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 Introduction to the First Letter of Peter

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Author

The letter is from "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1). He refers to himself as a fellow elder, a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and one who shares in the glory that is to be revealed (5:1). Peter was an eyewitness of Jesus's trial (Mt 26:58,67-69), actually having seen Jesus being reviled and not reviling in return, and not threatening when he suffered (2:23). Peter was not actually a witness to the crucifixion, unless he watched from a distance. He refers to "my son Mark" (5:13), who is known to have been closely associated with Peter in Rome. For more details and quotations confirming this, see the page on Mark's Gospel.

In 2 Peter, he says, "This is the second letter I have written to you" (2 Pet 3:1), probably referring back to 1 Peter.

External evidence

Clement, writing in AD 95, refers to the precious blood of Christ, without mentioning 1 Pet 1:19. "Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God" (1 Clement 7)

Polycarp, who died in AD 155, quotes 1 Peter several times, without quoting his name.

Irenaeus quoted 1 Pet 1:8 twice and 2:16 once, by name in his work, Against Heresies: "Peter says in his Epistle: 'Whom, not seeing, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, ye have believed, ye shall rejoice with joy unspeakable;'" (Against Heresies 4:9:2). And for this reason Peter says 'that we have not liberty as a cloak of maliciousness,' but as the means of testing and evidencing faith" (Against Heresies 4:16:5). "And this it is which has been said also by Peter: 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom now also, not seeing, ye believe; and believing, ye shall rejoice with joy unspeakable'." (Against Heresies 5:7:2)

There has never been any serious doubt that Peter the apostle was the author of this book, although some think that 1 Peter is pseudonymous and from a later date.

Arguments against Peter as author

The first argument is that the Greek is too good for an uneducated fisherman (Acts 4:13), as the letter contains some of the best written Greek in the NT. Many scholars wonder how Peter, an Aramaic speaking fisherman from Galilee, with a local accent (Lk 22:59), could write such good Greek. However, Peter and his fellow disciples were not being accused of being illiterate (Acts 4:13), but rather of not being officially trained as Jewish rabbis, and therefore having no authority to teach on theology.

The best solution is that Peter used Silas as a secretary (1 Pet 5:12). The secretary would probably have freedom to improve the language as was dictated. Silas was a Roman citizen and an important figure in the church, so was probably well educated and fluent in Greek.

The second argument is that there was not much persecution during Peter's lifetime in Asia Minor. The persecution is described later in this article.

Written from

The only evidence for where the letter was written from is at the end, "She who is at Babylon, sends you greetings" (5:13). This is definitely not referring to historical Babylon, which was uninhabited at this time, and there was certainly no church there. Also there is no evidence that Peter, Silas or Mark ever visited there. There was another Babylon in Egypt, a Roman frontier post on the Nile, there was no reason for Peter to be there.

Normally this is understood to be a cryptic reference to Rome (as in Rev 14:8, 17:5,18). In the OT, Babylon was the centre of opposition to God and his people. In the same way, Rome is the NT symbol of opposition to the gospel. There is much evidence from the early church that Peter ended his life in Rome. Jerome believed that Peter was using the name Babylon to refer cryptically to Rome: "Peter also mentions this Mark in his first epistle, figuratively indicating Rome under the name of Babylon "She who is in Babylon elect together with you saluteth you and so doth Mark my son." (Lives of Illustrious Men 8)

Date

The only internal indication of the date is the reference to Mark being with the author (5:13). 1 Peter was probably written after the death of Paul or after Paul had left Rome. Silas and Mark, who originally worked with Paul, were now associated with Peter and no greetings from Paul are included in the letter. Church evidence shows that Mark was with Peter in Rome at this time, when Mark's gospel was written, from Peter's information. A reasonable date for 1 Peter would be between AD 62 and 64, before Peter’s martyrdom during the persecution by Nero after the fire of Rome.

