Introduction to I Peter
The two epistles of Simon Peter were, like those of James and Hebrews, written to the Christian Jews of the dispersion (I Peter 1:1; II Peter 3:1), evidently intended to be circulated among their churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, all of which were Roman provinces in the area that is now called Turkey. At least some of these provinces—and probably all—were represented by pilgrims who had believed on Christ at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Peter had been the spokesman and preacher on that great day and probably felt continuing interest and concern for these pilgrims as they returned to their homes. As the one to whom was committed the special “apostleship of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:8), his ministry thereafter always was directed especially toward winning his Jewish brethren to Christ, wherever they lived in the world.
His epistle was written “at Babylon” (I Peter 5:13), and delivered “by Silvanus,” with the purpose of reminding his Jewish Christian brethren that “this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand” (I Peter 5:12). Silvanus was the same as Silas, who had been with Paul on his second missionary journey for a time (Acts 15:40–18:5). Mark also was with Peter at the time (I Peter 5:13), and he, like Silas, had been with Paul both early and late in Paul’s missionary career. Somehow both had come to be associated with Peter at this time, however.
Christians have long disputed over whether the Babylon from which Peter wrote was the actual city of Babylon on the Euphrates or was a cryptic name for Rome. Since Babylon was still a large city at this time, with a large Jewish population, at least some of whom had become Christians at Pentecost (note the mention of “dwellers in Mesopotamia” in Acts 2:9), and since the recipients of Peter’s letter lived geographically closer to Babylon than Rome, it would have been at least quite confusing to these readers if Peter had meant Rome when he said Babylon. The great Neronian persecution did not break out in Rome until some time after the epistle was written, and Peter was writing to help believers prepare for coming persecution anyway (note I Peter 4:12-13), so there would likely have been no good reason for him not to say Rome if that is what he meant.
Although Peter, no doubt, did go to Rome and—according to tradition, at least—eventually was martyred there, there is no good evidence that he founded the church at Rome or ever served as bishop there for any length of time. He had certainly not been in Rome before or during the time Paul was under house arrest there (Acts 28:30). There is no mention of Peter being in Rome either in Acts or in any of Paul’s epistles.
The date of writing of I Peter is believed to be about A.D. 63, after the martyrdom of James in Jerusalem (which, according to Josephus, occurred in A.D. 62.) and before the great persecution of Christians instigated by the Emperor Nero in A.D. 64–65. It was during the course of the latter that Peter himself was martyred—according to one tradition, at least, crucified upside down.
Most authorities, especially those of the early church, accepted the Petrine authorship of this epistle without question. Some modern critics have alleged that the language is too eloquent for an unlearned Galilean fisherman. They are wrong in this, for Peter was not ignorant, even though he was a fisherman. His sermons as recorded in Acts reveal not only an eloquent command of language but also a profound knowledge of Scripture (note Acts 2:14-36; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 11:4-17; 15:7-11). There is no legitimate reason to doubt that Peter wrote this epistle, possibly using Silas as an “amanuensis,” or secretary.
The epistle is incomparably rich in spiritual vitality and filled with love for the Lord whom Peter once had denied. He stresses Christ’s atoning death (I Peter 1:18-20; 2:21-24; 3:18) and glorious resurrection (I Peter 1:3-4,21; 3:21-22). A dominating theme is that of willingness on the part of believers to face persecution and suffering for Christ’s sake (I Peter 1:6,7; 2:19-21; 3:14-17; 4:12-19).
There are also practical exhortations to holy living (e.g., I Peter 1:15,16), to obedience to civil governments (I Peter 2:13-17), to strong marital relationships (I Peter 3:1-7), to Christian humility (I Peter 5:1-7), and to the defense of the faith (I Peter 3:15).