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First Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline

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I.  Introduction

A. The Author

The opening verse indicates that “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” is the author. Today, however, this is disputed by several scholars. Hence a discussion of the internal and external evidence is in order. We will begin with external evidence, as this is much easier to deal with for this epistle.

1. External Evidence

“So strong is the evidence for the use of this epistle in the early church that some scholars have regarded it as proved and maintained that it was considered to be canonical as early as this word had a meaning.”1 There are parallels in Clement of Rome’s Epistle to the Corinthians, Ignatius, Barnabas, and Shepherd of Hermas. These may indicate borrowing, but not necessarily. Polycarp definitely quotes from it, though he does not identify the quoted material as coming from Peter. Irenaeus, however, does quote from it, and regards it as a genuine work of Peter. From the last third of the second century on, this letter is frequently regarded as Petrine, and is cited by Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus of Antioch, etc. The Muratorian Canon’s omission of either First or Second Peter can only be an argument from silence, especially in light of the great probability of there being a lacuna at this point in the fragment. Guthrie summarizes:

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.

…the primitive church, as far back as any evidence exists, regarded it as a genuine epistle of Peter, and thus any discussion of objections to Petrine authorship must sufficiently take account of this fact.2

2. Internal Evidence

In spite of the strong patristic evidence in favor of Petrine authorship, several scholars have noted internal difficulties which seem to override the early church’s testimony. In general, three types of objections have been put forth: linguistic, historical, and doctrinal.

a. Objections to Apostolic Authorship

1) Linguistic Objections. Put simply, the Greek of 1 Peter seems too good for Peter. It ranks, in terms of vocabulary and syntactical subtleties, just below Hebrews and Acts. Further, the author uses the LXX, rather than translating the Hebrew. More importantly, however, the author of this letter outshines Paul in his skill in Greek, yet Paul had decidedly better training in the ways of Hellas than Peter. It is the linguistic argument which has proved decisive for many scholars, and in my mind is the most significant objection against Petrine authorship.

2) Historical Objections. There are two main objections here:3 the historical situation presupposed in the letter, and the lack of any known connection between Peter and the churches of Asia to which it was sent.

First, the historical situation presupposed is that of open persecution (cf. 1:6-7; 4:12, 14-16). The implication that some scholars make of this is that Christianity has been outlawed by the state throughout the Roman Empire. This was not true during Nero’s day, who only persecuted the Christians in Rome (as far as history records), though it was true during Domitian’s and Trajan’s reigns.

Second, Peter has no known relationship with the churches of Asia Minor. Indeed, as these seem to be Gentile churches, one wonders what the “apostle to the circumcision” would be doing in writing to those under Paul’s care.

3) Doctrinal Objections. The primary doctrinal (or literary) objection is that this letter seems to be heavily dependent on Paul’s letters for its contents, and even its style. In particular, parallels with Romans and Ephesians are quite noticeable. One of the kingpins in this argument is the assumption of a late date for Ephesians. If Ephesians is not by Paul, but was written sometime after his death, then of course Peter could not have written 1 Peter, since the author apparently depends so much on Ephesians. But even if Ephesians is authentic, the reasons for an apostle the stature of Peter to borrow so heavily from Paul seem difficult to grasp. Further, the author seems to lack originality, and indeed, has nothing unPauline in his letter.

b. An Examination of the Objections to Apostolic Authorship.

1) Linguistic Objections. First, what must be examined is the use of the LXX in an epistle purportedly by Peter. Would this apostle use the LXX? Part of this issue revolves around the audience. If primarily Gentiles, then in fact we would expect the author to use the LXX, “for, naturally, if a man is writing to Greek-speaking readers he follows ‘their’ Bible.”4

The real problem is not the OT quotations, but the author’s own language, for the Greek is quite good. Many conservative scholars (e.g., Guthrie, Grudem) suggest that Peter may have had a decent knowledge of Greek, in spite of his Galilean and occupational background, and that the sophisticated Greek of this epistle therefore poses no problem for Petrine authorship. Indeed, we have also argued at length that a Galilean peasant (James, the brother of the Lord) may well have had decent Greek skills.5 But there is a significant problem with Peter: the Greek of 1 Peter and 2 Peter is so different that it seems quite improbable that the same man, within a short span of time, could have written both. Even if Petrine authorship for 2 Peter were denied, on the basis of what we know of Peter the Greek of 1 Peter seems too good for him. On the premise of Petrine authorship of both epistles, the expedient that Peter used two different amanuenses, of course, is available; however, not only is no amanuensis mentioned for 2 Peter (while Silvanus is mentioned in 1 Peter 5:12)6, but the Greek of 2 Peter is of a distinctly poorer quality than that of 1 Peter. If an amanuensis was used for 2 Peter, it is probably a good thing that his name is not mentioned! In other words, it is extremely tenuous to affirm direct7 Petrine authorship for both First and Second Peter. One simply cannot have his cake and eat it, too.8

Another solution presents itself: Peter used an amanuensis for 1 Peter and wrote 2 Peter himself. This seems quite likely in light of the fact that (1) the Greek is quite different between 1 Peter and 2 Peter;9 and (2) 1 Peter does seem to name an amanuensis (Silvanus), while 2 Peter does not.10

