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First Epistle of Peter

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The First Epistle of Peter is a book of the New Testament. It has traditionally been held to have been written by Saint Peter the apostle during his time as bishop of Rome. The letter is addressed to various churches in Asia Minor suffering religious persecution.

Some scholars believe the author was not Peter, but an unknown author writing after Peter's death. Estimates for the date of composition range from 60 to 112 AD.

Authorship and dateEdit

The author identifies himself in the opening verse as "Peter, an apostle of Jesus", and the view that the epistle was written by St. Peter is attested to by a number of Church Fathers: Irenaeus (140-203), Tertullian (150-222), Clement of Alexandria (155-215) and Origen of Alexandria (185-253). If Polycarp, who was martyred in 156, and Papias alluded to this letter, then it must have been written before the mid-2nd century. However, the Muratorian Canon of c. 170 did not contain this, and a number of other General epistles, suggesting they were not yet being read in the Western churches. Unlike The Second Epistle of Peter, the authorship of which was debated in antiquity, there was little debate about Peter’s authorship until the advent of biblical criticism in the 18th century. Assuming the letter is authentic and written by Peter who was martyred c. 64, the date of this epistle is probably between 60-64.

One theory is that 1 Peter was written by a secretary, or amanuensis, Silvanus, who is mentioned towards the end of the epistle: "By Silvanus, our faithful brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly" (5:12). In the following verse the author includes greetings from "she that is in Babylon, elect together with you," taken for the church "in Babylon", which may be an early use of this Christian title for Rome, familiar from the Book of Revelation. "There is no evidence that Rome was called Babylon by the Christians until the Book of Revelation was published, i.e. circa 90-96 AD," say the editors of The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, who conclude, however, that Babylon on the Euphrates was intended.

Critical view Edit

Most critical scholars are skeptical that the apostle Simon Peter, the fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, actually wrote the epistle, because of the urbane cultured style of the Greek and the lack of any personal detail suggesting contact with the historical Jesus of Nazareth. The letter contains about thirty-five references to the Hebrew Bible, all of which, however, come from the Septuagint translation, an unlikely source for historical Peter the apostle, but appropriate for a Hellenized audience; thus the use of the Septuagint helps define the audience. The Septuagint was a Greek translation that had been created at Alexandria for the use of those Jews who could not easily read the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Tanakh. A historical Jew in Galilee would not have heard Scripture in this form, it is argued. If the epistle is taken to be pseudepigraphal, the majority scholarly view, according to Raymond E. Brown[1] is that it should be dated to 70-90, an opinion shared by scholars such as Eric Eve (Oxford Bible Commentary, p. 1263) and John H. Elliott (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, art. "First Epistle of Peter"),[2] and by Bart D. Ehrman[3] Stephen L. Harris, on the other hand, holds that most scholars argue for an even later date, such as during the persecution of Domitian (c 95) or of Trajan (c 112).[4]

The author's use of Peter's name demonstrates the authority associated with Peter.[5]

AudienceEdit

This epistle is addressed “to the strangers dispersed through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, elect,” (five provinces of Asia Minor) though it otherwise appears to be addressed to Gentiles rather than to the Jews of the Diaspora. Some of these areas were evangelized by Paul of Tarsus according to Acts 16:6-7, 18:23.

The author counsels (1) to steadfastness and perseverance under persecution (1–2:10); (2) to the practical duties of a holy life (2:11–3:13); (3) he adduces the example of Christ and other motives to patience and holiness (3:14–4:19); and (4) concludes with counsels to pastors and people (chap. 5).

The Epistle is attentive to keeping with the teachings of Paul, and is likewise in conformity with the teachings expressed in the canonical Gospels. The letter blends moral exhortation with catechesis, and especially relates fidelity even during suffering with the life of Jesus.

The "Harrowing of Hell"Edit

The Epistle contains the remarkable assertion: "For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged indeed according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (4:6). This passage has few parallels in the New Testament (cf. Eph 4:9-10, 1 Peter 3:18-19, John 5:25), though it has been argued that the various assertions that Christ was “raised from the dead” presuppose that he journey to the abode of the dead before his Resurrection (e.g. the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 632).

This teaching became included in the Apostles’ Creed, reading: “He (Jesus) descended into Hell.” The earliest citations of the Creed, however, (for example that of Tertullian) do not include this line (or several others), and the Apostles' Creed was not well known in the East. From the doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell emerged various medieval legends.


NotesEdit

  1. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 722
  2. Quotations from these scholars are given in Early Christian Writings.
  3. Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  4. Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  5. "Pseudonymity does not lessen the importance of this writing as a witness to Peter, If anything, it enhances its importance since it implies that some 20 or 30 years after his death Peter's name could still be thought to carry weight and be invoked to instruct Christan churches, especially in the area of Asia Minor (...) addressed is not Petrine Territory."Anchor Bible Dictionary (David Noel Freedman, ed) vol 5, ("O-Sh"), pp. 262.

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