1 Peter 1

Peter’s intended recipients were people scattered throughout Asia Minor. The word diaspora, “dispersion,” is used elsewhere only twice. In James 1:1 the “twelve tribes” are specified, and in John 7:25 it refers to Jews dispersed “among the Greeks.” Although there are principles available for all Christians of all time, since Peter was acknowledged to be the apostle to the Jewish people (Galatians 2:7), and since the word diaspora is used to refer to Jews outside of Israel, it is possible that this letter was primarily written to Jewish believers.

However, this has been debated and at least two solid arguments support the view that Gentile Christians are in view. First, diaspora does not have an article, meaning that it does not refer to a specific “dispersion.” It could easily refer to Christians scattered throughout the pagan world. Second, Peter stated that his readers were once heavily involved in pagan lifestyles (1 Peter 4:3-4), which would have been unlikely even for unsaved Jews. Thus, it seems possible that Peter intended this letter to be for all believers, Jew or Gentile.

Peter’s final greeting (1 Peter 5:12-13) includes three important pieces of information. First, Peter wrote this letter “through Silvanus.” This name appears alongside Paul and Timothy in the greetings of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and in 2 Corinthians 1:9 and is almost unanimously acknowledged to be the man Luke called Silas throughout the book of Acts. (The name “Silas” appears only twelve times, all of them in Acts 15:22 – 18:5, all of them in conjunction with Paul or Paul and Timothy.) Silas was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37), a leader in the Gentile church in Antioch of Syria (Acts 15:22), and a prophet (Acts 15:32). He was Paul’s co-worker and likely an outspoken preacher, since he and Paul were imprisoned in Philippi but Luke and Timothy were not. It seems possible that Silas/Silvanus had a hand in composing Peter’s letter as well as Paul’s Thessalonian letters.

Second, Peter sent greetings to his readers from “the church in Babylon.” This has generated a great deal of debate over the centuries. The church tradition that Peter ended his ministry in Rome has given rise to the speculation that “Babylon” is meant to be code for “Rome.” If he wrote during the early stages of Nero’s persecution of Christians, it would certainly be advantageous if the Emperor did not know that the great apostle was within his grasp. The letter’s primary theme of bearing up under persecution gives weight to this timeframe.

Another option is that Peter used Babylon figuratively to mean a place of exile. For Jewish readers, Babylon would invoke memories of their national exile in Babylon in the 7th century B.C. This option has support in the concept of their “dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1), that he called them “foreigners and exiles…among the non-Christians” (1 Peter 2:11-12), and his reference to “your brothers and sisters throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). Some have insisted that he went to Babylon and meant it literally, but there is little support for that interpretation. Regardless, there is nothing in the text itself to satisfactorily solve the issue.

Third, Peter mentioned that Mark was with him and called him “my son.” This Mark must refer to John Mark, who traveled with Barnabas and Paul for part of their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25). Although he deserted them (Acts 13:13; 15:37-38), Mark continued his spiritual growth and ministry with Barnabas (Acts 15:39-40) and eventually became very useful to Paul (2 Timothy 4:11). Church tradition records that the Gospel of Mark was written by this Mark during his ministry with Peter. It is possible that he became to Peter what Timothy was to Paul. Peter’s use of “my son” is reminiscent of Paul’s feelings toward Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2) and Titus (Titus 1:4). Mark must have had a significant ministry post-Paul and Barnabas for him to have been known to the believers in Asia Minor reading Peter’s letter.

Chapter one begins with a celebration of our salvation in Christ. Peter called it a “new birth,” a “living hope,” and “an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” that “is reserved in heaven for [us] (1 Peter 1:3-4). Additionally, those who are believers in Christ “are protected” for a deliverance that will come in the future (1 Peter 1:5). It was important that his readers knew of God’s eternal protection, because Peter reminded them that it may be necessary to suffer in this life (1 Peter 1:6-9). This suffering, however, is only temporary and accomplishes a spiritual purification leading to the final salvation of our souls.

Similar to Paul’s insistence that the Church was a “mystery that has been kept hidden from ages and generations” (Colossians 1:26), Peter noted that the prophets could not understand everything they spoke about, no matter how hard they tried, and even angels “long to catch a glimpse of” this salvation that was never offered to or provided for them (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Because of God’s current focus on the Church, Peter insisted that his readers live out God’s grace as experienced through the indwelling Holy Spirit and become what God has designed us to be – holy like himself (1 Peter 1:13-16). Our special relationship with God as Father motivates it (1 Peter 1:17). Our redemption through Jesus’ own blood demands it (1 Peter 1:18-21). What does this type of lifestyle look like? First, we should treat each other with God’s own love (1 Peter 1:22). Second, we should remove what is obviously evil from our lives (1 Peter 2:1). Third, we should feast on the Scriptures, which will cause us spiritual growth (1 Peter 2:2-3).

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