An Introduction To The Book Of 1 PeterRelated Media
I. AUTHORSHIP: That Peter, the head of the twelve, was the author of this letter is not only strongly supported by the external and internal evidence, but is more logical than any of the objections raised against it
A. Identification: The NT had four different names for this individual:
1. Simeon (the Hebrew for Peter’s original name) (Acts 15:14; cf. v. 7; see also 2 Pet. 1:1)
2. Simon (the Greek name for Simeon applied 49 times in the NT)
3. Cephas (a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word for rock [ כֵּיפָא Κηφᾶς ]; this is used to play off of πέτρᾳ)
4. Peter (Πέτρος) the leader and spokesman for the early disciples. This is how he is addressed in the greeting emphasizing his authority to speak
B. External Evidence:1 The early Church regarded the letter as Petrine
1. Clear parallels exist in Clement of Rome’s Epistle to the Corinthians (c. 96)
2. Traces of the epistle may be in Ignatius, Barnabas and Hermas
3. Polycarp (c 70-150/166) has definite citations form the epistle (but he does not cite it as Peter’s or mention Peter’s name)2
4. Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria all quote this epistle as Petrine
5. Theophilus of Antioch cites this letter as Petrine
6. Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-339) places it among the books that were accepted by the church without any doubt (homologoumena) and says that Papias (c. 60-130) used witnesses from 1 Peter3
7. The author of the Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lugdunum (Lyons) cites this letter as Petrine
8. It is not in Marcion’s canon, but he only mentioned Pauline letters
9. The Muratorian Fragment omits both 1 and 2 Peter (but the text of the fragment is open to doubt in its corrupted state)4
C. Internal Evidence:5
1. The Self-witness of the book: This offers a very strong case for Petrine authorship:
a. The letter claims to be from “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1)
b. The writer claims to be the readers “fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed” (5:1)
c. The writer identifies “Silas” (Silvanus) as one who helped him to write the letter (5:12; cf. Acts 15:22; 1 Thess. 1:1)
d. The writer also sends greetings from Mark (5:13; cf. Acts 12:12)
2. Objections to Petrine Authorship:
a. Linguistic and stylistic objections: Because the epistle has a good Greek style and has been influenced by the Greek of the LXX it is argued that Peter, a Galilean fisherman, was unable to write the letter:
1) But it is possible that Peter could have achieved fluency in the Greek language since it was wide spread throughout the Middle East and more than 30 years separate Peter the fisherman and Peter the writer
2) Since Peter was addressing Gentile converts, it is natural for him to employ the LXX
3) Also the book itself states that Peter used Silas as his secretary (5:12); this may account for its style
b. Historical Objections:
1) Persecution: Because of the persecution which these readers are facing (1:6; 2:12, 15; 4:12, 14-16; 5:8-9) it assumed that this letter must have been written at a time when Christianity has become illegal. Since the Neronian persecutions in Rome never spread to the provinces to which this letter is addressed (i.e., Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia; cf. 1:1) then it must be dated during either the Domitianic or Trajanic persecutions which preclude Peter who was supposedly martyred by Nero6
a) But little evidence exists about the early persecutions
b) The assumption of general provincial persecution against Christians is not without problems--especially during Domitian7
c) While it is possible that the situation under Trajan may be reflected, the name ‘Christian’ (4:14) is not limited to that time (cf. Mk. 13:13; Lk. 21:12), the persecution identified with Pliny was not necessary world-wide (1 Pet. 4:12).
d) Although the Neronian persecution was not beyond Rome, “Peter may well have imagined an extension of the attack and wished to warn the Asian Christians of what was in store for them”8
2) Travels: There are no known travels of Peter among the Asian churches who are addressed, but it would not have been unnatural for the leading Apostle to send a message of encouragement to Gentile Christians.
