International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Peter, the First Epistle of
1. External Evidence
2. Internal Evidence
1. Babylon: Which?
2. Babylon Not Rome
2. Example of Christ
3. Relation to State
1. Freedom in Structure
4. Testimony of Prophets
(2) Spirit of Christ
(3) Prophetic Study
5. The Christian Brotherhood
6. Spirits in Prison
Simon Peter was a native of Galilee. He was brought to the Saviour early in His ministry by his brother Andrew (John 1:40 , John 1:41 ). His call to the office of apostle is recorded in Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-16 .
He occupied a distinguished place among the Lord's disciples. In the four lists of the apostles found in the New Testament his name stands first (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13 ). He is the chief figure in the first twelve chapters of the Acts. It is Peter that preaches the first Christian sermon (Acts 2), he that opens the door of the gospel to the Gentileworld in the house of the Roman soldier, Cornelius, and has the exquisite delight of witnessing scenes closely akin to those of Pentecost at Jerusalem (Acts 10:44-47 ). It was given him to pronounce the solemn sentence on the guilty pair, Ananias and Sapphira, and to rebuke in the power of the Spirit the profane Simon Magus (Acts 5:1-11; Acts 8:18-23 ). In these and the like instances Peter exhibited the authority with which Christ had invested him (Matthew 16:19 ) - an authority bestowed upon all the disciples (John 20:22 , John 20:23 ) - the power to bind and to loose.
Two Epistles are ascribed to Peter. Of the Second doubt and uncertainty have existed from the early ages to the present. The genuineness and authenticity of the First are above suspicion.
I. Canonicity of 1 Peter.
1. External Evidence:
The proof of its integrity and trustworthiness is ample and altogether satisfactory. It falls into parts: external and internal. The historical attestation to its authority as an apostolic document is abundant. Polycarp, disciple of the apostle John, martyed in 156
2. Internal Evidence:
The internal evidence in favor of the Epistle is as conclusive as the external. The writer is well acquainted with our Lord's teaching, and he makes use of it to illustrate and enforce his own. The references he makes to that teaching are many, and they include the four Gospels. He is familiar likewise with the Epistles, particularly James, Romans, and Ephesians. But what is especially noteworthy is the fact that 1 Peter in thought and language stands in close relation with the apostle's discourses as recorded in Acts. By comparing 1 Peter 1:17 with Acts 10:34; 1 Peter 1:21 with Acts 2:32-36 and Acts 10:40 , Acts 10:41; 1 Peter 2:7 , 1 Peter 2:8 with Acts 4:10 , Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:17 with Acts 10:28 , and 1 Peter 3:18 with Acts 3:14 , one will perceive how close the parallel between the two is. The inference from these facts appears legitimate, namely, 1 Peter in diction and thought belongs to the same period of time and moves in the same circle of truth as do the other writings of the New Testament. The writer was an apostle, and he was Simon Peter.
II. The Address.
Peter writes to the "elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion." James employs the term "Dispersion" to designate believing Hebrews of the Twelve Tribes who lived outside the land (James 1:1 ). The Jews included in it the whole body of Israelites scattered among the Gentilenations (John 7:35 ). But we must not conclude from this that the Epistle is directed to Christian Jews alone. Gentile believers are by no means excluded, as 1 Peter 1:14 , 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 2:10; 1 Peter 3:6; 1 Peter 4:3 , 1 Peter 4:4 abundantly attest. Indeed, the Gentile element in the churches of Asia Minor largely predominated at the time. The term "sojourners" represents a people away from home, strangers in a strange land; the word is translated "pilgrims" in 1 Peter 2:11 and Hebrews 11:13 - an appropriate name for those who confess that they have here no continuing city, but who seek one to come. While no doubt Peter had believing Israelites in mind when he wrote, for he never forgot that his ministry belonged primarily to the circumcision ( Galatians 2:7 , Galatians 2:8 ), he did not neglect the more numerous Gentileconverts, and to these he speaks as earnestly as to the others; and these also were "sojourners."
Three of the four provinces Peter mentions, namely, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Asia, had representatives at the memorable Pentecost in Jerua (Acts 2:9; 1 Peter 1:1 ). Many of these "sojourners of the Dispersion" may have believed the message of the apostle and accepted salvation through Jesus Christ, and returned home to tell the good news to their neighbors and friends. This would form a strong bond of union between them and Peter, and would open the way for him to address them in the familiar and tender manner of the Epistle.
Silvanus appears to have been the bearer of the letter to the Christians of Asia Minor: "By Silvanus, our faithful brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly" (1 Peter 5:12 ). It is an assumption to assert from these words that Silvanus was employed in the composition of the letter. The statement denotes rather the bearer than the writer or secretary. Silvanus was Paul's companion in the ministry to the Asiatic churches, and since we do not read of him as going with Paul to Jerusalem or to Rome, it is probable he returned from Corinth (Acts 18:5 ) to Asia Minor and labored there. He and Peter met, where no one knows, though not a few think in Rome; as likely a guess perhaps is in Palestine. At any rate, Silvanus gave Peter an account of the conditions in the provinces, the afflictions and persecutions of believers, and the deep need they had for sympathy and counsel. He would, accordingly, be of the greatest assistance to the apostle. This seems to account for the peculiarity of language which Peter uses: "By Silvanus, our faithful brother, I have written unto you," as if he had some share in furnishing the contents of the Epistle.
III. Place and Time of Composition.
1. Babylon: Which?:
According to 1 Peter 5:13 the Epistle was written in Babylon. But what place is meant? Two cities having this name were known in apostolic times. One was in Egypt, probably on or near the present site of Cairo, and we are told that it was a "city of no small importance." Epiphanius calls it "great Babylon" (Zahn). The absence, however, of all tradition that would tend to identify this place with the Babylon of the Epistle seems to shut it out of the problem. Babylon on the Euphrates is regarded by many as the place here designated. Jews in considerable numbers still dwelt in Babylon, notwithstanding the massacre of thousands in the reign of Claudius and the flight of multitudes into other countries. There is much to be said in favor of this city as the place meant, and yet the absence of tradition in its support is a very serious difficulty. A third view regards it as symbolical of Rome. Roman Catholics thus interpret it, and not a few Protestants so understand it. Tradition which runs back into the first half of the 2nd century appears to favor it, though much uncertainty and obscurity still surround the earliest ages of our era, in spite of the unwearied researches of modern scholars. Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, who lived in the first half of the 2nd century, appears to have had no doubt that Peter was martyred in Rome, and that the Babylon of the Epistle designates the Imperial City. There are very serious objections to this interpretation. One is, that it is totally out of keeping with Peter's manner of writing. Preeminently he is direct and matter-of-fact in his style. The metaphorical language he employs is mostly drawn from the Old Testament, or, if from himself, it is so common of use as to be well understood by all readers. It is altogether improbable that this man, plain of speech almost to bluntness, should interject in the midst of his personal explanations and final salutations such a mystical epithet with no hint of what he means by it, or why he employs such a mode of speech.
2. Babylon Not Rome:
Besides, there is no evidence that Rome was called Babylon by the Christians until the Book of Revelation was published, i.e. circa 90-96 AD. But if 1 Peter is dependent on the Apocalypse for this name of Babylon as Rome, Peter could not have been its author, for he died years before that date. The Epistle was written about 64 AD, at the time when persecutions under the infamous Nero were raging, at which time also the apostle himself bore his witness and went to his heavenly home, even as his Master had forewarned him (John 21:18 , John 21:19 ). While not unmindful of the great difficulties that beset the view, nevertheless we are reclined to the opinion that the Babylon of 1 Peter 5:13 is the ancient city on the Euphrates. See
The apostle had more than one object in view when he addressed the "elect" in Asia Minor. The Lord Jesus had charged him, "Feed my lambs" "Tend my sheep" - "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17 ). His two Epistles certify how faithfully he obeyed the charge. With loving and tender hand he feeds the lambs and tends the whole flock, warns against foes, guards from danger, and leads them into green pastures and beside still waters. He reminds them of the glorious inheritance they are to possess (1 Peter 1:3-9 ); he exhorts them to walk in the footsteps of the uncomplaining Christ (1 Peter 2:20-25 ); to be compassionate, loving, tender-hearted, humble-minded, and circumspect in their passage through this unfriendly world (1 Peter 3:8-12 ). He sums up the main duties of Christian life in the short but pregnant sentences, "Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Peter 2:17 ). But his supreme object is to comfort and encourage them amid the persecutions and the sufferings to which they were unjustly subjected, and to fortify them against the heavier trials that were impending.
From the beginning the Christian church was the object of suspicion and of hatred, and many of its adherents had suffered even unto death at the hands of both hostile Jews and fanatical Gentiles. But these afflictions were generally local and sporadic. There were churches of large membership and wide influence which were unmolested (1 Corinthians 4:8-10 ), and which seem to have been able to get fair treatment in heathen courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-6 ). But the condition brought to view in 1 Peter is altogether different. Trials and afflictions of the severest sort assail them, and an enmity and hostility, bent on their destruction, pursue them with tireless energy. The whole Christian body shared in the persecutions (1 Peter 5:9 ). The trial was a surprise (1 Peter 4:12 ), both in its intensity, for Peter calls it "fiery," and for its unexpectedness. The apostle represents it as a savage beast of prey, a roaring lion, prowling about them to seize and devour (1 Peter 5:8 , 1 Peter 5:9 ).
A variety of charges were brought against the Christians, but they were calumnies and slanders, without any foundation in fact. They were spoken against as evil-doers (1 Peter 2:12 -
2. Example of Christ:
How mightily does the apostle minister to his suffering friends! He bids them remember the uncomplaining Christ when He was unjustly afflicted by cruel men (1 Peter 2:19-25 ). He tells them how they may effectively put to silence their accusers, and refute the calumnies and the slanders that are so cruelly circulated against them, namely, by living such pure and godly lives, by being so meek, docile, patient, stedfast, true and faithful to God, that none can credit the false accusations (1 Peter 2:1-5; 1 Peter 2:13-17; 1 Peter 3:8 , 1 Peter 3:9 , 1 Peter 3:13-17; 1 Peter 5:6-11 ).
3. Relation to State:
There is little or no evidence in the Epistle that the persecutions were inflicted by imperial authority or that the state was dealing with the Christians as enemies who were dangerous to the peace of society. In the provinces to which the letter was sent there seems to have been complete absence of formal trial and punishment through the courts. Peter does not speak of Iegal proceedings against the Christians by the magistrates. On the contrary, he urges them to be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well (1 Peter 2:13 ). They are to honor all men, to honor the king (1 Peter 2:17 ). This submission would scarcely be pressed if the state had already proscribed Christianity and decreed its total suppression. This the imperial government did later on, but there is no evidence furnished by the apostle that in 64
Peter exhorts his fellow-believers to silence their persecutors by their upright conduct (1 Peter 2:15 ); they are thus to put them to shame who falsely accuse them (1 Peter 3:16 ); and they are not to combat evil with evil nor answer reviling with reviling, but contrariwise with blessing (1 Peter 3:9 ). The antagonism here indicated obviously springs from the heathen populace; there is no hint of arraignment before magistrates or subjection to legal proceedings. It is unbelievers who revile and slander and denounce the people of God in the provinces.
