STUDY 18 - THE FIRST EPISTLE OF
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.344-354; R.H.Gundry, pp.437-443.
Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An
Introduction to the New
1. AUTHORSHIP AND BACKGROUND
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1). The first verse of the
epistle supports Petrine authorship, as does its sense of apostolic
authority, although this is often questioned today. The story of
Peter's discipleship is fully told in the Gospels, beginning with his
call (Mk.1:16-20; cf., Lk.5:1-11). He was one of the inner circle
of the disciples (Mk.5:37; 9:2; 14:33). At times he related to
the Lord in a special way (Lk.5:4-10; Mt.16:13-20; Lk.22:31-34;
Jn.13:6-10). His denial of the Lord was followed by repentance,
forgiveness and recommission (Mt.26:69-75; Jn.21:15-19). In the
Acts Peter is pictured as the leader of the disciples. On the day
of Pentecost it is Peter who represents the other apostles and preaches
the gospel with power. His ministry in the first part of Acts
compares with that of Paul in the latter part of the book. The
apostle opened the door of the gospel to Jews (Acts 2) and Gentiles
(Acts 10). Tradition says that Peter was crucified head downward
in Rome during the persecution of Nero, not later than A.D. 68.
Date and place of writing
"First Peter states that it was written from 'Babylon' (5:13). There
are three possible interpretations of this location: (1) the historical
Babylon in Mesopotamia, where there was a Jewish settlement until much
later in the Christian era, and where Peter could well have founded a
church; (2) a town in Egypt; and (3) a mystic name for Rome, by which
Christians applied to it all the evil connotations that had been
historically associated with the Babylon on the Euphrates, and by which
they could vent their feelings without being detected." 
Supporting the idea that 'Babylon' represents Rome is the fact that
John Mark, who was with Peter at the time of the writing of the
epistle, was in Rome at the time of Paul's imprisonment
(Col.4:10). Patristic evidence places Paul in Rome at the end of
his life. This does not infer that Peter founded the church in
Rome. Dating may be c.A.D. 60-70.
"God's elect, strangers in the world..." (1:1). There is some
doubt as to whom this refers, whether it addresses dispersed Jews who
are Christians or simply Christians who are dispersed in the provinces
of Asia Minor, and are pictured as the spiritual Israel, a spiritual
Diaspora (cf., Gal.6:16). The teaching: "But you are a chosen
people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light" (2:9) compares with Ex.19:6 and supports this
The occasion of writing
The occasion of the letter is clearly indicated by its content, which
refers to suffering some sixteen times - it is to encourage and
strengthen Christians who are being persecuted for Christ. But from
which section of society did the persecution come? It may have risen
from the state when it saw that the faith was not a religio licita. As
M.C.Tenney points out the reaction against Christians in Rome under
Nero was the product of this popular dislike, activated by Nero's
spiteful accusations. Against this H.F.Vos notes: "Though some
think these persecutions originated with the state, the epistle itself
seems to indicate that they were initiated by unsaved neighbours of
those addressed. In this regard note especially chapter 4 (e.g., 4:4)".
'Suffering' is a keynote of the letter. Note the reference to
'all kinds of trials' (1:6), 'unjust suffering' (2:19), 'suffer for
what is right' (3:14), 'suffer for doing good' (3:17). Again,
some see 'refined as fire' as a reference to the Neronian persecution,
when Christians were burned to death. The reference to suffering
as Christians (4:12-16) is significant (cf., Acts 11:26). Persecution
may be seen as widespread (5:9). The example of Christ's
suffering is applied in a meaningful way in 2:20-25.
Peter's lessons from the life of
"The personal experience of Peter with Christ is reflected in this
epistle to his friends who were imperiled by impending
persecutions. He had known the feeling of helplessness when he
realised that Jesus was dead, but his hope had become living when Jesus
rose (1:3). His reference to love for Christ (1:8) recalls Jesus'
challenge to him, 'Lovest thou me more than these?' (Jn.21:15ff.), and
his exhortation to 'tend the flock of God' (1 Pet.5:2) is an echo of
Jesus' injunction to him to do the same thing (Jn.21:15-17). The
command, 'gird yourselves with humility' (1 Pet.5:5), means 'to put on
a slave's apron', which recalls Jesus' girding himself with a towel to
wash the feet of the disciples (Jn.13:4). Five times he speaks of
the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet.2:23; 3:18; 4:1,13; 5:1) as if the
scene of Gethsemane and the crucifixion left an indelible impression on
him" (M.C.Tenney). 
The apostle refers to: Christ's death and resurrection (1:3,19-21;
3:18-22), Christ as the living stone and chief cornerstone (2:1-8), the
example of Christ (2:21-25; 4:1), Jesus as Lord (3:15), and Jesus as
the Chief Shepherd (5:4). He also speaks of the triune nature of
God (1:2), especially the Fatherhood of God (e.g., 1:3, 13-17), thus
giving a sense of purpose and strength to suffering.
Peter's apostolic authority
A continuous chain of concerned injunctions runs through the
In chapter 1: Be self-controlled (1:13); Set your hope
(1:13); Be holy (1:15); Live your lives (1:17); Love one another
In chapter 2: Crave pure spiritual milk (2:2); Be subject
Respect everyone (2:17); Love the brotherhood (2:17); Fear God (2:17);
Honour the Caesar (2:17);
In chapter 3: Do not fear (3:14); Do not be frightened
(3:14); Set apart Christ as Lord (3:15);
In chapter 4: Arm yourselves (4:1); Be clear-minded (4:7);
self-controlled (4:7); Do not be surprised (4:12); Rejoice (4:13); Do
not suffer as a thief (4:15); Do not be ashamed (4:16); Praise God
(4:16); Commit themselves (4:19);
In chapter 5: Be shepherds (5:2); Be submissive (5:5)
with humility (5:5); Humble yourselves (5:6); Be self-controlled (5:8);
Be alert (5:8); Resist the devil (5:9).
M.C.Tenney's outline is headed appropriately, Salvation
1 Peter: Salvation
The character of salvation: preservation (1:3-12)
The claims of salvation: holiness (1:13-2:10)
The conduct of the saved (2:11-3:12)
The confidence of the saved (3:13-4:11)
The counsel for the saved who are suffering (4:12-5:11)
Concluding salutations (5:12-14).
"The chief value of the epistle is that it shows Christians
how to live out their redemption in a hostile world. Salvation
may involve suffering, but is also brings hope, as the grace of God is
amplified in the individual life" (M.C.Tenney). 
Two passages in Peter present exegetical problems:
"God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell
(tartaros), putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment"
(2:4). The Greek word tartaros (hell, a name for the underworld)
is only found here in the NT - as is its verbal form 'to cast into
hell' (tartaroō). A theological speculation holds that of the
angels that fell with Satan some were fettered and imprisoned (as Peter
states), while others were free as Satan's angels or demons.
The passage that pictures Christ ministering to 'spirits in prison'
(3:18-22) is a difficult one to exegete. Does this passage mean
that Christ preached in the unseen world of spirits between his death
and resurrection? If so did he give them a 'second chance' to repent
(cf., 4:6) or did he simply announce to them the results of his atoning
work? Are the 'spirits' those who died during the Flood? Another
question: Does baptism save?
1. M.C.Tenney, p.349.
2. M.C.Tenney, pp.352f.
3. H.V.Vos, Beginnings in the New Testament, p.97.
4. M.C.Tenney, p.353.