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- 1 Peter
by William Barclay
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST LETTER OF PETER
The Catholic Or General Epistles
First Peter belongs to that group of New Testament letters which are known as the Catholic or General Epistles. Two explanations of that title have been offered.
(i) It is suggested that these letters were so called because they were addressed to the Church at large, in contradistinction to the Pauline letters which were addressed to individual churches. But that is not so. James is addressed to a definite, though widely scattered, community. It is written to the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad ( James 1:1). It needs no argument that Second and Third John are addressed to definite communities; and, although First John has no specific address, it is clearly written with the needs and perils of a particular community in mind. First Peter itself is written to the strangers scattered abroad through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia ( 1 Peter 1:1). It is true that these General Epistles have a wider range than the letters of Paul; at the same time, they all have a definite community in mind.
(ii) So we must turn to the second explanation--that these letters were called Catholic or General because they were accepted as Scripture by the whole Church in contradistinction to that large number of letters which enjoyed a local and temporary authority but never universally ranked as Scripture. At the time when these letters were being written there was an outbreak of letter-writing in the Church. We still possess many of the letters which were then written--the letter of Clement of Rome to Corinth, the letter of Barnabas, the letters of Ignatius and the letters of Polycarp. All were regarded as very precious in the Churches to which they were written but were never regarded as having authority throughout the Church; on the other hand the Catholic or General Epistles gradually won a place in Scripture and were accepted by the whole Church. Here is the true explanation of their title.
The Lovely Letter
Of all the General Epistles it is probably true that First Peter is the best known and loved, and the most read. No one has ever been in any doubt about its charm. Moffatt writes of it: "The beautiful spirit of the pastoral shines through any translation of the Greek text. 'Affectionate, loving, lowly, humble,' are lzaak Walton's quaternion of adjectives for the Epistles of James, John and Peter, but it is First Peter which deserves them preeminently." It is written out of the love of a pastor's heart to help people who were going through it and on whom worse things were still to come. "The key-note," says Moffatt, "is steady encouragement to endurance in conduct and innocence in character." It has been said that its distinctive characteristic is warmth. E. J. Goodspeed wrote: "First Peter is one of the most moving pieces of persecution literature." To this day it is one of the easiest letters in the New Testament to read, for it has never lost its winsome appeal to the human heart.
The Modern Doubt
Until a comparatively short time ago few would have raised any doubts about the authenticity of First Peter. Renan, who was by no means a conservative critic, wrote of it: "The First Epistle is one of the writings of the New Testament which are most anciently and most unanimously cited as genuine." But in recent times the Petrine authorship of the letter has been widely questioned. The commentary by F. W. Beare, published in 1947, goes the length of saying, "There can be no possible doubt that 'Peter' is a pseudonym." That is to say, Beare has no doubt that someone else wrote this letter under the name of Peter. We shall go on in fairness to investigate that view; but first we shall set out the traditional view--which we ourselves unhesitatingly accept--of the date and authorship of this letter. This is that First Peter was written from Rome by Peter himself, about the year A.D. 67, in the days immediately following the first persecution of the Christians by Nero, to the Christians in those parts of Asia Minor named in the address. What is the evidence for this early date and, therefore, for the Petrine authorship?
The Second Coming
When we go to the letter we find that expectation of the second coming of Christ is in the very forefront of its thought. Christians are being kept for the salvation which is to be revealed at the last time ( 1 Peter 1:5). Those who keep the faith will be saved from the coming judgment ( 1 Peter 1:7). Christians are to hope for the grace which will come at the revelation of Jesus Christ ( 1 Peter 1:13). The day of visitation is expected ( 1 Peter 2:12). The end of all things is at hand ( 1 Peter 4:7). Those who suffer with Christ will also rejoice with Christ when his glory is revealed ( 1 Peter 4:13). Judgment is to begin at the house of God ( 1 Peter 4:17). The writer himself is sure that he will be a sharer in the glory to come ( 1 Peter 5:1). When the Chief Shepherd shall appear the faithful Christian will receive a crown of glory ( 1 Peter 5:4).
From beginning to end of the letter the second coming is in the forefront of the writer's mind. It is the motive for steadfastness in the faith, for the loyal living of the Christian life and for gallant endurance amidst the sufferings which have come and will come upon them.
It would be untrue to say that the second coming ever dropped out of Christian belief, but it did recede from the forefront of Christian belief as the years passed on and Christ did not return. It is, for instance, significant that in Ephesians, one of Paul's latest letters, there is no mention of it. On this ground it is reasonable to suppose that First Peter is early and comes from the days when the Christians vividly expected the return of their Lord at any moment.
Simplicity Of Organization
It is clear that First Peter comes from a time when the organization of the Church is very simple. There is no mention of deacons; nor of the episkopos ( G1985) , the bishop, who begins to emerge in the Pastoral Epistles and becomes prominent in Ignatius' letters in the first half of the second century. The only Church officials mentioned are the elders. "I exhort the elders among you as a fellow-elder" ( 1 Peter 5:1). On this ground, also, it is reasonable to suppose that First Peter comes from an early date.
The Theology Of The Early Church
What is most significant of all is that the theology of First Peter is the theology of the very early church. E. G. Selwyn has made a detailed study of this; and he has proved beyond all question that the theological ideas of First Peter are exactly the same as those we meet in the recorded sermons of Peter in the early chapters of Acts.
