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Peter, First Epistle of

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PETER, FIRST EPISTLE OF . No Epistle of the NT has caught more of the spirit of Jesus than 1Peter . Imbued with a strong love for the risen Christ, and a profound conviction of the truth of the gospel as established in the world by the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, the author delineates a rich Christian life on the basis of these evangelical facts.

1. Contents .

I. Thanksgiving and exhortation in view of the Christian salvation , 1 Peter 1:3 to 1 Peter 2:10 .

(i.) The glorious character of the Christian salvation, 1 Peter 1:3-12 .

( a ) A sure inheritance, 1 Peter 1:3-5 1 Peter 1:3-5 . To God our Father is ascribed all praise, because by raising Jesus Christ from the dead He has begotten us into a living hope certain to be soon realized.

( b ) A present joy, notwithstanding manifold trials, 1 Peter 1:5-9 1 Peter 1:5-9 . Sufferings refine faith as fire does gold, and even now the unseen Christ is an object of unspeakable joy, and gives a foretaste of full salvation.

( c ) The fulfilment of the promises made to the prophets, and a wonder even to angels, 1 Peter 1:10-12 1 Peter 1:10-12 .

(ii.) Exhortation to realize this hope in a holy life as members of a Divine brotherhood, 1 Peter 1:13 to 1 Peter 2:10 .

( a ) The holy and absolutely just Father requires filial obedience, 1 Peter 1:16-17 1 Peter 1:16-17 .

( b ) To redeem us from sin the eternal and spotless Messiah was slain, and by His resurrection has awakened us to true faith in God. It is in the Holy God thus revealed that all your faith and hope rest, 1 Peter 1:18-21 .

( c ) The family of God, begotten of the imperishable seed of the gospel, must obey the truth with sincere mutual love and grow into maturity. As living stones built into the living but once rejected Christ, they form a spiritual temple and also a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. They have become the new Israel, the people of God, 1 Peter 1:22 1 Peter 1:22 to 1 Peter 2:10 1 Peter 2:10 .

II. The behaviour of the Christian in the world and in the brotherhood , 1 Peter 2:11 to 1 Peter 3:12 .

It must be pure and honourable in the midst of the heathen,1 Peter 2:11-12 1 Peter 2:11-12 .

( a ) Though free servants of God, Christians must be loyal to the earthly government, and observe their duties to all men in their several stations, 1 Peter 2:13-17 .

( b ) Slaves must be obedient even to harsh masters, showing their possession of Divine grace and their discipleship to Jesus, by enduring suffering like Him whose unmerited death has brought us salvation, 1 Peter 2:18-25 1 Peter 2:18-25 .

( c ) Wives are to exercise a quiet and gentle spirit, like true mothers in Israel, submitting to their husbands, in the hope that if they are heathen they may be won to the faith by their Christian life. Likewise husbands must honour their wives as equally with themselves heirs of life, 1 Peter 3:1-7 1 Peter 3:1-7 .

( d ) The duty of a peaceful and kindly life to strengthen the unity within the brotherhood, 1 Peter 3:8-12 1 Peter 3:8-12 .

III. The uses of suffering , 1 Peter 3:13 to 1 Peter 4:19 .

( a ) Suffering cannot really harm one who has Christ in his heart; nay, gentle steadfastness under persecution may, like our Master’s, win over others to God, 1 Peter 3:13-17 1 Peter 3:13-17 .

Digression. Quickened in spirit by death, Christ carried the gospel to the godless world that perished in the Flood, through which Noah and his family were saved, a type of the Christian who in his baptism asks God for a good conscience, and is cleansed through the risen Christ now triumphant over all His enemies,1 Peter 3:18-22 1 Peter 3:18-22 .

( b ) Suffering delivers us from our sinful life. Though your former heathen comrades revile you for abandoning their life of sensuality, you must have done with them and leave them to the just Judge of all, 1 Peter 4:1-6 .

Digression. In the short time that remains until the return of the Lord, Christians should live a life of self-control, exercising brotherly love, hospitality, and spiritual gifts, 1 Peter 4:7-11 .

( c ) Your sufferings are not unique, but become a blessing if they are the result of fidelity to your Christian profession, and not of evil conduct. They are a sign that judgment is near, which you may await in a life of well-doing, trusting your faithful Creator, 1 Peter 4:12-19 .

IV. Miscellaneous advice , 1 Peter 5:1-14 .

( a ) Counsel to elder of the Church, and to the younger men, 1 Peter 5:1-6 1 Peter 5:1-6 .

( b ) Exhortation to resignation, watchfulness, and trust in the midst of the terrible sufferings that are being endured by the brotherhood everywhere, 1 Peter 5:6-11 1 Peter 5:6-11 .

( c ) Personal greetings, 1 Peter 5:12-14 .

