Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours (verse 1).
The first verse of this book reminds us that it was indeed written as a letter. It follows a standard form of opening which is found in several other New Testament letters. It indicates who wrote the letter and his role, then it briefly identifies the people who received the letter and their position as members of the Christian church. The greeting then follows in verse 2.
The author is the apostle Peter of whom we hear much in the Gospels and the book of Acts. In the Greek here we read 'Simeon Peter, servant and apostle of Jesus Christ'. Simeon was a literal transliteration of the Hebrew name meaning 'hearing'—a name linked to Samuel ('God has heard'). Given that most people would have used the name 'Simon', the mention of 'Simeon' is another indication that Peter himself was the author, using his original Palestinian name.
Peter reminds his readers of his authority as he writes. He is servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. The word 'servant' is 'doulos' in Greek which can mean slave. The link of the word directly with the title 'apostle' reminds us of the opening of a number of Paul's letters (e.g. Rom. 1:1). Of course in one sense Peter is identifying with all Christians who wish to serve their Lord and Master after coming to faith. All Christians of that day and age would have known about slavery and many would have been slaves. The word would therefore have reminded them of the demands laid on them to serve Christ whole-heartedly and in every area of their life. However, for Peter, the two words together were probably a specific claim to apostolic authority.
In the Old Testament the title 'servant of the Lord' carried great significance because it had been specially applied to the 'greats' of the faith, people like Abraham, Moses and David. Peter thus linked himself to the line of those who were called by God to have foundational ministries among his people. The word apostle confirms this claim to authority. As we read in Ephesians 2:20: '... God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets'.
So Peter moves on to identify those to whom he is writing as those who... have received a faith as precious as ours. He does not say where they live although they may be the same people as mentioned in 1 Peter, in which case they lived in modern day Turkey, places known as Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1).
One of the great debates of the early church, in which Peter himself was often caught up, was whether Gentile Christians had the same status in the covenant community as Jewish Christians. It is important to remember that it was Peter himself who came back to the church leaders in Jerusalem in Acts 15:7-11 and argued that he had witnessed Gentiles receiving the same blessing and experiences as they had received on the Day of Pentecost. Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit as had believing Jews on the Day of Pentecost. Peter had argued that this was the clearest indication that both groups were now one in Christ. Neither group was superior to the other.
Even though Peter was an apostle and a Jew, these Gentile Christians had a faith as precious as ours. 'Faith' here is not the body of doctrine that we might find in a Creed, but refers to the believer's own commitment to the Lord Jesus. This faith, this commitment to Jesus as God and Saviour, is given him by God, hence Peter says they have 'received' it. As with any specially valuable gift, the word precious is an apt description.
In our day it is common to believe that faith is something that we do in order to be saved. Peter knew otherwise. He had lived through Pentecost and he had seen Gentiles caught up in pagan darkness come to a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and so he knew from experience that faith itself is a gift of God. As Paul put it: 'faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ' (Rom. 10:17). What Peter says here reminds us that we have no room to boast, but rather we rejoice as Peter does at having received such a precious gift that gives us status as members of the covenant community. Whatever our background, nationality or race, we belong to his people through believing faith.
Peter then speaks of the manner in which this faith has been received: through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. This could refer to God's righteousness, meaning his fairness and justice in giving equal status to all people of faith, whether Jew or Gentile. Alternatively, it could refer to the righteousness by which God puts people right with himself. This is the righteousness he imputes to his people as he ensures that they may be declared 'not guilty' before the judgment seat of God. Either is possible here, but the clear teaching that faith is 'received' may well suggest that the latter understanding of righteousness is correct here.
This righteousness is attributed to our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Among some scholars there is debate about translating this phrase. Is this referring to both God and Jesus, ('... God and our Saviour Jesus Christ', av), or to Jesus as God, with the NIV? The latter is much more likely and well in line with the rest of this epistle (see for example, 1:11; 2:20; 3:2, 15, 18). Peter thus affirms the divinity of Christ.
This lengthy first verse identifies the authority with which Peter is writing, but also emphasises the precious gift of faith that his readers have received which is of equal standing with that of the apostles and Christians of a Jewish background. In line with people like Thomas (John 20:28), Peter quickly asserts the full divinity of Jesus as God who is the author of salvation.
In a modern world in which once again even Christian leaders are questioning the divinity of Jesus, it is good to remember that the apostles preached his divinity and wrote about it. It is as God that Jesus can be the righteous Saviour.
I have a friend who ends his letter 'grace and peace' followed by his signature. I rather like it. It is like a prayer for the person he is writing to, and this is how several New Testament letters begin. Peter is concerned that these people know and experience the continuing grace of God in their lives and the objective reality of peace with him in abundance. These are exactly the same words of greeting used by Peter in 1 Peter 1:2. These Christians have been saved and declared righteous and need to act in a way that enjoys and lives up to their new status as part of God's covenant people. Just as salvation itself is an undeserved gift from our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, so continuing in the covenant community of God's people must be entirely of grace. Peter is going to make much of this as the letter proceeds, so he prays that they will experience an abundance of that grace and continued peace with God. Both grace and peace are words with a substantial background in the Old Testament. Grace points to the undeserved covenant love of the Lord so often experienced by the people of Israel (The Hebrew word hesed specially highlights this faithful covenant love of God for his people. It is often translated 'unfailing love' in the NIV). God's people have always known that it is not only entering the covenant relationship with God that is by grace but also remaining in that relationship with God. This is why his love is unfailing, and this ultimately is why we can have full assurance of our salvation. Peter will shortly re-affirm this assurance by drawing attention to the wonderful promises of God in verse 4.
Peace is another 'covenant' concept and reflects the Hebrew concept of shalom, the peace experienced by those who are God's people, who have been forgiven and who inherit his blessings. Isaiah 54:10 helps explain the way these two concepts come together in the covenant Lord's dealings with his people: '"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you.'
through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Here Peter introduces a theme that also continues through the epistle. Knowledge in this sense is both an intellectual grasp of who God and Jesus are and what they say and demand, and a personal experience and commitment to them. Sometimes people these days will try and make a divide between so-called 'head knowledge' and 'heart knowledge'. While we all understand what they are saying, that sort of divide is most unbiblical. Often it becomes the excuse for some to avoid all serious Bible study for they want only to experience God in their hearts and feelings. Others, of course, at least in practice, tend to over-emphasise what we should study about God without drawing enough attention to experiencing the great joy of being his children.
Peter makes no such divisions, nor does any part of Scripture. Here he states that Christians experience the grace of God and of Jesus and the objective reality of peace through the knowledge of God. Knowledge of God in the context of this letter clearly involves coming to know him personally and going through life experiencing his Spirit within, but also learning more about him through studying his Word more deeply. False teachers may have known the way of righteousness, but they have ignored it. It has not become part and parcel of their life and behaviour (2:20-21). The importance of what Peter says in verse 2 is dramatically emphasised as Peter closes his letter in 3:18 on the same note: grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Unless we have a Christianity that is based on a knowledge of God revealed in his Word where we learn of him, and yet which is also rooted in a personal relationship that grows over the years, then we are liable to be led astray by false teachers. It is part and parcel of the Christian life this side of Christ's Second Coming that we are to continue growing in grace and the knowledge of God.
It is a common failing of Christians in all generations to think of themselves as something less than other Christians, or as having less by way of privilege. How good it is to know that we have what Peter and those early Jewish Christians had! We have a full equal standing in the covenant community within which we experience the grace and peace of God. A deeper knowledge of God will lead to a deeper experience of that continuing grace and peace even when faced with false teachers and the enemies of Christ.