The preaching of the early church was based on five main ideas. One of the greatest contributions of C. H. Dodd to New Testament scholarship was his formulation of these. They form the framework of all the sermons of the early church, as recorded in Acts; and they are the foundation of the thought of all the New Testament writers. The summary of these basic ideas has been given the name Kerugma ( G2782) , which means the announcement or the proclamation of a herald.
These are the fundamental ideas which the Church in its first days heralded forth. We shall take them one by one and shall set down after each, first, the references in the early chapters of Acts and, second, the references in First Peter; and we will make the significant discovery that the basic ideas of the sermons of the early church and the theology of First Peter are precisely the same. We are not claiming, of course, that the sermons in Acts are verbatim reports of what was actually preached, but we believe that they give correctly the substance of the message of the first preachers.
(i) The age of fulfilment has dawned; the Messianic age has begun. This is God's last word. A new order is being inaugurated and the elect are summoned to join the new community. Acts 2:14-16; Acts 3:12-26; Acts 4:8-12; Acts 10:34-43; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 1 Peter 4:7.
(ii) This new age has come through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of which are in direct fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament and are, therefore, the result of the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. Acts 2:20-31; Acts 3:13-14; Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:20-21.
(iii) By virtue of the resurrection Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God and is the Messianic head of the new Israel. Acts 2:22-26; Acts 3:13; Acts 4:11; Acts 5:30-31; Acts 10:39-42; 1 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 2:7; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:22.
(iv) These Messianic events will shortly reach their consummation in the return of Christ in glory and the judgment of the living and the dead. Acts 3:19-23; Acts 10:42; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:5; 1 Peter 4:13; 1Pet 17-18; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:4.
(v) These facts are made the grounds for an appeal for repentance, and the offer of forgiveness and of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of eternal life. Acts 2:38-39; Acts 3:19; Acts 5:31; Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:13-25; 1 Peter 2:1-3; 1 Peter 4:1-5.
These declarations are the five main planks in the edifice of early Christian preaching, as recorded for us in the sermons of Peter in the early chapters of Acts. They are also the dominant ideas in First Peter. The correspondence is so close and so consistent that we almost certainly with entire probability see the same hand and mind in both.
Quotations From The Fathers
We may add another point to our evidence that First Peter is early; very early the fathers and preachers of the Church begin to quote it. The first person to quote First Peter by name is Irenaeus, who lived from A.D. 130 until well into the next century. He twice quotes 1 Peter 1:8: "Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy." And he once quotes 1 Peter 2:16, with its command not to use liberty as a cloak for maliciousness. But even before this the fathers of the Church are quoting Peter without mentioning his name. Clement of Rome, writing about A.D. 95, speaks of "the precious blood of Christ," an unusual phrase which may well come from Peter's statement that we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ ( 1 Peter 1:19). Polycarp, who was martyred in A.D. 155, continuously quotes Peter without using his name. We may select three passages to show how closely he gives Peter's words.
Wherefore, girding up your loins, serve God in fear ... believing on him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave him glory (Polycarp, To the Philippians chapter 2: 1).
Therefore, gird up your minds...through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory ( 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 1:21).
Christ Jesus who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth (Polycarp 8: 1).
He committed no sin; no guile was found on his life... He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree ( 1 Peter 2:22; 1 Peter 2:24).
Having your conversation blameless among the Gentiles (Polycarp 10: 2).
Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles ( 1 Peter 2:12).
There can be no doubt that Polycarp is quoting Peter, although he does not name him. It takes some time for a book to acquire such an authority and familiarity that it can be quoted almost unconsciously, its language woven into the language of the Church. Once again we see that First Peter must be a very early book.
The Excellence Of The Greek
If, however, we are defending the Petrine authorship of this letter, there is one problem we must face--and that is the excellence of the Greek. It seems impossible that it should be the work of a Galilaean fisherman. New Testament scholars are at one in praising the Greek of this letter. F. W. Beare writes: "The epistle is quite obviously the work of a man of letters, skilled in all the devices of rhetoric, and able to draw on an extensive, and even learned, vocabulary. He is a stylist of no ordinary capacity, and he writes some of the best Greek in the whole New Testament, far smoother and more literary than that of the highly-trained Paul." Moffatt speaks of this letter's "plastic language and love of metaphor." Mayor says that First Peter has no equal in the New Testament for "sustained stateliness of rhythm." Bigg has likened certain of First Peter.s phrases to the writing of Thucydides. Selwyn has spoken of First Peter's "Euripidean tenderness" and of its ability to coin compound words as Aeschylus might have done. The Greek of First Peter is not entirely unworthy to be set beside that of the masters of the language. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine Peter using the Greek language like that.
The letter itself supplies the solution to this problem. In the concluding short section Peter himself says, "By Silvanus...I have written briefly" ( 1 Peter 5:12). By Silvanus--dia ( G1223) Silouanou ( G4610) --is an unusual phrase. The Greek means that Silvanus was Peter's agent in the writing of the letter; it means that he was more than merely Peter's stenographer.
Let us approach this from two angles. First, let us enquire what we know about Silvanus. (The evidence is set out more fully in our study section on 1 Peter 5:12). In all probability he is the same person as the Silvanus of Paul's letters and the Silas of Acts, Silas being a shortened and more familiar form of Silvanus. When we examine these passages, we find that Silas or Silvanus was no ordinary person but a leading figure in the life and counsels of the early church.
