The First Epistle of Peter

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There is no doubt that this letter is by Peter, as shown by the same idiosyncratic terminology as that used by Peter in the Gospels and Acts, such as "tree" for the cross. The Greek is very good; Peter probably dictated to a skilled scribe, perhaps his assistant Silas. The introduction identifies the author and intended audience.[1]

The epistle starts by discussing what a Christian is, then goes on to how one should behave, and finally focusses on relationships. There is much talk of suffering, but there is no evidence that the context involved particular persecution, so it seems possible that he has in mind the tension of being counter-cultural ("in the world but not of the world"). The Roman Empire had created a culture in which, as today, people were quite mobile, and many lived in a culture that was unfamiliar.

Peter at first rejected Jesus's offer to wash his feet (John 13:8), but learned the lesson that "unless I wash your feet, you have no part in me". Being a Christian involves letting Jesus serve us. Peter often returns to that lesson in this epistle.[2]

Structure

Chapters 1–2: what a Christian is like;
Chapters 3–4: how Christians relate to the world;
Chapter 5: how Christians relate to each other.

Commentary

1:2

The greeting mentions every member of what we would now call the Trinity.

1:4

Romans chapter 5 expands this idea of inheritance; our natural inheritance is weakness, slavery to sin, and death, but in baptism we identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus and are raised to a new life, whose inheritance is freedom, access to God's power, and eternal life.

1:6

See comment on Romans 5:3–4. Like Paul, Peter was writing to Christians whose experience of suffering was extreme during the persecution under Nero.

1:7

The statement that testing can lead to growth is confirmed by James 1:2–8. Hebrews 5:8 shows that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness his strength to resist was built up, and when he went to Calvary his strength was proved beyond doubt. Testing is painful, and we may pray against it (Matthew 6:13, Matthew 26:39) but we still get plenty of it.

1:8

cf. John 20:29.

1:13

Peter likes physical metaphors.

1:14

The phrase concerning children means "children of obedience", implying that Christians are reborn or adopted as a result of Jesus's obedience.

1:16

Peter quotes Leviticus 11:45, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26.

1:17

See Appendix 2 Exile.

1:19

The phrases about lambs echo the Passover festival.

1:21

This epistle looks beyond Christ to God.

1:22

This verse is almost a tautology because love for the brethren is obedience to the command in John 15:12.

1:23

The ideas and wording resemble those of 1 Corinthians 15:42.

2:5

See also 1 Corinthians 3:9–17. In Revelation 21:14 we see precious stones making a good foundation, and this verse is our invitation to be part of this.

2:6

cf. Isaiah 28:16. We are often told that a corner-stone is the element of a building whose strength and steadiness is essential to the corner. It is also the reference point from which the other stones, and the structures that they make up, find their correct places. It is this second analogy that is brought out in Isaiah 28:17. A stone that is out of line with the corner-stone is in the wrong, and if it is far out of line it is not part of the structure at all, but is building site rubbish to be thrown away.

2:9

cf. Deuteronomy 7:7–8. Moses is a pioneer example of a royal priest: he was born of the house of Levi (Exodus 2:1) which became the priestly family (Numbers 18:7), but was adopted into a royal family (Exodus 2:10). Now we are all priests.

2:10

cf. Hosea 1:10.

2:13

cf. Matthew 22:17 "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's", Daniel 6, Acts 4:18–20.

2:15 f

Peter wants Christians to be good citizens of the world.

2:16

"Servants" means "bond-slaves", who have voluntarily become slaves for life, marked by having their ear pierced with an awl (Exodus 12:6).

2:20

Peter tries to encourage Christians who are suffering with the example set by Jesus on the cross.

3

is remarkably like Colossians 3. These must be points on which the church had reached conscious agreement.

3:1–8

Kuhrt[3 p.70] warns that verses 1–8 can be misinterpreted if they are read without looking at their context which is 2:9–3:8.

3:14

This verse seems to support Bonhoeffer's[4] idea that when a non-believer suffers for a good cause they are siding with God and get drawn towards him.

3:18

Pain is a sign that things aren't as good as they might be. We are upset when we are unable to avoid it, but the fact is that we cannot make everything perfect by our own efforts; the world remains less good than it might be, and pain remains in it.

3:19f

These verses might mean that between his burial and resurrection Jesus preached to those who had already died, giving them the opportunuity to accept the gospel, cf. Isaiah 49:9.

3:21

See comments on Baptism in the Appendix, and Matthew 3:15 for the meaning of Jesus's baptism.

4:7

is about prayer.

4:10–11

cf. Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12:6–11, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11–16.

4:12

"Dear friends" means literally "beloved by the Lord". The description of suffering is not figurative speech as we might interpret it; Peter is describing the all-too-real experience of his first readers.

4:13–16

See comment on Matthew 5:10–12.

5:1

Peter was a witness of the arrest and trial of Jesus, as stated for example in Matthew 26:58.

5:5

Peter remembers how Jesus put a towel round his waist as he took the slave's role at the Last Supper, and washed the disciples' feet. Not only did Jesus metaphorically take on a humble role, but also he literally dressed as a slave should for that role. Followers of Jesus should do likewise. cf. James 4:6. The passage they both quote is Proverbs 3:34.

5:13

"Babylon" is a Christian code-word for Rome, as in Revelation 18.

References:

  1. Drane, John Introduction to the New Testament Oxford: Lion, 1986 & 1999
  2. Green, Michael Called to Serve
  3. Kuhrt, Revd Gordon An Introduction to Christian Ministry London: Church House, 2000
  4. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Ethics Ed: Eberhard Bethge 1949; Trans: Neville Horton Smith 1963; London & Glasgow: Collins "Fontana Library" 1964

© David Billin 2002–2019