Everything in the Epistle points to the time of Nero, 64 AD, and not to the time of Domitian or Trajan, or even Titus. In Rome vast multitudes of Christians were put to death in the most brutal fashion, so Tacitus relates, but the historian asserts that there was a sinister report to the effect that Nero himself instigated the burning of the city (July 19,64), and "he (Nero) falsely diverted the charge on to a set of people to whom the vulgar gave the name of Christians (or Chrestians), and who were detested for the abominations which they perpetrated." See NERO . Certain facts are clear from Tacitus' statements, namely, that at the time the Christians were well known as a distinct sect; and that they were subjected to the dreadful sufferings inflicted upon them because they were Christians; and the persecutions at the time were instigated by the fear and the brutality of the tyrant. Peter likewise recognizes the fact that believers were disliked and calumniated by their heathen neighbors for the same reason - they were Christians: "If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye" (1 Peter 4:14 ); "But if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name" (1 Peter 4:16 ). But the imperial government at the time does not appear to have taken formal action for the overthrow of Christianity as a system inimical to the empire. Of course, where direct charges of a criminal nature were made against Christians, judicial inquiry into them would be instituted. But in the Epistle what believers had to endure and suffer were the detraction, the vituperation, the opprobrium and the vile and malignant slanders with which the heathen assailed them.
V. Characteristic Features of the Epistle.
It has certain very distinct marks, some of which may be noticed.
1. Freedom in Structure:
It does not observe a close logical sequence in its structure, as those of Paul so prominently display. There is truth in Dean Alford's statement, although perhaps he pushes it rather far: "The link between one idea and another is found, not in any progress of unfolding thought or argument, but in the last word of the foregoing sentence which is taken up and followed out in the new one" (see 1 Peter 1:5 , 1 Peter 1:6 , 1 Peter 1:7 , 1 Peter 1:9 , 1 Peter 1:10 , etc.). This peculiarity, however, does not interfere with the unity of the epistle, it rather adds to it, and it gives to it a vividness which it otherwise might not possess.
It is the epistle of hope. How much it makes of this prime grace! Peter seems never to grow weary of describing it and exalting its radiant beauty and desirableness. He calls it a living hope (1 Peter 1:3 ). It is born by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and it calmly awaits the glorious inheritance that soon will be enjoyed. It is a hope that will be perfected at the advent of Christ (1 Peter 1:13 ), and it is set on God, hence, cannot fail (1 Peter 1:21 ). With sickly, dying hope we are quite familiar. The device which a certain state (South Carolina) has inscribed on its Great Seal is, dum spiro spero ("while I live I hope"). Such a hope may serve for a commonwealth whose existence is limited to this world, but a man needs something more enduring, something imperishable. "It is a fearful thing when a man and his hopes die together" (Leighton).
The Christian's glorious inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-5 ) is depicted in one of the most comprehensive and suggestive descriptions of the believer's heritage found in the Bible. It is declared to be "incorruptible." The word points to its substance. It is imperishable. In it there is no element of decay. It holds in its heart no germ of death. Like its author, the living God, it is unchangeable and eternal. It is "undefiled." It is not stained by sin nor polluted by crime, either in its acquisition or its possession. Human heritages generally are marred by human wrongs. There is hardly an acre of soil that is not tainted by fraud or violence. The coin that passes from hand to hand is in many instances soiled by guilt. But this of Peter is absolutely pure and holy. It "fadeth not away." It never withers. Ages do not impair its beauty or dim its luster. Its bloom will remain fresh, its fragrance undiminished, forever. Thus our inheritance "is glorious in these respects: it is in its substance , incorruptible: in its purity , undefiled: in beauty , unfading" (Alford).
Now why does the apostle in the very opening of his Epistle give so lofty a place to the saints' inheritance? He does so in order to comfort and encourage his fellow-believers with the consolations of the Lord Himself, that they may bear stedfastly their manifold sufferings and triumph over their weighty afflictions. Hence, he writes: "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith ... may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-9 ). He lifts their thoughts and their gaze up far above the troubles and distresses around them to Him whose they are, whom they serve, who will by and by crown them with immortal bliss.
4. Testimony of Prophets:
The prophets and their study are described in 1 Peter 1:10 , 1 Peter 1:11 : "Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you," etc. With Peter and his fellow-apostles the testimony of the prophets was authoritative and final. Where they had a clear word from the Old Testament Scriptures, they felt that every question was settled and controversy was at an end.
The burden of the prophetic communications was salvation. The prophets spoke on many subjects; they had to exhort, rebuke and entreat their wayward contemporaries; to denounce sin, to announce judgment on the guilty and to recall them to repentance and reformation. But ever and anon their vision was filled with the future and its blessedness, their voices would swell with rapture as they saw and foretold the great salvation to be brought to the world and the grace that would then so copiously go out unto men; for the Messiah was to appear and to suffer, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.
(2) Spirit of Christ.
The prophet's messages were the messages of the Spirit of Christ. It was He who testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow. The prophets always disclaim any part in the origination of their messages. They affirm in the most positive and solemn manner that their predictions are not their own, but God's. Hence, they are called the Lord's "spokesmen," the Lord's "mouth" (Exodus 4:15 , Exodus 4:16; Exodus 7:1 , Exodus 7:2; 2 Peter 1:21 ).
(3) Prophetic Study.
They "sought and searched diligently." These terms are strong and emphatic. They pored over the predictions which the Spirit had revealed through themselves; they scrutinized them with eager and prolonged inquiry. Two points engaged their attention: "What time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto." The first "what" relates to the time of the Messiah's advent; the second "what" to the events and circumstances which would attend His appearing - a fruitful theme, one that engages the inquiry of nobler students - "which things angels desire to look into."
5. The Christian Brotherhood:
The Christian brotherhood is described in 1 Peter 2:9 , 1 Peter 2:10 : "But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." The brotherhood is the new Israel. The apostle describes it in terms which were applied to the old Israel, but which include more than the ancient Israel ever realized. The exalted conception is by one who was a strict Jew, the apostle of the circumcision, and who held somewhat closely to the Mosaic institutions to the end of his life. All the more significant on this account is his testimony. The descriptive titles which he here gathers together and places on the brow of the Christian brotherhood are of the most illustrious sort. A distinguished man, a noble, a general, a statesman, will sometimes appear in public with his breast covered with resplendent decorations which mark his rank or his achievements. But such distinctions sink into insignificance alongside of this dazzling cluster. This is the heavenly nobility, the royal family of the Lord of glory, decorated with badges brighter far than ever glittered on the breast of king or emperor. But even in this instance Peter reminds Christians of the glorious destiny awaiting them that they may be strengthened and stimulated to stedfastness and loyalty in the midst of the trials and afflictions to which they are subjected ( 1 Peter 2:11 , 1 Peter 2:12 )
6. Spirits in Prison:
A study of 1 Peter 3:18-20 - "preached unto the spirits in prison" - should here follow in the present cursory review of the characteristic features of the Epistle, but anything like an adequate examination of this difficult passage would require more space than could be given it. Suffice it to quote a sentence from Professor Zahn ( New Testament , II, 289) with which the writer agrees: "That interpretation of 1 Peter 3:19 is in all probability correct, according to which a preaching of Christ at the time of the Flood is referred to, i.e. a preaching through Noah, so that Noah is here represented as a preacher of righteousness, as in 2 Peter 2:5 ." See
A very general analysis of the Epistle is the following: (1) Christian privileges, 1 Peter 1 through 2:10. (2) Christian duties, 1 Peter 2:11 through 4:11. (3) Persecutions and trials, 1 Peter 4:12 through 5:11. (4) Personal matters and salutations, 1 Peter 5:12-14 .
The chief doctrines of Christianity are found in 1 Peter. The vicarious suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18 ); the new birth (1 Peter 1:3 , 1 Peter 1:13 ); redemption by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:19 ), faith, hope, patient endurance under unjust suffering, and holiness of life, are all pressed upon Christians with great earnestness and force.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Peter, the First Epistle of'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/p/peter-the-first-epistle-of.html. 1915.