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Adolphus Hilgenfeld

Preterist Commentaries By Modern Preterism

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“Among the most industrious German scholars
Hilgenfeld holds a very high place indeed”

(The Contemporary Review)

“From this it would appear that the cause of their sufferings was the false charges brought against them by their heathen neighbours—charges that originated in deep hatred of the Christians for their rejection of paganism, with all the splendid festivals connected with pagan worship. Under these circumstances the populace might rise up at almost any time against the Christians, and visit upon them terrible suffering, or bring them before the magistrates, and demand the infliction of punishment upon them as violators of the laws. All this could take place without the issuing of an edict by a Roman emperor, and without the prosecution of the Christians as such on the part of the Roman governors. And something similar occurred at Rome in the time of 
Nero. This wicked ruler, to destroy the rumour that he himself had set fire to Rome, attributed it, as Tacitus tells us, to a class of persons, “whom, hated for their crimes, the populace called Christians.” Tacitus at the same time informs us that the punishment inflicted upon them was not so much on the charge of burning Rome as on account of their hatred of the human race,1 that is, their contempt of paganism, which, as Christians, they felt and showed. It is clear, then, that they suffered as Christians; yet Hilgenfeld has the coolness to tell us that in this Epistle ” the persecution under Nero cannot be intended, because in it the Roman Christians only were persecuted, and indeed as incendiaries; accordingly, on account of a definite crime of which they were accused. In our Epistle, on the contrary, the Christians as such (wf Xpicrrtavol) are oppressed and ill-treated on account of their conduct in general, which was sought to be rendered suspicious as illegal and immoral” (we /ta/toTrotot).*

But how does Hilgenfeld know that the persecution under Nero was limited to the Roman Christians? Is it not in itself very probable that the example set by Nero would be followed by the pagans in various parts of the empire ?  So Suppose the Sultan of Turkey should institute a persecution of the Christians at Constantinople, how soon the example would be followed in the empire where the Mohammedans are in the ascendency ! Suetonius, in describing the times of Nero, says: ” The Christians, a race of men of a new and wicked superstition, were punished.”1 It is evident from his language that they were punished as Christians, nor does he limit this persecution to- Rome.

It does not appear from the Epistle of Peter that legal investigatons an<^ persecutions were instituted against the Christhe time tians as such; and in this respect the state of things to which reference is made in the Epistle is more suitable to the latter times of Nero (about A. D. 64 and after) than to the latter times of Trajan (A. D. 112 and after), when Pliny, as governor of Pontus and Bithynia, punished them on account of their Christian profession, even when he had ascertained that they were guilty of no crimes.1 The Epistle of Peter is addressed to the Christians of five provinces, of which Pliny, about A. D. 111-113, governed but two, Bithynia and Pontus. The other three were then under governors respecting whose treatment of the Christians we know nothing. Yet this Epistle represents the Christians of the five provinces suffering the same afflictions with the rest of the world (chap. v, 9), and makes no discrimination respecting provinces. This does not suit well the time of Pliny’s governorship. Merivale remarks, respecting the reply of Trajan to Pliny : ” Trajan carefully limits his decision to the particular case and locality.”1

While we thus think it highly probable that the Epistle was written about A. D. 64 or 65, during the persecution under Nero, the references in it might suit some other persecution, not instituted by civil authority, but rather an outburst of pagan fanaticism against the Christians, such as is sometimes known in modern times in Mohammedan lands. The references to persecutions occupy but a small portion of the Epistle. Nor does it appear that there were many cases in which the Christians addressed were suffering the death penalty.

Hilgenfeld supposes the Epistle was written at Rome,4 about Hiigenteid’s A. D. 113, by a Christian of that city, during the persedate absurd. cution Of the Christians of Bithynia and Pontus (described by Pliny the Younger, in his Epistle to Trajan’), to strengthen them in their sufferings. That is, the Epistle was forged in the name of the Apostle Peter, about forty-fiite years after his death, and was everywhere received throughout the provinces of Asia Minor. Its universal reception in these provinces is certain. For we find that it was used by Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John (in his Epistle, written about A. D. 115); by Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia; was attributed to Peter by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (A. D. 177-202), who spent the earlier part of his life in Asia Minor; and it was admitted into the Peshito-Syriac version of the New Testament (made about A. D. 150), used in an adjacent region. The fact of its admission into this version is of great value, as the Second Epistle of Peter, that of Jude, the Second and Third of John, and the Apocalypse, were never received into it. We also know that it was received without doubt all through the ancient Christian world.

4 In this case it would be astonishing that the forger did not represent it as written from Rome, where it was well-known that Peter spent the last days of his life, inHead of from the obscure Babylon. *

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