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An Introduction to the New Testament

XVII

THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PETER


Occasion. It is a striking fact that very soon after the writing of Hebrews the Roman church is found undertaking the very kind of Christian service that Hebrews had demanded of it—the instruction of the other churches. I Clement and I Peter may be regarded as the response of the Roman church to this challenge, which might well spur a conscientious Christian body to great exertions: "Although from the length of your Christian experience you ought to be teaching others, you actually need someone to teach you over again the very elements of Christian truth, and you have come to need milk instead of solid food," Heb. 5:12. [1] Certainly the Roman church did respond to this demand, for Ignatius twelve or fifteen years later wrote to the Romans, "You have taught others," Ignatius, Rom. 3:1.

The Shepherd of Hennas, written not long after A.D. 100, describes it as the business of "Clement" to send copies of Hermas' visions to other cities. Vis. ii. 4. 3,

[1] It is true the Roman church had already put forth the Gospel of Mark and done that much to be the teacher of the churches, but that was long before, almost in the times of the apostles, and was chiefly the work of those "former leaders who had brought them God's message," 13:7, not of the Roman church itself.

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"for that is his duty." [1] So between the writing of Hebrews and the testimony of Ignatius three writings of great importance to the early church had emanated from Rome: I Clement, I Peter, and The Shepherd of Hermas. In fact, the main purpose of the last of these was to modify the doctrine, which Hebrews seemed to teach, that there could be no forgiveness for post-baptismal sin. [2]

The Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians is unquestionably an elaborate effort on the part of the Roman church to instruct another church. That letter shows great familiarity with Hebrews and is influenced by it both in general structure and in detail. It seems a very natural conclusion that I Clement was really written in immediate response to the demand of Hebrews that the church at Rome take up the task of teaching the churches. [3] This becomes all the clearer when one observes the labored character of I Clement. Unable to write a great letter, the writer very obviously seeks to make up for it by writing a long one. It is apparent that he is not altogether self-moved; he is seeking to meet a demand that has been made upon him. If he wrote from some great inward compulsion, out of a full heart, his work could not have been so lifeless and commonplace. Lightfoot described the characteristics

[1] This early date for The Shepherd has been established by Dr. W. .J. Wilson, "The Career of the Prophet Hermas," Harvard Theological Review, XX (1927), 21-62, cf. B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels (New York, 1925), p. 340.

[2] Heb.6:4-6.

[3] E. J. Goodspeed, New Solutions of New Testament Problems (Chicago, 1927), pp. 110-15.

of I Clement as comprehensiveness, sense of order, and moderation. [1] He might have added mediocrity. No one would call it great or very moving. It does not sound at all as though a great afflatus had come upon a man and a great idea had suddenly possessed him demanding to be expressed. It sounds much more as though it were written from a sense of duty, and someone else's sense of duty at that.

This impression is singularly confirmed by the opening lines: "Owing to the sudden and repeated misfortunes and calamities that have befallen us, we suppose we have been too slow [2] in paying attention to the matters under dispute among you, dear friends." This left-handed way of beginning has long perplexed interpreters. It has a very apologetic ring, and yet the writer is not apologizing to the Corinthians, for they have not asked his advice. He is really apologizing to himself and saying in effect, "We realize that we ought to have written you about this matter long ago." But what has made the Roman church realize this? Hebrews, of course. It was Hebrews that first called on the Roman church to teach the churches.

The strange tone of this sentence is further relieved by the fact that, if Hebrews was sent not only to the Roman church but was more widely circulated—in fact, published—the Corinthians might well understand this allusion to a duty the Roman church had neglected but was now beginning to perform.

I Peter is another effort of the Roman church in this

[1] Clement of Rome, I, 95.

[2] bradion nomizomen epistrofhn pepoihtqai

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new field. The Revelation had raised the standard of a sublime faith in opposition to the empire's demand for emperor worship. But, like the Hebrew prophets it did not escape the insidious danger of hating its enemies. The empire was a raging beast, the ally of Satan, and was doomed to fall. The emperor was another Nero, doomed to swift destruction. The prophet rejoiced over the destined overthrow of the persecuting city:

Pay her back in her own coin, and give her double for what she has done. In the cup she mixed for others, give her a double draught. .... Gloat over her, heaven! and all you people of God, apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you upon her! [Rev. 18:6, 20].

