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- 1 Peter
by John Dummelow
1. Author. The author describes himself as ’Peter an apostle of Jesus Christ’ throughout, and there is no reason to doubt the truth of his claim. The Christian writers who lived nearest to apostolic times knew the Epistle, and did not question its authorship, and, as soon as collections of apostolic books were formed, we find it included in them. Only in modern times have objections been raised, on the ground that such widespread and severe persecution as the letter implies was unknown during St. Peter’s lifetime, and that the author is more indebted to St. Paul’s Epistles than St. Peter was likely to be. These objections disappear when the Epistle itself and the relations of St. Peter to St. Paul are carefully studied.
2. Occasion and Contents. That both writer and readers were expecting a severe persecution is the first and strongest impression which the letter leaves on us. But this ’fiery trial’ is only expected; it is not even certain that it will come at all (1 Peter 3:14-17). As yet there has been suffering from slander and isolation, but now something worse is certainly looked for. What had caused this expectation? In 64 a.d. there had been a great fire at Rome, which the Emperor Nero was suspected of having caused. He directly afterwards put to death a large number of Christians in order to quiet the people. Trustworthy tradition says that both St. Paul and St. Peter were slain in the persecution that thus began; it is, however, not improbable that St. Paul suffered some years before St Peter. This news would soon spread to the Christians in all parts of the empire, who would naturally begin to fear for themselves. The Christians to whom this Epistle was written dwelt in districts of Asia Minor, all of which probably, and two of which certainly, were connected with St. Paul. It was carried by Silvanus, the friend of St. Paul. It is then reasonable to suppose that St. Peter wrote to these people soon after St. Paul’s martyrdom, being himself at the time in Rome, surrounded by the sorrows and dangers of a terrible persecution, to encourage them to meet the trial steadfastly, if, as they feared, it should reach them. Silvanus would tell them all there was to tell about their master Paul. The letter from St. Peter would show that they were still cared for by an Apostle, to whom some of them probably owed their conversion on the first Whit Sunday: cp. Acts 2:9; and 1 Peter 1:1. It contained too encouragement of a deeper kind. St. Peter begins by greeting them in the name of the Holy Trinity; reminds them that all events have their source in God’s foreknowledge; that this trial is part of His eternal purpose, and that they are therefore sure of His protection; that, if the veil were lifted, as one day it will be, they would see the divine power and glory surrounding them; that Christ’s work was done through suffering, and that suffering is the proper state of Christians, and the condition of their happiness and hope, for safety from the perils of this life is a little matter to those who are heirs of eternal safety; that the Holy Spirit, who in times past gave ancient Israel its Messianic hope, is with them still, making them the people of Christ, the manifested Messiah, binding together the whole brotherhood throughout the world for the fulfilment of God’s single purpose, and enabling them to live as a consecrated people should. ’In quietness and confidence shall be your strength’ is the sum of his encouragement. Those whom the heathen scorn as ’Christians’ must live, and, if need be, suffer, as men would who are like Christ, being holy, gentle, courteous, loyal, giving no occasion for real offence. Even the imperial authority is to be respected; whatever Nero’s conduct may be, his office is of divine appointment. But more than that: Christ’s sufferings were sacrificial; through them He saved sinners, and through death the scope of His redeeming work was enlarged. So through their sufferings—to which they have been consecrated by the sprinkling of Christ’s Blood—these Christians may be the means of bringing even their persecutors to salvation.
3. General Remarks on the Epistle. No one was better fitted than St. Peter to write such an Epistle. The Lord had named him Peter the Rock; and though his conduct in gospel days may sometimes have seemed to belie the name, yet his later life showed that Christ had judged his character aright, and had by His discipline ’stablished and strengthened’ his steadfastness. He stood firm in Jerusalem before persecuting rulers, and knew how persecution should be met.
His speeches, as recorded in Acts, show that he was sustained in those days by the same kind of thoughts as he expresses in this Epistle—obedience is the great duty; the sufferings of Christ were appointed by God, and were not the chance triumph of His enemies; they involved humiliation, rejection, and the curse of the Tree; they led to the Resurrection which was due to the act of the Father, and is the source of Christian hope; now He sits supreme at the right hand of God, and has poured forth upon His people the Holy Spirit of whom He had received the promise from the Father: from thence He shall come at the time of the restoration of all things to judge the quick and dead. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, of whom prophets spoke, and for whom Israel hoped. Forgiveness and repentance come from Him, and through faith in His name is safety and salvation. The Apostles are His witnesses, and so is the Holy Spirit in His people. All that has happened since He came is the outcome of past history, and there has been no break in the life of the people who are God’s peculiar care; among them the believing Gentiles are also reckoned.
There has however been some progress in the Apostle’s mind between the speeches and the Epistle. Christ’s sufferings, once his stumbling-block, had become reasonable to him after the Resurrection; now he sees that they are the beginning of His glory and the great means of His salvation. Now he understands, as he scarcely did then, their sacrificial character, and therefore lays more stress than he did on the Christian privilege of suffering for others, and aiding to advance the salvation of the world. It is remarkable that Acts 2:31 is the closest parallel that can be found in NT. to 1 Peter 3:18., but that, whereas in the speech Christ’s continued life in the spirit is alone mentioned, in the Epistle the subject is the extension of His redeeming work to those who seemed to have perished beyond hope.
This development is natural in an Apostle who had for years been testing by experience the power of the gospel, but it is likely that St. Paul had been a special aid to him. From Galatians 2:11-14 some have imagined that there was the same continued opposition between them as there was between St. Paul and the narrow Judaising conservatives who ’came from James.’ But the broad lesson of NT. is that the Apostles, in spite of differences of training and temperament, were agreed on all important points, and were strong enough to overcome the scruples and opposition of these Judaisers.
This Epistle seems to have been written to Churches which were mainly composed of Gentile Christians; but the old disputes about the Law have long ago been settled; there is no trace of them here; the Church is no longer divided; all Christians alike are simply the inheritors of ancient Israel. There is then nothing strange in finding, as we certainly do, that St. Peter has studied Epistles of St. Paul with care. With Romans and Ephesians in particular, it is plain that he is thoroughly familiar. To quote detached verses would hardly be convincing. Most of the parallels are pointed out in the notes, and it will be seen that the thoughts of whole passages are reproduced with just that kind of difference which would be expected if the resemblance were due to memory, not copying. St. Peter has borrowed nothing which he has not made his own. He does not follow St. Paul in his use of ’flesh’ for man’s lower, corrupt nature, or of ’soul’ for that part of man’s compound being which he shares with all that lives, but gives to these words the simple meaning which they bear in the Gospels. Nor does he speak of faith quite as St. Paul does; faith in this Epistle, as in Hebrews, is akin to hope it is belief in that which shall at last be revealed. He twice uses the phrase ’in Christ,’ but does not, like St. Paul, make it the very centre of his theology. The doctrine which it implies, and which was derived from our Lord Himself, is found indeed in St. Peter, but he lays on the whole more stress on following Christ as a leader than on the mystical union with Christ, which St. Paul realised vividly. In Ephesians the immediate coming of Christ seems to be no longer expected; a long course of development in the Church is looked for. But St. Peter, with the fearful signs of the changed time before him, writes, ’The end of all things is at hand.’ He never applies the title of Church, so frequent in that Epistle, to the Christian community.
That the Epistle of St. James had been studied also by St. Peter seems certain, and if this was written at an early date in Palestine, he may have done so in his Palestinian days. Cp. 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 1:12, 1 Peter 1:24; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 Peter 5:5 with James 1:3, James 1:11, James 1:25; James 4:6; James 5:20.
He presents us indeed in this Epistle with ’Thoughts, sometimes new and rare, but chiefly drawn Out of the treasure-house of memories dear,’ and the dearest of those memories are of his Lord. Christ’s sufferings; the new life of hope which began with the Resurrection; the restoration of the fallen Apostle when Christ bade him ’Feed, tend, My sheep. My lambs’; the Saviour washing the disciples’ feet with the towel knotted round Him; the Apostle’s own confession that Jesus was the Christ, and the Lord’s answer, ’Happy art thou, Simon’—these are some of the gospel memories which he unobtrusively introduces into his letter, and all through it we perceive his longing to see his beloved Lord again.
4. Two points remain for special notice. (1) If St. Peter wrote from Rome why does he say ’She that is in Babylon saluteth you’ (1 Peter 5:13 RV)? In Revelation Babylon means Rome. It is not unlikely that St. Peter should have applied the name, even at an earlier time, to the city which was already being stained with the blood of the saints. That title for Rome would correspond with the Jewish titles which he gives to the Gentile Christians. There is no trustworthy evidence that he ever went to the real Babylon. St. Mark, from whom greeting is sent, was summoned to Rome by St. Paul just before his martyrdom (2 Timothy 4:11). The order in which the districts are named can only be explained if the letter was sent by sea. The two Epistles of St. Paul which have particularly influenced its thought and language were connected with Rome; so was, probably, the Epistle to the Hebrews, which has much in common with 1 Pet. Everything points in the same direction—that by Babylon St. Peter means Rome, and probably Rome become fearful by Nero’s persecution. See also on 1 Peter 5:12, 1 Peter 5:13.
(2) The Epistle is written in remarkably good Greek, and is more like the work of a careful student than of a Galilean fisherman. We feel, as we read it, the same surprise as the rulers did when they found that St. Peter and St. John were ’unlearned and ignorant men’ (Acts 4:13). But Greek was much used in Palestine, and even a fisherman of Galilee would know how to speak it tolerably. The rulers in their amazement ’took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus,’ and the companionship of a great character does raise a man’s style. So does familiarity with such books as the OT. Scriptures and the Epistles of St. Paul; nor does the greatness of his theme itself fail to affect the writer. If further explanation is needed, it may perhaps be found in 1 Peter 5:12, where the meaning may quite well be, ’I have used Silvanus as my secretary; he has, I am sure, given my thoughts faithfully, though he has written them out in his own language.’
the Second Week of Advent