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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

- 1 Peter

by William Robertson Nicoll





IN the case of this document a question preliminary to the ordinary heads of Introduction arises; the question of the Unity of the Epistle . For it contains two formal and solemn conclusions. The first [1] is “ That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to Whom belongs the glory and the victory to the ages of the ages. Amen ;” and the second, [2] “ Now the God of all grace, he who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, himself shall refit you after brief suffering, shall confirm you, shall strengthen you, shall establish you. His is the victory to the ages of the ages. Amen .” The latter conclusion is followed by a postscript which ends with yet another formula of conclusion [3] “ Peace to you all who are in Christ ”.

[1] 1 Peter 4:11 .

[2] 1 Peter 5:10 f.

[3] 1 Peter 5:14 .

The address [4] at the head of the document stamps it as a circular letter or an encyclical epistle. The three conclusions divide it into three parts. Of these the last and shortest part may fairly be taken as a true postscript. The writer (we may suppose) takes the pen from the secretary, to whom he has been dictating, and appends a greeting in his own handwriting. St. Paul did the same thing in the Epistle to the Galatians. [5] In such a case the value of the postscript would be greater than in the case of a circular letter addressed to widely separated churches in different provinces or countries. The Galatian letter would naturally be preserved in the chest of the chief church of the province; and St. Paul’s autograph would be prized as proof of the authenticity of the exemplar, copies of which were doubtless made and supplied as need and demand arose. But in this case also the autograph has a value of its own, inasmuch as it gives the credentials of the bearer, who presumably went from place to place and read it out to the assembled Christians, letting them see the postscript before he travelled on. So the third part of the letter may well be an integral portion of this encyclical.

[4] 1 Peter 1:1 .

[5] Galatians 6:11-17 .

But this postscript is preceded not by one conclusion but by two; and in this the document bears witness against its own unity. And further it is to be noted that the first conclusion is followed by a general form of address “ Beloved ” which has occurred at an earlier point. [6] In fact, apart from the formal superscription X to Y greeting the second part [7] of the Epistle is a complete epistle in itself. And it is natural enough that a circular letter, addressed to different communities, should contain alternative or additional letters, if the writer was aware that the conditions or circumstances were not identical in every case. The formal severance of the second part may, therefore, be taken as indicating that all the communities addressed were not necessarily in the condition, which that part implies.

[6] 1 Peter 2:11 .

[7] 1 Peter 4:12 to 1 Peter 5:11 .

1. The Recipients . Eusebius of Cæsarea, whose Ecclesiastical History belongs to the beginning of the fourth century, is the earliest (extant) writer, who inquired systematically into the origins of the Christian literature. For him there is no question about the nationality of the first recipients of this document: they are Hebrews or Jewish Christians. He insists that the compact made between St. Peter and St. Paul at Jerusalem [8] was faithfully observed, as their respective writings and the evidence of St. Luke agree to testify: “That Paul, on the one hand, preached to those of Gentile origin and so laid the foundations of the churches from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum is plain from his own statements and from the narratives, which Luke gives in the Acts. And, on the other hand, from the phrases of Peter it is clear in what provinces he for his part preached the Gospel of Christ to those of the Circumcision and delivered to them the message of the New Covenant I mean, from his acknowledged epistle in which he writes to those of Hebrew origin in the dispersion of Pontus and Galatia, Cappadocia and Asia and Bithynia. [9]

[8] Galatians 2:7-9 .

[9] Eus. H. E. iii. 4.

Just before this [10] plain statement Eusebius quotes verbally from Origen’s exegetical commentary upon Genesis: “Peter seems to have preached in Pontus and Galatia and Bithynia, in Cappadocia and Asia to the Jews in dispersion ”. Origen’s assertion rests presumably on the authority of the address of our document, although the order of the provinces differs in respect of Bithynia from the generally accepted text. When Eusebius speaks for himself he restores the conventional order of the provinces and explicitly quotes the authority of “the acknowledged Epistle”. It does not seem at all probable that either Eusebius or Origen had any other evidence for their belief than such as is preserved for modern investigation. Both knew of the compact, in virtue of which Peter was to continue his work among the Jews: both construed the direction of the Epistle as proof that the writer had preached the Gospel to his readers: therefore in virtue of the compact his readers were Jews Jews of the Dispersion, but still Jews.

[10] Eus. H. E. iii. 1.

The evidence upon which both Eusebius and Origen seem to rely is extant; the deduction drawn characteristic as it is of patristic exegesis is not necessarily valid, and it is not supported by any pretence of independent tradition.

The compact to which James and Cephas and John, on the one side, and Paul and Barnabas, on the other, were consenting parties, cannot be held to prove these Christians to be Jewish Christians even if it could be made out that St. Peter “the Apostle of the Cir cumcision,” who writes to them, converted them to Christianity.

The appellation of the Dispersion is on the face of it a weightier argument, because Dispersion is a technical term and comprises in itself all the Jews who lived outside Palestine. Whatever its provenance , the term is Jewish through and through, for it insists upon the First Cause of all such scattering and upon the central shrine from which the exiles are removed. The mere Greek spoke and thought of exiles as fugitives and had a collective term φυγή to correspond with the Jewish διασπορά . But the Jewish word recognises that those dispersed are placed here and there as exiles, traders and what not? by God. Jewish as it is, this appellation is capable of extension to the new Israel and does not necessarily imply that the persons addressed were born Jews. Ultimately and fundamentally it does not denote privilege like the term Israel but rather penalty removal from the place which was traditionally associated with the visible presence of Jehovah. The writer may, perhaps, be taken to use it without a precise definition of a centre corresponding to the Holy Land of the Jew; but there is no valid ground for doubting that he could apply it to Gentiles, who were in the world and not of it by virtue of their faith in Christ. Situated as they were among unfriendly friends these Gentile churches are collectively the new Dispersion.

These Gentile Churches for there is more than one passage in our document which seems to settle the point, apart from general probabilities to be derived from the traditions of St. Paul’s missionary activity. In the first place, St. Peter [11] applies to his readers the words of Hosea [12] ; ye who were once no People but now are God’s People, who were not in a state of experiencing His mercy, but now have come under its influence.” At a definite time God had shown mercy to these Christians, who before according to the strict Jewish point of view had been outside the pale of His mercy. And, if we may argue from silence as from the tenses employed, they were formerly not a people at all , to say nothing of their being no people of God. In fact they were just tribes and Gentiles not a λαός but just ἔθνη . It is true that Hosea was speaking of the children of Israel, who had apostatized, and of the final restoration, when all the dispersed should be gathered together. It is true, again, that St. Paul [13] uses the prophecy conformably with the apparent intention of the prophet; but he cites it more fully than St. Peter in connexion with the calling of the Gentiles. [14] The Christian Church is God’s, Israel the heir of His promises; and who knows? the writer may have added the title of the Dispersion partly because it is written in the book of Hosea, [15] “and I will sow her unto myself upon the earth, and I will love her who was not beloved, and I will say to Not-my-people, Thou art my people and he shall say, Thou art the Lord my God”. It is a great prophecy and a Jewish Christian would be slow to forget its first intention. No line of argument can exclude the possibility that some of the Christians, to whom his letter is addressed, were born Jews. And if he thought less of them and most of the aliens, who, perhaps, outnumbered them, at anyrate his own mind was Jewish and he spoke to his Jewish self, before he wrote or dictated his letter. It must have been a strange experience for a Jew to preach a Messiah, whom his Nation had rejected, to a motley collection of Gentile believers and to use such prophecies as this.

[11] 1 Peter 2:10 .

[12] See Hosea 2:23 .

[13] Romans 11:28-32

[14] Romans 9:24-26 .

[15] Hosea 2:23 (LXX).

But whatever emotions the words stirred up within his heart they remained there. The thought of his countrymen does not shake him visibly as it shook St. Paul; [16] and from this self-repression one might conclude that the Jewish element in these churches was insignificant, or that the decree which severed him and them from the unbelieving Jews was already made absolute.

[16] Romans 9:1 ff.

The probable significance of this use of Hosea’s phrase is supported by the words, “ For ye were once wanderers like sheep but now ye have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls ”. [17] It is, of course, possible to exaggerate the force of ἐπεστράφητε , ye have returned , as if it implied a previous association with God. But the word means no more than obedience to the invitation Repent , which Christian missionaries addressed to all the world; in the Septuagint it is used of Jewish apostasy without implying previous apostasy, and here it is fitly applied to the adherence of Gentiles, who previously had no faith in God. In fact its proper force is represented by turn rather than return .

[17] 1 Peter 2:25 .

Another capital passage would seem to be sufficient in itself to show that the writer regarded the churches to whom he speaks, as composed of Gentile Christians: “ Sufficient is the time that is past for the accomplishment of the ideal of the Gentiles, when you walked in … unlawful idolatry ”. [18] If they were Jews by birth, who are so reproached for their pre-Christian life, it is clear that they must have been renegades, who had forfeited their title to be reckoned as Jews. For so great an apostasy there is no evidence whatever. That individuals in the Dispersion did succumb to the attractions of the life outside the ghetto is probable enough. Philo, for example, warns his fellow countrymen against the seductions of pagan mysteries; and his own nephew gave up his faith in order to become a soldier of fortune. But the interpretation, which makes Jews of the readers, involves an impossible assumption of wholesale perversion. The persons in question are, surely, Gentiles; before their conversion they lived as their neighbours lived, and, after their conversion, they excited the surprise of their neighbours by their change of life. [19]

[18] 1 Peter 4:3 .

[19] 1 Peter 4:4 .

The internal evidence of the Epistle is borne out by what is known of the evangelisation of the provinces named. With the exception of Cilicia all Asia Minor is included and Asia Minor was the great field of the labours of St. Paul and his companions. There is nothing to suggest that St. Peter was addressing converts of his own as Origen and Eusebius [20] seem to assume.

[20] See above page 4.

The Author . The beginning and the final conclusion of this document certify it to be the letter or epistle of Peter the Apostle of Jesus Christ , who speaks of Silvanus and Mark as his companions and writes from “Babylon”. The certificate was accepted and remained unquestioned until quite modern times. Irenæus, whose connexion with Polycarp is certain, quotes the document as written by the Peter of the Church Simon, son of John, to whom Jesus gave the name of Cephas or (in Greek) Peter . When F. C. Baur (for example) speaks of the “alleged apostolic authorship of writings which bear the marks of pseudonymity so plainly on their face,” [21] he illustrates the reaction which ran riot, when once the doctrine of the inspiration and authority of canonical books was called in question. The authorship of this document does not necessarily decide the question of its authority all or none as it did in the time of uncritical devotion to the letter of Scripture. But Baur’s brave words do no more to solve the problem than the stolid reiteration of traditional dogmas. And it is to be remembered that Catholic traditions have often been rehabilitated by critical researches.

[21] Church History (English translation: London, 1878), p. 131 (note) in reference to the Epistle of James and the First Epistle of Peter.

To the question, “Do you at this time of day venture to attribute this document to Simon Peter?” the answer is, “Why not?”

