Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The First Letter of Peter

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1 Peter 1:1)

While some liberals have questioned the authorship of 1 Peter, the book claims to be written by Peter, and orthodox Christians have never doubted it. The letter is addressed to believers in the general area of Asia Minor who are said to be of the Dispersion. This refers first of all to Jews living outside Palestine, but 1 Peter gives evidence that there were Gentile converts in these churches also.

When was it written, and from what city? Peter says that he writes from “Babylon” (5:13), but Babylon is used symbolically in the New Testament (Revelation 17:5). Peter could have meant Rome or Jerusalem—or, of course, he could actually have meant Babylon. The answer to this question is linked with the date of the epistle. First Peter speaks about persecutions and trials that are coming upon the churches. Usually this is assumed to be the Neronic persecutions of the mid ’60s. If that is accurate, Peter is most probably writing from Rome.

Another suggestion is that these are Jewish persecutions and that Peter is writing from Jerusalem-Babylon at a much earlier time. After all, the New Testament has much more to say about the persecution of Christians by Jews and Judaizers than by Rome. Also, the book of Acts focuses on Peter’s ministry in the early years of the church, when the Christians were definitely being persecuted by the Jews (Acts 8:1ff.; 9:1ff.). Perhaps 1 Peter was written during this early period.

There are passages in 1 Peter that look as if they are drawn from Paul’s Prison Epistles, which would indicate a date in the ’60s (compare 1 Peter 1:1–3 with Ephesians 1:1–3, and 1 Peter 2:18 with Colossians 3:22). But it might be that Paul was familiar with 1 Peter and that the influence went the other way.

We don’t have to settle these questions to profit from 1 Peter. Peter writes a series of exhortations to holy living for all who believe. He emphasizes submission to authority and encourages us to persevere in the face of trials and difficulties. He has specific things to say to husbands and wives, masters and servants, old people and young people, and rulers and citizens. There is something in 1 Peter for everyone.

When you read over 1 Peter, do you notice first the failure of others you know to obey Peter’s commands? See where you fit into these various categories. Are you doing your job? List things you can do in obedience to Peter’s letter. Think of concrete, measurable goals and begin to strive for them.