Overview of the Book of 1 Peter

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Overview of the Book of 1 Peter
Answer

Overview of the Book of 1 Peter

Author: The author is the Apostle Peter.

Purpose:

To encourage persecuted and bewildered Christians to stand fast together in their faith.

Date: A.D. 60-68

Key Truths:

  • Christians have a wonderful privilege of seeing God's great salvation in Christ.
  • The privilege of salvation entails a number of important responsibilities.
  • Christians are to be holy, deeply loving of each other and devoted to the glory of God.
  • Relationships within and outside the Church must be maintained according to the standards of Christ, not the standards of the world.
  • Christians should face suffering as followers of Christ with the proper perspective.

Author:

The author identified himself as "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:1). That he was the well-known apostle of the Gospels and Acts is confirmed by both internal and external evidence. The author described himself as "a witness of Christ's sufferings" (1 Pet. 5:1), and there are numerous echoes of Jesus' teaching and deeds in this epistle (e.g. 1 Pet. 5:2-3; cf. John 21:15-17). Parallels of thought and phrase between 1 Peter and Peter's speeches in Acts (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:7-8; cf. Acts 4:10-11) lend further support to Peter's authorship.

The external attestation to 1 Peter as a genuine epistle of Peter is widespread and early. There is no evidence that this epistle was ever attributed to anyone else. Irenaeus (c. A.D. 185; Against Heresies, 4.9.2), Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-225), Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-215), and Origen (c. A.D. 185-253) all attributed the epistle to Peter. By the time of Eusebius (c. A.D. 265-339), there was no question of its authenticity (Ecclesiastical History, 3.3.1).

Although the case for Petrine authorship is strong, linguistic and historical objections have been raised during the last two centuries. The Greek of 1 Peter is said to be too polished and too influenced by the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to have come from an uneducated Galilean fisherman like Peter (cf. Acts 4:13). The persecutions alluded to in the epistle (1 Pet. 4:12-19; 5:6-9) are alleged to reflect a situation that occurred after Peter's lifetime.

None of these objections is decisive. In response to the linguistic objection, the following points can be made: First-century Galilee was bilingual (Aramaic and Greek), the description of Peter and John as "unschooled, ordinary men" (Acts 4:13) may only refer to their lack of formal training in the Scriptures, the 30 years that elapsed between the days of Peter the fisherman and Peter the writer would have provided ample time for Peter to improve his proficiency in Greek, and Silas' possible role as secretary (1 Pet. 5:12) could account for the smoother style of 1 Peter compared to 2 Peter.

With regard to the historical objections, the sufferings alluded to by Peter can just as well be accounted for by citing the local, sporadic harassment that was routinely experienced by early Christians from the days of the apostles on, as by citing the official persecution in the days of Domitian (c. A.D. 95) or Trajan (c. A.D. 111).

Time and Place of Writing:

According to 1 Peter 5:13, Peter was in "Babylon" when he wrote this epistle. Various identifications of the location have been suggested, among them: (1) a military outpost in Egypt, (2) the ancient Mesopotamian city itself and (3) Rome. Several lines of evidence favor Rome. Mark, who was with Peter when he wrote this epistle (1 Pet. 5:13), is known to have been with Paul in Rome (Col 4:10; Philemon 1:24). Rome is called "Babylon" in Revelation (Rev. 17:5, 9). Finally, this interpretation has been generally accepted since the second century. The uniform testimony of early Church history is that Peter was in Rome at the end of his life.

If Rome is the place of origin, the epistle must have been composed between A.D. 60 and 68. The earlier limit is established by Peter's familiarity with Ephesians and Colossians (1 Pet. 2:18; Col. 3:22; cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-6 and Eph 5:22-24); the later date, by the tradition that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome in or before A.D. 68.

Original Audience:

While the introduction ("scattered throughout", 1 Pet. 1:1) and the frequent Old Testament quotations and allusions in the epistle might imply Jewish Christian recipients (as Calvin thought), there are stronger indications that most of the recipients were from a pagan background. The reference in 1 Peter 1:18, for example, to "the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers" hardly seems fitting for Jews. Furthermore, the sins listed in 1 Peter 4:3 are typically those that were committed by pagans.

Although 1 Peter has the character of a general epistle (cf. James, 2 Peter, 1 John, Jude), it differs from the other general epistles in that it specifies the areas in which the readers lived: "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1 Pet. 1:1). What is known from the epistle itself is that the readers were suffering persecution for their faith (1 Pet. 1:6-7; 3:13-17; 4:12-19; 5:9-10). Nothing in the epistle indicates official, legislative persecution or requires a date of composition later than the 60s. The sufferings were the trials common to first-century Christians, including insults (1 Pet. 4:4, 14) and slanderous accusations of wrongdoing (1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16). Beatings (1 Pet. 2:20), social ostracism, sporadic mob violence and local police action may have been involved as well.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Peter wrote to encourage persecuted and bewildered Christians and to exhort them to stand fast in their faith (1 Pet. 5:12). For that purpose he repeatedly turned their thoughts to the joys and glories of their eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:3-13; 3:7; 4:13-14; 5:1, 4, 6, 10) and instructed them about proper Christian behavior in the midst of undeserved suffering (1 Pet. 4:12-19). While addressed primarily to persecuted Christians, the principles Peter taught apply to all Christians who suffer, regardless of the cause, provided the suffering is not occasioned by one's own sin. On the basis of this epistle, Peter has with justice been called "the apostle of hope" (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3, 13, 21; 3:5, 15). The hortatory thrust of the entire epistle can be summed up in the phrase "trust and obey" (1 Pet. 4:19; cf. 1 Pet. 2:23).

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries and adjunct Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL.