corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
1 Peter

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
Chapter 5

Book Overview - 1 Peter

by Philip Schaff


THE First Epistle of Peter, like that of John, explains its own intention. The latter is declared to be written in order that its readers’ ‘joy may be full’ (1 John 1:4), that they may know that they ‘have eternal life,’ and that they may ‘believe on the name of the Son of God’ (chap. 1 Peter 5:13). The former gives the key to its own design in these words: ‘By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand’ (chap. 1 Peter 5:12). Its object, therefore, is to assure its readers of the truth of that which they had received, and to encourage them to abide by it at all hazards. It was not to Peter himself that they owed their introduction to the kingdom of Christ. It is true that Jews from some of the regions addressed had been present at Pentecost, and may have heard Peter’s discourse on that occasion (Acts 2). But the churches mentioned in the inscription of this letter, were churches which stood indebted to Paul and his associates for their existence. The faith which they had received through this channel had now to be maintained in the face of trials arising from the threatenings or persecutions of the heathen world. It was essential that these scattered believers should see that the Christian vocation for which they might be called to suffer, was worth the suffering for, and that the grace which had been made known to them was the true grace of God. If there was no Paul to do this service for them, Peter was the man to take his place. Could not he set his seal upon his ‘beloved brother’s’ teaching? Could not he testify as none other of the ‘living hope,’ and of the sureness of the things in which they had been instructed? He had confessed Christ. Upon that confession, and what it proved him capable of becoming, the Church itself was to be built. He had denied Christ, and knew by experience what manner of adversary these Christians had to cope with. As a witness of Christ, he can urge them to witness a good confession in evil times. As once threatened, he can speak to those who are now threatened. So in this letter he carries out the commission given him by Christ in reference to Satan’s sifting of himself,—‘when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren’ (Luke 22:32). And the sum of his exhortations in it is an unfolding of the meaning of that simple, piercing question, at once reproof, expostulation, and counsel, and never to be forgotten when once heard, which his suffering Lord had spoken into his drowsy ear in the garden of Gethsemane,—‘What, could ye not watch with me one hour?’ (Matthew 26:40).

The voice of the Epistle, therefore, has been correctly recognised to be the voice of animation. It is not enough, however, to say of it that it is a letter of strength and confirmation. It is eminently one of reminiscence. It strengthens and confirms by putting in remembrance. It recalls the great facts of grace which had made these believers what they are. It makes the warm colours of the doctrine in which they had been trained by Paul and their first teachers, revive again. The spiritual truths which they had once received, were the only things which could illumine the dark night of trial which was closing in about them. On these, as on so many tracks of heavenly light shot across the gloom, Peter concentrates their fading attention.

The Epistle was rightly described by Luther as one of the noblest in the New Testament. It is strange that its individuality and independence should have been denied, and that some should still speak of it as a compilation of other men’s thoughts, a cento of other men’s modes of expression. It is true that there are unmistakeable resemblances between it and others of the New Testament Epistles. There are some decided points of conjunction, for example, between it and the Epistle of James. These are so remarkable, indeed, that some regard Peter as reiterating James’s teaching, and preparing the way for Paul’s. Both James and Peter have a peculiar term for trial; both speak of the manifold temptations; both introduce the grass as a figure of human glory; both cite or echo the same passage from Proverbs; both adopt similar forms of exhortation (cf. James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1). There are things again which this Epistle has in common with the First Epistle of John. Both speak, for example, of Christ as ‘the righteous,’ of believers being begotten or born again, purifying themselves, etc. Above all, there are striking similarities between Peter and Paul, in the use made of the Old Testament, in the counsels on the subject of the relative duties, in the doctrine of civil and political obligation, and in other matters. These are of a kind to indicate that Peter must have written with familiar knowledge of much that Paul had written before him. They make it difficult not to suppose that he had the Epistles to the Romans and Ephesians in particular before him or in his mind. They have induced some, indeed, to suppose that his First Epistle was purposely constructed to some extent, as regards the introductory greeting and the exhortations to various orders of society, on the plan of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

