Commentary on Peter and Jude

by

Martin Luther

Edited by John Nichols Lenker

Introduction to First Peter

Before we enter upon the explanation of the epistle of Peter, it is necessary that we give a brief introduction or a few words of instruction so that we may know in what esteem this epistle is to be held and so that we may grasp the right understanding of it.

In the first place we must remember that all the apostles advocated one and the same doctrine; and it is not correct that we count or speak of four evangelists and four gospels, for all that the apostles have written is one gospel. But gospel means nothing more nor less than a sermon or proclamation of the grace and mercy of God, merited and acquired through our Lord Jesus Christ by his death. And properly speaking, it is not that which is contained in books and comprehended in the letter, but rather an oral sermon, a living word, a voice which sounds and resounds through the whole world and is proclaimed publicly so that it is heard everywhere. Hence it is furthermore not a lawbook that contains many good doctrines, which have hitherto been held. For it does not bid us to do certain works by which we become pious. Instead, it makes known to us the grace of God, bestowed gratuitously and without any merit on our part. Also it tells how Christ has taken our place and made satisfaction for our sins and canceled them and through His own works justifies and saves us.

Now, whoever proclaims this by preaching or writing teaches the pure gospel, as all the apostles did, especially Paul and Peter in their epistles. Therefore it is all one and the same gospel that we preach concerning Christ, although one pursues a different method and speaks in different words from another. For it may indeed be a short or a long discourse, and a brief or an extensive writing. But whenever it touches the point that Christ is our Savior and that we are justified and saved through faith in him without our works, then it is the same Word and the one gospel; just as there is also only one faith and one baptism in universal Christendom (Eph. 4:5).

Thus one apostle has written precisely what is found in the epistles of other apostles; but those who have advocated the most frequently and the most intensively that faith in Christ alone justifies, they are the best evangelists. Therefore the epistles of Paul are more a gospel than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For these latter set forth more the history of the works and miracles of Christ. But the grace we have through Christ none paints forth so valiantly and so fully as Paul, especially in his epistle to the Romans.

Since far more depends upon the words of Christ than upon his works and deeds, if we must be deprived of one, it were better for us to be deprived of his works and history than of his words and doctrines. Therefore those books are justly praised the highest which treat most of the doctrines and words of our Lord Jesus Christ. For if the miracles of Christ had never been performed, or if we had no knowledge of them, we would still have sufficient in his word, without which we could not have life.

Consequently this epistle of Peter is one of the grandest of the New Testament, and it is the true, pure gospel. For Peter does also the very same thing as Paul and all the evangelists do in that he inculcates the true doctrine of faith,—how Christ has been given to us, who takes away our sins and saves us, as we shall hear.

From this you can now judge of all books and doctrines, what is gospel and what is not. For whatever is not proclaimed in sermons and writings in harmony with the above, you may freely pass judgment upon it that it is false, however good it may appear to be. This ability and power to judge is something all Christians have,—not the Pope and Councils, who boast how they alone possess the power to pass judgment on doctrine.

Peter wrote this, his first epistle, to the converted heathen and exhorted them to continue steadfast in their faith and to grow in it under all kinds of suffering and in every good work.

In the first chapter he strengthens their faith by the divine promise and power of their future salvation, and he shows that it was not merited by us; but that it was first proclaimed through the prophets. Therefore they should now live righteously in the new man and forget the old, as those who are born anew through the living, eternal Word of God.

In the second chapter he teaches them to know Christ the head and cornerstone, as true priests to offer themselves unto God, and as Christ offered himself. Then he begins to instruct men in all the various callings of life. In the first place, he teaches them in general to be subject to the civil government, and then in particular he tells the servants to be obedient to their masters and if necessary, suffer unjustly from them for the sake of Christ, who also suffered unjustly for us.

In the third chapter the apostle teaches wives to be in subjection to their husbands—even if they are unbelievers—and adorn themselves in holiness of character. Likewise the husbands are admonished to be patient and forbearing toward their wives; and then in general to be humble, forbearing and kind in their relations to one another, as Christ was to us sinners.

