, and observe My covenant, then you become Mine, specially, more than any of the peoples, for Mine is all the earth. And you are becoming Mine, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you are speaking to the sons of Israel” (Ex.19:4-6).

Internal evidence shows that Peter wrote to “ ‘A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people procured for Himself’ . . . which once were ‘not a people’ but now are ‘the people of God,’ which ‘had not obtained mercy’ but ‘now are being shown mercy’ ” (Ex.19:5,6; Hos.1:9,10; 2:23; 1 Peter 2:9,10).

Such a multitude of marks of identification should surely keep us straight. We are not a “race,” or a “priesthood,” or a “nation,” or a “procured people.”

Let us suppose that Moses did as we do today and “applied” all this to the Amorite and the Moabite and the Canaanite and the Egyptians! But such crimes may go unpunished only in a day of grace, not at the foot of Sinai.

Though the “church which is His body” is largely taken out from among the nations, it cannot be a nation in any sense of the word. Though we have access into God’s presence which no high priest in Israel ever knew, yet we approach ourselves, not for others. We are not priests in any way. Priesthood pertains only to the sons of Israel. Though we come from the peoples and may be called a people, we are not, we cannot rob Israel of the special place accorded them by Yahweh.

But many will take refuge in the statement “which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.” Surely, some will protest, this must refer to the Gentiles! It is a quotation from Hosea. The whole first chapter should be read to get the connection. Israel and Judah are the subjects before the prophet. The prophet’s children are named as representatives of the nation. “And He is saying, ‘Call his name Lo-ammi, for you are not My people, and I am not your I Am Becoming. Yet the number of the sons of Israel shall become as the sand of the sea, which is not being measured nor numbered. And it comes to be in the place in which it was being said to them, “Not My people are you,” there shall it be said to them, “Sons of the living El.” And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel shall be convened together’ ” (Hos.1:9-11).

Can this refer to the nations? While the nations were always “Lo-Ammi,” this refers to the time when Israel, too, was so far estranged from Him that He repudiated them. But the promise of becoming His people again does not refer to the nations but to His apostate people, Israel.

But what of the quotation in the ninth chapter of Romans? It certainly seems as though this passage is applied to the nations there. The subject of the chapter is God’s sovereignty. The passage which is quoted is introduced by a comparative connective “as.” That is, it is not cited as fulfilled but as illustrative. In Peter the quotation is introduced very differently: “once were,” “yet now are.” That is, Peter gives a scripture and its fulfillment (1 Peter 2:10), Paul illustrates his theme by a passage in harmony with his argument (Rom.9:25,26).

While the statement immediately preceding Paul’s quotation–“us, whom He calls, also, not only out of the Jews, but out of the nations also”–while this seems to us to be a direct reference to the salvation of the nations, it is evident from the next verse that this is only on account of our bias and that he has no idea of changing it from its plain intent in Hosea. He continues “Now Isaiah is crying over Israel”–which, if it is read with the emphasis on Israel, as indicated in the Greek, will give us the proper impression that Hosea, too, has been speaking of Israel, and the apostle takes it for granted that we are acquainted with that fact, as we certainly ought to be.

This ought to be enough to send this epistle to the Circumcision, to whom it properly belongs. But, if this is not sufficient, the twelfth verse ought to make it plain whom Peter had in mind. If he was writing all this to the nations, why, in this verse, does he exhort them: “Having your behavior among the nations ideal?”


The so-called “second epistle of Peter” was really written by Simon Peter. This gives us a clue to the distinct character of these two letters. “Peter” was not his original name. That was Simeon or Simon. Now Simeon in Hebrew means to hear or hearken. This indicates his state when he was called. Israel was deaf and refused to hear, but Simon is representative of that class which had ears to hear. When his brother Andrew told him, “We have found the Messiah, which is, being construed, Christ,” he heard and came (John 1:40-42).

The Lord immediately gives him another name, “You are Simon, the son of John (not Jona), you shall be called Cephas, (which is, being translated, “Peter”). In fulfillment of this promise, after our Lord was rejected by the nation, and Simon had acknowledged Him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, He exclaims “Happy are you Simon, Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood does not reveal it to you, but My Father who is in the heaven. Now I, also, am saying to you that you are Peter (petros) and on this rock (petra) will I be building My ecclesia . . .”

Job came to a crisis when he cried out,
“With the hearing of the ear, I had heard of You,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I recant and repent
On soil and ashes.”
(Job 42:5,6)

Simon heard; Peter saw. Simon obeyed; Peter believed. Simon’s father was John; Peter’s father was Jonah, a dove, the emblem of God’s spirit.

It is a pity that Protestant expositors in their zeal against the Catholics, have tried to rob the name Peter of its true significance. Cephas and Peter are equivalents and do not refer to a “loose, rolling stone,” unstable and treacherous. They always denote a solid rock, the very best of foundations. And Peter is in the foundation of the new Jerusalem. True, the present church which is His body is not founded on Peter. Paul laid that foundation. Peter is a special title of honor bestowed by our Lord in recognition of Peter’s spiritual apprehension, not a nickname given him for his failings.

We are prepared, then, to see that the first letter was written by “Peter, an apostle,” the second by “Simon Peter, a slave and an apostle.” The dominant note in the second letter is service. Simon, the obedient slave, subordinates Peter the apostle. And is not the whole epistle burdened with the thought of behavior, deportment, conduct, service? It is of vast importance that it be read in this light.

This letter is written to the same ones to whom the first epistle was written, for the apostle calls it his second epistle to them (2 Peter 3:1). It is expressly written to “those who are chancing upon an equally precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). In Israel the lot settled everything. Instead of being regarded a “lottery” of blind chance, it was seen to be an appeal to Yahweh directly. The whole disposal of it was of Yahweh. When the soldiers did not wish to tear our Lord’s tunic they cast lots for it just as soldiers today would toss up a coin among themselves.

So those to whom Peter writes had “obtained” equally precious faith with Him as a direct result of God’s lottery. In conformity with the epistle, however, this is in the righteousness of God. This precious faith was theirs because of the divine decree that their service and suffering must be rewarded. God is doing right in giving it to them.

Let us not “rob Peter to pay Paul,” for Paul has no need of aught which belongs to Peter. Everything we filch from Peter impoverishes us. It hides and hinders the enjoyment of the transcendent celestial grace which Peter himself was never able to apprehend, much less enjoy.

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