the First Week of Advent
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Whedon's Commentary on the Bible Whedon's Commentary
- 1 Peter
by Daniel Whedon
THE Apostle Peter, until his acquaintance with our Lord, was known simply as Simon, son of Jonas, and, like his father, was a fisherman of Bethsaida, in Galilee. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and became, in order of time of selection, the third disciple of Jesus. It was in their memorable interview at the Jordan, near where John was continuing his ministry, that Jesus gave him the new name of Κηφας , Cephas, the Aramaic form of the Greek Πετρος , Peter, (John 1:42,) significant, doubtless, of what he would afterward become. As a married man he resided at Capernaum, and at his house Jesus seems to have made his home. His first call, and perhaps his second, (Matthew 4:19,) left him intervals for his trade of fishing; but the third (Luke 5:10) induced his leaving it permanently for the service of Christ, and being finally chosen one of the twelve apostles. Matthew 10:2. In that select company his natural promptness gave him an especial prominence. While he was in some sort a representative of the body, his over-confidence and impulsiveness sometimes led him into blunders, and exposed him to pointed rebukes from his Master. Yet with his prominence was no superiority or headship, but official equality with his fellow-apostles. His leadership in the Pentecostal Church is specially bold and marked; but he is always only primus inter pares; and nowhere does any papacy appear. To him was given the high honour of opening, against all his former ideas, the door of the Church to the Gentiles, (Acts 10:48,) although his special mission was to be to the Jews. And it is chiefly from his speeches in the Acts that we learn the full gospel as preached by the twelve apostles.
After St. Peter’s deliverance from prison, and from Herod Agrippa, A.D. 44, “he went into another place,” (Acts 12:6-17,) and appears afterward in the Acts only at the Jerusalem Council, some six or seven years subsequently, (Acts 15:7-11,) where he gives his opinion, but neither presides nor pronounces the decree. A few months later he was at Antioch for a little time, (Galatians 2:11,) where he received a severe rebuke from St. Paul. The mention of his name in 1 Corinthians 1:12, etc., does not prove that he was ever at Corinth; and the account of Dionysius, making him joint founder with St. Paul of the Corinthian Church, is not confirmed by other good authority. Aside from these two notices, we have no certain knowledge of him after the year 44, except in the date of this epistle at “Babylon.”
Eusebius makes St. Peter founder of the Antioch Church, and afterward Bishop of Rome for twenty years. Jerome, following and enlarging, tells us that after he was Bishop of Antioch, and had preached in Pontus, Galatia, etc., in the second year of Claudius he journeyed to Rome to oppose Simon Magus, and was Bishop there for twenty-five years, until, in the last year of Nero, he was crucified with his head downward. That St. Peter founded the Antioch Church is contrary to the account in Acts 11:19-26; and that he was Bishop there is not sufficiently authenticated. The statement of his preaching in Pontus, etc., is taken from Origen, who only supposes it; and that about Simon Magus is probably based on Justin Martyr’s misreading of the inscription on a statue to the god Semo. The story of a twenty-five years’ Roman episcopate assumes that St. Peter left Palestine before the Council in A.D. 51, which is alike improbable, and inconsistent with Galatians 2:7-9. His position at the Council was evidently not that of head of the Church. It is not conceivable that, had he been at Rome, St. Paul could have written an epistle rich in salutations to the Roman Church with no greeting for him, or that the epistles sent by him while a prisoner should have no message from his fellow-apostle, or even mention of his name. We, therefore, reject the theory of the Roman residence and episcopate.
It is quite probable that St. Peter, after his release from prison, pursued his missionary work in Palestine until the time of the Council; that after a brief visit at Antioch he went “to the circumcision” in Pontus and the countries westward, visiting Churches already existing, and perhaps planting others; and that at length he turned his steps toward Babylon, on the Euphrates. The DISPERSION consisted of three great branches the Babylonian, the Asiatic, and the Egyptian; the first of which was the most numerous, (more than two millions, according to Josephus,) wealthy, learned, and noble. It was truly a fitting field. From this place St. Peter wrote his first epistle. 1 Peter 5:13. Eusebius, however, writes: “Peter mentions Mark in his first epistle, which, they say, he wrote in Rome itself, and that he signifies this in calling that city figuratively Babylon.” But the authority is too weak. Besides, that St. John, thirty-five years later, so used the name in his highly-wrought symbolic diction, is no reason for the unpoetic Peter’s using it in the same way. Babylon in Egypt, and two or three other places of the same name, have had advocates, but there is no good ground to doubt that the Assyrian Babylon is meant. The fact that the countries to which the epistle is addressed are named in the order in which a writer at Babylon would naturally view them, confirms this conclusion.
The epistle was universally accepted as authentic in the early Church, unless by one or two unimportant exceptions. It is quoted by Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Theodotus, Tertullian, and Eusebius; and, though not found in the Muratorian Canon, it is in the Peshito. Modern critics have objected to it as lacking originality or definite purpose, or as being too like in its expressions to those of St. Paul. That both apostles drew from the same fount cannot be doubted; and it were therefore absurd to expect their disagreement. The Pauline and Petrine theologies are opposed in no respect, save in the minds of the Tubingen critics. St. Peter was unquestionably familiar with most of the writings of his illustrious collaborator, and perhaps all of them, except First and Second Timothy and Titus; and it is not difficult to imagine, with Wordsworth, that in writing to persons who had been told of a disagreement between them in order to undermine St. Paul’s authority, he purposely used some of the latter’s thoughts and almost his expressions. Yet in treating the same topics it is inevitable that close resemblances should have occurred, but they are accompanied by such differences in thought and expression as prove both originality and independency. The style of our apostle is his own. His Judaic mind is full of Old Testament truth and imagery, but he subordinates it to the kingdom and glory of Christ. His purpose in writing is to encourage his readers to fidelity and endurance in view of their severe trials, and to confirm them in the broad truths of the gospel. 1 Peter 5:12. The suffering and the glory of both Christ and his people are the central point of his doctrine, encouragement, and exhortation for practical life.
The elect strangers of the dispersion would, of itself alone, indicate that the epistle was addressed to Jewish Christians, as was held by Eusebius, Jerome, Theophylact, Grotius, Bengel, and others; but such passages as 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 2:10; and 1 Peter 4:3-4, conclusively show that both Jewish and Gentile Christians are included.
As to the proper date of the epistle, we place it as late as A.D. 63, on account of the manifest acquaintance with St. Paul’s epistles, written during his first imprisonment. Mark was at Rome in A.D. 62, and was about going to Colosse, (Colossians 4:10;) and in A.D. 67 or 68 he was in Asia, perhaps at Ephesus. 2 Timothy 4:11. He was at Babylon at the time of this writing, (1 Peter 5:13,) and probably in this interval. It was in a time of persecution, but plainly not so severe as that under Nero; and it was after the epithet “Christian” (chap. 1 Peter 4:16; 1 Peter 4:16) had become familiarly and widely known. The most probable time is early in A.D. 64.
That St. Peter suffered martyrdom we know from John 21:18-19, written after his death. The universal testimony of antiquity, east and west, is, that he was martyred at Rome by the order of Nero. So much of historic error and evident fable surrounds this testimony that it inevitably falls under heavy suspicion; but, on the other hand, there is no contrary statement, as might have been expected if it were without foundation. Tertullian first mentions his crucifixion, and says he was tied to the cross with cords; Origen, that he was fastened to the cross κατα κεφαλης , by the head, which Eusebius follows, only using the word “crucified;” and Jerome, expanding, says: “He was affixed to the cross, and crowned with martyrdom, with his head turned to the earth and his feet raised aloft, asserting that he was unworthy to be crucified as was his Lord.” Touching as is the story, the simple fact appears that he was crucified, not “head downward,” but fastened to the cross by the head. It seems most probable that the apostle was pursuing his work in Babylon when he was arrested by order of Nero, who had already seized St. Paul, that he was carried prisoner to Rome, and there executed in the last year of the tyrant’s reign.
PLAN OF THE EPISTLE.
I. THE BLESSEDNESS AND GLORY OF THE GOSPEL SALVATION 1 Peter 1:3 to 1 Peter 2:8
1. Hope looking toward the heavenly inheritance 1 Peter 1:3-5
2. Joy in the blissful prospect in contrast with severe temporary trial 1 Peter 1:6-7
3. Joy in present blessedness 1 Peter 1:8-9
4. The prophets studying their predictions of Messiah’s sufferings and glory 1 Peter 1:10-12
5. Angelic interest in the great salvation1 Peter 1:12; 1 Peter 1:12
6. Exhortations based upon the foregoing 1 Peter 1:13 -1 Peter 2:8
a. To firm, enduring hope1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 1:13
b. To obedience after the pattern of Christ 1 Peter 1:14-16
c. To fear in view of the judgment1 Peter 1:17-21; 1 Peter 1:17-21
d. To fervent love to one another1 Peter 1:22-25; 1 Peter 1:22-25
e. To growth in spiritual life 1 Peter 2:1-8
II. THE HIGH CALLING, DIGNITY, AND DUTIES OF THE NEW AND SPIRITUAL ISRAEL 1 Peter 2:9 -1 Peter 3:12
1. The Christian Israel described 1 Peter 2:9-10
2. Conduct becoming among the heathen 1 Peter 2:11-12
3. Subjection to civil authority1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Peter 2:13-17
4. Patience of servants under ill-treatment 1 Peter 2:18-25
5. Wives and husbands 1 Peter 3:1-7
6. General counsels1 Peter 3:8-12; 1 Peter 3:8-12
III. THE BEARING PROPER FOR CHRISTIANS UNDER PERSECUTION 1 Peter 3:13 to 1 Peter 5:14
1. The blessedness of sufferers for righteousness 1 Peter 3:13-15
2. Readiness for a suitable defence of their faith 1 Peter 3:15-16
3. The excellence of suffering innocently, stated, and illustrated in the suffering and triumph of Christ 1 Peter 3:17-22
4. Christ’s example of holiness to be followed1 Peter 4:1-6; 1 Peter 4:1-6
5. The law of holiness enforced by the coming end of all things 1 Peter 4:7-11
6. Special consideration of the persecution then immanent, with warnings1 Peter 4:12-19; 1 Peter 4:12-19
7. Exhortations to the elders, and also to the Church 1 Peter 5:1-9
8. Benedictions, salutations, and conclusion 1 Peter 5:10-14