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Introduction to the First Epistle of Peter


I. Writer


The writer called himself “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1), who was the first disciple among the twelve disciples. He was called Simon, and the Lord gave him another name Cephas (in Aramaic), Peter in Greek (John1:42). He is often called Simon Peter in the Bible (see Matt. 16:16).

Both Cephas and Peter in the original mean “stone”. By such alteration to the name, the Lord may reveal a truth that men are useless dust before they are saved (see Gen.2:7) but His salvation will transform men into living stones (1Pet.2:5). The Lord Jesus is the foundation of the building of the church (1Cor.3:11). He will build more people that have been saved ---- all the living stones, namely, the church ---- upon this rock (Matt.16:18) for a habitation of God in Spirit (Eph.2:22).

The Lord entrusted the key of the kingdom of the heavens to Peter (Matt.16:19) and asked him to open the door of salvation among the Jews and the Gentiles (see Acts2:40-42; 10:44-48). Peter’s mission was consistent with his work when he was called by the Lord. At that time, he was casting a net into the sea. The Lord Jesus called him and said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt.4:18-19). Therefore, the ministry of Peter was to gain a multitude of men to be materials of the building of the church (see Acts2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 10:44).

Peter was an inborn leader, who was often the first to speak and act and took the leadership (see John21:3) and was also often rebuked by the Lord thereby (see Matt. 14:28-31; 16:22-23; 17:4-8, 24-27; 26:33-34). However, after the three-and-a-half-year training and discipline of the Lord, especially after the Lord’s resurrection, Peter appeared to be born anew and had been transformed into another man by the revelation and speaking through the Spirit for forty years (Acts1:2-3), thus becoming a true spiritual leader who was humble and bold and stable and easy to work with others in the same mind (see Acts 3:1,12; 4:13; 11:17; 12:17; 15:7-11).

Peter was “an unlettered and uninstructed man” (Acts 4:13), but the writing style of this epistle was of great accomplishments. Therefore, in recent times, some biblical scholars suspected this epistle was not written by Peter. However, it was still supposed to be written by Peter according to the reasons as follows:

1. “Unlettered and uninstructed man”, it meant that he had never received any formal education of “rabbis”, not he had never learnt Greek. Greek was one of the languages generally spoken among the people in the land of Palestine ---- Aramaic first and Greek second.

2. When Peter wrote this book, he had served the Lord throughout many places for many years (see Acts 8:14; 9:32; 10:1-5, 23-24; 15:7), during which he was bound to have many chances to practice Greek and improve his language skills.

3. It is mentioned at the conclusion of this epistle “by Silvanus, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting…” (see 5:12). “By Silvanus”, it suggested that he wrote this epistle by the help of Silvanus and entrusted Silvanus to send it. Therefore, the book might be dictated or firstly drafted by Peter and then written or revised by Silvanus, but the original writer was still Peter.

4. Concerning Silvanus, he was the leading brother in the church of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:22) and then became the fellow worker of Paul (Acts 15:40; 17:1). Though the translation of English names is different (it is “Silvanus” in this epistle, and “Silas” in the Book of Acts), biblical scholars believe both of them refer to the same person. And this Silvanus was supposed to have sufficient capability to modify and polish the Greek words.

5. It is mentioned in the Second Epistle of Peter that he had written the first book (2Pet. 3:1). Generally, biblical scholars believe the Greek of the first epistle had been modified by Silvanus, and that of the second epistle was the original writing of Peter.

6. The content and special points of this epistle also supported that Peter was the author, e.g. Peter had personally seen the Lord Jesus (see 1:8) and the manifestation of His glory (see 4:13; 2Pet. 1:16-18; Matt. 17: 1-2); though he had resisted the concept of suffering for Christ, he now emphasizes the joy of suffering for the Lord (see 4:1, 13, 16; Matt. 16:21-23); he was the apostle as well as the elder of the church in Jerusalem (see 5:1; Acts 6:1-4); he was particularly entrusted by the Lord to feed His lambs (see 5:2; John 21:15-17); he had close relationship with the family of Mark (see 5:13; Acts 12:12-13).

7. Many godfathers in the early church had mentioned this epistle and acknowledged it was written by the apostle Peter, e.g. Clement (95 AD), Irenaeus (140-203 AD), Tertullian (150-222 AD), Alexander Clement (155-215 AD), Origen (185-253 AD) etc.


