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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- 1 Peter

by Editor - Joseph Exell


The title “general.”

It may be well to say a word as to the meaning of the epithet General or Catholic, which, since the fourth century, has been given to this Epistle, as well as to 2 Peter, James 1:1-27; James 2:1-26, James 2:3 John, and Jude. This is not a question of vital importance (for the appellation has no claim to Divine authority), and it is well it is so, for there seems no means of determining it with anything like certainty. The term appears originally to have meant an Epistle directed not to one Church, but to all, or at any rate to many Churches-a description which belongs to five of the seven Epistles so distinguished; the other two being addressed to individuals. In the time of Eusebius, with this sense seems to have been connected the somewhat cognate one of epistles publicly read in many or all the Churches, on account of the excellence and usefulness of their contents; and, till the writings of the New Testament were collected into one volume, it appears to have been the technical name by which this collection of Epistles was distinguished from the Pauline Epistles. (J. Brown, D. D.)

Authenticity of the epistle

The earliest testimony in its favour is the Second Epistle of Peter, which, whether genuine or not, is generally admitted to be a document of a very early date. In that Epistle the author designates his writing as his “Second Epistle” (2 Peter 3:1). Eusebius informs us that Polycarp (A.D. 110) in his Epistle to the Philippians made use of certain testimonies from the First Epistle of Peter (H.E., 4:4); and we have only to glance at the Epistle of Polycarp to see that those references are numerous. Thus in the eighth chapter he writes, “Let us continually persevere in our hope and in the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree (chap. 2:24), and who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (chap. 2:22). Eusebius also informs us that Papias (A.D. 116) made use of testimonies from the First Epistle of John and likewise from that of Peter (H.E., 3:39). Irenaeus (A.D. 178) is the first who expressly ascribes this Epistle to Peter. “And Peter says, ‘Whom having not seen ye love, in whom, not seeing Him, now ye believe; ye will rejoice with joy unspeakable’” (Adv. Haer., 4:9, 2). And again, “On this account Peter says that we have not liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, but for the proof and manifestation of the faith” (Idem., 4:16, 8). Clemens Alexandrinus (A.D. 180) frequently quotes from this Epistle. “For, as Peter says, the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries” (Paedeg., 3:12). And again, “Our aim and our end as regards perfection being demonstrated to belong to the man and the woman, Peter, in his Epistle says, ‘Though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations ‘“ (Strom., 4:20). Tertullian (A.D. 200) writes, “Peter says to the Christians of Pontus, ‘How great indeed is the glory, if ye suffer patiently without being punished as evildoers. For this is acceptable, for even hereunto were ye called, since Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps’” (Scorpiace, 12). In like manner Origen (A.D. 230) frequently refers to this Epistle. “And concerning the journey in spirit to prison in Peter’s Catholic Epistle, being put to death in the flesh, he says, but quickened in the spirit” (Opp., vol. 4. p. 135). Eusebius always speaks of this Epistle as undisputed: “Peter upon whom the Church of Christ is built, has left one Epistle undisputed” (H.E., 6:25). We have only further to remark that this Epistle is found in the Peshito, the Old Italic, and all the most ancient versions. And while the Epistle is thus strongly supported by external evidence, it is not detective in that which is internal. It bears upon it the impress of Peter’s character, being such an Epistle as one would expect that apostle to have written. The sanguine character of the Epistle, the reference to the hopes of futurity, the consolation imparted to its readers, the exhortations given them to prepare for trial and suffering, the love of Christ prominently brought forward, the example of Christ continually held up to their imitation, all remind us of the eager nature of the apostle, of his intense love for the Saviour, and of the command of the Lord, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” So also there are in it many personal recollections of the author’s intercourse with Christ. Christ had named him a rock; and Peter speaks of believers as living stones, built up into a spiritual temple unto the Lord. Peter had denied Christ, and in his Epistle he is especially eager to exhort believers to steadfastness. Peter had been a witness of the sufferings of Christ; and these are continually referred to in this Epistle. Peter had made a noble profession of his love to Christ; and on this he dwells with special affection. And further, there are undesigned coincidences between this Epistle and the speeches of Peter as recorded in the Acts. In both he speaks of himself as a witness of the sufferings and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:32; 1 Peter 5:1). The connection of the old prophets with the sufferings of Christ is alluded to in both (Acts 3:18; 1 Peter 1:10). In his speech before the Sanhedrim Peter refers to Christ as the stone set at nought of the builders, which has become the head of the corner (Acts 4:11), and the same reference is contained in his Epistle (1 Peter 2:7-8). The remarkable phrase descriptive of the crucifixion of Christ, “being hanged on a tree,” is found alike in Peter’s address and in Peter’s Epistle (Acts 5:30; 1 Peter 2:24). And the phrase, “the judge of quick and dead,” which Peter used in his address to Cornelius (Acts 10:42), is also employed in this Epistle (1 Peter 4:5). (J. Brown, D. D.)

Readers of the epistle

The Epistle bears the following inscription: “To the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” These words, taken by themselves and without reference to the contents of the Epistle, would lead to the conclusion that this Epistle, like the Epistle of James, was addressed to Jewish Christians-to the Jews of the diaspora. But this opinion cannot well be maintained. The Churches in these countries, especially in Galatia and Asia, were founded by Paul, and, as we learn from the Acts and the Epistles, were mostly composed of Gentile Christians, or at least were mixed congregations formed of Jews and Gentiles. Michaelis, Neudecker and Benson try to remove this difficulty by supposing that they were composed of Jewish proselytes; but this is a supposition which is not borne out by Scripture. Besides, there are numerous references in the Epistle which, are in favour of the predominant Gentile element in these Churches; as, for example, 1 Peter 4:3; referring evidently to the former heathen life of his readers. The terms of the inscription, then, “strangers scattered throughout,” or “sojourners of the dispersion,” must be taken in a somewhat figurative sense, and must allude to believers as being strangers or sojourners on this earth: and in this capacity Peter addresses his readers (1 Peter 2:11)

. This opinion, that the Epistle is addressed not to Jewish Christians, but to Christians in general, is maintained by the vast majority of modern commentators. The circle of Churches addressed are enumerated as Christians residing in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. No reason can be assigned why the Epistle was restricted to Christians resident in these countries; we are ignorant of the relations of Peter to them. The first country named is Pontus. We do not know how the gospel penetrated into that distant land. Jews from Pontus are mentioned among the number of those present at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9); and Aquila, one of Paul’s fellow labourers, was a native of that country (Acts 18:2). Galatia received the gospel by the direct preaching of Paul, and to the Christian inhabitants of that country he wrote his celebrated Epistle. Cappadocia probably received the gospel from Jews, dwellers in Cappadocia, who were converted at the Feast of Pentecost by the preaching of Peter (Acts 2:9). Asia is the celebrated province of Proconsular Asia, and contains, along with Ephesus, its capital, some of the most notable cities mentioned in the Acts where Paul preached the gospel. The Apocalypse is addressed to seven Churches in Proconsular Asia. The last country mentioned is Bithynia. We are informed that Paul and his companions assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not (Acts 16:7). When and by whom the gospel was diffused in this country we know not; but from Pliny’s celebrated letter we know that a few years after Peter wrote his Epistle Christianity had taken such a firm hold on its inhabitants that the temples of the gods were deserted and the sacrifices discontinued. As regards the condition of Christians in these countries, it is manifest that they were threatened with persecution. We meet in the Epistle with continued references to trial. The time was come when judgment must begin at the house of God; they were liable to be dragged before the heathen tribunals; they were reproached for the name of Christ, and were made partakers with Him in His sufferings; the fact of their being Christians was regarded as a crime. At its very commencement Christianity aroused the hostility of the world, and as time elapsed this hostility increased; and therefore it is not to be wondered that Christians in these countries were exposed to persecution. Still, however, it is not necessary to suppose that any special persecution against the Church had as yet arisen, or that the allusion is to the persecution under Nero, far less, with Schwegler, to assert that the persecution under Trajan is adverted to. The expressions are general, and would rather imply that persecution was threatened than that it had actually broken out. Believers had to be warned of the trials that awaited them, and to be encouraged and confirmed in the faith. (J. Brown, D. D.)

Date and place of composition

Various dates have been assigned to this Epistle. Weiss ranks it among the earliest writings of the New Testament. Hug, Neander, and Mayerhoff, adopting the opinion that the apostle alludes to the persecution under Nero, suppose that it was written toward the close of the year 64, when that persecution was raging. Alford supposes it was written about the year 63, before the persecution related by Tacitus broke out. In the Epistle itself there are few personal notices, and these have no value in fixing the date. An argument has been drawn from the presence of Mark (Mark 5:13)

. It is generally supposed that this is the same as John, whose surname was Mark, who accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey. Now, Mark was with Paul when he wrote the Epistle to the Colossians, during his first Roman imprisonment (Colossians 4:10); but he was absent from Rome during Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, for, writing to Timothy, he says, “Take Mark and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Hence it is supposed that in the interval Mark may have been with Peter in Babylon, and if so the Epistle was written between the years 64 and 67. But no inference can be drawn from this, for it might as reasonably be argued that Mark was with Peter before Paul wrote the Epistle to the Colossians. Another argument is drawn from the probability that Peter would not have written to Paul’s converts in Galatia and Proconsular Asia during the apostle’s lifetime, or, at least, before his imprisonment, and whilst he was at liberty to take a personal superintendence of those Churches which he had founded. But not much can be made of that probability; the apostles must have been free to write to whom they pleased. With regard to the place of composition, this has been the occasion of much disputation. In the Epistle this place is denominated Babylon: “The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you.” The generality of commentators suppose that Babylon is here used figuratively for Rome. This opinion has not its origin from the peculiar views of the Romish Church; but was adopted by the Fathers. It was held by Clemens Alexandrinus, Eusebius, and Jerome. Thus Eusebius says, “Peter makes mention of Mark in the First Epistle, which he is also said to have composed at the same city of Rome, and he shows this fact by calling the city by an unusual name, Babylon” (H.E., 2:15). The same opinion is held by Grotius, Lardner, Whitby, Macknight, Wiesinger, Hitzig, Seiffert, Thiersch, Schott, Hofmann, Ewald, Cook, and Farrar. The arguments on which they found it are the strong testimony in favour of Peter’s presence at Rome, the extreme improbability of his journey to Babylon, and the fact that Babylon was then a current designation of Rome. The great objection to this view is that in writing an epistle Peter would not add an allegorical designation in his salutation. Accordingly, others suppose that not Rome, but the city of Babylon on the Euphrates is meant. This is the view adopted by Calvin, Neander, De Wette, Bruckner, Wieseler, Weiss, Bleek, Fronmuller, Huther, and Alford. If this were the case, and if, as is generally supposed, Peter wrote his Epistle in the later apostolic age, it is difficult to find a period for his residence in Rome. Though nothing definite can be asserted, yet upon the whole the reasons preponderate in favour of Rome. It is to be observed theft in the salutation, “The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you,” the word “church” is not in the original, and hence the Revised Version more correctly renders the passage, “She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you.” In all probability it is not the Church at Babylon, but some Christian lady resident at Babylon or at Rome, who is alluded to, like the elect lady of John’s Second Epistle; more especially as an individual, Marcus, immediately follows. It is the opinion of Neander, Bengel, Mayerhoff, Rauch, and Alford that the lady alluded to by ἠ συνεκλεκτή was the apostle’s wife; an opinion which we consider somewhat fanciful. A still more fanciful opinion is to suppose that the person called “Marcus my son” was not the spiritual but the real son of the apostle. (J. Brown, D. D.)

Character and contents of the epistle

The natural warmth of the author’s disposition gives to the style a character of energy approaching to vehemence; and there is to be found just such a familiarity with the Old Testament, manifesting itself not only in direct quotations, but in numerous natural allusions, which have all the appearance of having been unconscious, as might be expected in the com position of a pious though, when compared with Paul, an uneducated Jew. This Epistle is distinguished for great tenderness of manner, and for bringing forward prominently the most consolatory parts of the gospel. The apostle wrote to those who were in affliction. He was himself an old man. He expected soon to be with the Saviour. He had nearly done with the conflicts and toils of life. It was natural that he should direct his eye onward and upward, and dwell on those things in the gospel which were adapted to support and comfort the soul. There is therefore scarcely any part of the New Testament where the ripe and mellow Christian will find more that is adapted to his matured feelings, or to which he will more naturally turn. There is great compactness of thought and terseness of expression in this Epistle. It seems to be composed of a succession of texts, each one fitted to constitute the subject of a discourse. There is more that a pastor would like to preach on in a course of expository lectures, and less that he would be disposed to pass over as not so well adapted to the purposes of religious instruction, than in almost any other book of the New Testament. There is almost nothing that is of merely local or temporary interest. There are plain traces in the Epistle of an intimate acquaintance with the modes of thought and expression characteristic of the writings of Paul, which, even without the reference in the Second Epistle (2 Peter 3:14-15)

, would have led to the conclusion that the writer had read that apostle’s Epistles. Peter’s mode of writing is much less than Paul’s that of a scholar; but he has much of the same natural ease of diction, tendency to digression, and use of figurative language. This Epistle holds an intermediate place between those of the great apostle of the Gentiles and that of James, the apostle of the Circumcision. It resembles both in a greater degree than they resemble each other. (J. Brown, D. D.).

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