This was a very different attitude from that of Paul, in Rom. 13:1-7, and tended to make of the church a revolutionary society, praying if not also working for the overthrow of the empire. But worse than that, it threatened a fatal blow to Christianity, making it a religion of hate instead of love. It was a great moment in the World War when Miss Cavell's chaplain published those words which she had written in her prayer-book: "Patriotism is not enough; I now see that I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone." Yet Christianity did not have to wait for Miss Cavell to make this fundamental moral discovery; it shines through the gospels and finds fresh and timely expression in I Peter.

We may think of I Peter, therefore, as called forth by the demand of Hebrews that the church at Rome should be the teacher of the churches, and as

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concerned with the very real danger, created by the Revelation of John, that Christianity might degenerate into a religion of hate and Christians become a band of disloyal revolutionaries waiting for an opportunity to overthrow the empire.

For it is the Roman church that is speaking: "Your sister church in Babylon, chosen like you, and Mark my son wish to be remembered to you." This is the "Babylon" of the Revelation, seated on her seven hills. Rev. 17:5, 9—an obvious symbol of the persecuting empire and a plain token of the writer's acquaintance with the Book of Revelation.

In the letter written to the Corinthians at almost the same time (I Clement), there had been no disguise; "The church of God that sojourns in Rome to the church of God that sojourns in Corinth," it began. But that is hardly a sufficient authority to combat an attitude that claimed the authority of the prophet John, the amanuensis of Christ himself. Revelation, chapter 1. And in Christian antiquity an idea prevailed that the church that had witnessed a saint's martyrdom and had become the custodian of his tomb might consider itself as in some sense his spokesman. The church at Rome was probably already cherishing, as it does today, the memory of two great Christian leaders who had suffered martyrdom there—Peter and Paul. It is very probable that the churches that bear their names really mark the approximate sites of their martyrdoms—Paul's outside the walls, on the Ostian Way, and Peter's on the Vatican Hill. As early as the beginning of the third century, Gaius of Rome wrote

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that he could show the trophies (that is, the places of the death and burial) of the apostles (meaning Peter and Paul). [1] Hebrews called on the Roman church to remember its former leaders, who had brought them God's message, and to remember their martyr's deaths and imitate them, 13:7. Clement of Rome, about A.D. 95, speaks of Peter and Paul together, chapter 5, as bearing their testimony—that is, suffering martyrdom. The great leaden seal of the Roman church bears the portraits of the santi apostoli with their names, Peter and Paul. They are still its great historic sponsors. Even today the papal see seeks money for its work in Peter's name, as Peter's Pence.

Moreover, Paul's letters had just been collected and published, and the possibilities of the letter as a medium of Christian instruction had through that collection become very clear. We have seen that the Roman church adopted that literary type for its message to Corinth. It is not strange that, in seeking to undo the harm that may have been done by the bitter tone of the Revelation, the same type is used, and used in the name of the other great martyr of the Roman church—Peter. That is to say, the existence of a corpus of letters of Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:1), would easily suggest to a church that cherished the memory of Paul and Peter together the propriety of a letter in the name of Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. With their sense of identification with Peter, this would not be difficult for them; they felt that they did indeed speak for him.

[1] Eusebius Church History ii. 25. 7.

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Had he not already spoken through them in the Gospel of Mark? This fact not only would impel the Roman church to feel justified in writing in his name but had to some extent accustomed the other churches to think of Rome as Peter's spokesman. Twenty-five years before the first written gospel had arisen in Rome, embodying Rome's memories of Peter's preaching. This connection—Peter, Mark, Rome—is expressly recalled in I Pet. 5:13: "Your sister church in Babylon and Mark my son"—a skilful reminder that once before Peter had spoken through Rome.

So when it came to meeting and counterbalancing the authority of John the prophet of Ephesus, claiming to write at the dictation of Jesus himself, and a great name was demanded, the Roman church very naturally fell back on Peter, the chief of the apostles. In the presence of the emergency created by the appearance of the Revelation, and the necessity of counteracting the bitterness of its tone, the pseudonymity of I Peter becomes readily intelligible. Whether this pseudonymity was serious and really meant to deceive the provincials of Asia Minor into supposing the letter was actually from the hand of Peter, we cannot be sure. We have seen that, only a few years ago, the Atlantic Monthly published the "Epistle of Kallikrates," confident that no one would be deceived. Some ancient pseudonymity was no doubt of that kind; some probably was not.

The relation of I Peter to the Revelation throws a greatly needed light not only on its claim of the name and authority of Peter but also on the curious matter

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of the destination of I Peter. For, if the Revelation had been sent to the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia, the corrective of it might very naturally be sent to Asia and the adjacent provinces of Asia Minor—Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and Bithynia. No other approach to I Peter makes this address so natural. It covers not only the region directly addressed by the Revelation, but the contiguous lands likely to be affected by its dangerous doctrine. As for Macedonia and Greece, the church at Rome is at about the same time writing to their chief Christian center, Corinth, on another matter (I Clement). Taken together, I Clement and I Peter fairly well cover the Christian world of that time, except for Syria, and show unmistakably the effort of the Roman church to respond to the demand of Hebrews that Rome should teach the churches. That is exactly what the Roman church—we may almost say officially—is undertaking to do in I Clement and I Peter, and as that is just what Hebrews calls upon it to do, it is hard to see how anyone can avoid the conclusion that Hebrews was the immediate cause, and I Clement and I Peter were the effects. Furthermore, over against the stinging rebuke of Hebrews 5:12-6:2 we can set the very different remark of Ignatius to the Romans, fifteen or twenty years later: "You have taught others," Rom. 3:1. These facts form a sequence that cannot be gainsaid and is most illuminating for all four of the documents involved.

I Peter is dearly written in times of persecution. Again and again, 1:6; 2:12, 20; 3:14, 15, 17; and

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especially 4:12-19, we catch glimpses of the perils in the midst of which the Christians were living. This persecution is now world-wide: "Your brotherhood all over the world is having the same experience of suffering," 5:9. The background is in this respect substantially that of the Revelation: the church and the empire are in collision over emperor worship. But the reaction here is very different:

Submit to all human authority, for the Master's sake; to the emperor as supreme, and to governors, as sent by him. to punish evil-doers and to encourage those who do right. .... Treat everyone with respect. Love the brotherhood, be reverent to God, respect the emperor.

The Christian's duty to the emperor is entirely compatible with his duty to God.

Do not be surprised that a test of fire is being applied to you, . . . .No one of you must suffer as a murderer or thief or criminal or revolutionist, but if a man suffers for being a Christian, he must not be ashamed of it, but must do honor to God through that name. .... Therefore those who suffer by the will of God must intrust their souls to a Creator who is faithful, and continue to do what is right [4:12-19].

Thus with no little tact and pathos the church of Rome, heroic as Hebrews describes it, 10:32-34, substitutes a finer attitude toward persecution for that of the Revelation, disclaims revolutionary positions, and revives Paul's old attitude of loyalty to the empire, Rom. 13:1-7.

The influence of Paul is on every page of I Peter. The opening sentence is a quotation of II Cor. 1:3 and

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Eph. 1:3. The series of classes—servants, wives, husbands, 2:18-3:7—recalls a fuller sequence in Col 3:18-4:1—wives, husbands; children, fathers; slaves masters [1]—which is more fully copied in Eph. 5:22-6:9. The influence of Galatians is clear (1:5; cf. Gal. 3:23; 2:16; cf. Gal. 5:13, etc.), and that of Romans is even more considerable. The mention of Silvanus (like that of Timothy in Heb. 13:23) is an epistolary touch reminiscent of II Cor. 1:19 and I and II Thess. 1:1. One can hardly doubt that the writer possesses the Pauline corpus. Barnett's examination of I Peter reveals certain use of Romans and Ephesians and a reasonable probability of the use of II Corinthians, Galatians, and II Thessalonians. [2]

Another epistolary touch is the remark, "I have written you this short letter" (lit. "briefly" [3]), 5:12. Who would think a letter of eighteen hundred words a short letter? Only someone familiar with the Pauline corpus of letters, and writing to people familiar with it. That corpus is the indispensable background of this remark. Of course, it immediately recalls the similar expression in Heb. 13:22, "I have written you but briefly," [4] which may have suggested it. I Peter is evidently related to Hebrews, not only in general but in detail.

[1] Weidinger's appeal to ancient Haustafeln to explain this seems unnecessary and inadequately supported by ancient documents (Die Haustafeln [Leipzig, 1928]). The facts are capable of a simple literary explanation—Ephesians imitating Colossians, and I Peter imitating them both.

[2] A. E. Barnett, "The Use of the Letters of Paul in Pre-Catholic Christian Literature" (unpublished dissertation; Chicago, 1932), p. 612; University of Chicago Abstracts of Theses ("Humanistic Series"), IX (1934), 509.

[3] dió oligwn. [4] dia bracewn.

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The "chief shepherd" [1] of I Pet. 5:4 recalls the "Great Shepherd" of Heb. 13:20 (cf. I Pet. 2:25; 5:2), and its references to priesthood and sacrifice find reflection here (an unblemished, spotless lamb, 1:19; a consecrated priesthood, 2:5; "You are the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the consecrated nation," 2:9).

Contents. The writer's religious feeling is at once lofty and practical. Persecution has awakened in him a great gentleness and a noble submission to the will of God. Christians are not to be betrayed by the terrible stress of persecution into base or reckless attitudes. The Christian's life is a life of hope, a ground of unfailing joy. Christians already enjoy a salvation of unutterable worth, and they have awaiting them in heaven an imperishable inheritance, 1:3-12. (This insistence upon the great worth of the Christian salvation is occasioned by the danger of apostasy and marks Ephesians and Hebrews as well.) They must live lives of goodness, reverence, and love, 1:13-25. Freed from deceit and malice, they must build themselves up into a spiritual temple (cf. Eph. 2:22) where a consecrated priesthood can offer spiritual sacrifices, for they are the new Israel, the true heirs of the promises of God, 2:1-10.

As in Hebrews and I Clement, Christians are aliens, exiles, foreigners in this world—all the more need to live uprightly among the heathen, respecting the emperor and obeying his laws, 2:11-17. All groups of Christians—servants, wives, husbands—have their

[1] arcipoimn.

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special responsibilities as Christians, 2:18-3:7, but all must be harmonious, loving, tenderhearted, "not returning evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but blessing people instead"—a mild corrective of Revelation. If the Christian must suffer, let it be for doing right, not for doing wrong; Christ himself, upright though he was, suffered death to bring men to God, 3:8-22.

Christians must live the new life he has opened to them, not their old gross heathen life of sin. They must arm themselves with Christ's resolve to suffer. They must be serious, loving, hospitable, and helpful to one another, 4:1-11. The test of fire opens to them a way of sharing in Christ's sufferings, and if they must suffer, let them intrust their souls to a Creator who is faithful and go on doing what is right, 4:12-19.

The Christian elders are to be true shepherds of the flock of God with no base thought of gain and in no tyrannical spirit. All must submit humbly to God's mighty hand. The brotherhood all over the world is having the same experience of suffering. They must stand fast, 5:1-14.

The reflections of church and social conditions in I Peter are significant. Baptism is a saving ordinance, though spiritually understood, 3:21, 22. But there is a constant and serious emphasis on moral behavior all through the letter. Women are to avoid the attractions of hair dressing, jewelry, and dress; evidently the church now includes people sufficiently well to do to indulge in these luxuries. Christianity has a clearly marked spiritual character in I Peter.

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The Christian pastor is to be faithful and devoted, and free from any mercenary motive; he is in a measure a salaried officer, and evidently money passes through his bands. The writer appeals especially to the elders of the church and speaks of himself as their fellow-elder, 5:1. This is an extraordinary link with I Clement, the main purpose of which is to urge upon the Corinthian church the duty of respecting its elders.

The Christian elder as a church officer first meets us in the Acts, 11:30 and 14:23. The apostles and elders are often mentioned later in the Acts as the church authorities in Jerusalem. Paul never uses the word "elder." In I Clement the authority of the elders is the main point at issue: the Corinthians are not respecting it; the Roman church asserts it. And in I Peter, written from Rome in almost the same breath with I Clement, the dignity of the presbyters is again asserted: Peter is their fellow-elder, which of course makes them his fellow-elders. They must accordingly be shown proper deference. This attitude is another link between I Clement and I Peter which, however unequal in spiritual power, are yet companion pieces in time and place. It was inevitable that the major interest of the companion letter, I Clement, should be reflected somewhere in I Peter, and here it is, strangely enough too, for who had ever thought of Peter as a presbyter—an elder?

The mention of Mark is evidently an allusion to the reputed connection of Mark with Peter as his interpreter, 5:13, who wrote down his recollections in the Gospel of Mark. Peter is further identified as a

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witness to what Christ had suffered, meaning that he could bear witness to the passion but also alluding to his own death by martyrdom. This coupling of Peter's martyrdom with a glorious future—"a martyr [witness] .... to share in the glory that is to be revealed," 5:1—resembles the account of Peter in I Clem. 5:4, "Peter .... having suffered martyrdom [given his testimony] went to the place of glory that was his due."

Problems. One of the best of recent Introductions [1] declares that "to write under the apostle's name and yet to refer to his martyrdom would be a self-contradiction and a blunder too great for any writer to commit." But this is precisely what the writer of II Peter does:

Yet I think it right as long as I live in my present tent, to arouse you by a reminder, for I know that I must soon put it away, as our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me. I will also take care that after I am gone, you will be able at any time to call these things to mind [II Pet. 1:13-15].

Here is a precisely similar allusion to Peter's martyrdom, and to his having sponsored the Gospel of Mark, in a letter claiming to be by Peter.

McNeile's remark does not do justice to ancient pseudonymity. For either the letter was put forth as having been actually written by Peter in his lifetime, and having passed hitherto unnoticed, or it is just a way of calling very serious attention to its contents as worthy of Peter himself. In the former case, Peter might well be described as having had forebodings

[1] A. H. McNeile, Introduction to the Study of the New Testament (Oxford, 1927), p. 209.

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of martyrdom, as Jesus had so often had, and as Paul is described as having had. Acts 20:25, 38. In the latter, if the pseudonymity of the letter was understood, the allusion to Peter's martyrdom would of course be expected, and even inevitable.

It is also urged [1] that "any writer producing a work under Peter's name, towards the end of the first century, would almost certainly have colored the personality of the apostle to suit not only the tradition (cf. Mt. 16:18 f.; Clem. Rom., 40-41) but the contemporary status of his office." But those conditions are fully met in I Peter, which speaks of Peter as an apostle, 1:1, authorized to address the Christians of five provinces; a martyr, 5:1; and the sponsor for the Gospel of Mark, 5:13—for the combination Mark-Rome-Peter spells the Gospel of Mark and nothing else. That Peter is not more highly exalted is because his figure must be used to dignify the office of presbyter, 5:1—a subject just then of such importance in the eyes of the Roman church that it devoted a whole letter six times as long as I Peter to it. Of course, no one had yet thought of calling Peter the first bishop of Rome; that does not appear until after Irenaeus, ca. A.D. 185, had written down his list of Roman bishops, beginning with Linus. [2]

The purpose of I Peter is not to add luster to the great name of Peter; that was unnecessary. It was to make use of his great name for certain pressing situations

[1] J. Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (New York, 1911), p. 340.

[2] Refutation iii. 3. 3.

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in the church. And how could his greatness be more conspicuously recognized than in using his authority to counteract the influence of the prophet John, who wrote as the inspired amanuensis of Jesus himself?

I Peter is one of the most moving pieces of persecution literature. It is written in very good Greek, somewhat colored by the language of the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible. Its picture of the Christian life is lofty and noble. Its attitude to persecution is in the best early tradition, patience and forgiveness, in contrast with the bitterness and hate which so color the Revelation. This contrast is so marked that to present it was probably the immediate purpose of the writing of the letter. Nothing could have been more disastrous for Christianity than for the attitude of Revelation toward the persecutors of the church to have taken root and spread. I Peter definitely opposes just that attitude and was probably written for the express purpose of doing it. This fully explains its pseudonymity and its address (otherwise so mysterious) to the Christians scattered as foreigners over Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia— just the regions where the Revelation would be likely to be felt.

This address has a good deal of importance for the date of I Peter. Those who put the epistle into the reign of Trajan can make little of the address, and usually pass lightly over it. As a matter of fact, it is integral to the epistle. It is, however, claimed that

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the letter cannot have been written in Domitian's time because it is not until Trajan that we hear of Christians suffering "for the name," 4:14.

Not until then, it is urged, was being a Christian recognized as a crime. But Christianity, of course, was not a religio licita, a permitted religion, and from the very beginning was punishable on that ground; it did not need Trajan to point this out.

The correspondence of Pliny with Trajan which is usually appealed to in this connection really seems to reflect a reluctant holdover from an earlier persecution policy rather than a fresh and vigorous attack upon the church. Pliny as governor of Bithynia is half-hearted about it, and the emperor is rather perfunctory. Neither betrays any zeal for hunting out the Christians and disposing of them. As governor of Bithynia, ca. A.D. 112, Pliny was in doubt whether the mere name (nomen ipsum) without any crimes, or the crimes attaching to the name (flagitia cohaerentia nomini), should be punished. But this has little to do with the use of "the name" in I Pet. 4:14, 16—certainly less than the use of that expression in the Acts.

The Acts, which first mentions the name "Christian," 11:26, also speaks of bearing disgrace "for the name," [1] 5:41. The gospels speak constantly of the name of Christ, Mark 9:41. "Blessed are you when people hate you, .... and spurn the name you bear as evil," Luke 6:22. "They will hand you over to persecution and they will put you to death, and you

[1] uper tou onomatoV.

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will be hated by all the heathen because you bear my name," [1] Matt. 24:9; Luke 21:17.

Tacitus, in his account of Nero's attack upon the Christians of Rome, says that, after the burning of Rome, Nero, who was popularly held responsible for it,

to suppress the rumor, falsely charged with the guilt .... the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. .... Accordingly first those were seized who confessed they were Christians; next, on their information a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city as of hating the human race [Annals xv. 44].

Undoubtedly it was a crime in Trajan's day to be a Christian; but so it was in the times of Tiberius, Gaius, Nero, Domitian. All Trajan says, in effect, to Pliny is that the imperial law (against unlicensed religions) must of course be enforced, and the truth is he says it with very little enthusiasm: "If indeed they should be brought before you and the crime is proved, they must be punished," unless, he goes on to say, they deny it and invoke the Roman gods, in which case they may be pardoned (Letters x. 97. 98).

The claim that the geographical address in 1:1 is not easier to understand in the time of Domitian than in a letter actually "written by Silvanus for Peter" [2] is fully met by the fact that I Peter seeks to correct a false attitude presented in the Revelation and would therefore naturally be addressed to the wider circle of the

[1] dia to onoma mou

[2] Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, p. 340.

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Revelation's influence—those who are scattered as foreigners over Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. This whole address, so strangely vague, may be no more than a way of reaching the churches of Asia without being too pointed about it. Certainly it can be understood only if I Peter is recognized as written in reaction to the Revelation.

Moffatt's claim that absence of motive weighs most strongly against the idea of pseudonymity is fully answered by the very strong motive the Roman church, spurred on by Hebrews, would have for seeking a great authority to set against John, the amanuensis of Jesus himself, to correct such a gospel of hate as was likely to be derived from the Revelation, with its bold claim of divine inspiration.

And when would such a limited encyclical be more natural than in the days of the limited encyclical of the Revelation (to seven churches) and of Ephesians, which was, of course, an encyclical addressed to Christians everywhere? That period, in short, supplies everything necessary to the understanding of the letter: Hebrews has challenged the Roman church to become the teacher of the churches; I Clement is an illustration of its acceptance of that role; Revelation has created a dangerous moral situation in the church in the chief Christian center of Asia Minor—the danger that the church while meeting persecution heroically might nevertheless be betrayed into the very human error of hating its enemies; the Pauline corpus has exhibited Paul as a writer of letters to churches, and Ephesians has shown the possibilities

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of the encyclical; the Roman church has another great name at its command, in its patron Peter, memories of whose gospel-preaching Rome had published twenty-five years before and for whom it can claim to speak just as authentically as Ephesus in the Revelation spoke for Christ—taken altogether, these conditions supply every element implied in the writing of I Peter. The atmosphere—persecution, the Christians aliens in the world, the church honeycombed with apathy, undervaluing its own faith—is just that of Ephesians, Revelation, and Hebrews. We cannot agree that "the further down we go the object of the writing becomes less and less obvious." [1] After Revelation and Hebrews, I Peter becomes almost a necessity. We may therefore confidently date I Peter about A.D. 95, soon after the appearance of the Revelation and Hebrews and very near in date to I Clement, another product of the same movement in the same church.

That I Peter reads like an address is only natural if it was to be read aloud before every Christian church in five provinces of Asia Minor. The writer of course does his utmost to project himself into the actual situation which he has in view. The suggestion that 1:3-4:11 is an address to newly baptized persons [2] fits with some obvious aspects of the letter: "Now that by obeying the truth you have purified your souls for sincere love of the brotherhood ....," 1:22; "like newborn babes crave the pure spiritual milk that will make you grow up to salvation ....," 2:2; "Baptism .... now saves you also," 3:21; compare also 4:4.

[1] Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, p. 340.

[2] B. H. Streeter, The Primitive Church (New York, 1929), pp. 121-41.

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But there are other elements in this part of the letter that do not fit so well with the suggestion. The address to servants, wives, and husbands and especially to preachers and deacons, 4:11, combined with the call to hospitality, 4:9, hardly suits a group of new converts. The time to free one's self from malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander would seem to be before, rather than after, accepting Christian baptism. The persecution atmosphere pervades both the supposed pans of the letter, 2:12, cf. 4:15, 16, as does the warning against lawbreaking. 4:12-19 repeats and elaborates 2:11-17. The tone of 4:12-5:14 does not differ from that of 1:3-4:11. The idea of treating 1:3-4:11 as a separate document is based on the doxology at 4:11, which seems to mark a stop. But in a document so strongly colored by Pauline phraseology the natural explanation of this little doxology is to be sought not in the gratuitous hypothesis of a previous document but in the parallel doxology of Eph. 3:20, 21, especially as I Peter's debt to Ephesians is at other points so great.

The striking emphasis upon loyalty to the emperor, even in a time of persecution, which is the leading trait of I Peter and was so needful when the bitterly hostile attitude of the Revelation to him, 17:7-14, Was fresh in Christian minds, seems a little superfluous in an address to the newly baptized; unless taught otherwise by the Revelation, they would hardly need to be twice admonished to honor the emperor, 2:13,17.

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At best the baptism-address theory deals with only a fraction of the letter and never grapples with the main problem: Why was I Peter, as we know it, written? Written in the name of Peter? And written to the people it is addressed to? The theory leaves these questions untouched and focuses attention on minor aspects of the letter while neglecting major ones.

And, after all, is not this just the way in which Peter would be represented as addressing the believers from the heathen provinces of Asia Minor? He is made to address them as converts from heathenism, newly escaped from the brutal wickedness of an idolatrous world. To the chief of the apostles they would all appear babes in Christ, 2:2, who need spiritual milk—perhaps another gentler reflection of Heb. 5:12. He might well welcome them into the Christian fellowship after the laxity and dissipation of their old life, 4:3. Certainly, it cannot be denied that the letter in its broad aspects has more affinity with the Ephesians-Revelation-Hebrews-I Clement literature than with the Johannine-Ignatian. There is far less specific concern about sects, for one thing. And if we must treat the document as two—one an address to the newly baptized of a church or group of churches and, second, the reshaping of this into an encyclical letter for publication—the important question will still be: What was the occasion of the latter?

 

LITERATURE

Hort, F. J. A. The First Epistle of St. Peter (London, 1898).


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Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-hoole.html>.