1 Peter 1:1-25
First Peter is structured like a typical Pauline and thus typical Greco-Roman letter. The opening lines name the author, the recipients, and give an initial greeting. First Peter 1:1-2 provides that opening salutation. A Greco-Roman letter then had a section of thanksgiving before proceeding to the body of the letter. First Peter 1:3-12 fulfills the thanksgiving role with a great doxology of blessing. The body of 1 Peter begins with verse 13, though the author does not use any of the typical Greco-Roman and Pauline transition phrases.
Different scholars offer different outlines of 1 Peter (see Outline of 1 Peter). Thus there are differing opinions about what constitutes the first main portion of the body of the letter. Most frequently, 1 Peter 1:3-2:10 is seen as the first major portion of the body of the letter and 1 Peter 1:13-25 is identified as a separate section of the first part of the body.
Opening Salutation - 1 Peter 1:1-2
The typical Greco-Roman letter begins with the name of the author and any embellishing description that he might wish to describe himself. The second element of the opening salutation is the name of the addressees. The letters of Paul frequently provide a theological description of the addressees as "saints" or "faithful" brothers in Christ. The final section of a Greco-Roman letter is a greeting. Secular letters had a single word that is usually translated "Greetings." Most of the Pauline letters expanded and adapted the greeting to "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Peter has a similar expansion.
The opening word of the Greek text (and most English translations) is the author's name, Peter. Though many modern scholars believe the book to have been written after the death of the apostle Peter, the most obvious conclusion that can be drawn is that the writer was identifying himself as Peter whom we know as one of the twelve disciples. The name Peter is an anglicized form of the Greek word petros which means "rock," a literal translation of the Aramaic word for rock, Cephas, which was the name Jesus gave Simon (Matt. 16:18 and Mark 3:16).
Peter describes himself simply as "an apostle of Jesus Christ." Compared to some of the other New Testament letters and to many secular letters of that time, the description was rather brief and simple. It reflects the humility and simplicity of the author. However, the claim of apostleship was no small matter. Though the Greek word for "apostle" meant one who was sent on a mission, most scholars believe that the New Testament authors operated with a Jewish understanding of apostleship. The Hebrew word for apostle, shaliach, described a person sent with power of attorney to act on behalf of the sender. The rabbis said, "A man's shaliach is as the man himself." Thus Peter was claiming not only that he was commissioned by Christ, but also that as an apostle Peter was commissioned by Christ to act as his representative. In particular, the instructions of this letter are not presented as the "pious opinions of a well-wishing friend, but as the authoritative word of one who speaks for the Lord of the church himself" (Davids, p. 46).
More detail is given to the description of the recipients of this letter. The first word describing the addressees is the elect. This term was used occasionally by the Apostle Paul in his opening salutations. It reflects an Old Testament habit of referring to the Israelites as the "chosen" people of God. In the intertestamental Jewish writings the word came to refer to the righteous Jews who would be protected and vindicated at the final judgment. Early Christians drew on both the Old Testament and the intertestamental meanings of the word. The readers of 1 Peter were a part of the new Israel, the new chosen people of God, the church that would be victorious to (and in) the end of time.
The second word describing the addressees is exiles or, as the NIV translates, strangers in the world. The Greek word was commonly used to describe a foreigner who was living in a particular place on a long-term, but not permanent basis. The word was frequently used in the Greek Old Testament to refer to resident aliens who were living in Israel. The Old Testament required fair treatment of the resident alien though in many ancient nations such people were the object of ethnic or nationalistic abuse and prejudice. The use of the word here to describe Gentile Christians who were natives in their own provinces is spiritually important. Peter wanted his readers to understand that as Christians their true citizenship was in heaven (see Philippians 3:20).
There are two ways we can understand Peter's term. It is possible that he only wanted to communicate to his readers that this world was not their home. They were only passing through so they should not become too attached to the world. However, since they were being persecuted a second understanding is more likely. Peter wanted them to know that they were a colony of the kingdom of God planted on earth as an outpost to prepare the way for ultimate takeover of this earth by God.
A similar option faces modern believers. We can understand that this world is not our home and as result withdraw from it as much as possible and pull our righteous robes around us and wait for the second coming of Christ. Or, we can understand that God has placed us in this world as the vanguard of the coming reign of God on earth. In that case we cannot withdraw from the world, but must enter into it doing everything possible to prepare individuals and society for the time God will rule over all. The first option is defensive; the second is an offensive strategy to win the world for Christ.
The readers are also described as scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. The word scattered has also been translated by "dispersion" and "diaspora." It was a technical term to describe Jews living outside Palestine. However, since 1 Peter was written to Gentile Christians rather than to Jewish Christians the word would refer to the fact that the Christian congregations addressed were spread across the several provinces listed. Pontus was on the north part of present day Turkey as it borders the southeast end of the Black Sea. Galatia was south and a bit east of Pontus while Cappadocia was mostly east and a bit south of Galatia. Asia was the west end of present day Turkey. Ephesus was the capital and the seven churches of Revelation were all located in Asia. Bithynia was north of Asia and west of Pontus, located on the southwest and south central shore of the Black Sea. Thus the addressees of 1 Peter were in churches scattered over an area encompassing almost the northwest two thirds of present day Turkey.
We have no references in Scripture or evidence from early church traditions that Peter ever traveled in the area contained in the provinces listed in verse 1. It is quite possible that Peter did spend several years in ministry in this region, but we simply do not know for sure where he preached and when between about A.D. 45 and 64. Since there are no comments in the letter that reveal a personal relationship between the author and the readers, most scholars assume that 1 Peter is a circular letter and that Peter probably did not know most of the readers personally.
First Peter 1:2 states that the elect and resident alien status of the readers mentioned in verse 1 was according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. The New Testament concept of election is not of God predestining certain individuals to salvation and others to damnation. Rather, New Testament election means that God has predestined those who trust in Christ to salvation. The whole plan to elect the church to salvation was part of God's plan "from the foundation of the world" as Ephesians 1:4 points out. Our salvation through Christ was not an after thought or an emergency plan according to New Testament writers. It was part of God's foreknowledge.
The condition of being elect was also accomplished by the sanctifying work of the Spirit. This combination of the sanctification and election can also be found in Paul's writings in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 6:11. Davids (p. 48) points out that sanctification does not just refer to a one-time event in the New Testament but also points to a life style of practical holiness. "The Spirit does not just clean up an old life but introduces the person to a whole new life, making him or her holy."
The third characteristic of the state of being elect and a resident alien is obedience to Jesus Christ. The main evidence of election in the New Testament is obedience. The main task of a resident alien who perceives herself or himself as part of a colony of heaven would be obedience. Peter knew that the Christian life is never just a matter of head knowledge about God, nor lip service to a doctrine. It is a life shaped by obeying the requirements of covenantal relationship. That covenantal relationship is the basis upon which verse 2 also notes that the addressees are elect in Christ through sprinkling by his blood.
It may be noted that in the unfolding of verse 2 the spiritual condition of the readers is seen as the product of all three members of the Trinity. Peter does not use the term Trinity nor mention the members in the creedal order. However, this verse provides the kind of Scriptural basis that led Christians a few centuries later to describe God as Trinity.
The opening greeting is similar to those of Paul. The use of the word grace is usually thought to be an adaptation of the Greco-Roman greeting form. The Greek word for grace is charis while the word for an opening letter greeting was chairein (see James 1:1 for an example). Perhaps Paul and Peter used the word grace because they knew it would catch the eyes of readers' who were expecting "greeting." Peace is the traditional Jewish greeting translating shalom. Daniel 4:1 in the Greek Old Testament has a letter greeting of "Peace be multiplied." Thus, instead of a stereotyped greeting Peter (and Paul) convey a prayer that the grace and peace of God be multiplied in the lives of their readers.
The Opening Thanksgiving - 1 Peter 1:3-12
The typical Greco-Roman letter followed the salutation with a section giving thanks to the gods for success in a subject related to the letter or for safety in travel. Most of Paul's letters follow the salutation with a statement of thanksgiving to God (Galatians is a notable exception). Ephesians 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:3 contain a slight variation in which the thanksgiving begins "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (The variation is less obvious in Greek because the words for blessed and thanks begin with the same two Greek letters.)
The thanksgiving of 1 Peter follows the exact wording of Ephesians 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:3. Blessed be God was a frequent expression of praise in synagogue worship, but Peter follows the Christian tradition in specifically identifying God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the praise is not offered to deity in general, but to the God whom the readers had come to know through their personal relationship with Christ. God is further identified as the one who according to his great mercy has given us new birth. The use of the word mercy here probably reflects the Old Testament concept of hesed or covenant faithfulness. In spite of Israel's constant disobedience to the covenant God remained faithful and loving toward Israel when he would have been justified in destroying her. Paul asked in Romans 3:3 if human unfaithfulness would ever nullify the faithfulness of God. His answer was a resounding, "No!"
The specific expression of God's mercy that Peter celebrates here is the fact that God has given us new birth. The Greek text literally describes God as the one who birthed us again. Commentaries are divided between those who see the act of new birth as a reference to baptism and those who see it as a reference to conversion. It may be unnecessary to choose between two options since the earliest church baptized a person as soon as possible following their conversion. If 1 Peter was written as late as AD 112 and was a baptism liturgy then the reference to the new birth should only refer to the moment of conversion since the baptism was yet to occur. The pagan mystery religions from which some of the readers had been saved had initiation ceremonies that were considered a new birth. However, Peter has a total change of life and a new way of living in mind when he speaks of the new birth.
This new birth was toward a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is possible that Peter intended to contrast the living hope of the Christian faith with "dead hopes" of Judaism or paganism. However, it is more likely that living is what happens after a new birth. The spiritual birth was birth to a new life that bursts with the vitality of confidence that God who began a good work among them will complete it by the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the security for that hope. The God who has begun to work in such a powerful way that he raised Jesus from the dead will continue his work. Hope in that is a future certainty.
Verse 4 further defines the hope as an indestructible, incorruptible, and unfading inheritance reserved in heaven for you. The description of hope as inheritance also arises from the language of the new birth in verse 3. When a person is born into a family, he or she becomes an heir to whatever inheritance there is. The Greek expression "born again" or "given new birth" can also be translated "born from above" or "given heavenly birth." Being born into the family of God means that we become heirs of the inheritance God has provided for his family (see Romans 8:14-17). The inheritance is then described as indestructible, incorruptible, and unfading. Kelly (p. 51) notes that these words mean that the inheritance "is totally unlike ordinary human possessions; neither catastrophes, nor human sin, nor the transitoriness to which the whole natural order is prey can affect it."
This inheritance is reserved in heaven. Furthermore, verse 5 declares that by faith and through God's power the readers are being protected for salvation. The word protected is a military word describing a garrison defending a position or fortress. The good news Peter wanted to share with his readers as they faced persecution was the promise that God would protect them. The inheritance was being reserved; the readers were being protected. God was at work to see to it that those who trusted in him would endure to receive their inheritance.
The appropriate response is to greatly rejoice even in the midst of suffering. Several observations are important for verse 6. First, Peter was not commanding his readers to rejoice, he was stating the way in which they were already responding to the hope of the inheritance. Second, their rejoicing was not superficial hilarity or a denial of the reality of pain and suffering. Peter was describing the deep flowing sense of gladness and exultation that God was at work in the world. There are times when joy is simply a conviction that God is present to work with you through the pain toward good again.
Verse 6 concludes by mentioning the sorrow that comes from various kinds of trials. The word for "trials" literally means temptations or tests in which failure is very possible. These trials are another passing reference to the persecution being experienced by the readers of 1 Peter.
However, the purpose of these trials according to verse 7 is the proof of your faith. The optimistic hope of Peter comes through at this point. The word proof translates a Greek word for testing in which success is in mind. The trials are tests that are intended for failure, but the outcome will be tests that successfully prove the faith and faithfulness of the readers. As metals were assayed and either purified or proven pure by fire so the proof of genuine faith will be determined by the trials and sufferings facing the readers. The author of Hebrews saw persecution and pressure as discipline that God managed to bring us to holiness. The author of 1 Peter sees persecution and pressure as tests by which our faith can be proven to be genuine. When faith has passed all the tests of life the end result will be the salvation of your souls as verse 9 concludes.
It is easy to become absorbed in the present reality and the future hope of this salvation. Peter, however, did not want his readers to forget that this salvation had a past tense also. The prophets of the Old Testament had looked forward to a time in which God would accomplish his purpose on earth that was being thwarted by Israel's disobedience. Not only the prophets but intertestamental Jews and the Jews of Jesus' day looked forward eagerly to the time when God would make all things right on earth.
The good news of the gospel meant that looking forward was no longer necessary. The prophets had struggled over details of time and historical context, but that struggle was over because what they had dimly foreseen had been clearly fulfilled by Christ. Peter describes the Spirit inspiring the prophets as the Spirit of Christ. This expression "Spirit of Christ" probably means the Spirit that comes from Christ and witnesses to Christ. The Spirit that witnessed to Christ in the Old Testament inspired the Scriptures that proclaimed both the sufferings and the glories of the Coming One. Those details may have been hazy to the prophets but they were crystal clear to the readers of 1 Peter. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus they had seen both the sufferings and the glories of Christ. In fact, the growing persecution that they faced offered them the opportunity to participate in both the sufferings and glories of Christ.
The great privilege of those who live after the Cross and Resurrection is alluded to by the final phrase of verse 12, angels desire to look into these things. Regardless of suffering, the first readers, and we, are privileged people. We know the truth of Christ that prophets and angels longed to understand in days gone by. The tragedy of many Christian's lives is that they know this precious truth and say nothing and do nothing about it.
The Call to Holiness - 1 Peter 1:13-25
The word therefore in verse 13 shows that the author believed that the following exhortation was the logical consequence of the blessing of verses 3-12. The English versions often have two or three commands in verse 13. The Greek text has only one: place your hope completely in the grace that is being brought to you. The first part of the call to holiness is to hope completely or, as the Greek states, perfectly in grace. It is easy to begin to hope partially in things other than the grace of God. Mixed motives, double minds, and the nervous keeping their options open must end. Hope must be focused totally on grace.
The way in which that is done is described in the first phrase of verse 13 that literally says to "gird up the loins of your minds." This was a highly picturesque way of saying, "Get ready." The coming pressure and persecution will be greater than that which has already passed. We are going to have to set aside the distractions and leave the doubts and false hopes behind. To do so requires that we get ready. Being mentally prepared for pressure is the first step (and sometimes the only step necessary) to focus hope completely in grace. The second way in which hope is focused on grace is by being sober. Though the word sober was originally as the opposite of intoxication, "in the NT it denotes 'complete clarity of mind and its resulting good judgment'" (Davids, p. 66). Peter seemed convinced that sounding thinking was a necessarily prerequisite for holy living.
The next imperative does not come until verse 15 where the readers are commanded to become holy. Verses 14 and 15 present a series of attendant attitudes, actions, and circumstances that go with the command to be holy. Verse 14 calls on the readers to be obedient children. That obedience is defined as not being conformed to the desires that you previously had in your ignorance. Peter knew that life in the pagan world prior to the conversion of his readers had been bound up in the pursuit of earthly passions. Using the same verb that Paul did in Romans 12:2 Peter argued that holiness calls for a life that is no longer shaped by the world. Rather the holiness of God is to become the pattern in all you do.
Verse 16 provides Old Testament backing for the call to holiness by quoting Leviticus 11:44-45 and 19:2. Peter Davids (p. 69) insightfully comments, "To be called by God, to be drawn near to him is to be called to imitate him, for God cannot coexist in fellowship with one who has an evil lifestyle." The call to holiness is both Old Testament and New is not a call to be good for goodness' sake. Rather, it is a call to the appropriate purity that will allow us to enter into personal relationship with a holy God.
One of the reasons Peter is eager to call his readers to holy living is the price that was paid for their redemption from sin. Verses 17-21 point out that the Gentile readers were not ransomed from the emptiness of their former life by material things, even such valuable materials as silver or gold. Rather, their, and our, freedom was purchased by the death of Christ.
Peter refers to Christ's death by speaking of his precious blood. The word precious literally means of high value or of high cost. The description of Christ's blood as being like that of a lamb without blemish or defect calls to mind the description of the Passover lamb. What Peter had in mind was a question similar to that which Paul asked in Romans 6:1. "If God has sacrificed the life of his own son as a Passover lamb to purchase our deliverance from sin, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" The very ridiculousness of the question answers it. Simple gratitude for the great price paid for our salvation from sin should move us to the persistent pursuit of holiness.
