the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Clarke's Commentary Clarke Commentary
- 1 Peter
by Adam Clarke
Dr. Lardner and Professor Michaelis have done much to remove several difficulties connected with the person of St. Peter, the people to whom he wrote, the places of their dispersion, and the time of writing. I shall extract what makes more immediately for my purpose.
"The land of Palestine, says Cave, at and before the coming of our blessed Savior, was distinguished into three several provinces, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. In the upper, called also Galilee of the Gentiles, within the division belonging to the tribe of Naphtali, stood Bethsaida, formerly an obscure and inconsiderable village, till lately re-edified and enlarged by Philip the Tetrarch; and, in honor of Julia, daughter of Augustus, called by him Julias. It was situated upon the banks of the sea of Galilee, called also the lake of Tiberias, and the lake of Gennesareth, which was about forty furlongs in breadth, and a hundred in length; and had a wilderness on the other side called the desert of Bethsaida, whither our Savior used often to retire.
"At this place was born Simon, surnamed Cephas, or Petros, Petrus, Peter, signifying a stone, or fragment of a rock. He was a fisherman upon the forementioned lake or sea, as was also in all probability his father Jonas, Jonah, or John. He had a brother named Andrew: which was the eldest of the two is not certain; for, concerning this, there were different opinions among the ancients. Epiphanius supposed Andrew to be the elder; but, according to Chrysostom, Peter was the first-born. So likewise Bede and Cassian, who even make Peter's age the ground of his precedence among the apostles; and Jerome himself has expressed himself in like manner, saying, 'that the keys were given to all the apostles alike, and the Church was built upon all of them equally; but, for preventing dissension, precedency was given to one. John might have been the person, but he was too young; and Peter was preferred on account of his age.'
"The call of Andrew and Peter to a stated attendance on Jesus is recorded in three evangelists. Their father Jonas seems to have been dead; for there is no mention of him, as there is of Zebedee, when his two sons were called. It is only said of Andrew and Peter that, when Jesus called them, they left their nets and followed him. Follow me, said he, and, I will make you fishers of men.
"Simon Peter was married when called by our Lord to attend upon him; and upon occasion of that alliance, it seems, had removed from Bethsaida to Capernaum, where was his wife's family. Upon her mother our Savior wrought a great miracle of healing. And, I suppose, that when our Lord left Nazareth, and came and dwelled at Capernaum, he made Peter's house the place of his usual abode when he was in those parts. I think we have a proof of it in the history just noticed. When Jesus came out of the synagogue at Capernaum, he entered into Simon's house, Luke 4:38. Compare Mark 1:29, which is well paraphrased by Dr. Clarke: 'Now when Jesus came out of the synagogue, he went home to Peter's house;' and there it was that the people resorted unto him.
"Some time after this, when our Lord had an opportunity of private conversation with the disciples, he inquired of them what men said of him; and then whom they thought him to be. 'Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;' Matthew 16:13-16. So far likewise in Mark 8:27-29, and Luke 9:18-20. Then follows, in Matthew 16:17-19 : 'And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven:' that is, 'it is not a partial affection for me, thy Master, nor a fond and inconsiderate regard for the judgments of others for whom thou hast a respect, that has induced thee to think thus of me; but it is a just persuasion formed in thy mind by observing the great works thou hast seen me do by the power of God in the confirmation of my mission and doctrine.' 'And I say unto thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church - and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.' By which many of our interpreters suppose that our Lord promised to Peter that he should have the honor of beginning to preach the Gospel after his resurrection to Jews and Gentiles, and of receiving them into the Church; if so that is personal. Nevertheless, what follows, 'And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven;' this, I say, must have been the privilege of all the apostles, for the like things are expressly said to them, Luke 22:29, Luke 22:30, John 20:21-23. Moreover, all the apostles concurred with Peter in the first preaching both to Jews and Gentiles. As he was president in the college of the apostles, it was very fit, and a thing of course, that he should be primarily concerned in the first opening of things. The confession now particularly before us was made by him; but it was in answer to a question that had been put to all; and he spoke the sense of all the apostles, and in their name. I suppose this to be as true in this instance, as in the other before mentioned, which is in John 6:68, John 6:69. In the account which St. John has given us of our Savior's washing the disciples' feet, Peter's modesty and fervor are conspicuous. When the Jewish officers were about to apprehend our Lord, 'Peter, having a sword, drew it, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut of his right ear.' Our Lord having checked Peter, touched the servant's ear, and healed him. So great is Jesus everywhere! They that laid hold of Jesus led him away to the house of Caiaphas; the rest of the disciples now forsook him and fled; 'but Peter followed him afar off, unto the high priest's palace; and went in and sat with the servants to see the end.' Here Peter thrice disowned his Lord, peremptorily denying that he was one of the disciples, or had any knowledge of him, as related by all the evangelists; for which he soon after humbled himself, and wept bitterly. We do not perceive that Peter followed our Lord any farther; or that he at all attended the crucifixion. It is likely that he was under too much concern of mind to appear in public; and that he chose retirement, as most suitable to his present temper and circumstances.
