1 Peter – Introductory Material

Destination & Recipients

The epistles is addressed to “those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1.1). These Roman provinces covered all but the southernmost part of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Estimates suggest that the total population of this territory was approximately 8.5 million with 1 million Jews and 80,000 Christians by the end of the first century. These provinces embraced a large area of land as well as a very large population. That all of these provinces are mentioned is a testament to the enormous missionary activities of the early church.

The church in Asia Minor perhaps began some 30 years before Peter wrote this epistle when representatives of three of these places (Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia) who were in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost heard Peter’s sermon, believed it, and obeyed the gospel (Acts 2.9). They then went back home, forming the nucleus of the church, and served as a hub for evangelistic efforts to Galatia & Bithynia. While this takes place, the apostle Paul on his 1st & 2nd missionary journeys plants and establishes churches in these areas either directly (as is the case with Galatia, Acts 14; 16.6) or indirectly (as is the case with Bithynia, Acts 19.10).

The actual composition of the churches in this area is debated. Were these predominately Jewish audiences? Were they predominately Gentile congregations? Or were they a mixture of both Jew & Gentile? While the overwhelming use of Old Testament texts might hint at a largely Jewish congregation, much of the language also indicates that there were many Gentiles, viz. the past Gentile immorality of 4.3. Their previous condition of being “not a people” – outside of the covenant – would also indicate that there was a heavy Gentile membership. Therefore, it seems reasonable that these were mixed congregations of the Lord’s people located all around Asia Minor.

Author

As with all of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is the supreme hand behind the pen of any of wrote the books of the Bible. In this case, He oversaw the work of “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ … and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1.1; 5.1). This epistle clearly claims to be written by the apostle people who was a witness of the Incarnation of Christ, especially His death (cf. 1.11; 2.23-24; 4.1; 5.1). Peter was apparently helped by Silvanus (also known as Silas in Paul’s letters) in the writing process (5.12). That is, he served as an amanuensis or secretary for Peter. Perhaps John Mark spurred Peter, encouraging him to write this epistle (5.13). Mark himself was surely helped along in his writing of the gospel narrative which bears his name by Peter; maybe he returned the favor.

Peter, of course, was the de facto leader of the apostles, named first in every list (Matt 10.2; Mark 3.16; Luke 6.14; Acts 1.13). He appears to the spokesman for the group on several occasions (Matt 16.13-16; Acts 2.14). Paul calls him one of “those who seemed to be influential” and one of the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church when he began his ministry (Galatians 2.6-9). Peter is prominent in the opening chapters of Acts (1-12) and in the Jerusalem conference (ch. 15). Following the conference, though, he is no longer mentioned in Acts. His missionary efforts may have taken him deep into Gentile territory. In point of fact, tradition says Peter went to Rome and spent his last days there, having been martyred by Nero.

Time & Place of Composition

Lenski puts the writing of this epistle in the final year of Peter’s life, not long before he meets a martyr’s death under Nero in the year 64 AD. This is pretty well uniform among scholars although some push Peter’s martyrdom, though not necessarily the composition of this epistle, later into the 60s.

This epistle originated “at Babylon” (5.13). There are three possible options for this location: 1) Babylon in Mesopotamia, 2) a Roman military settlement at Cairo, Egypt, named Babylon, or 3) Rome. Rome is poetically pictured as “Babylon” in several Jewish works (i.e. 4 Ezdras & 2 Baruch) as well as in the Revelation (17.5; 18.2). In addition, the evidence is reasonably good that Peter lived and died in Rome. Further, the order of the destination in 1.1 indicates a circulation route originating in the West, viz. from Rome. The letter bearer would have arrived at and departed from the north shores of Pontus-Bithynia. Add to this that the city of Babylon no longer existed and there is not a hint of tradition which indicates Peter went into the distant east only serves to solidify the notion that “Babylon” is a figure for Rome.

Main Emphases & Theme

Salvation, submission, and suffering are main emphases of Peter. All of these revolve around and center in God’s grace. First, you have been saved (past), you are saved (present), and you will be saved (future). Second, in light of your salvation, submit to governing authorities, employers, spouses, one another, and, well, everyone. Third, be prepared to suffer for being a Christian. So stand firm & hope fully in God’s grace as sojourners & strangers living under empire.

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