II. The Time and Location the Epistle was Written


According to credible historical materials, Peter was killed by the tyrant Nero and martyred for the Lord during 65-67 AD. Therefore, both the two epistles were written not long before his being martyred, and the time interval between the two epistles was not long (see 2Pet. 3:1). The first epistle might be written in 64 AD according to reasons as follows:

1)    Roman tyrant Nero (54-68 AD) was going to persecute Christians during 54-68 AD, and “Quo Vadis” and the following massacre was at hand. The difficult situation that Christians were faced with was identical to that was described in this epistle (see 4:14-16; 5:8-9).

2)    The epistle was written before Silvanus left Peter for Asia Minor with this epistle (see 5:12; 1:1) and written when Mark was with Peter before Mark’s departure for Paul (see 5:13; 2Tim. 4:11). It was not clearly recorded in the Scriptures when Silvanus left Paul to work with Peter together ---- the earliest possibility was the late 50’s AD (see 2Cor. 1:19; 1Thess. 1:1; 2Thess. 1:1). As for Mark, he might leave at the latest before Paul was martyred for the Lord (67 AD).

3)    According to 2Pet. 3:15-16, Peter had indeed read some epistles of Paul. And some of the content of this epistle is close to the Epistle to Ephesians and the Epistle to Colossians written by Paul. Compare 1 Pet. 1:1-3 and Eph. 1:1-3; 1Pet. 2:18 and Eph. 6:5 and Col. 3:22; 1Pet. 3:1-6 and Eph. 5:22-24; 1Pet. 5:5 and Eph. 5:21 etc. that we may find that this epistle was influenced more or less by the epistles of Paul. And the two epistles of Paul were written in about 61-63 AD, so this epistle was inferred to be written not earlier than 63 AD. 

Concerning the location the epistle was written, Peter mentioned “in Babylon” (5:13). Some Bible expositors believe the Babylon here refers to the physical city of Babylon since the beginning of this epistle has mentioned it is written to “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1). The principle of consistency in commentaries of the scriptures is often applied in the same case or paragraph. It does not mean the whole book should be interpreted according to the same principle. For example, places of “Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamos and Thyatira and Sardis and Philadelphia and Laodicea” have been mentioned in the Book of Revelation, but then “the great Babylon” (chap. 17, 18) does not refer to the physical Babylon city.

“Babylon” in this book may refer to Rome for reasons as below: 1) Babylon had never mentioned in the traditions or historical materials of the early church; 2) according to the traditions of the church, Peter was killed in Rome not long after he finished the two epistles; 3) at that time, it storm was impending, Peter had to conceal his location; 4) then the apostle John also mentioned Babylon to refer to Rome by metaphor (see Rev. 17:1, 5, 9, 18).


III. The Recipients


This epistle was written to “the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1) in the areas of Asia Minor (namely, the present-day Turkey), rounded by the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea in clockwise direction. All the five places were five provinces of the Roman Empire.

Common Bible expositors have no objection to the locations of the receivers, but hold different views upon its receivers. Some hold it is written to the Jewish believers scattered to the areas of Asia Minor according to the items of “the pilgrims of the Dispersion” (1:1, 18) and the responsibility of Peter (see Gal. 2:7-8). And some believe it is written to the gentile believers according to the scriptures “who were once not a people but are now the people of God” (2:10) and “have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles” (4:3).

In fact, at that time, there was no distinction of Jewish believers and Gentile believers (see Col.3:11) in the churches outside of the land of Palestine. Therefore, all Christians living in the five places were receivers of this epistle. Today, when we read this epistle, we shall also include us and apply the words of exhortations to ourselves. 



IV. The Motivation for Writing this Epistle


    Peter said, “I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand” (5:12), revealing two purposes of writing this epistle:

1.    Enable receivers of this epistle to know the grace of God they have received ---- this grace includes the salvation of spirit believers have received (1:2-3, 19-20, 23) and the salvation of soul they are experiencing (1:8-9; 2:2-3; 3:21) and the perfect salvation that they will obtain (1:13; 4:13, 18; 5:4)

2.    Exhort receivers of this epistle to be strong and stand firmly by God’s grace to bear witness to the Lord’s glory when being faced with the impending persecutions and tribulations (3:13, 17; 4:12-14) in the evil age (2:11-12; 4:2-3).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   


V. The Importance of this Book


Among the eight “general epistles” of the New Testament, the Epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes the doctrines of “faith”, and the Epistle of James makes some complement explanation that “faith” should work together with works, and the First Epistle of Peter focuses on the doctrines of “hope” and the Second Epistle of Peter adds that believers shall still grow in the grace and knowledge after they have “hope”, and he First Epistle of John stresses on the doctrines of “love”, and the Second and Third Epistle of John and the Epistle of Jude add that “love” should be on the foundation of truth. Therefore, the three indispensible virtues ---- faith and hope and love ---- of Christians (1Cor. 13:13) have been fully revealed through the eight general epistles. And the First Epistle of Peter mentions faith (1:5, 7, 9, 21; 5:9) and hope (1:3, 21; 3:15) and love (1:8, 22; 2:17; 3:8; 4:8; 5:14) together, serving as a connecting link between the preceding and the following.


VI. Main Structure and General Description


    This epistle aims at exhorting believers who have already obtained the living hope to have the mind of suffering and obedience to the will of God and do good and live the rest of their time to glorify God. Even though believers in tribulations shall also imitate the examples of Christ’s suffering and suffer injustice and commit oneself to God. If we partake of Christ’s sufferings now, let us rejoice, for the glorious manifestation of the Lord is coming and we shall enjoy His eternal glory.


VII. Special Points


    This epistle has the following special points:

1.    This epistle is not an epistle written to a certain church or any person, but a “general epistle” or “common epistle” to general Christians.

2.    This epistle presents exhortations instead of rebukes, full of the gentle and kind and tender and understanding bowel of a shepherd (2:25; 4:9-11; 5:1-4).

3.    This epistle is an epistle written to the church in sufferings, encouraging those who are of God suffer for the will of God and the name of Christ because of doing good (2:15, 20; 3:16-17; 4:1, 2, 12-19; 5:9-10).

4.    This epistle presents clear descriptions of the true grace of God, e.g. how the holy Trinity have accomplished the grace (1:2) and how this grace is revealed to men (1:10-12), and how to draw and edify and keep and establish and perfect believers through grace (1:13; 2:2-3; 3:7; 4:10; 5:10).

5.    This epistle emphasizes “the Lord’s second coming”, which mentions that the Lord will reveal or observe or judge eight times (1:5, 7, 13; 2:12; 4:13, 17; 5:1, 4).

6.    This epistle is written to those who have obtained the inheritance in heaven (1:4) and are sojourners at present in the world (2:11) to tell them how to live the rest of their time (4:2).

7.    This epistle emphasizes three most precious things of Christians in the world: faith (1:5, 7, 9, 21; 5:9), hope (1:3, 21; 3:15) and love (1:8, 22; 2:17; 3:8; 4:8; 5:14).

8.    This epistle particularly mentions the virtues of Christians’ obedience and humbleness. The writer Peter not only exhorts believers to be submissive and humble (1:2, 14, 22; 2:13, 18; 3:1, 5, 8; 5:5, 6) but also sets himself as an example and fears the younger fellow worker Paul (5:12-13 he asked Silvanus to send the epistle and send Mark back to Paul).

9.    This epistle emphasizes that believers shall lead holy life in a fearful heart so that they will see the Lord with boldness (1:15-17; 2:17; 3:2, 5, 15).

10. Finally, this epistle has presented the most perfect and clearest explanations of the Lord Jesus Christ: 1) who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1:20); 2) who came to the world and suffered (1:11; 2:21, 23; 4:1);3); 3) who was crucified and shed His blood (1:2, 19; 2:24); 4) who died for us (1:18-20); 5) who had been to the hell after death (3:19-20); 6) who had risen from the dead (1:3, 21; 3:18); 7) who has gone into heaven (3:22); 8) who will appear in glory (1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:4).