In the fourth chapter he teaches us to bring the flesh into subjection by fasting, watchfulness, temperance, and prayer; then he comforts and strengthens us with the sufferings of Christ. Next he instructs the spiritual government, how it should confine itself to the administration of the word and work of God alone each is to help the other with their gifts, and not to be surprised, but be joyful, if compelled to suffer for the sake of the name of Christ.

In the fifth chapter the apostle Peter admonishes the bishops and priests how to live and shepherd the people, and he warns us that Satan is seeking our destruction everywhere without tiring.

First Peter 1

The Superscription, Subscription and Greeting of Peter; The Doctrine of Faith; and The Twofold Exhortation.

Outline

  1. The Superscription, Subscription and Greeting of Peter, vv. 1-2.
    1. The superscription includes:
      1. The character of those to whom the epistle is written. Teachers of work righteousness are no apostles of Christ.
      2. The character of those to whom this letter is addressed.
        1. Their outward character, v. 1.
        2. Their inner character, v. 2. In what true sanctification consists. Of the spiritual and of the Levitical cleansing and sprinkling.
    2. The subscription.
      1. Its nature.
      2. All doctrines not in harmony with this subscription must be suppressed.
    3. The greeting, v. 2b.
  2. The Doctrine of Faith, vv. 3-12.
    1. The author, origin, and foundation of faith, v. 3. In the work of salvation, the mercy of God alone is to be praised. All believers have the same treasure and blessing.
    2. What faith is and with what it has to do. Comparison of the eternal and temporal blessings, v. 4.
    3. Faith, the work and power of God, v. 5.
    4. Faith is accompanied by good works.
    5. Faith gives the right and clear understanding of things pertaining to salvation. Of the source of work righteousness. Of the heavenly inheritance of believers.
    6. Of the trial of proof of faith, vv. 6-9.
      1. The ground and cause of this proof, v. 6.
      2. To what the Christian should give heed in this trial.
      3. The nature of this trial, v. 7. Or the true character of the Christian life. Comparison of the joy of the world and of believers, vv. 8-9.
    7. The conception and the promise of faith as set forth in the holy Scriptures, vv. 10-12.
      1. In General. Of the books of the Old Testament.
        1. If the books of the Old Testament are necessary for Christians.
        2. Of the difference in the writings of the Old Testament.
        3. In how far the books of the Old Testament are no longer in force and in how far they are in force.
      2. In Particular, v. 10. How and why we should not believe the Pope and Councils, when they deal with us without the word of God. Of the sufferings of Christ and of His believers, v. 11b. Of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. How and why the gospel must be apprehended by faith.
  3. A Double Exhortation, vv. 13-25.
    1. The first exhortation pertains to faith, vv. 13-16.
      1. The true sense and understanding of this exhortation. The nature of the hypocrite. The character of true faith.
      2. The precaution to be observed in this exhortation. What is to be held as to fastings. The form of true faith.
      3. The motives which are attached to this exhortation.
        1. The first motive, v. 13a.
        2. The second motive v. 13b. In what way we become partakers of Christ.
        3. The third motive, v. 14. Where the knowledge of Christ is not, there blindness and error reign.
        4. The fourth motive, vv. 15-16.
          1. Its nature.
          2. How to preserve the same against the false interpretations of the papists. A short repetition of the above.
    2. The second exhortation pertains to the Christian life, vv. 17-25.
      1. The true sense and understanding of this admonition.
      2. The objection to the exhortation, and the answer. The character of the true fear of God. The life of the Christian is only a sojourning for the night.
      3. The motives attached to this exhortation, vv. 18-25.
        1. The first motive, vv. 18-20.
          1. Its nature.
          2. Its use. Human righteousness is the greatest sin.
          3. How and why Peter in this motive leads us into the Scriptures. "The last time" and "the last hour."
        2. The second motive, vv. 21-22. Of chastity.
          1. How it is a fruit of faith.
          2. How it must be constituted.
          3. In what way it is to be promoted.
          4. To what should it serve. Of the brotherhood of Christians.
        3. The third motive, vv. 23-25.
          1. The foundation of this.
          2. The explanation of this foundation. Of the power of the divine word. Conclusion of the exposition of the first chapter.

I. Superscription, Subscription, and Greeting (vv. 1, 2)