Written to

The letter is addressed to "the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" (1:1). Geographically, these are Roman provinces in a wide area of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. Peter had probably visited these churches at some time and possibly founded some of them, although he refers to those who preached the good news in the third person (1:12). As Silas was known to some of the readers, he may have evangelised and planted some of the churches. Some of the churches in the south were founded by Paul, who had written Ephesians, Colossians and Galatians to churches in this area. The Ephesian church evangelised the whole of the province of Asia (Acts 19:10), and may have extended further. Paul never reached the northern areas as far as we know (Acts 16:6). John later addressed some of the churches in the west in the Book of Revelation.

The order of the place names could be the route of the postman carrying the letter, perhaps landing at one of the harbours in Pontus (Amastric, Sinope or Amisos), then travelling through Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and leaving from Bithynia. He could either sail direct from one of the major harbours in Bithynia to Rome, or otherwise travel overland using the regular post road from the east.

The second question is whether the letter is addressed to Jews or Gentiles. The letter is addressed to "the exiles of the Dispersion" (1:1). The Dispersion is the term used to describe the Jews who were scattered around the known world after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC (Jn 7:35). There were large Jewish communities in all the major cities, who visited Jerusalem regularly for the festivals. There were Jews from these regions in Jerusalem who heard the gospel on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9), who may have brought the gospel back. James also uses this term, addressing his letter to "the twelve tribes in the Dispersion" (James 1:1).

However, there are indications in the letter that Gentiles are being addressed, by the way Peter describes his readers, and their previous lives: "you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers" (1:18), "once you were no people but now you are God's people" (2:10), "let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do .. licentiousness, passions, drunkenness revels, carousing, lawless idolatry" (4:3) - (these are hardly Jewish sins), "unbelievers are surprised that no longer join them in wild profligacy" - Gentile sins they used to be involved in (4:4).

The churches were probably a mixture of converted Jews and Gentiles. The term "exiles of the Dispersion" is probably another example of Peter applying the OT language for the Jews to the church, referring to Christians dispersed throughout the world and living away from their heavenly homeland which they look forward to reaching. In this way, it addresses all Christians, in all places at all times - "we are aliens and sojourners in this world, with our commonwealth in heaven" (Phil 3:20).

Carried by

The reference to Silvanus could refer to Silvanus (Silas) either as Peter's secretary or as Peter's postman. "Through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother, I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God" (5:12). This recommendation of Silas by Peter which would only be necessary if he was bringing the letter, not if he had helped Peter write it. It is still probable that Peter used Silas or a different unnamed secretary.

Occasion of the letter

The theme of suffering is throughout the book: suffer various trials (1:6), faith tested by fire (1:7), Christ suffered, follow his example (2:21), when you are abused, those who revile you (3:16), suffering for doing what is right (3:17), fiery ordeal (4:12), share Christ's sufferings (4:13), Devil as roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (5:8), suffering throughout the world (5:9).

In the book of Acts, the real enemies of the church were militant Jews, who made accusations against the Christians to the Roman authorities. During this time, Christianity was seen as a Jewish sect, and therefore no threat to the empire. This changed dramatically with Nero's persecution of Christians from AD 64-67. The Christians were blamed for the fire of Rome in AD 64, which Nero was accused by the people of starting. The people believed that Nero wanted to clear all of Rome and rebuild it as a monument to himself. Public resentment against Nero, forced him to find a scapegoat - the Christians. A savage period of persecution followed, which was most severe in and around Rome, but not in the rest of the empire.

Christianity immediately became illegal. It was previously recognised by the Roman state as a legal religion, a 'religiones licitae', because it was seen as merely another sect within Judaism. It now became illegal, a 'religiones illicitae', making every Christian an outlaw and criminal, simply because he was a believer.

