47. 1 Peter - Introduction

Course: New Testament Survey - Acts to Revelation

Lecture: 1 Peter - Introduction


The author of this book begins, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” There’s no doubt at all as to who this author claims that he is. He is Peter. How many great Peters do you know in the early church? One. Also, he in 5:1 refers to himself, “… as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ …” one who was present at the sufferings of Jesus, an eyewitness.

Objections to Peter having written this:

• Like James, some claim that the Greek is too good for Peter to have written it. We’ll talk about that in just a minute.

• Some say that there’s a little too much Pauline theology here. I don’t know if Pauline theology is just Paul’s theology. I think this may be the theology of the Christian church that both Paul and Peter share.

• Some suggest that what we have in 1 Peter is a persecution by the state, which is an event that didn’t take place until after the death of Peter.

Let’s look at these three objections more closely. For the first one, it’s likely that Peter used an amanuensis (in other words, he dictated to a secretary). A secretary is mentioned in 5:12, “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you.” He’s written using Silvanus, who perhaps touched up what Peter was saying, and made it into better Greek. Also, I don’t think you should say that either Peter or James were extremely uneducated people. There is a kind of education that people have through experience, and after 30 years or so of being a leader in the church, it’s amazing how much Greek you can learn. I think the idea that Peter is too uneducated to write this loses sight of the fact that people do grow in their writing ability and their speaking ability. I hope that 30 years after you’ve begun your preaching, you’ve become a better preacher. I trust that you’ll be writing better 30 years on than you do now. And I think that we can attribute the same possibility to Peter.

As to its Pauline theology, you have to remember that Silvanus was closely associated with Paul. And if he is acting as the secretary at this point, it’s doubtful that Peter had such a totally opposed theology that they couldn’t get along.

As to the alleged persecution, there is persecution in the church. But you have to remember that Paul experienced lots and lots of persecution, of which none of it was official until the very end. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, where Paul talks about all his beatings, imprisonments, etc., there was nothing there that was official, coming from Rome. Sometimes he went into a city and the officials took a hand in this; but it was not an organized, official persecution. And most of it was instigated by other opponents, coming from the synagogue. Paul’s understanding of civil authority seems to be too positive for him to have undergone an official kind of persecution. Look at 3:13-14, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” This does not look like the kind of persecution that the writer of the Book of Revelation is talking about, in which the state is actively seeking to take the role of Satan in trying to do away with the church. This is not the kind of persecution that we find established later on.

The letter is addressed to the exiles of the dispersion. Here, they seem to refer to Gentiles, whereas in James, they seem to refer to Jews. In James 1:1, we have “… to the twelve tribes in the dispersion ….” Here, we have the twelve tribes being primarily Gentile in nature. In James 2:1-3, he makes this comment, “My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing ….” Now, “assembly” in this verse is the Greek word “sunagogen”, and it probably refers to what we would call a “synagogue”. At the time when James wrote, the church was still meeting regularly in the synagogue. It is only afterwards, after the fall of Jerusalem and later on towards the end of the first century, that Jewish Christians were essentially kicked out of the synagogues, because there came to be a Jewish prayer of judgment upon the Christian community, the followers of “The Way”. And you couldn’t go to the same synagogue regularly when that started, and pray with the congregation a request to bring judgment upon the Christian community. So eventually, that drove Jewish Christians out of the synagogue. But here, this doesn’t seem to be true yet. They’re still part of the synagogue in that regard.

For Peter, however, they are clearly Gentiles, who are through faith Abraham’s children, and thus part of the dispersed people of God. In 2:10, for instance, “Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” That makes no sense if it’s addressed to Jews, but it makes good sense if it’s addressed to Gentiles. And if we look at 4:3, “Let the time that has passed suffice for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when no longer join them ….” In other words, let the past be sufficient for having done the Gentile sins you were once involved in.

The place of origin is mentioned in 5:13, and it’s labeled as Babylon, “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.” Could that literally mean Babylon, the great city on the Tigris/Euphrates River, in what we call Iraq today? The city of Babylon existed in the time of the first century. In fact, when we talk about the Jewish oral traditions being written down in the Mishnah (which, together with its commentary the Gemara, makes up the Talmud), we have to point out that there were actually two Talmuds. One originated in Jerusalem, and is called the Jerusalem Talmud. The second is the Babylonian Talmud, which originated with Jews who were still living in Babylon. So this could, then, refer to Babylon, the city on the Tigris/Euphrates River. However, it looks more like it would refer to the city of Rome, because Rome is the new center of the world, the new “Babylon”. And, in the Book of Revelation, Babylon is clearly a code word referring to the city of Rome. We’ll look at that in a few weeks, where Babylon is portrayed as this great harlot sitting on seven hills. I don’t know if the writer of Revelation didn’t think that everybody in the world would immediately know he’s talking about Rome, because Rome was built on seven hills. The other thing about 5:13 is that Mark is with him. Tradition is very strong that Mark is associated with Rome, and that he wrote his gospel after Peter died in Rome, in order that the Jesus traditions that he taught would not be lost. So, I think 1 Peter is written from Rome to the Gentile Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (in other words, to the Christians further to the east).

The outline has a normal salutation, the identity of God’s people being emphasized, responsibilities for the people and for the church, and a conclusion.