Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Old Testament Law and the World of the Near East
David Q. Santos
The God of the Bible is a God of order. He is a righteous God and demands that His followers maintain a walk of purity. While His true expectation is perfection He is aware of mankind’s inability to reach that level of sanctified living. Ephesians 5:1 tells Christians to be imitators of God while other passages demonstrate the necessity of a life of being like Christ. However, anyone who has read the Old Testament knows of the failures of attempting to live up to God’s standards. Yet, it is this standard that man was given to observe and use as a measurement for purity. Israel was not the only nation that held to a standard set of codes in the ancient near east. These other codes have both similarities and differences to the Biblical law. These similarities have stirred up debate that primarily seeks to critically examine the origin of Biblical law.
One cultural aspect of ancient Israel that extended to much of the near east is the location of doing public and private business where legal matters were involved. It was common “throughout the Near East, law cases and official matters were handled near the gate area.” At the gate, elders were able to examine the details of a matter and make judgments based on the statutes that were related to the matter. For ancient Israel these statutes were found in the Tanakh; or more specifically the first part of the Tanakh called the Torah.
The Torah is the first division of the Hebrew Bible and is made up of the first five books, also called the books of Moses. The word Torah is used over two-hundred and twenty times in the Old Testament. These uses can be broken into three categories. “It involves (1) teaching or instruction to be learned, (2) commands to be obeyed and (3) guidance about how to live in specific situations.” These divisions help to provide a guideline for observing details of Biblical law and compare it to the law codes of other cultures surrounding ancient Israel. It should be noted here that the concept of law in English is not identical to that of the Hebrew word Torah. The Hebrew view of law is broader than in English and offers a broader more robust, even somewhat theological, meaning rather than only a list of legal regulations.
Near East Similarities to Biblical Law
While the Old Testament has sections devoted to laws and regulations, it is primarily a theological history of a specific people. Elwell and Beitzel rightly observed that the Old Testament does not have a single law section and that it was given to people with a specific world view and cultural context. They wrote, “The legal corpus of the OT is not given in one book or in one section. Moreover, the laws reflect the development from the desert context (Exodus) to the context of the land (Deuteronomy). The OT legal material is complex, full of variations and duplications. It is found in Exodus (chs 20–23; 25–31), Leviticus, Numbers (chs 3–6; 8–10; 15; 18; 19; 28–30), and Deuteronomy (chs 5–26).” This is an important observation as it provides context for the similarities of the laws of other people in the ancient near east. Another author, writing in the Lexham Bible dictionary described this phenomena as similar subject matter due to historical and cultural context; describing Israel as being a neighbor to these other nations. Johnson wrote, “The Old Testament law is similar in subject matter and formulation to the laws of its historical and cultural neighbors because Israel lived in a similar cultural, political, and economic context.” There are several examples of Israel’s neighbors having law codes. Perhaps the most famous is the Code of Hammurabi.
The Code of Hammurabi is an ancient Babylonian document that details the law code reported to have been established by Amraphel of Genesis chapter 14 who was a contemporary of Abraham. “The Code of Hammurabi is a product of Mesopotamian scribal schools, where scribes learned vocabulary and forms in order to produce various types of written texts.” The code was found by a French Assyriologist in 1901 and was translated shortly after that. Hammurabi represents the oldest law code know giving it a very high academic significance. Having this code puts light on what Israel’s neighbors were capable of in the days of Abraham and perhaps even earlier. Additionally, laws from other cultures have been established. For example, the Hittites had laws about returning lost or stolen property that were very strict.
Following the discovery of Hammurabi’s codes scholars began to make comparisons to Biblical law. Some of these comparisons found similarities such as “both codes are written in the third person; both are based in casuistic law—a legal code based in legal precedent using the language and the two codes cover many of the same classes of offense with similar judgments.” Bryan Johnson added that Hammurabi’s code and Biblical law deal with problems that are common to ancient Israel as well as the rest of the Near East. Since they certainly must have experienced common “crises” they must have found similar solutions and recorded them.
An example of this is how the ancient world should deal with widows which is possibly an underdeveloped topic of study. One author described the Akkadian term almattu as a term that goes beyond the English translation of widow. It is more specific to a woman who has no financial support from a family member after her husband has died and is in need of support or protection. This definition of a widow may have been maintained in the memory of ancient Near Eastern cultures. However, the Apostle Paul had to tell Timothy (1 Tim. 5) that not all widows should be given support, but only the real or true widows. This is an area where ancient Near East regulations and Hebrew Scriptures agree.
