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The So-Called First Letter of Peter

I am nearly at the end of my discussion of “Petrine” works in early Christianity, the books that some early Christian or another had been written by Peter, the closest disciple to Jesus in the New Testament.  There are other books connected with Peter that I have chosen not to talk about, at least at this point, including legendary accounts of his missionary activities, some of which are really interesting and were, at one point, highly influential.

At this stage, though, I’m talking only about books that we know were thought to be legitimate parts of the New Testament in one circle or another:  2 Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Gospel of Peter.   And it has occurred to me (just this morning!) that I haven’t said anything yet about the one book connected with Peter that almost *everyone* we know of (who said anything about the matter) thought was part of canonical Scripture:  the book of 1 Peter.

I will want to say a few things about this book before getting back to the more specific question of why some of these books made it in (1 and 2 Peter) and others not (the rest), especially, of most interest to me these days, the Apocalypse of Peter.

Here is a basic overview of the book of 1 Peter, taken from my New Testament textbook (this will take a couple of posts).


The book of 1 Peter is a kind of circular letter written in the name of the apostle Peter to “the exiles of the Dispersion” in several of the provinces of Asia Minor: “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1). Before considering the question of whether Simon Peter himself actually wrote this letter, we need to learn something about its recipients and their situation.


The Addressees

The author calls his readers “exiles” (1:1) and “aliens” (2:11). Most scholars have understood these to be figurative designations of…

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The Situation Behind the (“Forged”) Book of 1 Peter
Introducing the Book of 2 Peter



  1. Lev
    Lev  November 23, 2018

    Perhaps these were Roman Christian Jews who had been expelled by Claudius in 49 who had resettled in Asia Minor?

    My own theory is that Peter had founded the Roman Church in the early 40s and Mark’s gospel was written when Peter was leaving Rome (as Eusebius / Papias states). If my theory is right, then Peter would have had a connection with these Roman Christians and had good cause to write to them.

    Maybe Peter wrote this letter in Rome shortly after Nero had become Emperor in 54 when the ban on Jews living in the city had been lifted, which is why he knew the exile was only temporary?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2018

      Yes, it’s possible. But the recipients of the letter appear to have been former pagans.

      • Lev
        Lev  November 25, 2018

        The NRSV translates the opening greeting as “To the exiles of the Dispersion” – doesn’t that suggest he’s writing to Jewish Christians? Are there indicators elsewhere in the letter that suggests they were former pagans?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 26, 2018

          It’s clear from the letter that the readers used to spend their time partying and associating with the pagans of their world. And so referring to them as members of the dispersion is a metaphor: just as the old people of God, Israel, was dispersed throughout the world, so too the new people of God, the Christian church.

  2. Avatar
    KSS  November 24, 2018

    Bart…is Christian hermeneutics simply a rationalization by Christians to “make” the Bible texts say what they want them to say? Not being satisfied to take the texts as they are? Not sure I’m asking my question correctly, but so many Christians seem to try time after time to rationalize that the texts say; OT and NT. Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2018

      Yes, I’d say most humans of all kinds spend a good deal of effort listening to, affirming, and rewriting (in their heads) all sorts of things to confirm their previously held beliefs — many Christians among them. (But so too raving Democrats and closed-minded Republicans!)

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  November 24, 2018

    I noticed that 1 Peter correlates pretty strongly with Pliny the Younger’s reference to Christians in his letter to Trajan in the year 112. For instance–

    1. 1 Peter addresses Christians at “Pontus” and “Bithynia”. Pliny the Younger was the governor of Pontus at Bithynia.
    2. Peter references the “trials” and “sufferings” of those Christians throughout the letter. Pliny talks about punishing Christians in a manner that could be considered “suffering” as such, including executions.
    3. Peter warns those Christians to not slip back into their ignorant and “futile ways inherited from your ancestors”. Pliny talks about pardoning those Christians who are willing to prove their loyalty to the state by participating in the Roman cultic rituals.
    4. Peter tells those Christians to “accept the authority of human institutions,” including the Emperor and his provincial governors. Pliny talks about not actively seeking Christians to prosecute but only prosecuting those who are accused. It seems clear that the author of 1 Peter is telling Christians to avoid giving non-Christians a reason to accuse them, e.g. by unnecessarily challenging Roman institutions, thus raising suspicions of sedition and rebellion.
    5. Peter addresses Christian slaves who are “beaten”. Pliny says he tortured slaves for being Christian.
    6. Peter exhorts the Christians to not engage in immoral acts, such as theft, murder, adultery, etc. Pliny says the Christians take an oath not to commit immoral acts, such as theft, murder, adultery, etc.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 25, 2018

      Yes, for a long time — until about forty years ago, when I took a semester-long PhD seminar on 1 Peter (the seminar was so intense that over the course of the semester we only managed to get through the first three chapters!) — scholars situated 1 Peter in the context of the Pliny letters; but since then they have been impressed by the fact that the persecutoions mentioned in 1 Peter are not “official,” administered by Roman magistrates, but local and “unofficial.” So the kinds of problems that led to 1 Peter may well have led to more official and wider scope actions, in the same region, later.

  4. Rick
    Rick  November 25, 2018

    Temporary Exiles whose real home is heaven….. that almost sounds a touch…. gnostic? Which would, I suspect, have ruled out any canonization.

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    Iskander Robertson  November 25, 2018

    i have a question about the greek word for “doubt” in matthew 28 when some decsiples doubted they saw jesus.

    is the doubt in the sense of lack of evidence that the person they saw was jesus?

    In what sense is doubt employed? Some apologists may say that they were so full of joy that they doubted ….this makes no sense.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 26, 2018

      Yes, it’s very odd. If Jesus is talking with them, what’s to doubt? In my book on How Jesus Became God I argue that the tradition arose in an attempt to show why it was that some disciples never did come to believe.

  6. Avatar
    AstaKask  November 25, 2018

    I don’t think we should discount the possibility that “Peter” was writing to the Martians.

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