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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter 1

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-2


1 Peter 1:1-2

In its salutation, the First Letter of Peter follows with some alterations the usual form of a Greek letter of the day. The usual form was, "So-and-so to So-and-so, greetings." Paul had adopted this pattern but added certain phrases by way of description of himself as the writer and of the church addressed. These additions in some cases were quite extensive (see Romans 1:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; Galatians 1:1-5). It had become Paul’s habit to include, particularly in his description of the church addressed, certain items which suggested the content of the letter to follow. Paul had also expanded the usual term, "Greetings," into a benediction, thereby giving it a distinctively Christian flavor. It seems certain that the salutation of First Peter is definitely patterned after that employed by Paul.

The writer describes himself as "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ." There can be no doubt that the original disciple of Jesus of that name is intended. His Aramaic name was originally Simon Bar-Jona, but Jesus renamed him "Rock" (in Aramaic Kepha, in Greek Petros; see Matthew 16:17-18; John 1:41-42). It would be natural of course for Peter, in addressing churches in the Greek- speaking world, to employ his Greek name. The designation of himself as "an apostle of Jesus Christ" indicates the authority by which he writes.

The Christians or churches addressed are described by the author as the elect ("chosen") "exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (vs. 1). The adjective "elect" or "chosen" is a New Testament description of Christians generally (Titus 1:1; see Ephesians 1:4). The term was applied in the Old Testament to the Chosen People (see Psalms 105:6; Psalms 105:43; Isaiah 45:4). "Exiles" (or "sojourners") is a term which lays stress upon the transitoriness of one’s existence in a particular locality. It is intended to express the same thought as that in Hebrews 11:8-16 relative to Abraham and his descendants during their dwelling in the land of Canaan. This was merely a transitory existence, inasmuch as Abraham looked for the eternal city which God had prepared for him. In consequence he and his descendants thought of themselves as "strangers and exiles on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13). "Dispersion" originally indicated the Jews living outside Palestine (John 7:35; see also James 1:1). James and Peter in applying this term to the Christian Church were merely following the common custom of adopting terminology which originally referred to Israel and Judaism and of refurbishing it for Christian ends. The churches addressed probably include those to be found throughout Asia Minor north of the Taurus Mountains (see Introduction).

Verse 2 provides us with a good example — of which there are a number in the Epistles (2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6) — of the type of passage out of which the later Trinitarian formula of the Church arose. "Destined by God the Father" is literally in the Greek, "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." However, the participle "destined" gives the sense of the Semitic idiom lying behind the Greek; for in the Hebrew "to foreknow" often meant "to determine," "to decide," or "to predestine" (Amos 3:2; and see Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2). "Sanctified by the Spirit" is a phrase suggestive of the central teaching of the letter as a whole, which is to the effect that the Christian way is one of holiness or sanctification like to that of God (1:15-16). The work of both the Father and the Spirit is said to be for the purpose of the readers’ "obedience to Jesus Christ" and their "sprinkling with his blood." These phrases also suggest major themes of the letter. In verse 14 obedience is set in contrast to "the passions of your former ignorance," and in verse 22 this obedience is further related to the subject of purification or sanctification and is defined as "obedience to the truth." Sprinkling with blood is a phrase suggestive of the worship in Tabernacle and Temple. Like the Letter to the Hebrews, the thought of First Peter moves in a circle of ideas suggested by that worship (see vs. 19 and Hebrews 9:13; Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 9:21; Hebrews 10:22; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 12:24).

At this point in the usual salutation of a Greek letter it was customary merely to express "greetings" (see James 1:1). Paul had baptized this usual salutation by employing another form of the same Greek word-stem, the noun "grace," referring to the unmerited love of God conferred upon the sinner in the work of Jesus Christ. With this noun Paul had also habitually joined the Greek term for "peace" — the translation of the Hebrew word which was also used as a greeting. This "peace" is understood as that between God and man, achieved by God’s redemptive activity on man’s behalf (Isaiah 57:19; Ephesians 2:14; Ephesians 2:17). Peter was obviously acquainted with Paul’s custom and simply took over his formula.

