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1 Peter

Background

Peter, the lead apostle of the twelve apostles who followed Jesus, writes to Christians scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. Bithynia, Pontus and Cappadocia are areas in modern day Turkey. These are places not known to have been evangelised in the book of Acts. We are specifically told that the Holy Spirit prevented them from visiting Bithynia. But we do know that there were God fearing Jews from there on the day of Pentecost. Maybe they came to faith and returned to the area, and evangelised, so that the apostles didn’t need to visit the area, but were better used elsewhere.

It is likely that these were largely Gentile believers according to 1:18, 2:10 and 4:4. But the areas would have included Jewish areas (some of whom attended Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost). Jewish converts would have understood and valued the many references to the Old Testament in the Letter.

It seems clear from the content that Peter is addressing believers who are persecuted for their faith (1:6-7; 4:12, 14-16). It is not clear if this is any worse than all believers had received since the coming of Jesus. It seems that persecution was getting worse in Rome, when Nero accused Christians of causing the fires that caused widespread damage to Rome in AD64, but we have no evidence of state persecution of Christians in the regions Peter was writing to. If Peter was writing from Rome, as seems likely, it may be that he was anticipating things getting worse. Some have speculated that the Letter is written shortly after Paul’s martyrdom (around the mid 60s AD) when persecution would have been fresh in Peter’s mind.

The clue to the place of writing comes in 1 Peter 5:13, ‘She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark’. Babylon was often code for Rome in the New Testament (notably Revelation 17) and this seems to be a reference to the church in Rome. His son, Mark, is not a literal son, but John Mark, the author of the second Gospel who is known to have depended upon Peter for its content.

Peter is known as the Apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7-8) so it seems odd that he is writing to areas with churches probably composed of largely Gentile believers. But Galatians was written in AD49 so 15 years later it may be that Peter has changed his focus. If Paul has been recently executed, Peter may be writing to Christians in churches known to Paul to encourage them to stand firm, especially if the news of Paul’s death made them tempted to give up on the faith.

Peter mentions Silas who was at the very least entrusted to carry the Letter. Maybe Silas, or another, possibly Luke, helped polish the language of the Letter based on Peter’s ideas? Certainly there is some similarity and overlap with the Apostle Paul’s approach.

 

Why read it?

Endure

Christians throughout history and throughout the world receive some kind of persecution. If you suffer it, you may feel like giving up or that there’s something wrong with you. Peter’s Letter reminds us that God sees us as His very special holy people.  If the world shuns us, God holds us in very high regard.

Rejoice

So in spite of the persecution theme, we find many reasons to rejoice. Throughout the Letter, Peter shares his own joy at being a believer in Jesus, with the opening section one of the finest praise sections in the whole New Testament. If we are suffering we can focus on the pain and forget to rejoice in God. Some believers have been persecuted because their behaviour invites it unnecessarily. Peter encourages us to live like Jesus did at all times, so that people will feel awkward if they treat us poorly.

Speak

Peter in particular is keen that you make the most of conversations that arise from being a believer in Jesus, and his encouragement to ‘give an answer for the hope that is within you’ is a foundation to think carefully about how you would share your faith.

Structure 
ChaptersContent
1:3-2:12Live godly lived in the light of your faith
2:13-3:7Be submissive to those who are over you, especially God
3:8-5:11Stand firm in suffering with Christ your example
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