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- 1 Peter
by Barton Johnson
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER.
Simon Peter, the author of this epistle, was by profession a Galilean fisherman, the son of Jonah, the brother of Andrew, who first brought him to Christ, and associated in business with the sons of Zebedee. When he first appeared his home was at Bethsaida, on the northwest shore of the sea of Galilee, but at a later period "the house of Andrew and Peter" was in Capernaum, a city distant only a mile or two from Bethsaida. Like almost all the early followers of Christ he was a disciple of John the Baptist, by whom he was pointed to the Lamb of God. A little later he was called from his nets, and, along with his brother and the sons of Zebedee, he left all and followed Jesus. Henceforth, during the ministry of the Saviour, he appears in the front ranks of the disciples. Chosen to be an apostle he was one of the three who were drawn more closely to Jesus, who were present when our Lord raised the dead maiden at Capernaum, saw the wonders of the Transfiguration, and were taken into the Garden of Gethsemane to witness its awful and mysterious agony.
Always impetuous, it was Peter who first answered the great question of the Savior at Cæsarea Philippi, who leaped from the boat on the wave to walk to his Master, who so vehemently declared that he of all men would never deny him, who drew his sword to defend him, but who denied him thrice in the palace of the high priest, and then went forth to weep so bitterly over his failure in the moment of trial. He, with John, was the first of the apostles who appeared at the empty tomb, as well as the first of them to whom the risen Lord appeared. Fully forgiven and restored at the sea of Galilee (John, chapter 21), when the work of founding the church and preaching the Gospel under the Great Commission began, Peter for years was the most prominent of the apostolic band. It was he who came to the front on the day of Pentecost, and his bold, aggressive leadership during the earlier years of the church in Judea is unmistakable. More than once he was seized, threatened, imprisoned, and when his fellow-worker, James, the brother of John, was put to death, Peter would have shared his fate at the hands of Herod, had there not been a divine deliverance.
As years pass the notices of Peter in the New Testament history are less frequent. He was in Jerusalem when Paul came there from Damascus (Galatians 1:18; Acts 9:26); and also fourteen years later at the council of Jerusalem (Acts, chapter 15; Galatians 2:9), and Paul met him again at Antioch (Galatians 2:11), the first time he appears elsewhere than in Judea. After this it is only his epistles which give us hints of his further life and labors, but it is evident from these and the traditions of the early church that as an "apostle of the circumcision" he finally turned from Judea to evangelize his own race in other lands.
This brings us to the questions of the Persons addressed in this epistle, the Object in writing to them, and the Place from whence he wrote. Our limits allow only the briefest answers. (1.) It was directed to "the Sojourners of the Dispersion," who lived in five provinces of the Roman empire, all of which had been evangelized by the apostle Paul. See 1 Peter, chapter 1. The Dispersion was a term applied to the Jewish race in lands outside of Judea. Hence, not forgetful of his apostleship to the circumcision (Galatians 2:8) he addressed himself to Jews, but Jewish Christians, "the elect." (2.) His object was apparently to encourage them to press on courageously under trial and persecution. See 1 Peter 4:12. This encouragement and exhortation is set forth in an impetuous torrent which is thoroughly characteristic of the impetuous Peter. His style is lively, energetic, and pleasing, if somewhat wanting in the logical connection and precision of the great apostle to the Gentiles. An indirect object of Peter in writing was, doubtless, to give his support to the authority of Paul. The churches addressed were founded by Paul, but in them had subsequently appeared Judaizers (see introduction to Galatians) who had sought to undermine his authority. Peter recognizes the work, and his teaching is an indirect endorsement of Paul. It served to show the Jewish Christians that the two great apostles were in harmony. (3.) One question remains, where was the epistle written? 1 Peter 5:13 shows that Peter was at Babylon at the time. It seems strange that there should be any question in view of the fact that in all the ancient world, the word Babylon without any other explanations always mean the great city on the Euphrates, or the territory adjacent, which took its name from the city. True, its former greatness was gone, and it was a Roman province, but it had been the home of tens of thousands of the Circumcision, the class to whom Peter directed his labors, ever since the Captivity. We know that in the latter part of the first century and in the second the Rabbinical schools of Babylon vied in importance with that at Tiberias, and that "the Prince of the Captivity" was a formidable potentate for a subject. It is opposed to all the facts of history to contend that there was not, at the date of this epistle, a great Jewish population on the banks of the Euphrates, and an indefinite passage of Josephus belonging to a period a generation earlier, would never have been used for this purpose had it not been that it is essential to the argument of the Papacy to give Peter a long residence at Rome. It is equally out of the question to assert that Peter in a plain, matter of fact letter, speaks of Rome by a name that was only applied to it later in a book of symbols, with the statement that it is used as a symbol. Babylon had carried Israel into captivity; when pagan Rome did the same thing she became a mystical Babylon; and spiritual Rome also merited the designation by carrying into captivity the church of God. There is no reasonable ground for doubt that Peter extended his labors for his own race to Mesopotamia and from thence wrote this epistle. It was probably written towards the close of Paul's first imprisonment in Rome. There are reasons for thinking that Peter had seen the Ephesian letter, one of the epistles of Paul's imprisonment, and hence this Epistle was probably written as late, at least, as A. D. 63.