But there is a problem with this view as well. Many scholars do not believe that “I have written to you through Silvanus” in 5:12 indicates that Silvanus was an amanuensis. J. Ramsey Michaels11 has an excellent discussion on the evidence against the amanuensis hypothesis. He points out that there are no true parallels in which γράφω διά τινός indicates an amanuensis. Indeed, it would seem quite improbable in Ignatius’ letter to the Romans: written “through the blessed Ephesians” (10.1). Within the NT, Acts 15:23 yields the only linguistic comparison: γράφαντες διὰ χειρὸς αὐτῶν, “having written [i.e., sent, v. 22] through their hand.” BAGD mention only one reference of this expression in early Christian literature which could bear the force of amanuensis. In Eusebius, H.E. 4.23.11, Eusebius mentions the letter from Dionysius of Corinth written to the church at Rome in which Dionysius refers back to 1 Clement as a letter “written through Clement.” BAGD merely cite this reference as though it were proof; they extrapolate from it the meaning “of pers[ons] who had a greater or smaller part in drawing up the document in question.”12 Michaels correctly points out that since 1 Clement was authored by Clement, the idiom still does not imply an amanuensis. Robinson adds a second parallel on the side of the “Silvanus hypothesis,” though pointing out its fallacy:

Similarly in the Martyrdom of Polycarp 20 the church in Smyrna writes to the church in Philomelium and elsewhere “through our brother Marcianus,” and he is distinguished from Euarestus who “wrote the letter” and, like Tertius in this capacity, sends his own greeting. Marcianus again is evidently the spokesman of the church and thus corresponds to Peter rather than Silvanus: he is no one’s secretary. So Kümmel seems to be right in saying that “no one has yet proved that γράφω διά τινος can mean to authorize someone else to compose a piece of writing.”13

Michaels summarizes the meaning of the idiom: “although the characteristic verb is γράφω, ‘to write,’ … the expression refers not to the composition of the letter but to its delivery.”14

In our judgment, although those espousing the Silvanus hypothesis generally ignore the hard data against their view, there is something to be said for an amanuensis hypothesis (whether Silvanus is the scribe or not). First, the reference in Eusebius does prove that γράφω διά τινος can refer to the writer of a document. In this case, he is more—he is the author, too. This at least proves wrong Michaels’ statement that “it is doubtful that the simple διά, ‘through,’ can bear so much weight”15 for in one instance at least it bears even more! Second, one curious omission from the discussion is whether the bearer of a letter could also be the amanuensis at times. Many of the instances used to adduce that the phrase indicates bearer do not negate the latter while proving the former. What is to say that this could not be the case in 1 Peter 5:12? Third, assuming that 2 Peter is authentic, extreme doubt remains that both letters were penned by the same author without the use of an amanuensis for at least one of them. And since the Greek of 1 Peter is better by far than the Greek of 2 Peter, it is far more reasonable to assume that an amanuensis helped in the writing of 1 Peter rather than 2 Peter. Fourth, if these points are valid, then there is the possibility either that Peter used a different, unnamed amanuensis for the writing of 1 Peter or Silvanus did double duty. Interestingly, Michaels argues strongly for the former position:

… if, as appears likely, 1 Peter was a semi-official communication from the Christian community at Rome (similar in this respect to 1 Clement), addressed as a diaspora letter to a wide circle of congregations on the far frontiers of the Roman Empire, then it need not be assumed that Peter composed it personally. The elegant Greek style could well be the work of a professional to whom Peter made known his ideas and whose finished work Peter approved (the testimony of Papias, after all, is that Peter, for a different purpose, made use of Mark as his “interpreter”: Eusebius, HE 3.39.15). The theory of a professional scribe, or amanuensis, has customarily been linked with the reference to Silvanus in 5:12, but the phrase “through Silvanus” more likely identifies the bearer of the letter. . . . The assumption that Peter had professional help in the composition of this letter by no means requires that the name of his amanuensis be known.16

In our judgment, an amanuensis of some sort is virtually demanded by the evidence (especially assuming Petrine authorship for the second letter). But one problem remains for Michaels’ view: if Silvanus, a well-known companion of Paul’s, was not the amanuensis, why are there so many Pauline-like phrases and ideas in this epistle? Did Peter employ another of Paul’s associates for the writing, and Silvanus for the sending of the letter? This is an intriguing possibility. One could conjecture that Luke was the unnamed amanuensis because (1) he was in Rome in 63-64 CE (when we date 1 Peter);17 and (2) the Greek of 1 Peter stands as close to the quality found in Luke-Acts or Hebrews as virtually any other book in the New Testament. As intriguing as this possibility is, with the limited data we can only regard it as a conjecture. Nevertheless, what does seem certain is that some amanuensis, either Luke or Silvanus, or some other associate of Paul, was the scribe of 1 Peter—and that he exercised a certain measure of freedom in the wording and composition of this letter. Under “doctrinal objections” we will explore why such an associate of Paul’s would have been employed in this task.

2) Historical Objections. First, the historical situation presupposed in the letter (viz., open and official persecution of Christians in the provinces) has several difficulties with it. (1) The extra-canonical data for a Domitianic persecution of Christians in the provinces is quite weak; (2) the very kinds of official persecution occurring in Trajan’s day do not seem to find parallels in this letter—e.g., in Trajan’s reign “a state of affairs is reflected which is a continuation of a past policy, whereas in the latter [1 Peter] a fiery trial seems to be regarded as a new experience (1 Pet. 4:12)”18; (3) there is nothing in 1 Peter which at all demands official government persecution. Indeed, “there is little distinctive about the ‘persecutions’ in 1 Peter which would not apply to the opposition that Christians had to endure from the inception of the church”19; (4) the fact that Peter was in Rome when Nero was blaming the Christians for its burning lends strong support to the view that Peter wrote this letter, in part, as a warning that great persecution may be headed their way. Although there is no historical evidence that Nero’s persecutions ever got beyond Rome, the fact is that Peter would hardly be in a position to know that this would be the case. Further, even if Peter could know that no official persecution would take place in the provinces, would it be safe to assume that no persecution of any sort would take place?20