2. Readers . Of the provinces in which the readers lived, Galatia and Asia were evangelized by St. Paul, but nothing is known of the evangelization of the rest, nor does the letter assume that St. Peter had any share in it. At first sight it would appear that the readers were Jewish Christians, as some scholars hold that they were, but the body of the Epistle clearly shows that the prevailing element was Gentile, and the words of 11 are to be taken figuratively of the sojourn of the Christian as a resident alien on earth, absent from his heavenly fatherland ( 1 Peter 2:8; 1 Peter 2:10 , 1 Peter 4:1-4 ). Doubtless, however, very many who had been Jews were found in all the Churches of the large cities. The former life of the readers, on the average low level of Asia Minor, had been given over to the vices of the flesh; perhaps, indeed, their past conduct was the source from which the criminal charges were brought against them afterwards as Christians ( 1 Peter 2:12 , 1 Peter 4:15-16 ). The Churches were suffering severely, though there does not seem to have been an official persecution, or a systematic attempt at extermination, for it is assumed that most will remain until the Parousia ( 1 Peter 4:7 ). So severe was their suffering, that only the strong arm of God could protect them in their temptation ( 1 Peter 1:6-7 , 1 Peter 4:12 , 1 Peter 5:6 ). Christians are easily confounded with criminals ( 1 Peter 2:12; 1Pe 2:15-16 , 1 Peter 3:13; 1 Peter 3:16-17 , 1 Peter 4:15; 1 Peter 4:19 ), slaves suffer at the hands of their masters, wives from their husbands, but their experience was of the same character as that of the Christian brotherhood throughout the world ( 1 Peter 5:9 ). The Churches are ‘islands in an ocean of heathenism.’

3. Purpose . This letter is an encouragement to readers who are in danger of lapsing, through suffering, into the unholy life of their neighbours. By recalling the fact of the resurrection of Christ, and by an appeal to the example of His remedial sufferings, the author seeks to awaken their faith and hope in God. They are urged to sustain their moral life in the exercise of a calm and sober confidence in the grace of God soon to be revealed more fully ( 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 4:7 , 1 Peter 5:8-10 ), and to commend their gospel to the heathen world by their lives of goodness, entrusting themselves in well-doing to a faithful Creator ( 1 Peter 4:19 ).

4. Teaching

( a ) Doctrine . Faith in God as the holy Father and faithful Creator is built upon the solid facts of the gospel, in particular, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ the eternal Messiah ( 1 Peter 1:8-21 ). The life of Jesus Christ has made an ineffaceable impression upon the author. He was spotless, the perfect pattern for men, but also the Messiah, who as the Servant of the Lord has by His death ransomed a new people and ratified a new covenant ( 1Pe 1:2; 1 Peter 1:18-20 , 1 Peter 2:22-24 ). By His resurrection He has been exalted to God’s right hand, and will soon return to unveil further glories ( 1 Peter 1:13 , 1 Peter 3:22 ). The most probable interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18 ff. is that Christ went, during the period between His death and resurrection, to the abode of the dead, and, having preached His gospel to those who had been the wicked antediluvian world, has made it of universal efficacy (cf. Ephesians 4:8-19 ). In this life Christ becomes an object of inexpressible joy to believers on whom the Spirit has been poured forth ( 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 1:8; 1 Peter 1:12 ). Peter does not regard the Spirit as the source of Christian virtues, but as the pledge of our future inheritance, as well as of present Divine grace manifested in the ability to endure suffering ( 1 Peter 4:14 ). This Spirit was also identified with the pre-existent Messiah, and was the means of His persistence through death ( 1 Peter 1:11 , 1 Peter 3:18-19 , 1 Peter 4:14 ). By the Spirit the brethren are also consecrated in a new covenant to Jehovah, thereby receiving the fulfilment of the promise of the Messianic age ( 1 Peter 1:2 ). The risen Christ has become the object of the believer’s utter love and devotion, and has begotten in him the living hope of an eternal inheritance.

( b ) The Christian life . At baptism the believer has his conscience cleansed through the risen Christ; and the new life springing from the seed of the word of God planted in the heart grows by feeding upon that word. Holiness is its quality, involving obedience to the truth, freedom from fleshly lusts, self-control under suffering, joy in a present salvation, and hope of life in the incorruptible inheritance. Faith is the act whereby the believer, realizing the worth of the unseen world through the revelation of Jesus Christ, puts complete trust in God. With Christ, the living stone, Christians form the new temple in which the brethren are a royal priesthood. They are the true Israel, a brotherhood which is God’s home on earth. The Christian is a pilgrim on earth, his life one of love to the brethren and of gentle endurance towards the unbeliever, whom he seeks to win to the gospel, while he stands ready girt for his Master’s coming ( 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 5:5-11 ).

5. Literary affinities

( a ) The OT . This Epistle is greatly indebted to the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , especially to the Psalms and to Isaiah, whose teaching as to the holiness of God and the redemptive efficacy of the sufferings of the Servant of the Lord is echoed ( 1 Peter 1:18-20 , Isaiah 52:3; Isaiah 53:1-12; 1 Peter 1:24-25 , Isaiah 40:6 ff.; 1 Peter 2:6 ff., Isaiah 28:18 , Psa 118:22; 1 Peter 2:21 ff.; Isaiah 53; 1 Peter 3:10 ff., Psalms 34:12 ff.). Proverbs also is used ( 1 Peter 2:17 , Pro 24:21; 1 Peter 4:8 , Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:18 , Proverbs 11:31; 1 Peter 5:5 , Proverbs 3:34 ).

( b ) Book of Enoch . An acquaintance with this pseudepigraphic book may be traced in 1Pe 1:12; 1 Peter 3:10; 1 Peter 3:20 . Cf. Enoch 9.1, 10.4, 6, 12, 13, 64.1, 2, 69.26.

( c ) The Gospels . While the Epistle affords no proof of acquaintance with our Gospels, it contains many suggestions of the life and teachings of Jesus. Peter claims to have been a witness of the sufferings and the glory of Jesus ( 1 Peter 5:1 ), which may refer both to the Transfiguration and to the appearances of the risen Christ. Christ is set forth as the example for the sufferer, as though His silent endurance of reviling and the agony of the sinless One had been indelibly impressed on the author’s memory; and, as in the Synoptics, Jesus Christ fulfils the prophecy of the Suffering Servant. The great command of Jesus to His disciples to renounce the world, take up the cross and follow Him, seems to re-echo in this Epistle; as Jesus pronounced blessings on those who were persecuted for righteousness’ sake, so does Peter ( 1 Peter 3:14 , 1 Peter 4:14 ), and other words from the Sermon on the Mount ( Matthew 5:10-11; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 6:25 ) seem to speak in 1Pe 2:12; 1 Peter 3:13-16; 1 Peter 5:6 . The parable of the Sower may have supplied the figure of 1 Peter 1:23 ff.; the lesson of the tribute money may underlie 1 Peter 2:13-14; and Christ’s utterance of doom on apostate Israel, especially the parable of Mark 12:1-12 , probably suggested the thought of Mark 2:5-10 . That the Kingdom of God, so common in the teaching of Jesus, is not referred to, may be due to the fact that the term had no worthy association for the readers. They had learned to call God ‘Father,’ not ‘King.’

( d ) Acts . There are similarities with Peter’s speeches in Acts, e.g ., the witness of the prophets to the Messiah; Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant whose death was foreknown to God, and was endured for our sins; His exaltation and near return to judge the living and the dead ( Acts 2:23; Acts 2:33; Acts 3:18; Acts 5:30-31; Acts 10:42-43 ). Cf. also 1 Peter 3:20 with Acts 3:19-21 .

( e ) The Pauline Epistles . A comparison of Romans with this Epistle reveals striking resemblances between them ( 1 Peter 1:14 , Rom 12:2; 1 Peter 1:22 , Romans 12:9; 1 Peter 2:5 , Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:6-8; 1 Peter 2:10 , Romans 9:25; Romans 9:32-33 , 1 Peter 2:13-17 , Romans 13:1; Romans 13:8; Romans 13:4; Rom 13:7; 1 Peter 3:8-9 , Romans 12:16; 1 Peter 4:7-11 , Romans 12:3; Romans 12:6 ), so close, indeed, in 1 Peter 2:6 and Romans 9:32 , that it is all but certain that one Epistle was known to the writer of the other; and Romans must have been the earlier. The more or less obvious relations of Ephesians with 1Peter ( 1Pe 1:3-5; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:9 , Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Peter 1:12 , Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 2:4-8 , Ephesians 2:18-22; 1 Peter 2:18 , Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 3:1-7 , Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:22 , Ephesians 1:20-22 ) justify the opinion that ‘the authors of both letters breathed the same atmosphere’ (v. Soden).

( f ) Hebrews . Many close verbal parallels are found between these Epistles, and their leading religious conceptions are similar. Both have the same view of faith, of Jesus Christ as an example, and as the One who introduces the believer to God, of His death as the sacrifice ratifying the new covenant and taking away sin. Similar stress is laid on hope and obedience; the fortunes of old Israel are employed in both to illustrate the demand for faith on the part of new Israel, and a similar use is made of the sufferings of the readers. Cf. 1 Peter 1:8 , Hebrews 11:1 : 1 Peter 1:20 , Hebrews 9:26; 1 Peter 2:21-23 , Hebrews 12:1-3; 1Pe 4:13; 1 Peter 5:1 , Hebrews 11:26; Heb 13:13; 1 Peter 4:11 , Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 5:10 , Hebrews 13:21 . Though direct literary relationship between the two Epistles cannot be affirmed, the authors may have been close friends, and the readers were perhaps similarly situated.

