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First Epistle of Peter

In Christianity, the First Epistle of Peter is a book of the New Testament. Doubt has been cast on the Second Epistle of Peter since early times, but this First Epistle was accepted with less difficulty into the Biblical canon.


Authorship and date

The author identifies himself in the opening verse as "Peter, an apostle of Jesus", but modern scholars are skeptical that the apostle Simon Peter, the fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, actually wrote it, due to the urbane cultured style of the Greek and the lack of any personal detail suggesting contact with the historical Jesus of Nazareth. It contains about thirty-five references to the Old Testament, all of which, however, come from the Septuagint translation, an inconceivable source for historical Peter the apostle. 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. The historical Simon Peter in Galilee would not have heard Scripture in this form. Peter's own amanuensis was the evangelist Mark, according to Clement of Alexandria and other early Christian writers.

One theory is that it was written by the 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 Apocalypse of John. "There is no evidence that Rome was called Babylon by the Christians until the Book of Revelation was published, i.e. circa 90-96 AD," say the editors of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, who conclude however that Babylon on the Euphrates was intended.

Some scholars reject both Peter and Silvanus as authors, and date its composition during the reign of the emperor Domitian (AD 81 - 91), from its reference to persecution of Christians, which had not occurred until the persecution under Nero, in which Peter was martyred himself.

If Silvanus himself wrote this work, then it could have been written at a much later time; yet both bishop Polycarp (Phil 1:3; 8:1; 10:2), who was martyred in 156 and Papias allude to this letter, so it must have been written before the mid-2nd century. Though it is also cited by Irenaeus and Tertullian in the West, the First Epistle of Peter is missing from the Muratorian Canon, of ca 170 AD. The obvious inference is that it was not yet being read in the Western churches. This would have been a curious omission if 1 Peter were available, for 1 Peter, the First Epistle of Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas are the three writings that most clearly place the bishops of Rome in the position of instructing the other churches.


This epistle is addressed to "the strangers scattered abroad", though it otherwise appears to be addressed to Gentiles rather than to the Jews of the Diaspora. Five of the provinces of Asia Minor are listed. The author counsels (1) to steadfastness and perseverance under persecution (1-2:10); (2) to the practical duties of a holy life (2:11-3:13); (3) he adduces the example of Christ and other motives to patience and holiness (3:14-4:19); and (4) concludes with counsels to pastors and people (ch. 5).

The Epistle takes pains to allign itself with Paul. Its object is to confirm its readers in the Pauline doctrines they had already been taught.

The "Harrowing of Hell"

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, which has no support or parallel anywhere else in the New Testament, occasioned the later interpolation into the Apostles Creed, "He descended into Hell" which was not in any of the early versions quoted by Tertullian, and which eventually gave rise to the Christian myth of the "Harrowing of Hell" which flowered in elaborated anecdotal medieval imagery.

External links

Online translations of the First Epistle of Peter:

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04