But there is nothing wonderful in such resemblances. As the Book of Acts shows, Peter must have been well acquainted with the views and methods of statement characteristic of James. John and Peter, again, were usually together, as long as that was possible. They were to each other what Mary and Martha were to one another. And as to Paul, his system of teaching was certainly not unknown to Peter. Paul is careful to tell us himself how he laid it before the Apostles (Galatians 2:2). Nor do these apparent repetitions take from the distinct character of the Epistle. They are affinities, not borrowings. Peter puts all in a form of his own. Even when he most reminds us of Paul, he has an independent method of expression. The Pauline formula live to God becomes in Peter live to righteousness. The Pauline idea of dying to sin receives in Peter a notably different phraseology.

The individuality of the Epistle appears in many things. Not a few of its conceptions and terms are peculiar to Peter. Among these may be named the ‘kiss of charity’ (chap. 1 Peter 5:14), the ‘conscience toward God’ (chap. 1 Peter 2:19), the ‘living hope,’ and the whole description of the inheritance (chap. 1 Peter 1:3-4), the declaration that baptism is ‘the answer of a good conscience toward God’ (chap. 1 Peter 3:21), the phrase ‘gone into heaven’ applied to Christ (chap. 1 Peter 3:22), the sections on the preaching to the spirits in prison (chap. 1 Peter 3:19-20), and the gospel preached to them that are dead (chap. 1 Peter 4:6), etc. He has his own modes of expounding the doctrines of Christianity, and of illustrating the Christian life. Thus it has been noticed that good works, which appear in John as the fruits of love, in James as the substance of the Christian life, and in Paul as the results of faith, are in Peter rather the ‘tests of the soundness and stability of a faith which rests on the resurrection of Christ and looks to the future’ (Cook). He has his own way of looking at the Person and Work of Christ. It has been rightly observed that the prominent thing with him is the mediatorial position of his Lord, and that this is made to turn upon His resurrection. He presents this in great breadth. Christ is the medium of our regeneration (chap. 1 Peter 1:3), of our belief in God (chap. 1 Peter 1:21), of acceptable sacrifice (chap. 1 Peter 2:5), of baptism (chap. 1 Peter 3:21), of the glorifying of God (chap. 1 Peter 4:11); and it is through His resurrection that we are begotten again to a lively hope (chap. 1 Peter 1:3), and that we come to have faith and hope in God (chap. 21). There is a remarkable fondness for dwelling on the character of Christ, and bringing out the power of His example. He is our Pattern in suffering, in respect at once of the unmerited nature of His sufferings and of His sinlessness and patience in enduring them. The Christ, too, with whom Peter connects the great deeds of grace is all the while not so much the Christ of history as the Christ of glory, in the might of His ascension, exaltation, sitting at God’s right hand, headship over the Church and all angels, and Second Coming.

The Epistle is distinguished, too, by its comparatively non-systematic form. It is less dialectical by far than any of the greater Pauline Epistles. It is not without its plan. But its unity is not a reasoned unity. The logical particles, which abound in Paul’s writings, are rare in Peter. Here the method is simply to let the one sentence suggest the next. There is the habit, too, of insisting on the same truths in repeated forms. Thus the trial of faith like gold tried with fire (chap. 1 Peter 1:7) reappears in the ‘fiery trial’ of chap. 1 Peter 4:12; the ‘be sober’ of chap. 1 Peter 1:13 rings out again in the ‘be ye therefore sober’ of chap. 1 Peter 4:7, and the ‘be sober,’ etc., of chap. 1 Peter 5:8; the injunction not to fashion themselves ‘according to the former lusts in their ignorance’ (chap. 1 Peter 1:14) is repeated in chap. 1 Peter 2:11 as a charge to ‘abstain from fleshly lusts,’ and in chap. 1 Peter 4:2 as a warning not to ‘live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men;’ the idea of the well-doing of the Christian as the best argument for silencing the slanderous Gentile (chap. 1 Peter 2:15), meets us again in the conversation of the wives which wins over the husbands (chap. 1 Peter 3:1), and in the good conversation in Christ which puts to shame the false accusers (chap, 1 Peter 3:16); the thankworthiness of suffering wrongfully (chap. 1 Peter 2:19) rises again in the happiness of suffering for righteousness’ sake (chap, 1 Peter 3:14), and in the blessedness of being reproached for the name of Christ (chap. 1 Peter 4:14).

