Understanding The Bible
STUDY REFERENCE
Clarence E. Mason's "Earlier New Testament Epistles"
The Book of First Peter

INTRODUCTION

 

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BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
1971

FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER

INTRODUCTION TO FIRST PETER

  1. Date and place of writing: Probably from Babylon on the Euphrates.
    There is no actual historical evidence that Peter ever got to Rome, but there is a persistent tradition that he did and it is very likely that he did.

    Those who accept the tradition usually assign this letter (and 2 Peter) to a time near his martyrdom (2 Pet. 1:13-15), sometime between AD 64-68, probably around 67/68. But even if one accepts the tradition of Peter's Roman martyrdom, there is no internal nor external evidence that Peter wrote this first letter from Rome at all, or that he wrote it at that time.

    The mention of Babylon in 5:13 has been cited to argue for Rome as the place from which he was writing, but the mystical use of the word "Babylon" for Rome was known only much later, after the writing of the book of Revelation (17:5; 16:19; 18:2), sometime after AD 90, which was at least 20 years after Peter's death. In that same book, Jerusalem is mystically called "Sodom and Egypt" (Rev. 11:8), but plainly said to be so named in a "spiritual" sense (i.e., a symbolic name). There is no reason to imagine such a usage of the name "Babylon" until after the circulation of the book of Revelation. The literal city on the Euphrates would be the more natural and logical usage.

    Further, I cannot see why the late date of AD 64-67 is assigned to 1 Peter. Certainly the contents of the book point to a time and condition of persecution quite different from the imperial persecution Christians later suffered at Rome under Nero (64-67). These Christians being addressed were not in Rome but in provinces of Asia Minor (1:1), and there is no record of imperial persecution there prior to a time later than AD 64, The persecution Peter's readers were suffering, according to the book (4:2-4, etc.) was personal and intensely bitter, simply because of their godly lives.

    The contents of the book in respect to suffering are so similar to that in the book of James that I do not hesitate to assign the book to the same general time, put shortly thereafter, for reasons given below, there being no definite evidence to the contrary. Indeed, the persecution described in 1 Peter sounds very distinctly like that described in such passages of Acts as 13:50-52; 14:1, 2,4-5,19,22; 17:5,13; etc., especially see 14:22.
    The letter was certainly not written before Acts 11:19, because that verse says that those scattered by the persecution following Stephen's martyrdom went only as far as Antioch in Syria and Cyprus (see map), not the places mentioned in 1:1. Further, Peter had not yet gone to Babylon by Acts 11:19.

    Is it not more likely that the explanation would be that Paul would tell Peter all about the persecution of Christians in Asia Minor when they met for the Church Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15)? And indeed he did! He told not only Peter but the whole church (Acts 15:4,12). And would not this "man with the big heart" be constrained to comfort these believers (especially his fellow Christian Jews, who had endured so nobly) quite as much as James and the others (15:22, 30-32)? Indeed, Peter and James were the two outstanding leaders of the Jewish portion of the church, and it was fitting that he should do so. They would look for word from him especially because his leadership in ministry to Christian Jews had been recognized officially (Gal. 2:7).

    It is my theory that Peter followed Judas and Silas to Antioch in Syria (Acts 15:22, 30-35), else when shall we place Peter's visit there? Galatians 2:11-14 shows plainly that it was after the council of Acts 15 (Gal. 2:1-10) and presumably before Paul left on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:35-36, 40), for Paul visited Antioch only once again (18:22), which was a very unlikely time for the events of Galatians 2:11-14. (Of course, the northern Galatian theory places the events of Galatians 2 prior to the Church Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), but I, for one, do not accept the northern Galatian theory.)

    I believe that Peter then went on from Antioch in Syria to Babylon on the Euphrates (see map), where there was a considerable Jewish colony in the first century AD. (What would be more logical in the light of Galatians 2:7?) I think that he wrote this letter shortly after arriving there. Is it not significant that the first three provinces he mentioned in 1:1 are those of Asia Minor nearest Babylon (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia) and the last two are furthest westward from Babylon (Asia and Bithynia)? This would be the natural order in which to mention them, from east to west, if he were writing from Babylon, whereas if this letter were written from Rome, it would be more normal to mention provinces from west to east. Compare if one were writing from Pennsylvania to Christians in states to the west. One would more likely first name the states nearest Pennsylvania (i.e., "to" the Christians in Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan") before he would say "to those in Wisconsin and Illinois." How unnatural to list them from east to west if one were writing from some western city like San Francisco. The same would apply to Rome. Babylon is the more natural place of writing.

    Allowing time for a little while at Jerusalem after the Church Council before going to Antioch, for travel to Antioch, for a visit there, and for the journey to Babylon and getting settled, two years at the most after the Church Council of Acts 15, I suggest the date 51/52.

    I welcome further light, but this theory uses and fits in with both the known facts of the book of Acts and the straightforward statement of 5:13 that he is writing from Babylon, far better than the theory that the letter was written from Rome about 15 years later. The feminine phrase "the elect lady" of 5:13 is properly rendered by the Centenary Version: "Your sister church in Babylon, elect with you, sends you salutations..."
     

  2. To whom written:
    To the "strarangers" scattered throughout Asia Minor, i.e., primarily Christiain Jews, but also Christian Gentiles (e.g.. 2:10).
     

  3. Peter himself:
    It would be impossible here even to trace the life of "the apostle to the circumcision. " It is so full, so momentous. Read some good account of it, e.g., the short one by James M. Gray in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. For a fuller treatment, see Dr. W. H. Griffith-Thomas's book. The Apostle Peter.

    Two things stand out in our Lord's relation to Peter which should comfort every one of us: His love and His power. His love wooed him back, and His power "restored his soul" and made him no longer Sim(e)on (meaning "hear, " i.e., swayed by every new voice, unstable) but Cephas (pronounced Kephas) or Peter ("a rock, " i.e., "steadfast, unmovable,' always abounding in the work of the Lord!").

    (NOTE: Peter's LEADERSHIP of the apostles should not be confused with the idea of supremacy over them, which (1) was never conferred upon him by our Lord, (2) was never claimed by himself, and (3) was never conceded by his associates (see Mt. 16:19; 23:8-10; Acts 15:13-14; 2 Cor. 12:11; Jn. 20:23). Indeed, if anyone could be urged as being the "first pope, " it would be James, rather than Peter. It was James who presided over church meetings and to whom apostles reported (Acts 12:17; 15:13-19ff.; 21:18; Gal. 1:19; 2:9,12).
     

  4. Characteristics of the Epistle:

    1. Freedom in structure: Peter's method is described by Dean Alford:
      "The link between one idea and another is found, not in any progress of unfolding thought or argument, but in the last word of the foregoing sentence which is taken up and followed out in the new one" (e.g., 1:5, 6, 7, 8,10, etc.). This adds vividness and unity to the epistle.

    2. Vigorous movement in style: This is quite in keeping with Peter's personality as revealed in me Gospels and Acts. It corresponds interestingly in style with Mark's Gospel, which is traditionally Peter's memoirs recorded by Mark. There are 119 words in 1 and 2 Peter found in no other N.T. book.

    3. Strongly reminiscent of experiences with Christ:


       

      Strongly Reminiscent of Experiences with Christ

      1 Peter 5:5 cp. John 13 "gird yourselves with humility"
      1 Peter 1:12 cp. John 20 "looking into" e.g., looking into the sepulchre on the resurrection morning including idea of stooping.
      1 Peter 5:2 "Feed the flock" cp. John 21 "feed my sheep, lambs"
      1 Peter 1:17 cp. Acts 10:34 "without respect of persons"
      1 Peter 2:24 cp. How especially applicable to Peter - bitterly repentant, watching "afar off," but watching!
      1 Peter 2:8 cp. Christ calls Peter in Both
      1 Peter 5:8 cp. Gethsemane accounts
      2 Peter 1:17-18 cp. Luke 9:31; Hebrews 11:32
      2 Peter 1:13-14 cp. Transfiguration accounts


       

  5. Theme of the epistle: SUFFERING and GLORY
    Suffering (for and with Christ) and the Glory (which will follow). The word "suffering" occurs 15 times in different forms, and "glory"
    10 times, being closely associated with the word or thought of suffering.
     

  6. Key verse: 1:7 (which learn)


SUMMARY OUTLINE OF FIRST PETER

Salutation 1:1-2

  1. Our great salvation 1:3-12

  2. Earnest exhortations 1:13-3:12

    1. To holiness 1:13-25

    2. To priestly service 2:1-12

    3. To submission 2:13-3:12

  3. Willingness to suffer 3:13-4:19

    1. A good conscience 3:13-22

    2. A Christlike mind 4:1-11 C. A high privilege 4:12-19

  4. Acceptable Christian service 5:1-9

    1. Shepherding the sheep 5:1-4

    2. Defeating the devil 5:5-9

Benediction and closing salutation 5:10-14

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