Scholars have made many observations of similarities between ancient Near Eastern laws and Biblical laws, but there are also many differences. For example, in the Torah an ox goring a slave differs from an ox goring an ox (Exod 21:28–31; 35–36). In other ancient Near Eastern law codes (LE 53–55), both oxen and slaves are simply property.” Other differences include “Biblical law imposes limitations on kings (Deut 17:14–20), the laws of the surrounding nations do not—they foster support for the unlimited authority of their kings; Biblical laws value human life over property. While surrounding nations might require restitution of thirtyfold for theft (and even execution), biblical law limits restitution to fivefold and spares the thief (Exod 22:1–4); and Biblical law places a much higher value on women. For example, an unloved wife (even a slave) still had to be given the full rights of a wife.” Biblical law uniquely provided for the well being of Israel by instituting a Sabbath or rest day.
The Mosaic covenant stipulated a number of practices that seem to promote not only spiritual health but also physical and emotional well being (Adolph 1976, 3:56). For instance, the observance of the Sabbath—which occurred every seven days—was based on the divine rest from creative activity on the seventh day (Gen. 2:3). The Lord commanded His people to keep the Sabbath holy by worshiping Him and ceasing from all normal work (Exod. 20:8). Modern medical science has shown that “the ideal rest period for the healthy operation of the human body and mind is that of one day in seven” (Harrison 1982, 2:642).
Biblical law reinforced the concept of responsibility of the individual. Hammurabi allowed the legal sentence of one person to be paid by another. For example, a son could be put to death for his father’s crime. This was not allowed in the Biblical model. Biblical law also placed limits on the function and power of kingship while Israel’s neighbors did not. Ancient Near Easter kings had “absolute power. He is above the law; he makes it and changes it as he pleases since he gets direct orders from heaven.”
Purpose of the Law
Biblical law also has the purpose of pointing a people to a holy life while following their God. “The main aspects of biblical law that is absent from the laws of other ancient Near Eastern communities are the two underlying themes: 1. Loving God (Deut 6:5) and 2. Loving neighbor (Lev 19:18).” The law for Israel was a set of guidelines that gave instruction on how to behave like people that were chosen by God. “God used the Law as his righteous instrument to teach, in a very specific way, what sin is (cf. Rom 5:20; 7:7, 8b) and how they should walk on a path which kept them undefiled by sin and holy to the Lord. The Law was the teacher and the keeper of Israel (Gal 3:24).”
Hammurabi’s code had a basic purpose. It was there to solve disputes and legal matters by providing a framework for making those legal decisions. The Lexham Bible Dictionary summarized it by writing,
The law codes compiled in scribal schools were not intended to be used in everyday legal decisions. As Otto explains, “Legal sentences were not the sources of court decisions but reflected them” (Otto, “Aspects,” 161–62). At times the laws were meant to represent the righteousness and justice with which the king who promulgated the code was said to rule.
The contrast with God’s law should be obvious. “The Law of God is his means of sanctification. He consecrated Israel by an act of grace, and he required Israel to remain holy.” “The laws in the ancient Near East dealt with the ordering of society. But Israel’s laws were given to regulate every aspect of life: personal, familial, social, and cultic. The laws were to teach Israel to distinguish between holy and profane, between clean and unclean, and between just and unjust.”
Origin of Law
The similarities of all of the ancient law code is used by some Biblical skeptics to argue against Mosaic authorship. Ironically, prior to the discovery of Hammurabi’s code, some skeptics argued against Mosaic authorship based on the supposed inability of ancient people to write such a complicated system of regulations. The discovery of Hammurabi’s code dispelled that argument. “… new studies in ancient Near Eastern law have discredited the 19th century critical view that codes of laws like the Pentateuch must be anachronistic. Since other nations had advanced legal and ethical law codes like these, it is reasonable to assume that Israel might have as well.”
With that argument’s death the skeptics developed a new approach. “Some argue that these similarities indicate that Moses was not inspired—just well read. Others argue that it is fitting that the laws given to Moses would be culturally relevant to his setting (and therefore similar, but not identical, to the laws of the neighboring nations).” Gleason Archer Jr. pointed out that based on the Biblical record of Moses he would have been qualified to be the author of the Pentateuch. He wrote,
From all that has been recorded concerning Moses himself, it is evident that he had every qualification to be the author of just such a work as the Pentateuch. He had the education and background for authorship, since he received from his ancestors that wealth of oral law which originated from the Mesopotamian cultures back in the time of Abraham (hence the remarkable resemblances to the eighteenth century Code of Hammurabi), and from his tutors in the Egyptian court he received training in those branches of learning in which Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt excelled the rest of the ancient world
These critics discount the supernatural means of inspiration of Scripture and disregard the origin of the Bible being from God. Moses was the mediator of the law and not the one that originated the law. The origin of Biblical law is God.
Forms of Law
The Decalogue or Ten Commandments provide a summary framework of much or all of Biblical law and are found in Exodus 20:1-17 and in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. “It is possible to identify in Deuteronomy four major issues which the decalogue addresses and around which the laws seem to be organized. They are: authority, dignity, commitment, and rights and privileges.”
Albrecht Alt articulated that there were apodictic laws that were without dispute and were probably found to be essential to life apart from a nomadic existence. Some found this work incomplete though. Greengus divided these apodictic laws into three forms; 1) unconditional imperatives which included the Ten Commandments. 2) Curses, Deuteronomy 27:15-26 for example. 3) participial sentences which concerned criminal infractions as in Exodus 21:17. He also observed that there is a distinction between laws that are expressed in a positive or negative fashion. He further noted that “The laws in the book of the covenant are mainly of the casuistic type.” These basic forms help to provide divisions of examination.
Categories of Biblical Law
There have been many schemes suggested for dividing Biblical law presented. However, perhaps the most simplistic is just to observe the Biblical “collections” of laws. There are four such collections found in the Torah. “(1) the Ten Commandments and the book of the covenant (Ex 20—23), (2) the tabernacle laws (Ex 25—40), (3) the laws of Leviticus (Lev 1—27) and (4) the laws of Deuteronomy (Deut 12—26).” Each of these collections address various concerns of behavior. They give instruction and correction for holy living. These collections can be broken into topical concerns as well.
Two basic categories of Biblical law can be seen in the divisions of prohibitions and commands. The commands are meant to promote godliness including holiness, justice, and love within the Hebrew community. The prohibitive laws restrict the community from activity that would discourage sanctified living of God’s standards. These include eating unclean meat or blood or fornication. From that foundation additional divisions can be made to advance the study of Biblical law.
One prominent division used in Biblical criticism is the holiness code. This division identifies a specific portion of Leviticus. “Here Moses addressed all of Israel (cf. 17:2; 18:2; 19:2; 20:2; 21:24; 23:2; 24:2; 25:2; 26:46; 27:2).” The priestly laws provide an additional division. These are found in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers defining holy days and offerings related to priestly duties. Elwell and Beitzel add the covenant code stating that the “purpose of the covenant code was to exemplify and to set into motion the legal machinery by which Israel as a nation could reflect God’s concern for justice, love, peace, and the value of life.” Deuteronomy adds to the list of divisions as it draws on the former books and summarizes the laws into a series of speeches given by Moses. In this fashion Moses gives the laws “new applications of the book of the covenant in view of Israel’s new historical situation. Israel was about to enter the Promised Land when Moses outlined to them the Law of God (Dt 1:5).”
Biblical law was given to Israel to prepare the nation to be a holy people and to keep them away from living like the pagan nations that surrounded them. It should not be surprising that other nations found themselves with similar issues of the Hebrew people and thus, developed similar solutions. What was surprising to some is that these people also recorded their laws. This gives rise to the notion that law may be much older than scholars believe. Ultimately, this is a recognition of a God of order. By doing synthetic study on the ancient Near East knowledge of the background to the world of the Old Testament is gained. This knowledge provides context for Old Testament study. As Greengus noted, “It is impossible to study biblical law without recognizing that a substantial number of Pentateuchal laws, especially in the book of the covenant, have recognizable parallels in either form or content with other ancient Near Eastern laws, particularly from Mesopotamia.” There is still work to be done in Old Testament studies that archaeology and ancient history can help with bridging the gap of culture and time to gain greater understanding of the Old Testament. Ultimately, this work helps to understand who God is and what He requires of His holy people.
Alt, Albrecht. Essays on Old Tesament History and Religion. Translated by R. A. Wilson. Garden City, NY: Anchor Book, 1968.
Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. 3rd. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994.
Baker, David L. "Finders Keepers? Lost Property in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Law." Bulletin for Biblical Research 17 (2007).