The Epistle is further marked by a perpetual movement among Old Testament ideas, imagery, and language. It represents the Church of Christ as the Church of Israel perfected and spiritualized. The language of Leviticus is introduced when the call of God is stated (chap. 1 Peter 1:15-16). The Messianic terms of Isaiah 28 and Psalms 118 are naturally adopted in describing Christ’s position (chap. 1 Peter 2:6, etc.). The great section on the Servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12) has many of its features reproduced here. And all this without the exclusiveness of the old Jewish spirit. It is characteristic of the Epistle, also, to carry practice back to Christian fact and Christian doctrine, and to show that the roots of the former lie in the latter. So it is that it conjoins the ‘exhorting’ with the ‘testifying’ (chap. 1 Peter 5:12). And in relation to this, it deals for the most part with objective truth. It has its pointed warnings against the lusts of the flesh. But we find little in it like the Pauline representations of the struggle between two kingdoms in the soul, or the profound experiences of a competition between the evil that the man would not and yet does, and the good which he would and yet does not. Still less do we see of anything like a conflict between intellect and faith. And almost as little of the deep intuition of John. What Peter dwells on is not the subjective out the objective, not the mysteries of the work of grace within us, but the gifts which grace brings to us, and the obligations it lays us under. It is the acts of God that he sets forth,—His foreordaining of Christ, His calling a people, His raising Christ from the dead, etc. And with all this the attitude of the Epistle is distinctively prospective. It lives in the future. What has arrested the attention of most expositors is the fact that its face is turned so steadily to the future. Everything is seen in the light of the end. The ‘appearing’ of Jesus Christ fills the view. The present life of the believer recedes into the background, or is read in terms of what it shall be when Christ returns. Glory and honour are the keynotes of the Epistle. It regards salvation itself as something ‘ready to be revealed in the last time’ (chap. 1 Peter 1:5), and as the end of faith (chap. 1 Peter 1:9). It is engaged with the contents of Christian hope, where Paul might occupy himself with the gladness of the present life of justification, or with the seriousness of the present struggle between grace and nature in the individual. ‘In this Epistle,’ says Wordsworth, ‘Peter views all the sufferings of Calvary as glorified by triumph. He sees Christ’s decease, he sees his own decease, he sees the decease of all Christ’s faithful followers, as invested with a heavenly radiance by the light of the Transfiguration. He writes his Epistle in the joyful light of that prophetic Vision of Glory.’


There are not a few things in the Epistle which become all the more natural and intelligible if it was written by Peter the Apostle. There are various points of affinity between it and the discourses of Peter which are recorded in the Book of Acts. These are of a kind to suggest an argument in favour of the Petrine authorship from undesigned coincidences. There is a habit of immediate personal appeal. There is an abundant use of direct terms of address, such as ‘to you,’ ‘for you’ etc., which sharpen general statements into distinct personal applications to the readers. This is seen in passages like chaps. 1 Peter 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Peter 2:7, 1 Peter 3:6, etc. There is also the habit of repeating Christ’s own words, or of using expressions which show that these were in the writer’s mind, as in chap. 1 Peter 3:9; 1 Peter 3:14, etc. And at several points, in a simple and unstudied style, the Epistle gives a singular reflection of Peter’s personal history. It contains much that is quite in character, if Peter is the author. And external testimony is almost entirely in this direction. It is not quoted, indeed, in the Muratorian Canon, a document of high antiquity and great importance. But it is referred to by Second Peter. There are echoes of it, allusions to it, or citations from it in many of the oldest remains of Christian literature. It is given in the older Syriac Version, in which only three Catholic epistles appear. It is reckoned among the accepted books by Eusebius, in his classification of the New Testament writings. Its Petrine authorship has been contested by some critics in modern times mainly on subjective grounds. It is contested by some still. But it has been generally recognised as among the most richly and securely attested of all the books of the New Testament. The Church has accepted it from the earliest times for what it professes to be, and has regarded it as of eminent interest and worth.


There has been great division of opinion as to the parties to whom the Epistle was written. The question is one of great difficulty. If the terms with which the letter opens were alone in view, we should conclude probably in favour of the view that the persons addressed were Jewish Christians. For it would be most natural to take the phrase ‘strangers scattered abroad’ in the literal sense of sojourners of the Jewish dispersion (see note on chap. 1 Peter 1:1), all the more that it is connected with plain territorial designations. And this view has secured the consent of a large number of eminent expositors. On the other hand, the localities mentioned are localities traversed, as we gather from Acts and the Pauline Epistles, for the most part by Paul. The churches in these localities were churches planted mainly by Paul, and predominantly Gentile in character. And throughout the Epistle statements appear (e.g. in chaps. 1 Peter 1:14; 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:6, 1 Peter 4:3) which only a very strained exegesis seems capable of suiting to Jews. Hence it has been held by a still larger number of interpreters and historians of the first rank that the churches addressed consisted mainly of Gentile Christians. This view has been adopted in the present Commentary as on the whole the more probable. An intermediate solution has been sought in the idea that the parties were chiefly those who had been proselytes to Judaism before they became Christians. But that has met with little favour.

The date of the Epistle has been brought down by some as late as the period of Trajan’s persecution. But if the Epistle is by Peter, the persecution in view, as now in action, or as casting its shadow over them, must be the Neronic. Some suppose it to have been written at the beginning of Paul’s third missionary journey; others, at the end of that; others, during the latter part of Paul’s captivity; others, immediately after Paul’s release from his two years’ imprisonment at Rome. The most probable opinion on the whole, however, is that it was written after Paul’s martyrdom, and towards the close of Peter’s career, about the year 66 A.D.

The only direct indication which the Epistle gives of the place of its composition is in chap. 1 Peter 5:13; see note on which. We have seen reason to take the statement there made in the literal sense, and therefore to regard the Epistle as written, not from Rome, the mystical Babylon, but from the historical Babylon on the Euphrates.

N.B.—The English text is given according to the original form of the Authorised, as that is reproduced in the Parallel Edition of the Revised Version.


The Second Epistle professes to be written by Peter. It refers to a former Epistle written by the same hand (chap. 1 Peter 3:1.). It indicates acquaintance with the Epistles of Paul (chap. 1 Peter 3:15-16). We should infer from it that it was addressed to the same circle of readers as First Peter. And if it is Peter’s composition, it would belong naturally to the very end of his life. It can be shown, too, that there is a not inconsiderable number of terms and peculiar turns of thought which are common to the two Epistles. There are at the same time great differences between them. There are marked differences of style. There are also differences of a broader kind. The exhortations of the Second Epistle, for example, are of a much more general order than those of the First. The details into which the one goes on the subject of social, political, and domestic duty, do not appear in the other. The peril against which the First Epistle aims at strengthening its readers is that arising from the slanders and persecutions of the surrounding heathenism. The peril which the Second Epistle looks to is that arising from corruption within the Church, the seductions of false teachers, etc. In respect of external testimony, too, this Epistle occupies a very different position from the First.