Secondly, the historical problem of Peter’s lack of association with the churches in Asia Minor really argues in favor of Petrine authorship. Guthrie comes close to the truth when he writes, “if Paul were now dead (as is most generally supposed) there would be no question of a clash of territories. It would not be unnatural, in fact, for the surviving senior apostle to send a message of encouragement to Gentile churches if the apostle to the Gentiles was no longer alive.”21 There is still a double problem for this view however: (1) Peter was sent to the Jews (Gal 2:7-8); and (2) although the audience is certainly largely Gentile in make-up, the salutation seems to indicate that they were outside of Paul’s direct contact. This double problem, in our view, is one of the keys to the purpose of this entire epistle. That Peter was commissioned as an apostle to the Jews was true in 49 CE. But such a divine commission (as Gal 2:7-8 strongly implies) is not necessarily set in concrete. In other words, there is such a thing as the temporary will of God for one’s life (otherwise, what was Peter doing in Rome?). As we will argue later, it was the death of Paul which prompted Peter to write in the first place. Suffice it to say here that there would be every reason for Peter to write to Paul’s churches after Paul died. The second problem, viz., that the addressees were not strictly Paul’s converts (a point we will address later) also is significant. Again, as Guthrie points out, “no doubt these areas had been evangelized by converts of Paul, but had probably not known him personally.”22 It would be most natural for Peter to write first to Gentile Christians on the fringes of Paul’s  ministry because they would be most in danger of defecting when persecution came. Further, if they had indeed come to faith via Paul’s converts, Silvanus, the bearer of the letter, could well have been one of those who evangelized them initially. And even if not, he was an important link between Paul and now Peter, and it is certain that some of the addressees would know him by face.23

In sum, not only are the historical objections without real foundation, but in fact the twin occasion of this epistle, the coming persecutions and the passing of Paul, argue very strongly for authenticity.

3) Doctrinal Objections. F. W. Beare makes much of the doctrinal objection, and its full force should be felt:

… it seems incredible that Peter should show such clear dependence upon the Epistles of St. Paul, with whom he never had any close relations.… It is true that he does not expound the distinctive Pauline doctrines of freedom from the law, justification by faith and the mystical union of the Christian with Christ; but this is in part at least a matter of emphasis, and due in large degree to the character of the writing and of the people addressed. Much of what is generally regarded as most distinctive in the theology of St. Paul is worked out in opposition to a peculiarly Jewish religious legalism, which was of no concern to the Gentiles for whom First Peter is written. Even so, the book is strongly marked by the impress of Pauline theological ideas, and in language the dependence upon St. Paul is undeniably great. All through the Epistle, we have the impression that we are reading the work of a man who is steeped in the Pauline letters, who is so imbued with them that he uses St. Paul’s words and phrases without conscious search, as his own thoroughly-assimilated vocabulary of religion. Entire passages are little more than an expansion or restatement of Pauline texts, and whole verses are a kind of mosaic of Pauline words and forms of expression. As a theologian, the writer has a mind of his own and is no mere echo of Paul, but it is abundantly evident that he has formed himself on Paul’s writings.24

Guthrie is representative of conservative scholars in that he only partially hits the target when he responds to this evidence:

… no serious student of Paul and Peter would deny that there is much common ground between them, which cannot wholly be explained by their common Christian background. Some Pauline influence on Peter’s mind is generally supposed to be required by the content of the epistle, but this would be damaging to Petrine authorship only if two presuppositions can be established. First, it must be shown that the New Testament presentation of Peter makes it psychologically inconceivable that he was susceptible to outside influence, particularly from so powerful a personality as Paul. But the data do not depict Peter as a man of fertile ideas, but as a man of action. . . . Secondly, it must be shown that Peter and Paul represent divergent tendencies which are unlikely to have permitted close liaison between them. But this is a view of history which is a legacy from the Tübingen school of criticism, with no basis in the New Testament.25

As helpful as this response is, it fails at two points: (1) Why would Peter use (virtually) only Paul’s writings, as opposed to other writings, to shape his ideas in this epistle? (2) First Peter does not just use Paul’s letters—Paul’s writings are part of the very fabric of this epistle—“all through the Epistle, we have the impression that we are reading the work of a man who is steeped in the Pauline letters. . . ”26 This second objection is not really answered by Guthrie. To have passing acquaintance with someone’s writings, or to employ them in block quotations is one thing;27 to be a student of the other is another matter entirely.

The solution to this problem seems evident, once the occasion for the letter is taken into account. As we have suggested, Peter wrote this letter partially because Paul had recently died, and wrote to people who were secondary converts of Paul. Further, he wrote it to encourage them in the faith in light of persecutions. Certainly one of the nagging doubts that all of Paul’s converts would have would be the genuineness of their faith. Paul, after all, was not one of the original Twelve. After he died, this doubt would increase, and it is quite probable that false teachers would exploit it. But if a letter from Peter—the very man Paul had rebuked at Antioch, and had written the Galatians about—confirmed their faith and told them not to give up, this would indeed be great encouragement. Peter would tacitly be affirming both Paul’s doctrine and the Gentile mission. He would be saying, in effect, “Paul was a true apostle and you are true children of God. Don’t give up the boat.” Further, by couching so much of his letter in Pauline jargon he would be creating a positive deja vu effect on the audience.28 After all, although the audience would be subject to doubts about their faith, they would also be suspect of Peter, for Paul virtually recorded no positive statement about him in any of his epistles. But how could Peter himself have become thoroughly acquainted with Paul’s letters within a brief time after Paul’s death? Since, in our view, it was Paul’s death which served as the initial catalyst for this letter, there would be some urgency in getting it out. Hence, there would be no reason for Peter to become a disciple of Paul until Paul’s death, and this very death meant that he had no time for training. The tension is solved once we remember, again, that an amanuensis was used and that he was an associate of Paul’s. It is our contention that this was all by design. Peter intentionally chose to write to Paul’s (secondary) churches and to use one of his associates in composing the letter, and another (or the same one) in bringing it to those churches.29

To sum up our counter-arguments to the objections, not only are these not truly substantive in nature, but every one of them fits in remarkably well with the occasion we have suggested for this letter, viz., the death of Paul. Furthermore, if Peter actually did intentionally use Paul’s associates for the composing and sending of this letter, although Peter might be charged with not being a particularly original thinker, he must be seen as a brilliant strategist.

