New Testament Overview: 1 Peter

The Non-Pauline Epistles

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    @ by J. Hampton Keathley, III {original source}  


That the apostle Peter is the author is clearly stated in the opening verse, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ(1:1). Not only was 1 Peter universally recognized as a work of the apostle Peter by the early church, but there is strong internal evidence that attests to his authorship as well. As for the external evidence, Eusebiusdb01 placed 1 Peter among the homologoumenadb02, and no book has earlier or stronger attestation than 1 Peter as evidenced by 2 Peter 3:1.

The letter was explicitly ascribed to Peter by that group of church fathers whose testimonies appear in the attestation of so many of the genuine NT writings, namely, Irenaeusdb03 (A.D. 140-203), Tertulliandb04 (150-222), Clement of Alexandriadb05 (155-215) and Origendb06 (185-253). It is thus clear that Peter’s authorship of the book has early and strong support.fn86

The internal evidence for Peter’s authorship is as follows:

Even with this evidence, some modern scholars have challenged Peter’s authorship on several grounds. Their arguments with answers are summarized by Roger Raymer in the following:

Until relatively recent times the authenticity of the epistle’s claim to apostolic authorship went unchallenged. Then some modern scholars noted that Peter was considered by Jewish religious leaders as “unschooled” and “ordinary(Acts 4:13). The superb literary style and sophisticated use of vocabulary in 1 Peter seem to indicate that its author must have been a master of the Greek language. Those who deny Peter’s authorship say that such an artistic piece of Greek literature could not possibly have flowed from the pen of a Galilean fisherman.

Though Peter could be called “unschooled” and though Greek was not his native tongue, he was by no means ordinary. The Jewish leaders saw Peter as unschooled simply because he had not been trained in rabbinical tradition, not because he was illiterate. Luke also recorded (Acts 4:13) that these same leaders were astonished by Peter’s confidence and the power of his Spirit-controlled personality. Peter’s public ministry spanned more than 30 years and took him from Jerusalem to Rome. He lived and preached in a multilingual world. It is reasonable to believe that after three decades Peter could have mastered the language of the majority of those to whom he ministered.
The rhetorical style and use of metaphor employed in 1 Peter could just as easily be credited to an accomplished public speaker as to a literary scholar. Certainly Peter had the time and talent to become an outstanding communicator of the gospel via the Greek language.

Any further doubts of Petrine authorship based on linguistic style may be answered by the fact that Peter apparently employed Silas as his secretary (1 Peter 5:12). Silas, though a Jerusalem Christian, was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:36-37) and may have had great facility in the Greek language. But whether or not Silas aided Peter with the grammatical Greek nuances, the epistle’s content still remains Peter’s personal message, stamped with his personal authority.fn87


The epistle is addressed to “To those temporarily residing in the dispersion (in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia) who are chosen.” Peter used two key words to describe the recipients, “temporary residents” (Greek, parepide„mos, a word which emphasizes both temporary residents and alien nationality) and “dispersion” (Greek, diaspora, “dispersion.”). This word “normally refers to Jews not living in Palestine but scattered out across the Mediterranean world. But here it is probably metaphorical, used of Gentile Christians spread out as God’s people in the midst of a godless world.fn88 But perhaps, Peter had both Jew and Gentile believers in view:

First Peter is addressed to Christians scattered throughout five Roman provinces of the peninsula of Asia Minor. That area today is northern Turkey. The churches in those provinces were made up of both Jews and Gentiles. This epistle is rich in references to and quotations from the Old Testament. Jewish Christians would have found special significance in the term diasporastranslated “scattered,” used in the salutation (1:1). Jews who lived outside of Jerusalem were referred to as living in the diaspora.

Gentile readers would have noted Peter’s exhortation to holy living in light of their background of complete ignorance of God’s Word (1:14). Gentile Christians also would have been greatly encouraged by the fact that though they were in ignorance, they were now considered “the people of God(2:10). Clearly Peter carefully included both Jewish and Gentile Christians in his letter of encouragement to the churches of Asia Minor.fn89

DATE: A.D. 63-64

Church tradition connects Peter in the latter part of his life with the city of Rome. If the reference to Babylon in 5:13 is a cryptic reference to Rome, this letter was written while Peter was in Rome during the last decade of his life about A.D. 63, just before the outbreak of Nero’s persecution in A.D. 64. Peter regards the state in a harmonious or perhaps conciliatory manner (see 1 Pet. 2:13-17) which would have been more difficult (but not impossible) at a later date under the outbreak of Nero’s persecution.


While 1 Peter touches on various doctrines and has much to say about Christian life and Christian responsibilities, the theme and purpose of 1 Peter centers around the problem of suffering—particularly suffering in the form of persecution for one’s faith. It has been described as a manual or handbook showing Christians how they are to live as temporary resident and ambassadors of Christ in an alien and hostile world (1:1, 13-21; 2:11-12; 3:14, 17; 4:1, 13, 15, 16, 19).

There are several specific purposes in this book. It is designed to provide direction for believers under persecution

  • (1) by focusing on the coming revelation of Christ and its deliverance (1:3-12),
  • (2) by following Christ as their perfect example in suffering (2:21f.), and
  • (3) by living in the world in accordance with their calling as a special people of God by maintaining a good report with the Gentile world (2:4-12ff.; 4:1ff.).

Other purposes include demonstrating the vital link between doctrine and practice (5:12) and encouraging godly leadership and shepherding the flock of God (5:1f.), which is a vital element in the church’s ability to function effectively in a hostile world.


The key word and concept is obviously “suffering for Christ.” Some form of the word “suffer” occurs some sixteen times in the book. Closely associated with this as a great source of hope and comfort is the concept of the coming revelation and glory of Christ that will be revealed or brought to believers with its accompanying deliverance or ultimate salvation (see 1:5, 7, 12, 13; 4:13; 5:1, 10-11).


1:3-7. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you,  5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  6This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials.  7Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

1:14-21. 14 Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance,  15 but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, 16 for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.”  17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence.  18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors, you were ransomed—not by perishable things like silver or gold,  19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, Christ.  20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake.  21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

3:15-1715 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.

4:12-13. 12 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad.


Perhaps because of its extended direction for how to handle persecution, chapter four is the key chapter of 1 Peter.


The book is loaded with the person and work of Christ. Through the resurrection of Christ, Christians have “a living hope” and “an imperishable inheritance(1:3-4). In several places, Peter speaks of the coming glory and revelation of Christ (1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1).

He also speaks

  • (1) of the person and work of Christ as God’s Lamb who redeemed us by bearing our sins on the cross (1:18-19; 2:24),
  • (2) of Christ as our perfect example in suffering (2:21f.), and
  • (3) of Christ as the Chief shepherd and Guardian of believers (2:25; 5:4).


First Peter can be easily divided into four sections:

(1) the Salvation of Believers (1:1-12),

(2) the Sanctification of Believers (1:13-2:12),

(3) the Submission of Believers (2:13-3:12),

(4) and the Suffering of Believers (3:13-5:14).

  • I. The Salvation of Believers (1:1-12)
    • A. Salutation (1:1-2)
    • B. Future (Living) Hope and Present Trials (1:3-9)
    • C. Present Salvation and Past Revelation (1:10-12)

  • II. The Sanctification of Believers (1:13-2:12)
    • A. The Call to Holiness (1:13-21)
    • B. The Call to Love One Another Fervently (1:22-25)
    • C. The Call to Desire the Pure Milk of the Word (2:1-3)
    • D. The Call to Offer Up Spiritual Sacrifices (2:4-10)
    • E. The Call to Abstain From Fleshly Desires (2:11-12)

  • III. The Submission of Believers (2:13-3:12)
    • A. Submission to Government (2:13-17)
    • B. Submission in Business (2:18-25)
    • C. Submission in Marriage (3:1-8)
    • D. Submission in All Areas of Life (3:9-12)

  • IV. The Suffering of Believers (3:13-5:14)
    • A. Conduct Needed in Suffering (3:13-17)
    • B. Christ’s Example for Suffering (3:18-4:6)
    • C. Commands for Suffering (4:7-19)
    • D. Custodians (Shepherds) in Suffering (5:1-9)
    • E. Conclusion or Benediction (5:10-14)

fn86 The NIV Study Bible Notes, Zondervan NIV Electronic Library.
fn87 Walvoord/Zuck, electronic media.
fn88 Footnote from the NET Bible, The Biblical Studies Press.
fn89 Walvoord/Zuck, electronic media.
db* = Content added by to assist the reader
db01 Eusebius was a Roman historian wikipedia
db02 Homologoumena explained
db03 Irenaeus was an early Church Father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology wikipedia
db04 Tertullian was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa wikipedia
db05 Clement of Alexandria was a Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria wikipedia
db06 Origen was a scholar and early Christian theologian wikipedia
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