Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 27 April 2016; Revised 28 September 2017
Scripture Text: Scripture quotations may be taken from different versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited and resources consulted may be found at the end of the article.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic writings and message I use the terms Judah (Jude), Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament). The abbreviation LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009).
1. Creation │ 2. Composition │ 3. Content │ 4. Contribution
The first letter introduces the author as "Peter" (1:1), which is the name given to him by Yeshua (John 1:42). The great apostle had three names: Cephas, Peter and Simon. For an explanation of these names and an overview of Peter's life see Simon Peter: Fisherman-Apostle.
Peter identifies himself as an apostle of Messiah Yeshua (1:1), which means he possessed authority to "bind and loose." Peter has the distinction of being "first" in several categories. Among the Twelve Peter appears to be the chief leader. His name always occurs first in the lists of disciples (Matt 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14). He was the first apostle to publicly announce Yeshua as the Messiah (Matt 16:15). He was the first apostle to witness the resurrection of Yeshua (Luke 24:34; 1Cor 15:5). He was the first apostle to proclaim the good news to the Jewish people after the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14). He was the first apostle to declare the good news to a Gentile (Acts 10:5-48). He was one of the chief pillars of the Yeshua movement in its earliest stages (Gal 2:9). According to church tradition Peter was the first apostle to minister in Rome. And, he played a key role in the decision of leaders in Acts 15.
In 1:3 Peter includes himself among those who have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua. In 1:12 he includes himself among those who proclaimed the good news to the recipients as empowered by the Holy Spirit who was sent from heaven on Pentecost. In 3:18 Peter includes himself among those for whom Yeshua died as a sin offering. In 4:17 he includes himself in the household of God in which judgment must begin first. In 5:1 he identifies himself as a witness of Yeshua's suffering. In 5:13 he extends greetings from John Mark, who is described as "my son." Peter meant "son" as an affectionate endearment in the same manner as Paul referred to Timothy as his son (1Tim 1:18; 2Tim 1:2; 2:1).
See the General Introduction.
Peter identifies the recipients of his first letter (1:1) in two ways: geographically and ethnically. Geographically they are disciples living in the Roman provinces of Asia, Cappadocia, Galatia, Pontus and Bithynia (see the map here; present day Turkey). Secondly, Peter identifies the letter's recipients with three descriptive terms: "chosen ones" (Grk. eklektos), "exiles" (Grk. parepídēmos) and "Dispersion" (Grk. diaspora), that identify his readers as Messianic Jews. In 2:11 Peter again identifies the Jewishness of the recipients with parepídēmos and adds "sojourners" (Grk. paroikos).
In 1:8 he praises his readers by noting that although they had never seen Yeshua (as he had), they nevertheless believed in him (1:8). Peter might seem to be addressing Gentiles because of phrases like "desires that you formerly had in ignorance (1:14) and "once you were not a people" (2:10). However, these phrases would also apply to Hellenistic Jews, whom Judean Jews did not consider to be part of ethnic Israel and Judaism. The latter phrase in 2:10 is an allusion to Hosea 1:10 which was addressed to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Peter also expresses a fatherly attitude toward his readers when he says "as obedient children" (1:14) and "like newborn babies" (2:2).
In 2:12 Peter makes a contrast to the regional culture by saying "keep your behavior honorable among the nations" (mine) and in 4:3 he says of them "For the time past is sufficient to have carried out the desire of the nations" (mine). In 4:16 he uses the word Christianos in reference to his audience, which the CJB appropriately translates as "if anyone suffers for being Messianic [Christianos], let him not be ashamed; but let him bring glory to God by the way he bears this name." The word Christianos was probably coined by Barnabas and Paul in their ministry among Hellenistic Jews in Syrian Antioch (Acts 11:26). Peter is not using Christianos according to how it came to be defined by the church fathers. (See my article The First Christians.)
Peter wrote to dear friends to provide encouragement because of their experiencing various trials (1:6-7; 2:19-20; 3:9, 14, 16-17; 4:4, 12-16, 19; 5:9-10). While no evidence seemed to suggest that the trials had yet involved imprisonment or martyrdom, there does seem to be general hostility, false accusations, suspicions, verbal assaults, and perhaps occasional physical beatings (Kaiser 335).
Peter expresses greetings from believers in Rome (5:13). Thus, scholarly opinion is unanimous that Peter wrote the letter while in Rome.
Since the letter was written from Rome, we must consider when this event occurred. Most scholars believe that Peter only made one trip to Rome, but Edmundson (178) and Robinson (114) agree with the report of the church fathers that Peter went to Rome three times: A.D. 42-45; 54-56; and 63-65. There is no logical basis for rejecting the historical information provided by the church fathers. According to Eusebius, Mark accompanied Peter to Rome on his first visit (Church History, II, 15:1-2). Most scholars date First Peter c. 64/65, considering the context of the letter to be the persecution under Caesar Nero, 64–68. However, this assumption flies in the face of the fact that the name of Nero does not occur in the letter nor is there any mention of persecution in Rome.
Moreover, Nero's brutality against disciples of Yeshua was limited to Rome. Indeed there is no evidence of empire-wide state-sponsored persecution during the reign of Nero (Robinson 153). The terminology Peter uses is appropriate to the theme of suffering. The disciples were undergoing trials (Grk. perirasmoi) of various kinds (Grk. poikiloi) (1:6). The stronger terms diōgmos ("persecution"), gumnotēs ("nakedness"), kindunos ("danger"), thlipsis (tribulation, oppression), and machaira ("sword" fig. of state opposition) do not occur in the letter. The mention of a "fiery trial" in 4:12 is a metaphor explained by the reference to "testing by fire" in 1:7 (Kaiser 336). Peter uses the word dokimion ("testing"), which occurs elsewhere in the Besekh only in Jacob's letter (Jas 1:3).
Conversely, the letter includes statements that view the civil authorities in a favorable light with exhortations to submission (e.g., 2:13-14, 17). The instructions reflect the favorable treatment that Caesar Claudius extended toward Jews during his reign (Josephus, Ant. XIX, 5:2-3; XX, 1:2-3). Surely Peter would have said something quite different if he or the whole Body of Messiah was facing the wrath of Nero. The reality is that Jewish followers of Yeshua suffered at the hands of non-believing Jews in every city where they ministered. Jacob in his early letter speaks of these trials:
brothers and sisters, when you might encounter various trials, consider every
joy, knowing that the testing of your faithfulness produces patience" (Jas 1:2-3
When Paul wrote to the Messianic Jews in the Diaspora he, too, commented on what happened to Jews who embraced Yeshua as Messiah:
"But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one." (Heb 10:32-34 NASB)
The book of Acts records numerous incidents of open hostility by unbelieving Jews to the apostolic message: in Damascus (Acts 9:23), in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18, 40; 6:9-12 7:54-59; 8:1-3; 12:2-3; 21:27; 22:22; 23:1-22), in Antioch (Acts 13:45), in Iconium (Acts 14:2,5), in Lystra (Acts 14:19), in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), in Berea (Acts 17:13), in Corinth (Acts 18:5-6), in Macedonia (Acts 20:3, 19), and in Caesarea (Acts 24:9; 25:2, 7). Paul says he received 39 lashes five times from unbelieving Jews (2Cor 11:24).
Important to consider is that Peter does not say that he was suffering along with his readers as John does in his Revelation introduction. No contemporary events are mentioned, and if this was in the time of Nero's persecution with Peter being in Rome, we would expect some mention of it. The fact of general persecution of Messianic Jews by their kindred offers a broad time period for dating. Given the testimony of Eusebius concerning when Peter went to Rome the first time, 44–46 would be a likely date for the letter.
First Peter is written in good literary Greek. The sentence structure is often lengthy and complex, so modern Bible versions attempt to break up the wordy sentences into small portions for easier reading. The letter includes 63 words not found in any other apostolic writing (including Second Peter), 55 of which are hapax legomena, a Latin expression meaning words that occur only once in the Besekh. Kruger gives the total count of hapax legomena as 63 based on E.M.B. Green (656). For the list of specific words see the monograph by Mike Barnes.
The letter is organized in a commonly used form with an introduction, body and conclusion. In the introduction Peter identifies himself as the sender with his title "apostle [Heb. shaliach] of Yeshua the Messiah." The body of his letter does not flow from a template, but is organized according to the subject matter he needed to discuss. Sometimes there is reflection on biblical history and deep theological concepts, but most often there are hortatory and instructional elements. Hortatory verses contain summaries of virtues to develop, vices to avoid and practical applications of Torah principles for family and community living. The conclusion is written in conventional style with a doxology. The ending of First Peter includes an acknowledgement of Silvanus for his assistance, an expression of greetings from the congregation in Rome, as well as from the apostle Mark, and finally a wish for shalom to his readers.
Peter regards Silvanus as a close brother. Silvanus, also known as Silas, was a prophet and congregational leader in Jerusalem (Acts 15:22, 32). He accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40) and ministered with him in various towns. Peter says, "through Silvanus…I have written," implying that Silvanus helped write the letter, perhaps polishing Peter's Greek. Of course, Peter might also mean that Silvanus delivered the letter. When Silvanus and Peter became ministry partners remains unknown.
Until modern times there was no doubt about the authenticity and authorship of First Peter. Yet, some scholars have treated "Peter" as a pseudonym. The reasons cited for doubt include (1) the letter's excellent literary Greek, unexpected of a Galilean fisherman, (2) the use of the name "Peter" instead of his given name Simon or Simon bar Jonah, (3) the use of "Babylon" for Rome, which became common in Jewish and Christian literature only after Rome destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70, and (4) the use of terms such as presbuteros ("elder," 5:1), which were in use at a later stage of development (Setzer 436).
The field of literary criticism has had a strong influence on how many modern Bible scholars interpret Scripture. Literary criticism is concerned with how a biblical work was written and uses much the same methods and asks the same questions as the study of other ancient works. Literary criticism can be a useful tool for studying ancient books, but this system of study can also result in ignoring the principle that "the world through its wisdom did not come to know God" (1Cor 1:21 NASB). Over reliance on assumptions based strictly on reason can lead the literary critic to treating divine inspiration as functioning no differently than Martha Grimes getting an idea for writing a mystery novel from reading the English poets. See the section "Composition" in my article Witnesses of the Good News for a detailed evaluation of literary criticism.
First, it is unreasonable to dogmatize about what facility in the Greek language Peter might have had (Blum). Galilee had long felt the impact of Hellenistic language and culture, going back to the time of Seleucid kings. Second, Simon no doubt used the name "Peter" because it translated the Aramaic name given to him by Yeshua as figurative of his leadership role among the disciples (John 1:42). Why would he go back to being plain old Simon, when he could be the Spirit-anointed Rock? Rejecting Peter's authorship for using the very name given him by the Messiah and King is just silly.
Third, "Babylon" was a common substitute for Rome in Jewish writings that appeared before the first century (e.g., 2 Baruch 11:1, 67:7; Sibylline Oracles 5:143, 159) because caution militated against portraying too directly the evils of Rome’s oppressive rule (Stern 831). While some think the pseudonym was used for the sake of secrecy, it is just as likely Peter chose "Babylon" to depict the thoroughly corrupt and pagan nature of the city. We can only imagine how seeing the decadence of Rome impacted the orthodox Jew from Galilee. Fourth, presbuteros is not a late word but in fact appears many times in the LXX (e.g., Ex 17:5; 18:12; 19:7; 24:1) and the LXX was in use among Jews by the second century B.C. It is fair to say that the Greek vocabulary of the letter is grounded in the LXX and thoroughly Jewish.
The letter contains no story narrative, but is pastoral instruction from a father's heart. Barclay refers to First Peter as a "lovely letter" written out of a heart of love and one of the easiest letters in the Besekh to read (138). The overall tone is positive with a general absence of condemnation and criticism. The letter acknowledges the suffering of the readers and they can take comfort in the fact that Yeshua also had suffered innocently (2:21-25). Since the Lord did not retaliate, suffering disciples should trust that God will do justice for them.
First Peter contains a theological education comparable to what might be taught new believers. (See the Contribution section below.) Peter also provides practical instruction similar to Paul's letters. These instructions reflect divine expectation for relational behavior in society (2:11-17; 3:8-9, 15-17), in employment (2:18-20), in family (3:1-7), and in the congregation (5:1-6). Peter is also concerned about the maintenance of personal disciplines and exercise of spiritual gifts (4:7-11). The codes of behavior are thoroughly Jewish and reflect Torah values, not Hellenistic culture.
The letter contains five chapters and 105 verses. The letter may be outlined as follows:
Chapter 1: Greetings and Exhortation
B'rakhah of God's Great Grace, 1:3-9.
Messianic Prophets, 1:10-12.
Exhortation to Holiness, 1:13-16.
Chapter 2: A Spiritual House
Redemption of the Recipients, 1:17–2:3.
A Spiritual House in a Pagan Land, 2:4-12.
Honoring Levels of Authority, 2:13-20.
The Example of Messiah, 2:21-25.
Chapter 3: Building Relationships
Exhortation to Wives and Husbands, 3:1-7.
Exhortation on Congregational Relationships, 3:8-12.
Being a Positive Witness, 3:13-17.
The Lesson of Messiah and Noah, 3:18-22.
Chapter 4: Share the Sufferings of Messiah
Readiness to Give an Account, 4:1-6.
Spiritual Virtues and Gifts, 4:7-11.
Sharing in Messiah's Sufferings, 4:12-19.
Chapter Five: Serving God
Exhortation to Leaders, 5:1-5.
Final Advice, 5:6-10.
Personal Information, 5:12-13.
Shalom to the Recipients, 5:14.
The letter contains a number of verbs in the imperative mood that constitute authoritative instructions that disciples are obligated to obey. Instructions taken from the Tanakh underscore the authority of the Tanakh for the disciple of Yeshua.
1:13− "set" your hope on the grace to be brought at the Second Coming.
1:15− "be" (or 'become') holy in all your behavior.
1:17− "conduct" yourselves in the fear of the Lord.
1:22− "love" one another out of a pure heart.
2:2− "crave" the pure spiritual milk.
2:13− "be in subjection" to human authority for the sake of the Lord.
2:17− "love" the members of the Messianic community.
2:17− "fear" God.
2:17− "honor" the king (or ruler of a municipality or territory).
3:3− "be not" focused on outward adornment; instruction to wives.
3:10− "keep" the tongue from evil, from Psalm 34:12.
3:11−"turn away" from evil, from Psalm 34:14.
3:11− "do" good, from Psalm 34:14.
3:11− "seek" and "pursue" peace (shalom), from Psalm 34:14.
3:15− "sanctify" Messiah Yeshua as Lord in your hearts.
4:1− "arm yourselves" to live for the will of God (4:2).
4:7− "be self-controlled" and "be sober" ('not intoxicated') for the purpose of prayer.
4:12− "be not surprised" at the reality of suffering for one's faith.
4:13− "keep rejoicing" while suffering in expectation of joy at the Second Coming.
4:15− "suffer not" as a murderer, thief, evildoer or a meddler in another's affairs.
5:2− "shepherd" the flock of God; directed to elders.
5:5− "be subject" to the elders; directed to the "younger ones."
5:5− "clothe" yourselves with humility.
5:6− "humble" yourselves under the mighty hand of God.
5:8− "exercise self-control" and "be watchful" for the danger posed by the devil.
5:9− "resist" the devil.
5:12− "stand firm" in the grace of God.
5:14− "greet" one another with a kiss of love.
There are also 16 passages concerning rules of social behavior in which he uses the participle as an imperative, which was a common practice in Jewish writings (Davies 428). With the use of the participle Peter appeals to the conscience rather than commanding the will.
2:1− "put aside" malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and evil-speaking.
2:12− "keep" your behavior excellent among the nations.
2:15− "do good" in order to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
2:18− "be submissive;" directed to servants (employees).
3:1− "be in subjection," directed to wives of relations with husbands.
3:6− "do what is right" and "fear not," directed to wives.
3:7− "dwell" in an understanding way and "render" honor, directed to husbands.
3:9− "repay" not evil for evil.
3:9− "bless" others.
3:16− "keep" a good conscience as the perfect rebuttal to defamation.
4:8− "keep" fervent in love for one another.
4:10− "serve" one another with the gifts God has given.
4:13− "exult" in rejoicing.
5:2− "exercise oversight;" directed to elders.
5:3− "lording" not authority over others; directed to elders.
5:3− "be" (or 'become') examples to the flock; directed to elders.
The letter contains some puzzling passages that are much debated by Bible scholars concerning their meaning and application.
1. In 3:1 Peter instructs "submission" by believing wives based on the principle of following in the steps of Yeshua (2:21) and inspired by the example of Sarah who called her husband "lord." In 3:6 Peter instructs wives to "do what is right without being afraid". The concept of wifely submission to her husband is very unpopular today, not only in the secular culture, but also in the Body of Messiah. (See my web article Marriage By Design.)
2. In 3:7 Peter instructs husbands to "dwell" in an understanding way and "honor" their wives. It is noteworthy that he does not contrast the wife's submission with the husband ruling. Peter also refers to wives as fellow-heirs of the grace of life, a radical new concept. While this may be a spiritual reality, it alludes to the inheritance system in Jewish culture in which sons were the sole heirs, unless there were only daughters (Num 36:2).
3. Peter says in 3:19 that Yeshua after he had suffered for sins and was put to death "proclaimed to the spirits in prison." From it and other passages (Acts 2:27; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9) the phrase "descended into hell" was inserted in the Apostles' Creed (OCB 585). The phrase "spirits in prison has been interpreted as either the fallen angels ("sons of God") of Genesis 6:1-4 or the unrepentant dead of that perished in the deluge (Gen 7:21-22). Stern translates the passage as,
"For the Messiah himself died for sins, once and for all, a righteous person on behalf of unrighteous people, so that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but brought to life by the Spirit; and in this form he went and made a proclamation to the imprisoned spirits, to those who were disobedient long ago, in the days of Noach, when God waited patiently during the building of the ark, in which a few people - to be specific, eight - were delivered by means of water." (1Pet 3:18-20 CJB)
Regardless which interpretation is adopted Yeshua's proclamation affected those connected with the time of Noah. Peter does not say that Yeshua went to Hades (Grk. Hadēs) and certainly not Hell (Grk. Gehenna). If Yeshua did make a downward trip it would have been very brief since he had promised the thief on the cross "today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Yeshua died at 3 p.m. and the day ended about 6 p.m.
4. In 3:20-21 Peter likens immersion in Yeshua with the global deluge of Noah's time. Some Christians believe this passage supports the concept of baptismal regeneration, but this is certainly not Peter's intention. Noah and his family were not saved by water, but by the ark that God commanded Noah to build. Peter then employs a similar word picture as Paul, depicting immersion as an imitation of the resurrection of Yeshua and a profession to God of one's faith.
5. In 4:6 Peter makes the statement that the "good news has been proclaimed to the dead." Peter did not mean that Yeshua went to Hades to speak to the dead. Rather, the reference has a dual application, first that the good news was proclaimed to people spiritually dead (cf. Eph 2:10) and who have since literally died after they received the good news of salvation. The context of the comment is the final judgment and the good news was proclaimed to enable people to enjoy life with God.
6. In 4:19 Peter speaks of suffering according to the will of God. Peter does not mean that God decrees an individual's suffering in a fatalistic sense. Suffering comes because disciples have enemies. So, "suffering according to the will of God" means responding to suffering in a manner that pleases God and trusting God to do justice for them.
First Peter is grounded in the Tanakh to which he makes many references.
Tanakh Quotations (taken from the LXX, rather than the Hebrew text)
1:16− conflation of Leviticus 11:44f; 19:2 and 20:7.
1:24f− Isaiah 40:6-8.
2:6− Isaiah 28:16.
2:7− Psalm 118:22.
2:8− Isaiah 8:14.
2:22− Isaiah 53:9.
2:24− Isaiah 53:5.
3:10ff− Psalm 34:12-16 (LXX 33:12-16).
3:14− Isaiah 8:12.
4:8− Proverbs 10:12.
4:18− Proverbs 11:31.
5:5− Proverbs 3:34.
5:7− Psalm 55:22.
1:7− "faith more precious than gold," from Proverbs 3:14 which depicts wisdom as more profitable than gold; or Proverbs 20:15 which depicts the lips of knowledge as more precious than gold.
1:10f− "prophets" refers to the literary prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah, particularly his sufferings.
1:19− "lamb unblemished and spotless," an allusion to the Torah standard for a sin offering (Lev 22:18–25). Peter also alludes to the announcement of Yochanan the Immerser that Yeshua is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
2:9− "chosen people," from Isaiah 43:20f.
2:9− "royal priesthood," from Deuteronomy 10:15.
2:9− "a holy nation," from Exodus 19:6.
2:9− "a people for God's own possession," from Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20.
2:10− "not a people," "people of God," "not received mercy," "received mercy," from Hosea 1:6, 9, 10; 2:23.
2:23f− lists four aspects of the example set by Yeshua, taken from Isaiah 52:13―53:12.
3:5− "holy women of former times," refers to notable godly wives in Israelite history.
3:6− he mentions Sarah who called Abraham "lord," from Genesis 18:12.
3:20− he mentions "the days of Noah," construction of the ark, and eight persons brought safely through the water. (The story is in Genesis 6–9).
3:22− "right hand of God," the position of the Messiah and the authority he wields on behalf of God (Ps 48:10; 110:1; Rom 8:34; Heb 12:2).
4:12− "fiery trial" perhaps alludes to the friends of Daniel in the fire (Dan 3:19).
5:4− "chief shepherd" alludes to the Tanakh description of the God of Israel as a shepherd (Ps 23:1) and Yeshua's own declaration of being the good shepherd (John 10:11).
5:6− "mighty hand of God," an anthropomorphism that appears frequently in the Tanakh.
5:22− "the flock of God," alludes to the Tanakh description of Israel as a flock of sheep (Isa 53:6; Jer 23:1; 50:6; Ezek 34:10-31).
Peter includes several references to Jewish culture in his letter.
1:3− the word "blessed" introduces a benediction, which is customary for a Jewish b'rakhah, a blessing offered to God. For example, the initial b’rakhah of the Amidah begins, "Blessed are you, Adonai, our God and God of our fathers...." The b'rakhah continues to offer a list of praiseworthy things God has done (Stern 744). Peter provides such a list.
1:15− he mentions "Holy One," a shortened form of "Holy One of Israel," which occurs frequently in the Tanakh and was a contemporary Jewish circumlocution for God.
1:18− Peter mentions "the futile way of life they inherited from their forefathers," a reference to the legalism of Pharisaic religion. This comment echoes Peter's words at the Jerusalem Council, "Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?" (Acts 15:10 ESV; cf. Mark7:8-9; Gal 1:14) Of interest is that the Greek word patroparadotos, adj., "handed down from one's ancestors" is not found in the LXX or other Jewish literature or even Greek classical literature. It only occurs elsewhere in later patristic works, so the word was probably coined by Peter or Silvanus.
1:20− Peter says that Yeshua was foreknown before the foundation of the world. According to the Jewish Sages the name of the Messiah was one of seven things created before the world (Nedarim 39b).
2:5, 9− Peter speaks with Temple related terminology, such as "priesthood" and "sacrifices" (2:5).
2:7− he alludes to the observance of Passover with the quotation from Psalm 118, a key part of the Hallel sung during Passover.
2:13f− Peter gives the purpose of civil government first directed to Noah (Gen 9:5-6) and gives the same directive for submission to that authority as Paul (cf. Rom 13:1-5). The instruction is in accord with an early rabbinic dictum, "The law of the government [or country] is Law" (Nedarim 28a; Gittin 10b and Baba Bathra 54b). Of course, this compliance only applied to civil cases. The Jews never allowed the government to interpret and apply religious laws for them.
2:23− "him who judges justly." God is referred to in the Jewish burial service as the "Righteous Judge," (cf. 2Tim 4:6–8) (Stern 748).
5:13− Peter mentions "Babylon" as his location, a common substitute for Rome in Jewish writings that appeared before the first century.
The letter of First Peter touches on a variety of subjects and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Messianic theology of the apostles. The spiritual depth of the letter reveals much of the character of Peter as well as his grasp of divine revelation. Christian commentators have often discerned the close theological unity of First Peter with Paul's epistles. Peter obviously knew and respected Paul's letters (2Pet 3:15-16), but such knowledge did not make Peter dependent on Paul. They were both conservative Jews cut from the same theological cloth. Peter is a master theologian in his own right.
God (Theology): The word for God (Grk. theos) appears 39 times, a high count for the letter's length. In the course of the letter Peter makes a number of propositional statements about God that reveal His nature. Peter's God is not a philosophical belief in monotheism or simply the Creator as presented in the so-called Apostles' Creed. The only God Peter knew is the God who predetermined to chose Israel out of all the nations on the earth (1:1-2; 2:9). God is the Father (1:2, 3, 17), not in the Christian Trinitarian sense, but the historic sense of God as Father to the nation of Israel, His son (Ex 4:22; Deut 1:31; 8:5; 32:6). He is also the Father of Yeshua (1:3). God protects those who are His (1:5).
God is holy (1:15) and He raised Yeshua from the dead (1:21). His Word stands forever (1:25). He is the One to whom spiritual sacrifices are offered (2:5) and whose will is done (2:15; 3:17). He is the judge of all (4:5). God is the source of the spiritual gifts that benefit the Body of Messiah (4:10-11). He is the faithful Creator (4:19) and "the God of all grace" (5:10).
Messiah (Christology): The name of Yeshua appears 9 times and his title of Messiah (Grk. Christos) 21 times, but every time his name appears it is accompanied by his title Messiah (1:1, 2, 3, 7, 13; 2:5; 3:21; 4:11). He existed before creation (1:20). Peter does not recount personal details of his years with Yeshua, but he does make numerous references to the apostolic kerygma (proclamation) of Yeshua's suffering (1:11; 2:21, 23; 4:1, 13; 5:1), atoning death as an unblemished lamb (1:2, 19), resurrection (1:3; 3:21) and ascension (3:22). Yeshua was rejected by men (2:4), an allusion to the Judean authorities who sentenced Yeshua to death. He died to bring us to God (3:18) and now sits at the right hand of God (3:22), implying his continuing work as mediator and intercessor.
In 2:4-8 Peter presents a "stone" theology, a word play on the meaning of his own name. He says his readers had come to Yeshua, the "Living Stone" (2:4) and as a result were now "living stones" (2:5), built into a spiritual house. In 2:6 Peter relies on Isaiah 28:16 to speak of Yeshua as a "chosen and precious cornerstone" that had been laid in Zion. Then in 2:7 he depicts Yeshua as "the stone the builders rejected had become the capstone," quoting Psalm 118:22. In 2:8 he concludes his brief "stone" midrash, quoting Isaiah 8:14 and saying that Yeshua, the "Living Stone," had become a "stumbling stone and rock of offense." Yeshua is also the "Imperishable Seed" (1:23), the "Word of God" (1:23), and the "Chief Shepherd" (5:4).
Peter also employs the familiar phrase found over 80 times in Paul's letters, "in Messiah" (3:16; 5:10, 14). The phrase may have been coined by Paul, but it means the same for Peter. The expression is formed from the preposition en (in, into, within, with, among) and the dative case of Christos, the word for the expected fulfiller of the hopes of Israel for an end-time deliverer, the Anointed One or Messiah (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25-26). Being "in Messiah" means being the property of the Messiah, thus Yeshua is Lord, and the disciple acts always in the interest of the Messiah. By the same token the Messiah acts in the interest of his disciples. The practical meaning would be "united with Messiah."
Being "in Messiah" meant a total change in world-view. Only in Messiah is there real life, real freedom. Being "in Messiah" means having entered into both the death of the Messiah and the resurrection life of the Messiah. "In Messiah" is found the joy of living according to the will of God instead of the legalistic desires of men. "In Messiah" all the promises of God are "yes" and all the blessings of God are given.
Spirit (Pneumatology): Peter does not have much to say about the Holy Spirit, but he begins the letter with a reference to His sanctifying work (1:2). He tells us that the Spirit is "the Spirit of Messiah" (1:11) and that the early messengers of Yeshua proclaimed the good news "by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven" (1:12), an allusion to Pentecost. The good news was proclaimed in order for disciples to live in the Spirit (4:6). "The Spirit of glory and of God" rests on believers (4:14).
Scripture (Bibliology): Peter has a high regard for Scripture, given his frequent quotations from and allusions to the Tanakh. In 1:10-11 he says the Prophets foretold the sufferings of the Messiah, an allusion to Yeshua's teaching on the subject (Luke 24:44-46). In 2:2 he describes Scripture as the "pure milk of the word" (cf. Isa 28:9; Heb 5:13). The Sages likened the Torah to three liquids: to water, wine and milk (Ta'anit 7a).
Community (Ecclesiology): Noteworthy is the absence of the word ekklēsia ("church" in Christian versions) found so frequently in Paul's letters. Peter presents a spiritual concept of the faith community. It is like the Jerusalem Temple with disciples being "living stones" (2:5), built into a spiritual house. The community is related to God in several ways: it is "the people of God" (2:10), "the household of God" (4:17), "the flock of God" (5:2), and its members are "servants of God" (2:16). Such metaphoric terminology is in keeping with the letter being addressed to Messianic Jews.
Peter provides a hint of organization in his instructions in 4:11 to "the one speaking" and "the one serving" and then in 5:1-3 to "elders." The Jewish synagogue had seven elders: the nasi (President) with two assistants, chazan (pulpit minister), three parnasin (receivers of alms) (Moseley 9). The leadership of Messianic congregations in the apostolic era mirrored the synagogue (cf. Acts 11:30; 15:2; 20:17; 1Tim 5:17; Jas 5:14). The apostles appointed elders over new congregations wherever they went (cf. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). Peter no doubt did the same when he ministered in the regions to which he wrote.
Last Days (Eschatology): Peter's statements on the subject tend to be rather general and the terminology of the Parousia and resurrection of God's people are absent. Salvation will be revealed in the "last time" (1:5). Peter describes the Second Coming as "the revelation (Grk. apokalupsis) of Messiah Yeshua" (1:7, 13; 4:13). In 2:12 he uses the expression, "day of visitation," which was used by Yeshua of his first coming (Luke 19:44), but now Peter uses it of his Second Coming. In 4:7 he says "the end (Grk. telos, 'end, goal') of all things is near," but this doesn't mean he expected the Second Coming before he finished the letter.
Rather, the saying is similar to the perspective on time in Romans 13:11. God is in control of time and the day of salvation is near. Peter does not speak of the resurrection of believers but rather speaks of the future life in terms of reward. "Praise and glory and honor" will be received at the revelation of Yeshua (1:7). Disciples have "an inheritance … reserved in heaven" (1:4) and, "when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory" (5:4). Peter was probably inspired by Yeshua's teaching on rewards being in heaven, that is, granted by God (Matt 5:12; 6:1, 20; 19:21).
Salvation (Soteriology): The theme of salvation has a prominent place in the letter. Peter uses the noun sōteria, four times (1:5, 9, 10; 2:2) and the verb sōzō two times (3:21; 4:18). Grace is a frequent idea in this letter, occurring ten times (1:2, 10, 13; 3:7; 4:10; 5:5, 10, 12). The prophets prophesied of God's grace (1:10). It is due to God’s great mercy (1:3; 2:10) that disciples have new birth and a living hope (1:3) and an inheritance is reserved in heaven (1:4). Final salvation will be revealed at the Second Coming (1:5).
Suffering (Pathology): The letter acknowledges the suffering of the readers. He uses the verb paschō ("to suffer") twelve times, whereas it is found only eleven times in all the rest of the apostolic letters (INT 438). Peter's purpose may be summarized in 4:19, "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (ESV). As Blum notes Yeshua is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (2:24-25). Not only is his death a substitutionary atonement (2:24), but at the same time it provides a pattern for discipleship. Since Yeshua was the Suffering Servant, his followers also have a vocation of suffering (2:21). In fact, Yeshua warned his disciples that just as he was hated so they would be hated also (John 15:18-20) and they would suffer tribulation (John 16:33).
Peter does not opine on the broader subject of the cause and meaning suffering (e.g., fatal accidents, disease, natural disasters, etc.). The suffering of his readers is directly related to being harshly treated by adversaries (2:19-20). Even worse is that disciples must contend with the devil who continually seeks to destroy God's people (5:8). Modern believers living in a democratic society may find it hard to relate to the plight of first century disciples, but Peter's encouragement and instruction is of great value for believers today, given the increasing hostility in the contemporary culture toward a biblical worldview. And, of course, believers in many countries are physically suffering and dying for their loyalty to Yeshua. Being a faithful witness for Yeshua can be costly, whether under repressive regimes or in American culture.
Standards (Deontology): Peter reminds his readers early of God's expectation for his people to be holy (1:14-16), originally expressed to Israel at Mt. Sinai. In the light of this prospect, Peter has much to say about the ethical virtues that should characterize believers. They should have love for one another (1:22; 2:17, etc.), and they should turn away from the evil desires that they indulged in before they chose to follow Yeshua (1:14). That means being rid of "all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind" (2:1). Peter reminds his readers of the high moral standards that should be evident in the lives of those who follow Messiah (2:13−3:12). Disciples are to live for the will of God (4:2) and as obedient children be faithful to God (5:9).
The letter of First Peter, written by the great apostle, is inspired Scripture. It is written with a pastor's heart and offers a positive encouragement toward being a holy people of God and faithful witnesses in the world.
Barclay: William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter. The Daily Study Bible Series. Revised Ed. The Westminster Press, 1976.
Barnes: Mark Barnes, List of New Testament Hapax Legomena. Logos Bible Software Forum, 2013.
Blum: Edwin A. Blum, 1 & 2 Peter. Zondervan Corp., 1989-1999. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Software version 2.6.
Danker: F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Davies: W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. rev. ed. Harper Torchbooks, 1967.
EMB: E.M.B. Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered. Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1960. Online. (PDF)
INT: An Introduction to the New Testament. eds. D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. Zondervan Pub. House, 2008. (PDF)
Kaiser: Walter C. Kaiser, The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan, 2008.
Kruger: Michael J. Kruger, "The Authenticity of 2 Peter," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42.4 (1999): 645-671. Online. (PDF)
Moseley: Ron Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. Lederer Books, 1996.
OCB: The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Robinson: John A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. The Westminster Press, 1976.
Setzer: Claudia Setzer, Annotations on 1 Peter, Jewish Annotated New Testament, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
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