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- 1 Peter
by Joseph Benson
FIRST EPISTLE GENERAL OF PETER
No person, who has read with attention the four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, can be unacquainted with the character of St. Peter, whether as a follower of Christ, or as an apostle. He and his brother Andrew were the first two that were called by the Lord Jesus to be his disciples, John 1:41; Matthew 4:18-20. And in all the passages in which the names of the twelve apostles are recorded, Peter is mentioned first. He was one of the three whom Jesus admitted to witness the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter; before whom he was transfigured, and with whom he retired to pray in the garden, the night before he suffered. And although afterward, in an hour of sore temptation, termed by Jesus “the hour and power of darkness,” Peter gave a sad proof of human weakness, in denying three times, and that with oaths, that very Master with whom, a few hours before, he had declared his readiness to go to prison and to death; yet in consequence of the deep remorse he felt for his crime, Jesus, having pardoned him, ordered the women, to whom he first “showed himself alive after his passion,” to carry the news of his resurrection to Peter by name; and appeared to him before he appeared to any other of his apostles. And at another appearance, (John 21:15-17,) he confirmed him in his apostolical office, by giving him a special commission to “feed his sheep;” and soon after judged him worthy, under the impulse and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, to open the gospel dispensation in all its glory, and first to preach salvation through a crucified Redeemer to Jews (Acts 2:0.) and Gentiles, Acts 10:0. When he and John were brought before the Jewish council, to be examined concerning the miracle wrought on the impotent man, Peter boldly testified that the man had been healed in the name, and by the power of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified, but whom God had raised from the dead; assuring them that there was salvation in no other. It was Peter who questioned Ananias and Sapphira about the price of their lands; and for their lying in that matter punished them miraculously with death. And, what is yet more remarkable, although by the hands of all the apostles many signs and wonders were wrought, it was by Peter’s shadow only, that the sick, who were laid in the streets of Jerusalem, were healed as he passed by. Soon after, when, to please the Jews, enraged at his zeal and success in preaching the gospel, Herod Agrippa, who had lately killed James, the brother of John, with the sword, had cast Peter into prison, intending to put him to death also, he was delivered by an angel. From these and many other facts, recorded in the gospel history, and well known to every Christian reader, it appears that Peter was very early distinguished as an apostle, and that his Master highly esteemed him for his courage, zeal, and various other good qualities, and conferred on him various marks of his favour, in common with James and John; who likewise distinguished themselves by their fortitude, zeal, and faithfulness in the execution of their apostolic office. But, that Peter received from Christ any authority over his brethren, or possessed any superior dignity as an apostle, as the Romanists contend he did, there is no reason for believing. All the apostles were equal in office and authority, as is plain from our Lord’s declaration, “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” And it appears, from Peter’s epistles, that he did not think himself superior in authority to the other apostles; for if he had entertained any imagination of that sort, insinuations of his superiority, if not direct assertions thereof, might have been expected in his epistles, and especially in their inscriptions; yet there is nothing of that sort in either of his letters. On the contrary, the highest title he takes to himself, in writing to the elders of the churches, is that of their “fellow-elder,” 1 Peter 5:1.
In the history of the Acts, no mention is made of Peter after the council of Jerusalem. But, from Galatians 2:11, it appears that after that council he was with Paul at Antioch; after which, it is generally supposed that he returned to Jerusalem. What happened to him after that is not said in the Scriptures; but, according to Eusebius, Origen, in his exposition on Genesis, wrote as follows: “Peter is supposed to have preached to the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia; and at length, coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downward, himself having desired that his crucifixion might be in that manner.” Lardner thinks, that when he left Judea he went again to Antioch, the chief city of Syria, and thence into other parts of the continent, particularly those mentioned in the beginning of this epistle; and that, when he left those parts, he went to Rome; but not till after Paul had been in that city and was gone from it. If the reader wishes to see the evidences from antiquity, on which Peter’s having been at Rome rests, he will find them fully set forth by Lardner, (Can., vol. 3. c. 18,) who concludes his inquiry as follows: “This is the general, uncontradicted, disinterested testimony of ancient writers, in several parts of the world Greeks, Latins, Syrians. As our Lord’s prediction, concerning the death of Peter, is recorded in one of the four gospels, it is very likely that Christians would observe the accomplishment of it; which must have been in some place. And about this place there is no difference among Christian writers of ancient times. Never any other place was named besides Rome; nor did any other city ever glory in the martyrdom of Peter. It is not for our honour, nor for our interest, either as Christians or Protestants, to deny the truth of events ascertained by early and well-attested traditions. If any make an ill use of such facts, we are not accountable for it. We are not, from a dread of such abuses, to overthrow the credit of all history, the consequence of which would be fatal.”