There was sporadic persecution elsewhere in the empire at the whim of local officials. The letter is clearly addressed to suffering churches. The call is to share in the sufferings of Christ with rejoicing in hope of his return. Peter exhorts Christians not to think it strange that they should suffer, because Jesus had suffered. Peter was probably martyred not long after writing this letter.

It is amazing that in the midst of this, Peter exhorts his readers to honour the emperor (2:17) and be subject to human institutions (2:14). Paul also gives the same instruction (Rom 13:1-7). It was essential for the Christians to give the Roman authorities absolutely no justification for their persecution. Christians should always show by the quality of their lives that they do not behave like criminals, and therefore should not be treated as such (4:15).

It is likely that some of the persecution may also be coming from their neighbours. He instructs "servants to be submissive to overbearing masters" (2:18), and comments that the Gentiles are surprised that you no longer join their wild profligacy, so they abuse you (4:4).

Themes in the book

These are some of the major themes of the book: the holiness of life, the sufferings of Christ, suffering as a Christian, God's sovereignty in salvation and life, the grace of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, the church as the new people of God, the reality of the unseen spirit world, trusting God in daily circumstances, and the hope of Jesus's return.

Sharing in Christ's sufferings

To encourage his readers who are experiencing persecution, he describes how Christ also suffered, and that they are now sharing his suffering: they suffer various trials, to test genuineness of their faith (1:6), prophets predicted Christ's suffering (1:11), approved for suffering unjustly (2:9-10), Christ suffered for you (2:21), Christ suffered but did not threaten (2:23), blessed for suffering for righteousness sake (3:14), better to suffer for doing right (3:17), Christ died, suffered for sins once and for all (3:18), Christ suffered in flesh, ceased to sin (4:1), rejoice as you share Christ's suffering (4:13), let no one suffer as murderer (4:15), not ashamed to suffer as Christian (4:16), suffer according to God's will (4:19), Peter - a witness of Christ's sufferings (5:1), same experience of suffering in brotherhood (5:9), suffer a little while, then glory (5:10).

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to test you, as thought something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." (4:12-13)

Jesus' second coming

There is a strong emphasis on the second coming of Christ, perhaps as an encouragement to those suffering persecution: "salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1:5), "the genuineness of their faith will result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:7), "grace is coming at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:13), "God will be glorified on the day of his visitation" (2:12), "the end of all things is at hand" (4:7), "those who share Christ's sufferings will rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (4:13), "judgement will begin with the household of God" (4:17), Peter will be a partaker of the glory that will be revealed (5:1), "when the Chief Shepherd is manifested, you will obtain the unfading crown of glory" (5:4).

Theology of the book

The theology of the book matches the theology of the early church as found in the book of Acts. especially Peter's preaching. C.H. Dodd identified five basic ingredients of the message:

1. The age of fulfilment has dawned. The Messianic age has begun. This is God's final word. A new order is being inaugurated and men and women are summoned to join the new community. (Acts 2:14-16, 3:12-26, 4:8-12, 10:34-43) (1 Pet 1:3,10-12, 4:7)

2. The new age has come through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of these were foretold by the prophets and is therefore a result of the will and foreknowledge of God. (Acts 2:20-31, 3:13-14, 10:43) (1 Pet 1:20-21)

3. As a result of his resurrection, Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God and is the Messianic head of God's new people. (Acts 2:22-26, 3:13, 4:11, 5:30-31, 10:39-42) (1 Pet 1:21, 2:7, 3:21-22)

4. These Messianic events will shortly reach their culmination in the parousia, when Jesus returns in glory and judges the living and the dead. (Acts 3:19-23, 10:42) (1 Pet 1:5,7,13, 4:5,13,17-18, 5:1,4)

5. These facts are the grounds of an appeal for repentance, the offer of forgiveness, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternal life. (Acts 2:38-39, 3:19, 5:31, 10:43) (1 Pet 1:13-25, 2:1-3, 4:1-5)

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John
Jude

Revelation

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Tithing
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah


Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS