1 Peter, Background, Authorship and Overview

Peter the Apostle wrote 1 Peter, right?  I mean why bother talking about that, it has no relevance to us.  Lets just get into the text and see how it applies to our lives.

I believe that part of a fuller understanding of scripture requires us to consider how they came to be and under what circumstances.  To see things, as much as possible, in the way the original writer and readers did.  God had an immediate purpose in inspiring scripture that often enhances the eternal message.  In fact, it is often the case that our real understanding of the eternal message is greatly enhanced by some understanding of the immediate needs scripture was written to address.

So who did write 1 Peter?  There are several theories but the one that suggests itself to me is that it was written by somebody associated with Paul and well educated in formal Greek literary styles, at the direction of Peter.  The letter appears to have been occasioned by the death of Paul and written to churches founded by people Paul had converted, but who had never met Paul.

Lets take these statements individually in a little more detail. 1 Peter and 2 Peter both bear the Apostle’s name, but the internal evidence strongly suggests they could not have been written by the same person.  2 Peter is much more crudely written while 1 Peter is written by someone with obvious literary training.  For example it  begins with a formal exordium and ends with a formal peroration and uses sophisticated vocabulary and other formal literary constructions throughout.  Not what one would expect from a Galilean fisherman.

Additionally there is exclusive use of the LXX when quoting the Old Testament.  The LXX or Septuagint, was the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures used by the Hellenistic Jews of the Mediterranean world at large.  Aramaic speaking Jews from Palestine would be expected to be more familiar with the Hebrew versions or the Aramaic Targum. 

There is also the matter of the strongly Pauline flavor of the letter.  It makes extensive use of Paul’s arguments, language and theology throughout. The author doesn’t just quote Paul, Pauline thoughts are woven throughout the text. One commentator notes 38 verbal parallels between Hebrews and 1 Peter, and while he also notes a large number of parallels between 1 Peter and James, it is the Pauline parallels that shine through.

So who wrote 1 Peter exactly?  We don’t know.  It might have been Silvanus (you know, Silas), a sometime traveling companion of Paul.  1 Peter says the letter is sent through Silvanus, but does that mean written by or delivered by or both.

So, the situation seems to suggest that its 64 AD in Rome and Christians there are under sever persecution by Nero who is trying to scapegoat them for burning the city.  Paul has just died and Peter wishes to write to converts who have probably never seen Paul, but who are disciples out of the Pauline tradition, who may be doubting their experience.  He wants to use words and terms they are used to so as not to be seen as a false teacher Paul has warned about.  It should also be noted that while Paul and Peter had patched up their differences, Paul has nothing good to say about Peter in any of his letters. 

So, in order to encourage perseverance under persecution that Peter believes is coming (although the Neronic persecutions never left the area immediately around Rome), Peter engages someone to write his message in Paul’s style.

That was a lot.  You can read a lot more here and here

The letter is addressed to a broad group of churches in Asia Minor that were, as discussed before, churches started by people Paul had witnessed to, but not directly by Paul.  The subject of the letter is summarized exactly where one would expect it to be, in the peroration at the end.  In 5:12 it says “With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”  In other words trouble is coming, but God provides you the means to stand fast in it.  Or a more Pauline way to look at it: life sucks, then you die, praise God.

Some questions:

1.  Is it worthwhile to think/study the background, context and authorship of New Testament scripture?  After all, we know God is the ultimate author of everything in scripture, why bother with all this extra stuff?

2.  What do you think about the way our scriptures came into being?  Have you thought about it?  Does it matter?

3.What do you think of the early churches?  Were they perfect and worthy of emulation?  Did they get it more than we? Were there factions in the early church?  Should our church strive to be a “New Testament Church”?  If so, in what sense?

4.  If you were about to undergo persecution, what would you find comforting and from whom would you accept advice?