VIII. Its Relations with Other Books in the Scriptures


There are some teachings in this epistle similar to the epistles of Paul and the epistle of James:

1Pet.1:4-5 ---- Eph.1:4-7; 2:8

1Pet.1:14 ---- Eph.4:17-19

1Pet.2:6-10 ---- Rom.9:25-32

1Pet.2:13 ---- Rom.13:1-4

1Pet.3:1 ---- Eph.5:22

1Pet.3:22 ---- Rom.8:34; Eph. 1:20

1Pet.4:8 ---- James.5:20

1Pet.5:1 ---- Rom. 8:18

1Pet. 5:5-9 ----James 4:6-7, 10

1Pet.1:6-7 ---- James.1:2-4

1Pet. 1:24 ---- James 1:10

1Pet.2:11 ---- Gal.5:17

1Pet.2:18 ---- Eph.6:5; Col. 3:22

1Pet.3:9 ---- Rom.12:17-19

1Pet.4:1 ---- Rom.6:6-7

1Pet.4:10 ---- Rom.12:6

1Pet.5:5 ---- Eph.5:21

Someone puts the “Lord’s Prayer” and some verses in this epistle together as follows:

“Our” (1:3) “Father” (1:17) “in heaven” (1:4, 12), “hallowed be your name” (1:15-16), “your kingdom come” (2:9); “Your will be done” (2:15; 3:17; 4:2, 19) on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day “our daily food” (5:7). And “forgive us our debts” (4:7-8) as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into “temptation” (4:12), but deliver us from “the evil one” (4:13). For “yours” (4:11) is “the kingdom” (5:11) and “the power” (4:11) and “the glory” (1:11, 21; 4:11) forever (4:11; 5:11). “Amen” (4:11; 5:11).


IX. Key Verses


“That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1:7).

“Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1:23);

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9).

“Since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (4:1).

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (5:2-3).


X. Key Words


“Hope” (1: 3, 13, 21; 3:15);

“Test”, “tested by fire”, “suffer”, “sufferings” (1: 7; 2:19, 20; 3:14, 17, 18; 4:1, 12, 13, 15, 16; 5:1, 9, 10);

“Reveal”, “the day of visitation”, “judge” (1:5, 13; 2:12; 4:5, 6, 13, 17; 5:1, 4);

“Glory” (1:7, 8, 11, 21; 4:11, 13, 14, 16; 5:1, 4, 10);

“Grace”, “salvation”, “gift”, “true grace” (1:2, 5, 9, 10, 13; 2:3; 3:7; 4:10; 5:5, 10, 12);

“Precious” (1:7; 2:4, 6, 7; 3:4);

“Living”, “live”, “resurrection” (1:3, 21, 23; 2:4, 5, 24; 3:18, 21; 4:6);

“Do good”, “good works” (2:12, 15, 20; 3:6, 11, 13, 17; 4:19);

“Soul” (1:9, 22, 2:11, 25; 3:20; 4:19);


XI. Outlines of the Book


Theme: Stand in the True Grace of God

A.   Know the true grace of God (1:1-12);

1.    Those who have received grace and the origin of this grace (1:1-2);

2.    The perfect true grace of God ---- the past, the present and the future (1:3-5);

3.    Way of enjoying the grace ---- faith is tried (1:6-9);

4.    Revelation of this grace (1:10-12);

B.   The true grace of God and the inner life of Christians (1:13-2:10):

1.    Obtain the holy life because of the blood of Christ (1:13-21);

2.    Obtain the life of pure love because of God’s living and abiding word (1:22-2:3);

3.    Obtain the new life with new function because of the Lord who is living stone (2:4-8);

4.    Obtain the life on the new position because of God’s election (2:9-10);

C.   The true grace of God and the daily life of Christians (2:11-4:6):

1.    The identity and goal of the daily life of those who have been favored (2:11-12);

2.    The relation of the daily life of those who have been favored with earthly system (2:13-17);

3.    The relation of the daily life of those who have been favored with earthly masters (2:18-25);

4.    The relation of the daily life of those who have been favored with family (3:1-7);

5.    The relation of the daily life of those who have been favored with the brothers and men in the world (3:8-16);

6.    The relation of the daily life of those who have been favored with the will of God (3:17-4:6);

D.   The true grace of God and the hope of Christians (4:7-5:14):

1.    Be good stewards of the manifold grace of God for the end of all things is at hand (4:7-11);

2.    Rejoice to partake of Christ’s sufferings because of the judgment in the Lord’s second coming (4:12-19);

3.    Be willing to shepherd the flock of God because of the glory of the revelation of the Chief Shepherd (5:1-4);

4.    Be clothed with humility and be sober and be vigilant because of the God of all grace (5:5-11);

5.    Exhort and wish to stand in the grace (5:12-14);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou