Over the next few weeks we will be embarking on a study of 1 Peter. I’ve been drawn to this book lately. 1 Peter deeply resonates with the times in which we live. The book speaks both of our identity in Christ and how to live faithfully in a culture that does not value that identity. We’ll dive in next week, but here is a brief post as an introduction.
Who wrote 1 Peter?
1 Peter was authored by the Apostle Peter. Some scholars do question Peter’s authorship of the letter. Some believe the Greek of 1 Peter is too good to have been written by an uneducated Jew; others think the persecution described in 1 Peter better describes the later persecutions under Domitian or Trajan. I don’t find these arguments persuasive. Peter was Jewish, but Greek was still the language of commerce at the time. While Jewish leaders recognized Peter and John as having been “unschooled” (Acts 4:13), this probably means that Peter and John had not undergone formal rabbinic training, not that they were uneducated or illiterate. If Silas functioned as a scribe (1 Peter 5:12), Silas may also have helped smooth out the language. As far as the issue of persecution, I don’t see that the letter dictates a pervasive, empire-wide persecution. While Peter is writing to believers who are experiencing suffering, he still encourages them to be respectful of and submissive to governmental authorities (1 Peter 2:13-14). 1 Peter fits well with the situation of Christians in Asia Minor in the early 60s. At this time, Christians in Asia Minor often faced social pressures and pockets of local persecution. While the gospels often show Peter’s stumbles and failures, 1 Peter reveals his spiritual transformation.
When was 1 Peter written?
Christian tradition indicates Peter died as a martyr caught up in the wave of persecution under Nero, probably between AD 64-68. This means Peter must have written the letter earlier, probably in the early 60s. Peter wrote from Rome (1 Peter 5:13), and may have written 1 Peter not long before his execution.
Who was the audience?
Peter addressed his letter to “God’s elect, exiles scattered through the provinces of Pontia, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). 1 Peter was probably a circular letter meant to be carried to churches throughout Asia Minor. While the letter has a distinctly Jewish flavor, Peter also recognizes the Gentile past of his audience. 1 Peter was written to both Jewish and Gentile believers scattered throughout Asia Minor.
Why does 1 Peter matter to us?
1 Peter is profoundly theological. Peter urges his readers to believe what is true about Jesus’ death and resurrection and understand who they are because of what Jesus has done for them. We also need to know and cling to those truths. But Peter was also written to the chosen exiles–those who are both chosen by God and exiles within their own culture. That has profound implications for us. As J. Ramsey Michaels has said,
The addressees are “strangers” because of (not despite) being chosen. Their divine election is a sociological as well as theological fact, for it has sundered them from their social world and made them like strangers or temporary residents in their respective cities and provinces (1 Peter, 6).
We too are exiles because of–not despite–being chosen. Our identity of the people of God sets us apart and makes us citizens of a greater kingdom. Yet we still live in this world and must navigate our temporary home. 1 Peter shows us how to live in this world without compromising our identity as the people of God.
Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary Series. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988.