A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the Greek New TestamentIntroduction
The first letter of Peter is actually in the form of a letter, not a personal letter, but more like a general letter, the type of letter a bishop might circulate to churches under his charge. The churches are facing difficulties, probably persecution, and so the letter seeks to encourage a reliance on the grace of God. Even in the West, Christian culture is being marginalized and so believers increasingly find themselves in the minority, alienated, threatened and thus at a socioeconomic disadvantage. "To this end, First Peter encourages a transformed understanding of Christian self-identity that redefines how one is to live as a Christian in a world that is hostile to the basic principles of the gospel", Jobes.
The structure of 1 Peter
The grace of God is the means by which a believer survives in a Godless world
1. The holy people of God, 1:3-2:10
i] God's people are reassured in divine blessing, 1:3-9
ii] The witness of salvation, 1:10-12,
iii] Personal holiness - be what you are, 1:13-2:3
iv] The Christian fellowship - one in Christ, 2:4-10
2. Instructions on Christian living, 2:11-3:12
i] The principle, 2:11-12
ii] State and household duties, 2:13-25
iii] Marital duties, 3:1-7
iv] Civil and domestic duties, 3:8-12
3. Encouragement to the suffering churches, 3:13-5:11
i] Living as a believer in the face of suffering, 3:13-17
ii] Suffering unjustly for Christ, 3:18-22
iii] Standing firm in the face of suffering, 4:1-11
iv] Sharing Christ's sufferings, 4:12-19
v] General exhortations for elders and church members, 5:1-11
A final word of greeting and benediction, 5:12-14
It has been argued that 1 Peter is a homily, even a baptismal homily, but it is generally held to be a letter to believers facing persecution. In epistolography the opening of a letter aligns with the exordium in rhetoric, although more personalized, then follows the body of the letter ending in a conclusio which aligns with the peroratio in rhetoric. Adolf Deissmann made a distinction between a personal letter and an epistle, ie., "a longer, conscious work of literature cast in the form of a letter but addressed to a wider audience and meant for publication", Boer. New Testament epistles tend to possess elements of both a personal letter and an epistle. Their peculiarity lies in the writers intention that they be read publicly, that they be read aloud in church. For this reason they adopt many of elements of secular rhetoric. In 1 Peter, the body of the letter / epistle takes up all but the prologue, 1:1-2, and the Conclusion, 5:12-14. The body presents in three parts which, to some degree, aligns with formal deliberative rhetoric:
Probatio - teaching which establishes Peter's central thesis: The grace of God is the means by which a believer survives in a Godless world, 1:3-2:10.
Digressio - Practical application / instructions on Christian living within a Godless world, 2:11-3:12.
Exhortatio - exhortations and encouragement for surviving in a Godless world, 3:13-5:11.
Petrine authorship of this letter was accepted by the early church, but in the modern era doubts have been raised due to: i] the eloquence of the Greek used in the letter which is assumed beyond an uneducated Aramaic speaker; ii] the failure to acknowledge Paul's missionary work; iii] the adoption of Pauline doctrinal constructions; iv] the use of quotations from the LXX rather than Hebrew / Aramaic translations; v] the evidential hints of the letter's composition later than Peter's death during the persecution of believers by Nero. This has led to the widely held view that the letter is pseudonymous, emerging from a Petrine school, cf. Beare, Best, Bigg, Elliott. Against this view there are those who argue that the letter was written by an amanuensis under Peter's direction, cf. Clowney, Cranfield, Davids, Jobes, Kelly, Reicke, Stibbs & Walls.
Those who argue that the letter is pseudonymous date its composition between 75 and 95AD. If, on the other, it was written by Peter using an amanuensis, then it would be dated close to his death. Tradition has it that Peter died at the hand of the emperor Nero in 64AD.
The letter states that it was intended for the believers who lived in Pontus, Capadocia, Galatia, Asia and Bithynia, that is, ancient Asia Minor, or what is today known as Turkey. This was a Greek speaking Hellenized region, urban, educated and mobile and it is generally accepted now that the intended recipients of the letter were Gentile believers.
Purpose and themes
Peter states that his letter has as its intended purpose "exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!", 5:12. Peter sets out to teach the true grace of God, encouraging his readers to stand fast in it and in so doing face the temptations, trials, doubts and confusion of the Christian life which so easily undermine faith. This divine grace is "manifested in the new life which they enjoy through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1:3-5), in the life they experience as members of God's people (2:4-10), in the example of Jesus in his sufferings (2:21-25), in the forgiveness of sins in baptism (3:18-22), in gifts of ministry in the church (4:10f). This same grace of God enables them to purify their lives as citizens (2:13-17) and live by the will of God (4:2). So, they ought to stand fast in that grace. This they require to do all the more because they are in the last times; the end is shortly about to break upon them (4:7, 17); a sign of the closeness of the end is the persecution and suffering which they have already suffered in part (1:6; 3:13-17), which they endure even as he writes and will have to endure to an even greater degree (4:12-19)", Best.
The suffering of Peter's readers is central to this letter and so is addressed in detail. It is unclear what type of suffering is being addressed. Many commentators feel that state sponsored persecution is in mind, but it seems more likely that the problem is "verbal abuse and social ostracism", Achtemeier.
So then, Peter outlines the gospel of Jesus Christ, the fundamental principle of which is the free grace of God to all who believe, arguing that it is by this grace that "the Christian life is lived out within the larger unbelieving society", Jobes
Bibliography: Commentaries - 1 Peter
Achtemeier, Hermeneia. Beare, Blackwell, 1945. Best, NCB. Ball, Wesleyan, 1966. Bigg, ICC, 1902. Bowman, Laymans. Clowney, BST. Cranfield, Torch. Cranfield, Religious Book Club, #74, 1950. Davids, NICNT. Dubis, HGT, 2010. Donelson, NTL, 2010. Elliott, Anchor, 2000. Grudem, Tyndale, 1988. Hiebert, Moody. Jobes, BECNT. Kelly, Blacks. Leaney, CBC. Michaels, Word. Mounce, Eerdmans. Reicke, Anchor, 1964. Selwyn, Macmillan, 1947. Senior, Glazier. Stibbs & Walls, Tyndale, 1959, replaced.