Deere, Jack S. "Deuteronomy." In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
Elwell, Walter A, and Barry J Beitzel. "Biblical Concepts of Law." In Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.
Greengus, Samuel. "Law." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 497-515. New York, NY: Yale University Press, 1992.
Hamme, Joel, Bryan C. Babcock, and Justin David Strong. "Code of Hammuraby." In The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
Johnson, Brian. "Law in the Hebrew Bible." In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, edited by John D. Barry et al. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.
Roth, Martha T. "The Neo-Babylonian Wido." Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 1991-1993.
Selman, M. J. "Law." In Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, by David W Baker, & Desmond T Alexander, 497-515. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Walton, John H. "Deuteronomy: An Exposition of the Spirit of the Law." Grace Theological journal 8 (1987).
 Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, electronic ed., vol. 10, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 321.
 M. J. Selman, "Law." In Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, by David W Baker, & Desmond T Alexander, edited by T.D. Alexander and David W. Baker, 497-515. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Law, Biblical Concept Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1315.
 Brian Johnson, “Law in the Hebrew Bible,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
 G. Frederick Wright, “Review of BIBLISCHE UND BABYLONISCHE URGESCHICHTE Von Heinrich Zimmern,” Bibliotheca Sacra 61, no. 241 (1904): 189.
 Joel Hamme Bryan C. Babcock and Justin David Strong, “Hammurabi, Code of,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
 Wright, 189.
 David L. Baker, “Finders Keepers? Lost Property in Ancient near Eastern and Biblical Law,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 17 (2007): 208.
 Brian Johnson, “Law in the Hebrew Bible,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
 Martha T. Roth, “The Neo-Babylonian Widow,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 43–45 (1991–1993): 1.
 Ibid, 2.
 Johnson, Law in the Hebrew Bible.
 Dan Lioy, “Spiritual Care in a Medical Setting: Do We Really Need it?,” Global Journal of Classical Theology 3 (2002).
 Jack S. Deere, “Deuteronomy,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 306.
 Bible and Spade 3, no. 1 (1990): 15.
 Johnson, Law.
 Elwell, 1316.
 Hamme , Hammurabi.
 Elwell, 1316.
 Ibid, 1314.
 Johnson, Law.
 John H. Walton, “Deuteronomy: An Exposition of the Spirit of the Law,” Grace Theological Journal 8 (1987): 214.
 Albrecht Alt, Essays on Old Testament History and Religion, Translated by R. A. Wilson (Garden City, NY. 1968). 133.
 Elwell, 1315.
 Elwell, 1315.
 Ibid, 1316.
Background of 1 Peter
To the Dispersion from Babylon
David Q. Santos
First Peter is an epistle that has many points of controversy in modern scholarship. Nearly every division of study has its critics and proponents. Beginning with authorship and the date of the epistle, this work will examine the background of First Peter with the purpose of providing a brief overview of the key debates and highlights of First Peter. Since both authorship and providence are tied so closely to the dating of First Peter, they are both to be considered before the dating of the epistle. Key divisions of study that will be examined are authorship, date, provenance, destination, purpose, literary Plan, and theological themes. This is primarily a literature review though at some points some exegetical work will be necessary as well.
Authorship of the book of First Peter is highly debated among biblical scholars. This debate is centered on the date of the book. Those that hold to an early date will almost universally hold to the Apostle Peter as the book’s author. Those who maintain a late date will see an author other than Peter. Duane Warden observed that “Those who see a social and ecclesiastical setting in the book that postdates the 60s have tended to reject Petrine authorship.” The rejection of Petrine authorship comes in a number of forms but it should be noted that there are not any external sources that a critic can point to for support of non-Petrine authorship. The longstanding debate over the authorship of First Peter can be observed in the 1970 book The First Epistle of Peter by liberal sceptic F. W. Beare. He argued that First Peter had many traits in common with the Roman historian Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (c. 61–c. 112), specifically in terms of the persecution associated with the reign of Trajan (98-117). Sceptics of Peter’s authorship typically attempt to push the date of First Peter to later dates by placing the persecution the letter is preparing for as persecution from Trajan or Domitian rather than Nero.
A review of the scholarly literature yields the observation that those who object to Peter’s authorship do not have any external evidence to support their cause. So the case being made for late date has no actual evidence other than their speculation. They base their argument on internal evidence. Köstenberger (et al.) divide these objections into four categories.
