The author quite clearly identifies himself as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1) and even “a witness of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 5:1). Peter, which means “rock” in Greek, was the name given by Jesus to Simon, one of Jesus’ most prominent disciples (Mark 3:16; Matthew 16:16-19). He was also called Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5), which also means “rock” but in Aramaic (John 1:42). He was a former fisherman whom Jesus called into discipleship early in his ministry (Matthew 4:18-20).
Some have suggested that Peter could not have written this letter because the Greek language used in it is too polished for Peter, a former fisherman, to have been capable of using. However, not only would Peter have spoken Greek while he was growing up, he also states that he wrote the letter through Silas (1 Peter 5:12), who was a leader and missionary of the early church (Acts 15:22,32,40). This means Peter used Silas as a scribe as Peter dictated the message he wanted to send. We do see Peter’s less-polished Greek come through in 2 Peter, a letter written by Peter in rougher Greek where he makes no mention of using a scribe.
The letter is not addressed to a single person or congregation but generally to believers scattered throughout Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1-2). In the letter Peter mentions that the recipients formerly “lived in ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14), were once in “darkness” and were once “not a people” (1 Peter 2:9-10), and once lived as the “pagans” did (1 Peter 4:3-4). In light of all of this, it seems that Peter’s audience was primarily made up of Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians.1Though some, including Origen, believe Peter’s address to “those scattered” (diaspora in the Greek) is used in a similar way to James’ letter (James 1:1) to refer to Jewish Christians scattered after the persecution in Jerusalem. Peter also mentions “those who have preached the gospel to you” (1 Peter 1:12) and “the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25), possibly hinting that he himself was not the one who helped convert them. If that is true, then Peter might very well be writing to Gentile believers who were originally the apostle Paul’s converts in Asia Minor.
Why is Peter writing to them instead of Paul? Paul may have been in prison at this time, though that did not stop him from writing previously (see Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy). It’s possible that Paul may have been dead at the time of Peter writing this letter. However, church tradition holds that Peter and Paul were martyred around the same time, so that perhaps is not the case. Another possibility is that Paul was in Spain during his presumed “Fourth Missionary Journey” (see 1 Timothy for more information) at the time of writing, and therefore Peter was filling in as leader and encourager. This could also be why Peter used Silas as a scribe, since Silas was a companion of the apostle Paul in Asia Minor and the recipients would have been familiar with him.
Place and Date of Writing
The only hint of where Peter was when he wrote the letter is in 1 Peter 5:13 where he says, “She who is in Babylon…sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.” The “she” undoubtedly refers to the church, but what does Peter mean by “Babylon”? It is highly unlikely that this refers to the original city of Babylon featured so prominently in the Old Testament. At this period of time that city of Babylon had decreased to being merely a small town, and there is no record of Peter living or working in the East. Some believe it could refer to a small Roman garrison in Egypt that went by the name Babylon, but that tradition is held only by the Coptic Church (in Egypt).
Most likely then “Babylon” refers to the city of Rome. In the early New Testament church, Rome was the center of anti-God power and influence much like Babylon was for believers in Old Testament times. Referring to Rome symbolically as “Babylon” seems to have been a practice by the early church to avoid opposition and persecution from the Roman authorities.2It is widely believed that the “Babylon” denounced throughout Revelation 14-19 is also referring to the city of Rome. This also fits well with substantial church tradition that Peter lived and served in Rome at the end of his life, as well as tradition that Mark lived and worked in Rome and was with him (1 Peter 5:13; see also Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).
Determining the exact date of the letter is difficult. Roman Catholic tradition states that Peter lived and worked in Rome for 12 years. However, Paul does not greet Peter in Romans (written approximately AD 57), so he probably had not yet arrived in Rome by that time. Paul also does not mention Peter in his “prison epistles,” letters he wrote while in prison in Rome (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon—written sometime between AD 61 and 63). Yet there is solid church tradition that Peter lived in or near Rome at the end of his life and was eventually martyred (as was Paul) under Nero’s persecution (AD 64-68), thus a reasonable date for the letter would be sometime around AD 63-68.
Purpose and Content
Peter had heard about the believers in Asia Minor undergoing persecution (1 Peter 3:13-18; 4:12-19), and so he wrote to encourage them to remain strong in the Lord and to entrust to the Lord all judgment of those who were persecuting them. He also encouraged them often throughout the letter to live a sanctified life in the midst of a hostile world (1 Peter 1:13-17; 2:11,12; 2:13-17; 2:18-25; 3:1-7; 3:8-12; 4:1-11), which is also seen in the many exhortations used throughout the letter (34 total). Overall, the letter greatly emphasizes the eternal hope that Christians have through Jesus (1 Peter 1:3-13; 3:15).
- 1 Peter 1:3-12
- 1 Peter 1:18-21
- 1 Peter 1:23-25
- 1 Peter 2:9-10
- 1 Peter 2:21-25
- 1 Peter 3:15-16
- 1 Peter 3:18-22
- 1 Peter 4:8-11
- 1 Peter 5:6-11
Hope in Christ
- Greeting (1 Peter 1:1-2)
- Living Hope through Christ’s Resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-12)
- Hope-produced Holiness of Living (1 Peter 1:13-2:10)
- Hope-produced Submission to One Another (1 Peter 2:11-3:12)
- Hope in the Midst of Suffering for Christ (1 Peter 3:13-4:19)
- Shepherd the Flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-11)
- Final Greetings (1 Peter 5:12-14)
|↑1||Though some, including Origen, believe Peter’s address to “those scattered” (diaspora in the Greek) is used in a similar way to James’ letter (James 1:1) to refer to Jewish Christians scattered after the persecution in Jerusalem.|
|↑2||It is widely believed that the “Babylon” denounced throughout Revelation 14-19 is also referring to the city of Rome.|