The First Epistle General of Peter
[Sidenote: The Author.]

The author describes himself as "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (i.1). Few books of the New Testament are so well attested as this Epistle.

The external evidence for its authenticity is strong, and stronger than that for any other Catholic Epistle except 1 John. It seems to be quoted in Didache, i.4. The letter of Polycarp written about A.D.110 shows a complete familiarity with 1 Peter. He evidently regarded it as a letter of the highest authority. His contemporary Papias was acquainted with it, and so far as we can determine from Eusebius, he referred to it directly as the work of St. Peter. The Epistle of Barnabas, the date of which is uncertain, but which is probably as old as A.D.98 or even older, quotes 1 Pet. ii.5. Again, it seems certain that the Epistle is quoted, though not by name, in the Epistle of Clement of Rome, A.D.95. It is quite unnecessary for us to point to important references in writers of the latter part of the 2nd century and onwards. An Epistle which has the triple support of Clement, Polycarp, and Papias is, so far as external evidence is concerned, beyond the reach of any sober criticism.

The apostle was first called "Simon, the son of John" (according to the correct reading in John xxi.15, 16, 17), and was a fisherman of Bethsaida. He was brought to Jesus by his brother Andrew, and, like him, had been a disciple of John the Baptist. Our Lord at once discerned his capacity, and gave {236} him the surname of Cephas (Aramaic) or Peter (Greek), signifying a rock or stone. Peter was the first disciple to confess the Messiahship of our Lord, and was rewarded by the promise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xvi.13-19). With John and James he was admitted to a peculiarly close relationship with Jesus (Mark v.37; Matt. xvii.1; xxvi.37; cf. Mark iii.16, 17). He thrice denied that he was a disciple of Jesus on the night when Jesus was tried and condemned. He bitterly repented, and on the third day after the Crucifixion he, again in the company of John, hastened to the sepulchre and found it empty. He was permitted several times to see the risen Lord, who cancelled his threefold denial by graciously drawing from him a threefold confession of his love, and commanded him to feed His lambs and His sheep. Our Lord also predicted his martyrdom (John xx. and xxi.; Luke xxiv.33, 34; 1 Cor. xv.5).

In Acts St. Peter appears as the leader of the Church. At the election of Matthias in place of Judas, at the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, at the admission of the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius and his family to the privileges of the new covenant, at the emancipation of the Gentile Christians from the Jewish ceremonial law at the Council of Jerusalem, St. Peter is foremost (Acts i.15-26; ii.1-42; x.; xv.6-11). Soon after the Council St. Peter was at Antioch, and weakly "dissembled" by disguising his belief in the truth that the Gentile Christians were on the same spiritual level as the Jewish Christians. He was rebuked by St. Paul (Gal. ii.11-14).

He does not seem to have laboured in Rome until near the end of his life. The Roman tradition that he was bishop of that city for twenty-five years is almost certainly a legend, based on the fact that twenty-five years elapsed between the year when the apostles were believed to have temporarily left Jerusalem (twelve years after the Crucifixion) and the date of his martyrdom. There is, however, no ground for disputing the fact that {237} he died at Rome during the Neronian persecution. There are several reasons for thinking that he survived St. Paul for a short period, though St. Augustine asserts that he was martyred before St. Paul. He was crucified near the middle of the circus of Nero, on a spot afterwards marked by a "chapel of the crucifixion." He was buried nigh at hand. His tomb, probably in the form of a cella or open apse, is mentioned by Caius of Rome about A.D.200. A huge basilica was built over it by the Emperor Constantine, and remained until it was replaced in the 16th century by the present St. Peter's. In spite of his unique position, St. Peter in 1 Pet. v.1 speaks of himself as a "presbyter," as St. John does in 2 John 1 and 3 John 1 (compare also 1 Tim. iv.14, where St. Paul reckons himself as a member of the "presbytery"). At this period, and for many years later, the word "presbyter" was vague enough to be applied to the highest officers of the Church.

The internal evidence afforded by the Epistle is in harmony with St. Peter's experience. (1) The writer claims to have been "a witness of the sufferings of Christ" (v.1), and contrasts himself and his readers in saying (i.8), "Whom not having seen ye love." (2) He lays stress upon the pastoral aspect of our Lord's work (ii.25; v.2-4), as though writing under a sense of the special pastoral charge given to him by our Lord. (3) His injunction, "all of you gird yourselves with humility" -- literally, "put on humility like a slave's apron" -- seems to be a reminiscence of the action of our Lord that astonished St. Peter when "He took a towel and girded Himself" at the Last Supper. (4) There are points of resemblance between the Epistle and the speeches delivered by St. Peter in Acts. (5) The appeal to Old Testament predictions of Christ's sufferings (1 Pet. i.11; Acts iii.18), the reference to the stone that was rejected by the builders (1 Pet. ii.7, 8; Acts iv.11), the description of the cross as the "tree" (1 Pet. ii.24; Acts v.30), are coincidences which suggest a common authorship while they seem too small to be designed. (6) The graphic and {238} pictorial style of the Epistle bears resemblance to the style of Mark, which is based on St. Peter's preaching. We may mention the word "put to silence" (ii.15) -- literally, "muzzle" -- which St. Mark (i.25; iv.39) applies to the subduing of an unclean spirit and the stilling of a rough sea.

