The Apostle Peter ‘Strengthens His Brothers’
TODAY in more than forty lands the Christian activity of the witnesses of Jehovah is circumscribed in various ways. More and more they are being “grieved by various trials,” tests of their faith.—1 Pet. 1:6, 7.
In certain lands, such as those behind the Iron Curtain, and also in Africa and in the Orient, this persecution is bitterly cruel and vicious, almost beyond description. For all Christians, but especially for those experiencing such trials, the first inspired letter of the apostle Peter is of great comfort. In writing it he was indeed doing what Jesus told him to do, “strengthen your brothers.”—Luke 22:32.
That Peter himself wrote this letter there can be no doubt. The writer identifies himself as Peter, as an “elder” and as a witness of the sufferings of the Christ. From earliest times the letter has been recognized as authentic.
When did Peter write this letter? From the internal evidence and the facts of history, a reasonable deduction is that he wrote it between the years 62 and 64 C.E. Apparently it was written when Christians suffered much, but before the persecutions by Nero in 66 C.E.
From where did Peter write it? At 1 Peter 5:13 we read: “She who is in Babylon, a chosen one like you, sends you her greetings, and so does Mark my son.” There is every reason to believe that Peter here refers to the literal city of Babylon, even as he refers to literal provinces of the Roman Empire in his introduction: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the temporary residents scattered about in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (1 Pet. 1:1) According to the Jewish historian Josephus of our first century C.E., Babylon on the Euphrates had quite a Jewish colony at that time and so it would be quite natural for Peter to travel east to visit and preach to the Jews there, even as it was for the apostle Paul to travel west to preach to the Gentiles.—Gal. 2:7.
In an endeavor to put Peter in Rome some contend that by “Babylon” Peter meant Rome. But if Peter had really been in Rome, there would have been no reason for him to hide his being there by calling Rome “Babylon.”*
To whom did Peter write in these Roman provinces? It appears that he wrote this letter to both Jewish and Gentile Christians. (1 Pet. 2:9, 10; 4:3-5) From the expressions Peter uses and from his reference at 2 Peter 3:15, 16, it is apparent that he was familiar with Paul’s letters. In his letter he frequently refers to the Hebrew Scriptures.
From what Peter writes it is also clear that those to whom he was writing were suffering much persecution and could expect more. In strengthening his brothers, Peter proceeds in this letter to point to the fine example Jesus left, the good results even now of enduring persecution and the ultimate reward for such endurance.
COUNSEL, COMFORT, ENCOURAGEMENT
Peter begins by pointing to the glorious hope that anointed Christians have in which they are rejoicing, even “though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith . . . may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Hence brace up your minds for activity.”—1 Pet. 1:6, 7, 13.
To strengthen his brothers Peter also points out that to suffer unjustly for conscience’ sake is “a thing agreeable with God.” In fact, Christians were called to this course, Jesus himself setting the example for his disciples to follow closely in his steps. Yes, “if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are happy,” and this calls to mind Jesus’ words in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5:10) By sharing in Christ’s sufferings now they will be able to rejoice at the revelation of Christ’s glory. However, repeatedly Peter warns against suffering for wrongdoing.—1 Pet. 2:19-23; 3:13, 14, 16, 17; 4:2, 12, 15.
In addition to strengthening his brothers to be able to endure persecution Peter has much to say as to fine conduct: “Put away all badness and all deceitfulness and hypocrisy and envies and all sorts of backbiting.” “Keep abstaining from fleshly desires, which are the very ones that carry on a conflict against the soul.” “Be as free people, and yet holding your freedom, not as a blind for badness, but as slaves of God.” Most helpful along this line are his further words: “He that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is bad and his lips from speaking deception, but let him turn away from what is bad and do what is good; let him seek peace and pursue it.”—1 Pet. 2:1, 11, 16; 3:10, 11.
In this letter Peter also stresses the matter of subjection. Christians are to subject themselves “to every human creation”—to kings, to governors. Servants are to be in subjection to their owners. Wives are to be in subjection to their husbands, even though these may be unbelievers. Younger men are to be in subjection to the older men. Yes, “all of you gird yourselves with lowliness of mind.”—1 Pet. 2:13-18; 3:1-5; 5:5.
In addition to thus giving counsel to various groups among Christians, Peter also singles out elders. Concerning them he writes: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.” What insight into imperfect human nature this counsel shows, and how far short do the clergy of Christendom come from following it!—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
There are two other subjects that Peter repeatedly mentions. One of these is Christian brotherly love: “Love one another intensely from the heart.” Yes, Christians are to be “showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate, humble in mind, not paying back injury for injury . . . but, to the contrary, bestowing a blessing.” Yes, “above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”—1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8, 9; 4:7-9.
The other matter Peter repeatedly stresses is that of being a witness by one’s conduct and by word of mouth. Christians have been called out of darkness to show forth God’s excellencies. By fine conduct Christian wives may win over their unbelieving husbands. And at all times Christians are to be “ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of [them] a reason for the hope in [them], but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.”—1 Pet. 2:9, 12; 3:1, 2; 3:15.
Truly, in his first letter Peter showed himself obedient to Jesus’ command to him to strengthen his brothers!
As to whether Peter ever was in Rome, see The Watchtower, 1972, pages 669 to 671.