Such a conservative attitude excites the pity if not the contempt of the “advanced” critics. They find no difficulty in treating the Canonical Epistles as most men have treated the Epistles of Phalaris ever since Bentley wrote his dissertation. Bentley said [22] out of Galen, “ That in the age of the Ptolemies the trade of coining false Authors was in greatest Practice and Perfection.… When the Attali and the Ptolemies were in Emulation about their Libraries, the knavery of forging Books and Titles began. For there were those that to enhance the price of their Books put the Names of great Authors before them, and so sold them to those Princes .” But Bentley proceeded to demonstrate that the Epistles of Phalaris contained blunders incompatible with their authenticity; and for all their exquisite reasons the critics, who treat the First Epistle of Peter as falsely so-called, have not yet found their Bentley. Indeed, their reasons are chiefly interesting as symptoms of presuppositions inherited from past controversies. They reveal (for example) a tendency to resent the attribution of divine authority to the Apostles, and a tendency which others share to ignore the relatively mature theology to which, as a matter of fact, the first Christian missionaries were bred, before ever they became missionaries or Christians at all. For those who believe that the Church has been directed by the Holy Spirit it is not easy to suppose that others than James and Peter, Jude and John were as destitute as they were full of divine inspiration. And it is not difficult to acquiesce in the excommunication of Marcion and all others who regard Christianity as a new thing descended from heaven with no affinity to any earthly antecedents.

[22] Wagner’s edition (London, 1883), pp. 80, 81.

In a natural and simple phrase this document professes to be written by Peter. But Harnack [23] has put forward the hypothesis that the opening and closing sentences [24] are an interpolation by another hand and argues against the assumption that the whole is a forgery. “If,” he says, “the hypothesis here brought forward should prove erroneous, I should more readily prevail upon myself to regard the improbable as possible and to claim the Epistle for Peter himself than to suppose that a Pseudo-Petrus wrote our fragment as it now stands from the first verse to the last, soon after A.D. 90, or even from ten to thirty years earlier. Such an assumption is, in my opinion, weighed down by insuperable difficulties. [25]

[23] Chronologie , p. 457 ff.

[24] 1 Peter 1:1-2 and 1 Peter 5:12-14 .

[25] Die Chronologie , 464 f. (quoted by Chase, Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible , vol. iii. p. 786 b).

So far as extant evidence goes Harnack’s hypothesis of interpolation has nothing on which to rest. It remains to consider the chief objections which have been urged to prove that the traditional view is improbable. Peter cannot have written the Epistle (it is said) because (1) it is clearly indebted to Paulinism, (2) it contains no vivid reminiscences of the life and doctrine of Jesus, (3) it is written in better Greek than a Galilean peasant could compass, and (4) it reflects conditions which Peter did not live to see.

The first reason is regarded as decisive by Harnack: [26] “Were it not for the dependence [of 1 Peter] on the Pauline Epistles, I might perhaps allow myself to maintain its genuineness: that dependence however, is not accidental, but is of the essence of the Epistle”. Dr. Chase has examined the affinities between 1 Peter and the Epistles of the N.T., and it is sufficient to state the results at which he arrives. “The coincidences with St. James can hardly be accounted for on the ground of personal intercourse between the two writers.… The coincidences with the Pauline Epistles other than Romans and Ephesians are not very close and are to be accounted for as the outcome of a common evolution of Christian phrases and conceptions rather than as instances of direct borrowing.… There is no doubt that the author of 1 Peter was acquainted with the Epistle to the Romans. Nor is this surprising if the writer is St. Peter.… The connexion of Ephesians with 1 Peter (here he adopts the words of Hort) is shown more by the identities of thought and similarity in the structure of the two Epistles as wholes than by identities of phrase.…” In his summing-up he says: “All that we learn of St. Peter from the New Testament gives us the picture of a man prompt and enthusiastic in action rather than fertile in ideas. His borrowing from St. James’ Epistle shows that his mind was receptive and retentive of the thoughts of others. The Epistle undoubtedly owes much to St. Paul. But it is only when the Pauline element is isolated and exaggerated that it becomes a serious argument against the Petrine authorship of the Epistle.” [27]

[26] Chron. p. 364 (quoted by Chase).

[27] Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible , vol. iii. pp. 788 f.

It is to be remembered, also, that St. Paul did not invent Paulinism and that St. Peter manifests (according to the narrative of Acts) a disinclination to associate with the Gentile which suggests that he also was a strict Pharisee. There can be no doubt that of the Apostles of Christianity, who are known to us, St. Paul’s was the master-mind. And there can be no doubt that St. Paul brought to the service of the Church a body of doctrine which he had inherited from Gamaliel and the masters of Gamaliel. The common notion that Christianity was something absolutely new planted by St. Paul and watered watered down by St. Peter and finally by St. John is inconsistent with known facts and with general probability. It is, indeed, the vicious product of the artificial isolation of the New Testament literature from the literature and the life of Judaism.

Others than St. Paul modified their inherited theology in the light of their belief, that Jesus, having been raised from the dead, was the promised and anointed deliverer the Messiah, who by revealing God’s will more fully than the prophets or the scribes, but not independently of either, introduced to men more fully the Sovereignty of Heaven, under whose yoke he lived and died. Inevitably and insensibly the first Christian teachers learned from each other and profited by their own and each other’s experience. But they all inherited and already possessed the presuppositions and categories of the Scribes, whose teaching their Master had endorsed and extended. Into this body of theology they fitted the new fact of a crucified Messiah into the framework of Pharisaism as Pharisees fitted all new facts which threw fresh light upon the will of God. If St. Paul was the first (as our fragmentary evidence suggests) to find a deep significance in it, it is not derogatory to St. Peter to suggest that he may have been indebted to St. Paul both here and elsewhere, and such indebtedness is not necessarily an argument against the authenticity of this Epistle of Peter.

The second objection is that our document contains no vivid reminiscences of the life and doctrine of Jesus such as we should expect from a personal disciple.

The alleged expectation is not altogether a reasonable one. If the document is, as an unbroken chain of tradition affirms, a pastoral letter addressed to Christian Churches already in being, there is no reason to expect reminiscences of the life and teaching of Jesus. The Church was built upon the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead and so declared to be the promised deliverer. His submission to death and the death of the cross was the crown and the summary of His life as it was the fulfilment of His teaching. So far as other facts and traditions were relatively necessary to the faith of the converts they were naturally communicated formally or informally by those who founded or confirmed the Churches. But in an epistle like this they would have been irrelevant and inconclusive. The occasion called for the emphatic isolation of the glorious resurrection, which followed the culmination of the sufferings of Jesus and in which His past miracles were swallowed up like stars in the sunshine. As for the teaching of Jesus our records are plainly incomplete, and, whether the Fourth Gospel be permitted to give evidence or not it is quite clear that the arguments used by Jesus and the topics He treated were determined for Him by the character of those to whom He addressed Himself. When the Christian missionaries addressed themselves to men of different nationalities, they could not presume in them knowledge of Jewish presuppositions and therefore, quite apart from its relative insignificance they postponed indefinitely much of the teaching of Jesus. For in any case this teaching was relatively insignificant in their view; the essence of their message was Jesus and the Resurrection. Particular incidents and particular sayings may have their value as links in the chain of proof that witness here and witness there Jesus was He of whom Moses and the Prophets had spoken. But such proof belongs properly to the controversy with the Jews and, in many cases, not to the original phase of it. Historical or biographical sermons upon which the Gospel according to St. Mark is by tradition asserted to be based, were a sequel to the summons, “Repent and believe”. It may well be that St. Peter did so preach, and that he dwelt rather upon the record of Jesus’ life in Galilee of the Gentiles, because his own audience had little in common with the Jews of Jerusalem; but his reminiscences of the ministry prior to the Passion were not , as has been said, [28] “the best, the most inspiring message that he could deliver at such a critical time”. He himself had seen and heard these things; yet, when the crisis came, he himself denied and repudiated Jesus. The impressiveness of these things, which failed to convince an eye-witness, was not likely to be heightened, when he repeated them to strangers. And there can be little doubt that, if he had inserted a reference to the Transfiguration (for example), it would be said nowadays that this was the mark of a sedulous forger, anxious to keep up the part he was playing. In his intercourse with Jesus St. Peter had learned and unlearned here a little and there a little. But at the last his faith was not proof against the appearance of failure. When, therefore, he converted and began to establish his brethren, he imparted to them the convictions he had acquired, and did not parade the diverse and devious steps by which he had painfully reached that height.

[28] Von Soden, Early Christian Literature (English Translation), London, 1906, pp. 278 f.: “It is evident that St. Peter cannot have written this epistle. The oldest personal disciple of our Lord would never have omitted the slightest reference to that which must above all things have distinguished him in the eyes of his readers. And how, especially at such a critical time, could he have refrained from speaking of reminiscences which formed the best, the most inspiring, message that he could deliver?”

A third objection is that the Greek of this Epistle is better than a Galilean peasant could compass and that a Palestinian Jew would not possess such a familiar knowledge of the Old Testament in Greek.

Such an objection seems to take no account at all of certain known facts and of general probability. Even a Galilean peasant, who stayed in his native place, needed and presumably acquired some knowledge of the Greek language in his intercourse with the non-Jewish inhabitants of the land, whom Josephus calls indifferently Greeks and Syrians . If he went up to Jerusalem for the feasts he there came into contact with Jews of the Dispersion, most of whom lived in the Greek-speaking world. The part played by these assemblies in cementing the solidarity of the whole nation is commonly overlooked; and therefore it is worth while to quote Philo’s explicit statement on the subject. [29] “The Temple made with hands,” he says, “is necessary for men in general. They must have a place where they can give thanks for benefits and pray for pardon when they sin. So there is the temple at Jerusalem and no other. They must rise up from the ends of the earth and resort thither, if they would offer sacrifice. They must leave their fatherland, their friends and their kinsfolk, and so prove the sincerity of their religion. And this they do. At every feast myriads from East and West, from North and South repair to the Temple to be free for a little space from the business and the confusion of their lives. They draw breath for a little while, as they have leisure for holiness and the honouring of God. And so they make friends with strangers hitherto unknown to them; and over sacrifices and libations they form a community of interests which is the surest pledge of unanimity .” In the face of this, it seems impossible to accept the modern distinction between Alexandrian and Palestinian Judaism as corresponding to an absolute severance in life, language and religion in the first century of the present era. Apart from this normal intercourse of all classes of religiously minded Jews, those who aspired to direct their fellows as Sages or Scribes seem to have travelled in foreign countries as a part of their training. And further, it is known that the delivery of the Temple dues at Jerusalem was regarded as a pious duty which the foremost members of each community were selected to perform. In these and other ways the Jews of Palestine became acquainted with the Greek language and, so far as they engaged in religious discussion with their visitors or hosts of the Dispersion, with the Old Testament in Greek also. The translation known as the Septuagint was still a triumphant achievement, through which the Jews of the Greek world were retained within the fold of Judaism and the Greeks outside were offered knowledge of the Law. And even when the Christian missionaries began to utilise in the interests of their own creed the laxities of the Septuagint, the non-Christian Jews produced the Greek versions of Aquila Symmachus and Theodotion. In fact, so far as and as long as any sect of Judaism engaged in missionary enterprise knowledge of the Greek language and the Greek Bible was indispensable to its agents.

[29] De specialibus legibus , i. ( de templo ), §§ 67 70 (Cohn and Wendland, vol. v. pp. 17 f.; ii. p. 223, Mangey).

It is therefore entirely in keeping with the tradition that this document is the Epistle General of St. Peter, the Apostle of the Circumcision, that it should be written in passable Greek and bear evident traces of familiarity with the Septuagint. In order to prove that Jesus was the deliverer for whom the prophets had looked, he was bound to appeal to the Scriptures, and to the Scriptures in that version which was established as the Bible of the Greek Dispersion.

If in spite of these and other considerations it is felt that the general style of the Epistle is too literary for one who had lived the life and done the work of St. Peter, there is still another line of defence for the traditional view. In other words, it is still possible to believe that the document as it stands gives a just and true account of its own origin. In the postscript [30] the author says, “ I write (or I have written ) to you, briefly by means of Silvanus the faithful brother, as I reckon him ”.

[30] 1 Peter 5:12 .

If the phrase I write by means of Silvanus may be taken to imply that Silvanus was not only the bearer of the Epistle but also the trusted secretary who wrote out in his own way St. Peter’s message, then all the difficulties derived from the style of the document and its use of Pauline ideas vanish at once. And in any case this mention of Silvanus proves that St. Peter was closely associated with the sometime colleague of St. Paul, who had actually helped to preach the Gospel in Syria, Cilicia and Galatia. [31] For there seems to be no reason for questioning the identification of the Silas of the Acts with the Silvanus of the Pauline Epistles and this Epistle.

[31] See Acts 15:23 ; Acts 15:40 f.; Acts 16:1-8 .

The interpretation of the phrase διὰ Σιλουανοῦ is still in dispute. Professor Zahn [32] maintains the view that “Silvanus’ part in the composition was so important and so large that its performance required a considerable degree of trustworthiness.… It purports to be a letter of Peter’s; and such it is, except that Peter left its composition to Silvanus because he regarded him as better fitted than himself … to express in an intelligible and effective manner the thoughts and feelings which Peter entertained toward the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor”.

[32] Introduction to the New Testament (English Translation, 1909), vol. ii. p. 150.

Dr. Chase [33] quotes Professor Zahn as arguing that Silvanus “must have been either a messenger who conveyed the letter or a friend who put St. Peter’s thoughts into the form of a letter”. Against this interpretation, he says, four “considerations seem together decisive”; and he concludes that Silvanus carried the Epistle and did not write it. It is of course possible that the phrase may bear this meaning, but the other is not to be excluded. The parallels quoted are, with two exceptions, ambiguous, and of the exceptions each supports one of the rival views. In Acts 15:22 , for example, it is said that the Apostles chose Judas and Silas and wrote by their hand . [34] Clearly they were the bearers of the letter, as it is said that they delivered it at Antioch; [35] and “being prophets they exhorted and confirmed the brethren”. [36] But it is certainly possible if not definitely probable that they actually wrote each a copy of the letter for himself at the dictation of St. James. The case on which Dr. Chase chiefly relies is the postscript of Ignatius’ letter to the Romans: “I write these things to you by the worthy Ephesians: Crocus whom I love is by my side with many others”. [37] But even here the other interpretation is not impossible. They certainly were the bearers, but for safety’s sake each may have written his own copy of the letter. The journey from Smyrna to Rome was long and dangerous, and apart from considerations of safe delivery each of them may well have desired to have his own copy. And there is one clear case in which this ambiguity disappears: Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, writes to Soter, Bishop of Rome, in acknowledgment of a letter received from the Roman Church, which (he says) “we shall always have to read for our admonition like the former Epistle written to us through Clement”. [38] Here the preposition clearly denotes the interpreter who writes in the name of the Church and cannot cover the messenger also, because the bearers of the Epistle Claudius Ephebus, Valerius Bito, and Fortunatus are named at the end. [39]

[33] Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (1900), vol. iii. p. 790.

[34] γράψαντες διὰ χειρὸς ἀυτῶν

[] Acts 15:30 , οἱ μὲν οὖν ἀπολυθέντες κατῆλθον εἰς Ἀντιόχειαν καὶ συναγαγόντες τὸ πλῆθος ἐπέδωκαν τὴν ἐπιστολήν .

[36] Acts 15:32 .

[37] Ad Romanos , xiv. 1, γράφω δὲ ὑμῖν ταῦτα ἀπὸ Εμύρνης διʼ Ἐφεσιων τῶν ἀξιομακαρίστων . ἔστιν δὲ καὶ ἅμα ἐμοὶ σὺν ἄλλοις πολλοῖς καὶ Κρόκος τὸ ποθητόν μοι ὄνομα .

[38] Τὴν σήμερον οὖν κυριακὴν ἄγιαν ἡμέραν διηγάγομεν ἐν ᾖ ἀνέγνωμεν ὑμῶν τὴν ἐπιστολήν · ἣν ἕξομεν ἀεί ποτε ἀναγινώσκοντες νουθετεῖσθαι ὡς καὶ τὴν προτέραν ἡμεῖν διὰ Κλήμεντος γραφεῖσαν (Eusebius, Historiae Ecclesiae , iv. 23. 8).

[39] Clement, ad Corinthios , lxv.

Since, therefore, διά can in such contexts designate the writer as well as the bearer of an Epistle, it is hardly safe to say that Silvanus cannot have been both in this case. If St. Peter had not so far profited by his general experience and in particular by his association with Silvanus and other missionaries as to write moderately good Greek and to employ “Pauline” ideas, then we may suppose that he permitted Silvanus to write the Epistle for him. He was none the less the real author if he employed a letter-writer whose position and experience enabled him to supplement the author’s alleged deficiencies in respect of the language and modes of thought familiar to the persons addressed. The postscript indicates St. Peter’s approval of the draft thus made and submitted to him. The tone of authority which is used in the addresses to separate classes is naturally reproduced by the secretary from his recollection of what St. Peter had said. The secretary’s intervention affects only the manner of the Epistle at most. If Silvanus had really contributed to the matter he would have been joined with St. Peter in the salutation. On the other hand, there is every reason to suppose that Silvanus was also St. Peter’s messenger plenipotentiary and would, as when he was sent by the Apostles of Jerusalem, “proclaim the same things by word of mouth”. [40]

[40] Acts 15:27 .

The fourth objection to the traditional view is that the Epistle reflects conditions which were definitely later than the date of St. Peter’s death. No other book of the New Testament offers any plain information about St. Peter at any time after the hypocrisy he practised at Antioch. [41] But Christian tradition connects him not only with Antioch [42] and Asia Minor [43] statements which are probably simple inferences from the statements of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians and the First Epistle of St. Peter respectively but also with Rome. For this part of the tradition there is no obvious hint in the New Testament which can be used to explain away its origin, unless it be supposed that the bare mention of Babylon in the First Epistle of St. Peter is sufficient of itself to have given birth to so complete a legend. It is not surprising that Babylon should have been interpreted as meaning Rome from the first; but the tradition, that St. Peter died at Rome under Nero, has nothing on which to rest in the Epistles or elsewhere.

[41] Galatians 2:0 .

[42] So Origen ( in Lucam Homilia , vi.): “Eleganter in cuiusdam martyris epistola scriptum repperi, Ignatium dico, episcopum Antiochiae post Petrum secundum , qui in persecutione Romae pugnavit ad bestias, ‘principem saeculi huius latuit virginitas Mariae’.”

[43] So Origen (fragment in Eusebius, Historiae Ecclesiae , iii. 1): Πέτρος δὲ ἐν Πόντῳ καὶ Γαλατίᾳ καὶ Βιθυνίᾳ Καππαδοκίᾳ τε καὶ Ἀσίᾳ κεκηρυχέναι τοῖς ἐκ διασπορᾶς Ἰουδαίοις ἔοικεν .

Tertullian is the first to state this tradition explicitly. We read, in the Lives of the Cæsars , “Nero first laid bloody hands upon the rising faith at Rome. Then was Peter girded by another when he was bound to the cross.” [44] But apart from the definite date, the tradition is as old as Clement of Rome, who cites St. Peter and St. Paul as “noble examples of our own generation” in his Epistle to the Corinthians: “By reason of envy and jealousy the great and righteous Pillars were persecuted and struggled on till they died. Let us put before our eyes the good Apostles Peter, who by reason of unrighteous envy endured not one or two but many labours and so became a martyr and departed to the place of glory which was his due”. [45] A brief account of St. Paul’s sufferings, based largely on New Testament evidence, follows; and the conclusion that St. Peter suffered before St. Paul and both at Rome is commonly drawn. After this Clement goes on to say: “To these men of holy life was gathered a great multitude of elect persons who by reason of envy suffered many outrages and torments and so became a noble example among us”. [46] This further illustration of the terrible effects of envy and jealousy the theme to which all these references are incidental is most naturally interpreted as describing the victims of the Neronian persecution of A.D. 64, of whom Tacitus [47] speaks as “a huge multitude”. If, then, Clement has put his illustrations in chronological order, he agrees with Tertullian in asserting that St. Peter died as a martyr under Nero and, being a conspicuous pillar of the Church, before the mass of the Christians. To this assertion Origen, quoted by Eusebius, [48] adds the statement that “at the end Peter being at Rome was crucified head-downwards having himself requested that he might so suffer”.

[44] Vitas Caesarum legimus: Orientem fidem Romae primus Nero cruentavit. Nunc Petrus ab altero cingitur, cum cruci adstringitur ( Scorpiace , 15). The fact is so stated as to indicate the fulfilment of the word of Jesus reported in John 21:18 :

[45] διὰ ζῆλον καὶ φθόνον οἱ μέγιστοι καὶ δικαιότατοι στύλοι (cf. Galatians 2:9 ) ἐδιώχθησαν καὶ ἕως θανάτου ἤθλησαν . λάβωμεν πρὸ ὀφθαλμῶν ἡμῶν τοὺς ἀγαθοὺς ἀποστόλους Πέτρον ὂς διὰ ζῆλον ἄδικον οὐχ ἔνα οὐδὲ δύο ἀλλὰ πλείονας ὑπήνεγκεν πόνους καὶ οὕτω μαρτυρήσας ἐπορεύθη εἰς τὸν ὀφειλόμενον τόπον τῆς δόξης (1 Clementis ad Corinthios , 1 Peter 5:2-4 ).

[46] τούτοις τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ὁσίως πολιτευσαμένοις συνηθροίσθη πολὺ πλῆθος ἐκλεκτῶν οἵτινες πολλὰς αἰκίας καὶ βασάνους διὰ ζῆλος παθόντες ὑπόδειγμα κάλλιστον ἐγένοντο ἐν ἡμῖν (1 Clementis ad Corinthios , 6:1).

[47] Annals , xv. 44.

[48] Historiae Ecclesiasticae , iii. 1: ὃς καὶ ἐπὶ τέλει ἐν Ρώμῃ γενόμενος ἀνεσκολοπίσθη κατὰ κεφαλῆς οὔτως αὐτὸς ἀξιώσας παθεῖν .