Verses 3-5


1 Peter 1:3 to 1 Peter 5:11

The Gospel of an Incorruptible Heritage (1:3-12)

Its Assurance Resting on God’s Mercy and Power (1:3-5)

At this point in his letters it was customary for Paul to insert a prayer of thanksgiving (see Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4). However, he altered this formula in two directions: in Galatians 1:6 he inserted an anathema directed against those who had quickly departed from the "grace of Christ"; and in 2 Corinthians 1:3 he substituted a doxology for the usual thanksgiving (see also Ephesians 1:3). First Peter, it will be observed, follows the latter pattern, resembling Ephesians more than Second Corinthians. The literary style is that known in Greek literature as a "period" — that is, a long involved and exceedingly complex sentence, highly ornamented with descriptive phrases and subordinate clauses, intended to supply beauty of syntactical structure worthy of a highly complex theme.

It is rather generally held that the major portion of the letter (1 Peter 1:3 to 1 Peter 4:11) follows the catechetical or baptismal formula of instruction given to new converts to the Christian faith in the Early Church (see Introduction). Following the usual pattern of this formula, the present section (vss. 3-12), in the form of a doxology, presents us with a somewhat comprehensive doctrinal statement. The theme of this doctrinal statement is "the good news" or gospel (vs. 12) of "an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (vs. 4) . Or again, it is the good news of "a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (vs. 3 ) . Finally, it may be defined as the good news of "a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (vs. 5). As will be seen, all of these descriptions of the content of the gospel are oriented toward the future, even toward the eternal order at the end of history.

The "living hope" to which Peter makes reference is doubtless the same as the "hope of eternal life" in Titus 1:2. As in all New Testament thought, such hope of life comes to the Christian "through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (vs. 3; 1 Corinthians 15:12-13; 1 Corinthians 15:21; and see also Acts 23:6; Acts 24:15; Hebrews 6:18-20) . Peter, accordingly, like the other writers of the Early Church, makes the resurrection of Jesus Christ the cornerstone of the Christian faith. And as with Paul, who witnesses to the tradition of the Church from the beginning (1 Corinthians 15:1-11), the resurrection of Christ is a matter of experience to which Peter testifies, not an abstraction to be proved by logic. The suggestion that "we have been born anew" to this hope of life approaches most nearly to the thought and terminology of the Gospel of John (see John 3:3; John 3:7). Behind the experience, including the resurrection of Christ himself and our birth to this "living hope," lies the "great mercy" of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." From the beginning the Church believed that it was the Father who had raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Acts 2:24; Acts 2:32; 1 Corinthians 15:15).

Peter speaks of this hope of life as "an inheritance" (vs. 4), a word taken over from the Old Testament promise with regard to Canaan (Genesis 17:8) and employed in the New Testament to refer to the fulfillment of all the promises of God (Acts 20:32; Galatians 3:18; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 9:15). The adjectives "imperishable," "undefiled," and "unfading" applied to this "inheritance" enhance the idea of its eternal value; together they are the equivalent of the expression that it is "kept in heaven" for the Christian. But if the "mercy" of God is behind the Christian’s eternal hope, it is God’s "power" which guarantees the safeguarding of both the Christian and his inheritance (vs. 5). "Salvation" is the third of the trilogy of words ("hope," "inheritance," "salvation") which together represent the redemption to be received by the Christian. This salvation is not in its entirety a present possession; the believer is "guarded through faith" for its final reception. And yet for Peter "the last time" has already arrived, as in verse 20 he commits himself to the idea that Christ has already been "made manifest at the end of the times" (see also 4:7).

Verses 6-9

Trial of Our Faith in It (1:6-9)

In the previous section Peter remarks that "faith" is the response which man must make to the salvation proffered by God (vs. 5). The present passage analyzes the circumstances under which the Christian must express this response of faith, the circumstances of a realistic world in which the Christian is called upon "to suffer various trials" (vs. 6). These "trials" are very real and are calculated to test "the genuineness of . . . faith," even as "gold ... is tested by fire" (vs. 7). There is no indication that the "trials" intended are of any special severity; indeed, Peter suggests in verse 6 that they are only a possibility with which the Christian has to reckon. In any case "various trials" are a commonplace in Christian experience, as is also the paradox that in the midst of trial and tribulation Christians may "rejoice."

The Christian’s joy is the product of his realization of the "salvation" which he has already begun to experience and to whose consummation he looks forward (vss. 3-5). Jesus had long since comforted his disciples with the thought that joy in the midst of persecution was not only possible for the Christian but also placed him in the category of the prophets of old time who had had a similar experience (Matthew 5:11-12). Paul had testified to his having experienced joy in the midst of suffering (Colossians 1:24; see also Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 6:10). Moreover, the "little while" (vs. 6) reminds us of the similar teaching in Hebrews 10:32-39; Hebrews 12:3-11.

It is a psychologically well-authenticated fact, and one attested by Christian experience, that joy may thus be experienced in the midst of suffering, provided the sufferer realizes at the time the larger goal to be attained as the product of the suffering. In the present instance this goal is stated to be both proximate and more remote. The proximate or near goal is the testing of "the genuineness" of the "faith" of Peter’s readers (vs. 7); the remote object of this testing is that these Christians’ faith "may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Probably "praise and glory and honor" here refer to one thing, namely, Christ’s pleasure at and acceptance of the believer’s faith as the sole condition of his salvation. The event intended in the expression "the revelation of Jesus Christ" is, of course, the final coming and the Judgment at the end of the age.

Peter now dwells on the paradoxical nature of his readers’ faith in Christ (vss. 8-9). They have never "seen him," and yet they "love him," and though they "do not now see him," they "believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy." Such is the paradoxical nature of the love and faith of Christians at all times. For they are called upon to live in a world of nature which is apprehended by the five senses. And yet it is both their duty and their privilege to employ the sixth sense of "faith" in apprehending him who is invisible (see John 20:29; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Hebrews 11:27). The outcome of such faith is now said to be "the salvation of your souls" (vs. 9), which is the practical equivalent of the "praise and glory and honor" which we have already noted (vs. 7).

Verses 10-12

This Gospel Prophesied of Old (1:10-12)

Peter brings the long Greek "period" to a close with a comprehensive reference to the Hebrew prophets’ knowledge of and witness to the Christian’s salvation. They "inquired," he says, with regard to the nature of the "salvation" itself, the "person" by whom it was to be achieved, and the "time" when this would occur (vss. 10-11). He remarks almost incidentally that such salvation was to be the product of "the grace" of God and that the source of the revelation which came to the prophets was "the Spirit of Christ within them." And he speaks of their "predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory" which should follow them. In these two verses — packed as they are in every word and phrase with deep doctrinal content — we can feel Peter’s assurance, perhaps reflecting the knowledge that he was simply repeating what was already known to his Christian readers through tradition. For it is beyond dispute that the Christian Church from the beginning found in the Old Testament Scriptures, and particularly in their prophetic sections, unmistakable reference to Jesus Christ and the salvation which he would accomplish in the providence of God and in his own good time (see Mark 14:21; Mark 14:27; Luke 24:44-47; John 2:17; John 12:14-16; Acts 2:15-36).

The continuity between the Old Covenant and the New is further elaborated in verse 12. Here it is explicitly stated that "the things" with which the prophets dealt formed the content of "the good news" which was preached later on to the Christians of Peter’s generation. Moreover, just as these things were "indicated by the Spirit of Christ" to the prophets, so they were "announced" by Christian evangelists, "through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven" to Peter’s readers!

Two points stand out with unmistakable clarity in this passage: First, the fact that it owes much to the description of the Suffering Servant in Second Isaiah. Both Jesus Christ himself and the Church which he established interpreted his own sufferings in terms of those of this Suffering Servant (compare Luke 22:37 with Isaiah 53:12; Acts 8:32-33 with Isaiah 53:7-8; Hebrews 9:28 with Isaiah 53:12). Second, the phraseology of the passage contains clear similarity to that in the Letter to the Hebrews. Thus, the fact that "the things" constituting the "good news" were known and proclaimed by the Old Testament prophetic characters is the theme of Hebrews, chapters 3 and 4 (see particularly 4:1-7). Similarly, the idea that these prophetic figures were "serving not themselves but you" has its certain counterpart in Hebrews 11:39-40, while the reference to "angels" and their attachment to the gospel and its proclamation is found in Hebrews 1:14 (see also Hebrews 2:16). There may even be an intended contrast between the fact that "angels long to look" into the gospel and its nature (vs. 12) and the tradition held by Hellenistic-Jewish Christians that the Law had been "declared by angels" (Hebrews 2:2; see also Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).

Verses 13-17

The Sanctification the Gospel Requires (1:13-2:10)

A Holy Life — God’s Example and the Christian’s Hope (1:13-17)

From this point forward to 5:11 Peter’s style is largely hortatory. Here and there are interspersed sections of a purely doctrinal nature, but generally speaking doctrine forms an integral part of the exhortation itself. The introductory word "therefore" with which this section opens refers to the doctrinal passage which precedes. Exhortation to holy living is based upon the theology at which we have been looking. More specifically, such living may be said to be the joint product of the grace of God the Father (vss. 3, 10), the redemptive work of Christ (vss. 3, 7, 11), and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (vss. 2, 11, 12).

Following the pattern of the catechetical instruction given by the Early Church to its new converts, at this point Peter begins to lay stress upon the necessity of the holy life for the Christian. He sets it against the background of the pagan vices of the day and represents the Christian hope as its motive. We have already seen that he has set forth the "hope" of "the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (vs. 13) as a principal theme for his readers’ consideration (vss. 3,10-12). Neither here nor elsewhere in the letter is Peter afraid of repetition, doubtless using it — and quite properly so — as a pedagogical device. As before, therefore, we note that the "hope" is an eschatological one and is not as yet entirely fulfilled in the experience of the Christian (see vs. 5). Peter’s suggestion to his readers in the words "gird up your minds, be sober" is nearly identical with Paul’s in Ephesians 6:14 ("having girded your loins with truth"), and both are reminiscent of Isaiah’s description of "the branch" of Jesse, of whom he says that "righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins" (Isaiah 11:5). All of these expressions reflect, of course, the oriental mode of dress with its important cummerbund which forms the major support for the entire ensemble.

Like Paul in Acts 17:30, Peter thinks of the pre-Christian life of his readers as one characterized by "ignorance" (vs. 14). Such ignorance is found in the Jew as well as in the Greek (see Romans 7:7), in both being essentially an ignorance of God’s will for man’s life which expresses itself in giving way to "passions" (see 2:11; 4:2; Galatians 5:16-24). On the contrary, the "obedient" Christian is called upon to be "holy . . . in all . . . [his] conduct" (vs. 15), and this for the reason that God has made man in his image and therefore to be holy as God himself is holy (vs. 16; see Leviticus 19:2). The verse from Leviticus quoted here makes God himself the pattern for man, who is in all his ways to mirror the likeness of this "holy" God. For a somewhat similar Christian use of this imagery see 2 Corinthians 3:17-18. Peter reminds his readers that God is not only "Father" but is also one "who judges each one impartially according to his deeds" (vs. 17). "Fear" of this holy God is accordingly not without its place in Christian experience, or, as Peter remarks, "throughout the time of your exile," that is, of one’s absence from the heavenly order which is the Christian’s home (see vs. 1).

Verses 18-21

A Holy Life — Achieved by Christ’s Death and Resurrection (1:18-21)

Peter, however, has no illusions about the power of Christians to emulate the high pattern set for them by the holy God. Indeed, he affirms that our "faith and hope are in God" alone (vs. 21). He has already said that this holy God is none other than "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (vs. 3). Accordingly, "before the foundation of the world" God had set his mind to working out a plan of salvation whereby men might be "ransomed from the futile ways inherited" from the past (vss. 18, 20). This method of salvation involved the sending of Christ into the world that he might die, be "raised" again "from the dead," and be glorified "for your sake" (vss. 19-21).

Peter does not work out in detail for us the method whereby the Christian’s salvation to a holy life is achieved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In language taken from the slave market on the one hand, and the worship of the altar on the other, he merely suggests that Christ’s death has purchased us for God (vss. 18-19). The word "ransomed" or "redeemed" (Isaiah 52:3) is one reminiscent of the slave market (Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23), and to the Jew always brought to mind the period of bondage in Egypt (Acts 7:30-37). In the Christian’s case the metaphor was used for his deliverance from "the futile ways inherited from . . . [his] fathers." But the ransom price is stated in sacrificial terms as having been constituted by "the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (vs. 19; see Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 9:3). Peter sees this work of Christ in the perspective of eternity, from which "he was destined," that is, predetermined, by God for the task of redemption which he fulfilled (see also 2 Corinthians 5:19). Like Paul, Peter sees God as the creative agent in the resurrection of Christ; for it was God "who raised him from the dead and gave him glory" (vs. 21; see 1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Peter’s declaration that Jesus Christ "was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake" (vs. 20) is indicative of the chronology with which he is working. There can be no doubt that whereas in verses 3, 7, and 13, as elsewhere in the letter, the coming of Christ at the end of history is in mind, in verse 20 the Incarnation is equally before the mind of the writer. Accordingly, it is clear that for him "the end" includes the period of history from the Incarnation forward, and that the entire period of Church history may be identified with "the last times." In this respect Peter is in accord with the other New Testament writers who expressed themselves on the subject (see Acts 2:16-21; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; 1 John 2:18).

A Holy Life — Generated by the Word (1:22-2:3)

In saying that the Christian’s "confidence" is "in God" (vs. 21), or in his "great mercy" (vs. 3) or "grace" (vss. 10, 13), Peter has presented to his readers the ultimate source of their salvation. He now indicates the means or instrument which God has employed to accomplish his will in this matter. This instrument is "the living and abiding word of God" (vs. 23) or "the good news" (vs. 25), that is to say, the gospel "which was preached" to these Christians and which resulted in their rebirth (vs. 23; see also 2:2).

In this doctrine of the new birth Peter shows affinity with several other New Testament writers. The teaching is essentially the same as that at John 3:1-10. But the sowing of the "word of God" which results in regeneration is also the theme of the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9; Matthew 13:18-23). And the same series of ideas (living word, sowing, rebirth) with natural variations in the use of terminology is found also abundantly in both Paul (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; Colossians 1:25; Colossians 3:16) and Hebrews (4:2, 12; 13:7).

The response to this "word of God" or "good news" is that "obedience to the truth" which results in purification (vs. 22). Peter nowhere else in the letter uses the word "truth," but in 1:2 he speaks of "obedience to Jesus Christ" and in 2:8 of those who "disobey the word." We may put together the three passages and through their conjoint testimony discover that the "obedience" which he has in mind is that relating to Jesus Christ, or alternatively to the "truth," or to the "word." So that whether one say "word," "gospel," "good news," "truth," or "Jesus Christ," it would seem obvious that for Peter one is saying essentially the same thing. For him Jesus Christ is the content of the word, of the truth, of the gospel message. And there is considerable evidence in the New Testament that for the Early Church such equations were generally acceptable (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; Colossians 1:25). According to Acts 15:9, Peter had maintained that the Holy Spirit had "cleansed their [the Gentiles’] hearts by faith." And though the Greek is not identical, the meaning is essentially the same as "having purified your souls," which Peter here says is the result of "obedience to the truth" (1:22).

The result of this rebirth and obedience or purification is "sincere love of the brethren" (vs. 22), or the putting away of "all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander” (2:1). And so the Christian trilogy of faith, hope, and love is complete (see vss. 3, 9, 13 above for "faith" and "hope"; and 1 Corinthians 13:13; Hebrews 10:39; Hebrews 11:1; Hebrews 13:1).

Peter’s readers were evidently quite recent converts, as he styles them "newborn babes" (2:2), an expression which in the Greek refers to the youngest type of infant, a babe in arms (see Luke 2:12; Luke 2:16; Luke 18:15; Acts 7:19). The phrase is nowhere else used in the New Testament in this spiritualized sense regarding converts, though a somewhat similar one is used of those who are mere "babes in Christ" in 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and Hebrews 5:12-14. The phraseology, indeed, of verses 2 and 3 is quite similar to that in Hebrews 5:12 to Hebrews 6:8. There is, however, a distinct difference in that Hebrews blames its readers for not having gone on to maturity, in view of the considerable lapse of time since their conversion (see 5:12), whereas Peter expects his "newborn babes" to continue to long for the "spiritual milk" which apparently they still require.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Peter 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-peter-1.html.
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