Introduction to 1 Peter

Prepared by Spencer D. Gear PhD[1]



Have you witnessed to people about your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and experienced these kinds of reactions? “I don’t want to listen to that nonsense. You’ve got to be joking. Just take a look at all those religious paedophiles who have sexually abused children placed in their trust. Especially after the Royal Commission into sexual abuse,” OR

clip_image002 “Christian! Huh! Hypocrites, that’s all they are. Remember Jimmy Swaggart and his prostitute? Jim Bakker, high flying TV evangelist jailed for 45 years for fraud – and of course, there was adultery by that person? Don’t mention the church to me.” OR

clip_image002[1] How can I believe in your God of love with so much evil in the world? Hitler and your God allowed all that! Saddam Hussein & what he did to Iraq.

In the language of some of the kids I counselled in the 17 years before I retired, “Life sucks.” You may get to the point of asking yourself, “Is it worth it? I should chuck this in.”

For those who are tempted to chuck it in, this Book of I Peter has some profound things to teach, to encourage you to keep on keeping on, and NOT to give up when the going gets tough.

Before we examine this wonderful encouragement, we need to note:


clip_image003First verse, it claims to be from “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Sounds pretty straight-forward. Peter the Apostle wrote it. Yet some liberal scholars promote the view “that First Peter is a pseudonymous [false] work of the post-Apostolic Age . . . [Peter] could not have written the letter.”[3] Why do they claim this is not the apostle Peter who wrote, but a person who falsely used the name of Peter? Because these scholars want us to believe that the “persecutions mentioned in the book” are “those of the reign of [Roman Emperor] Trajan (ca. AD 98-117).”[4]

clip_image003[1]If we make the writing as late as during the reign of Trajan, it would be 70-90 years after the death of Christ and Peter could not have written the book, as he was probably dead and gone. Then somebody from the early church, not the real Peter, wrote the book, and claimed he was Peter.

clip_image003[2]NO, NO, NO! This Peter, 1 Peter 5:1 says, was the one who was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” This is no fake Peter, but the apostle Peter, who was Christ’s apostle, denied him 3 times, and was there as an eyewitness of Christ’s death. Why do these liberal theologians invent such things? Here is a link to the non-canonical, apocryphal Gospel of Peter (Raymond Brown translation).

clip_image003[3]In 1 Peter 5:12, he wrote it “with the help of Silas/Silvanus . . . a faithful brother.” This is probably the Silas of Acts 15:22; 1 Thess. 1:1;

clip_image003[4]When was this book written? If you read 2 Peter 3:1, it speaks of “This is now my second letter to you.” Perhaps this is referring back to 1 Peter as the first letter. There’s a writing from the early church called I Clement (5:4-7), written by Clement of Rome to the Corinthian church, written about A.D. 96.[5] It speaks of Peter and Paul suffering persecution.[6]

clip_image003[5]http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/e-catena/ church fathers allusions.

clip_image003[6]Why could these early church fathers not give us a chapter and verse from 1 Peter? Why did they simply refer to the content without any mention of which verse it appeared in?

There’s a simple reason. What could it be?

3. THEMES [7]

Although 1 Peter is a short letter, it touches on various doctrines and has much to say about Christian life and duties. It is not surprising that different readers have found it to have different principal themes. For example, it has been characterized as:

clip_image004clip_image002[2] a letter of separation,

clip_image002[3] of suffering and persecution,

clip_image002[4] of suffering and glory,

clip_image002[5] of hope,

clip_image002[6] of pilgrimage,

clip_image002[7] of courage,

clip_image002[8] and as a letter dealing with the true grace of God. Peter says that he has written “encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God” (5:12). This is a definitive general description of the letter, but it does not exclude the recognition of numerous subordinate and contributory themes. The letter includes a series of exhortations (imperatives) that run from 1:13 to 5:11.

4. Compare verses in 1 Peter with some statements I’ll read.

I would like you to compare what I read with verses in 1 Peter. Read . . .

1 Peter 1:6-8 (NIV):

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’.

How does that compare with this quote?

[8][. . . .] Though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than that of gold which perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ; whom, having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Do any of you have any idea where that quote came from? Does it sound anything like 1 Peter 1:6-8?

It was by Clement of Alexandria Stromata Book IV, ch 20.[9]

Clement of Alexandria


Clement depicted in 1584

In Book 4, ch 2, Clement explained what Stromata means: “As the name itself indicates, patched together — passing constantly from one thing to another, and in the series of discussions hinting at one thing and demonstrating another.”[10]

When did Clement of Alexandria live? He was born AD 150 in Athens and died between 211 and 215.[11]

I deliberately left out something at the beginning of that quote. It reads: ‘[12][Peter in his Epistle states]: Though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations.

So as early as the late second century, Clement of Alexandria was quoting the Epistle of Peter, naming it as from Peter, and we now know it was from 1 Peter 1:6-8.

1 Peter 1:8

Read v. 8 again (NIV): ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’.

How does that verse compare with this quote?

In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Saint Polycarp

Martyr, Church Father and Bishop of Smyrna

That’s from the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians. Polycarp was a bishop at Smyrna. Where’s that? It was on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor (Turkey).

clip_image008clip_image010Smyrna, shown within Turkey on the Aegean Ocean line.

One of Polycarp’s famous quotes is from when the fire was about to be lit. He said: “When they were about also to fix him with nails, he said, Leave me as I am; for He that gives me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile” (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, “The funeral pile is erected,” ch. 13).

His martyrdom was the first after the time of the NT and he was in his 80s when he died.

When did Polycarp live? His age span was AD 69-156.[13] He was very close to the time of the original 12 apostles. Encyclopaedia Britannica states of him:

Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians is doubly important for its early testimony to the existence of various other New Testament texts. It probably is the first to quote passages from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the first letters of St. Peter and St. John.[14]

I wonder if we would have the same courage as Polycarp if we were faced with being a martyr for our faith:

Because he was born in 69 A.D., as a young man he knew the Apostle John and his faith grew from there. The local magistrate is reluctant to kill him but has no choice when Polycarp refuses to deny Christ.

In Polycarp’s famous words before his martyrdom, he stated: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” (New Advent, “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,” ch. 9)

Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he waited for the fire to be lit, he prayed:

“Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in your presence:

“I bless you that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.

“Among them may I be accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.”[15]

1 Peter 1:8

There is something different about this quote from another of the church fathers. What is it? Listen carefully.

And this it is which has been said also by Peter: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom now also, not seeing, ye believe; and believing, ye shall rejoice with joy unspeakable.”

That citation is from Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V.

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon (in what is France today) born c. 120, /140, Asia Minor—died c. 200, /203, probably in Lyon.[16]

What is stated here that was not in the other 2 quotes from the church fathers? Answer: The name of ‘Peter’.

Question: Why would I raise these parallels between today’s Bible (1 Peter) & the early church writers quoting 1 Peter?


1. They show that the early church fathers quoted from Bible books even though they weren’t in a combined canon of Scripture. When were the 27 books of the NT formed into a single NT?

‘The first time a church council ruled on the list of “inspired” writings allowed to be read in church was at the Synod of Hippo [called Annaba, Algeria today] in 393 AD. No document survived from this council – we only know of this decision because it was referenced at the third Synod of Carthage in 397 AD’.[17] Today, Carthage is on the Mediterranean Sea of northern Tunisia.

2. How the individual books of the Bible came to be accepted as a collection of books inspired by God took 2-3 centuries. But as early as Polycarp in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, a disciple of John, quoted from a number of books.

3. Why did some of these early writers after the NT not refer to the name of Peter and exactly which chapter and verse they referred to?

There’s a wonderful website that gives brief answers to most doctrinal questions. It’s called Got Questions? Beware that it is Calvinistic in tone. This is how this website explained the reasons why early church fathers could not quote chapter and verse:[18]

Question: “Who divided the Bible into chapters and verses? Why and when was it done?”
When the books of the Bible were originally written, they did not contain chapter or verse references. The Bible was divided into chapters and verses to help us find Scriptures more quickly and easily. It is much easier to find “John chapter 3, verse 16” than it is to find “for God so loved the world. . . .” In a few places, chapter breaks are poorly placed and as a result divide content that should flow together. Overall, the chapter and verse divisions are very helpful.

The chapter divisions commonly used today were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton put the modern chapter divisions into place around A.D. 1227. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use this chapter pattern. Since the Wycliffe Bible, nearly all Bible translations have followed Langton’s chapter divisions.

The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in A.D. 1448. Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus, was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses in 1555. Stephanus essentially used Nathan’s verse divisions for the Old Testament. Since that time, beginning with the Geneva Bible, the chapter and verse divisions employed by Stephanus have been accepted into nearly all the Bible versions.

clip_image011 Peter says that he wrote the book from “Babylon” (5:13). Among the interpretations that have been suggested are that he was writing from

(1) Egyptian Babylon, which was a military post, (2) Mesopotamian Babylon, (3) Jerusalem and (4) Rome. Peter may well be using the name Babylon symbolically, as it seems to be used in the book of Revelation (see Rev 14:8; 17:9–10 and notes). Tradition connects him in the latter part of his life with Rome, and certain early writers held that 1 Peter was written there.

Who received this letter? Verse 1, “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” These were cities in northern Asia Minor, what is known as Turkey today. It was written to God’s people who were scattered, for some reason, across Turkey. If you read 1 Peter 4: 3-4, it suggests that these believers had probably “been converted out of paganism rather than out of Judaism.”[19]

First Peter 4:3 states, ” For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do–living in debauchery,[20] lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.”[21]

This probably refers to the persecution under Emperor Nero[22] of Rome following the fire that destroyed Rome in AD 64. 1 Peter “was probably written from Rome shortly before Nero’s great persecution — that is, in 62-64.”[23]

clip_image011[1]Why did Peter write this letter?

It is a very warm pastoral letter with lots of encouragement for Christians who are scattered. I Peter 5:12, ”I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”

clip_image013 These Christians shared a common faith;

clip_image013[1] But they faced common problems. Their basic problem was that they lived in a society that was ignorant of the true and living God. What country does that sound like today?

clip_image013[2] As Christians, they would be misunderstood and given some cruel treatment;

clip_image013[3] Peter wrote this epistle so that these early believers would “see their temporary sufferings in the full light of the coming eternal glory. In the midst of all their discouragements, the sovereign Lord will keep them and enable them by faith to have joy.”[24]

clip_image013[4] This is a very practical and relevant message for us in Queensland and around the world in the 21st century.



[1] Prepared on 11 February 2019. Some of the material is taken from my sermon online, 1 Peter 1:1-2, Don’t chuck it in because of who you are as the people of God. (Accessed 11 February 2019).

[2] These points are based on: Edwin A. Blum, 1 Peter, in Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 12). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, p. 210-213.

[3] Ibid., pp. 210-211.

[4] Ibid., p. 211. B. C. Caffin states that Peter “must have written before the outbreak of any systematic attempt to crush out Christianity, or any legalized persecution such as that under Trajan. Judgment was about to begin at the house of God (ch. iv.17)”, I Peter, The Pulpit Commentary, Spence H.D.M. & Exell, J. S. (eds.), (Vol. 22), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1950, p. viii.

[5] F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture. Glasgow: Chapter House, 1988, p. 121, gives these details.

[6] Blum, p. 212.

[7] This section is from Biblica 2011-2019, 1 Peter (online), NIV Study Bible. Available at: https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-1-peter/ (Accessed 11 February 2019).

[8] This segment began with the words: ‘Peter in his Epistle says, . .’

[9] Also available at New Advent 2017 at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02104.htm (Accessed 12 February 2019).

[10] New Advent 2017. Stromata (online, Bk4, ch 2. Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02104.htm (Accessed 12 February 2019).

[11] From Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019 (s.v. Saint Clement of Alexandria). Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Clement-of-Alexandria (Accessed 12 February 2019).

[12] This segment began with the words: ‘Peter in his Epistle says, . . .’

[13] Ibid.

[14] Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019. s.v. Saint Polycarp. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Polycarp (Accessed 12 February 2019).

[15] Cited in Landon Meadow 2016. God’s gift is given through Christ. Leaf Chronicle (online), 10 June. Available at: https://www.theleafchronicle.com/story/news/2016/06/11/message-gods-gift-given-christ/85663344/ (Accessed 12 February 2019).

[16] Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019. s.v. Saint Irenaeus. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Irenaeus (Accessed 12 February 2019).

[17] R A Baker 2008. How the New Testament canon was formed. www.churchhistory101.com. Available at: https://www.churchhistory101.com/docs/New-Testament-Canon.pdf (Accessed 12 February 2019).

[18] Got Questions Ministries 2002-2019. Who divided the Bible into chapters and verses? Available at: https://www.gotquestions.org/divided-Bible-chapters-verses.html (Accessed 11 February 2019).

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Debauchery” means “excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, or drugs” (Oxford English Dictionary 2022. debauchery), available at: Excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, or drugs (Accessed 16 January 2022).

[21] This section is from the NIV Study Bible’s introduction to 1 Peter. Biblica 2011-2019, 1 Peter (online). Available at: https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-1-peter/ (Accessed 11 February 2019).

[22] Caffin’s view is that “all this seems to point to the time of the Neronian persecution. Before that date, we gather from St. Paul’s Epistles, there was no actual persecution in Asia Minor” (p. viii).

[23] Blum, p. 212.

[24] Ibid., p. 213.

Copyright © 2022 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 January 2022.