If you have an inquiring mind, you’ll enjoy hearing many vital questions answered about 1 Peter. Listen to this lesson to learn whom the intended audience for this book was: Gentiles or Jews. Several supporting reasons for the majority view that it was addressed to Gentiles are discussed but stronger arguments are convincing in the belief that it was intended for Jews, including terminology and the quoting of Old Testament passages. Another question concerns where Peter was when he wrote this book and historical Babylon seems to be the most likely location. Next, we ask, why was this epistle written? Based on the number of times the word suffering and words for adversity are used, it becomes obvious that the audience for the book were undergoing persecution and troubles in their life. Look forward to the encouragement and strength we can derive for our own lives from a study of this book.
Introduction to 1 Peter – Part 2
1 Peter Lesson #002
January 29, 2015
As you can see from the new slide we have for this series, the focus of 1 Peter is living in the light of eternity. We’ll see why that is important to understand and how this focus derives from the text itself. We’re just starting off in this study. We started with an introduction last week over the first question that comes up. Whenever you begin to study of a book, it’s helpful to just start with some basic information. Usually this is found in New Testament introductions and surveys. This is the kind of information you usually glean from that. We’re spending a little more time on some aspects of this in 1 Peter today because they are somewhat controversial and we have to understand what these issues are.
We saw that there are several questions that anyone needs to address just as you start an epistle so that you begin to at least build a framework for being able to interpret and properly understand what the author is saying. Part of it is understanding who the writer is. We looked at that last time in terms of who wrote 1 Peter. We’ll see numerous times as we go through this epistle that Peter says things that would be unique to Peter because of the time that he spent with the Lord during the Incarnation, His ministry on the earth.
The second thing is what we’re going to focus on tonight. To whom was this epistle written? Now that’s not always that important or significant, but I think in this case it is. So we’ll spend some time on that. The third question also relates to it. From whence it is written? Where was Peter when he wrote this? What is the significance of that in terms of basically claims related to Peter as “the first pope” and the founder of the church of Rome that came later to be known as the Roman Catholic Church? Why was it written? What’s the purpose? What was the occasion that gave rise to Peter’s writing this epistle? When was it written? That too is important in terms of understanding perhaps some of the aspects of this epistle. Then, finally, what are the key doctrines, themes, and application?
Last time we looked at that first question about who wrote Peter. I pointed out there were two lines of evidence we usually look at. The first has to do with external evidence, that is, what did the early church say about the authorship of this epistle? Are there early documents that we have? We see that a number of the early church fathers from Polycarp, whose dates are from A.D. 70–156, who was a disciple of the Apostle John all the way through Theophilus at the end of the 2nd century; you have a number of witnesses indicating that the writer of 1 Peter was indeed Peter.
Then we also looked at internal evidence, which is evidence from within the Bible itself. We looked at the fact this was the claim in the first verse; and a number of the statements that are made within the epistle itself fit with Peter and also are related to events that we know were true of Peter during the life of the Lord. That helps us to understand and to interpret different passages within the epistle.
I also looked at the evidence from liberals. When we talk about liberals in terms of theology, make sure you understand these are not political liberals, although I think that ultimately there are beliefs and presuppositions that shape both a liberal understanding of Scripture versus a conservative understanding and a liberal view of politics. Liberalism grew out of the Enlightenment period. Early on, the idea of liberal had to do with a freeing from authority, and during the Reformation, it was a freeing from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the authority of the pope.
The Reformation itself, which occurred mostly in north and Western Europe, was not a freedom from the authority of God. In fact it was a return to the authority of God. But in the south especially, and among Roman Catholics, it was viewed a little differently. With the Renaissance there was a return to the early writing characteristic of Greece and Rome, and the paganism embedded there as opposed to a return to the original documents of the early church.
I pointed out that the basic presupposition of theological liberalism is anti-supernaturalism. They didn’t believe there was a God because you couldn’t prove there was a God. Reason was their ultimate arbiter of truth. Since you can’t prove there is a God, then God doesn’t exist. By definition, He could not inspire an inerrant Scripture; so that would mean that the human authors of Scripture were just like any other authors. They may have had elevated ideas in places, but they weren’t any better than anyone else, so they made mistakes.
They reject the claims that it was written during the 1st century. They claim it was authored one hundred to three hundred years after the time of Christ. Thus, it was based on legend and an imposed theology. So they believed that the early church imposed this legendary view of Jesus upon the gospels and upon the early church. They conclude that the testimony of the human authors is basically irrelevant and by definition, unreliable. They reject the authority of Scripture. This gives us a difficult time when we are communicating to people who are firmly embedded with this because part of the way we reason to truth is that we can’t compromise at the level of presuppositions. This is something that is known as presuppositional apologetics. Since we’re going to get into one of my favorite verses in 1 Peter 3:15 that we are to give an answer for the hope that is within us, we’ll be taking time when we get there to understand the basic mechanics of how to think in terms of defending your position or answering those who want to know why you believe the Scripture is true. We also looked at a summary of Peter’s life. We’ll spend a little more time on that as we go forward. So that’s what we looked at last time in terms of who wrote 1 Peter, that this is the Apostle Peter, the Galilean fisherman, the brother of Andrew.
Tonight, what I want to look at is to whom was this epistle written? This is really an important topic, an important thing to think through. The issue here is whether or not the audience was primarily Jewish or Gentile. Was Peter addressing Jewish believers primarily, or is he addressing a mixed group comprised mostly of Gentile believers? This will become significant as we work our way through certain things that are said, especially in the second chapter.
As we look at this, we have to look at the two sides of this particular argument. The vast majority of people who write and teach on 1 Peter teach that it was primarily a Gentile audience and that they were Church Age believers who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. In order to reach that conclusion, you really have to pervert the meaning of several words that are found in 1 Peter to describe the recipients. If we’re going to be consistent in a literal, grammatical, and historical interpretation, then we have to take words in terms of their normal usage and not read something into the text just because we don’t necessarily understand things.
The Gentile view is by far the predominant view of history, and predominant view of commentators. I differ with most of them. I’ve gone through and read my way through probably thirty different commentaries, just skimming them in preparation for our study of 1Peter. I read only one commentary and one study Bible that correctly identified the recipients of 1 Peter as a Jewish audience. What are the reasons that are given for a Gentile audience?
The first one is that in 1 Peter 1:14, Peter says, referring to his audience, “that they were formerly in ignorance.” The claim is that Peter would not have used this term in reference to Jewish-background believers because they would have been knowledgeable of the Torah and not in ignorance. The problem with this is that the Apostle Paul, in writing to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:13 said, “Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent man, but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” So it’s very clear from Scripture that unbelief is related to ignorance. Just because the Jewish believers had knowledge of certain historical facts from the Old Testament would not mean they were free from being called ignorant.
Another argument is that Peter mentions empty tradition and that this could not describe Jews but only Gentiles. He does this in 1 Peter 1:18 referring to their aimless or empty manner of life, received by tradition from their fathers. Incidentally the word “tradition from their fathers” is used also by Paul to refer to the rabbinical tradition that was dominant in the 1st century among the Pharisees. Ephesians 4:17 also describes the Gentiles who walked in the futility of their mind. Those who believe it was written to Gentiles say that Peter would not have used this kind of vocabulary to describe Jews, but it would have been more appropriate to describe Gentiles.
The response to this is that in Mark 7:13 Jesus points out that the Pharisees had nullified the Word of God because of their traditions. Mishnaic Phariseeism was definitely based upon a rejection of grace from the Old Testament, saying that it could not produce perfect righteousness. It couldn’t produce an assurance or certainty of salvation, and it couldn’t produce eternal life. So the concept of describing even a Jewish believer’s life before salvation as an empty or futile manner of life is not inconsistent with what the Scripture portrays, certainly what the Apostle Paul says.
A third argument to support the view that Gentiles were the primary audience is that in 1 Peter 2:9–10 they are described as having been called out of darkness, and that they were once not a people. The argument is that neither of these phrases would apply to Jews. The problem is that you have a host of passages that counter this. There are numerous metaphors of darkness to depict unbelief. For example, in Isaiah 6:9–10, we have God saying, “Go and tell this people, ‘Hear, but do not understand and keep on seeing but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of these people dull and their ears heavy and shut their eyes lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return and be healed.” This is quite an indictment of the spiritual blindness of the Jews at the time of Isaiah. Jesus then quotes this in Matthew 13 after He is rejected by the Pharisees and accused of performing his miracles in the power of Satan. Jesus quotes from that very prophecy in Isaiah indicating that the hearers of His time are dull, and they are blind and in spiritual darkness because they’ve rejected the truth. Also unbelievers, even Old Testament Jews were not the “people of God.” As Paul says in Romans 9, “Not all Israel is Israel.”
Only regenerate Jews in the Old Testament were true Israel, just as today only regenerate Jews are part of the remnant of Israel. They’re still Jewish. They don’t lose their Jewishness when they get saved. If you’re a Mexican and you believe in Christ, you’re still a Mexican. If you’re German, you’re still German after believing. If you’re Jewish, you’re still Jewish afterwards. It’s not spiritually significant in the body of Christ, but you don’t lose that ethnicity. You don’t lose that background. You don’t lose that culture you grew up with. You’re still a Jewish-background believer. All unbelievers are born spiritually dead and in spiritual darkness.
A fourth argument that is used to claim this is primarily a Jewish audience is that Peter accused them of being formerly involved in idolatry in 1 Peter 4:3 where he lists a group of sins, “lewdness, lust, drunkenness, revelry, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.” This is not inconsistent with other lists of sins in the New Testament that included idolatry. The claim though is that after 586 B.C. when Israel was defeated and destroyed by the Babylonians, that they did not return to idolatry. That was what their punishment was partly for, and they didn’t go back to idolatry. They didn’t go back to that form of idolatry.
When we look at Romans 1, Paul makes it very clear that the person who has rejected God is worshiping the creature rather than the creator. And that’s idolatry. Passages like Colossians 3 also emphasize that greed is idolatry. In Colossians 3:5 you’ll find that. It’s very clear that unbelievers are involved in idolatry. That means every unbeliever. It’s not necessarily the worship of some figure that’s carved out of wood or stone or made out of metal, but it refers to someone worshiping someone other than the Triune God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their focal point of their thinking.
The fifth argument that is used to support the idea that the audience was Gentile is that if Peter was addressing Jews, he would have used his Hebrew name. His Hebrew name was Simon, and his Aramean name was Cephas. Instead he uses his Greek name, Petra. So, the claim is that if Peter were addressing Jews, he would not have used his Greek name. But he’s addressing Jews in the DIASPORA, Greek-speaking Jews who spoke Greek. Many of the Jews in the DIASPORA didn’t speak Hebrew or Aramean. That’s why the Septuagint had to be translated into Greek two hundred years before Jesus because the Jews that were living in Alexandria and Egypt could no longer read or understand Hebrew or Aramaic. So they needed to have the Old Testament translated into their vernacular, which was Greek.
The answer to that claim is that it’s a Greek speaking audience living out in the DISASPORA. So Peter would have used his Greek name. He had probably been ministering out in the DIASPORA for twenty-five or thirty years, and he would have primarily been known by this time by his name Peter rather than by Cephas or Simon. Those are the answers to the claim it was written to a Gentile audience.
What are the arguments for a Jewish audience? I think these are very strong because these are based on the use of the language and the terms that are used in 1 Peter. First of all, it best fits the vocabulary of 1 Peter 1:1 and the context of the book. Peter uses the word DIASPORA in the first verse. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims…” That’s another key word that’s used to apply to Jews. It’s a word that’s loaded with nuance if you’re Jewish. “To the pilgrims of the DIASPORA in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”
The word DIASPORA is a technical term that’s used to describe our English word dispersion. We get our English word dispersion from that. It’s used to describe the scattering, which is what the word means, the scattering of the Jews out of their historic homeland throughout all of the Gentile nations. This word is used twice in the New Testament, in John 7:35 and also in James 1:1. In both of those passages it’s clearly referring to the Jewish DISAPORA. It is not referring to Gentiles. Also this word is used in the Septuagint in several places: in Deuteronomy 28:25 and 30:4; in Nehemiah 1:9; in Isaiah 49:6; Jeremiah 41:17; Psalm 174:2; and in 2 Maccabees 1:27 and Judith 5:19 [both in the Apocrypha]. All of these use the Greek term DIASPORA, and they all refer to the scattering of the Jewish people.
So you have its usage in the Septuagint, its usage in the New Testament, and then in pseudopigyrphal books. This is writing [graphia] and false [pseudo]. These aren’t the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha are the books that are included in some canons and not in others and covered the inter-testamental period. Pseudopygryphal works are works that were just false writings about claims that they were written by an apostle, or claims they were written by someone who was a student of one of the apostles, or claims they were written by Solomon or others.
In two references in the pseudopygraphal literature, we have the use of DIASPORA which also refers technically to the scattering of the Jews to the Gentile nations. There’s no evidence that this word is ever used of Christians being scattered among the various nations. There’s no evidence for that whatsoever. The other word that is used there is the word “pilgrims”, which is the Greek word PAREPIDEMOS, translated aliens or sojourners. This word is used in the Septuagint to translate a Hebrew word gur which is used very frequently in the Pentateuch, especially to describe Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They didn’t own any land. They were travelers, sojourners, which is usually the English word used there. So this is a word that is loaded with meaning of Jews who do not have a permanent home and are just scattered.
I like the term resident aliens because they lived in these areas but were not native to them; and they were living there on a temporary basis, even though that might involve several generations. This word is used a couple of other times in the epistle. Twice in the epistle the recipients of the letter are then contrasted with Gentiles. Here’s another serious exegetical mistake. They assume then that if these recipients are Christians, that the Gentiles must be a synonym for unbeliever. But Gentile is never used anywhere in the New Testament for an unbeliever. The word is never used as a synonym for an unbeliever. The term Gentile always refers to non-Jews. They may be unbelieving non-Jews but a Gentile is a non-Jew.
One place you can see that definitely is in Romans 11:11–14. So in 1 Peter 2:12, it says, “Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles.” He’s not saying to have your conduct honorable among unbelievers, although they may be unbelievers; but he’s talking to them as Jews who are living among the Gentiles. In 1 Peter 4:3, “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles.” He’s not using this as a term that is synonymous with unbelievers. If he were, he would be the only writer in the Bible that does. That doesn’t make sense. We have to let usage determine the meaning of words and not read theology or read presuppositions into this.
One of the problems we have to understand is in the background of the early church, you have Christian anti-Semitism leaking into the church. Anything that was still Jewish was frowned upon. By the 3rd century you have pretty much establishment of an anti-Jewish component in the predominantly Gentile church. This colored things. In fact the pressure from the Gentile community was that if you were a Jew [which were a large component of the Church in the Eastern Empire] it reached a point once Christianity was legalized under Constantine, that there was a pressure that if you were Jewish and you became a Christian, you had to get rid of everything in your life that even reflected upon Jewish tradition or Jewish culture. You had to change your name to a Gentile name. The idea was you had to completely eradicate any evidence of your Jewishness. This was a result of this incipient anti-Semitism that colored much of the later years of the early church. It really blossomed into a full blown replacement theology and anti-Semitism by the time you got into the Middle Ages. So terminology again when referring to Gentile neighbors indicates that this word is contrasting them with being Jews.
Fourth, we see that the concepts in 1 Peter 2:9 are not applicable to the Church as a whole. They’re really only applicable to a believing Jewish audience. Now this is where we’re going to get into some really interesting hermeneutical issues when Paul says to them, “You are a chosen generation, a Royal Priesthood, a holy nation, its own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” This has been used by a lot of replacement theologians to argue that there’s only one people of God and that’s the Church, so the Jews in the Old Testament were the church of the Old Testament, and in the New Testament they’re the spiritual Israel. But these terms don’t really fit.
We are not really a holy nation. The Church is made up of numerous nations and when we look at the nouns that are found here, the noun for race, the noun for nation, and the noun for people, these are all singular nouns. They are not plural nouns so they could not be describing the Church as a whole since the Church consists of many races, nations, and peoples. We’re going to have to spend some time understanding this. In Romans 10:19 Paul even says that the Church is not a nation. These terms apply more to those who are of the Jewish race.
The argument is that the remnant of the Jews that are regenerate in the early Church are the ones who, even though they are Church Age believers and in the body of Christ, are finally fulfilling some of those unique aspects relating to the calling of Israel. Remember, we got into this in Acts. One of the big problems in the early Church was the Galatian problem. Paul went to the churches in southern Galatia, and he was followed by the Judaizers. They said if you really want to be saved, it’s not just a matter of faith alone in Christ alone, you have to be circumcised and you have to come under the Law.
There was that problem with all the Jews who were unbelievers who were hostile to Paul. Ever since then, a lot of Gentile Christians have had a problem with understanding the significance of the Jewishness for Jewish-background believers. As we get into looking at that whole issue with circumcision, we saw that the problem wasn’t circumcision, per se. Paul made it clear that Timothy had to be circumcised. He was still an ethnic Jew under the Abrahamic covenant. The problem with the Judiazers is they were saying you had to come under the Mosaic covenant in order to be saved, or to be sanctified. The Mosaic covenant also emphasized circumcision, but circumcision wasn’t the sign of the Mosaic covenant. It was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. The Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant.
So if you were, or are, an ethnic Jew, because of the Abrahamic covenant, you should still be circumcised. That has nothing to do with salvation or spirituality, but it has to do with the fact that you go back to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant. So we have to draw those kinds of distinctions that even though you are Jewish in the body of Christ you still have certain Jewish background issues that apply to you that don’t apply to Church Age believers. We’ll get into a lot of those details when we get there. We’ll spend a lot of time trying to understand a lot of what is going on in Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Christianity to make sure we properly understand the backgrounds and the influences on various interpretations.
A fifth argument is that there’s no salutation that is addressed to any particular church or churches. Most of the epistles are addressed to a particular church, like Ephesus, or to “the churches of”. There’s no mention of the Church anywhere in 1 Peter, just like you don’t have mention of the Church anywhere in James. Who is James addressed to? Those in the DIASPORA. It’s the same thing. These are Hebrew epistles, just like the writer of Hebrews, written to Jewish-background believers, dealing specifically with issues related to their Jewishness.
That’s going to raise a lot of questions. It’s going to be six or eight months before we get to 1 Peter 2. I don’t want to hear your questions now. We’ll get to them when we get to them. Galatians 2:7–8 is another argument that Peter would have been writing to Jewish-background believers because Peter is the apostle to the circumcised. Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul didn’t just minister to Gentiles. He also ministered to Jews. We saw that when we went through Acts. Peter obviously ministered to Gentiles because it was Peter who brought the gospel to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ household and brought the Gentiles into the body of Christ back in Acts 10 and Acts 11. But his sphere of ministry was to Jewish background believers and not to Gentiles. That was Paul’s domain. So it wouldn’t make sense that Peter would be writing his epistles to Gentile believers.
In Galatians 2:7–8 we read, “For He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles.” We have to understand there was a division of labor between Peter and Paul. I already made the point that there’s no mention of the Church or churches in the salutation. The seventh reason we would say it was written to a Jewish-background audience is because the epistle is loaded with allusions to Old Testament Scripture. It assumes a pretty thorough knowledge of Old Testament passages as Peter wrote to them. This doesn’t mean that Peter couldn’t have written to some Gentiles but he’s writing to the large Jewish community in all of these areas which is now modern Turkey. We’ll look at the details related to that when we get there.
We’ve looked at who wrote Peter and it was Peter the disciple and apostle. To whom was the epistle written? It was written to Jewish background believers that were in the DIASPORA in what is now central Turkey. From whence was it written? This is also an important issue, and it applies to our understanding of the audience. In 1 Peter 5:13 there is a somewhat cryptic comment made by Peter. And many people believe this relates to either where he has ministered or where he is currently writing from. “She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you and so does Mark, my son.” So there’s a reference to Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark, and a reference to Babylon.
There are three basic options that have been taken by commentators as to where this Babylon is. This is again an important issue in interpretation. We believe in a literal, historical, and grammatical interpretation. We don’t believe Israel in the Old Testament means the Church. We don’t believe the Church in the New Testament refers to spiritual Israel. Israel is Israel. The Church is the Church. Then all a sudden you find a whole host of dispensational theologians and pastors who say, “Well, when you read 1 Peter 5:13 Babylon doesn’t mean Babylon. Babylon means Rome.”
You also find a number of dispensationalists who have taken Babylon in Revelation to mean Rome as well because of a fear of persecution from Nero. I studied that extensively in our study of Revelation, that Babylon there means Babylon. There’s no basis in history that Babylon should be understood as anything other than literal Babylon. So the first solution that’s offered to understand where Babylon was is one that is just a minor position, and that it refers to a Roman military base in Egypt that was founded by Babylonian refugees. The problem with that is two-fold. First of all, this village was really a very small, insignificant area. It was relatively unknown, and it was not likely to have been visited by an Apostle. Apostles went to large population centers in order to communicate the gospel. Secondly, there is absolutely no tradition, nothing in Scripture or in history, that associates Peter with North Africa generally, or Egypt specifically. We can pretty much count out that particular guess.
The second view, which is the most dominant view, is that Babylon is a code word for Rome; that under the Neronic persecution, people had to have a secret handshake, and they were all fearful of making any mention of Rome. We don’t know why that would be. It doesn’t make sense because others did mention Rome, but that’s the argument: that the Christians were afraid to let anyone know they were in Rome or near Rome, so they used Babylon as a code word for Rome. That is the standard view with 99% of commentators taking that view.
How do they argue for that? They do have some evidence. One line is from the Sibylline Oracles and the Apocalypse of Baruch which used Babylon as a code word for Rome. The trouble is that those are 2nd century documents that were written long after the time of the apostles, and long after the time of the New Testament.
A second line of evidence as I alluded to a minute ago is the idea that John uses Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18 as a code name for Rome. However, if you’re consistent with a literal, historical, and grammatical interpretation, Babylon has to be Babylon. A third view is that Peter used figurative language elsewhere in his epistles. This is probably what most people think is the strongest argument. They say, “See, he uses figurative language here. He uses a symbol over here; therefore, this should be a symbol also.” Just because these five things are referred to symbolically doesn’t mean a sixth thing should be referred to symbolically. It’s a leap in illogic to do that. Babylon must be understood everywhere it is used in a literal sense. There’s no clear evidence anywhere in the Bible of the term being used figuratively.
A fourth argument is based on the view that Peter’s latter years and his death were in Rome. Now this really gets into a lot of the issues related to the claim that Peter is the 1st Apostle, and that Peter is the one who founded the church in Rome. We’ll get into that in just a little bit. This view is that Peter spent his latter years pastoring the church in Rome as the so-called first “pope”. This was during the Neronian persecution when Peter used these code words for Rome.
Here’s the problem with that. First, if Peter was in Rome for that length of time, why did Paul go there in the first place? Why did Paul want to go there to teach and to instruct and to encourage them based on what he said in Roman 11? Paul’s pattern was to not build on someone else’s foundation. He wanted to go where no one else had gone before, sort of like the Starship Enterprise. If Peter was there, and Peter was pastoring a church in Rome, there would be no need for Paul to ever go there. Paul states that he doesn’t want to build on someone else’s foundation in his epistle to the Romans in Romans 15:20. If Peter was already there, wasn’t his apostolic ministry sufficient? Why would you need another apostle to come there to back him up? Peter’s ministry would have been sufficient.
A third question we should ask is why should Paul have written the largest theological and doctrinally foundational epistle to Rome if Peter was already there? Why would they need this great masterpiece of doctrine if they already had the Apostle Peter to answer all their questions? A fourth question: if Peter was in Rome, why didn’t Paul give him a greeting in that long list of greetings in Romans 16? Paul doesn’t even give a “shout-out” to Peter. Why? The most obvious answer is that Peter wasn’t there. He said hello to everyone else he knew; why not to Peter?
Another question: if Peter was in Rome, why didn’t Paul mention him in the prison epistles or in his last epistle which he wrote from Rome in A.D. 67? Why does Paul never mention Peter in the epistles he wrote from Rome if Peter was there? That’s an argument from silence, but there are some arguments from silence that are pretty deafening. Another question: why would Peter, the apostle to the circumcised, be ministering in Rome anyway? That’s not his sphere of influence. Why would he have spent the last eight or ten years of his ministry establishing a church in a Gentile city? It doesn’t make sense or fit the Biblical evidence.
The reality is that evidence of Peter’s ministry in Rome is only dated back to about 150 years after Peter was in Rome. There’s no older evidence than the late second century for Peter being in Rome. We really don’t have any evidence that he ministered there other than that he was martyred there. So he was brought there near the end of his life, but he didn’t spend a lengthy period of time ministering in Rome. It’s also argued that because Peter is associated with Mark as we see in this particular verse, and that the New Testament later associates Mark with Rome in Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11, that therefore Peter must have been in Rome with Mark. But why couldn’t Mark have been with Peter in Babylon? That makes a lot more sense. It’s very likely that Mark was in Babylon and was helping Peter with his ministry there.
The third option is the one that I’ve mentioned already, and that is, Babylon is really Babylon. Just as Israel means Israel, and Jerusalem means Jerusalem, the Church means the Church, so Babylon means Babylon. First of all, it fits a literal, historic, and grammatical interpretation best. Second, all of the other geographical representations in the epistle are taken to be literal. We don’t try to assign some sort of spiritual meaning to Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, or Pontus. We take those to be literal, so there’s no evidence that any geographical location in the epistle is anything but literal.
Third, other writers of Scripture had no fear of using the term Rome literally. None of these arguments about not being literal Babylon really wash. What’s interesting though is that at the time Peter wrote, the largest Jewish community outside Jerusalem is in Babylon. You have two great Talmuds at the time, the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. These are the two great Talmuds. Why? Because those are where you had the largest Jewish communities.
How did you get a large Jewish community in Babylon? They were taken there in 586 B.C., and many of them did not return with Zerubbabel, or with Ezra, or with Nehemiah; so you still had a very large contingent in Babylon. So Peter, as the apostle to the circumcised, would have gone to where there were large populations of Jews; and I think that’s why he went there. So, when we understand that he’s writing from Babylon, he’s the apostle to the circumcised, and he uses language that is very distinctly related to the Jewish DISAPORA, we have to conclude that he’s talking to Jewish-background believers. So we will come to understand the significance of that issue, especially when we go through chapter 2.