1. The Greek of 1 Peter is better than one would expect from a fisherman.
2. Some content of the book appears to them to be from a later date.
3. Some critics see a dependence on “Deutero-Pauline” letters forcing a later date.
4. The critics believe that regions spoken of were not part of Peter’s possible area of ministry.
Köstenberger and others did not find these arguments to hold any real veracity. The conclusion was that “When examined on its own merits, however, little reason emerges to doubt the authenticity of 1 Peter…” This is especially true when the external evidence supporting Petrine authorship is evaluated.
There is absolutely no external evidence to support the premise of First Peter being a forgery; the extrabiblical evidence for Petrine authorship is overwhelming. “The early tradition of the church was thoroughly acquainted with 1 Peter and attributed authorship of the book to the apostle Peter in an impressive way.” The external evidence comes from the Bible itself and from writers found in antiquity. This thought is summed up;
1. 2 Peter attests to Peter’s authorship.
2. Witness of many early church writings including the Didache, 1 Clement, Polycarp, Eusebius, Papias and Tertullian.
The Greek historian Eusebius (230-339 AD) wrote about the tradition of preserving the teachings found in specific gospel accounts. He sought to provide a church history that was carefully and accurately conveyed in near Lukan fashion. He stressed that he was carefully writing a history based on the facts as he understood them. He stated that, “in the course of my history I shall be careful to show…” demonstrating his commitment to a method of recording accurate history.
In this record Eusebius argued for the authorship of the Pauline epistles and defended Peter’s authorship of Fist Peter. Based on his written statement he must have had knowledge of the long tradition regarding Petrine authorship. This was demonstrated when he wrote, “One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work.” It should also be noted that Eusebius did not just accept any epistle that bore an apostle’s name. In fact, he evaluated past witnesses and made appraisals of authenticity on several non-canonical letters. On these letters he wrote, “The so-called Acts of Peter, however, and the Gospel which bears his name, and the Preaching and the Apocalypse, as they are called, we know have not been universally accepted, because no ecclesiastical writer, ancient or modern, has made use of testimonies drawn from them.” The translators of Eusebius explained that the witness and tradition from antiquity was that Peter was the authentic author of First Peter. They listed Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Papias, Hermas, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria as all attesting consistently to the Petrine authorship of First Peter. 
In its final salutation, First Peter indicates that the epistle’s origin is Babylon. This statement has spurred debate that has direct implications of the letter’s authorship and date. The debate also has indirect influence on issues of the letter’s purpose, hermeneutics and even eschatological views. There is disagreement whether this statement is literally Babylon or some other location with which “Babylon” is a code that the first century readers would naturally understand.
One common argument for Peter writing from Rome is that Babylon was not highly populated in the mid first century. One author wrote, “First Peter specifically mentions “Babylon” in 5: 13 as the place from which the letter was sent. … the location could be Mesopotamian Babylon. However, at this time the city was all but deserted.” There are some scholars that have examined the evidence for the understanding that Babylon was “all but deserted” in the time period which Peter would have been writing. One such scholar was asking about this very question noting that Acts 12:17 describes Peter having traveled to “another place.” The natural question would then be, “…when Luke writes that Peter, after his miraculous release from his imprisonment in Jerusalem by Herod, ‘went into another place’ (Acts 12:17), ‘it is possible that [that place] was Rome;’ and (2) that ‘we are compelled to understand as Rome’ the apostle’s reference to Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13.” Given that Peter is thought to have died in Rome this would be the normal conclusion. However, scholarship should be very cautious when applying allegorical meaning to Biblical text. There must be strong evidence for that meaning or it should be rejected. Additionally, one can note that the regions and cities mentioned in chapter one are all literal locations, it does not seem natural to then use a code word later in the same book. Dr. Andy Woods made this same point while writing on First Peter 5:11.
A minority view indicates that Peter wrote his letter from Babylon before journeying to Rome. According to this view Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13 should be interpreted as a straightforward statement rather than a code. This view has much to commend it. If one interprets the geographic areas in the greeting section of the letter literally (1:1), then the geographic area mentioned in the conclusion of the epistle (5:13) may deserve the same literal interpretation.
Was Babylon a vacant city in the mid first century? Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum argues that it was a highly populated location. He argues that there was a large Jewish contingency in Babylon. Fruchtenbaum wrote,
Many assume that Babylon is being used symbolically of Rome, but there is no need to take such a view. Babylonia would be a logical place for Peter to be. At this point in Jewish history, Babylonia had the highest concentration of Jews outside the land and was the center of Judaism outside the land. The Babylonian Talmud would later be developed there. Since Peter was the Apostle of the Circumcision, it would be natural for him to go there in his travels. This also points to the strong Jewishness of the epistle.
Fruchtenbaum’s view also carries the weight of ancient writings who recorded that there were indeed Jews populating Babylon. Philo and Josephus both give witness to there being Jews in Babylon during this time period. Philo wrote, “…Babylon, and all the satrapies around, which have any advantages whatever of soil or climate, have Jews settled in them.” Josephus recorded the release of Hyrcannus from his bonds in Parthia and stated that Hyrcannus was “from his bonds and permitted him to settle in Babylon, where there was a great number of Jews.” Given this evidence, perhaps the standard acceptance of Babylon being code for Rome should at least be examined further.
Woods summed up five good reasons for the Apostle to the circumcised (Gal 2:8) to travel to Babylon.
1. Babylon would have been a logical place for peter to visit as many Jews were left there from the Babylonian Captivity.
2. The magi were from Babylon (Matt 2:2).
3. Jews from Mesopotamia were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:9).
4. The Babylonian Talmud was developed there.
5. Babylon became an influential Jewish center.
There is reason to consider that Peter did indeed travel to locations in addition to Rome before ultimately arriving in Rome where he was thought to have been martyred. The historical record and biblical text both allow for this to have taken place. If the straightforward reading of First Peter 5:13 were accepted it could end confusion and debate in many areas of theology. This would be especially true for theological views that rely on such non-literal readings such as preterism which holds a view that “Babylon” must mean either Rome or Jerusalem. It would also aid in interpretation of Revelation’s references to Babylon. If Peter is not using code then it becomes more difficult to read a code into Revelation.
The date of the book of First Peter is tied to authorship because the skeptics try to push the date beyond the lifespan of Peter to prove the book to be a forgery. Once Petrine authorship is established the potential date for the book becomes much narrower. Whether the book was written from Babylon prior to Peter’s arrival in Rome or from Rome itself the date has a maximum date of the mid-60s. A similar statement was also made by Köstenberger who wrote, “The best indicator as to the date of the letter, given Peter’s authorship, is the reference to Rome at 1 Peter 5: 13… Peter most likely was in Rome in the mid- to late 60s.”
As stated before authorship and dating are tied together. Skeptics such as Beare try to place the persecution of First Peter in the time of Domitian or Trajan which would make the book written in the late first century to the early second century. Other scholars point out that the context of First Peter fits better with the persecution of Nero. And as Köstenberger wrote, “a date prior to the persecution of Nero, which began in approximately AD 64. Most likely, 1 Peter was written slightly before then, around AD 62– 63, when the harbingers of this persecution were already on the horizon.” This conclusion fits best with the context of the book and solves the most problems.
First Peter opens with a greeting to the elect pilgrims who are in the dispersion. Based solely on the context of this greeting it is obvious that the letter is written to believers. They are called elect, a term that is used primarily of believers; though it is also used on Israel and of Christ. These elect have election according to the foreknowledge of God. “Foreknowledge” is an accusative singular noun from πρόγνωσις (prognosis) which is used only twice in the New Testament (cf. Acts 2:23). The verbal form προγινώσκω (proginwskw) is used another five times and is used of believers (Rom 8:29), Israel (Rom. 11:2) and of Christ’s death (1 Peter 1:20). The recipients of Peter’s letter are also described as being in sanctification. ἁγιασμός (hagiasmos), here rendered as sanctification is used ten times in the New Testament and always speaks of believers being made holy or separate. There is also a reference to the Holy Spirit being active in that sanctification; a statement that can only be universally true of Christians. The word for pilgrim is παρεπίδημος (parepidhmos) which is an adjective that carries the idea of being a temporary resident. Rather, they are “Christians, who are not at home in this world.” The idea of being pilgrims in a foreign land temporarily had a dual meaning in application. First, these are people not in their natural homeland. But second, they are anticipating their new home that is not on this world. The author wrote this letter to believers that were in “five of Asia Minor’s Roman provinces. The letter was evidently meant to circulate among the churches in this area.” Fruchtenbaum argues that “The fact that they are of the Dispersion (a word found elsewhere only in John 7:35 and James 1:1) shows them to be Jewish people living outside the land.” While this is an intriguing view it may be best to see the letter going out to the churches in those regions which would be made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
As with other portions of the background to this epistle there is not unified agreement on the purpose of First Peter. “There seems, however, to be no unanimous agreement in recent research as to what these purposes were and thus how they should be categorized and described.” Typically, scholars have held that the book is primarily a training manual for Christians living under persecution. It is a book that trains believers to have a good witness in a foreign land while suffering at the hands of others. Dinkler argues that at least the portion dedicated to the example of a holy woman, Sarah, is an example to the women in Peter’s day. She wrote, “Peter’s purpose in 1 Peter 3:5–6 is to present an example of effective witness to non-Christians that applies in his culture, not to endorse marital or social hierarchy for all time.”
There are several examples of holiness being exhibited while in foreign lands found in the Bible. These examples would have served Peter’s audience well. They would have taught them that God preserves and protects and sometimes He gives strength and peace to those that are not delivered from persecution. Dryden described it this way, “Traditionally many biblical interpreters have argued that the author’s agenda is consolation, training the eyes of these suffering Christians heavenward to embrace a hope of glory that outweighs the pain of their present circumstances.” This seems like a reasonable view of this epistle which obviously does tell believers how to handle suffering while maintaining faith. Dryden pointed out that there is a modern change in scholarship. He noted that some have argued recently that the book’s “aim is to shore up the corporate identity of these churches to combat temptations to cultural isolation and/or assimilation.” The theological themes of the book are primarily centered on comfort and hope while suffering; thus, this should be the understood purpose of the book.
The discussion of the literary plan of First Peter is unique to the book’s study. “Remarkably, there is a rather large consensus regarding the structure of 1 Peter in the recent scholarly literature.” Scholars have used many different schemes to outline First Peter.
Köstenberger, for example, used the theme of God’s people and how they were addressed by the epistle. He broke the book into five sections including an opening and closing division. The other divisions look at the status of the people of God, the responsibility of the people of God, and the responsibility of the church and elders. Charles Ryrie took a different approach and used grace as the main thrust of his scheme for First Peter. Ryrie had seven divisions with an opening and closing section. The other divisions focused on grace meaning security, sobriety, submission, suffering, and service.
A key grammatical devise used in First Peter to move the narrative was highlighted by Köstenberger. He pointed out Peter’s five uses of Ἀγαπητοί (agaphtoi). He wrote, The literary plan of 1 Peter is marked by the presence of the direct address “dear friends” (Gk. agapētoi), in 2: 11 and 4: 12, which divides the letter into three parts: 1: 1– 2: 10; 2: 11– 4: 11; and 4: 12– 5: 14; 1: 1– 2 constitutes the opening greeting and 5: 12– 14” This devise moves the narrative forward with a pattern of three distinct divisions.
The examination of a biblical theology of First Peter would be a vast study. The epistle touches every major category of systematic theology. The epistle makes an appeal to the eternality of the Word of God in 1:22-25; thus making a contribution to bibliology. First Peter adds to the church’s knowledge of Christology by providing the picture of the chief cornerstone in 2:4-8. This short epistle refers to Jesus as Christ twenty time. The epistle adds to the church’s knowledge about their position as a royal priesthood 2:9; touching doctrines of ecclesiology. The book provides a theology of suffering that can encourage believers in any time period of history or of their own lives. Brian Najapfour made a good point in his study of First Peter. He wrote, “Along with the theme of suffering, two dominant doctrines appear throughout First Peter: Christology and eschatology. Peter uses these doctrines as a source of strength for the suffering saints.” Fruchtenbaum made a similar point by describing Peter’s teaching on salvation as having a past, present, and a future. Köstenberger also affirms this thinking by describing Peter’s teaching on eschatology as pointing believers to Jesus’ second coming and the resurrection of the dead. Najapfour concluded his study with this statement, “What lessons can we glean from this study? First, we should understand our suffering Christologically. That is, we should view our suffering through the cross of Christ. Doing so will give us comfort in the presence of pain. Second, we should understand our suffering eschatologically. We should remind ourselves that our suffering is but for a while.”
Upon examining the epistle of First Peter several key observations should be made. First, the evidence supporting Peter’s authorship is overwhelming and should be accepted without debate unless one is simply going to reject the Bible as presented on grounds beyond scholarship. The date of the book is mid to late 60s from either Babylon prior to Peter’s arrival in Rome or from Rome itself. The evidence for rejecting that Babylon is code for Rome is significant and has had little attention paid to it in modern scholarship. The work by Fruchtenbaum and Woods is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg of the matter. The destination is clearly to believers under persecution in Roman providences identified at the beginning of the book. The purpose of the book has had several shifts in modern scholarship. Yet, the simplest answer is that the book is to instruct and comfort persecuted believers. The literary plan of the book is well executed with several schemes to move the narrative. These are both grammatical and thematic in nature and both types work well to provide an organized instructive document. The book also goes into deep theological topics but is primarily Christological and secondarily eschatological. The theme of the day of the Lord is prevalent in the work to provide suffering believers with a theology of suffering with Christ. All in all, this is a powerful epistle that carries with it the authority of the Word of God.
Arndt , Williams, Dander W. Frederick, and Bauer Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Beare, F. W. The First Epistle of Peter. 3rd. Oxford: Blackwell, 1970.
Dinkler, Michal Beth. "Sarah's Submission: Peter's Analogy in 1 Peter 3:5-6." Priscilla Papers 21, no. 3 (2007).
Dryden, J. de Wall. "Refined by Fire: Paraenetic Literary Strategies in 1 Peter." Tyndale Bulletin 55, no. 2 (2004).
English, E. Schuyler. "Was St. Peter Ever in Rome." Bibliotheca Sacra 124 (1967).
Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. Tustin: Ariel Ministries, 1994.
Hiebert, D. Edmond. "Designation of the Readers in 1 Peter 1:1-2." Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980).
Josephus. The Works of Josephus. Translated by A.M. William Whiston. Peabody: Hendrickson Publisher, Inc., 1987.
Köstenberger, Andreas, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition. Nashville: by B& H Academic, 2009, 2016.
Najapfour, Brian. "Significance of Suffering in the Study of First Peter." Edited by Joel R. Beeke. Puritan Reformed Journal 1, no. 2 (2009).
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.
Seland, Torrey. "Resident Aliens in Mission: Missional Practices in the Emerging Church of 1 Peter." Bulletin for Biblical Research 19 (2009).
Warden, Duane. "Imperial Persecution and The Dating Of 1 Peter And Revelation." Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 34, no. 2 (June 1991): 202-211.
Woods, Andrew M. "Have the Prophecies in Revelation 17-18 about Babylon Been Fulfilled? Part 2." Bibliotheca Sacra 169 (2012): 673-676.
Yonge, Charles Duke. The Works of Philo Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995.
 Duane Warden. "Imperial Persecution And The Dating Of 1 Peter And Revelation." Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 34, no. 2 (1991): 202.
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1310.
 F. W. Beare, The First Epistle of Peter (3d ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1970) 41-43.
 Ibid, Kindle Locations 26683-26689.
 Ibid, Kindle Location 26656.
 Köstenberger, Location 26652.
 Ibid, Location 26659-26674.
 Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 134.
 Ibid, 133.
 Ibid, 133–134.
 Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890). 133 (footnote).
 Köstenberger, Location 26796-26800.
 E. Schuyler English, “Was St. Peter Ever in Rome?,” Bibliotheca Sacra 124 (1967): 314–315.
 Andrew M. Woods, “Have the Prophecies in Revelation 17–18 about Babylon Been Fulfilled? Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 169, no. 673–676 (2012): 233–234.
 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 1003.
 Charles Duke Yonge with Philo of Alexandria, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 783.
 Woods, 235.
 Ibid, 234.
 Köstenberger, Location 26796.
 William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 775.
 Roger M. Raymer, “1 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 839.
 Fruchtenbaum, 992–993.
 Torrey Seland, “Resident Aliens in Mission: Missional Practices in the Emerging Church of 1 Peter,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 19, no. 1–4 (2009): 567.
 Michal Beth Dinkler, “Sarah’s Submission: Peter’s Analogy in 1 Peter 3:5–6,” Priscilla Papers Volume 21 21, no. 3 (2007): 12.
 J. de Waal Dryden, “Refined by Fire: Paraenetic Literary Strategies in 1 Peter,” Tyndale Bulletin 55, no. 2 (2004): 317.
 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 1975.
 Köstenberger, Kindle Location 26834-26836.
 Brian Najapfour, “Significance of Suffering in the Study of First Peter,” ed. Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Journal Volume 1 1, no. 2 (2009): 26.
 Fruchtenbaum, 993.
 Köstenberger, Kindle Location 27005.
 Najapfour, 31.