Against the authenticity of the Epistle it is sometimes said that it is improbable that St. Peter, whose mission was to the Jews, would address Churches in which St. Paul had laboured, and which were largely composed of Gentiles. But in no case could such action on the part of St. Peter be thought incredible. And if St. Peter survived St. Paul, as he very probably did, it would be particularly fitting for him to write to them after St. Paul's martyrdom. Many critics have been inclined to pronounce the Epistle spurious on the ground that it seems to be so strongly influenced by St. Paul's teaching as to represent St. Paul's own school of thought. We find, as in St. Paul's writings, the phrase "in Christ" (iii.16; v.10, 14), and the second advent of Christ called by the name "revelation" (i.7, 13; iv.13). Moreover, there are numerous verses which can be compared with verses in St. Paul's Epistles, particularly in Romans and Ephesians.[1] We must not fail to notice in passing, that if this Epistle, which manifestly belongs to the 1st century, does actually quote Ephesians, as some affirm, the authenticity of Ephesians is thereby very strongly corroborated. But in any case the similarity between the Epistle and St. Paul's writings cannot be reasonably urged against its genuineness. The once popular theory that St. Paul held a fundamentally different conception of Christianity from that held by St. Peter has completely broken down. There is not a shred of evidence for believing that the semi-Christian Jews who lived in Palestine in the 2nd century represented St. Peter's {239} type of Christianity, or that the teaching of St. Peter excluded the deep teaching of St. Paul. He was susceptible to external influences, and he may have caught the tone of St. Paul while living in a community which St. Paul had so profoundly influenced. This tone seems to mark 1 Peter.

But a further point must be mentioned in this connection. Modern writers have too readily adopted the habit of labelling certain expressions and doctrines as Pauline and assuming that St. Paul originated them. No doubt the apostle of the Gentiles possessed a mind as original as it was fertile. But it is at least reasonable to suppose that a common creed and a common training produced similar habits of thought in many cultivated and eager minds. St. Paul himself frequently writes as if his readers, even those who had not seen his face, were quite familiar with a treasury of words and ideas which he employs. We cannot legitimately argue that he was the first and only coiner of such words and ideas. For instance, the phrase "in Christ," which we have quoted above, is often said to have been directly borrowed from St. Paul. But the idea of abiding in Christ is implied in Matt. and Mark, and expounded in John. It reaches back to the Old Testament idea of abiding "in God" (Ps. lvi.4; lxii.7; Isa. xlv.25). It would be quite natural in any Christian who had adequately realized the truth of the Incarnation. We can therefore repudiate without hesitation the assertion that the writer is more affected "by the teaching of Paul than of Jesus." The imagery employed by the writer is of a distinctive character. It is almost entirely derived from the Old Testament, and is narrower in its range than that of St. Paul. The figures are drawn from birth and family life (i.3, 14, 17, 22; ii.2), nomadic life (i.1, 17; ii.11), temple and worship (ii.3; iii.15), building (ii.4), fields and pastoral life (i.4; v.2, 8), military life (i.5; ii.11, iv.1), painting (ii.21), working in metals (i.7; iv.12). Some of these figures suggest that the author was a Jew by birth, and also that he was not a mere copyist of St. Paul.


Again, we must notice that 1 Peter shows a dependence upon James.[2] While we therefore grant that the author of this Epistle seems to have made use of St. Paul's writings, we must be prepared to grant that he also made use of a document written by one who has been frequently declared by modern critics to have been antagonistic to St. Paul. A tradition found as early as Origen, and in itself extremely probable, represents St. Peter as having organized the Church at Antioch, and St. Peter probably became acquainted with the Epistle of St. James while at Antioch and before his arrival at Rome. In any case, the author shows himself by no means exclusively indebted to St. Paul, and the candid student must therefore admit that it is unreasonable to discredit this Epistle on the ground that it represents St. Peter as preaching "Paulinism."

It is also asserted that the Greek is too flowing to have been written by St. Peter, especially if Papias is right in saying that St. Peter required the services of St. Mark as "interpreter." The style of the Greek is, indeed, good. It contains a considerable number of classical Greek words, though it is also saturated with the language of the Septuagint. It is simple, correct, and impressive. But the large extent to which Greek was spoken in Palestine, and the fact that it was the language of Antioch, make it quite possible that St. Peter obtained a considerable mastery over Greek. We cannot attach a quite definite meaning to the word "interpreter." It need not imply that St. Peter always, or even at any time in his later life, required his Aramaic to be translated into Greek. It is not unusual for a clever modern missionary to lecture and write in correct Chinese after a very few years of practice, and there would be nothing strange if St. Peter soon acquired a comparatively easy language such as Hellenistic Greek. It is therefore quite unnecessary for {241} some half-hearted apologists to suggest that the Epistle was mainly or entirely written for St. Peter by his secretary, Silvanus (1 Pet. v.12). The expression and connection of the ideas contained in it are far too natural and easy for us to think that two hands were concerned in its composition, and the tone of authority used in v.1 can only be explained on the theory that St. Peter or a forger wrote the Epistle. The language of ch. v. is most easily explained by the theory that Silvanus, a trusted friend and delegate of St. Peter, carried the letter. The letter was purposely made short (v.12) because its lessons were to be enforced by Silvanus.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

"To the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." Considerable difficulty is attached to this address. At first sight it seems to mean those Christians of Asia Minor north of the Taurus mountains who had been converted from Judaism. But there are some verses in the Epistle which seem to imply that the readers had been pagans. These verses are i.14; ii.9, 10; iii.6; iv.3. They suggest that the readers had led a licentious heathen life, and had been only recently admitted to any covenant with God. The bearing of some of them is a little uncertain. For instance, ii.10 says that the converts in time past "were no people, but now are the people of God" -- the same verse that St. Paul in Rom. ix.25 applies to the calling of the Gentiles. This verse is thought to furnish a strong argument for those scholars who hold that the Epistle is addressed to Gentiles, and that "sojourners of the Dispersion" must be taken in a figurative sense, meaning Christians who are exiled from the heavenly Canaan. But as the verse is from Hos. i.10, and is applied by Hosea himself to the Jews, it is certainly possible to hold that St. Peter also applies it to Jews. In this case the word "Dispersion" would retain its literal meaning, and the Epistle would be written to converts from Judaism. But the reference to "idolatries" in iv.3 cannot be applied to Jews. And it {242} would be quite unnatural for St. Peter to speak about the heathen thinking it "strange" that converted Jews refused to join in their idolatrous excesses. The word "you" in i.12 suggests that the readers belonged to a different race from the Hebrew prophets. Finally, the phrase "elect of the Dispersion" must be compared with "in Babylon, elect" (v.13). Like the name "Babylon" for Rome, the word "Dispersion" is a Jewish phrase taken over by the Christian Church. We agree, then, with St. Jerome and St. Augustine in holding that this Epistle was written to Gentiles.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

The Epistle says, "She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you" (v.13). This means the Church in Rome. The name "Babylon" is applied to Rome in the Revelation, and from an early period the Christians would naturally be inclined to give this name to a city which had become, like Babylon of old, the centre of worldliness and oppression. It is practically certain that St. Peter spent his last days in Rome. Moreover, St. Mark was with St. Peter when this Epistle was written (v.13), and from 2 Tim. iv.11 we know that St. Mark was invited to Rome about A.D.64. It is most improbable that "Babylon" signifies either the Babylon near Cairo, or the great city on the Euphrates. Three facts enable us to determine the date: (1) The presence of Mark in Rome. (2) The fact that St. Peter appears never to have been in Rome when Colossians was written in A.D.60 -- so that the Epistle cannot be earlier than A.D.60. (3) The allusion in iv.13-15 to the fact that Christians are already punished for being named Christians. In the period described in Acts they are not yet punished merely for being Christians, but for specific crimes alleged against them by their opponents. It is often asserted that this Epistle must be later than the time of Nero, on the ground that it was after Nero's time that the name Christian ensured the legal condemnation of any one who bore it. But this assertion is not supported by the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius. Their words support the contention {243} that the kind of persecution mentioned in this Epistle began under Nero in A.D.64. When the Epistle was written this persecution had probably begun, but it had not yet assumed its most savage form.[3] (4) St. Peter himself suffered under Nero, not later than A.D.67. We may therefore confidently date the Epistle about A.D.64.

It appears from v.12 that in writing this Epistle St. Peter was assisted by "Silvanus, our faithful brother," as an amanuensis. He is probably the "Silas" (another form of the same name) mentioned in Acts xv.22, 32, 40, and the Silvanus in 1 Thess. i.1; 2 Thess. i.1, 2 Cor. i.19.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

This Epistle is highly practical, and though it is rich in doctrinal elements, it endeavours to instruct the readers in conduct rather than doctrine. The two key-words of the Epistle are suffering and hope, and the sufferings of Christ and the glories which crowned them furnish St. Peter with encouragement. Though he writes in plain sympathy with the liberal Christianity of St. Paul, his language throughout bears the impress of the Old Testament. Christ is the "lamb" (i.19) and the "corner-stone" (ii.6); Christians are the "elect race" (ii.9) and the "royal priesthood" (ii.9). Without discussing the problems raised by God's predestination of the Jews, he says that they were "appointed" unto stumbling, and their stumbling seems to be regarded as the punishment which God attached to their disobedience.

The fact that in i.2 the names of the Three Persons of the Trinity are given in an order which does not correspond with the order of their revelation in the history of religion, indicates that they are regarded as coequal. We may note that in iv.19 the Father is called "faithful Creator," a unique expression. The teaching about the work of Christ is full. He is often {244} simply called "Christ" without the name "Jesus." He is called "Lord," and His special divine Sonship is implied (i.3). The real existence of our Lord before His birth on earth is also implied. It has been said that i.20 signifies that He was only known to the Father as destined to exist in the future. This interpretation is excluded by i.11, which shows that His Spirit inspired the prophets before His birth. It is still more definitely excluded by iii.18, 19. Here it is shown that His personality resided neither in His flesh, nor in His human spirit clothed "in which" He preached to the dead. This spirit was therefore taken by a personality which existed previous to the creation of the spirit. The Atonement is prominent. Christ's death is both an example and a redemption which procured God's grace. He died "for the unrighteous." He carried our sins in His body to the cross (ii.24). The Resurrection is one of the "glories" which followed His sufferings (i.11). It is a unique motive to our faith (i.21), and the cause of the efficacy of our baptism (iii.21). The Ascension is the fact which guarantees to us the present rule of Christ (iii.22). In iv.6 we have an important statement with regard to the dead, which must be studied in relation to iii.18-20. The purpose of Christ's preaching to those who died before the gospel came was that though judged they yet might live. Blessings which they had not known on earth were offered to them by the dead but living Christ.

The practical side of the Epistle is simple but solemn. It deals with the privileges (i.3-ii.10), duties (ii.11-iv.11), and trials (iv.12-v.11) of the brethren. It seems to be written with the hope that the Christians may perhaps disarm persecution if they abstain from vainly attempting to set every one to rights and are scrupulously loyal to the Government (ii.14-17).



Salutation (i.1, 2).

The joy of salvation, a joy which springs from faith; this salvation was foretold by the prophets: the fruits of salvation, seriousness, love towards others, growth, the privilege of being built upon Christ: Christians are the true Israel (i.3-ii.10).

The Christian brotherhood and its duties, submission to civil magistrates, slaves must obey even unreasonable masters, wives if good and gentle may win their husbands, husbands must reverence their wives: kindness must be the Christian's rule, there must be no return of evil for evil; suffering, if wrongfully endured, has its reward. Christ's sufferings issued in blessing, in His ministerial journey to Hades and His triumphant journey into heaven: Christ our Example, our rule is the will of God: Christian life must be guided in view of the approaching end of all things, each of our gifts is to be used for the good of the whole Church (ii.11-iv.11).

The trials of the brethren, trust in God in the midst of suffering, rejoice in your participation in Christ's suffering, bear the reproach that fell on Him, to suffer as a Christian is cause for thanksgiving, suffering to be expected, judgment is beginning: the relation of pastors and people, the presbyters not to act as slaves, hirelings, or tyrants: final counsels to humility and firmness (iv.12-v.11).

Commendation of the bearer, and salutations (v.12-14).

[1] Compare 1 Pet. i.14 with Rom. xii.2; 1 Pet. i.21 with Rom. iv.24; 1 Pet. ii.5 with Rom. xii.1; 1 Pet. ii.6, 7 with Rom. ix.33; 1 Pet. ii.10 with Rom. ix.25, 26; 1 Pet. ii.18 with Eph. vi.5; 1 Pet. iii.1 with Eph. v.22; 1 Pet. v.5 with Eph. v.21.

[2] Compare 1 Pet. i.1 with Jas. i.1; 1 Pet. i.6 f. with Jas. i.2 f., 12; 1 Pet. i.23 with Jas. i.18; 1 Pet. ii.1 with Jas. i.21; 1 Pet. ii.11 with Jas. iv.1; 1 Pet. v.6 with Jas. iv.7, 10; 1 Pet. v.9 with Jas. iv.7; and the quotation in 1 Pet. v.5 with Jas. iv.6.

[3] For the persecution and its bearing on the date of this Epistle, see Leighton Pullan, History of Early Christianity, p.105 ff. (Service and Paton, 1898).


chapter xx the general epistle
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