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This beautiful epistle is addressed to Christians in Asia Minor who needed heartening and encouragement under the strain of a persecution-period. It was a time of tension, due to interference by the State authorities, who had obviously become suspicious of the Christian movement as immoral and treasonable. This set up, in some circles of the church, a feeling of perplexity and hesitation. Christians were suffering from the unwelcome attentions of Government officials, as well as from social annoyances, and they required to be rallied. The purpose of Peter is to recall them to the resources of their faith. Hence the emphasis upon hope, in its special aspect of hope in the near, messianic advent of Jesus Christ. But the responsibilities of hope are also urged; there is a constant stress upon reverent submission to the will of God as well as upon the duty of living innocent and peaceable lives which will commend the faith to outsiders.
The epistle follows the method of most of the Pauline letters in concluding (iv. 7 f.) with some special admonitions to various classes in the church. Peter may have known some of the Pauline letters, such as Romans. But his type of thought is independent. ‘St. Paul’s influence scarcely carried him appreciably forward. . . . To compare First Peter with the Pauline epistles is like comparing Schubert 86with Beethoven.’22A. H. McNeile, New Testament Teaching in the Light of St. Paul’s, p. 138. Here we miss the Pauline themes of faith-mysticism, eschatology, and justification. What we rather find is an original meditation by a primitive Christian upon the issues of the Christian life as these were visible in the light of the better messianism fostered by Jewish apocalyptic piety.
So familiar and congenial is the vocabulary of this apocalyptic religion to Peter, that he even speaks of Rome as ‘Babylon’ (v. 13). He sends greetings to these provincial churches from the church of the capital. They were pre-dominantly Christians who had been born pagans (i. 1, 14, ii. 9, etc.), in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, i.e. in Asia Minor north of the Taurus range. It does not follow that Peter had evangelized these districts. Indeed, Lightfoot infers, from the way in which Galatia is used in the provincial sense, that he had not; ‘this is not un-natural in one who was writing from a distance and perhaps had never visited the district.’33The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 19. A glance at the map will show that the districts are enumerated, for some unknown reason, from N.E. to S. and W. Possibly the bearer of the epistle was to follow this route. In any case, facilities of travel were abundant, and copies of the missive could be multiplied readily.
The bearer was Silvanus (v. 12), to whom Peter probably dictated the epistle. How far Silvanus was responsible for the Greek style of the message, it is impossible to say. He was not a mere transcriber of what he heard, but neither is it likely that the bulk of the homily was the deposit of 87baptismal discourses by himself, mainly on the 34th Psalm, as has been recently suggested. It is possible that Peter left to him the task of putting his counsels into literary shape. Yet there is nothing in the homily which fairly tells against the Petrine authorship, once the error of regarding it as a product of secondary Paulinism is abandoned. The allusions to persecution harmonize with those reflected in the contemporary Gospel of Mark, behind which lie Peter’s spirit and experience; in these references there is no item which does not suit the seventh decade of the first century. The tone of the religious arguments accords at several points. with that of Peter’s speeches in the early chapters of Acts, which go back to a good tradition. There are numerous indications of an acquaintance with the primitive tradition of the sayings and sufferings of Jesus, and, once it is recognized that Peter did not set himself to compose a full statement of the Christian faith, there seems no crucial objection, so far as internal evidence goes, to the acceptance of the homily as it stands, viz. as a pastoral letter sent by Peter from Rome during the seventh decade of the first century.
Traces of it appear soon in early Christian literature, probably in Clement of Rome (towards the close of the first century), certainly in Polykarp of Asia Minor, and in Gaul (in the letter from the churches at Lyons and Vienne). It was also known to Papias at the beginning of the second century. It is possible to argue that traces of First Peter are to be found in Ephesians and James; certainly there are some noticeable affinities with Hebrews, which was the work of a later teacher in the church. But First Peter differs from Hebrews, even while they breathe a common atmosphere. ‘Such conceptions as faith (with a different shade of meaning 88from that in Paul), cleansing through the blood of Christ, inheriting the promised blessing, antitypes of the Christian order as found in the Old Testament, the finality of Christ’s sacrifice, must all have been current in the apostolic church. Their appearance in common in two epistles, whose authors are men of such different moulds, reminds us of the rich heritage of religious thought which belonged to the early Christian community, independently of Paul’s epoch-making constructions.’44H. A. A. Kennedy, The Theology of the Epistles, pp. 173–174.89
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