Eusebius in his account of the Neronian persecution endorses this tradition of St. Peter’s martyrdom and cites evidence to prove its truth: “So then at this time this man who was proclaimed one of the foremost fighters against God was led on to slaughter the Apostles. It is related that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself and that Peter was likewise crucified in his reign. And the history is confirmed by the inscription upon the tombs there which is still in existence. It is also confirmed by an ecclesiastic named Gaius, who lived at the time when Zephyrinus was Bishop of Rome, who writing to Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, says these very words about the places where the sacred tabernacles of the aforesaid Apostles are deposited, ‘But I can shew the trophies of the Apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church. And that they both became martyrs at the same time Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, writing to the Romans proves in this way. You also by such admonition have compounded the plant of Romans and Corinthians which came from Peter and Paul. For they both of them came to our Corinth and planted us, teaching like doctrine, and in like manner they taught together in Italy and became martyrs at the same time.” [49]

[49] Historiae Ecclesiasticae , ii. 25.

All the other extant evidence [50] agrees with this, and we may fairly conclude that from the end of the first century it has been the unchallenged belief of the Christian Church that St. Peter was put to death at Rome in A.D. 64. The question therefore arises, Is this tradition compatible with the traditional ascription of this document to St. Peter?

[50] See Dr. Chase’s article on Peter (Simon) in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible vol. iii.


If St. Peter was the author of this document and if St. Peter perished in the persecution under Nero, it follows that the document must have been written before A.D. 64. The conclusion is challenged on the ground of the circumstances implied by the document and consequently one or other of the premises is invalidated. The circumstances implied and indicated are suppposed to belong to a date definitely later than the time of Nero; and from this supposition it follows either that St. Peter did not write the Epistle or that he did not perish under Nero. In either case the Epistle is now commonly assigned to the reign either of Domitian (A.D. 81 96) or of Trajan (A.D. 98 117). Professor Gunkel (for example) in a popular commentary recently published [51] ends his introduction with the words: “The more precise dating of the Epistle must be determined in accordance with the persecutions above mentioned, with which, it must be confessed, we are not perfectly acquainted. Now the Neronian persecution affected only Rome and not the provinces. On the other hand more general persecutions seem to have taken place under Domitian. The time of Trajan, under whom a persecution (A.D. 112) to which the letters of Pliny to the emperor testify, certainly took place in Asia Minor, is open to the objection that then the Christians were compelled to offer sacrifice to which the Epistle has no reference. Our Epistle is therefore best assigned to the early period of Domitian’s reign. A still later dating ( sc. than the reign of Trajan?) is excluded by the lack of references to Gnosis and the Episcopate.”

[51] Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments neu übersetxt und für die Gegenwart erklärt … Gottingen, 1908.

Professor Ramsay similarly suggests, on the basis of the contents of the Epistle: “The First Epistle of Peter then must have been written soon after Vespasian’s resumption of the Neronian policy in a more precise and definite form. It implies relations between Church and State which are later than the Neronian period, but which have only just begun.” [52]

[52] The Church in the Roman Empire (sixth edition: London, 1893), P. 282. He assigns it, therefore, to c . A.D. 80 at the end of Vespasian’s reign.

Professor Cone [53] urges that the conditions implied by the Epistle fit the time of Trajan, and argues, as against Professor Ramsay, that “since they also fit the later date, they furnish no ground for excluding it in favour of the earlier”. His conclusion is: “The data supplied in the Epistle and in known and precisely determinate historical circumstances do not warrant us in placing its composition more definitely than in the last quarter of the first, or the first quarter of the second, century”. For this he relies partly on Professor Ramsay’s opinion that “the history of the spread of Christianity imperatively demands for 1 Peter a later date than A.D. 64”; and from it he deduces the corollary: “The later date renders it very probable that Babylon is employed figuratively for Rome, according to Revelation 14:8 ; Revelation 16:19 ; Revelation 17:5 ; Revelation 18:2 ; Revelation 18:10 ; Revelation 18:21 ”.

[53] Encyclopedia Biblica III. , “Peter, the Epistles of”.

Professor Cone’s corollary deserves attention. He seems to assume that the Christians started afresh de novo or ex nihilo to evolve modes and idioms of thought for themselves. Such an assumption is demonstrably untenable. In the particular case of such cipher-language as this, it is certain that the Christians appropriated the inventions of the Jews, who in their own oppressions and their own persecutions had learned to veil their hopes from all but the initiated. Babylon was the great and typical oppressor, and her successors in the part naturally received her proper name. Rome was not the declared and inflexible enemy of the Jewish nation as a whole before the time of Caligula; but Rome stood behind Herod the Great, and Pompey had desecrated the Temple at Jerusalem. Philo might forgive and forget the outrages which Pompey and Herod had perpetrated in order to heighten the enormity of Caligula’s offences, but the Psalms of Solomon and the evidence of Josephus suffice to prove that for some Rome was already the enemy in the last century B.C. Formal proof that the Jews actually spoke of Rome by the name of Babylon before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 is, indeed, wanting. But the identification of Rome with Babylon and the consequent transference of the paraphernalia of Babylon to Rome is part and parcel of the apocalyptic vocabulary and passed over into the language of the Rabbis. The author of the Epistle had no more need to explain his use of Babylon than had the Jewish poet who wrote in the name of the Sibyl and said in reference to Nero:

“Poets shall mourn for thee, thrice-hapless Greece,

What time the mighty king of mighty Rome,

Coming from Italy, shall pierce thine Isthmus

A God-like mortal, born (they say) of Zeus

By lady Hera, who with dulcet songs

Shall slay his hapless mother and many more.

A shameless prince and terrible! He shall fly

From Babylon .…” [54]

[54] Oracula, Sibyllina , v. 137 143 (Geffcken: Leipzig, 1902).

And again he prophesied that after a time and times and half a time [55] [55] Ibid . 154: “ ἐκ τετράτου ἔτεος ”; compare Daniel 7:25 .

“From heav’n into the sea a star shall fall

That shall consume with fire the ocean wide,

And Babylon herself, and Italy …” [56]

[56] Or. Sib . v. 158 160.

Nero’s achievements added matricide to the specification of Antichrist; but the book of Daniel and other apocalypses, which were directly or indirectly inspired by the experience of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes, had long ago established the code of language by which each particular persecutor was identified with the vanished type. In the time of Antiochus such disguise was a necessary precaution; and it was so again in the time of Nero or Vespasian, of Domitian or Trajan. In fact, Professor Cone’s corollary has nothing to do with his conclusion. Whenever any Christian community became exposed for whatever reason to attack by any representative of the State, the State became for them the enemy, and therefore Babylon.

For Trajan’s attitude towards the Christians of Bithynia we have ample testimony thanks to the lack of independence displayed by his legate, the younger Pliny. In A.D. 112 Bithynia was in a bad state. There were many abuses which called for remedies, and the province was distracted by factions. [57] The law which forbade the formation of clubs or associations for different purposes had fallen into abeyance, and Pliny began by re-enacting it in accordance with Trajan’s mandate. [58] On this policy Trajan insisted so strongly that he refused to authorise a fire brigade in Nicomedia, in spite of Pliny’s protestations that only 150 men would be enrolled, only carpenters, and for the sole purpose of dealing with such a conflagration as had recently devastated the city. [59] From experience he held that all corporations, whatever name they bore, quickly became political associations. [60] This rigid interpretation of the law made the ordinary meetings of the Christians at once illegal; and there were so many Christians in Bithynia that the temples were almost deserted and the customary sacrifices were omitted. When the edict was published, some Christians apparently renegades, who abjured Christianity when challenged by Pliny asserted that either they or the Christians generally gave up either the practice of meeting for a common meal or their religious meetings also. It is improbable that those who persisted in their wicked and immoderate superstition should have abandoned their weekly assemblies at which they recited a hymn to Christ as God, but it is unnatural to distinguish between these assemblies and the subsequent meetings for the common meal, and the statement of the renegades may reasonably be confined to their own obedience to the edict.

[57] Trajan to Pliny, xxxii. (xli.): “Meminerimus idcirco te in istam provinciam missum, quoniam multa in ea emendanda apparuerint; xxxiv. (xliii.) meminerimus provinciam istam … factionibus esse vexatam”.

[58] Pliny to Trajan, xcvi. (xcvii.): “Edictum meum quo secundum mandata tua hetaerias esse vetueram”.

[59] Pliny to Trajan, xxxiii. (xlii.): “Tu, domine, dispice an instituendum putes Collegium fabrorum dumtaxat hominum Cl. Ego attendam ne quis nisi faber recipiatur neve iure concesso in aliud utatur; necerit difficile custodire tam paucos”.

[60] Trajan to Pliny, xxxiv. (xliii.): “Quodcumque nomen ex quacumque causa dederimus eis qui in idem contracti fuerit.… hetaeriae que brevi fient”.

Professor Ramsay, however, infers from Pliny’s language that the statement refers to the Christians as a whole: “They had, indeed, been in the habit of holding social meetings, and feasting in common; but this illegal practice they had abandoned as soon as the governor had issued an edict in accordance with the Emperor’s instructions, forbidding the formation or existence of sodalitates ”. [61] And he asserts that Pliny’s language implies a distinction between the illegal meetings of the evening and the legal meetings of the morning: “The regular morning meetings which Pliny speaks about and which, as we know, must have been weekly meetings, were not abandoned, and Pliny obviously accepts them as strictly legal. Amid the strict regulations about societies the Roman government expressly allowed to all people the right of meeting for purely religious purposes. The morning meeting of the Christians was religious; but the evening meeting was social, including a common meal, and therefore constituted the Christian community a sodalitas . The Christians abandoned the illegal meeting, but continued the legal one. This fact is one of the utmost consequence. It shows that the Christian communities were quite alive to the necessity of acting according to the law, and of using the forms of the law to screen themselves as far as was consistent with their principles.” [62]

[61] The Church in the Roman Empire , p. 206.

[62] Ibid . pp. 219 f.

Against this view it must be urged, in the first place, that the common meal of the Christian community had a definitely religious character and could not be abandoned without a breach of their principles; and, in the second place, that Pliny’s language is by no means so explicit and clear as is suggested. The authors of the statement are a large number of persons accused of Christianity, either by an anonymous letter or by an informer: all of them convinced Pliny that they had never been Christians, or had ceased to be Christians, by offering sacrifice to idols and blaspheming Christ. [63] As regards their past Christianity if ever they had practised Christianity they affirmed that this was the sum and substance of their crime, that they had been accustomed to assemble on a fixed day before sunrise and to repeat alternately a hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by an oath not to commit any crime, but to abstain from theft, brigandage, adultery, breach of faith, and refusal of any deposit; which done they usually departed and assembled again to take food, which food was taken by all together, and involved no crime. And even this, they said, they had ceased to do after the edict. [64]

[63] Pliny to Trajan, xcvi. (xcvii.): “Propositus est libellus sine auctore multorum nomina continens. Qui negabant esse se Christianos aut fuisse cum praeeunte me deos appellarent et imagini tuae, quam propter hoc iusseram cum simulacris nominum adferri, ture ac vino supplicarent, praeterea male dicerent Christo, quorum nihil posse cogi dicuntur qui sunt se vera Christiani, dimittendos esse putavi. Alii ab indice nominati esse se Christianos dixerunt et mox negaverunt; fuisse quidem, sed desisse, quidam ante plures annos non nemo etiam ante viginti quoque. Omnes et imaginem tuam deorumque simulacra venerati sunt et Christo maledixerunt.”

[64] Pliny to Trajan, xcvi. (xcvii.): “Adfirmabant autem hanc fuisse summam vel culpae suae vel erroris quod essent soliti stato die ante lucem convenire carmenque Christo quasi deo dicere secum invicem, seque sacramento non in scelus aliquod obstringere, sed ne furta, ne latrocinia ne adulteria committerent, ne fidem fallerent, ne depositum appellati abnegarent; quibus peractis morem sibi discedendi fuisse, rursusque ad capiendum cibum, promiscuum tamen et innoxium; quod ipsum facere desisse post edictum meum, quo secundum mandata tua hetaerias esse vetueram”.

Here, surely, Pliny is concerned only with renegades who proved to him that the Christian faith which they had abandoned had led them into no crimes of which he must take cognisance. Their oath was not proof of conspiracy and their meal was not a cannibal feast. To satisfy himself that their denial of the charges brought against them was well founded, Pliny examined two slaves, who were called deaconesses, under torture. Finding nothing in them but a foul immoderate superstition, he submitted the case to the Emperor. [65]

[65] Pliny, ibid. : “Quo magis necessarium credidi ex duabus ancillis quae ministrae dicebantur, quid esset veri et per tormenta quaerere. Nihil aliud inveni quam superstitionem pravam immodicam. Ideo dilata cognitione ad consulendum te decucurri”.

The fact is that the large number of persons involved and the doubt whether those who had repented of their Christianity had thereby deserved free pardon, gave Pliny food for reflexion. Christianity had been rampant in his province, but his experience of these apostates gave him good hope that it might be checked. Apostates would naturally be more zealous heathens, and therefore good citizens, in future. To execute them all would have been to diminish seriously the population of his province. [66] As a conscientious governor, he was anxious to bring this section of his subjects to their senses, and he believed that the extension of clemency to those who repented of their Christianity would be the means most likely to secure that end. [67] If room for repentance was given, all the Christians might be induced to recant. He does not contemplate a policy of religious toleration at all. Though there might be no crimes inherent in the profession of Christianity, Christians were still guilty of sacrilegium when they refused to worship the gods of the Empire, even if they satisfied Pliny that their meetings were purely religious in character and, therefore, did not constitute them a sodalitas within the meaning of the law. Obstinate Christians had three opportunities of recantation: if they did not take advantage of their opportunities, they were executed summarily or, if they were Roman citizens, they were transported to Rome. It was an accepted and a familiar fact that a Christian was, as such, a criminal [68] so familiar, indeed, that Pliny leaves their crime of sacrilege to be inferred from the sacrifice required of those who would prove their apostasy. He confesses that he never occupied such an official position as to be called on to decide or advise in the case of Christians, and was therefore ignorant of the precise nature of the proceedings. [69] But he did not hesitate to condemn the obdurate, [70] although he might doubt whether the name itself, if it involved no crime, or the crimes attaching to the name were thereby punished. [71] Such doubts as this arose from his examination of the renegades and the slaves who were called deaconesses, in which he learned that there were no crimes other than sacrilegium involved in the name, and, therefore, was emboldened to suggest that renegades should be pardoned.

[66] Ibid .: “Visa est enim mihi res digna consultatione maxime propter periclitantium munerum. Multi enim omnis aetalis, omnis ordinis utriusque sexus etiam, vocantur in periculum et vocabuntur. Neque civitates tantum sed vicos etiam atque agros superstitionis istius contagio pervagata est; quae videtur sisti et corrigi posse . Certe satis constat prope iam desolata templa coepisse celebrari et sacra sollemnia diuintermissa repeti pastumque venire victinarum cuius adhuc rarissimus emptor.”

[67] Ibid .: “Ex quo facile est opinari quae turba hominum emendari possit si sit paenitentiae locus”.

[68] Ibid .: “Interrogari ipsos an essent Christiani. Confitentes iterum ac tertio interrogari, supplicium miratus: perseverantes duci iussi. Neque enim dubitatum, qualecumque esset quod faterentur, pertinaciam certe et inflexibilem obstinationem debere puniri . Fuerunt alii similis amentiae quos, quia cives Romani erant, adnotari in urbem remittendos.”

[69] Professor Ramsay’s paraphrase of Pliny’s words ( ibid .): “Cognitionibus de Christianis interfui numquam; ideo nescio quid et quatenus aut puniri soleat aut quaeri”.

[70] See note (1) supra .

[71] Ibid. : “Nec mediocriter haesitavi sitne aliquod discrimen aetatum an quamlibet teneri nihil a robustioribus differant, detur paenitentiae venia an eï qui omnino Christianus fuit desisse non prosit. nomen ipsum, si flagitiis careat, an flagitia cohaerentia nomini puniantur”.

Trajan’s answer authorises the policy suggested: “Any one who denies that he is a Christian and gives plain proof of his truthfulness, that is, by worshipping our gods, though his past may not be above suspicion, shall obtain pardon by his repentance”. [72] No anonymous accusations are to be entertained, [73] and Christians are not to be sought out. If they are brought before the governor and convicted of being Christians they must, of course, be punished. Pliny did well to investigate the cases of the so-called Christians, who had been brought before him. [74] No general policy can be laid down. Trajan is content to endorse the existing practice of punishing obdurate Christians as Christians, and to sanction the pardon of such Christians as were prepared to renounce their Christianity and to ratify their renunciation by performance of heathen rites.

[72] Trajan to Pliny, xcvii. (xcviii.).… puniendi sunt ita tamen ut qui negaverit se Christianum esse idque re ipsa manifestum fecerit, id est supplicando dis nostris, quamvis suspectus in praeteritum, veniam ex paenitentia impetret”.

[73] Ibid .: “Sine auctore vero propositi libelli in nullo crimine locum habere debent. Nam et pessimi exempli nec nostri saeculi est.”

[74] Ibid .: “Actum quem debuisti, mi Secunde, in excutiendis causis eorum qui Christiani ad te delati fuerunt secutus es. Neque enim in universum aliquid quod quasi certam forman habeat constitui potest. Conquirendi non sunt: si deferantur ct arguantur, puniendi sunt”.…

Trajan’s endorsement of the action which Pliny took without hesitation against the Christians as such , proves that “persecution for the name” was already an established and familiar part of Roman policy. If Pliny had been present at trials of Christians before becoming governor of Bithynia, he might have learned that the vulgar were wrong in ascribing foul crimes to the Christians, as such. But there is no question that Christians, as such, were liable to capital punishment. In the first instance, when he had only to do with those Christians who refused to apostatize, Pliny condemned them to death almost instinctively as a matter of routine and immemorial tradition.

Under Domitian (according to Dio Cassius) Flavius Clemens was put to death on the charge of atheism, and many others who embraced the customs of the Jews were condemned to death or deprived of their goods. His wife Domitilla, a relative of the Emperor, was merely banished to Pandateria. [75]

[75] lxvii. 14 (epitome of Xiphilinus): Κἀν τῷ αὐτῷ ἔτει (A.D. 95) ἄλλους τε πολλοὺς καὶ τὸν φγάβιον Κλήμεντα ὑπατεύοντα , καίπερ ἀνεψιὸν ὄντα , καὶ γυναῖκα καὶ αὐτὴν συγγενῆ ἑαυτοῦ φλαουίαν Δομιτίλλαν ἔχοντα , κατέσφαξεν ὁ Δομετιανός · ἐπηνέχθη δὲ ἀμφοῖν ἔγκημα ἀθεότητος , ὑφʼ ἧς καὶ ἄλλοι εἰς τὰ τῶν Ἰουδίων ἔθη ἐξοκέλλοντες πολλοὶ κατεδικάσθησαν , καὶ οἱ μὲν ἀπέθανον , οἱ δὲ τῶν γοῦν οὐσιῶν ἐστερήθησαν · ἡ δὲ Δομιτίλλα ὑπερωρίσθη μόνον εἰς Πανδατερίαν .

Suetonius [76] describes Flavius Clemens as a man of contemptible inactivity a conventional description of Christians [77] and says that he was put to death on the barest suspicion. Eusebius [78] asserts explicitly that Domitilla was banished with many others, because she bore witness to Christ. Probably the Christians were regarded as a Jewish sect who could not claim the privileges of Jews proper. Evidently the sect was proscribed. A Christian as such was liable to death, banishment, or confiscation of his goods. Domitian (as Eusebius [79] says) was the second persecutor of the Christian Church and made himself the heir of Nero’s battle with God. But according to Hegesippus, [80] as reported by Eusebius, [81] Domitian stopped the persecution after examining the grandsons of Judas, the brother of Jesus. 8

[76] Domitian xv. Denique Elavium Clementem patruelum suum contemptissimae inertiae … repente ex tenuissima suspicione tantum non ipso eius consulatu interemit: quo maxime facto maturavit sibi exilium.

[77] Compare Tertullian’s Apology , xlii.: “Sed alio quoque iniuriarum titulo postulamur et infructuosi in negotiis dicimur.… Quomodo infructuosi videmur negotiis vestris, cum quibus et de quibus vivimus, non scio. Sed si carimonias tuas non frequento, attamen et illa die homo sum.”

[78] Historiae ecclesiasticae , iii. 18: “ εἰς τοσοῦτον δὲ ἄρα … ἡ τῆς ἡμετέρας πίστεως διέλαμπε διδασκαλία , ὡς καὶ τοὺς ἄποθεν τοῦ καθʼ ἡμᾶς λόγου συγγραφεῖς μὴ ἀποκνῆσαι ταῖς αὐτῶν Ἰστορίαις τόν τε διωγμὸν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ μαρτύρια παραδοῦναι . οἵγε καὶ τὸν καιρὸν ἐπʼ ἀκριβὲς ἐπεσημῄνατο , ἐν ἔτει πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ Δομετιανοῦ μετὰ πλείστων ἑτέρων καὶ φλαυίαν Δομετίλλαν ἱστορήσαντες , ἐξ ἀδελφῆς γεγονυῖαν φλαυίου Κλήμεντος , ἑνὸς τῶν τηνικάδε ἐπὶ Ρώμης ὑπάτων , τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν μαρτυρίας ἕνεκεν , εἰς νῆσον Ποντίαν κατὰ τιμωρίαν δεδόσθαι .”

[79] Historiae ecclesiasticae , iii. 17: “ Τῆς Νέρωνος θεοεχθρίας τε καὶ θεομαχίας διάδοχον ἐαυτὸν κατεστήσατο . δεύτερος δῆτα τὸν καθʼ ἡμῶν ἀνεκίνει διωγμὸν , καίπερ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Οὐεσπασιανοῦ μηδὲν καθʼ ἡμῶν ἄτοπον ἐπινοήσατος .”

[80] Hegesippus was an Eastern probably a native of Palestine. He visited Rome in the episcopate of Anicetus (? A.D. 155 156) and published his five books of Memoranda or Memoirs ( ὑπομνήματα ) in A.D. 180. See Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur , i. pp. 483 490.

[81] Historiae ecclesiasticae , iii. 20: “ ἐφʼ οἷς μηδὲν αὐτῶν κατεγνωκότα τὸν Δομετιανὸν , ἀλλὰ καὶ ὡς ἐντελῶν καταφρονήσαντα , ἐλευθέρους μὲν αὐτοὺς ἀνεῖναι , καταπᾶισαι δὲ διὰ προστάγματος τὸν κατὰ τῆς ἐκκλησίας διωγμόν

Eusebius [82] quotes Tertullian [83] to the same general effect: “Domitian, a semi-Nero in cruelty, attempted to condemn the Christians; but, being also a man, he readily stopped the course of action he had begun, and even recalled those whom he had banished”.

[82] Historiae ecclesiasticae , iii. 20.

[83] Apology v.: “Temptaverat et Domitianus, portio Neronis de crudelitate; sed qua et homo ( ἀλλʼ οἶμαι ἅτε ἔχων τι συνέσεως , Eusebius) facile coeptum repressit, restitutis etiam quos relegaverat.

But Nero was the first to persecute the Christians [84] and something is known of his procedure from Tacitus, [85] who represents his persecution as a final effort to divert from himself the suspicion of having given orders for the fire of Rome. Human assistance, public largesses, services of expiation, all failed to banish the calumny. So to put an end to the rumour, Nero made the Christians, as they were commonly called by the vulgar who hated them for their crimes, scape-goats in his place and visited them with the most elaborate penalties. Christ from whom their name was derived was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. For a time this fatal superstition was suppressed, but it broke out afterwards not only in Judaea, the birthplace of the mischief, but also in Rom.… Accordingly, in the first instance those who confessed were arrested; and afterwards on their information a huge multitude were sent to join them not so much on the charge of arson as on that of hatred of the human race.

[84] Tertullian, Apology , v.: “Consulite commentarios vestros; illic reperietis primum Neronem in hanc sectam cum maxime Romae orientem Caesariano gladio ferocisse. Sed tali dedicatore damnationis nostrae etiam gloriamur. Qui enim scit illum, intelligere potest non nisi grande aliquod bonum a Nerone damnatum.”

[85] Annals , xv. 44: “Sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placament is decedebat infamia, quin iussum incendium crederetur. Ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos, et quaesitissimis poenis affecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Chrestianos ( sic ) appellabat. Auctor nominis eius Christus, Tiberio imperitante, per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio affectus erat. Repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursus erumpebat, non modo per Judaeam originem eius mali sed per urbem etiam.… Igitur primo correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo ingens, haud perinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis coniuncti sunt.”

Tacitus emphasises the fact that the Christians were guilty and deserved to suffer the last penalty of the law. [86] Public feeling condemned them as enemies of civilised society; but the outrageous mockery with which Nero had them executed, and the common suspicion that the alleged arson was a mere pretence produced a revulsion in their favour. [87] The bare punishments crucifixion, burning at the stake, and death by wild beasts were right and proper. But the people to whom Nero threw open his gardens, in order that they might witness such sights, found Nero himself among them dressed in the garb of a charioteer [88] the ancient equivalent of a jockey. If the Christians were really magrcians, as their punishments implied, [89] and their stories of healings may have suggested, the situation was too serious for such buffoonery. Nero’s conduct was enough to discredit his plea of reasons of state.

[86] Ibid .: “sontes et novissima exempla meritos”.

[87] Annals : “pereuntibus addita ludibria, ut ferarum tergis contecti, laniatu canum interirent, aut crucibus affixi, aut flammandi, atque ubi defecisset dies in usum nocturni luminis urerentur … Unde … miseratio oriebatur, tamquam non utilitate publica sed in saevitiam unius absumerentur.”

[88] Ibid. : “Hortos suos ei spectaculo Nero obtulerat et Circense ludicrum edebat, habitu aurigae permixtus plebi vel circulo insistens”.

[89] So Ramsay, Church in the Roman Empire , p. 236: “ Odium humani generis was, as Arnold aptly points out, the crime of poisoners and magicians.… The punishments inflicted on the Christians under Nero are those ordered for magicians. Paulls, Sentent. v. 23 M.: “Magicae artis conscios summo supplicio afflici placuit, id est, bestiis obici aut cruci suffigi. Ipsi autem magi vivi exuruntur.”

It is clear, then, that Christians, who confessed their Christianity or were denounced as Christians by such confessors, were put to death by Nero after the great fire of Rome in A.D. 64. It was alleged that they were incendiaries or magicians, but these allegations were not proven. The reference to the execution of the founder of the sect suggests that they were, in accordance with that precedent, liable to capital punishment in Rome or in the provinces.

Suetonius records that under Nero many practices were severely punished and prohibited and many others set up. No food was henceforth to be sold in the cook-shops (for example) except vegetables; and punishments were inflicted upon the Christians a kind of men who embraced a new and maleficent superstition. [90]

[90] Vita Neronis , xvi.: “Multa sub eo et animadversa severe et coercita nec minus instituta … interdictum, ne quid in popinis cocti praeter legumina aut holera veniret cum antea nullum non obsonii genus proponeretur; adflicti suppliciis Christian, genus hominum superstitionis novae ac maleficae.”

The natural inference that Nero’s action in the matter of the Christians formed a precedent which was followed generally and in the provinces unless further regulations were introduced by himself or his successors, is probable in the nature of the case, and it is expressly asserted by Sulpicius Severus, who follows Tacitus, and may have known parts of his Annals which are no longer extant. This, he says, was the beginning of the savage treatment of the Christians. Afterwards also laws were laid down by which the religion was proscribed and edicts were issued by which it was publicly declared illegal to be a Christian. Then Paul and Peter were condemned to death. [91]

[91] Chronicon , ii. 29: “Hoc initio in Christianos saeviri coeptum. Post etiam datis legibus religio vetebatur, palamque edictis propositis Christianum esse non licebat. Tum Paulus et Petrus capitis damnati.”

To the three first persecutors of the Church Nero, Domitian, and Trajan Sulpicius Severus suggests that Titus should be added. If he is following good authority say, Tacitus, here as elsewhere Titus held a council to decide the fate of the Temple, when Jerusalem was taken in A.D. 70. Of his councillors some urged that a consecrated house famous beyond all mortal things ought not to be destroyed. Its preservation would bear witness to Roman moderation; its ruin would be an eternal mark of their cruelty. Others, and among them Titus himself, held the Temple should be destroyed at once, in order that the religion of the Jews and Christians might be more completely undone; inasmuch as these religions, though opposed to one another, nevertheless came from the same parent stock. The Christians sprang from the Jews. If the root were taken away the branch would naturally perish. [92]

[92] Chronicorum , ii. 30: “Fertur Titus adhibito consilio prius deliberasse an templum tanti operis everteret. Etenim nonnullis videbatur aedem sacratam ultra omnia mortalia illustrem non oportere deleri, quae servata modestiae Romanae testimonium, diruta perennem crudelitatis notam praeberet. At contra alii et Titus ipse evertendum imprimis templum censebant, quo plenius Judaeorum et Christianorum religio tolleretur: quippe has religiones, licet contrarias sibi, isdem tamen ab auctoribus profectas: Christianos ex Judaeis extitisse: radice sublata stirpem facile perituram.”

From this survey of the evidence it appears that the non-Christian authorities bear out the assertion of Tertullian that from the year 64 A.D. Christianity was distinguished from Judaism and, therefore, proscribed. It had lost the protection of the ancient and famous lawful religion, which sheltered it at the first. [93] Nero set the law in motion against it for his own purposes and attempted to justify his action to the people. But such action once taken, persecution of the Church was part of the law of the Empire, as Suetonius, Sulpicius Severus, and Tertullian aver. [94] There is nothing in the evidence to suggest that the Neronian persecution slackened, because the citizens of Rome saw through the pretexts of arson and witchcraft. On the contrary the evidence suggests that the name was condemned by Nero.

[93] Tertullian, Apology , xxi.: “Antiquissimis Judaecorum instrumentis sectam … suffultam … sub umbraculo insignissimae religionis certe licitae”.

[94] In addition to passages quoted above, see Tertullian, ad Nationes , i. 7: “Principe Augusto nomen hoc ortum est: Tiberio disciplina eius inluxit: sub Nerone damnatio invaluit ut iam hinc de persona persecutoris ponderetis, si pius ille princeps, impii Christiani … si non hostis publicus, nos publici hostes: quales simus damnator ipse demonstravit, utique aemula sibi puniens: et tamen permansit erasis omnibus hoc solum institutum Neronianum: iustum denique, ut dissimile sui auctoris”.

It was still possible for Titus and for Dio Cassius to recall the fact that Christianity was a sect a schismatic sect of Judaism. Perhaps the condemnation of the sect carried with it a partial proscription and prohibition of its name. But there is no trace of any real change of attitude between the policy, on which Nero embarked in sudden desperation, and the action taken by Pliny, when he began to put the affairs of Bithynia in order. Pliny assumed that the name of Christian was proof of guilt and only inquired why, when he found himself dealing with special and extenuating circumstances. Nero in special circumstances had sought to save himself from popular suspicion by making the name of Christian proof, first of special and then of general guilt.

It remains to examine the relations of the Christian Church and the Roman State, as they are reflected in the First Epistle of St. Peter, and to inquire which of the first three persecutions known to us they best fit.

In the first part of the Epistle, which ends at 1 Peter 4:11 , the writer speaks generally of manifold temptations. [95] “He exhorteth them to quote the summary of the revisers of 1611 from the breach of charity … he beseecheth them also to abstain from fleshly lusts, to be obedient to magistrates, and teacheth servants how to obey their masters, patiently suffering for well-doing after the example of Christ. He teacheth the duty of wives and husbands to each other, exhorting all men to unity and love, and to suffer persecution.… He exhorteth them to cease from sin by the example of Christ, and the consideration of the general end that now approacheth.…

[95] 1 Peter 1:6 .

In the second part of the Epistle the writer “comforteth them against persecution. He exhorteth the elders to feed their flocks, the younger to obey, and all to be sober, watchful, and constant in the faith: to resist the cruel adversary the devil.” Here only it is suggested that Christians may be put to death for the Name. For certain churches, to whom the bearer would read this part of the letter and whose special circumstances the writer had in mind, a trial [96] was imminent: their adversary the devil was walking about, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour. [97] In the earlier and general part the references to persecution and persecutors are vaguer, and stress is laid upon the railing or reviling [98] to which the Christians are exposed, but must not retaliate in kind. In both parts the example of Christ is put before them as their model He suffered and they must suffer as He suffered but only in the second part is it added that they must commit the keeping of their souls to God, as He did. [99] The first part, in fact, does not seem to contemplate state-persecution so much as the discredit and discomfort inevitably incurred by those who dissent from an established religion.

[96] 1 Peter 4:12 .

[97] 1 Peter 5:8 .

[98] 1 Peter 3:9 with 1 Peter 2:21-23 .

[99] 1 Peter 4:19 with 1 Peter 2:23 .

But such a distinction between the two parts of the Epistle, even if it be accepted as valid, does not relegate the second part to a later period. In some of the Churches of Asia Minor, at any rate and there is no evidence to show which the conditions described in the second part existed already. And so the evidence of the Epistle as a whole must be taken.

