Peter's name should sound familiar. You may remember him from such biblical books as Acts of the Apostles and all four gospels. But now, Peter is telling us what he thinks in his own words.
The beginning of 1 Peter and 2 Peter let us know that these two letters were written by "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:1). This isn't just any Peter, though. It's Simon Peter, Jesus' right-hand man and the guy who's been running the church since Jesus' death.
He's kind of a big deal.
Back in the gospels, Peter was a fisherman from Galilee who went everywhere with Jesus. He was the most prominent of all the disciples. Oh, and he also messed up quite a bit—there was that one time that Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. By the time Easter morning came, though, all was forgiven and Peter was back on top.
In Acts of the Apostles (which takes place after Jesus' death), Peter was pretty much running the show. He was the lead apostle and spread the word about Jesus all over town. He also got super-cool miracle powers: the guy healed people (Acts 3:6-7) and raised folks from the dead (Acts 9:40). Yep—a chip of the ol' Jesus block.
So what do 1 Peter and 2 Peter tell us about him? A few things:
Peter also recalls one of the good old days with Jesus. Like the time they all went up on a mountain, Jesus got all sparkly, and they heard God's voice:
We had been eyewitnesses of [Jesus'] majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)
Don't let Peter fool you. At the time, it kind of freaked him out.
He also says he was "a witness of the sufferings of Christ," (1 Peter 5:1). Hmmm. We're gonna quibble with you on that one, Peter. According to all the gospel accounts, Peter was most definitely not at the crucifixion. He was too busy hiding out and pretending that he had never met Jesus.
Yeah, not his finest hour.
Despite his missteps, Peter is pretty down with suffering now—especially suffering in the name of Jesus. He tells the Christians he's writing to over and over again that they need to stay strong in the faith and not worry if they get arrested or harassed because of their beliefs. He doesn't mention that he's personally been persecuted, but it's sort of implied.
The real Peter had quite a bit of experience with this. He got thrown in jail a few times (Acts 5:17-18, 12:5)…and flogged (Acts 5:40). It wasn't pretty, but Peter was psyched at the chance to follow in Jesus' footsteps. He even tells his Christian friends, "rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings […] if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed" (1 Peter 4:12-14).
That's one way to spin it.
Peter also mentions another biblical bigwig: the Apostle Paul. He calls Paul "our beloved brother" (2 Peter 3:15) and is obviously familiar with Paul's letters to other folks in the church. So these guys were buds, right?
They were definitely on the same side—Jesus' side—but in other places in the Bible, there's sort of a tension between the two. Call it a friendly rivalry.
When Paul first came to Jerusalem, Peter reminded everyone that "God made a choice […] that [Peter] should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers" (Acts 15:7). A little defensive, Peter? In Galatians, Paul made sure to point out that Peter "recognized the grace that had been given to [Paul]" (Galatians 2:9). Later, Paul "opposed [Peter] to his face" (Galatians 2:11) when he came to Antioch and Paul thought he was backing down from his earlier support of the Gentiles. There's no love lost between these two.
Even in this letter, Peter is a bit peeved with Paul. He says Paul's letters are "hard to understand" (1 Peter 3:16) and that they leave room for some of the false teachers to spin them any way they want to.
Here we have eyewitness account of Jesus' life and teachings, right? Well, for a guy who supposedly spent years hanging out with Jesus, Peter doesn't say too much about him or relate any cool stories that he heard. You'd think Peter would throw in at least one little-known story about Jesus. Like the time he and the disciples went camel tipping in a pasture.
That's why most scholars don't think the real Simon Peter wrote either one of these books. For starters, Peter was an uneducated Galilean fisherman. No offense to those guys, but they don't usually compose sophisticated and elegant letters in Greek. 1 and 2 Peter also use a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, while the real Peter would have probably been more familiar with these verses in Hebrew or Aramaic. (Source, 1271)
Why fake it?
The same reason that the author of James's Epistle would have. Who wouldn't want to read the words of Jesus' right-hand man? You don't get much closer to the source than that. It helped make this letter an ancient best seller.
What happened to Peter after he wrote these epistles? Well, he would go on record as the very first Bishop of Rome. Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City is said to be built over the site of Peter's grave (that's quite a tombstone), but we don't have any hard evidence that Peter actually went to Rome.
Sorry, Catholics. (But it is a cool story.)
In the end, Peter's prediction also came true: he died just like Jesus said he would. Legend has it that Peter was martyred by the Emperor Nero in 64 CE. As the story goes, Peter asked was that he be crucified upside down because he wasn't worthy to be put to death in the same way that Christ was.
Loyal 'til his last breath, that Peter.