That brings us to the fourth issue which asks why Peter wrote the epistle. He writes to believing Jews that are scattered in these various provinces, and they don’t have apostolic oversight. They don’t have a shepherd. Remember when we studied in Acts, that when Paul went through Turkey on his 2nd missionary journey, the Holy Spirit prevented him from going into either Asia which would have been the western most province, or to Bithynia or any other province, because the Holy Spirit was taking Paul to go to Troas and to cross over to Europe. Paul did not establish any churches in Turkey.
We don’t know who established these churches. We do know there were Jews from Pontus and Asia and Galatia and Bithynia who all came to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. So all of these areas, Cappadocia included, were represented by Jews. These Jews would have gone back with the gospel after the Day of Pentecost and would have been responsible for the conversion of numerous Jews in these regions as a result of what they’d seen on the Day of Pentecost, telling them about Jesus as the Messiah.
These people are undergoing suffering. That’s another issue that comes up in dating the epistle and figuring that out, because the liberals came along and said that the only persecution that this could really be comes later under Domitian or even later. There were regional persecutions and oppositions to Christianity, especially among Jews. Think about what we studied in Acts. Again and again and again when Paul would take the gospel to places like Philippi, or take the gospel to Thessalonica, or take the gospel to Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe, what happened with most of the Jews in the synagogues? They rebelled after they heard the gospel two or three times. They would reject it, and they would persecute and chase after Paul and Timothy.
Peter is writing to believers that are constantly under both covert adversity and persecution, which means they are being ridiculed, and belittled, and ignored by fellow Jews; and maybe even overt persecution where they are being pursued and actively persecuted or tortured for their faith in Christ. Peter is writing to them to encourage them on the basis of our future destiny in Christ.
We’ll run into numerous words like hope, words related to inheritance. These are terms that focus on the end times and our rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and that we need to keep our hopes fixed on those end-time rewards and the end game and our inheritance in order to make it through the present suffering. He talks about the fact they shouldn’t be surprised by the fiery trial that has come among them, but that they should focus on hope. That’s exactly what Peter could do because Peter had seen the glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. He had gone up there with James and John when Jesus revealed his glory and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. Peter had heard the very voice of God the Father identifying Jesus as “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” Peter had already glimpsed end-time glory.
That’s another term we run into quite a bit in this epistle. Peter is writing to strengthen these believers so that they can handle the adversity they are handling now. That’s going to have great application for us because not only do we face personal crises, difficulties, and adversities living in the devil’s world, but I think over the course of the rest of our lives, we’re going to realize that we’re living in an environment that is becoming more and more hostile to Biblical Christians. As we’ve been studying in Matthew 10, those who opposed Christ said He got His power from Satan, and they called Him Beelzebub, and that what He was teaching and proclaiming was evil. And they’ll do the same thing for us.
If you go to some parts of this country, the most evil people in this world are evangelical Christians, according to the main culture, because we don’t believe in homosexual marriage; and because we don’t believe in abortion as a means of birth control; and we believe in the death penalty and the rule of law and absolutes of evil and good. All of these things make us evil in the sight of post-modern American. They think we’re the enemy. This is becoming more and more true. You can go to some places in the Northeast and up on the West Coast and we are considered horrible. They hate evangelical Christians. This is becoming more and more obvious as the years go by.
Just because Texas isn’t that way right now doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Remember, there are a lot of people moving to Texas right now from all of these other places, and they are bringing their garbage paganism with them. That is going to have a serious impact on this state. That’s why Peter is writing. To encourage us, to give us strength in times of adversity.
Now, when did he write it? He didn’t write early like James. He didn’t write in the 40s or 50s, but probably in the early 60s. He shows that he has some knowledge of Paul’s writings. There are a number of passages in 1 Peter that are parallel to Ephesians. Ephesians 1 and 1 Peter 1:3 focus on the blessed of God. “Praise be to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul says in Ephesians, “We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.” Passages like Ephesians 3:5 and 10 are parallel to 1 Peter 1:12. Ephesians 3:6 and 21 parallel 1 Peter 4:11. Ephesians 3:8 parallels to 1 Peter 1:8 and so on. So there is an indication that Peter is aware of some of the later writings of the Apostle Paul.
Even though there’s no mention of the Church, there is mention in 1 Peter 5 that the “elders who are among you, I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and witness of the suffering of Christ.” This is another illusion to the fact Peter was present at the crucifixion. In another place Peter says, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you serving as overseers.” He doesn’t use the word church but he does use terms to indicate there is some organization to this body of believers in this particular area. That would put it a little later. I would say he probably wrote it sometime around A.D. 63–64 and probably before Nero turned against the Christians with the burning of Rome and then blaming that upon the Christians and beginning that persecution.
The last thing I want to look at are the distinctives in 1 Peter that indicate the theme of an epistle. That’s one of the ways we get to the themes of a message is look at vocabulary. Several people have noted that the theme has to do with grace because of verse 12 where Peter says, “By Sylvanus, our faithful brother, as I consider have written to you briefly and exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand.” That’s true. He’s talking about grace. Grace runs all the way through the epistle. But the key idea that goes through the epistle is suffering.
Peter uses the English word suffering in the New King James Version 17 times. Some of that reflects suffering as a verb, and some reflects suffering as a noun. If you look in most Bible introductions, it will say he uses the verb suffer fifteen times, but he does more than that. He uses the noun several times and in addition to that, he also mentions other aspects of adversity and suffering. In 1 Peter 1:6 he says, “Grieved by various trials.” In 1:7, “Tested by fire”. In 1 Peter 2:10, “Enduring grief”. Two times he uses the word reviled in 1 Peter 2:23, “When you’re reviled, revile not.” Being reviled is a part of persecution and suffering. He also uses revile in 3:9 and 3:16.
He talks about judgment is supposed to begin at the house of God. That has to do with suffering and adversity. He says, “Cast your cares upon the Lord.” Cares are our adversities and our sufferings. Suffering is a major theme in this epistle. You can’t say this epistle is about “x” if “x” isn’t about suffering. That has to be a major issue. How do you handle suffering? You handle suffering by fixing your attention “On the glory that is to be revealed”. Glory is mentioned 16 times, both the verb and the noun. That indicates the solution, that we are able to live in the adversity of today in light of the glory of eternity.
Third, Christ’s own sufferings are mentioned six times in this epistle as the pattern we should follow to handle our suffering. That’s the model. Six different times Christ’s sufferings are mentioned. Fourth, Peter uses the term holy or sanctified or to set apart six times, emphasizing that suffering is not an excuse or rationale for complaining or griping or any other kind of sin, but we should maintain a righteous conduct even in the midst of adversity and difficulty. In order to enable us to make it through adversity, Peter emphasizes what the believer possesses in salvation. Thus, he uses the term grace ten times, the word hope five times, the word faith five times, the word salvation four times; and at least three of them have to do with phase 3 salvation, not justification, and not the present spiritual life.
Sixth, he uses the term submission five times in relation to authority. He emphasizes that we live in a world where often the authorities over us are unjust and unrighteous. Like Christ we are to submit to that authority. No one was more justified to rebel against an unjust authority than Jesus Christ; and yet He did not. He submitted to them and went to the Cross without uttering a Word. It doesn’t matter how unjust the authority over you might be, you are never justified in being a rebel. That’s the same principle David demonstrated in the Old Testament.
Seven, the letter makes use of 34 imperative mood verbs in the Greek. It gives us mandates on how we are to live. Eighth, it furnishes a classic statement on what Old Testament prophets understood in 1 Peter 1:10–11, “Of this salvation [all three phases of salvation] the prophets have inquired and searched carefully to prophesy of the grace that would come to you, searching what or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ was in them when He testified before Him the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”
The ninth point is that many statements about Christ are found in the letter: His incarnation in 1:20; how He lived a sinless life in 1:19 and 2:22; it talks about His suffering in death in 2:24; His resurrection in 3:21–22; His ascension in 3:22; His present session at the right hand of God the Father in 3:22; and His future return in 1:7, 1:13, 4:13, 5:1, and 5:4. So you have a lot about Jesus Christ in this epistle.
Tenth: it provides much information which is a reflection about Peter’s personal time with the Lord during the Lord’s Incarnation. This supports the view that Peter wrote this epistle. Eleven: the letter is a circular letter which meant that it was written to be circulated among various churches and believers in particular areas. So this gives us a focus on just some of the basic distinctives that are found in this epistle.
Next time, I’d do a fly-over. We’ll go up to about 30,000 feet and fly over all five chapters so we get a good orientation to what it is Peter is saying. Remember, when these epistles were written they were read completely to the congregations. They were taken in one gulp, so we’re going to take it in one gulp and get a good view of everything that’s there before we start dealing with the specifics as we exegete our way through the first chapter.