He was a prophet ( Acts 15:32); he was one of the "chief among the brethren" at the council of Jerusalem and one of the two chosen to deliver the decisions of the council to the Church at Antioch ( Acts 15:22; Acts 15:27). He was Paul's chosen companion in the second missionary journey, and was with Paul both in Philippi and in Corinth ( Acts 15:37-40; Acts 16:19; Acts 16:25; Acts 16:29; Acts 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19). He was associated with Paul in the initial greetings of 1 and 2 Thessalonians ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). He was a Roman citizen ( Acts 16:37).
Silvanus, then, was a notable man in the early church; he was not so much the assistant as the colleague of Paul; and, since he was a Roman citizen, there is at least a possibility that he was a man of an education and culture such as Peter could never have enjoyed.
Now let us add our second line of thought. In a missionary situation, when a missionary can speak a language well enough but cannot write it very well, it is quite common for him to do one of two things in order to send a message to his people. He either writes it out in as good a style as he can, and then gets a native speaker of the language to correct his mistakes and to polish his style; or, if he has a native colleague whom he can fully trust, he tells him what he wishes said, leaves him to put the message into written form and then vets the result.
We can well imagine that this was the part Silvanus played in the writing of First Peter. Either he corrected and polished Peter's necessarily inadequate Greek; or he wrote in his own words what Peter wanted said, with Peter setting the final product and adding the last personal paragraph to it.
The thought is that of Peter; but the style is that of Silvanus. And so, although the Greek is so excellent, there is no necessity to deny that the letter comes from Peter himself.
The Recipients Of The Letter
The recipients of the letter are the exiles (a Christian is always a sojourner on the earth) scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.
Almost all of these words had a double significance. They stood for ancient kingdoms and they stood for Roman provinces to which the ancient names had been given; and the ancient kingdoms and the new provinces did not always cover the same territory. Pontus was never a province. It had originally been the kingdom of Mithradates and part of it was incorporated in Bithynia and part of it in Galatia. Galatia had originally been the kingdom of the Gauls in the area of the three cities Ancyra, Pessinus, and Tavium, but the Romans had expanded it into a much larger unit of administration, including sections of Phrygia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, and Isauria. The kingdom of Cappadocia had become a Roman province in A.D. 17 in practically its original form. Asia was not the continent of Asia as we use the term. It had been an independent kingdom, whose last king, Attalus the Third, had bequeathed it as a gift to Rome in 133 B.C. It embraced the centre of Asia minor and was bounded on the north by Bithynia, on the south by Lycia, and on the east by Phrygia and Galatia. In popular language it was that part of Asia Minor which lay along the shores of the Aegean Sea.
We do not know why these particular districts were picked out; but this much is certain--they embraced a large area with a very large population; and the fact that they are all mentioned is one of the greatest proofs of the immense missionary activity of the early church, apart altogether from the missionary activities of Paul.
All these districts lie in the north-east corner of Asia Minor. Why they are named as a group and why they are named in this particular order, we do not know. But a glance at the map will show that, if the bearer of this letter--who may well have been Silvanus--sailed from Italy and landed at Sinope in north-east Asia Minor, a journey through these provinces would be a circular tour which would take him back to Sinope. From Sinope in Bithynia he would go south to Galatia, further south to Cappadocia, west to Asia, north again to Bithynia, and then east to arrive back in Sinope.
It is clear from the letter itself that its recipients were mainly Gentiles. There is no mention of any question of the law, a question which always arose when there was a Jewish background. Their previous condition had been one of fleshly passion ( 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 4:3-4) which fits gentiles far better than Jews. Previously they had been no people--Gentiles outside the covenant--but now they are the people of God ( 1 Peter 2:9-10).
The form of his name which Peter uses also shows that this letter was intended for Gentiles for Peter is a Greek name. Paul calls him Cephas ( 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:11; Galatians 2:14); among his fellow Jews, he was known as Simeon ( Acts 15:14), which is the name by which he is called in Second Peter ( 2 Peter 1:1). Since he uses his Greek name here, it is likely that he was writing to Greek people.
The Circumstances Behind The Letter
That this letter was written in a time when persecution threatened, is abundantly clear. They are in the midst of various trials ( 1 Peter 1:6). They are likely to be falsely accused as evil-doers ( 1 Peter 3:16). A fiery ordeal is going to try them ( 1 Peter 4:12). When they suffer, they are to commit themselves to God ( 1 Peter 4:19). They may well have to suffer for righteousness' sake ( 1 Peter 3:14). They are sharing in the afflictions which the Christian brotherhood throughout the world is called upon to endure ( 1 Peter 5:9). At the back of this letter there are fiery trial, a campaign of slander and suffering for the sake of Christ. Can we identify this situation?
There was a time when the Christians had little to fear from the Roman government. In Acts it is repeatedly the Roman magistrates and the Roman soldiers and officials who save Paul from the fury of Jews and pagans alike. As Gibbon had it, the tribunal of the pagan magistrate proved the most assured refuge against the fury of the synagogue. The reason was that in the early days the Roman government was not able to distinguish between Jews and Christians. Within the empire Judaism was what was called a religio licita, a permitted religion, and Jews had full liberty to worship in their own way. It was not that the Jews did not try to enlighten the Romans to the true facts of the situation; they did so in Corinth, for example ( Acts 18:12-17). But for some time the Romans simply regarded the Christians as a Jewish sect and, therefore, did not molest them.
The change came in the days of Nero and we can trace almost every detail of the story. On 19th July, A.D. 64, the great fire of Rome broke out. Rome, a city of narrow streets and high wooden tenements, was in real danger of being wiped out. The fire burned for three days and three nights, was checked, and then broke out again with redoubled violence. The Roman populace had no doubt who was responsible and put the blame on the Emperor. Nero had a passion for building; and they believed so that he had deliberately taken steps to obliterate Rome that he might build it again. Nero's responsibility must remain for ever in doubt; but it is certain that he watched the raging inferno from the tower of Maecenas and expressed himself as charmed with the flower and loveliness of the flames. It was freely said that those who tried to extinguish the fire were deliberately hindered and that men were seen to rekindle it again, when it was likely to subside. The people were overwhelmed. The ancient landmarks and the ancestral shrines had vanished; the Temple of Luna, the Ara Maxima, the great altar, the Temple of Jupiter Stator, the shrine of Vesta, their very household gods were gone. They were homeless and, in Farrar's phrase, there was "a hopeless brotherhood of wretchedness."
The resentment of the people was bitter. Nero had to divert suspicion from himself; a scapegoat had to be found. The Christians were made the scapegoat. Tacitus, the Roman historian, tells the story (Annals 15.44):
Neither human assistance in the shape of imperial gifts, nor
attempts to appease the gods, could remove the sinister report
that the fire was due to Nero's own orders. And, so, in the hope
of dissipating the rumour, he falsely diverted the charge on to a
set of people to whom the vulgar gave the name of Chrestians, and
who were detested for the abominations they perpetrated. The
founder of the sect, one Christus by name, had been executed
by Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius; and the dangerous
superstition, though put down for the moment, broke out again, not
only in Judaea, the original home of the pest, but even in Rome,
where everything shameful and horrible collects and is practised.
Clearly Tacitus had no doubt that the Christians were not to blame for the fire and that Nero was simply choosing them to be the scapegoats for his own crime.
Why did Nero pick on the Christians and how was it possible even to suggest that they were responsible for the fire of Rome? There are two possible answers.
(i) The Christians were already the victims of certain slanders.
(a) They were in the popular mind connected with the Jews. Antisemitism is no new thing and it was easy for the Roman mob to attach any crime to the Jews and, therefore, to the Christians.
(b) The Lord's Supper was secret, at least in a sense. It was open only to the members of the Church. And certain phrases connected with it were fruitful sources of pagan slanders, phrases about eating someone's body and drinking someone's blood. That was enough to produce a rumour that the Christians were cannibals. In time the rumour grew until it became a story that the Christians killed and ate a Gentile, or a newly born child. At the Lord's Table the Christians gave each other the kiss of peace ( 1 Peter 5:14). Their meeting was called the Agape ( G26) , the Love Feast. That was enough for stories to spread that the Christian meetings were orgies of vice.
(c) It was always a charge against the Christians that they "tampered with family relationships." There was this much truth in such a charge that Christianity did indeed become a sword to split families, when some members of a family became Christian and some did not. A religion which split homes was bound to be unpopular.
(d) It was the case that the Christians spoke of a coming day when the world would dissolve in flames. Many a Christian preacher must have been heard preaching of the second coming and the fiery dissolution of all things ( Acts 2:19-20). It would not be difficult to put the blame for the fire on to people who spoke like that.
There was abundant material which could be perverted into false charges against the Christians by anyone maliciously disposed to victimise them.
(ii) The Jewish faith had always appealed especially to women because of its moral standards in a world where chastity did not exist. There were, therefore, many well-born women who had embraced the Jewish faith. The Jews did not hesitate to work upon these women to influence their husbands against the Christians. We get a definite example of that in what happened to Paul and his company in Antioch of Pisidia. There it was through such women that the Jews stirred up action against Paul ( Acts 13:50). Two of Nero's court favourites were Jewish proselytes. There was Aliturus, his favourite actor; and there was Poppaea, his mistress. It is very likely that the Jews through them influenced Nero to take action against the Christians.
In any event, the blame for the fire was attached to the Christians and a savage outbreak of persecution occurred. Nor was it simply persecution by legal means. What Tacitus called an ingens multitudo, a huge multitude, of Christians perished in the most sadistic ways. Nero rolled the Christians in pitch, set light to them and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He sewed them up in the skins of wild animals and set his hunting-dogs upon them, to tear them limb from limb while they still lived.
Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the
skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were
nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burned, to
serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero
offered his gardens for the spectacle and was exhibiting a show
in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a
charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who
deserve extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of
compassion; for, it was not, as it seemed, for the public good,
but to glut one man's cruelty that they were being destroyed
(Tacitus, Annals 15: 44).
The same terrible story is told by the later Christian historian, Sulipicius Severus, in his Chronicle:
In the meantime, the number of Christians being now very large,
it happened that Rome was destroyed by fire, while Nero was
stationed at Antium. But the opinion of all cast the odium of
causing the fire upon the emperor, and he was believed in this way
to have sought for the glory of building a new city. And, in fact,
Nero could not, by any means he tried, escape from the charge that
the fire had been caused by his orders. He, therefore, turned the
accusation against the Christians and the most cruel tortures were
accordingly inflicted upon the innocent. Nay, even new kinds of
death were invented so that, being covered in the skins of wild
beasts, they perished by being devoured by dogs, while many were
crucified, or slain by fire, and not a few were set apart for this
purpose, that, when the day came to a close, they should be
consumed to serve for light during the night. In this way, cruelty
first began to be manifested against the Christians. Afterwards,
too, their religion was prohibited by laws which were enacted; and
by edicts openly set forth it was proclaimed unlawful to be a
It is true that this persecution was confined originally to Rome; but the gateway to persecution had been opened and in every place they were ready victims for the mob.
After the Neronic wave had passed over the capital, the wash of it
was felt on the far shores of the provinces; the dramatic publicity
of the punishment must have spread the name of Christian urbi et
orbi, far and wide, over the entire empire; the provincials would
soon hear of it, and when they desired a similar outburst at the
expense of the loyal Christians, all that they needed was a
proconsul to gratify their wishes and some outstanding disciple to
serve as a victim.
For ever after the Christians were to live under threat. The mobs of the Roman cities knew what had happened in Rome and there were always these slanderous stories against the Christians. There were times when the mob loved blood and there were many governors ready to pander to their blood-lust. It was not Roman law but lynch law which threatened the Christians.
From now on the Christian was in peril of his life. For years nothing might happen; then some spark might set off the explosion; and the terror would break out. That is the situation at the back of First Peter; and it is in face of it that Peter calls his people to hope and to courage and to that lovely Christian living which alone can give the lie to the slanders with which they are attacked and which are the grounds for taking measures against them. First Peter was written to meet no theological heresy; it was written to strengthen men and women in jeopardy of their lives.
We have set out in full the arguments which go to prove that Peter is really the author of the first letter which bears his name. But, as we have said, not a few first-class scholars have felt that it cannot have been his work. We ourselves accept the view that Peter is the author of the letter; but in fairness we set out the other side, largely as it is presented in the chapter on First Peter in The Primitive Church by B. H. Streeter
Bigg writes in his introduction: "There is no book in the New Testament which has earlier, better, or stronger attestation (than First Peter). It is true that Eusebius, the great fourth century scholar and historian of the Church, classes First Peter among the books universally accepted in the early church as part of scripture" (Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History 3.25.2). But certain things are to be noted.
(a) Eusebius adduces certain quotations from earlier writers to prove his contention that First Peter was universally accepted. This he never does in connection with the gospels or the letters of Paul; and the very fact that he feels called upon to produce his evidence in the case of First Peter might be held to indicate that in it he felt some necessity to prove his point, a necessity which did not exist in connection with the other books. Was there a doubt in Eusebius' own mind? Or, were there people who had to be convinced? Was the universal acceptance of First Peter not so unanimous after all?
(b) In his book, The Canon of the New Testament, Westcott noted that, although no one in the early church questions the right of First Peter to be part of the New Testament, surprisingly few of the early fathers quote it and, still more surprising, very few of the early fathers in the west and in Rome quote it. Tertullian is an immense quoter of scripture. In his writings there are 7,258 quotations from the New Testament, but only 2 of them are from First Peter. If Peter wrote this letter and wrote it in Rome, we would expect it to be well known and largely used in the Church of the west.
(c) The earliest known official list of New Testament books is the Muratorian Canon, so called after Cardinal Muratori who discovered it. It is the official list of New Testament books as accepted in the Church at Rome about the year A.D. 170. It is an extraordinary fact that First Peter does not appear at all. It can be fairly argued that the Muratorian Canon, as we possess it, is defective and that it may originally have contained a reference to First Peter. But that argument is seriously weakened by the next consideration.
(d) It is a fact that First Peter was still not in the New Testament of the Syrian Church as late as A.D. 373. It did not get in until the Syriac version of the New Testament known as the Peshitto was made about A.D. 400. We know that it was Tatian who brought the New Testament books to the Syriac-speaking Church; and he brought them to Syria from Rome when he went to Edessa and founded the Church there in A.D. 172. It could, therefore, be argued that the Muratorian Canon is correct as we possess it and that First Peter was not part of the Roman Church's New Testament as late as A.D. 170. This would be a very surprising fact if Peter wrote it--and actually wrote it at Rome.
When all these facts are put together, it does seem that there are some strange silences in regard to First Peter and that its attestation may not be as strong as is usually assumed.
First Peter And Ephesians
Further, there is definitely some connection between First Peter and Ephesians. There are many close parallels of thought and expression between the two and we select the following specimens of this similarity.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his
great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the
resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead ( 1 Peter 1:3).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who
has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the
heavenly places ( Ephesians 1:3).
Therefore, gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon
the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ
( 1 Peter 1:13).
Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth ( Ephesians 6:14).
Jesus Christ, was destined before the foundation of the world, but
was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake
( 1 Peter 1:20).
Even as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world
( Ephesians 1:4).
Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven, and is at the right hand
of God, with angels and authorities and powers subject to him
( 1 Peter 3:22).
God made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far
above all rule and authority, and power and dominion ( Ephesians 1:20-21).
In addition, the injunctions to slaves, husbands and wives in First Peter and Ephesians are very similar.
The argument is put forward that First Peter is quoting Ephesians. Although Ephesians must have been written somewhere about A.D. 64, Paul's letters were not collected and edited until about A.D. 90. If, then, Peter was also writing in A.D. 64, how could he know Ephesians?
This is an argument to which there is more than one reply. (a) The injunctions to slaves, husbands and wives are part of the standardized ethical teaching given to all converts in all churches. Peter was not borrowing from Paul; both were using common stock. (b) All the similarities quoted can well be explained from the fact that certain phrases and lines of thought were universal in the early church. For instance, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," was part of the universal devotional language of the early church, which both Peter and Paul would know and use without any borrowing from each other. (c) Even if there was mutual borrowing, it is by no means certain that First Peter borrowed from Ephesians; the borrowing might well have been the other way round and probably was, for First Peter is much simpler than Ephesians. (d) Lastly, even if First Peter borrowed from Ephesians, if Peter and Paul were in Rome at the same time, it is perfectly possible that Peter could have seen a copy of Ephesians before it was sent to Asia Minor, and he might well have discussed its ideas with Paul.
The argument that First Peter must be late because it quotes from Ephesians seems to us very uncertain and insecure, and probably mistaken.
It is objected that Peter could not well have written the sentence: "The elders among you I exhort, as a fellow-elder" ( 1 Peter 5:1). It is maintained that Peter could not have called himself an elder. He was an apostle whose function was quite different from that of an elder. The apostle was characteristically a man whose work and authority were not confined to any one congregation, but whose writ ran throughout the Church at large; whereas the elder was the governing official of the local congregation.
That is perfectly true. But it must be remembered that amongst the Jews there was no office more universally honoured than that of elder. The elder had the respect of the whole community and to him the community looked for guidance in its problems and justice in its disputes. Peter, as a Jew, would feel nothing out of place in calling himself an elder; and in so doing he would avoid the conscious claim of authority that the title of apostle might have implied, and graciously and courteously identify himself with the people to whom he spoke.
A Witness Of The Sufferings Of Christ
It is objected that Peter could not honestly have called himself a witness of Christ's sufferings, for after the arrest in the garden all the disciples forsook Jesus and fled ( Matthew 26:56) and, apart from the beloved disciple, none was a witness of the Cross ( John 19:26-27). A witness of the resurrection Peter could call himself, and indeed to be such was the function of an apostle ( Acts 1:22), but a witness of the Cross he was not. In a sense that is undeniable. And yet Peter is not here claiming to be a witness of the crucifixion, but to be a witness of the sufferings of Christ. He did see Christ suffer, in his continual rejection by men, in the poignant moments of the Last Supper, in the agony in the garden and in that moment when, after he had denied him, Jesus turned and looked on him ( Luke 22:61). It is an insensitive and pedestrian criticism which denies to Peter the right to say that he had been a witness of the sufferings of Christ.
Persecution For The Name
The main argument for a late date for First Peter is drawn from its references to persecution. It is argued that First Peter implies that it was already a crime to be a Christian and that Christians were brought before the courts, not for any crime but for the bare fact of their faith. First Peter speaks about being reproached for the name of Christ ( 1 Peter 4:14); it speaks of suffering as a Christian ( 1 Peter 4:16). It is argued that this stage of persecution was not reached until after A.D. 100, and that prior to that date their persecution was on the score of alleged evil-doing, as in the time of Nero.
There is no doubt that this was the law by A.D. 112. At that time Pliny was governor of Bithynia. He was a personal friend of the Emperor Trajan and he had a way of referring all his difficulties to Trajan for solution. He wrote to the Emperor to tell how he dealt with the Christians. Pliny was well aware that they were law-abiding citizens to whose practices no crimes were attached. They told him that "they had been accustomed to assemble on a fixed day before daylight, and sing by turns a hymn to Christ as God; that they had bound themselves with an oath, not for any crime, but to commit neither theft, nor robbery, nor adultery, nor to break their word, and not to deny a deposit when demanded." Pliny accepted all this; but, when they were brought before him, he asked only one question. "I have asked them whether they were Christians. Those who confessed I asked a second and a third time, threatening punishment. Those who persisted I ordered to be led away to execution." Their sole crime was that of being a Christian.
Trajan replied that this was the correct proceeding and that anyone who denied being a Christian and proved it by sacrificing to the gods was immediately to be set free. From the letters it is clear that there was a good deal of information being laid against the Christians; and Trajan laid it down that no anonymous letters of information were to be accepted or acted upon (Pliny: Letters 96 and 97).
It is argued that this stage of persecution did not emerge until the time of Trajan; and that First Peter, therefore, implies a situation which must be as late as Trojan's time.
The only way in which we can settle this is to sketch the progress of persecution and the reason for it in the Roman Empire. We may do so by setting out one basic fact and three developments from it.
(i) Under the Roman system, religions were divided into two kinds. There were those which were religiones licitae, permitted religions; these were recognized by the state and it was open to any man to practise them. There were religiones illicitae; these were forbidden by the state and it was illegal for any man to practise them on pain of automatic prosecution as a criminal. It is to be noted that Roman toleration was very wide; and that any religion which did not affect public morality and civil order was certain to be permitted.
(ii) Judaism was a religio licita; and in the very early days the Romans, not unnaturally, did not know the difference between Judaism and Christianity. Christianity, as far as they were concerned, was merely a sect of Judaism and any tension and hostility between the two was a private quarrel which was no concern of the Roman government. Because of that in the very early days Christianity was under no danger of persecution. It enjoyed the same freedom of worship as Judaism enjoyed because it was assumed to be a religio licita.
(iii) The action of Nero changed the situation. However it came about, and most likely it was by the deliberate action of the Jews, the Roman government discovered that Judaism and Christianity were different. It is true that Nero first persecuted the Christians, not for being Christians, but for burning Rome. But the fact remains that Christianity had been discovered by the government to be a separate religion.
(iv) The consequence was immediate and inevitable. Christianity was at once a prohibited religion and immediately, ipso facto, every Christian became an outlaw. In the Roman historian, Suetonius, we have direct evidence that this was precisely what happened. He gives a kind of list of the legislative reforms initiated by Nero:
During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put
down, and not a few new laws were made; a limit was set to
expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution
of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was
forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas,
before, every kind of dainty was exposed for sale. Punishment was
inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and
mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the
chariot-drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the
right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating
and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their
partisans were banished from the city.
We have quoted that passage in full because it is proof that by the time of Nero the punishment of Christians had become an ordinary police affair. It is abundantly clear that we do not need to wait until the time of Trajan for the mere fact of being a Christian to be a crime. Any time after Nero a Christian was liable to punishment and death simply for the name he bore,
This does not mean that persecution was constant and consistent; but it does mean that any Christian was liable to execution at any time, purely as a police matter. In one area a Christian might live a whole lifetime at peace; in another there might be outbreaks of persecution every few months. It depended very largely on two things. It depended on the governor himself who might either leave the Christians unmolested or equally set the processes of the law in action against them. It depended on informers. The governor might not wish to act against the Christians, but if information was laid against a Christian he had to; and there were times when the mob were out for blood, information was laid and Christians were butchered to make a Roman holiday.
To compare small things with great, the legal position of the Christians and the attitude of the Roman law can be parallelled in Britain today. There are certain actions which are illegal--to take a very small example, parking a car partly on the pavement--but which for long enough may be permitted. But if the police authorities decide to institute a drive against such an action, or if it develops into too blatant a breaking of the law, or if someone lays a complaint and information, the law will go into action and due penalty and punishment will be exacted. That was the position of the Christians in the empire all of whom were technically outlaws. In actual fact no action might be taken against them; but a kind of sword of Damocles was for ever suspended over them. None knew when information would be laid against him; none knew when a governor would take action; none knew when he might have to die. And that situation obtained consistently after the action of Nero. Up to that time the Roman authorities had not realized that Christianity was a new religion; but from then on the Christian was automatically an outlaw.
Let us, then, look at the situation as depicted in First Peter. Peter's people are undergoing various trials ( 1 Peter 1:6). Their faith is liable to be tried as metal is tested with fire ( 1 Peter 1:7). Clearly they are undergoing a campaign of slander in which ignorant and baseless charges are being maliciously directed against them ( 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 4:4). At this very moment they are in the midst of an outbreak of persecution because they are Christians ( 1 Peter 4:12; 1 Peter 4:14; 1 Peter 4:16; 1 Peter 5:9). Such suffering is only to be expected and they must not be surprised at it ( 1 Peter 4:12). In any event it gives them the happiness of suffering for righteousness' sake ( 1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 3:17), and of being sharers in the sufferings of Christ ( 1 Peter 4:13). There is no need to come down to the time of Trajan for this situation. It is one in which Christians daily found themselves in every part of the empire at any time after their true status had been disclosed by the action of Nero. The persecution situation in First Peter does not in any way compel us to date it after the lifetime of Peter.
Honour The King
But we must proceed with the arguments of those who cannot hold the Petrine authorship. It is argued that in the situation which obtained in the time of Nero, Peter could never have written: "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.... Fear God. Honour the emperor." ( 1 Peter 2:13-17). The fact is, however, that this is precisely the point of view expressed in Romans 13:1-7. The whole teaching of the New Testament, except only in the Revelation in which Rome is damned, is that the Christian must be a loyal citizen and must demonstrate the falsity of the charges made against him by the excellence of his behaviour as such. ( 1 Peter 2:15). Even in times of persecution the Christian fully acknowledged his obligation to be a good citizen; and his only defence against persecution was to show by the excellence of his citizenship that he did not deserve such treatment. It is by no means impossible that Peter should have written like that.
A Sermon And A Pastoral
What is the view of those who cannot believe that First Peter is the work of Peter himself?
First of all, it is suggested that the initial address ( 1 Peter 1:1-2), and the closing greetings and salutations ( 1 Peter 5:12-14) are later additions and no part of the original letter.
It is then suggested that First Peter as it stands is composed of two separate and quite different works. In 1 Peter 4:11 we find a doxology. The natural place for a doxology is at the end; and it is suggested that 1 Peter 1:3-25; 1 Peter 2:1-25; 1 Peter 3:1-22; 1 Peter 4:1-11 is the first of the two works of which the letter is composed. It is further suggested that this part of First Peter was originally a baptismal sermon. There is indeed in it a reference to the baptism which saves us ( 1 Peter 3:21); and the advice to slaves, wives and husbands ( 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:1-7) would be entirely relevant to those who were entering the Christian Church from paganism and setting out on the newness of the Christian life.
It is suggested that the second part of the letter, 1 Peter 4:12-19; 1 Peter 5:1-11, contains the substance of a pastoral letter, written to strengthen and comfort during a time of persecution ( 1 Peter 4:12-19). At such a time the elders were very important; on them the resistance power of the Church depended. The writer of this pastoral fears that greed and arrogance are creeping in ( 1 Peter 5:1-3), and he urges them faithfully to perform their high task ( 1 Peter 5:4).
On this view First Peter is composed of two separate works--a baptismal sermon, and a pastoral letter written in time of persecution and neither has anything to do with Peter.
Asia Minor, Not Rome
If First Peter is a baptismal sermon and a pastoral letter in time of persecution, where is its place of origin? If the letter is not Peter's, there is no necessity to connect it with Rome; and, in any event, it appears that the Roman Church did not know or use First Peter. Let us put together certain facts.
(a) Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia ( 1 Peter 1:1) are all in Asia Minor and all centred in Sinope.
(b) The first extensive quoter of First Peter is Polycarp bishop of Smyrna, and Smyrna is in Asia Minor.
(c) Certain phrases in First Peter immediately turn our thoughts to parallel phrases in other parts of the New Testament. In 1 Peter 5:13 the Church is called "she that is elect," and in 2 John 1:13 the Church is also described as an "elect sister." 1 Peter 1:8 speaks of Jesus Christ, "without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy." This turns our thoughts very naturally to Jesus' saying to Thomas in the Fourth Gospel: "Blessed are those who have not seen, and believe" ( John 20:29). First Peter urges the elders to tend, that is, to shepherd, the flock of God ( 1 Peter 5:2). That turns our thoughts to Jesus' injunction to Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep ( John 21:15-17), and to Paul's farewell injunction to the elders of Ephesus to take heed to the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them guardians ( Acts 20:28). All this is to say that the memories First Peter awakens are of the Fourth Gospel, the Letters of John and of Paul at Ephesus. The Fourth Gospel and the Letters of John were most probably written at Ephesus, and Ephesus is in Asia Minor.
It seems that in the case of First Peter all roads lead to Asia Minor.
The Occasion Of The Publication Of First Peter
Assuming that First Peter has its origin in Asia Minor, can we suggest an occasion for its writing? It was written at a time of persecution. We know from Pliny's letters that in Bithynia about A.D. 112 there was a serious persecution of the Christians and Bithynia is one of the provinces named in the address. We may well conjecture that it was to give courage to the Christians then that First Peter was issued. It may be that at that time someone in a church in Asia Minor came upon these two documents and sent them out under the name of Peter. This would not be looked upon as forgery. Both in Jewish and in Greek practice it was the regular custom to attach books to the name of the great writers of the past.
The Author Of First Peter
If Peter did not write First Peter, is it possible to guess at the author? Let us reconstruct some of his essential qualifications. On our previous assumption, he must come from Asia Minor. On the basis of First Peter itself, he must be an elder and an eye-witness of the sufferings of Christ ( 1 Peter 5:1). Is there anyone who fits these requirements? Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis about A.D. 170, who spent his life collecting all the information he could about the early days of the Church, tells of his methods and his sources: "Nor shall I hesitate, along with my own interpretations, to set down for thee whatsoever I learned with care and remembered with care from the elders, guaranteeing its truth.... Furthermore, if anyone chanced to arrive who had been really a follower of the elders, I would enquire as to the sayings of the elders--as to what Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples, also as to what Aristion or the Presbyter John, the Lord's disciples say. For I supposed that things out of books would not be of such use to me as the utterances of a living voice which was still with us." Here we have an elder called Aristion who was a disciple of the Lord and, therefore, a witness of his sufferings. Is there anything to connect him with First Peter?
Aristion Of Smyrna
When we turn to the Apostolic Constitutions we find that one of the first bishops of Smyrna was called Ariston--which is the same name as Aristion. Now who is the great quoter of First Peter? None other than Polycarp, a later Bishop of Smyrna. What more natural than that Polycarp should quote what might well have been the devotional classic of his own Church?
Let us turn to the letters to the Seven Churches in the Revelation and read the letter to Smyrna: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" ( Revelation 2:10). Can this be the very same persecution as that which originally lay behind First Peter? And was it for this persecution that Aristion, the Bishop of Smyrna, first wrote the pastoral letter which was afterwards to become a part of First Peter?
Such is the suggestion of B. H. Streeter. He thinks that First Peter is composed of a baptismal sermon and a pastoral letter written by Aristion, Bishop of Smyrna. Originally the pastoral letter was written to comfort and strengthen the people of Smyrna in A.D. 90 when the persecution mentioned in the Revelation threatened the Church. These writings of Aristion became the devotional classics and the cherished possessions of the Church at Smyrna. Rather more than twenty years later a much wider and more far-reaching persecution broke out in Bithynia and spread throughout northern Asia Minor. Someone remembered the letter and the sermon of Aristion, felt that they were the very thing the Church needed in her time of trial, and sent them out under the name of Peter, the great apostle.
An Apostle's Letter
We have stated in full both views of the origin, date and authorship of First Peter. There is no doubt of the ingenuity of the theory which B. H. Streeter has produced nor that those who favour a later date have produced arguments which have to be considered. For our own part, however, we see no reason to doubt that the letter is the work of Peter himself, and that it was written not long after the great fire of Rome and the first persecution of the Christians with the object of encouraging the Christians of Asia Minor to stand fast when the onrushing tide of persecution sought to engulf them and take their faith away.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)