3. Alternative Theories of Authorship

a. A Pseudonymous Letter

One of the interesting features in the history of interpretation of the NT is the fact that it used to be fashionable to argue, along Hegelian lines, that 1 Peter was an amalgamation of the Petrine and Pauline parties. In some respects, as we have argued above, that view is not far from the truth. However, our contention is that this was Peter’s idea in the first place—and his views were in reality not that far apart from Paul, just unknown to Paul’s audiences.

More recently, scholars have attempted, without any kind of a consensus, a reason for this letter being associated with Peter.30 In addition, they argue that there was no intention to deceive, for pseudonymity was in vogue at the time. The problem with this is twofold: (1) There is no evidence that pseudonymity was accepted anywhere in the ancient world for an epistle. (2) From the second century on, such acceptance of pseudonymity must have almost completely disappeared, for the early church fathers rejected outright some books because they were pseudonymous, and accepted others on the basis of authenticity. Yet, critical scholars argue that it was at this very period when many of the pseudonymous books of the NT were composed. How is it possible for pseudonymous writings to be both accepted for what they are and rejected for what they are at the same time by the same people? The very fact that 1 Peter in particular has such a good pedigree externally, therefore, argues decisively against this theory.

Furthermore, if this letter were not by Peter, two problems for a pseudepigraphical view surface: (1) Why would a pseudepigrapher mention Silvanus, a man who was known to be associated with Paul? (2) Why would a later writer depend so heavily on Paul’s writings, when so much other NT material would now be available to him? All of this suggests either that the forger was considerably inept at his masquerade or that Peter actually intended the Pauline connection to be seen directly (Silvanus) and indirectly (use of the corpus Paulinum in composing the letter).

b. An Anonymous Letter Later Attributed to Peter

As Guthrie points out, “theories of anonymous circulation are generally proposed only as an offset to the difficulties of pseudonymous authorship.”31 He further adds two helpful critiques of this view:

(1) It is difficult to conceive how an epistle originally circulating as anonymous could ever acquire an apostolic name, a specific address and concluding greetings without raising the least suspicion among any churches in the area purporting to be addressed. (2) Resort to interpolation theories is so thoroughly subjective that it is altogether too facile a means of removing difficulties.32

We could add two other points: (1) this view, which excises 1:1ff. and 5:12ff. from the original document, still has no shred of textual evidence in its favor, in spite of the recent discovery of P72, the earliest witness to 1 Peter, which contains all of 1 Peter. This illustrates, as Kurt Aland has argued, that radical scholars simply do not pay sufficient attention to hard data; and (2) that Peter’s name would be both quickly and universally associated with the letter rather than Paul’s, when it looks so much like Paul’s letters, is simply baffling.

We may summarize this discussion on authorship by pointing out that in the last twenty years some scholars have argued that 1 Peter was produced as a means of mediation or hybrid between Pauline and Jerusalem Christianity, or to promote a more universal Christianity by invoking the support of one of Paul’s coworkers for a letter by Peter.33 Once again, there is an element of truth in these theories. But the most satisfactory solution is that Peter did intend to make this letter look Pauline. Judging by the rash of critical essays on 1 Peter, it is obvious that he accomplished his task!

B. Date

We have already dealt with two possible dates under “historical objections” to Petrine authorship (viz., during Domitian’s reign and during Trajan’s). If, however, Peter is the author, then a date up to 64 CE is allowable.34 However, a date earlier than 64 is not probable because (1) the theme of persecution fits well with the end of Nero’s reign; and (2) the probability that Peter is writing to largely Gentile churches argues for a date shortly after Paul’s death,35 for otherwise Peter would seem to be intruding on Paul’s domain. Further, the occasion for the letter, as we have suggested, is indeed Paul’s death. There is the possibility that Peter penned this letter shortly before Paul died, knowing that his death was certain. If so, it could have been written in 63 CE. But the historical data for Paul’s second Roman imprisonment are so scanty, coupled with the fact that if he were imprisoned in 63 there would hardly be enough time since his first Roman imprisonment (which ended in 62) to accomplish further missionary work implied in the pastorals. Not only this, but if this letter was written from Rome, then it was written in all probability after Paul’s death, because Silvanus was apparently not in Rome shortly before Paul died (cf. 2 Tim. 4:11). 64 CE therefore is the most reasonable year to assign to this epistle.

C. Place of Writing

In 5:13 the author sends a greeting from the church “in Babylon.” Three possibilities present themselves: (1 ) Mesopotamian Babylon, (2) Egyptian Babylon, (3) Rome. Egyptian Babylon can be easily dismissed because of its minuscule size and because the Alexandrian church records no shred of evidence that 1 Peter was written to it. Further, there is a great deal of doubt that Christianity ever took root in Egypt before the end of the first century.