( g ) James . A comparison of 1 Peter 1:1 , James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:6 f., James 1:2 f.; 1 Peter 1:23 to 1 Peter 2:1 , Jam 1:11-22; 1 Peter 5:5 f., James 4:6 f., James 4:10 proves close relationship, but the priority can be determined only on the basis of the date of James.

6. Authorship . According to the present greeting, this Epistle was written by the Apostle Peter, and this is supported by very strong tradition. Polycarp is the earliest writer who indubitably quotes the Epistle, though it was probably familiar to Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Papias, and perhaps Ignatius. Basilides seems to have known it, and it was rejected by Marclon on doctrinal grounds. It is first quoted as Peter’s by Irenæus and Tertullian, and is frequently used by Clement of Alexandria. Its omission from the Muratorian Fragment is not significant; it is contained in the oldest versions, and Eusebius, in full agreement with what we know of early Christian literature, places it among the books which the Church accepted without hesitation. In the Apostolic Fathers, e.g ., it is as well attested as Galatians or Ephesians. Harnack suggests that the opening and closing verses were later additions, and that Polycarp did not regard the letter as Peter’s; but this hypothesis is utterly without textual support, and both paragraphs are fitted compactly into the Epistle. The chief objections to the Petrine authorship are (1) the Epistle is said to be so saturated with Pauline ideas that it could not have been written by the Apostle Peter; (2) the readers are Gentile Christians living within territory evangelized by Paul, in which Peter would have been trespassing on the Gentiles ( Galatians 2:9 ); (3) there is a lack of personal reminiscences of the life of Jesus that would be strange in Peter; (4) the use of good Greek and of the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] would be remarkable in a Galilæan fisherman; (5) the persecution referred to in ch. 4 is said to be historically impossible until after the death of Peter.

In answer to (3) reference may be made to 5 ( c ). (4) is too conjectural to be serious, for ‘there is not the slightest presumption against the use of Greek in writings purporting to emanate from the circle of the first believers. They would write as men who had used the language from boyhood’ (J. H. Moulton). Silvanus also may have had a large share in the composition of the Epistle. The difficulty of (5) is removed if, as we have seen to be probable, no official Imperial persecution is involved. Little is known of its beginnings in the provinces, though from Acts we learn that the Jews soon stirred up hostility against the Christians. Rome is called Babylon, the idolatrous oppressor of the true Israel. This might have happened whenever the Christians began to realize the awakening hatred of the wicked city, mistress of an empire ruled by a deified Nero, even before the persecution of 64 a.d. Undoubtedly there is a close relationship between this Epistle and Paul’s Epistles, closer in thought than in vocabulary. Probably the approximation is nearest in the treatment of morals, as, e.g ., marriage, slavery, obedience to civil rulers; and how much of this was common Christian belief and practice. It is, however, striking that in an Epistle so indebted to the Romans the legalistic controversy is passed by, while a different view of righteousness, a change of emphasis as to the Import of Christ’s death, and a dissimilar conception of the work of the Spirit are manifest. Nor does the Ephesian idea of the Church appeal to this author. He cannot be called a Paulinist. He has been nurtured on prophetic, rather than on Pharisaic, ideals. Doubtless St. Paul, a broadly educated Jew, a Roman citizen, and a man of massive intellect and penetrating insight, influenced St. Peter. This much may be inferred from Galatians 2:15-17 . On the other hand, St. Paul did not resent St. Peter’s visit to Antioch in Galatians 2:11 . Why should not St. Peter, many years later, have written to Churches some of which at least seem not to have been evangelized by St. Paul? But greatly as St. Peter may have been impressed by St. Paul’s masterful construction of Christian thought, his character must have been immeasurably more moulded by Jesus, while his own strong temperament, responsive to the prophetic side of his people’s religion, would change little with the years. It is precisely the ground-tone of the Epistle in harmony with the spirit of OT prophecy and of the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels that makes its Petrine authorship so reasonable.

7. Date . The belief that St. Peter died in Rome is supported by a very strong chain of evidence, being deducible from Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Papias; and it is held by Dionysius of Corinth, Irenæus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria. Unless St. Peter had been definitely associated with Rome, it is difficult to understand how he supplanted St. Paul so soon in the capital as the chief Apostle. Evidently the tradition of a 25 years’ episcopate has no historical basis, but St. Peter probably came to Rome after St. Paul, and died perhaps in the Neronian persecution of 64, or possibly later. It is in the highest degree probable that St. Peter wrote this Epistle from Rome before a.d. 64.

R. A. Falconer.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Peter, First Epistle of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​p/peter-first-epistle-of.html. 1909.