Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Background of 1 Peter To the Dispersion from Babylon
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.
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