The final paragraph of 1 Peter 1 pulls together several themes that have already appeared in the chapter. Obedience, purity, and the new birth all are mentioned again in verses 22-23. The new concept is the living and enduring word of God. This is not a reference to the Bible, but to the creative word of God that first spoke the universe into existence according to Genesis 1. That creative word has effectively spoken new life for us via the new birth. That powerful word can create in us the capacity to love one another deeply, from the heart. Furthermore, that word of God stands forever.
Verse 24 quotes from Isaiah 40:6b-8 (though omitting Isaiah 40:7). Though the Scripture quotation speaks of the fragile and passing nature of human beings, it comes from Isaiah 40 which begins with the words, "Comfort, comfort my people, says the Lord." Peter was writing to people under the pressure of persecution. Whether then or now people under such pressure need to be reminded that the effective voice of God stands forever. It cannot be destroyed. It cannot be silenced. As Isaiah 55:11 declares, it accomplishes the purpose God has in speaking. The creating word from God is fully capable of speaking courage and the ability to persevere into the readers. That, Peter concludes, is good news.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to make his word come alive in your heart. Ask him to help you understand how his word should apply to your life.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Peter 1:1-25. Look up the Scripture references that were given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you. Describe why they are significant.
2. Select a spiritual truth that has a personal application in your own life. Describe how it applies to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to both increase your hunger for the holiness described in 1 Peter 1 and to satisfy that hunger by conforming you more closely to himself.
Second Day: Read 1 Peter 2:1-25. Now focus in on 1 Peter 2:1-2.
1. How does 1 Peter 2:1 relate to 1 Peter 1:13-25? Most translations begin verse 1 with "therefore." What is the "therefore" there for?
2. Compare 1 Peter 2:2 with 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. What similarities of language do you see? What differences in tone and message do you hear?
3. 1 Peter 2:3 is a quotation from Psalm 34:8. Read Psalm 34 and list the phrases that express ways in which you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
Third Day: Read 1 Peter 2:1-25. Turn your focus to 1 Peter 2:4-8.
1. What is the central purpose that Peter wants for his readers in the focus verses? How do I Corinthians 3:9-17 and Ephesians 2:19-22 add to your understanding?
2. Verse 6 quotes from Isaiah 28:16. What insight do you gain from Isaiah 28:16-22 about the kind of church the people of God should become?
3. Verse 7 quotes from Psalm 118:22. Read Psalm 118 and list the phrases that speak of the ministry of Christ in your life.
Fourth Day: Read 1 Peter 2:1-25. Now focus in on 1 Peter 2:9-12.
1. Paraphrase verse 9 into your own words. Then look up Deuteronomy 10:15; Isaiah 61:6; and Exodus 19:5-6. What insights do these Old Testament verses add to your understanding of 1 Peter 2:9?
2. Compare 1 Peter 2:10 with Hosea 1-2, especially 1:10 and 2:23. What does Hosea 1-2 provide for understanding 1 Peter 2:10 beyond just words to quote?
3. What changes or adaptations would you need to make in 1 Peter 2:12 to make a personal prayer for you? Would you like to pray that prayer? Why or why not?
Fifth Day: Read 1 Peter 2:1-25. Now make 1 Peter 2:13-17 the focus of your attention.
1. Read Romans 13:1-7. How are those verses similar to 1 Peter 2:13-15? How are they different?
2. Compare 1 Peter 2:16 with Galatians 5:13. What are the dangers of freedom? How can you overcome those dangers?
3. Does 1 Peter 2:15 have any specific application in your life? Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you live a life that will fulfill verse 15.
Sixth Day: Read 1 Peter 2:11-25. Now focus on 1 Peter 2:18-25.
1. Read Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-4:1 and compare them with 1 Peter 2:18-19. What applications of these passages can you make for your relationship with an employer or supervisor?
2. Verse 22 quotes from Isaiah 53:9. Read Isaiah 53. How do the thoughts and words of Isaiah 53 appear to have influenced what Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:20-25?
3. In what ways has Christ been a shepherd to you? Use Psalm 23 and John 10:1-18 if you need help getting started. Write your testimony as one of Christ's sheep.