The First Letter of Peter
Christians of Asia Minor sought to prove faithful to Jesus. They did good things for others but were persecuted for it. Religious persecution was a new thing for many of them. Peter wanted to encourage such Christians to carry on and understand their circumstances; he wrote to them what we call the first letter of Peter.
The first letter of Peter is the twenty-first book in modern editions of the New Testament; it is often categorized as one of the “catholic” or universal letters or epistles. Peter the Apostle is identified as the author in 1 Peter 1:1; while some scholars dispute this claim, no compelling evidence has been offered to suggest otherwise. Silvanus (Silas) may be his amanuensis (1 Peter 5:12). He writes to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1): such are Roman provinces that substantially represent the area also called Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). On its surface Peter’s language seems to suggest he, like James, wrote only to Jewish Christians (cf. James 1:1); while Peter will use a lot of “Israelite” language, he seems to be appropriating it to speak of all Christians, for it is hard to imagine any Israelite speaking of fellow Israelites in the way Peter spoke to his audience in 1 Peter 1:18, 2:9. In 1 Peter 5:13 Peter gave greetings from “she that is in Babylon”; while a few suggest Peter is in physical Babylon in Mesopotamia when writing, most understand Peter to refer to either Jerusalem or Rome (depending on one’s view of Revelation). Peter most likely wrote from Rome: he gave greetings from Mark, whom he calls “his son” (1 Peter 5:13), and Paul had encouraged Timothy to bring Mark with him (2 Timothy 4:11), and reliable tradition suggests Paul was in Rome at the time. Similar traditions suggest Mark wrote his Gospel on the basis of the preaching of Peter, and that Peter met his end in Rome in the days of Nero (Papias in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15, 3.30, 6.14; Irenaeus, Against Heretics 3.1; 1 Clement 5; Tertullian, Prescription Against the Heretics 31, Scorpiace 15; Acts of Peter; Origen, Commentary on Genesis 3 according to Eusebius, Ecclesastical History 3.1). Peter’s use of the theme of exile would explain the use of “Babylon”: as Israel endured exile in Babylon, so Christians as the new Israel live in exile in the Roman Empire centered in Rome (cf. 1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11, 5:13). 1 Peter was most likely written in the early to middle 60s, 61-65; Peter wrote to Christians in Asia Minor to encourage them in their faith despite the persecutions and challenges they were experiencing from unbelievers.
Peter introduced his letter, as seen above, with a framework to view the Christians of Asia Minor in terms of Israel and the exile and spoke of God in a Trinitarian formula: Father, Spirit, and Jesus (1 Peter 1:1-2). Peter continued with a blessing of God on the basis of the great redemption and hope in which Christians were saved, even if they experienced trials which ultimately would prove their faith, resulting in Christ’s glory and their final salvation when He returns (1 Peter 1:3-9). Many, even angels, wished to learn more about this salvation which has been given to believers in Christ, for the Spirit directed the prophets to write so as to provide encouragement to Christians (1 Peter 1:10-12). And so Christians should set their hope firmly on Christ, living sanctified lives as God is holy, redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:13-21). Christians ought to love one another fervently, having been born again of the incorruptible seed of the eternal Word of God (1 Peter 1:22-25; cf. Isaiah 40:6-8).
Peter exhorted Christians to put away wickedness and to yearn for the milk of the Word, for they have come to Jesus the precious cornerstone, built up into a Temple; others have rejected Jesus the cornerstone on account of disobedience (1 Peter 2:1-8; cf. Psalm 118:22-23, Isaiah 28:16). Peter then appropriated God’s descriptions of Israel for the Christians of Asia Minor (1 Peter 2:9-10). As the people of God, Christians must abstain from lust, conduct themselves wisely among Gentiles, respect and obey earthly authorities, and to not abuse their freedoms (1 Peter 2:11-17). Slaves ought to obey their masters, even if they are wicked; to suffer despite doing good is honorable in God’s sight, for it is the way of Jesus who left an example in His suffering and death (1 Peter 2:18-25; cf. Isaiah 53:1-12). Having provided specific instructions for wives and husbands (1 Peter 3:1-8; cf. 1 Timothy 2:9-15), Peter exhorted all Christians not to return evil for evil, do good even if it causes distress, make a defense for the hope they cherish with gentleness and respect, and all on account of what Jesus did for them (1 Peter 3:9-17; cf. Psalm 34:12-16). As an aside Peter spoke of Jesus’ obedience, proclamation to spirits in prison, and the importance of baptism for salvation as the opposite type of Noah and the Ark (1 Peter 3:18-22).
Peter warned the Christians how past time suffices for living in sin; those who suffer cease from sin; they should not be surprised when Gentiles persecute them for upholding and doing what is right, but must keep praying, showing hospitality, and serving one another, and they should gladly suffer in the name of a Christian, not as an evildoer, for the day of judgment is near (1 Peter 4:1-18). Christians who suffer must entrust themselves to their faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4:19). Peter would go on with exhortations to elders to lead by example and shepherd faithfully and all Christians toward humility, prayer to God, casting anxieties upon Him, wary of the Devil, drawing encouragement from the similar sufferings undergone by all Christians (1 Peter 5:1-9). God Himself would perfect, establish, and strengthen them after they have suffered for a little while (1 Peter 5:10-11). Peter concluded by speaking of Silas as the one by whom he wrote, testifying of the true grace of God in which they are to stand, giving greetings from the church in “Babylon” and from Mark, and providing a standard epistolary conclusion (1 Peter 5:12-14).
1 Peter provides great encouragement for Christians to persevere in faith despite trials, tribulations, and persecutions. We do well to live as exiles of Christ on the earth, seeking righteousness, entrusting ourselves to God in Christ, and doing good even if we suffer for it, and all for God’s glory!
Ethan R. Longhenry