Mesopotamian Babylon has a better case, but there are five reasons why it is also improbable:

(1) Peter is nowhere else associated with this region; (2) the Eastern church did not until a late period claim any association with Peter in its church origins; (3) the area itself was very sparsely populated . . . (4) early tradition centred the activities of Peter in the West and not the East; (4) Mark [mentioned in the same verse as with Peter] almost certainly found a sphere of activity in the West, but nothing is known of him working in the East.36

We could add to this that (1) if this letter is dated 64 CE, the year of Peter’s death at the hands of Nero in Rome, then it would be difficult to see how he could be so mobile in such a short span of time; (2) if the occasion for this letter was Paul’s death, the best way for Peter to know about it would be for him to be situated in Rome, too.

This leads us to our third possibility, Rome. The only real problem with this as the place of writing is the reason for the symbolic term Babylon. But in this very verse are two other symbolic expressions—“Mark, my son” in referring to John Mark, and “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen,” a reference to the church. Many scholars suggest that “the cryptogram was used as a security measure” to protect the Roman church in case the letter fell into the wrong hands during Nero’s persecution.37 Moule disputes this because Peter urges loyalty to the state (2:13-17), arguing instead that “Babylon” was used as a symbol of the Christian’s exile in the world.38 The grounds Moule uses against the security view do not seem sufficient to overturn it however since in Peter’s appeal to loyalty to the state there is no hint of a reciprocal relations. Indeed, Peter appeals to loyalty in spite of persecution.

D. Addressees

That Peter means the geographical, rather than political districts, in the terms “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” is evident from the fact that Pontus and Bithynia were one province politically, but were separate areas geographically. Thus, he is addressing Christians in a more restricted area than the political terms would mean. As well, these are regions which Paul had barely penetrated (cf. Acts 16:6-7), though there can be little doubt that his converts from adjacent regions were responsible for bringing the gospel north.

The racial group of the audience must be either Jewish, Gentile, or Jewish-Gentile.

1. Jewish. This view is based on (1) the Jewish overtones of 1:1 (“elect strangers of the dispersion”) and (2) the heavy use of the OT by the author. But, apart from the fact that there is no evidence of any totally Jewish Christian churches in these provinces, there are several references within the epistle which argue that the audience came from a pagan background.

2. Gentile. This view is based on the internal references mentioned above. Specifically: (1) 1:18—“you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers”; (2) 2:10—“once you were no people, but now you are the people of God”; (3) “let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do”; and (4) 4:4—“they are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild profligacy.” The problem with this view is that there were several strong Jewish communities in the provinces, and it is doubtful that none of the churches here would be completely Gentile in make-up. Further, if Paul’s converts evangelized the region, they may well have taken up his modus operandi of going to the Jew first, then to the Greek.

3. Mixed. Like all of Paul’s churches, these too were probably predominantly Gentile with a Jewish element as well. The references to their pagan background would be appropriate if the majority were Gentiles, and the heavy use of the OT would not go unnoticed if some were Jewish.

E. Unity

Two considerations have caused several scholars to see this letter as something of a patchwork effort: (1) the doxology at 4:11 and (2) the different emphasis on persecution after 4:11. Most popular is the view that this letter included a baptismal sermon/liturgy and later developed into a letter (so Streeter, Preisker). But fraction views are based on such subtle evidence (3:21 being the only concrete reference to baptism), involve no clear seams, and are all shipwreck on the earliest textual evidence. Further, as Grudem notes, “1 Peter so thoroughly bears the form of a letter addressed to readers distant from any local service of worship that it is hard to imagine that it originally had such a different form and purpose.”39

F. Occasion

As we have argued under authorship, we believe the occasion for this letter is twofold.

1. The death of Paul in 64 CE was the catalyst which caused Peter to want to address Pauline churches. That he would first write to fringe churches—i.e., churches which had been evangelized by Paul’s associates rather than by Paul himself—is only natural since (1) Paul’s primary churches already had a representative (e.g., Ephesus had Timothy); and (2) these fringe churches would be most susceptible to defection and attacks from within and without.40 It was Paul’s death which dictated the audience, the bearer of the letter, and the style (via an amanuensis). And to some degree Paul’s death dictated content in the sense that some sort of assurance that their faith was genuine was needed. What “angle” to take was especially dictated by the second consideration.

2. The persecutions of Nero against the Roman Christians gave content to the letter. The letter emphasizes hope in the midst of suffering, perseverance in spite of pain. Peter did not want the thorns of this world to choke out the seed which Paul had planted. He perceived the danger of defection to be especially susceptible to outside attack.

G. Theme

The theme of 1 Peter is: Experiencing God’s grace in the midst of suffering. In a real sense, 1 Peter is a midrash (both an interpretation and application) of Isa 53. Thus, 2:21 (“For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow inhis steps” [NET]) and 5:12 (“Through Silvanus, whom I know to be a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, in order to encourage you and testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it” [NET]), in harmony, point to its theme.

II.  Argument

Peter opens his letter with a greeting to “God’s elect” who are scattered in northern Asia Minor (1:1-2).

He then begins the body of his letter in a way which should be quite reminiscent to his audience: just like many of Paul’s letters. He first states several indicatives of the faith (1:3–2:10), then he concludes with the imperatives of the faith (2:11–5:11). The epistle thus has a natural two-part breakdown in its body. However, we have seen fit to break the “imperative” section down into two large segments because the epistle seems to give three major clues in this direction: (1) only at 2:11 and 4:12 does Peter address his audience as “dear friends,” suggesting something of a major break; (2) the section 2:11–4:11 ends with a doxology, suggesting a major break at that point; and (3) “strictly speaking, the division marker in 2:11 was not the term ‘Dear friends’ by itself, but the whole expression, ‘Dear friends, I appeal to you.’ In part three, the words, ‘I appeal to you,’ do not appear at 4:12 but are deferred to 5:1 . . . [Thus, the third section] is focused specifically on the elders . . . ”41 This tripartite outline, then, seems to be Peter’s intention.

In the first major segment Peter details the identity of the people of God (1:3–2:10). In this major segment, he points out with a broad brush three indicatives of the faith: (1) Believers have a precious salvation (1:3-12)—one which gives them hope (1:3-5), joy (1:6-9), and was witnessed by the OT prophets (1:10-11) and even desired by angels (1:12). (2) Believers have been given a new way of life (1:13-25)—one which requires holiness of “obedient children” (1:13-16), reverence toward the heavenly Father of those who are strangers in this world (1:17-21), and genuine love toward genuine brothers (1:22-25). (3) Finally, believers are a chosen priesthood (2:1-10)—whose identity requires of them that they crave the word (2:1-3) and come to Christ in worship by offering a spiritual sacrifice which is acceptable to God (2:4-5). Further, this new identity (“spiritual house”) is based on the precious stone which the builders rejected (2:6-8). Peter summarizes his section on the chosen priesthood by repackaging several truths: believers are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession (2:9)—all to the praise of God’s glory (2:10). It can be seen throughout this major section that Peter does not compartmentalize his thought as well as does Paul: although he is stressing the indicatives of the faith, he cannot help but admonish his audience along the way (contrasted with Romans and especially Ephesians, the two books on which Peter most heavily relies).

In the second major segment the apostle now articulates how God’s people should behave. If there is a distinction between the second and third major sections (apart from the structural clues found in the text) it seems to be twofold: (1) 2:11–4:11 addresses believers’ (hierarchical) responsibilities in relation to the world,42 while (2) 4:12–5:11 addresses believers’ hierarchical responsibilities in relation to each other. In both sections it should be noted that the emphasis is on responses to authority/responsibilities of authorities.

This second major section involves four parts. First, Peter summarizes believers’ responsibilities before the world: abstain from sin (2:11) and live good lives before non-Christians (2:12).

Second, Peter highlights what for him seems to be the key to the Christian life: respect (2:13–3:12). This attitude is for every Christian—and Peter proceeds to categorize three groups of believers and three groups of people who should be respected. (1) All Christians should respect everyone, especially those in authority (2:13-14, 17). The result of this attitude is that it silences fools (2:15). But it should not be done in a cowering way, but from the posture of free men (2:16)—men who choose to show respect, rather than being forced to. (2) Servants must submit to their masters—whether the masters are good or evil (2:18-20), following Christ’s example (2:21) whose suffering brought believers salvation (2:22-25). (3) Wives likewise must submit to their husbands, even the unbelieving husbands, with a gentle and quiet spirit (3:1-4), following the example of OT saints, especially Sarah (3:5-6). And husbands must honor their wives so that their prayers may be answered (3:7). Peter concludes this section as he began it: show respect for everyone (3:8-12).

Third, Peter encourages not just passive suffering for righteousness’ sake, but actually actively doing good (3:13–4:6). It is one thing to suffer for simply being a Christian; it is quite another for suffering for living like a Christian before a watching world. Peter first admonishes believers to do good even if they should suffer (3:13-17). Once again, he gives the example of Christ’s sufferings which brought the elect their salvation (3:18-22). It should be noted that in the previous section on the suffering of Christ, the focus was on our redemption (2:21-25); in this section, the focus is on Christ’s vindication as seen by his ascension (3:22). Then, Peter applies the sufferings of Christ once again to believers (4:1-6): we should follow his example (4:1-2), by avoiding our former lifestyle (4:3) and by looking forward to our heavenly hope (4:4-6).

Fourth, Peter admonishes his audience to band together in order to better face their sufferings (4:7-11). Because Christ’s return is imminent, believers should pray with a clear mind (4:7), love with deep affection (4:8), show hospitality without grumbling (4:9), and exercise spiritual gifts with faithfulness (4:10-11). A benediction concludes this segment of the epistle.

In the third major segment Peter now addresses hierarchical responsibilities within the Christian community (4:12–5:11). Although on the surface 4:12ff. looks as though it is addressing the entire congregation, the structural break at 4:12 almost necessarily indicates otherwise. Yet, since the content of 4:12–5:11 is virtually the same as 4:7-11, there must be a reason for the repetition. I believe that Michaels is right when he writes,

This brief section [4:7-11] makes two basic points: first, that the “end of all things” is near (4:7a); second, and consequently, that Christians must make a concerted effort to minister and show love and hospitality to each other in their respective congregations. What is striking is that these are the same two issues addressed in 4:12–5:11, except that in the longer passage ministry is the work of the elders, who deserve deference and respect for their faithful labors (5:1-5). The widely disparate length of the two sections conceals the fact that to some degree they are doublets. If we take the text of 1 Peter as it stands, 4:12–5:11 can be regarded as an elaboration of 4:7-11 with particular applications to those congregations ruled by elders. If there is a distinction between the two sections, it has to do with congregational structure, not with the degree of intensity of persecution or of the expectation of the end.43

This final major section then has two main parts. First, Peter addresses suffering in the midst of fiery trials (4:12-19). If Peter is addressing especially the leaders of the church here it is quite appropriate, for the leaders would be targeted for special persecution. Peter first encourages the believers in light of the sufferings of Christ to suffer in the name of Christ (4:12-14). Then he reminds them that even the house of God needs some “house cleaning,” since the eschaton is right around the corner (4:15-19).