The question, therefore, into which all others affecting this Second Epistle run, is that of its authenticity. Its claim to be the composition of Peter the Apostle has been doubted or denied by a very large number of authorities, and these of widely different schools. The grounds on which these doubts or denials have proceeded have been as various as the schools. Some of them are confined for the most part to the representatives of extreme parties. Others admittedly have weight with all. With some the main thing is the existence in the Epistle of matters which are taken to belong to the developed Gnosticism of the third century. Others lay great stress upon what is believed to be the dependence of Second Peter upon Jude. The similarities between these two Epistles are of a very striking kind. They are admitted even by some who affirm the canonicity and Petrine authorship of the present Epistle, to point very clearly to the priority of Jude. They are held by not a few to amount to borrowings, which are inconsistent with the supposition that the Apostle Peter could have been the writer. Others, who dispute the authenticity of Jude, hold them to be conclusive proof that Second Peter cannot be earlier than the second century. The singular style of the Epistle is also largely insisted on. It is affirmed that, both in phraseology and in theological conception, the difference between the two Epistles which bear Peter’s name is too decided to make it reasonable to suppose them to have proceeded from the same hand. It has also been argued that the writer betrays himself by over-anxiety to make himself out to be Peter, and that there was a disposition in the early Church by all means to magnify Peter’s position and forge his name. Quite recently, too, an elaborate argument has been constructed to prove the Epistle to be largely dependent on the writings of Josephus. (See Dr. Abbot’s articles in the Expositor, second series, vol. iii.) The difficulties and peculiarities attaching to the external evidence have been felt by all.

On the other hand, the adverse arguments drawn from the contents and characteristics of the Epistle have been met with considerable force. It is certainly too much to assert the presence of formal Gnosticism in the Epistle. The attempted demonstration of Peter’s borrowings from Josephus has been deprived of much of its power by a close examination of the facts (see especially an article by Dr. B. B. Warfield in the Southern Presbyterian Review for January 1882). If there are marked theological and linguistic differences between the two Petrine Epistles, they are balanced to a considerable extent by a series of equally striking similarities, both in doctrinal statement and in individuality of expression. We have instances of the former in the matter of prophecy (1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:19-21), in that of the new birth (1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 1:4), in that of submission to civil authority (1 Peter 2:13; 2 Peter 2:10), etc. We have instances of the latter in the use of such special terms as virtue (1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3), multiplied (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2), conversation (1 Peter 1:15; 2 Peter 2:7), supply or minister (1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 1:11), putting off (1 Peter 3:21; 2 Peter 1:14), receiving (1 Peter 1:9; 2 Peter 2:13), etc. It is at the best only a limited value that can be safely allowed to these differences in style. One of the keenest of critics, now the veteran of his school, makes this confession:—‘On the theological and linguistic differences between the two Epistles, which the later criticism has so emphasized, we lay no stress. The two Epistles are too short, have to do with wholly different circumstances; and especially there are no direct contradictions to be found. One of the Epistles is on other grounds proved to be ungenuine. Can this also be brought into account?’ (Reuss.) As to the external testimony, it is certain that Origen, at the beginning of the third century, had the Epistle. He notices that there were doubts current about it. But his own use of it, and references to it, indicate that in his time it was generally received as a part of Scripture, and as Peter’s composition. Clement of Alexandria, Origen’s teacher, also appears to have possessed it, and even to have written a commentary on it. And although this is disputed by many, it is possible that we can trace it back to the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs early in the second century, to Barnabas about 106 A.D., and even to Clement of Rome about 97 A.D. The amount of early evidence is undoubtedly small. There are also the two serious facts, that it was doubted in the fourth century and earlier, and that it obtained no place in the canon of the Syrian Church. The doubts which took decided shape in the fourth century were gradually overcome, and the Epistle was recognised as canonical for many centuries. The question was revived at the Reformation period, and the weight of such names as Erasmus, Luther, and Calvin was lent to those who were uncertain of the Epistle’s claims. In recent times these doubts have been urged with the utmost force, and have prevailed with very many. With the exception of the Syrian branch, the Church as a whole, however, has continued to give the Epistle a place in the canon. From the time of Eusebius, who ranked it with the disputed books, that place has been felt to be less certain than is the case with almost any other part of the New Testament. Yet the amount of external testimony might be shown to be even in this case far superior to that which is available for the masterpieces of Classical antiquity.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology