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Introduction to 1 Peter (from Encouragement to Suffering Saints)

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

1 Peter: Author, Date, and Recipients

Peter was a man who was much like us. He had a genuine and personal revelation of Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:13-18). Yet he resisted Jesus’ plan of suffering (Matt.16:21-26; John 18:10-11), and even went so far as to deny Jesus to avoid rejection and persecution himself (Matt. 26:69-75). But God restored Peter, filled him with His Spirit and sent him to encourage his brethren (Luke 22:32). This is the nature of this letter: encouragement to the saints.

Silvanus may have helped Peter write the letter (5:12). He perhaps wrote down Peter’s thoughts in better literary Greek than Peter (an unlearned fisherman from Galilee) may have been capable of.

For his sources, Peter uses the sayings of Jesus (e.g., 1:4 with Luke 12:33; 1:13 with Luke 12:35; 1:18 with Mark 10:45; 3:14 with Matt. 5:10), the Old Testament Scriptures (both in quotation and allusion), and the common teachings of the  Early Church (regarding doctrine, ethics and conduct).

The letter was written around A.D. 63, before Nero’s persecution – in which Peter was martyred.

The letter was written to “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia …” (1:1) – regions that comprise most of modern-day Turkey. These communities probably had some Jewish believers, since Jews from Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia were saved on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9), but Peter wrote mainly to Gentile believers:

… you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers … (1:18)

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (2:10)

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. (4:4)

Themes of 1 Peter

Teaching given to young Christians lies at the root of 1 Peter. The letter could profitably be used as a manual for basic instruction for young (and old) believers. Most of the central Christian doctrines are addressed in the book.

Peter describes his readers as “strangers” who are “scattered” (1:1). Christians are strangers in a hostile place (Phil. 2:15; 3:20). We are “holy ones” in a dark and sinful world.

Moreover, this world lies under the control of the evil one (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19) and it hates all those who love God (John 15:18-20; 17:14-16). Therefore, just as Jesus suffered, we will suffer. And just as He endured His sufferings, so we too must endure ours.

However, our sufferings will end one day, when we follow Jesus from suffering to glory. This future glory is our great hope now – in the midst of our sufferings.

The kind of suffering addressed in the book is not so much severe state persecution, but it was more in the nature of social ostracism, unfriendly acts by neighbors, pressure on Christian wives by pagan husbands, masters mistreating Christian slaves, etc. The book deals with suffering in general and God’s purposes in allowing the believer to suffer. Thus, the book’s teachings are relevant to all believers and not only to those facing severe organized persecution.

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