Second, Peter urges the church to get on with its business in spite of the trials (5:1-11). He speaks to the elders first (5:1-4), urging them to be faithful shepherds; then he addresses the rest of the congregation (5:5), urging them to show respect to the elders. He sums up the twofold attitude all believers should have: humble yourselves (5:6) and cast your cares on God (5:7). Peter concludes this section with a further reason why believers need to depend on God: there is a supernatural enemy who seeks to devour Christians (5:8-9). But as much as this enemy should motivate us to depend on God, he should not cause us undue fear, for our God is greater than he is (5:10-11).

Peter concludes his first epistle with an overall statement of his purpose for writing, viz., to stand fast in the true grace of God [in the midst of trials], followed by a final greeting.

III.  Outline44

I. Salutation (1:1-2)

II. The Identity of the People of God (1:3–2:10)

A. A Precious Salvation (1:3-12)

1. Salvation as Hope (1:3-5)

2. Salvation as Joy (1:6-9)

3. Salvation as Privilege: Witnessed by Prophets and Angels (1:10-12)

B. A New Way of Life (1:13-25)

1. A Life of Holiness (1:13-16)

2. A Life of Reverence (1:17-21)

3. A Life of Love (1:22-25)

C. A Chosen Priesthood (2:1-10)

1. Craving the Word (2:1-3)

2. Coming to Christ in Worship (2:4-5)

3. Biblical Argument (2:6-8)

4. An Identity Affirmed (2:9-10)

III. The Responsibilities of the People of God (2:11–4:11)

A. Summary: The Mission of God’s People in the World (2:11-12)

1. Negatively Stated (2:11)

2. Positively Stated (2:12)

B. Respect: The Key to Living in the World (2:13–3:12)

1. Respect for Everyone (2:13-17)

a. Respect for Authorities (2:13-14)

b. Result: Silencing Fools (2:15)

c. Posture: As Free Men (2:16)

d. Summary (2:17)

2. Servants: Submit to your Masters (2:18-25)

a. The Admonition to the Servants (2:18-20)

b. The Example of Christ (2:21-25)

3. Wives and Husbands (3:1-7)

a. Wives: Submit to your Husbands (3:1-6)

1) The Admonition to the Wives (3:1-4)

2) The Example of Sarah (3:5-6)

b. Husbands: Honor your Wives (3:7)

4. Respect for Everyone (Theme Repeated) (3:8-12)

C. Doing Good: The Promise of Vindication (3:13–4:6)

1. Suffering for Doing Good (3:13-17)

2. The Vindication of Christ (3:18-22)

3. Living for the Promise (4:1-6)

a. The Example of Christ (4:1-2)

b. The Former Lifestyle (4:3)

c. The Future Judgment (4:4-6)

D. Mutual Love: The Key to Christian Community in the End Times (4:7-11)

IV. The Responsibilities of a Church and its Elders in the Midst of Trials (4:12–5:11)

A. The Fiery Trial (4:12-19)

1. Suffering and Glory (4:12-14)

2. Suffering as a Christian (4:15-19)

B. The Responsibilities of a Church in the Midst of Trials (5:1-11)

1. The Elders (5:1-4)

2. The Rest of the Church (5:5)

3. Humility and Trust in God (5:6-7)

4. Warfare against the Devil (5:8-11)

a. Admonition: Facing the Devil (5:8-9)

b. Benediction: Trusting God (5:10-11)

V. Concluding Remarks (5:12-14)

A. Purpose of Epistle (5:12)

B. Final Greetings (5:13-14)


1Guthrie, 760.

2Guthrie, 762.

3A third is often used, viz., that Peter would have written more about the earthy Jesus and his relationship to him. But, as Guthrie comments, “this objection cannot be regarded as serious since the presence of such reminiscences in the case of 2 Peter is regarded by some as an objection against apostolic authorship, and there is no sure canon of criticism which can pronounce on the validity of either” (765). We could also add the following response: (1) the nature of a letter does is not conducive to many personal reminiscences; (2) there are references to Jesus’ life in this epistle (2:21-23; 3:18; 4:1-2, 13; 5:1); and (3) when one compares this epistle with the corpus Paulinum he comes away impressed with how much there is on the life of Jesus! And this is in keeping with the fact that Peter knew Jesus in the flesh, while Paul knew him in the spirit.

4Robinson, 166.

5See the discussion on James under the heading, “Recent Critical Discussions: The Greek is too good for a Galilean peasant.”

6It is of course possible that “written through Silvanus” does not indicate that Silvanus was indeed the amanuensis, but merely the bearer of the letter. This point will be taken up shortly.

7By this term I mean “without the use of an amanuensis.”

8One of the supporting arguments that is sometimes used by conservatives is that Peter’s speeches in Acts resemble 1 Peter and 2 Peter. What is usually not mentioned (or if it is, its implications are not seen), however, is that the resemblances between Acts and 1 Peter are more conceptual while the resemblances between Acts and 2 Peter are also linguistic. This supports our contention that Peter used an amanuensis for 1 Peter, but wrote 2 Peter himself.

9Some (e.g., Guthrie) would like to minimize this difference. However, although it could well be argued that these two letters do bear a strong resemblance in terms of vocabulary and concepts, the grammatical warp and woof of the two documents is so different as to suggest strongly two different writers. Vocabulary, and even more concepts, would typically be shared in two documents which originate with the same mind. But if a scribe, who is particularly adept at Greek, helped to compose one of these letters, he would certainly clean up the grammar of the author.

10On the issue of how much freedom an amanuensis might have in composing his master’s work, see our discussion on James’ linguistic abilities.

111 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 49), 306-07.

12BAGD, s.v. διά, 180. III.2.a.

13Robinson, 168-69.

14Michaels, 306.

15Michaels, 306.