"On the first day of the week, early in the morning, when Mary Magdalene and other women came to the sepulcher, bringing sweet spices which they had prepared, 'they saw an angel, who said unto them, Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus who was crucified: he is not here, for he is risen: Go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead.' As in Matthew, 'Tell his disciples and Peter.' As in Mark, 'Behold he goeth before you into Galilee.' That was a most gracious disposal of Providence to support the disciples, Peter in particular, in their great affliction.
"Our Lord first showed himself to Mary Magdalene, and afterwards to some other women. On the same day likewise on which he arose from the dead, he showed himself to Peter, though the circumstances of this appearance are nowhere related. And it has been observed, that as Mary Magdalene was the first woman, so Peter was the first man, to whom Jesus showed himself after he was risen from the dead.
"We have nowhere any distinct account of this apostle's travels: he might return to Judea, and stay there a good while after having been at Antioch, at the time spoken of by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians. However, it appears from Epiphanius that Peter was often in the countries of Pontus and Bithynia; and by Eusebius we are assured that Origen, in the third tome of his Exposition of the Book of Genesis, writes to this purpose: 'Peter is supposed to have preached to the Jews of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia; who, at length coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downwards, himself having desired it might be in that manner.' For the time of Peter's coming to Rome, no ancient writer is now more regarded by learned moderns than Lactantius, or whoever is the author of the book of the Deaths of Persecutors; who says that Peter came thither in the time of Nero. However, it appears to me very probable that St. Peter did not come to Rome before the year of Christ 63 or 64, nor till after St. Paul's departure thence at the end of his two years' imprisonment in that city. The books of the New Testament afford a very plausible, if not certain, argument for it. After our Lord's ascension we find Peter, with the rest of the apostles, at Jerusalem. He and John were sent by the apostles from Jerusalem to Samaria, whence they returned to Jerusalem. When Paul came to Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, he found Peter there. Upon occasion of the tranquility of the Churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, near the end of the reign of Caligula, Peter left Jerusalem, and visited the Churches in several parts of that country, particularly at Lydda and Joppa, where he tarried many days. Thence he went to Caesarea, by the seaside, where he preached to Cornelius and his company. Thence he returned to Jerusalem, and sometime afterwards was imprisoned there by Herod Agrippa. This brings down the history of our apostle to the year 44. A few years after this he was present at the council of Jerusalem; nor is there any evidence that he came there merely on that occasion. It is more probable that he had not yet been out of Judea: soon after that council he was at Antioch, where he was reproved by St. Paul.
"The books of the New Testament afford no light for determining where Peter was for several years after that. But to me it appears not unlikely that he returned after a short time to Judea from Antioch, and that he stayed in Judea a good while before he went thence any more; and it seems to me that, when he left Judea, he went again to Antioch, the chief city of Syria. Thence he might go to other parts of the continent, particularly Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, which are expressly mentioned in the beginning of his first epistle. In those countries he might stay a good while; and it is very likely that he did so; and that he was well acquainted with the Christians there, to whom he afterwards wrote two epistles. When he left those parts, I think he went to Rome, but not till after Paul had been in that city and was gone from it. Several of St. Paul's epistles furnish out a cogent argument of Peter's absence from Rome for a considerable space of time. St. Paul, in the last chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, written, as we suppose, in the beginning of the year 58, salutes many by name, without mentioning Peter; and the whole tenor of the epistle makes it reasonable to think that the Christians there had not yet had the benefit of the apostle's presence and instructions. During his two years' confinement at Rome, which ended, as we suppose, in the spring of the year 63, St. Paul wrote four or five epistles; those to the Ephesians, the Second Epistle to Timothy, to the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon; in none of which is any mention of Peter, nor is any thing said or hinted whence it can be concluded that he had ever been there. I think, therefore, that Peter did not come to Rome before the year 63, or perhaps 64. And, as I suppose, obtained the crown of martyrdom in the year 64 or 65; consequently, St. Peter could not reside very long at Rome before his death.
"Cave likewise, in his life of St. Peter, written in English in 1676, places his death in 64 or 65; nor was his mind much altered when he published his Historia Literaria in 1688; for there also he supposes that St. Peter died a martyr at Rome, in the year of Christ 64, at the beginning of Nero's persecution; and indeed he expresses himself with a great deal of assurance and positiveness. Jerome concludes his article of St. Peter saying, 'He was buried at Rome, in the Vatican, near the triumphal way; and is in veneration all over the world.' "It is not needful to make any remarks upon this tradition; but it is easy to observe it is the general, uncontradicted, disinterested testimony of ancient writers, in the several parts of the world, Greeks, Latins, and Syrians. As our Lord's prediction concerning the death of Peter is recorded in one of the four gospels, it is very likely that Christians would observe the accomplishment of it, which must have been in some place, and about this place there is no difference among Christian writers of ancient times; never any other place was named besides Rome; nor did any other city ever glory in the martyrdom of Peter. There were, in the second and third centuries, disputes between the bishop of Rome and other bishops and Churches about the time of keeping Easter, and about the baptism of heretics; yet none denied the bishop of Rome what they called the chair of Peter. It is not for our honor or interest, either as Christians or Protestants, to deny the truth of events ascertained by early and well attested tradition.
If any make an ill use of such facts, we are not accountable for it. We are not, from the dread of such abuses, to overthrow the credit of all history, the consequences of which would be fatal. Fables and fictions have been mixed with the account of Peter's being at Rome; but they are not in the most early writers, but have been added since: and it is well known that fictions have been joined with histories of the most certain and important facts.1 Peter-1
"Having written the history of the Apostle Peter, I now proceed to his epistles; concerning which three or four things are to be considered by us; their genuineness, the persons to whom they were sent, the place where, and the time when, they were written.
"The first epistle was all along considered, by catholic Christians, as authentic and genuine; this we learn from Eusebius, who says: 'Of the controverted books of the New Testament; yet well known and approved by many, are that called the Epistle of James, and that of Jude, and the second and third of John.' And in another place, 'One epistle of Peter, called the first, is universally received. This the presbyters of ancient times have quoted in their writings as undoubtedly genuine; but that called his second, we have been informed, (by tradition), has not been received as a part of the New Testament; nevertheless, appearing to many to be useful, it has been carefully studied with other scriptures.' By which, I think, we may be assured that a great regard was shown to this epistle by many Christians in the time of our learned ecclesiastical historian. Jerome says, 'Peter wrote two epistles called catholic, the second of which is denied by many to be his, because of the difference of the style from the former.' And Origen before them, in his commentaries upon the gospel of St. Matthew, as cited by Eusebius, says, 'Peter, on whom the Church is built, has left one epistle universally acknowledged: let it be granted that he also wrote a second, for this has been doubted.' "What those learned writers of the third and fourth centuries say of those two epistles, we have found agreeable to the testimony of more ancient writers, whom we have consulted: for the first epistle seems to be referred to by Clement of Rome; it is plainly referred to by Polycarp several times; it is also referred to by the martyrs at Lyons; it was received by Theophilus, bishop of Antioch; it was quoted by Papias; it is quoted in the remaining writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian: consequently it was all along received. But we do not perceive the second epistle to be quoted by Papias, nor by Irenaeus, (though in Grabe's edition this epistle is twice quoted), nor Tertullian, nor Cyprian. However, both these epistles were generally received in the fourth and following centuries by all Christians, except the Syrians: for they were received by Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, the council of Laodicea, Epiphanius, Jerome, Rufin, Augustine, and others. "The first epistle being allowed to be St. Peter's, we can argue in favor of the other also, in this manner: It bears in the inscription the name of the same apostle; for so it begins, 'Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ.' And in 2 Peter 1:14 are these words: 'Knowing that I must shortly put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ has showed me.'
"The writer of this epistle may have had a particular revelation concerning the time of his death, not long before writing this. But it is probable that here is a reference to our Lord's prediction concerning St. Peter's death, and the manner of it, which are recorded in John 21:18, John 21:19. From 2 Peter 1:16-18, it appears that the writer was one of the disciples who were with Jesus in the mount, when he was transfigured in a glorious manner. This certainly leads us to Peter, who was there, and whose name the epistle bears in the inscription, 2 Peter 3:1 : 'This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance;' plainly referring to the former epistle, which has been always acknowledged to be Peter's. These words are express. But it might have been argued, with some degree of probability, from 2 Peter 1:12, 2 Peter 1:15, that he had before written to the same persons. Once more, 2 Peter 3:15, 2 Peter 3:16, he calls Paul brother, and otherwise so speaks of him and his epistles as must needs be reckoned most suitable to an apostle. The writer, therefore, is the Apostle Peter, whose name the epistle bears in the inscription. We are led here to the observation which Wall placed at the head of his notes upon this second epistle: 'It is,' says he, 'a good proof of the cautiousness of the ancient Christians in receiving any book for canonical, that they not only rejected all those pieces forged by heretics under the name of apostles; but also if any good book, affirmed by some men or some Churches to have been written and sent by some apostle, were offered to them, they would not, till fully satisfied of the fact, receive it into their canon.' He adds: 'There is more hazard in denying this to be Peter's, than in denying some other books to be of that author to whom they are by tradition ascribed. For they, if they be not of that apostle to whom they are imputed, yet may be of some other apostle, or apostolical man; but this author is either the apostle, or else by setting his name, and by other circumstances, he does designedly personate him, which no man of piety and truth would do.' And then he concludes: 'This epistle being written by him but a little before his death, 2 Peter 1:14, and perhaps no more than one copy sent, it might be a good while before a number of copies, well attested, came abroad to the generality of the Christian Churches.'
"Certainly these epistles, and the discourses of Peter, recorded in the Acts, together with the effects of them, are monuments of Divine inspiration, and of the fulfillment of the promise which Christ made to him, when he saw him and his brother Andrew employed in their trade, and casting a net into the sea; Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men, Matthew 4:19.
"Concerning the persons to whom these epistles were sent, there have been different opinions among both ancients and moderns. Mr. Wetstein argues from divers texts that the first epistle was sent to the Gentiles. Mr. Hallett, in his learned introduction to the Epistle to the Hebrews, observes, 'Some go upon the supposition that St. Peter's epistles were written to the Jews, but it seems to me more natural to suppose that they were written to Gentile Christians, if we consider many passages of the epistles themselves:' where he proceeds to allege many passages, and in my opinion, very pertinently; some of which will be also alleged by me by and by.
"To me it seems that St. Peter's epistles were sent to all Christians in general, Jews and Gentiles, living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia; the greatest part of whom must have been converted by Paul, and had been before involved in ignorance and sin, as all people in general were till the manifestation of the Gospel of Christ. That St. Peter wrote to all Christians in those countries is apparent, from the valedictory blessing or wish at the end of the epistle, 1 Peter 5:14 : Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Lewis Capellus, who thought that St. Peter's first epistle was written to Jewish believers, allows that the second epistle was written to all Christians in general, and particularly to Gentiles, induced thereto by the comprehensiveness of the address at the beginning of that epistle, To them that have obtained like precious faith with us. He should have concluded as much of the first epistle likewise, for they were both sent to the same people, as is evident from St. Peter's own words, 2 Peter 3:1. Moreover, the inscription of the first epistle seems to be as general as that of the second. Let us observe it distinctly: to the elect, εκλεκτοις, says Wall upon the place: 'He uses the word εκλεκτοι, choice ones, just as St. Paul does the word ἁγιοι, saints, for the word Christians: and as St. Paul directs almost all his epistles to the saints, that is, the Christians of such a place; so St. Peter here, to the elect or choice ones, that is, Christians, sojourning in the dispersions of Pontus, Galatia, and Bithynia. Strangers, παρεπιδημοις· good men, though at home, are strangers, especially if they meet with opposition, trouble, and affliction, as those Christians did to whom St. Peter is here writing; for he speaks of their trials and temptations, 1 Peter 1:6, 1 Peter 1:7, and exhorts them, 1 Peter 2:11, as sojourners and strangers, ὡς παροικους και παρεπιδημους, to abstain from fleshly lusts. Says Ecumenius upon 1 Peter 1:1, 1 Peter 1:2 : 'He calls them strangers, either on account of their dispersion, or because all that live religiously are called strangers on this earth; as David also says, 'I am a sojourner with thee, and a stranger, as all my fathers were,' Psalms 39:12. Scattered throughout Pontus, or of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia; so he calls them, not because they had been driven out from their native country, but because he writes to the Christians of divers countries, who also were but a few or a small number in every place where they dwelt. I shall now show that these Christians were, for the most part, of the Gentile stock and original. 1 Peter 1:14 : 'As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.' This might be very pertinently said to men converted from Gentilism to Christianity; but no such thing is ever said by the apostle concerning the Jewish people, who had been favored with Divine revelation, and had the knowledge of the true God. And 1 Peter 1:20, 1 Peter 1:21, he says, that 'through Christ they did now believe in God;' therefore they were not worshippers till they were acquainted with the Christian revelation. In like manner, 1 Peter 2:9, St. Peter speaks of those to whom he writes as having been 'called out of darkness into God's marvelous light.' Moreover, they were not once God's people; 1 Peter 2:10 : 'Which in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God; which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.' Words resembling those of St. Paul, Romans 9:24, Romans 9:25, where he is unquestionably speaking of Gentile converts. There are also other expressions which plainly show that these persons had been Gentiles, and had lived in the sins of Gentilism; 1 Peter 1:18 : 'Forasmuch as ye know that ye were redeemed from your vain conversation, received by tradition from your fathers.' And 1 Peter 4:3 : 'For the time past may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles; when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries.' St. Peter does not charge himself with such things, but they to whom he writes had been guilty in those respects; and, by way of condescension, and for avoiding offense, and for rendering his argument more effectual, he joins himself with them. And more, when St. Peter represents the dignity of those to whom he writes, upon account of their Christian vocation, 1 Peter 2:9, as 'a chosen generation, a peculiar people, a royal priesthood;' certainly the expressions are most pertinent and emphatical, if understood of such as had been brought from Gentilism to the faith of the Gospel, as indeed they plainly were. For he there says, 'they were to show forth the praises of Him who had called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.' To all which might be added, what was hinted before, that the persons to whom Peter writes were for the most part the Apostle Paul's converts. This must be reckoned probable from the accounts which we have in the Acts of St. Paul's travels and preaching. Whence we know that he had been in Galatia, and the other countries mentioned by St. Peter at the beginning of his first epistle. Moreover he observes, 2 Peter 3:15, that 'his beloved brother Paul had written unto them.' We may reasonably suppose that he thereby intends St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians, the Ephesians, and Colossians, all in those countries, and for the most part Gentile believers. Nor do I see reason to doubt that if Peter had, before now, seen and read St. Paul's Epistles to Timothy; and if we should add them, as here intended also, it would be no prejudice to our argument. For those epistles likewise were designed for the use and benefit of the Churches in those parts. To me these considerations appear unanswerable; I shall, therefore, take notice of but one objection, which is grounded upon 1 Peter 2:12 : 'Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles; that whereas they speak against you as evil doers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.' Upon the first clause in that verse Beza says, that this place alone is sufficient to show that this epistle was sent to Jews. But I think not. From St. Paul may be alleged a text of the like sort, Colossians 1:11:32 : 'Give no offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, (και Ἑλλησι), nor to the Church of God.' It might be as well argued from that text that the Corinthians were by descent neither Jews nor Greeks, as from this, that the persons to whom St. Peter wrote were not originally Gentiles. In the text of St. Paul just quoted, by Jews, and Gentiles or Greeks, are intended such as were unbelievers. So it is likewise in the text of St. Peter which we are considering as is apparent from the latter part of the verse above transcribed at large. St. Peter had a right to distinguish those to whom he writes from the Gentile people among whom they lived, as he had at the beginning of the epistle called them elect, or choice ones, and strangers; and they likewise went by the name of Christians, as we perceive from 1 Peter 4:16.
"St. Peter's two epistles, then, were sent to all Christians in general, living in those countries, the greatest part of whom had been converted from Gentilism or heathenism.
"Our next inquiry is concerning where these epistles were written.
"At the end of the first epistle St. Peter says: 'The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you;' which text, understood literally, has been thought by some to denote,
1. Babylon in Assyria; or,
2. Babylon in Egypt.
3. By others it is interpreted figuratively, and is supposed to denote Jerusalem; or,
4. Rome. So that there are four opinions concerning the place where this epistle was written.
"If St. Peter had read St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans before he wrote his first epistle, it was written after St. Paul's journey from Corinth to Jerusalem, described in Acts 20:21; for the Epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth. How much later than the time of this journey the First Epistle of Peter was written it is very difficult, for want of sufficient data, to determine. The epistle itself has hardly any marks which can guide us in deciding the year of its composition; and we know nothing of the history of St. Peter from the time of the apostolic council at Jerusalem, Acts 15:0., which is the last place where St. Luke mentions him, till his arrival many years afterwards at Rome, where, according to the accounts of ecclesiastical writers, he suffered martyrdom. However, a comparison of the first with the second epistle of St. Peter will enable us to form at least an opinion on this subject. St. Peter says, in his second epistle, 2 Peter 3:1 : Ταυτην ηδη, αγαπητοι, δευτεραν ὑμιν γραφω επιστολην· whence we may conclude that his first epistle was written to the same persons as the second. But if the second epistle was written fifteen or twenty years after the first, they who received the one were not the same persons as they who received the other; and we might rather expect that in this case St. Peter would have called his first epistle an epistle which he had written to their fathers. It appears, then, that the interval between the dates of the two epistles could not have been very long; and as the second epistle was written shortly before St. Peter's death; we may infer that the first epistle was written either not long before, or not long after, the year 60. On the other hand, Lardner assigns this epistle too late a date; for he is of opinion that it was written between 63 and 65. This reason for supposing that it was not written till after 63 is, that an earlier date cannot be assigned for St. Peter's arrival at Rome; and as he takes the word Babylon, whence St. Peter dates his epistle, not in its proper but in a mystical sense, as denoting Rome, he concludes that the epistle was not written before the time above mentioned. But if we take Babylon in its proper sense, the argument not only proves not what Lardner intended, but the very reverse; for if St. Peter's arrival in Rome is to be dated about the year 63, an epistle written by St. Peter, in Babylon, must have a date prior to that year.
"St. Peter, in the close of his epistle, sends a salutation from the Church in Babylon, which, consequently, is the place where he wrote his epistle. But commentators do not agree in regard to the meaning of the word Babylon, some taking it in its literal and proper sense, others giving it a figurative and mystical interpretation. Among the advocates for the latter sense have been men of such learning and abilities, that I was misled by their authority in the younger part of my life to subscribe to it; but at present, as I have more impartially examined the question, it appears to me very extraordinary that, when an apostle dates his epistle from Babylon, it should ever occur to any commentator to ascribe to this work a mystical meaning, instead of taking it in its literal and proper sense. For, in the first century, the ancient Babylon, on the Euphrates, was still in existence; and there was likewise a city on the Tigris, Seleucia, not far distant from the ancient Babylon, to which the name of modern Babylon was given; but through some mistake it has been supposed that the ancient Babylon, in the time of St. Peter, was no longer in being; and in order to furnish a pretense for a mystical interpretation, it has been denied that Seleucia was ever so called.
"It is true that the ancient Babylon, in comparison of its original splendor, might be called in the first century a desolated city; yet it was not wholly a heap of ruins, nor wholly destitute of inhabitants. This appears from the account which Strabo, who lived in the time of Tiberius, has given of it: for he says that Alexander (who died at Babylon, and who intended, if he had lived, to have made it the place of his residence) proposed to rebuild there a pyramid, which was a stadium in length, in breadth, and in height; but that his successors did not put the design into execution: that the Persians destroyed a part of Babylon, and that the Macedonians neglected it; but that Babylon had suffered the most from the building of Seleucia, by Seleucus Nicator, at the distance of three hundred stadia from it, because Seleucia then became the capital of the country, and Babylon was drained of its inhabitants. Strabo then adds: at present Seleucia is greater than Babylon, which last city has been desolated, so that one may say of it, what the comic poet said of Megalopolis in Arcadia: 'A great city is become a great desert.' If this be not sufficient proof that Babylon was still in existence in the first century, the reader may consult Cellarii Geographia, tom. ii., page 747; and Assemani Bibliotheca Orientalis, tom. iii., par. ii., page 7.
"It will be objected, perhaps, that if Babylon still existed in the time of St. Peter, it was yet in such a state of decay that an apostle would hardly have gone to preach the Gospel there. But I can see no reason why he should not; especially as Babylon was at that time so far from being literally destitute of inhabitants that Strabo draws a parallel between this city and Seleucia, saying, at present Babylon is not so great as Seleucia, which was then the capital of the Parthian empire, and, according to Pliny, contained six hundred thousand inhabitants. To conclude therefore that Babylon, whence St. Peter dates this epistle, could not have been the ancient Babylon, because this city was then in a state of decay; and thence to argue that St. Peter used the word mystically to denote Rome, is nearly the same as if, on the receipt of a letter dated from Ghent or Antwerp, in which mention was made of a Christian community there, I concluded that, because these cities are no larger than what they were in the sixteenth century, the writer of the epistle meant a spiritual Ghent or Antwerp, and that the epistle was really written from Amsterdam.
"It is, therefore, at least possible that St. Peter wrote his first epistle in the ancient Babylon, on the Euphrates. But before we conclude that he really did write there, we must first examine whether he did not mean Seleucia on the Tigris, which was sometimes called the modern Babylon. According to Strabo, Seleucia was only three hundred stadia distant from the ancient Babylon; and it was separated by the Tigris from Ctesiphon, the winter residence of the Parthian kings. At present it is not called Bagdad, as some have supposed, which is a very different city; but, in conjunction with Ctesiphon, is named by Syrian and Arabic writers Medinotho, Medain, Madain, under which name it appears in D'Anville's maps in the latitude of 33 7.
"Since then, the name of Babylon was given actually to Seleucia, it is not impossible that St. Peter thus understood the word Babylon, and that his first epistle therefore was written at Seleucia on the Tigris. But I have shown in the preceding part of this section that there is likewise a possibility of its having been written in Babylon, properly so called, or in the ancient Babylon on the Euphrates. The question therefore is, which of these two senses shall we ascribe to the word Babylon? For one of these two we must ascribe to it, unless we give it, without any reason, a mystical interpretation. In the two last editions of this introduction I preferred the former sense; but after a more mature consideration, I think it much more probable, at present, that St. Peter meant the ancient Babylon. It is true that Lucan, Sidonius Apollinaris, and Stephanus Byzantinus, gave the name of Babylon to Seleucia; but the two last of these writers lived so late as the fifth century; and therefore their authority is perhaps not sufficient to prove that Seleucia was called Babylon in the first century. Lucan, indeed, was a contemporary with St. Peter; but then he uses this word in an epic poem, in which a writer is not bound by the same rules as in prose: and it is not improbable that he selected the word Babylon, because, partly, its celebrity added pomp to his diction; and, partly, because neither Ctesiphon nor Seleucia would have suited the verse. The writer of an epistle, on the contrary, can allow himself no such latitude; and perspicuity requires that in the date of his epistle, he should use no other name for the town where he writes than that which properly belongs to it. If, therefore, St. Peter had really written at Seleucia, he would have hardly called this city by the name of Babylon, though this name was sometimes applied to it: consequently, it is most probable that St. Peter wrote his first epistle in ancient Babylon on the Euphrates.
"Before I conclude this section, I must take notice of a passage in Josephus, which not only confutes all notions of a spiritual or mystical Babylon, but throws a great light on our present inquiry; and this passage is of so much the more importance, because Josephus was a historian who lived in the same age with St. Peter; and the passage itself relates to an event which took place thirty-six years before the Christian era, namely, the delivery of Hyrcanus, the Jewish high priest, from imprisonment, by order of Phraates, king of Parthia, with permission to reside in Babylon, where there was a considerable number of Jews. This is recorded by Josephus, Antiq. xv. c. 2, in the following words: Δια τουτο δεσμων μεν αφηκεν, εν Βαβυλωνι δε καταγεσθαι παρειχεν, ενθα και πληθος ην Ιουδαιων. Josephus then adds, that both the Jews in Babylon, and all who dwelt in that country, as far as the Euphrates, respected Hyrcanus, as high priest and king. Now the word Babylon in this passage of Josephus evidently means a city in the east; and it cannot possibly be interpreted in a mystical manner either of Jerusalem or Rome. The only question is, whether he meant the ancient Babylon on the Euphrates, or Seleucia on the Tigris. The former is the most obvious interpretation; and is warranted by the circumstance that, in other places where Josephus speaks of Seleucia on the Tigris, he calls it by its proper name Seleucia.
"The first argument in favor of a mystical and against a literal interpretation of the word Babylon is, that in the whole country of Babylonia there were no Jews in the time of St. Peter; and thence it is inferred that he could not have gone to preach the Gospel there. Now in this argument both the premises and inference are false. The inference is false, because even if there had been no Jews in the whole country of Babylonia, St. Peter might have gone to preach the Gospel there; for he preached to the uncircumcised at Caesarea, and he himself declared that it was ordained by God that the Gentiles, by his mouth, should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. The premises themselves are also totally unfounded; for if we except Palestine, there was no country in the world where the Jews were so numerous and so powerful as in the province of Babylonia, in which they had their two celebrated seats of learning, Nehardea and Susa.
"The second argument in favor of a mystical interpretation of the word Babylon is, that almost all the ancient fathers have explained it in this manner, and have asserted that St. Peter used it to denote Rome. But we must recollect that an assertion of this kind is not testimony to a fact, but a mere matter of opinion, in which the ancients were as liable to mistake as we are. Nor is it true that all the ancient ecclesiastical writers have ascribed to the word Babylon a mystical meaning; for though the Greek and Latin fathers commonly understood Rome, yet the Syriac and Arabic writers understood it literally, as denoting a town in the east; and if we are to be guided by opinion, an oriental writer is surely as good authority, on the present question, as a European.
"The third argument on which Lardner particularly insists is, that, in the accounts which we have on record relative to St. Peter's history, no mention is made of a journey to Babylon. Now this argument would prove nothing, even if our knowledge of St. Peter's life and transactions were more perfect than it really is. Let us suppose an instance of some eminent man in modern times, in the history of whose life no mention is made that, during his travels, he paid a visit to Vienna, but that among his letters to his friends, one of them, not withstanding the silence of his biographer, is dated from Vienna. In this case, unless we had reason to suppose that the whole epistle was a forgery, or that the author had used a false date, we should immediately conclude, on the bare authority of this single epistle, that he had actually been at Vienna; and we should hardly think of a mystical or spiritual Vienna. Lardner himself has argued in this very manner with respect to Paul, though his history is infinitely better known than that of St. Peter, and has inferred from the single passage, Titus 1:5, 'For this cause left I thee in Crete,' that St. Paul made a voyage into Crete in the year 56, though this voyage is mentioned neither by St. Luke nor by any other historian. No reason therefore can be assigned why we should refuse to argue in the same manner with respect to St. Peter. In fact, Lardner's argument could nowhere have been more unfortunately applied than in the present instance.
"From the time of the apostolic council at Jerusalem, in the year 49, at which St. Peter was present, till the time of his (supposed) arrival in Rome, which Lardner acknowledges was not before 63, there is an interval of fourteen years, during which we have no history of him whatsoever. How then can we form a judgment of his transactions during that period except from his own writings? And how can the silence of history, in respect to his journey to Babylon, afford an argument that he was never there, in contradiction to his own epistle, when the fact is, we have no history at all of St. Peter during this period? We cannot therefore talk of its silence in respect to any one particular transaction, since every transaction of St. Peter, throughout the whole of this interval, is unrecorded. Lardner indeed conjectures, as the epistle is addressed to the inhabitants of Pontus, Galatia, Ac., that St. Peter spent a part of his time in these countries, though he denies that St. Peter ever was in Babylon, whence the epistle is dated. Now this mode of arguing is nearly the same as if I concluded, from a letter dated from Vienna, and addressed to a person in Venice, that the writer of that letter had been in Venice, but that he never was at Vienna. Lardner supposes also that St. Peter spent a part of this time in Jerusalem. Now it is impossible for us to determine what stay St. Peter made in Jerusalem after the holding of the apostolic council, or whether he remained there at all; but this I think is certain, that he was not at Jerusalem when St. Paul returned thither for the last time, since St. Luke makes particular mention of St. James, and describes him as the head of the Christian community at Jerusalem, but says nothing of St. Peter, whom he would hardly have passed over in perfect silence if he had been there. Now St. Paul's last visit to Jerusalem happened in the year 60, and since I have shown that the First Epistle of St. Peter was written about this time, it is not at all improbable that St. Peter, who was absent from Jerusalem, was then engaged in preaching the Gospel to the Babylonians.
"The last argument in favor of the opinion that the Babylon where Peter wrote was not Babylon properly so called, is derived from 1 Peter 2:13, where St. Peter commands obedience to the king, and from 1 Peter 2:17, where he says, 'Honor the king.' Hence Lardner concludes that St. Peter must have written in a place which was subject to the same king or emperor as the people to whom he sent the epistle. But these were subject to the Roman emperor, whereas Babylon, with its whole territory, was then subject, not to the Romans, but the Parthians, and therefore, according to Lardner, could not have been the place where St. Peter wrote. Now this argument rests on a supposition which is contradicted by the common usage of every language, the expression, 'the king,' in a letter from a person in one country to a person in another country, may, according to circumstances, denote the king to which the reader is subject as well as the king to which the writer is subject.
"It appears, then, that the arguments which have been alleged to show that St. Peter did not write his first epistle in the country of Babylonia are devoid of foundation, and consequently the notion of a mystical Babylon, as denoting either Jerusalem or Rome, loses its whole support. For in itself the notion is highly improbable, and therefore the bare possibility that St. Peter took a journey to Babylon, properly so called, renders it inadmissible. The plain language of epistolary writing does not admit of the figures of poetry, and, though it would be very allowable, in a poem written in honor of Gottingen, to style it another Athens, yet if a professor of this university should, in a letter written from Gottingen, date it Athens, it would be a greater piece of pedantry than ever was laid to the charge of the learned. In like manner, though a figurative use of the word Babylon is not unsuitable to the animated and poetical language of the Apocalypse, yet St. Peter, in a plain and unadorned epistle, would hardly have called the place where he wrote by any other appellation than that which literally and properly belonged to it."
That many persons both of learning and eminence have been of a different opinion from Professor Michaelis, the intelligent reader is well aware, but Dr. Lardner, of all others, has written most argumentatively in vindication of the mystical Babylon, i.e. Rome, as being the place from which the apostle wrote this epistle. His weightiest arguments however are here answered by Michaelis, and to me it appears that there is a great balance in favor of the opinion that Babylon on the Euphrates is the place intended. The decision of this question, although not an article of faith, is nevertheless of some importance. I am still of opinion that St. Peter did not write from Rome; that he was neither bishop of Rome nor martyred at Rome, in a word, that he never saw Rome.