Matters of introduction to books of the Bible, such as author, date, destination and readers, and purpose and theme, seem unimportant to many students of the Bible. It is likely, however, that these issues not only help us to understand the background of the book, but that they sometimes help in our interpretation. I believe that is the case with both the letters Peter wrote, and perhaps especially the Epistle of Second Peter.
I will only offer a summary here of matters which are particularly useful. The reader should refer to the standard works on Bible Introduction. I also especially recommend the introductory articles on each New Testament book written by Dr. Daniel Wallace and available free at www.bible.org.
Readers of the letters of Peter
The regions to which Peter addresses his first epistle, "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" (1 Pet. 1:1), were in the general area the apostle Paul had evangelized. Paul had barely penetrated these areas (Acts 16:6-7); probably Paul's converts from adjacent regions were responsible for bringing the gospel to these fringe areas.
The letter we call Second Peter is addressed to basically the same churches as his first letter (2 Peter 3:1). However, in addition to the fringe churches, Peter must have intended this letter to go to all of Paul's churches. In 3:15 he states that "Paul wrote to you [plural]," and there is no evidence that Paul ever wrote to the churches mentioned in 1 Peter. So this must refer at least to Colossians and Ephesians, and probably to Paul's other letters, since they would naturally circulate to all of Paul's churches. So it now looks as if Peter is writing to a larger audience in the second epistle.
First Peter, written to secondary Pauline churches (that is, those established by Paul's disciples) deals with danger from outside the church. As such there is no need for Peter to mention Paul's name, just to encourage the audience to persevere, reminding them that their faith is authentic and that they are not alone. Further, it would only be natural for Peter first to address these secondary churches since they had no direct contact with any apostle and would therefore be the most susceptible to falling away. Second Peter, on the other hand, is warning against danger from within, dealing with false teachers who took Paul's doctrine of grace too far and turned it into license. These false teachers were twisting Paul's words. Consequently, Peter had to explicitly mention Paul. And again, it would be only natural for Peter to address the primary Pauline churches (as well as the secondary) in this letter, since Paul himself had to combat Judaizers and false teachers who had crept in to the very churches he himself had established.
The Occasion for the Letters of Peter
Dr. Daniel Wallace offers an interesting and very convincing theory for the occasion of 1 Peter. Although we have no specific statements from Peter concerning the occasion, when we put all the evidence together this seems to be the best option.
Peter was in Rome when Paul died in 64. This is the uniform testimony of church tradition and the best explanation of Peter's remark about Babylon in 5:13 (compare Rev. 17:5). The code word Babylon probably was Peter's way of protecting himself and the Roman believers from persecution. Paul was evidently one of the first victims of the Emperor Nero's persecution.
It has already been noted that Peter is writing to churches in the general area where Paul evangelized. Why would Peter intrude on Paul's domain? Most works on introduction virtually ignore this question. Although the gospel first came to the Gentiles through Peter (Acts 15:7), Paul specifically affirms that he personally is the apostle to the Gentiles while Peter is the apostle to the Jews (Gal. 2:7, 8). Like all of Paul's churches, these too would have been predominantly Gentile with a Jewish element as well. Peter's references to their pagan background would be appropriate if the majority were Gentiles, and the heavy use of the OT would strike a chord with those who were Jewish. Why would the apostle to the Jews write to Gentile churches founded by the apostle to the Gentiles (or his disciples)?
Another contributing factor is that Peter's co-worker is Silas (Silvanus in 5:12), who also had worked with Paul. Silas probably carried the letter to Asia Minor on Peter's behalf, and may have helped Peter write it. Peter's statement in 5:12, "By Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly," would at least indicate that he sent the letter by Silas. But some scholars think it meant that Silas helped write the letter, since 1 Peter is written in much better Greek than 2 Peter. First Peter uses many phrases and ideas from Paul and these could have come from Silas. Later in 2 Peter, it could be assumed that no secretary was available and Peter wrote the letter without help.
It would be perfectly natural for the surviving principal apostle to send a message of encouragement to Gentile churches if the apostle to the Gentiles had just died. Therefore the best view for the occasion for Peter to write to Paul's churches was the death of the Apostle Paul. The reason he only wrote to the fringe churches in 1 Peter was because Paul's primary churches already had Timothy in the area of Ephesus to encourage them; these fringe churches would be most susceptible to defection and attacks from within and without.
The persecutions of Nero against the Roman Christians provided much of the content for the letter. Peter, knowing persecution would become worse, carefully prescribed conduct designed to bring honor to the One they represented. So the purpose of 1 Peter was to encourage Christians to face persecution so that the true grace of Jesus Christ would be evidenced in them (5:12). Peter did not want the thorns of this world to choke out the seed which Paul had planted. He perceived the danger of defection to be especially susceptible to outside attack.
Again according to Dr. Daniel Wallace, Peter probably waited only until he had heard of the reaction of Paul's second generation disciples to his first epistle, then he wrote his second epistle. Second Peter has characteristics of a letter but also characteristics of a last testament. He knew his end was near, and wanted these believers to be able to survive spiritually without an apostolic testimony (2 Pet. 1:12-15).
An important thing to understand is that these two letters from Peter have the effect of showing the disciples that Paul's and Peter's Christianity was the same—so these believers would be able to continue to stand strong in the faith when these two principal apostles were gone (3:2). This would be even more necessary as persecution and false teachers became really strong.
Why is this all important for our understanding of 2 Peter? If this letter was indeed Peter's last will and testament, his statement of unity with the apostle Paul written to Paul's churches...if this letter was intended to encourage Paul's disciples after Paul's death and help them to continue to stand firm in the faith after the death of the two apostles they knew best, then the idea is reinforced that this is the capsule statement of the apostolic doctrine of the Christian life. Consequently, we can take this letter as the summary of what our responsibility is for our lives, the capstone of biblical revelation concerning how to live the Christian life.
2 Peter Flow Chart
2 Peter 1:1-7
2 Peter 1:8-11
2 Peter 1:12-15
2 Peter 1:16-21
2 Peter 2:1-3
2 Peter 2:3b-10a
2 Peter 2:10b-22
2 Peter 3:1-6
2 Peter 3:7-10
2 Peter 3:11-16
2 Peter 3:17-18