An Introduction to the New Testament

By Adolf Jülicher


Chapter 3 - Section 15


§ 15. The First Epistle of Peter

[Cf. H. A. W. Meyer, vol. xii.: ʽBriefe Petri und Judae,ʼ by E. Kuhl, 1897 (ed. 6); Hand-Commentar iii. 2; Hebrews, 1. and 2. Peter, James and Jude, by H. von Soden, 1899 (ed. 3). The monograph of J. M. Usteri (1887) is full and well-reasoned in matters of exegesis, but too strongly biased in questions of criticism by a desire to uphold the authenticity of the Epistles. See also Ad. Harnack: ʽDie Chronologie der altchristlichen Litteratur,ʼ i. 451-465 (1. Peter); 465-470 (Jude and 2. Peter). Against Harnackʼs hypothesis as to 1. Peter see W. Wrede in the ʽZeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft,ʼ i. pp. 75-85.]

1. A sharp distinction exists between the body of the Epistle, on the one hand, and, on the other, the address and greeting and the conclusion,1 with salutations and blessing. To divide this body into its separate members is a difficult business; and an arrangement decided on by the author himself is undiscoverable, because it never existed.

Verses i. 8-12 form an introduction, not unlike those of the Pauline Epistles, consisting in praise to God that he had caused those to whom the Epistle was addressed to be born anew to the living hope, in a glorious salvation not to be dimmed by any suffering. Upon this follows the first and larger part,2 hortative in tone, and consisting in an injunction to the readers to live holy lives in accordance with this new birth and living hope, freed from all the old vices and active in brotherly love, and to grow as Godʼs people in communion with Christ, the living corner-stone. The second part3 ʼ gives more particular directions as to the line of conduct to be pursued towards the Gentiles and towards those in authority, by slaves towards their masters—and here follows a digression upon the suffering of Christ as our example4—by women towards their husbands and by men towards their wives, and finally by every man towards his fellow-believers. This is followed by a passage5 in which meekness and patience in suffering are very earnestly enjoined, and the sufferings of Christ with their blessings both to the living and the dead are called to mind; here, too, occur the famous sentences about Christʼs ʽdescent into Hell.ʼ6 The third part, from iv. 7 to v.11, is that with least inner cohesion. The writer begins7 with urging his readers not to forget prayer and love, since the end was drawing near, for in them each individual could serve the community; then8 he bids them see that they suffered not as evil-doers but only as Christians, whereby suffering was turned into joy. Then he appeals to the elders to discharge their duty towards the flock with unselfish faithfulness, and likewise to the young men to perform theirs with humility towards the old.9¯ The closing verses10 contain a final exhortation to all to march on humbly towards eternal glory, prepared, in these evil times, for battle with the devil, and full of trust in God.

2. If no more than the address and ending of the Epistle had been preserved, there might certainly be some difference of opinion as to its object. According to v. 12, the author meant to exhort his readers briefly and to declare to them that that wherein they were established was the true grace of God. According toi. 1, the author is the Apostle Peter, and the readers are the Christians of ʽPontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.ʼ They are solemnly proclaimed ʽthe elect who are sojourners of the dispersionʼ; and here our thoughts naturally turn to Jewish Christians, since Peter, as we know,11 held the Apostolate of the circumcision. Did Peter, then, wish to confirm them in that form of the Gospel which he had brought them, or had caused his disciples12 to bring them—perhaps in opposition to the enticements of Paul towards an abandonment of the Law? But no, this is impossible, for according to i. 14, 18, ii. 9 fol. and iv. 3 fol. the addressees are converted Gentiles, and from this it would appear that the title in the address should be understood figuratively. The Christians in these five provinces, as elsewhere, were merely sojourners upon the earth, pilgrims13 without the rights of citizens14; and they are called ʽthe Dispersionʼ simply because they were isolated, without country, few in number15 and scattered among immense majorities of unbelievers. But the Gentile Christian communities of Galatia and Asia owed their Christianity to Paul; must we, then, suppose that in v. 12 Peter wished to testify that their Pauline Gospel was true and divine—unless indeed, on the principles of the Tübingen school, we take the view that a later writer was attempting in this way to demonstrate the unanimity between Peter and Paul in the interests of the party of union? Such intentions as these, however, have simply been imported into the Epistle; nowhere do we find a comparison between the heritage entrusted to the readers and that delivered to Peter, nor is the remark in verse v. 12 intended to furnish the key to the Epistle, as though its contents could not be understood without it, but has exactly the same value as Hebrews xiii. 22, ʽAccept our word of exhortation and our testimony.ʼ The readers needed such exhortation because their faith, their obedience, their advance in sanctification was now in peril; the trial of manifold temptations had overwhelmed them16; and therefore it could not be impressed upon them too strongly that even though faith were attended with shame and suffering, it was nevertheless the purest grace.

Every word of the Epistle is directed towards encouraging and strengthening the readers in the face of persecution and suffering: they were not on that account to lose sight of the great hope or to fall back exhausted into the old ways, nay rather, by dwelling in light, love and purity, they must provoke the admiration of their enemies, and advance the victory of the Gospel. It is true that the author also gives advice which would be equally fitting for times of peace,17 but he lays stress on the fact that through suffering the average level of Christianity must and should be raised.18 The true Christian as shown in suffering—that is the theme of the Epistle, and it is in this direction that the picture of Christ is turned as often as it is brought in; the object this so-called Peter had in view was neither one of Church policy nor of polemical dogma—-for nowhere is there any mention of heresies —but simply and solely one of practical utility. He refrains entirely from supporting these practical ideas even by a substructure of dogmatic theology, after the manner of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The secret of the attraction that his work retains to the present day is to be found in this uniformity of tone and in the living warmth which pervades it; since it does not profess to offer a profound revelation, no one feels that anything is wanting in it; it stands as a masterpiece of edifying discourse, which errs neither on the side of the pedantic nor of the trivial.

3. We may assert without hesitation that if the first word, Peter, of our Epistle were absent, no one would have imagined that it had been composed by him. Silvanus, who appears to have acted as scribe, we only know elsewhere as the companion of Paul, and Mark, too, is attested by Philemon19 and Colossians20 as having been among Paulʼs companions at least as the latter grew old. And almost everyone understands the words ʽShe that is in Babylon, elect together with you,ʼ21 as applying to the community of Rome, the spiritual Babylon,22 where Paul lived for several years after the year 60; and what connecting links could have existed between Peter and the Pauline communities of Asia Minor? How much easier it would be, in the face of all this, to believe in its Pauline authorship! The language is not precisely that of the Epistle to the Corinthians, but still it is a fluent Greek—less Hebraistic even than Paulʼs; are we, then, to attribute this to Peter, who needed an interpreter when he was upon Greek soil, and is it likely that the Palestinian Peter would simply have quoted the Old Testament from the Septuagint, as is here the case, and that his thoughts should have moved in the forms of the Septuagint? For he abounds even in unintentional echoes from it. This fact, apart from other niceties of Greek expression, makes it impossible that Silvanus should have translated an Aramaic Epistle of Peter23 into Greek. In that case we should have to go a step further, and believe, with Zahn, that Peter had left the composition of the Epistle to Silvanus, because he considered him: better qualified for the task than he was himself. But then verses v. 12-14 would still be a postscript written by the Apostle, and the Epistle would remain a partial Pseudepigraph, since in the superscription it definitely professes to be an Epistle of the Apostle Peter.

This hypothesis is scarcely more probable than Von Sodenʼs, particularly as it presumes an extraordinary measure of self-depreciation in Peter. According to Von Soden, Silvanus composed the Epistle in his old age, long after the death of Peter, in accordance with the ideas of the inspired Apostle. But could we credit the author, as we must in this case, with so blatant a piece of self-praise as that contained in v. 12? and is it likely that Silvanus, about the year 80, would not have considered his own authority sufficient to give fatherly counsel to oppressed brethren in the Pauline mission-district? One thing there is in favour of both forms of the Silvanus hypothesis —it explains the remarkably Pauline attitude of the First Epistle of Peter quite satisfactorily. The Epistle does not of course pretend to be the expression of any school of theological opinion, and therefore it takes up neither a positive nor a negative position upon any of the important and radical principles of Paulinism, but it reminds us of the Pauline Gospel much more strongly than do the Epistle to the Hebrews or the Pastoral Epistles; in its conceptions of Christ, of the saving power of his death, of faith and of the new birth, it both breathes the Pauline spirit and makes use of the Pauline



formula.24 There are, moreover, countless points of contact with passages in the Pauline writings—most conspicuously with Romans and Ephesians25—which cannot have been the work of chance, especially as, even in its mere outward forms, in the address and ending, there is much that reminds us very strongly of Paul. And it is actually a fact that serious attempts have been made to ascribe Ephesians and 1. Peter to the same writer. But in truth there are sufficient points of distinction between Paul and our author: e.g. the latterʼs preference for picturesque expression and for conceptions such as that of the salvation of souls as the end of faith,26 whereas Paul did not value the ψυχαί so highly; but such differences in a disciple of Paul would present no difficulties.

However, the Epistle has been handed down to us as the work of Peter, not of Silvanus, and it behoves us to show that this tradition is untenable. The resolute party of defence, which attaches more value to the single word Πέτρος in verse 1 than to the evidence of the whole of the rest of the Epistle, is now placed in the following dilemma. Either it must assume (1) that the Epistle was written by Peter before the appearance of the Pauline Epistles, i.e. about 58 or 54, in which case (a) the independence asserted by Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians becomes a grievous delusion, since he would have owed not only the kernel of his Gospel but even his epistolary style to Peter; (b) he must, contrary to his principles, have worked upon a field over which Peter had prior rights; (c) the history of the Apostolic times becomes an absolute riddle, for we should find Peter, who had just been publicly rebuked by Paul at Antioch27 for exercising a moral pressure towards Judaism upon the Gentile Christians, writing immediately afterwards to Christian communities in a manner by which it might be supposed that such a thing as a written norm for the social conduct of mankind—the Law—did not exist: that he knew only of Christians, not of Jewish or Gentile Christians; and (d) we should be forced to admit that Peter already possessed everything in Paulʼs teaching which helped to form the common Christian consciousness; that even without the abstruse proofs and speculations of Paul, unintelligible to the majority, he already possessed the Gospel to whose victorious establishment Paul had felt himself bound to sacrifice the strength of his whole life: that in fact Paul was a superfluous person in history— or else (2) that Peter wrote this Epistle after Paul had written his, at the beginning of 64— or, if he did not die till after the persecution of Nero, between the years 64 and 67; in that case, he learnt from Paulʼs Epistles and actually imitated them. But then one fails to understand why he did not remind his readers, intimately acquainted as they were with Paul, of their master himself as an instance of the suffering hero,28 whose fortunes verily fitted him to serve as an example to his spiritual children in similar circumstances, even though for the moment he was again enjoying his freedom; and then, above all, one would have to assume that Paul had exercised a greater influence on Peter than had Jesus himself. For whereas the theological formule coined by Paul are to be found in 1. Peter, it is with difficulty that a few points of resemblance between the Epistle and the Gospels have been traced, while the main ideas of the Gospels, such as that of the Son of Man, of the Kingdom of God and of eternal life, are not to be found in it at all. As the sources of his religion, in fact, we need nothing but the Old Testament and the Epistles of Paul.

But in either case, if a favourite Apostle of Christ, one of the ʽpillars of the Church, could write to a community hitherto unknown to him, without offering them anything from the store of his intercourse with Jesus, without indicating in any way—except by the colourless ʽI, a witness of the sufferings of Christʼ29—how much he owed to this companionship; if he could only speculate about Christ (like Paul, who had never seen him in the flesh30) instead of telling his readers about him—then I do not see what this superiority of the Primitive Apostles over Paul can possibly have meant, or how we are to imagine that the earliest forms of the Gospels, with all their richness of material, ever arose. Even this Epistle, in short—and of all the Catholic Epistles it might the soonest give us an impression of naive and primitive Christianity—could only be ascribed to Peter by one who did not recognise in Jesus that mighty personality which, to the end of their lives, dominated all who had once been drawn beneath its sway. If, on the other hand, the Epistle was the work of Peter himself, we must assume that he was lacking in all originality, and simply produced a slavish copy of the Pauline writings; that he had belonged to the Pauline party at Corinth and had not felt himself adapted to be the head of a party of his own; that the Apostle who was pronounced a rock by the judgment of Jesus must henceforth, by the judgment of Zahn, be considered a spirit of small originality, not to be compared with such men as James, Paul and John: a man accessible by nature to outside influences, who did not find it necessary ʽfirst to fight his battles with a well-stamped character of his own, in order then to work for the good and the wholesome.ʼ Finally, the opposite theory, the assignment of 1. Peter to a date previous to 1. Thessalonians and Galatians, is not even worthy of serious discussion, since Paulʼs originality is beyond all suspicion, and Paul would not have begun his mission-work in Galatia and Asia if flourishing Christian communities had already been founded there under the influence of Peter—as we should be obliged to assume from v. i. fol.

4. But the tradition is untenable for the simple reason that the conditions set forth in the Epistle show a considerably later date than the period between the years 50 and 67. The authorʼs intimate acquaintance with the Pauline writings (probably including Hebrews), the Gospels and the Acts points towards none too early a date. Seeing that the office of presbyter had already become so profitable that men had to be warned against tending the flock for filthy lucre,31 and that it was necessary to forbid the elders to oppress the young men, and the young men to be insubordinate to the elders, we are carried on at least as far as the period in which the strife between old and young in Corinth gave occasion for the composition of the First Epistle of Clement. On the other hand, the Epistle cannot have been written much after 100, because it was known and made use of by Polycarp, Papias and the author of the Epistle of James. With the rough assignment, then, to about 100 A.D., we ought not to be very far wrong. The Christian communities all over the world32 were exposed to grievous suffering in enduring the fiery trial of their faith33—such bitter hardships that the ʽend of all thingsʼ34 must surely be at hand. The Epistle would have adopted a different tone towards isolated instances of abuse and persecution, such as the Christians had had to endure from the very first; it is evident that here the period of systematic persecution, in which there was no escape from suffering, and in which the Christian was persecuted for his Christianityʼs sake,35 had set in; the Christians had attracted the notice and the jealous hatred of the Gentile world,36 and the great stress laid upon their loyalty even towards the Imperial officials, in ii. 18-17, makes it seem very probable that the Government shared this jealousy, since iv. 15 evidently points to public prosecutions in which Christians were tried for their lives. From the note struck in iii. 17-iv. 1 as well as in iv. 19 we may conclude that the punishment of death was already decreed against the Christians; in speaking of annoyances, insults and slanders, the solemn words εἰ θέλοι τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, πάσχειν, would be somewhat disproportionate. It is a further proof of the authorʼs good sense that he does not make more ado about the iniquity of these judicial murders. No intemperate complaint of the open violence offered to Christians as such, would have been appropriate from the mouth of Peter, and, moreover, the author did not wish to fan the flame of anger, but rather to exhort to patience, forbearance, and trust in God.

Nevertheless, the name of Babylon for Rome is remarkable enough. But the period of the real Christian persecution began, at earliest, under the Emperor Domitian,37 and from v. 9 we may evidently conclude that the writer was not thinking only of the crimes of Nero. The Epistle would seem to refer directly to the enactments of Trajan about the year 111, known to us from the letters of Pliny the Younger, if we take the obscure word ἀλλοτριεπίσκοπος38 to mean the judicial informer, or delator. It has, however, another meaning which is at least equally plausible, that of a ʽpersistent meddlerʼ: so that we cannot adopt the Edicts of Trajan as the terminus a quo. In these times of distress such a letter of consolation was of course extremely appropriate. From verse v. 13 and the particularly numerous points of resemblance to the Epistle to the Romans we should be inclined to assume that the author was a Roman Christian, writing perhaps just as some disastrous piece of news from Asia Minor about the persecution of the Christians there had reached his ears. But his limitation of the address to the Churches of five provinces of Asia Minor, in spite of the obviously ʽCatholicʼ tone of the Epistle, might also be explained by supposing that he was himself an inhabitant of Asia Minor, more especially interested in the brethren of his own immediate neighbourhood.

5. The question remains, for what reasons this Christian, who has left behind in 1. Peter such a valuable memorial of his ʽfulness, simplicity and truth,ʼ assumed the mask of Peter —a man who had died twenty or thirty years before. If Silvanus were the author we could find no answer to this question. Harnack avoids the question by a bold hypothesis: he doubts whether the primitive document was originally a letter at all; he thinks that the writer was some prominent teacher and confessor of about the year 90, at the latest, but that he had no intention of pretending to be Peter; that another man, probably the author of 2. Peter, invented the beginning and end of the Epistle39 in order to give the document the stamp of an Apostolic letter. Before the reference in 2. Peter iii. 1, he contends, no one had quoted a word from 1. Peter as Petrine; the address and conclusion, moreover, can easily be detached from the whole, and contain difficulties which can best be explained on the hypothesis that they were added later on. But, in any case, we should not expect to find the author expressly named in such quotations before the end of the second century; the document, moreover, bears the character of an epistle stamped in every line,40 and therefore must have possessed an address from the very beginning. There would surely be something almost miraculous, too, in the complete and sudden success of the false address which, according to Harnack, supplanted it after the year 150. Moreover, the beginning and end appear to me to agree just as excellently with the rest of 1. Peter as they differ from the bombastic style of 2. Peter. The man who forged the first and second verses of the first chapter would have united the principal points of the Epistle in short formule with a truly masterly hand; for, with the exception of the name, everything which he there presents has its definite parallel in the Epistle: in i. 2, for instance, we find a most skilful grouping, (1) of the foundation of our salvation—predestination by the Father; (2) of the means by which it is accomplished—sanctification by the Holy Ghost; and (3) of its end and aim— obedience and purification through the blood of Christ. Nor will the concluding verses present any difficulties unless we consider that the body of the Epistle indicates a different personality from that of Peter. As a matter of fact, the author there keeps himself almost entirely in the background, but where, as here, he does speak of himself41 everything is perfectly applicable to Peter; even if we follow Harnack in thinking that a ʽwitness of the sufferings of Christʼ does not indicate the disciple who followed his master into the palace of the High Priest when all the rest had fled, we must allow that it is the most perfect characterisation of the witness κατ̓ ἐξοχήν, who imitated his master even to his death on the Cross, and that the close of verse v. 1 sounds like a reference to Matt. xix. 28.

If a Roman Christian of about the year 100 wished to issue such a letter of consolation to his fellow-Christians under an Apostolic title, of the two Apostles of Rome Peterʼs name would have seemed to him the more suitable, precisely because it was he who had suffered the more grievously for his Christianityʼs sake. The author refrained from writing an Epistle of Paul, fearing to betray too marked a difference from the master. Since Peter was not sufficiently familiar with Greek, he gave him Silvanus as an interpreter,42 perhaps on the ground of Acts xv. 23; and it was possibly his familiarity with the tradition that the Gospel of Mark was originally founded on statements of Peter, which made him mention Mark as now in his company. Naturally the Apostle whose eyes were fixed on his approaching end could only have sent this letter of encouragement from Babylon-Rome, from betwixt the lionʼs very jaws. Since the epistolary style of Paul was our authorʼs standard in every respect, he needed a few remarks such as verses v. 12-14 for the end of his letter, and certain very simple considerations sufficed to produce them. The end of 2. Peter, on the other hand, shows that its author had no feeling for such considerations. 1. Peter is one of the most transparent documents in the New Testament, so long as we can divest our minds of modern prejudices in approaching it.



1) v. 12-14.

2) i. 13-ii. 10.

3) ii. 11-iv. 6.

4) ii, 21-25.

5) iii, 13-iv. 6.

6) iii. 19-21, iv. 6.

7) iv. 7-11.

8) iv. 12-19

9) v. 1-5.

10) v. 6-11,

11) Gal. ii. 8.

12) i. 12, 25.

13) Cf. also i. 17 and ii. 11.

14) Cf. Heb. xiii. 14,

15) iii. 20; cf. the ἐκλεκτοὶ διασπορᾶς of Matt. xxii. 14.

16) Mentioned as early as i. 6.

17) iii. 3-7, iv. 7-11, v. 1-5.

18) iv. 16 fol.

19) Verse 24.

20) iv. 10, and cf. 2. Tim. iv. 11.

21) v.13.

22) Rev. xiv.-xviii.

23) v. 12.

24) E.g., ἐν Χριστῷ, iii. 16, v. 10 and 14; ζωοποιεῖν, iii, 18; ἀποκάλυψις and ἀποκαλύπτεσθαι six times, and as often ἀναστροφή.

25) E.g., 1. Peter iv. 10 fol. with Rom. xii. 6 fol.; iii. 9 with Rom. xii. 17 and 1. Thess. v. 15; ii. 13-17 with Rom. xiii. 1-7; iii. 22 with Eph. i. 20 fol.; iii. 18 (ἵνα ἡμᾶς προσαγάγῃ γε, θεῷ) with Rom. v. 2 and Eph. ii. 18 and iii. 12; v. 12 with Rom. v. 2.

26) i, 9. and cf. ii. 11 and 25.

27) Gal. ii. 11 fol.

28) Cf. Hebrews xiii. 7.

29) v. 1.

30) Cf. i. 8.

31) v. 2.

32) v. 9,

33) iv. 12, 1. 7.

34) iv. 7, 17.

35) iv. 16, and cf. iv. 14, iii, 15-17.

36) ii. 12.

37) 81-96.

38) iv. 15.

39) i.1 fol. and v. 12-14.

40) i. 3 fol. 12, ii. 13, iv. 12, v. 1-5, 9.

41) v. 1.

42) v. 12.