3) Eye-witness: Although Peter claims to be an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ (5:1), he was not present during the entire passion. But this does not prevent him from calling himself a witness!
c. Doctrinal: There is too much affinity of thought between this letter and the Pauline epistles and nothing very original, but Paul and Peter did share the same heritage of oral teaching, and, “even if Peter did utilize Paul’s wisdom, this is no strong argument against Peter’s authorship of 1 Peter. Paul’s gifts were well known in the church (Acts 15:1-2; Gal 2:11-24). A good shepherd like Peter would give his sheep the best spiritual food”9
II. DATE: Although it is not possible to be certain, this letter was probably written before or during the Neronian persecution (AD 62-64)
A. There are three main views to dating this letter depending upon which persecution one understands to be the focus of the letter:
1. Trajan’s (AD 111)
2. Domitian’s (AD 90-100)
3. Nero’s (AD 62-64)
The first two are not necessary conclusions and the third is most probable in view of the above discussion (“Historical Objections”)
B. Tradition understands that Paul and Peter were victims of persecution under Nero at Rome after the disastrous fire in the city of Rome on 19 July 6410
1. The death of Paul is considered to be before Peter’s
2. The timing of Paul’s death does not really affect the date of 1 Peter
C. The letter was written from “Babylon” (5:13) which was probably a cryptic title for Rome--the head of the then pagan, anti-God world (cf. Rev. 14:8; 17:5, 18)
D. Some considerations favor the Neronian persecution:
1. The doctrine and ecclesiastical organization may be early and favor a date not much after AD 60
2. The title of “elect sojourners” (1:1) may be descriptive of the scattering which occurred after the martyrdom of James, the Lord’s brother, at the hands of the Jews making the breach between the Christians and the Jews public (Acts 12)
3. Peter regards the state in a conciliatory way (1 Pet. 2:13-17) which would have been more difficult (but not impossible) at a later date (e.g., after AD 64)
III. RECIPIENTS: The readers were probably a mixed group of Jews and Gentile believers who were scattered throughout the northern regions of Asia Minor:
A. This is a circular (or general) letter, but unlike the others, it identifies its recipients:
B. The letter is addressed to those who are chosen (1:1)
1. This could refer to either Jews or Gentiles who are now a part of the people of God
2. This could refer to both believing Jews and Gentiles who make up the people of God
a. The LXX is used in OT referrals thus supporting a Gentile orientation
b. The terms “elected aliens of the Diaspora” all have a Jewish element to them
c. The former lives of the readers supports a Gentile audience:
1) Previous vain way of life (1:18)
2) Former lusts in ignorance (1:14)
3) The have done what Gentiles do (4:3, 4)
4) They were once a ‘no people’ but were called out of darkness (2:9, 11)
C. The letter is addressed to those who are from places in northern Asia Minor or modern Turkey (1:1):11
D. The Letter is written to those aliens residing in northern Asia Minor
E. The letter was written to those of mixed social status (slaves, 2:18-25 and free men, 2:11-17)
F. The letter was written to those who had not physically seen Jesus (1:8) and who were probably new converts (1:22; 2:2)
IV. LITERARY FORM / UNITY: An Epistle
A. Peter is a letter written in normal epistle form
B. The rhetorical and didactic nature of the letter may mean that it was intended to be read aloud to the congregations13
C. While Peter may have used material that existed in others forms (past teaching and preaching, hymns, catechesis, homilies), he now forms a letter which has meaning apart from the previously existing forms
D. Because of the doxology in 1 Peter 4:11 some have questioned the unity of the book:
1. Moule suggested that two letters were written by Peter at the same time and then were united in transmission (1:1--4:1 plus conclusion, and 1:1--2:10; 4:12--5:14), but it lacks any textual support14
2. Some understand Peter to have written a letter with a postscript for a particular church. While this is more likely than the former because it preserves the essential unity of the letter, the evidence does not demand such a conclusion since 4:12--5:11 would be generally relevant to all the churches addressed15
3. It is best to see this letter as a circular type of letter in its present form which was directed to all the churches in the areas mentioned in northern Asia minor.16 The doxology in 4:11 could be there for a number of reasons:
a. Perhaps Peter intended to end at 4:11, but further developments prompted him to add some more material before the conclusion
b. Perhaps in 4:12ff Peter is giving a brief practical summary of the theological points already mentioned
c. It is an appropriate place in the letter to glorify God who gives spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Timothy 1:17 where Paul does a similar thing); this solution seems best to this writer.
V. PURPOSES OF 1 PETER:
A. Although 1 Peter does bare the form of a letter, the tone is that of a homiletical, paraenetic sermon designed to provide direction for believers under persecution; at times it also includes theological considerations which support the ethical exhortations.
B. To emphasize for his readers the indissoluble link between doctrine and practice (5:12)
C. To exhort his readers under persecution to follow the example of Christ whose life was characterized by patient suffering (cf. 2:21ff)
D. To exhort his readers to live in the world in accordance with their high calling by maintaining a good report with the Gentile world (2:12ff) and by sustaining the unity of the community of faith (2:18ff)
E. To exhort his readers who are under the pressure of persecution to look to Christ with an eschatological hope of deliverance and blessing for faithfulness (1:3-12)
F. To exhort his readers who are living in a time which will provide increasing conflict to help and love one another or else the community will suffer injury (4:7-18; 5:1-2)
1 Guthrie writes, “So strong is the evidence for the use of this Epistle in the early Church that C. Bigg regarded it as proved and maintained that is was considered to be canonical as early as the word had a meaning” (NTI, 771). Continuing, “The very great weight of patristic evidence in favour of Petrine authorship and the absence of any dissentient voice raises so strong a presupposition in favour of the correctness of the claims of the Epistle to be Peter’s own work that it is surprising that this has been questioned (Ibid., 773).
2 But he would not have done so unless there was some special reason.
3 Ecclesiastical History 3.25.2.
4 Guthrie writes, “Although it may not have been used as freely in the West as in the East, there is no evidence that it was ever disputed (NTI, 773). Blum affirms that 1 Peter is reflected in the Gospel of Truth which seems to use the books regarded as authoritative in Rome (c. AD 140) (“1 Peter,” EBC, 12:215).
5 The strong internal evidence led to the universal acceptance of this letter as from Peter until recent years (Edwin Blum, “1 Peter,” in EBC, 12:210).
6 Guthrie, NTI, 775.
7 See Guthrie, NTI, 781-782.
8 Guthrie, NTI, 783. Childs writes, “Not only is it explicitly a circular letter, addressed to Christians at large, but its teachings are directed to faithful Christians living in the light of perennial threats to the faith” (The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, 457).
9 Blum, “1 Peter,” EBC, 12:211.
10 First Clement 5:4-7; cf The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 3:755.
11 This order is either: (1) lacking order, (2) relating to the governorship of Pliny over the joint province of Pontus and Bithynia, (3) dictated by rhythmical considerations, or (4) the itinerary of the bearer of the letter who landed at a port of Pontus, visited the churches in the districts named in that order and then returned to Bithynia.
12 It seems that this is addressed to those who live in northern Galatia rather than those in southern Galatia who received Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Guthrie writes, “This conclusion is supported by the fact that Pontus and Bithynia, which formed one administrative Roman province, are yet not only mentioned separately, but one comes first and the other last” (NTI, 793). These would be areas where Paul did not really preach.
13 See Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27 and Revelation 1:3 for confirmation of this practice.
14 See Guthrie, NTI, 799.
15 Guthrie, NTI, 800.
16 Childs writes, Its canonical shape which renders its message accessible to future generations of Christians is not the result of a secondary redactional process which modified its original, highly specific reference (contra Moule). Rather, like the letter to the Ephesians, its catholic quality lies firmly embedded in the original form of the epistle (The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, 457).
Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines