Strangers And Aliens (24): Stand Firm In The True Grace Of God (1 Peter 5:12–14)

12By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. 13She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ

12Διὰ Σιλουανοῦ ὑμῖν τοῦ πιστοῦ ἀδελφοῦ, ὡς λογίζομαι, δι᾿ ὀλίγων ἔγραψα παρακαλῶν καὶ ἐπιμαρτυρῶν ταύτην εἶναι ἀληθῆ χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς ἣν στῆτε.13Ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς ἡ ἐν Βαβυλῶνι συνεκλεκτὴ καὶ Μᾶρκος ὁ υἱός μου. 14ἀσπάσασθε ἀλλήλους ἐν φιλήματι ἀγάπης.

Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ.

vv. 12–13: Returning To Where We Began: Grace
There is a great lot of debate among New Testament scholars as to what the expression “through Silvanus” (Διὰ…ἔγραψα) means. Most evangelicals today understand it to mean that Silvanus (Silas), as E. R. Richards argued in 1998, was the courier of Peter’s letter to the churches of Asia Minor. Others argue that Silvanus was both secretary and courier and others take him as secretary only. First, it is possible that the Silvanus mentioned here is the same person mentioned in Acts 15–17, who traveled with the Apostle Paul, but it is not certain. Second, Richards’ argument, that the post-apostolic use of the expression Διὰ + ἔγραψα (I wrote through…) in Ignatius (one of the so-called Apostolic Fathers, whose epistles are dated c. 108 AD and in Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians a few years later (c. 115) this is the clear sense of the expression. When interpreters stress Silvanus’ secretarial role it is often in defense of Petrine authorship. That was my first instinct when reading this passage but, as Richards notes, that supposition rests partly on the idea that the somewhat different style of 2 Peter requires a secretarial hand in 1st or 2nd Peter but that stylistic differences are not a strong basis for determining authorship. Typically, this formula of noting the courier’s name is to assure the recipients of the authenticity of the letter. Richards argues that the secretary is not mentioned. On this reading, the adverbial phrase “briefly” (δι᾿ ὀλίγων) refers not (contra J. N. D. Kelly) to the writing but to the sending. See Richards for more explanation.

On this reading, it was Silvanus who was bringing the letter with him to the various churches, where, presumably, it would be copied. Silvanus is to be regarded as a faithful brother (πιστοῦ ἀδελφοῦ), which is how the Apostle Peter regards him (ὡς λογίζομαι). He is trustworthy enough to carry the letter. In an age of do-it-yourself electronic publishing, email, text messages, DMs etc it may be difficult to imagine how precarious was the life of an epistle copied on materials that are utterly foreign to us. Making a letter was a difficult and painstaking process in the ancient world and transmission was not easy. Couriers were intercepted, robbed, killed, or just died en route. In such a case the letter never made it. Sometimes authors would have multiple copies made and sent by different couriers over different routes, to make certain that one arrived.

Peter reminds us once more what is the core message of his first epistle: the true grace of God (ἀληθῆ χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ) in which we must stand (εἰς ἣν στῆτε). Grace and exhortation. God has shown us sinners unconditional favor in Christ and, in that grace, we must now stand. We reckon ourselves as debtors to grace. As it was in the days of Noah, we have been redeemed from the judgment by divine favor unconditioned by anything in us or done by us.

Throughout these notes on 1 Peter I have considered how the suffering of the Christians in Rome might have affects the way the Christians in Asia Minor looked at their Christian faith and life. Martyrdom was not a mere theory. It happened under Nero about the time that Peter wrote his epistles. If the ancient tradition of the church is correct (Luther accepted and Calvin did not), that Peter wrote from Rome, then “Babylon” in v. 13 is figurative. This seems most likely. Placing him in Rome hardly makes him a pope. The evidence for any papal office or authority—or even a monepiscopacy!—in Rome is completely lacking in the 1st century and there is no notion of a papacy in the 2nd century. In the 2nd century the word επσκοπος (episcopos; bishop) means something rather more like “senior pastor” than “regional manager.” Peter is no more permanently “the rock” (Matt 16:18) than he is “anti-Christ” (Matt 16:23). When he confessed Christ, he was the rock. When he denied Christ, he was anti-Christ. Most likely, according to the tradition of the church, Mark was with Peter in Rome and it was to that context that he wrote his gospel, as a summary of the Apostle’s teaching and ministry there.

The mention of Silvanus and Mark and the congregation in Rome are small reminders of the humanity of the apostles and their co-workers (those in the apostolic circle) and the concrete reality of the Christian church as a pilgrim people serving the risen Savior in the inter-adventual period. As it was in the days of Noah, so it is now. The end has been announced. Salvation has been inaugurated in Christ and it shall be consummated at his return. The final cataclysm shall not be with water but with fire. As the Israelites sojourned in the wilderness, so we travel toward the heavenly city. Redeemed but awaiting the consummation, the final entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem that is above.

v. 14: Final Greetings and Peace
As both Luther (in his sermon) and Calvin (in his commentary) noted, we do not, of course, greet one another this way any longer but perhaps we should? “The kiss of love” (φιλήματι ἀγάπης) is not remotely erotic but it is affectionate. We live in an alienated and disconnected age. Perhaps you are reading this by yourself on a mobile device in the midst of a crowded cafe or train but even so you are mostly alone, are you not? The Christian church is a communion of the saints, it is embodied, it is not ethereal. A gentle kiss on the forehead would break down some barriers would it not?

The world offers us conflict. They mock us for our faith. They misunderstand and misconstrue innocent language and actions. We are regarded as though we think we are better than the pagans when we know and confess our sins and that salvation is given to us because we are good but because Christ was good for us and because God is gracious to us. We have peace only because Christ earned that peace for us. The Apostle Peter speaks a benediction: “peace to all those in Christ.” Peace is found in Christ and nowhere else. Outside of Christ is war and judgment. That is our message to the world: Christ the ark has come. Come aboard, as it were. Wake up! Recognize your need and who and what Jesus is to needy sinners.

To all who trust in Jesus, Peace with God, peace to you.

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