Introduction to 1 Peter

Authorship and Date

The book of 1 Peter is one of the General Epistles. It was written by the apostle Peter, also known as Cephas, and formerly as Simon, who served as the unofficial leader of and spokesman for the apostles. He was the son of Jonas, a fisherman from Bethsaida (cf. Matt. 16:17), who was brought to Christ by his brother Andrew (cf. John 1:40–42). Peter was married and his wife apparently accompanied him on ministry excursions (cf. Mark 1:30; 1 Cor. 9:5). Note, as well, that Peter is the main character in Acts 1–12, testifying to his leadership in the early church. The letter of 1 Peter was likely written in AD 63–65 from Rome, not from Persian Babylon (cf. 1 Pet. 5:13). Babylon was code word for a place where believers live as exiles in the midst of worldliness. Tradition teaches that Peter died in Rome around AD 67, as did his wife. Note that Silvanus, or Silas, actually wrote the book as Peter’s secretary, writing in classical Greek style as Peter likely dictated it (cf. 1 Pet. 5:12). This is the same Silas who accompanied Paul in ministry and was also a prophet (cf. Acts 15:32). 1 & 2 Peter are the only canonical books that Peter penned, although the church father Papias associated Peter with authorship of the book of Mark, who was Peter’s spiritual son (cf. 1 Pet. 5:13).

Purpose and Theme

While Peter undoubtedly had numerous reasons for penning this epistle, two themes stand out. First, Peter continually emphasizes the need to persevere in the face of struggle, suffering, and oppression. Peter reminds his readers that their hope is in eternal life, not in the present life in which they are pilgrims and strangers. This emphasis on suffering makes sense in light of the fact that Peter’s readers were Christians who were being blamed and persecuted on account of the burning of Rome. The theme of suffering is reiterated throughout this epistle, appearing in four of the five chapters (cf. 1 Pet. 1:6; 2:12, 19–21; 3:9, 13–18; 4:1, 12, 16, 19). Second, Peter also emphasizes practical matters related to believer’s living in the fallen, secular world, including issues related to work, marriage, and government. In these passages Peter teaches how Christian can reflect Jesus as pilgrims living in a hostile yet watching world.

Structure and Outline

The book of 1 Peter is notoriously difficult to outline, as Peter’s thoughts are woven together and interdependent. A suggested thematic outlined of 1 Peter is as follows:

  • Called to Salvation (1:1–25)
  • Purpose of Salvation (2:1–12)
  • Salvation and Social Life (2:13–4:19)
  • Salvation and Church Life (5:1–14)