The faith of the Christians addressed is undergoing a trial: for a season (if need be) they are in heaviness through manifold temptations. [100] In different ways their faith is being tested. The tests whatever they are cause a temporary grief in the midst of their permanent joy, but will only refine their faith and purge it of dross. Half-hearted Christians will fall away. They have already purified their souls by obedience to the truth revealed to them, [101] and must lay aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisies and envies and all evil speakings. [102] They must abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and, by their good conduct, refute the common rumour which speaks of them as evildoers. [103] Pending the visitation of God, they are exhorted to be obedient to the Emperor and his officers, and as loyal citizens stop the mouths of ignorant fools. [104] There is no room, here, for the later test of their loyalty: the writer could not exhort them to offer sacrifice to Caesar. No one can really harm them, if they obey these commands; but they may have to suffer for righteousness’ sake. [105] They must not be afraid They must be ready to defend themselves and to reply to every one who inquires about their hope. Good behaviour and gentle answers may put their calumniators to shame; in any case it is essential. [106]

[100] 1 Peter 1:6 f.

[101] 1 Peter 1:22 .

[102] 1 Peter 2:1 .

[103] 1 Peter 2:11 f.

[104] 1 Peter 2:13 .

[105] 1 Peter 3:13 f.

[106] 1 Peter 3:15 f.

In certain places Christians are already sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and therefore must rejoice therein. Their suffering may be misrepresented as the just punishment of murderers, thieves, criminals or busybodies: they must correct by word or deed all such misrepresentations and make it clear that they are reproached or what not? simply because they are Christians. [107] Their adversary the devil in the persons of all his agents goes about seeking whose faith he may destroy; they must resist him and survive the ordeal. [108] Throughout the world the Christian brotherhood is exposed to the same temptations and varied persecutions.

[107] 1 Peter 4:13-16 .

[108] 1 Peter 5:8 f.:

From this evidence Professor Ramsay [109] concludes that the Epistle belongs to the time when Vespasian revived the policy of Nero. “The Christian communities of Asia Minor north of the Taurus are regarded as exposed to persecution (1 Peter 1:6 ), not merely in the form of dislike and malevolence on the part of neighbours … but persecution to the death (1 Peter 4:15-16 ), after trial and question (1 Peter 3:15 ). The persecution is general, and extends over the whole Church (1 Peter 5:9 ). The Christians are not merely tried when a private accuser comes forward against them, but are sought out for trial by the Roman officials (1 Peter 5:8 , 1 Peter 3:15 ). They suffer for the Name (1 Peter 4:14-16 ) pure and simple; the trial takes the form of inquiry into their religion, giving them the opportunity of ‘glorifying God in this name’.”

[109] The Church in the Roman Empire , pp. 279 ff.

Of this persecution by Vespasian there is no evidence except an inference from the statement of Sulpicius Severus, that Titus his son and successor wished to exterminate both Judaism and Christianity, and the general deduction from the letter of Pliny, that persecution for the Name was an established practice. Apart from this objection, it may fairly he said that even the rigorous interpretation which Professor Ramsay puts upon different passages is not necessarily inconsistent with the conditions of the reign of Nero when persecution of the Church did, as a fact, begin. If the vague terms, in which the various sufferings of Christians are described, are to be pressed and limited to mean State persecution and persecution to the death, there still remain indubitable references to unofficial persecution which did not go to such lengths. The author, as Professor Ramsay himself says, looks forward to a period of persecution as the condition in which Christians have to live. Further he exhorts Christians to be loyal subjects and therein proves that the obvious test of loyalty had not yet been applied to them. And he definitely excludes the narrow interpretation of the roaring lion, when he urges the Christians to resist it.

For these and other reasons, Professor Ramsay’s theory is rejected by Dr. Chase on the one hand and Professor Schmiedel [110] on the other. But many of his arguments hold good against the date under Trajan, to which Professor Schmiedel adheres. Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan, however, is not easily made to fit the state of things reflected in the First Epistle of St. Peter. For one thing, in Pliny’s time Bithynia was so far infected by real or nominal Christianity that the temples were deserted. The unlawful superstition was so far predominant that many of its adherents conformed without any conviction. Pliny’s anticipation that clemency shown to such penitents would result in the annihilation of Christianity suggests an altogether different state of things.

[110] Encyclopœdia Biblica , vol. i.: “Christian, name of”.

On the whole whether St. Peter perished under Nero or, as Professor Ramsay urges, at a later date the Epistle may not unreasonably be referred to the time when Nero inaugurated the attack upon the provincial Roman Christians and gave the cue to all provincial governors who wished to earn his favour by endorsing the rightfulness of his action under whatever pretext. Already they were distinguished from the Jews, and, therefore, stood under the ban of the law as an unlicensed corporation. They were magicians who prophesied the destruction of the world, and the fire of Rome was proof of their power. They might plead innocence of crimes associated with the name by vulgar suspicion; but even when they cleared their name it was in itself sufficient to condemn them. That is the pagan view. The Christian view is that Christ suffered and they must follow in His steps. No colour must be given to the misrepresentations of their enemies. They must take every opportunity of removing them. This done, though death be their penalty, they will die to the glory of God, resisting the slanderer and remaining firm in their faith.


There are two different ways of treating the fact that any given book of the New Testament Canon is first quoted as authoritative Scripture and as the work of its commonly reputed author by a later writer of known date and recognised authority. You may say that the said book is thereby recognised as canonical and as authentic either not before or as early as such and such a date. In the former case the endorsement of tradition is regarded as an innovation, in the latter as an explicit regularisation of previous, but inarticulate, practice.

The former interpretation of such facts has the advantage of appearing to appeal to what is apparent and to nothing else. But it involves axioms which require to be proved. We must suppose that the Canon was definitely fixed by authority and was not a thing of gradual growth. And, if we are to argue from the silence of ecclesiastical writers, we must ignore the fact that many of them are no longer extant and postulate for them an interest in such matters as canonicity equal to our own. In fact it seems more reasonable to allow ourselves the exercise of a sober imagination in dealing with the evidence. In the case of 1 Peter at all events there is no sign of any attempt to force a new forgery upon the acceptance of the Church. It contains no innovation of doctrine such as might need the support of Apostolic authority.

The Epistle, then (we may say), is used by Irenæus as early as the third quarter of the second century. Behind Irenæus in all probability there lies a period, in which the idea of the New Testament Canon grew up and in which its contents were gradually reduced for reasons which appeared to those in authority to be adequate. Of that period we certainly do not know everything. All the Gnostics whom Irenæus has pilloried are represented only by fragments and summaries of their doctrines contemptuously preserved by their opponents at a later time. But, even so, it appears that the Gnostics in their efforts to elucidate the philosophy of the Christian religion and to advance to something higher than the somewhat pedestrian and commonplace theology of the ordinary ecclesiastic laid stress upon Scripture. And in so far as they tended to relegate the Old Testament to a definitely inferior place in the development of true religion they necessarily devoted themselves to the writings of the Apostles the Scriptures of the New Testament. Inevitably the Gospels, which contained the sayings of Jesus, and the works of St. Paul occupied the first place in their estimation. The Lord and the Apostle exercised an authority to which the Church must bow. So the Gnostics applied themselves to New Testament exegesis not always for the purposes of theological controversy. The controversies, which ensued upon the deductions they drew from such exegesis, led to the delimitation of the Canon and there is a strong presumption in favour of the traditional view of the books which survived the ordeal. 1 Peter is not a book which was likely to be much to the mind of daring thinkers who could discriminate between the different degrees of inspiration latent in different sayings of the Lord and who were determined to be done with Judaism. The Gnostics professed to be wiser than the Apostles Irenæus their posthumous conqueror asserts. 1 Peter is a book more congenial to such a man as Polycarp, who was more fitted to be a simple recipient of the general tradition. And it is to be remembered that Polycarp takes us back to a time when the idea of a Canon of New Testament Scripture was in its infancy.

Our document is first quoted with the formula Peter or Peter in his Epistle says in the latter part of the second century.

Irenæus, the disciple of Polycarp, whose book Against Heresies was written while Eleutherus was Bishop of Rome (A.D. 175 189), [111] is the earliest witness to its reception as such. He appealed to it (for example) along with Paul and Isaiah: “et Petrus ait in epistula: [112] Quem non videntes diligitis , inquit, in quem nunc non videntes credidistis, gaudebitis gaudio inenarrabili ”. [113] In another place it is quoted after Moses and the Lord: “et propter hoc Petrus, ait, non velamentum malitiae habere nos libertatem [114] sed ad probationem et manifestationem fidei”.

[111] “ νῦν δωδεκάτῳ τόπω τὸν τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς ἀπὸ τῶν Ἀποστόλων κατέχει κλῆρον Ἐλεύθερος .” Irenæus, Adv. Haer. , iii. 3. 3 (Harvey’s edition).

[112] Adv. Haer. iv. 19, 2 = 1 Peter 1:8 .

[113] Adv. Haer. iv. 28.

[114] 1 Peter 2:16 .

Tertullian, a little later, puts Peter on a level with Paul in respect of his inspiration, and explains their agreement as due to the fact that they were inspired by the same spirit: “de modestia quidem cultus et ornatus aperba praescriptio est etiam Petri cohibentis eodem ore quia eodem et spiritu quo Paulus, et vestium gloriam et auri superbiam et crinium lenoniam operositatem”. [115] In his Antidote to the poison of the Gnostics, which may perhaps be dated A.D. 213, he cites 1 Peter as addressed to the natives of Pontus: “Petrus quidem ad Ponticos, Quanta enim , inquit, gloria si non ut delinquentes puniamini, sustinetis. Haec enim gratia est, in hoc et vocati estis, quoniam et Christus passus est pro nobis, relinquens vobis exemplum semetipsum, uti adsequamini vestigia ipsius . Et rursus Dilecti ne expavescatis ultionem quae agitur in vobis in temptationem, quasi novum accidat vobis; etenim secundum quod communicatis passionibus Christi, gaudete, uti et in revelatione gloriae eius gaudeatis exultantes: si dedecoramini nomine Christi, beati estis, quoniam gloria et dei spiritus requiescat in vobis, dum ne quis vestrum patiatur, ut homicida aut fur aut maleficus aut alieni speculator. Si autem ut Christianus, ne erubescat, glorificet autem dominum in nomine isto. [116]

[115] De Oratione , xv. referring to 1 Peter 3:3 and Tim. 1 Peter 2:9 ; compare Clement of Alexandria, paedagogus , III., xi. 66, quoted above.

[116] Scorpiace xii. = 1Pe 2:20-21 ; 1 Peter 4:12-15 .

Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150 (?) 210) commented on 1 Peter in his Hypotyposes, but the commentary is only preserved in a Latin abridgment. [117] In his extant works he quotes freely from the Epistle and uses it as if it were familiar to his readers. In the paedagogus [118] (for example), which is addressed to catechumens, he says: ἐγνωκότες οὖν τὸ ἑκάστου ἔργον , ἐν φόβῳ τὸν τῆς παροικίας ὑμῶν χρόνον ἀναστράφητε , εἰδότες ὃτιοὐ φθαρτοῖς , ἀργυρίῳ ἢ χρυσίῳ , ἐλυτρώθημεν ἐκ τῆς ματαίας ἡμῶν ἀναστροφῆς πατριπαραδότου , ἀλλὰ τιμίῳ αἵματι ὡς ἀμνοῦ ἀμώμου καὶ ἀσπίλου Χριστοῦ . ἀρκετὸς οὖν ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος ὁ Πέτρος φησί τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι , πεπορευμένους ἐν ἀσελγείαις , ἐπιθυμίαις , οἰνοφλυγίαις , κώμοις , πότοις . καὶ ἀθεμίτοις ἐιδωλολατρείαις . [119] And in the Stromateis , [120] which were intended for more advanced Christians, he has, after quotations from the Second Epistle to the Corinthians: διὸ καὶ ὁ θαυμάσιος Πέτρος φησίν · ἀγαπητοί , παρακαλῶ ὡς παροίκους καὶ παρεπιδήμους ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν σαρκικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν , αἵτινες στρατεύονται κατὰ τῆς ψυχῆς , τὴν ἀναστροφὴν ὑμῶν καλὴν ἔχοντες ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν . ὅτι οὕτως ἐστι τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ , ἀγαθοποιοῦντας φιμοῦν τὴν τῶν ἀφρόνων ἀνθρώπων ἐργασίαν , ὡς ἐλεύθεροι καὶ μὴ ὡς ἐπικάλυμμα ἔχοντες τῆς κακίας τὴν ἐλευθερίαν , ἀλλʼ ὡς δοῦλοι θεοῦ . On one occasion [121] he fuses together the sumptuary laws for women laid down by St. Paul and St. Peter: προσιέναι δὲ αὐτὰς ὁ παιδάγωγος κελεύει ἐν καταστολῇ κοσμίῳ , μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ σωφροσύνης κοσμεῖν ἑαυτάς , [122] ὑποτασσομένας τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν , ὡς καὶ εἴ τινες ἀπειθοῖεν τῷ λόγῳ , διὰ τῆς τῶν γυναικῶν ἀναστροφῆς ἄνευ λόγου κερδηθήσονται , ἐποπτεύσαντες , φησί , τὴν ἐν λόγῳ ἁγνὴν ἀναστροφήν ὑμῶν · ὧν ἔστω οὐχ ὁ ἔξωθεν ἐμπλοκῆς καὶ περιθέσεως χρυσίων ἢ ἐνδύσεως ἱματίων κόσμος , ἀλλʼ ὁ κρυπτὸς τῆς καρδίας ἄνθρωπος ἐν τῷ ἀφθάρτῳ τοῦ πραέος καὶ ἡσυχίου πνεύματος , ὅ ἐστιν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ πολυτελές . [123] This fusion is characteristic: both St. Paul and St. Peter wrote Scripture, and Clement follows popular usage, which never has insisted upon a nice discrimination between the authors of “texts”. Indeed in another place [124] he refers part of the first Epistle to Timothy [125] to St. Peter: πάνυ γοῦν θαυμασίως ὁ Πέτρος ὁ μακάριος γυναῖκας , φησίν , ὡσαυτως μὴ ἐν πλέγμασιν ἢ χρυσῷ ἢ μαργαρίταις ἢ ἱματισμῷ πολυτελεῖ , ἀλλʼ ὃ πρεπει γυναιξὶν ἐπαγγελλομέναις θεοσέβειαν , διʼ ἔργων ἀγαθῶν σφᾶς αὐτὰς κοσμούσων .

[117] Potter’s edition, pp. 1006 f.

[118] III., xii. 85.

[119] 1Pe 1:17-19 ; 1 Peter 4:3 .

[120] III., xi. 75.

[121] paedagogus , III., xi. 66.

[122] 1 Timothy 2:9 .

[123] 1 Peter 3:1-4 .

[124] paedagogus , II., xii. 127.

[125] Tim. 1 Peter 2:9 f.

The fact of the matter is that even Clement used, at any rate in his paedagogus , manuals of extracts from Scripture classified according to their subjects. His paedagogus or instructor is the distinguished successor of a line of humbler books of the same kind. The Christian catechist had his armoury of appropriate texts just as the missionary to the Jews had his. The extracts were arranged under headings: sayings of Moses, the Prophet, the Psalmist, the Sage, the Lord and the Apostle followed each other in various orders and with different degrees of precision in attribution. The inevitable results were that the extracts were affected by their new neighbours in respect of their text, and that their proper ascription was lost sight of. As the learning and the security of the Church increased, these results were corrected. Complete Bibles in the Church chests superseded the manuals, and Origen (for example) laboured to restore the purity of the text. The new state of things is reflected in the Stromateis of Clement: there Jesus Son of Sirach receives credit for his wisdom, which in the paedagogus is ascribed to wisdom, the Paedagogue, or Solomon; and the text of the extracts conforms to the standard of the uncial manuscripts. But the literature which preceded Clement was popular rather than scholarly, and the phenomena presented by his use of Scripture in the paedagogus contribute to confirm the conclusion that the argument based upon the silence of his predecessors is fallacious, and that their silence can fairly be construed as a denial of the Petrine origin or authorship of 1 Peter.

These examples of the use of 1 Peter made by Irenæus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria have been given in full to show what the raw material of the evidence really is. Samples only as they are, they suffice to show that 1 Peter was recognised as St. Peter’s Epistle about A.D. 200 in Gaul, Africa, and Alexandria. By a stretch of the imagination it might be supposed that Tertullian was dependent upon Clement for this knowledge; but Irenæus and Clement represent a tradition which they inherited independently from a distant past. Now Clement was the earliest Christian scholar , whose works have come down to us, and Irenæus is linked to the apostolic age by his connexion with Polycarp.

In his Epistle to the Philippians, Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who died a martyr on 23rd February, A.D. 155 at the age of 86 years, [126] has left, as Eusebius noted, a valuable witness to the earlier history of the New Testament Canon.

[126] So Bardenhewer, Geschichte der Altkirchlichen Litteratur , i. p. 149.

So far as the Canonicity of 1 Peter is concerned the evidence of the Epistle is overwhelming. It is true that Polycarp does not give the name of the authority, which he uses so often. It would be unreasonable to expect that he should. “Paul” and “the Lord” are the only authors named. The words of the Lord have naturally a higher authority than those of His Apostles at any rate at this stage in the development of the Canon. And St. Paul as the founder of the Church at Philippi had a special claim upon their obedience: “Neither I (Polycarp says) nor anyone like me can attain to the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who, when he came among you, before the face of the men of that time taught accurately and surely the word of truth, who also when he was absent wrote letters to you into which if you look you will be able to be built up in the faith given unto you.” [127] Other Scriptures, even the first Epistle of St. John, Polycarp’s teacher, are used just as 1 Peter is used anonymously and not always with a clear formula to stamp the quotations as quotations.

[127] 1 Peter 3:2 .

The following passages contain clear cases of Polycarp’s use of 1 Peter:

(1 Peter 1:1-3 ) συνεχάρην … ὅτι ἡ βεβαία τὴς πίστεως ὑμῶν ῥίζα … μεχρὶ νῦν διαμένει καὶ καρποφορεῖ εἰς τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν … εἰς ὃν οὐκ ἰδόντες πιστεύετε χαρᾷ ἀνεκλαλήτῳ καὶ δεδοξασμένῃ [128] εἰς ἣν πολλοἰ ἐπιθυμοῦσιν εἰσελθεῖν . [129]

[128] 1 Peter 1:8 .

[129] Compare 1 Peter 1:12 .

II. διὸ ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας ὑμῶν [130] δουλεύσατε τῷ θεῷ … πιστεύσαντες εἰς τὸν ἐγείραντα τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ δόντα αὐτῷ δόξαν [131] καὶ θρόνον ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ … μὴ ἀποδιδόντες κακὸν ἀντ κακοῦ ἢ λοιδορίαν ἀντὶ λοιδορίας [132] ἢ γρόνθον ἀντὶ γρόνθου ἢ κατάραν ἀντὶ κατάρας . [133]

[130] 1 Peter 1:3 .

[131] 1 Peter 1:21 .

[132] 1 Peter 3:9 .

[133] Compare 1 Peter 3:9 .

V. καλὸν γὰρ τὸ ἀνακόπτεσθαι ἀπὸ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν τῶν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ , ὅτι πᾶσα ἐπιθυμία κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος στρατεύεται . [134]

[134] 1 Peter 2:11 conflated with Galatians 5:17 .

VII. ἐπὶ τὸν ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἡμῖν παραδοθέντα λόγον ἐπιστρέψωμεν νήφοντες πρὸς τὰς ἐυχὰς 1 [135] καὶ προσκαρτεροῦντες νηστείαις .

[135] 0 Peter 1 Peter 4:7 .

VIII. προσκαρτερῶμεν τῇ ἐλπίδι ἡμῶν καὶ τῷ ἀρραβῶνι τῆς δικαιοσύνης ἡμῶν , ὅς ἐστιν Χριστὸς Ἰησοῦς , ὃς ἀνήνεγκεν ἡμῶν τὰς ἁμαρτίας τῷ ἰδίῳ σώματι ἐπὶ τὸ ξύλον , [136] ὃς ἀμαρτίαν οὐκ ἐποίησεν , οὐδὲ εὑρέθη δόλος ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ . [137] ἀλλὰ διʼ ἡμᾶς , ἵνα ζήσωμεν ἐν αὐτῷ , πάντα ὑπέμεινεν . μιμηταὶ οὖν γενώμεθα τῆς ὑπομονῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐὰν πάσχωμεν διὰ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ , δοξάζωμεν αὐτόν . [138] τοῦτον γὰρ ἡμῖν τὸν ὑπογραμμὸν ἔθηκε διʼ ἑαυτοῦ , καὶ ἡμεῖς τοῦτο ἐπιστεύσαμεν . [139]

[136] 1 Peter 2:24 .

[137] 1 Peter 2:22 .

[138] 1 Peter 4:16 .

[139] 1 Peter 2:21 .

X. In his ergo state et domini exemplar sequimini firmi in fide et inmutabiles, fraternitatis amatores diligentes invicem.… [140] Omnes vobis invicem subiecti estote, [141] conversationem vestram inreprehensibilem habentes in gentibus, ut ex bonis operibus vestris et vos Iaudem accipiatis et dominus in vobis non blasphemetur . [142]

[140] Compare 1 Peter 3:8 (1 Peter 2:17 ).

[141] Compare 1 Peter 5:5 .

[142] 1 Peter 2:12 : the paraphrase of the latter part of the verse ( ἐποπτεύοντες δοξάσωσι τὸν θεόν ) is due to the next quotation (Isaiah 52:5 ), vae autem, per quem nomen domini blasphematur.


This edition is based on a course of lectures delivered, in the first instance, to a class of honours men who were expected to use the late Professor Bigg’s commentary as a text-book. The lectures were, therefore, made independently of that commentary and with a view to the exhibition of new material and processes rather than results. In particular, an attempt was made to illustrate the reference of the Septuagint and Jewish literature generally to the exegesis of the New Testament. In the reduction of these notes to their present form the commentaries of Alford, Bigg, Hort, Kühl-Meyer, and Von Soden were consulted.

The text is taken from the facsimile of the great Vatican Codex ( [143] ), the lines of which are indicated by spaces.

[143] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

The editor gratefully acknowledges the kindness of the Rev. George Milligan D.D., and the Rev. R. St. John Parry, B.D., who read the commentary in proof.


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