The First Epistle of Peter is a book of the New Testament traditionally held to have been written by Saint Peter the apostle during his time as bishop of Rome. The Epistle (letter) is addressed to various churches in Asia Minor that were suffering religious persecution. It focuses on counseling steadfastness and perseverance under persecution (1–2:10), and encourages patience and holiness following Christ's example (3:14–4:19).
The Epistle conforms with the teachings of Paul, and blends moral exhortation with catechesis. In essence, it relates fidelity (even during suffering) with the life of Jesus.
The author identifies himself in the opening verse as "Peter, an apostle of Jesus," and a number of Church Fathers accepted this claim: Irenaeus (140-203 C.E.), Tertullian (150-222 C.E.), Clement of Alexandria (155-215 C.E.) and Origen (185-253 C.E.). Since Polycarp, who was martyred in 156, alluded to this letter in his own works, then it must have been written before the mid-second century. However, the Muratorian Canon of c. 170 did not contain it, suggesting that the epistle was not yet being read in the Western churches. Unlike 2 Peter, the authorship of which was debated in antiquity, there was little debate about Peter’s authorship of 1 Peter until the advent of biblical criticism in the eighteenth century. Assuming the letter is authentic and written by Peter who was martyred c. 64, the date of this epistle is probably between 60-64 C.E.
One theory is that 1 Peter was written by a secretary, or amanuensis, Silvanus, who is mentioned towards the end of the epistle: "By Silvanus, our faithful brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly" (5:12). In the following verse the author includes greetings from "she that is in Babylon, elect together with you," taken for the church "in Babylon," which may be an early use of this Christian title for Rome, familiar from the Book of Revelation. "There is no evidence that Rome was called Babylon by the Christians until the Book of Revelation was published, i.e. circa 90-96 C.E.," say the editors of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, who conclude, however, that Babylon on the Euphrates was intended.
Most critical scholars are sceptical that the apostle Simon Peter, the fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, actually wrote the epistle, because of the urbane cultured style of the Greek and the lack of any personal detail suggesting contact with the historical Jesus of Nazareth. The letter contains about thirty-five references to the Hebrew Bible, all of which, however, come from the Septuagint translation, an unlikely source for historical Peter the apostle (albeit appropriate for an international audience). The Septuagint was a Greek translation created at Alexandria for the use of those Jews who could not easily read the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Tanakh. A historical Jew in Galilee would not have heard Scripture in this form. If the epistle is taken to be pseudepigraphal, the date is usually cited as between 70-90 C.E. by scholars like Raymond E. Brown and Bart D. Ehrman, while a small number of scholars argue for an even later date.
This epistle is addressed to "the strangers dispersed through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, elect,” (five provinces of Asia Minor) though it otherwise appears to be addressed to Gentiles rather than to the Jews of the diaspora. Some of these areas were evangelized by Paul of Tarsus according to Acts 16:6-7, 18:23.
The author counsels steadfastness and perseverance under persecution (1–2:10), and outlines the practical duties of a holy life (2:11–3:13). He also encourages patience and holiness following Christ's example (3:14–4:19); and he concludes with counsels to pastors.
The Epistle is attentive to being consistent with the teachings of Paul, and is likewise in conformity with the teachings expressed in the canonical Gospels. The letter blends moral exhortation with catechesis, and especially relates fidelity (even during suffering) with the life of Jesus.
The Epistle contains the remarkable assertion: "For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (4:6). This passage has few parallels in the New Testament (cf. Eph 4:9-10, 1 Peter 3:18-19, John 5:25), though it has been argued that the various assertions that Christ was “raised from the dead” presuppose that he travelled to the abode of the dead before his Resurrection (e.g. the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 632).
This teaching became included in the Apostles’ Creed, reading: “He (Jesus) descended into Hell.” The earliest citations of the Creed, however (for example that of Tertullian), do not include this line (or several others), and the Apostle’s Creed was not well known in the East. From the doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell emerged various medieval legends.
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