Bible Book Number 60—1 Peter
Place Written: Babylon
Writing Completed: c. 62–64 C.E.
1. Why did the Christians have to undergo trials, and why was Peter’s first letter timely?
AS THE early Christians declared abroad the excellencies of God, the Kingdom work prospered and increased throughout the Roman Empire. However, some misunderstandings arose concerning this zealous group. For one thing, their religion had originated from Jerusalem and from among the Jews, and some confused them with the politically minded Jewish zealots who chafed under the Roman yoke and were a constant source of trouble to local governors. Moreover, the Christians were different in that they refused to sacrifice to the emperor or to mix in with the pagan religious ceremonies of the day. They were spoken against and had to undergo many trials on account of the faith. At the right time, and with forethought denoting divine inspiration, Peter wrote his first letter, encouraging the Christians to stand firm and counseling them on how to conduct themselves under Nero, the Caesar of that time. This letter proved to be most timely in view of the storm of persecution that broke out almost immediately thereafter.
2. What proves that Peter was the writer of the letter bearing his name, and to whom was the letter addressed?
2 Peter’s writership is established by the opening words. Moreover, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian all quote the letter, naming Peter as writer.* The authenticity of First Peter is as well attested as any of the inspired letters. Eusebius tells us that the elders of the church made free use of the letter; there was no question as to its authenticity in his time (c. 260-342 C.E.). Ignatius, Hermas, and Barnabas, of the early second century, all make references to it.* First Peter is completely in harmony with the rest of the inspired Scriptures and sets out a powerful message for the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians residing as “temporary residents scattered about in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”—regions of Asia Minor.—1 Pet. 1:1.
3. What evidence is there as to the time of writing of First Peter?
3 When was the letter written? Its tone indicates that the Christians were experiencing trials, either from the pagans or from unconverted Jews, but that Nero’s campaign of persecution, launched in 64 C.E., had not yet begun. It is evident that Peter wrote the letter just prior to this, probably between 62 and 64 C.E. Mark’s still being with Peter strengthens this conclusion. During Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome (c. 59-61 C.E.), Mark was with Paul but was due to travel to Asia Minor; and at the time of Paul’s second imprisonment (c. 65 C.E.), Mark was about to join Paul again in Rome. (1 Pet. 5:13; Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11) In the interval he would have had the opportunity to be with Peter in Babylon.
4, 5. (a) What disproves the claim that Peter wrote his first letter from Rome? (b) What indicates that he wrote from the literal Babylon?
4 Where was First Peter written? Whereas Bible commentators agree on the authenticity, canonicity, writership, and approximate date of writing, they differ as to the place of writing. According to Peter’s own testimony, he wrote his first letter while at Babylon. (1 Pet. 5:13) But some claim that he wrote from Rome, saying that “Babylon” was a cryptic name for Rome. The evidence, however, does not support such a view. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that Babylon specifically refers to Rome. Since Peter addressed his letter to those in literal Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, it logically follows that his reference to Babylon was to the literal place of that name. (1:1) There was good reason for Peter to be in Babylon. He was entrusted with ‘the good news for those who are circumcised,’ and there was a large Jewish population in Babylon. (Gal. 2:7-9) The Encyclopaedia Judaica, when discussing the production of the Babylonian Talmud, refers to Judaism’s “great academies of Babylon” during the Common Era.*
5 The inspired Scriptures, including the two letters written by Peter, make no mention of his going to Rome. Paul speaks of being in Rome but never refers to Peter’s being there. Although Paul mentions 35 names in his letter to the Romans and sends greetings by name to 26, why does he fail to mention Peter? Simply because Peter was not there at the time! (Rom. 16:3-15) The “Babylon” from which Peter wrote his first letter was evidently the literal Babylon on the banks of the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia.
CONTENTS OF FIRST PETER
6. Of what hope does Peter write, and on what basis is the “new birth” to this hope possible?
6 The new birth to a living hope through Christ (1:1-25). At the outset Peter directs his readers’ attention to the “new birth to a living hope” and the unfading inheritance reserved for them in the heavens. This is according to God’s mercy through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore “the ones chosen” are greatly rejoicing, though grieved by various trials, so that the tested quality of their faith “may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The prophets of old, and even angels, have inquired concerning this salvation. Hence, the chosen ones should brace up their minds for activity and set their hope on this undeserved kindness, becoming holy in all their conduct. Is this not proper in view of their being delivered, not with corruptible things, but “with precious blood, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, even Christ’s”? Their “new birth” is through the word of the living and enduring God, Jehovah, which endures forever and which has been declared to them as good news.—1:1, 3, 7, 19, 23.
7. (a) As what are Christians being built up, and for what purpose? (b) As temporary residents, how should they conduct themselves?
7 Maintaining fine conduct among the nations (2:1–3:22). As living stones, Christians are built up a spiritual house, offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, the foundation cornerstone, who became a stone of stumbling to the disobedient. Those exercising faith have become ‘a royal priesthood, a holy nation, to declare abroad the excellencies of the one that called them out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ As temporary residents among the nations, let them abstain from fleshly desires and maintain fine conduct. Let them be subject to “every human creation,” whether to a king or to his governors. Yes, let them “honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God, have honor for the king.” Likewise, let servants be in subjection to their owners, with a good conscience, bearing up under unjust suffering. Even Christ, though sinless, submitted to reviling and suffering, leaving “a model” so that his steps could be followed closely.—2:9, 13, 17, 21.
8. (a) What sound admonition is given wives and husbands? (b) What is necessary for one to come into possession of a good conscience before God?
8 Subjection applies also to wives, who through chaste conduct together with deep respect may even win over unbelieving husbands without a word. Their concern should not be external adornment. It should be as it was with the obedient Sarah, “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.” Husbands should honor wives as ‘weaker vessels’ and as “heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life.” All Christians should show brotherly love. “He that would love life . . . , let him turn away from what is bad and do what is good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous ones.” Rather than fear men, they should always be ready to make a defense of their hope. It is better to suffer for doing good, if it is God’s will, than for doing evil. “Why, even Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit.” Noah’s faith, expressed in the constructing of the ark, resulted in preservation for himself and his family. In a corresponding way, those who, on the basis of faith in the resurrected Christ, dedicate themselves to God, get baptized in symbol of that faith, and continue to do God’s will are saved and are granted a good conscience by God.—3:4, 7, 10-12, 18.
9. What mental disposition should Christians have? Despite what?
9 Rejoicing in doing God’s will as a Christian, despite suffering (4:1–5:14). Christians should have the same mental disposition as Christ, living only to do God’s will and no longer that of the nations, even though the nations speak of them abusively for not continuing to run with them “to the same low sink of debauchery.” Since the end of all things has drawn close, they should be sound in mind, be prayerful, and have intense love for one another, doing all things that God may be glorified. As trials burn among them, they should not be puzzled, but they should rejoice as sharers in the sufferings of the Christ. However, let no one suffer as an evildoer. Since judgment starts at the house of God, “let those who are suffering in harmony with the will of God keep on commending their souls to a faithful Creator while they are doing good.”—4:4, 19.
10. What counsel is given to older men and to younger men, and with what powerful assurance does First Peter end?
10 The older men should shepherd the flock of God willingly, yes, eagerly. Being examples to the flock will assure them of the unfadable crown of glory at the manifestation of the Chief Shepherd. Let younger men be in subjection to the older men, all having lowliness of mind, “because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” Let them be solid in the faith and watchful of that “roaring lion,” the Devil. Again, powerful words of assurance ring out as Peter concludes his exhortation: “But, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all undeserved kindness, who called you to his everlasting glory in union with Christ, will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong. To him be the might forever. Amen.”—5:5, 8, 10, 11.
11. How does Peter follow up Jesus’ and Paul’s counsel in giving advice to overseers?
11 The first letter of Peter contains sound advice for overseers. Following up on Jesus’ own counsel at John 21:15-17 and that of Paul at Acts 20:25-35, Peter again shows the work of the overseer to be a shepherding work, to be done unselfishly, willingly, and eagerly. The overseer is an undershepherd, serving in subjection to “the chief shepherd,” Jesus Christ, and is accountable to him for the flock of God, whose interests he must care for as an example and in all humility.—5:2-4.
12. (a) What relative subjection must be rendered to rulers and to owners? (b) What does Peter admonish regarding wifely submission and the husband’s headship? (c) What Christian quality is emphasized throughout the letter?
12 Many other aspects of Christian subjection are touched on in Peter’s letter, and excellent advice is given. At 1 Peter 2:13-17, proper subjection to the rulers, such as a king and governors, is counseled. However, this is to be a relative subjection, being for the Lord’s sake and coupled with “fear of God,” whose slaves Christians are. House servants are exhorted to be in subjection to their owners and to bear up if they have to suffer “because of conscience toward God.” Wives are also given invaluable admonition concerning subjection to husbands, including unbelieving ones, it being shown that their chaste, respectful conduct is “of great value in the eyes of God” and may even win their husbands to the truth. Here Peter uses the illustration of Sarah’s faithful submission to Abraham to underscore the point. (1 Pet. 2:17-20; 3:1-6; Gen. 18:12) Husbands, in turn, should exercise their headship with proper consideration for the “weaker vessel.” Still on this topic, Peter exhorts: “In like manner, you younger men, be in subjection to the older men.” And then he emphasizes the need for lowliness of mind, humility, a Christian quality that is emphasized throughout his letter.—1 Pet. 3:7-9; 5:5-7; 2:21-25.
13. (a) How does Peter in his letter make clear the purpose of God’s calling out the Christian congregation? (b) To what joyful inheritance does Peter point forward, and who attain to it?
13 At a time when fiery trials and persecutions were beginning to flare up again, Peter provided strengthening encouragement, and his letter is indeed invaluable to all who face such trials today. Notice how he draws on the Hebrew Scriptures in quoting Jehovah’s words: “You must be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44) Then, again, in a passage that is rich in its references to other inspired scriptures, he shows how the Christian congregation is built as a spiritual house of living stones on the foundation of Christ. And for what purpose? Peter answers: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:4-10; Isa. 28:16; Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14; Ex. 19:5, 6; Isa. 43:21; Hos. 1:10; 2:23) It is to this “royal priesthood,” the general priesthood comprising the entire holy nation of God, that Peter holds forth the Kingdom promise of “an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance,” “the unfadable crown of glory,” “everlasting glory in union with Christ.” Thus, these are greatly encouraged to go on rejoicing that they may “rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory.”—1 Pet. 1:4; 5:4, 10; 4:13.
McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, 1981 reprint, Vol. VIII, page 15.
New Bible Dictionary, second edition, 1986, edited by J. D. Douglas, page 918.
Jerusalem, 1971, Vol. 15, col. 755.