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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

1 Peter

- 1 Peter

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

This epistle claims that the Apostle Peter wrote it (1Pe_1:1). Since there is only one Peter who was an apostle, we may be confident of the identity of the writer. There is only one Peter that the entire New Testament mentioned. For parallels between 1 Peter and Peter’s sermons in Acts, compare 1Pe_1:20 with Act_2:23; 1Pe_2:7-8 with Act_4:10-11 (cf. Mat_21:42); and 1Pe_4:5 with Act_10:42. Scholars did not question Peter’s authorship until the nineteenth century when destructive biblical criticism became popular. [Note: See Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, pp. 7-15; and Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 641-46..]

"The epistle has been well known and consistently acknowledged as Petrine from the second century well into modern times. . . .

"Aside from the four Gospels and the letters of Paul, the external attestation for 1 Peter is as strong, or stronger, than that for any NT book. There is no evidence anywhere of controversy over its authorship or authority" [Note: J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter, pp. xxxii, xxxiv.]

In contrast, there has been much controversy over the authorship of 2 Peter.

Peter first sent this letter to believers living in the northern regions of Asia Minor (1Pe_1:1). The locations of these Christians as well as allusions in the epistle indicate that they were mainly Gentiles but also Jews (e.g., 1Pe_1:14; 1Pe_2:10).

Peter died in the 60s and spent the last decade of his life in Rome according to reliable tradition. The exact date of Peter’s martyrdom is a matter of debate among scholars. One wrote that the traditional date of Peter’s death was A.D. 64. [Note: Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, p. 8.] Another claimed that it was A.D. 67. [Note: Leonhard Goppelt, A Commentary on I Peter, pp. 10-14.] Many interpreters have regarded Peter’s reference to Babylon (1Pe_5:13) as a reference to Rome that Peter described as Babylon to highlight its paganism.

"Since the historical city of Babylon in Mesopotamia, often mentioned in the pages of the Old Testament, had no Jewish population in Peter’s day (see Josephus, Ant. 18.371-79) and was almost deserted in A.D. 115 when the Emperor Trajan visited, almost no one thinks Peter wrote his letter from there. Another, very small Roman military colony in Egypt called ’Babylon’ existed in Peter’s day, but this too is a very unlikely provenance for 1 Peter." [Note: Carson and Moo, p. 646.]

In view of all this information it seems likely that Peter wrote this epistle from Rome about A.D. 64. [Note: See my comments on 5:13 for additional support for this conclusion.]

SPECIAL FEATURES

Theologically this epistle is eschatological (dealing with the end times). Along with its eschatological focus there is much emphasis on holiness (personal, social, and communal), hope, salvation, community, relationship to the world, the Trinity, and especially suffering. [Note: For further discussion, see Davids, pp. 14-23, 30-44; and Michaels, pp. lxvii-lxxv.]

"Nowhere in the New Testament . . . are the priestly and the prophetic elements in Christianity so closely fused as in I Peter." [Note: Selwyn, p. 2.]

". . . much of the material in 1 Peter is the stuff of basic Christian teaching rather than advanced instruction that assumes the mastery (and perhaps the perversion) of the basics, as in the Pauline letters." [Note: Davids, p. 11.]

". . . despite its brevity-only 105 verses in all-it is a microcosm of Christian faith and duty, the model of a pastoral charge, composed of divers materials and of many themes." [Note: Selwyn, p. 1.]

"Probably no other letter in the New Testament is said to rely so much on traditional material as is 1 Peter. . . . Scholars estimate that no other book in the New Testament, with the exception of Hebrews and Revelation, depends so heavily on the Old Testament." [Note: Carson and Moo, p. 640.]

"The Greek of the letter is smooth and competent, with rhetorical flourishes. Indeed, along with Hebrews and Luke-Acts, it is some of the best Greek in the New Testament." [Note: Ibid, p. 642.]

"In many . . . respects, 1 Peter and James form a matched pair within the NT canon. They are Christian diaspora letters roughly similar in length, one directed (probably from Jerusalem) to scattered messianic Jews (i.e., Christians) who are real Jews, and the other directed from ’Babylon’ to scattered ’Jews’ who are in fact Gentile Christians." [Note: Michaels, p. xlvii. See E. M. Sidebottom, James, Jude, 2 Peter, pp. 15-16, for other similarities between 1 Peter and James.]

PURPOSE

Peter stated his reason for writing, namely, to encourage his readers, who were facing persecution for their faith, to stand firm (1Pe_5:12). Evidently this persecution was widespread among his readers. Local enemies of the gospel were not the only people responsible for it. When Paul traveled around the Roman Empire preaching the gospel, some churches he planted experienced persecution from the unsaved in their communities, but others did not. However 1 Peter reflects persecution of the Christians throughout northern Asia Minor. This condition prevailed after Nero blamed the Christians for burning Rome in July of A.D. 64. While persecution seems to have been widespread, it may not have been official yet. [Note: E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter, pp. 52-56.]

OUTLINE

I. Introduction 1Pe_1:1-2

II. The identity of Christians 1Pe_1:3 to 1Pe_2:10

A. Our great salvation 1Pe_1:3-12

1.    The hope of our salvation 1Pe_1:3-5

2.    The joy of our salvation 1Pe_1:6-9

3.    The witnesses of our salvation 1Pe_1:10-12

B. Our new way of life 1Pe_1:13-25

1.    A life of holiness 1Pe_1:13-16

2.    A life of reverence 1Pe_1:17-21

3.    A life of love 1Pe_1:22-25

C. Our priestly calling 1Pe_2:1-10

1.    Listening to God 1Pe_2:1-3

2.    Growing in God 1Pe_2:4-5

3.    Building on Christ 1Pe_2:6-8

4.    Summary affirmation of our identity 1Pe_2:9-10

III. The responsibilities of Christians individually 1Pe_2:11 to 1Pe_4:11

A. Our mission in the world 1Pe_2:11-12

B. Respect for others 1Pe_2:13 to 1Pe_3:12

1.    Respect for everyone 1Pe_2:13-17

2.    Slaves’ respect for their masters 1Pe_2:18-25

3.    Wives’ respect for their husbands 1Pe_3:1-6

4.    Husbands’ respect for their wives 1Pe_3:7

5.    The importance of loving enemies 1Pe_3:8-12

C. Eventual vindication 1Pe_3:13 to 1Pe_4:6

1.    Suffering for doing good 1Pe_3:13-17

2.    The vindication of Christ 1Pe_3:18-22

3.    Living with the promise in view 1Pe_4:1-6

D. The importance of mutual love in end-times living 1Pe_4:7-11

IV. The responsibilities of Christians collectively 1Pe_4:12 to 1Pe_5:11

A.    The fiery trial 1Pe_4:12-19

1.    Suffering and glory 1Pe_4:12-14

2.    Suffering as Christians 1Pe_4:15-19

B.    The church under trial 1Pe_5:1-11

1.    The responsibilities of the elders 1Pe_5:1-4

2.    The responsibilities of the others 1Pe_5:5

3.    The importance of humility and trust in God 1Pe_5:6-7

4.    The importance of resisting the devil 1Pe_5:8-11

V.    Conclusion 1Pe_5:12-14

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