16Michaels, lxvii.

17This is on the assumption that the pastorals were written at about this time (cf. 2 Tim. 4:11). It would be an easy transition for Luke to finish writing for Paul (as we believe he probably did for the pastorals), and begin writing for Peter, especially on the latter apostle’s request. One could further point out that since Luke and no other of Paul’s associates were with him in Rome toward the end of his life, as 2 Tim. 4:11 suggests, Luke presents himself as the most likely candidate to help Peter write his first epistle shortly after Paul’s death (the time when we date this letter), since he is ready at hand (and his writing skills have already been demonstrated).

18Guthrie, 772. A. M. Hunter, in fact, calls the Trajanic theory “very rash” (quote in Guthrie, ibid.).

19Guthrie, 772.

20This can easily be seen by way of analogy. If Congress enacted a law restricting the parking rights of people who drive BMWs, but only in Washington, would it be safe to suppose that this minority group throughout the nation would not get some sort of backlash? Or if Congress legalized marijuana for Washington, would there not be greater boldness and openness in its use throughout the country? Were not the Wichita anti-abortion protesters emboldened by the Bush administration’s statements regarding abortion? And if we go back in time, could we honestly say that even though there was no official policy in the North for slavery after 1863, are we to suppose that the South’s attitude and the former U.S. government policy made no impact on the prejudices of those north of the Mason-Dixon line? Even today, since the government of 130 years ago allowed slavery, blacks are still often treated as second-class citizens—and even in states which entered the U.S. as ‘free’ states. Hence the naivete of biblical scholars who cannot see persecution unless it is official persecution for that province is, to me, quite astounding.

21Guthrie, 773.

22Guthrie, 773.

23It is quite probable that Paul’s associates who evangelized these areas were from nearby cities such as Derbe and Lystra. When Paul returned to these cities on his second missionary journey he took Silvanus with him (Acts 15:36–16:1).

24F. W. Beare, The First Epistle of Peter, 44.

25Guthrie, 775.

26Beare, ibid.

27Incidentally, Guthrie’s point that Peter is a man of action, not of fresh ideas, is well taken. Not only do we see this in Mark’s Gospel (written under Peter’s direction/influence), but 2 Peter also may betray this: if Jude has priority over 2 Peter, that cannot be as large a problem as has been supposed in light of Peter’s already demonstrated tendency to borrow heavily (in 1 Peter) from another writer. Still, it is not at all certain that Jude is prior to 2 Peter.

28Though this may seem to some quite fanciful, not only does it fit the data well (linguistic, historical, doctrinal), but it finds a parallel in another biblical writer. Though quite beyond the scope of this paper to develop this point, I believe that Daniel 1 is an intentional deja vu harking back to the Joseph narrative of Genesis. Not only are there over a dozen parallels (both conceptual and linguistic), but the reason for this naturally presents itself: Daniel, a Jew, was in a position of governmental leadership in a foreign government. If he had a burning prophecy to give to his people, he had to make sure they would listen. The natural distrust would be partially overcome by a gentle, subtle reminder that he was not the first Jewish prophet in a high position of a foreign government. There is another parallel between Daniel and 1 Peter: it is quite possible that both of them carried not only this subtle deja vu, but a more explicit commendation of the document as well, for Peter’s letter was carried by Silvanus and Daniel is mentioned by name, and favorably, in Ezekiel (again, quite beyond the scope of this paper to develop . . . ).

29On the Silvanus hypothesis, Beare remarks, “We should then have to ask why a man of the standing of Silvanus should not write in his own name to a region in which he himself had laboured, or why he should not at least be associated with Peter in the salutation, as with Paul in the Thessalonian Epistles” (Beare, The First Epistle of Peter, 47). But if our thesis is correct, Silvanus was not the mastermind behind this letter, and Peter wanted it to be known that this letter was from him.

30For example, although Kümmel strongly argues for pseudonymity, he is stumped over the attachment of Peter’s name to this document (424).

31Guthrie, 779.

32Ibid., 780.

33For data, see Guthrie, 780.

34With most NT scholars, we adopt a date of 64 CE for both Peter and Paul’s death. Most scholars also believe that Peter died a little later than Paul. Some today would place Paul’s death as late as 67-68 CE (e.g., Harold Hoehner). But this is based on Eusebius’ miscalculation in which a period of time was considered successive rather than inclusive. See Robinson, 148-49, for a helpful discussion.

35Harnack felt certain that Paul died in July of 64. This is now doubted, but the year at least is by far the most probable.

36Guthrie, 793.

37Guthrie, 794.

38C. F. D. Moule, NTS 3 (1957) 8-9.

39Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 40.

40As we will suggest for 2 Peter, Peter again addresses the same Christians, though his letter is now intended to be more of a circular to all of Paul’s former domain (hence, there is no specific address in 2 Peter). Further, in this first letter Peter addresses attacks from without (persecution), while in the second letter he addresses attacks from within (false teachers). I see both of these letters as (partially) preemptive to real situations, indicating something of Peter’s intuitive and sympathetic capabilities.

41Michaels, 1 Peter, xxxvi.

42Although it could be argued that the section on servants-masters or the one on wives-husbands does not necessarily relate to the world, it should be noted that (1) there is no reciprocal admonition given to masters; (2) the admonition given to servants only speaks of the masters’ conduct, not their Christian status; (3) the wives are to win their husbands—presumably because they are married to unbelievers. Thus, even in the most intimate relations in life, Peter is addressing the relation of believer to unbeliever in this section.

43Michaels, 1 Peter, xxxix.

44This outline is a modification of that found in J. R. Michaels, 1 Peter (WBC), xxxvii.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines