Archibald Thomas Robertson

The Epistle of First Peter

About A.D. 65

By Way of Introduction

The Author

The Epistle is not anonymous, but claims to be written by “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 1:1), that is Cephas (Simon Peter). If this is not true, then the book is pseudonymous by a late writer who assumed Peter’s name, as in the so-called Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, etc. “There is no book in the New Testament which has earlier, better, or stronger attestation, though Irenaeus is the first to quote it by name” (Bigg). Eusebius (H.E. iii. 25.2) places it among the acknowledged books, those accepted with no doubt at all. We here assume that Simon Peter wrote this Epistle or at any rate dictated it by an amanuensis, as Paul did in Romans (Rom 16:22). Bigg suggests Silvanus (Silas) as the amanuensis or interpreter (1Pe 5:12), the obvious meaning of the language (dia, through). He may also have been the bearer of the Epistle. It happens that we know more of Peter’s life than of any of the twelve apostles because of his prominence in the Gospels and in the first fifteen chapters of the Acts. In the Student’s Chronological New Testament I have given a full list of the passages in the Gospels where Peter appears with any clearness and the material is rich and abundant. The account in Acts is briefer, though Peter is the outstanding man in the first five chapters during his career in Jerusalem. After the conversion of Saul he begins to work outside of Jerusalem and after escaping death at the hands of Herod Agrippa I (Act 12:3.) he left for a while, but is back in Jerusalem at the Conference called by Paul and Barnabas (Act 15:6-14; Gal 2:1-10). After that we have no more about him in Acts, though he reappears in Antioch and is rebuked by Paul for cowardice because of the Judaizers (Gal 2:11-21). He travelled for the Gospel among the Jews of the Dispersion (Gal 2:9) with his wife (1Co 9:5), and went to Asia Minor (1Pe 1:1) and as far as Babylon or Rome (1Pe 5:13). Besides Silvanus he had John Mark with him also (1Pe 5:13), who was said by the early Christian writers to have been Peter’s “interpreter” in his preaching, since Peter was not expert in the Greek (Act 4:13), and who also wrote his Gospel under the inspiration of Peter’s preaching. We are not able to follow clearly the close of his life or to tell precisely the time of his death. He was apparently put to death in a.d. 67 or 68, but some think that he was executed in Rome in a.d. 64.

The Date

This question is tied up with that of the genuineness of the Epistle, the time of Peter’s death, the use of Paul’s Epistles, the persecution referred to in the Epistle. Assuming the genuineness of the Epistle and the death of Peter about a.d. 67 or 68 and the persecution to be not that under Domitian or Trajan, but under Nero, the date can be assumed to be about a.d. 65.

The Use of Paul’s Epistles

There are two extremes about the relation of Peter to Paul. One is that of violent antithesis, with Peter and Paul opposing one another by exaggerating and prolonging Paul’s denunciation of Peter’s cowardice in Antioch (Gal 2:11-21) and making Peter also the exponent of a Jewish type of Christianity (practically a Judaizing type). This view of Baur once had quite a following, but it has nearly disappeared. Under its influence Acts and Peter’s Epistles were considered not genuine, but documents designed to patch up the disagreement between Peter and Paul. The other extreme is to deny any Pauline influence on Peter or of Peter on Paul. Paul was friendly to Peter (Gal 1:18), but was independent of his ecclesiastical authority (Gal 2:1-10) and Peter championed Paul’s cause in the Jerusalem Conference (Act 15:7-13). Peter was certainly not a Judaizer (Acts 11:1-18), in spite of his temporary defection in Antioch. Undoubtedly Peter was won back to cordial relations with Paul if any confidence can be placed in 2Pe 3:15. There is no reason for doubting that Peter was familiar with some of Paul’s Epistles as there indicated. There is some indication of Peter’s use of Romans and Ephesians in this Epistle. It is not always conclusive to find the same words and even ideas which are not formally quoted, because there was a Christian vocabulary and a body of doctrinal ideas in common though with personal variations in expression. Peter may have read James, but not the Pastoral Epistles. There are points of contact with Hebrews which Von Soden considers sufficiently accounted for by the fact that Peter and the author of Hebrews were contemporaries.

The Persecution Pictured in the Epistle

Peter himself knew what persecution was at the hands of the Sanhedrin and of Herod Agrippa I (both church and state). If First Peter was written a.d. 65, there was time enough for the persecution of Nero in Rome in a.d. 64 to spread to Asia Minor. The province easily imitated the capital city. Paul’s life in the Acts and his Epistles abundantly show how early persecution arose in Asia Minor. The Apocalypse, written during the reign of Domitian, shows that persecution from the state had been on hand long before and was an old burden. We know too little of the history of Christianity in Asia Minor from a.d. 60 to 70 to deny that the fiery trials and suffering as a Christian (1Pe 4:16) can be true of this period. So we locate the persecution at this time as an echo from Rome.

The Place of Writing

Peter states that he is in Babylon (1Pe 5:13), apparently with his wife (1Co 9:5). It is not certain whether he means actual Babylon, where Jews had been numerous, or mystical Babylon (Rome) as in the Apocalypse. We do not know when Rome began to be called Babylon. It may have started as a result of Nero’s persecution of the Christians after the burning of Rome. The Christians were called “evil-doers” (1Pe 2:12) in the time of Nero (Tacitus, Ann. XV. 44). So we can think of Rome as the place of writing and that Peter uses “Babylon” to hide his actual location from Nero. Whether Peter came to Rome while Paul was still there we do not know, though John Mark was there with Paul (Col 4:10). “At the time when it was written Babylon had not yet unmasked all its terrors, and the ordinary Christian was not in immediate danger of the tunica ardens, or the red-hot iron chair, or the wild beasts, or the stake” (Bigg).

The Readers

Peter writes “to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1Pe 1:1). These five Roman provinces are naturally given from the standpoint of Babylon. In Galatia and Asia Paul had labored, though not all over these provinces. At any rate, there is no reason to wonder that Peter should himself work in the same regions where Paul had been. In a general way Paul and Peter had agreed on separate spheres of activity, Paul to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews (Gal 2:7.), though the distinction was not absolute, for Paul usually began his work in the Jewish synagogue. Probably the readers are mainly Jewish Christians. but not to the exclusion of Gentiles. Peter has clearly Paul’s idea that Christianity is the true Judaism of God’s promise (1Pe 2:4-10).

The Purpose

Evidently Peter’s object is to cheer and strengthen the Christians in these five provinces who are undergoing fiery trials (1Pe 1:7.). There is every reason why Peter, as the leading apostle to the circumcision, should write to these believers in the provinces, especially since Paul’s long imprisonment in Caesarea and Rome had removed him from his accustomed activities and travel.

The Style and Vocabulary

Like Peter’s discourses in the Acts, the Epistle is mainly hortatory, with a minimum of argument and little of the closely knit reasoning seen in Romans. There is frequent use of the lxx and the Greek is decent Koiné with little of the uncouth Aramaic of the Galilean (Mat 26:73), or of the vernacular Koiné as seen in the papyri or in 2 Peter (Act 4:13). This fact may be accounted for by the help of Silvanus as amanuensis. There are sixty-two words in the Greek of the Epistle not occurring elsewhere in the N.T. There is verbal iteration as in 2 Peter. “One idea haunts the whole Epistle; to the author, as to the patriarch Jacob, life is a pilgrimage; it is essentially an old man’s view” (Bigg). But it is an old man who has lived long with Christ. Peter has learned the lesson of humility and patience from Jesus his Lord. 

Taken from "Word Pictures in the New Testament" by Archibald Thomas Robertson