Learned men are not agreed to whom chiefly this epistle was addressed, whether to the converted Jews of the dispersion only, or to the converted Gentiles, or to both conjointly; or (which was Lord Barrington’s opinion, embraced and defended by Dr. Benson) to the converted proselytes of the gate. In this diversity of opinions, the only rule of determination, as Dr. Macknight observes, must be the inscriptions, together with the things contained in the epistle itself. Now from 2 Peter 3:1, it appears that both St. Peter’s epistles were sent to the same people; wherefore, since the inscription of the latter epistle is, “To them who have obtained like precious faith with us,” both epistles must have been addressed to believers in general. Accordingly the valediction in the first epistle is general, “Peace be with you all who are in Christ Jesus,” 1 Peter 5:14. So also is the inscription, Εκλεκτοις παρεπιδημοις διασπορας Ποντου , &c., “To the elect sojourners of the dispersion of Pontus,” &c. For the appellation of “sojourners” does not necessarily imply that this letter was written to none but Jewish believers. In Scripture all religious persons are called “sojourners and strangers,” because they do not consider this earth as their home, but look for a better country: therefore, in writing to the Gentile believers, Peter might call them “sojourners,” as well as the Jews, and exhort them to “pass the time of their sojourning here in fear;” and, beseech them “as strangers and pilgrims to abstain from fleshly lusts,” 1 Peter 2:11. Further, he might term them “sojourners scattered” through those countries, although none of them were driven from their native countries, because the expression may merely signify, that they lived at a distance from each other, in the widely-extended regions mentioned in the inscription, and because they were few in number compared with the idolaters and unbelievers among whom they lived. Many other arguments might be drawn from divers passages in the epistles, to prove that they were written to the whole body of Christians residing in these countries, and that whether they were of Jewish or Gentile extraction.
Respecting the design of this epistle it may be observed, that it was intended, 1. To explain more fully the doctrines of Christianity to these newly-converted Jews and Gentiles. 2. To direct and persuade them to a holy conversation, in the faithful discharge of all personal and relative duties, in the several states, both of the civil and the Christian life, whereby they would secure their own peace, and effectually confute the slanders and reproaches of their enemies, who spoke against them as evil-doers. 3. To prepare them for, and comfort and confirm them under, the various sufferings and fiery trials which they already endured, or were likely to endure. This seems to be the apostle’s principal intention, for he brings this subject forward, and enlarges less or more upon it, in every chapter; encouraging and exhorting them, by a great variety of arguments, to patience and perseverance in the faith, lest the persecutions and calamities to which they were exposed should cause them to apostatize from Christ and his gospel.
“St. Peter’s style,” says Blackwall, “expresses the noble vehemence and fervour of his spirit, the full knowledge he had of Christianity, and the strong assurance he had of the truth and certainty of his doctrine; and he writes with the authority of the first man in the college of the apostles. He writes with that quickness and rapidity of style, with that noble neglect of some of the formal consequences and niceties of grammar, still preserving its true reason and natural analogy, (which are always marks of a sublime genius,) that you can scarce perceive the pauses of his discourse, and distinction of his periods. A noble majesty, and becoming freedom, is what distinguishes St. Peter: a devout and judicious person cannot read him without solemn attention and awful concern. The conflagration of this lower world, and future judgment of angels and men, in the third chapter of the second epistle, is described in such strong and terrible terms, such awful circumstances, that in the description we see the planetary heavens and this our earth wrapped up with devouring flames, hear the groans of an expiring world, and the crashes of nature tumbling into universal ruin.” It is not very easy to assign the date of this epistle with exactness. The most commonly received opinion is, that it was written about the seventh of the emperor Nero, or A.D. 62.
Respecting the place where this epistle was written, from Peter sending the salutation of the church at Babylon to the Christians in Pontus, &c., it is generally believed that he wrote it near Babylon. But as there was a Babylon in Egypt, and a Babylon in Assyria, and a city to which the name of Babylon is given figuratively, (Revelation 17:18.,) namely, Rome, the learned are not agreed which of them is the Babylon meant in the salutation. Pearson, Mill, and Le Clerc, think the apostle speaks of Babylon in Egypt: but if Peter had founded a church in the Egyptian Babylon, it probably would have been of some note; yet, if we may believe Lardner, there is no mention made of any church or bishop at that place, in any of the writers of the first four centuries; consequently it is not the Babylon in the salutation. Erasmus, Drusius, Beza, Lightfoot, Basnage, Beausobre, Cave, Wetstein, think the apostle meant Babylon in Assyria; in the remains, or vicinity, of which city, a Christian church had probably been planted, consisting principally of the descendants of the Jews, who remained in those regions after the Babylonish captivity: and in support of this opinion Dr. Benson observes, that the Assyrian Babylon being the metropolis of the eastern dispersion of the Jews, Peter, as an apostle of the circumcision, would very naturally, when he left Judea, go among the Jews at Babylon, and that it is not probable he would date his letter from a place by its figurative name. For which, indeed, no satisfactory reason could be assigned: language of that kind, however well it might be suited to the nature of such a book as St. John’s Revelation, (a book almost wholly figurative and emblematical,) being entirely unsuitable to the date of a letter.
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