• When and Where
Two letters in the NT are attributed to Peter, the most important of Jesus’ male disciples, who was executed in Rome about 64AD. But the majority of mainstream scholars do not think he wrote either of them. The letters reflect a much later historical context, and show signs themselves of different authorship, with 2 Peter being still later than this letter.
Scholars do consider 1 Peter to have been written from Rome – as the greetings from those “in Babylon” in the last chapter suggests. However the date is debated, some say as early as 80 or perhaps 90 based on assumptions about some references in non-canonical letters. Borg is among the majority that date it into the early 2nd Century based on its endorsement of Roman authority and conventions about slavery.
• Key Insights
This is a “circular” letter – sent to several communities in Asia Minor from a leader of a community in Rome (perhaps “a” Peter, but not “the” Peter). The recipients are suffering some social ostracism due to their faith – and while non-lethal, severed family and financial relationships can be most difficult.
The audience is thought to be mainly made up of gentile “God-lovers” (in large part due to the phrasing of 4:3 and the statements that follow.)
The phrase “born again” is used here (otherwise only found in the Gospel of John) and there are a number of vivid metaphors including one unique one: “the living stone.”
• Big Picture
Unlike many texts we’ve read, here the conflict is clearly with outsiders, not within the community – and notice how this text talks about fear: “Fear not- do not be afraid” – even in the face of rejection and persecution!
Martin Luther is said to have loved this letter, and much of the Protestant idea that all believers are a ministers is based in this text.
There is a pattern of affirmation, exhortation, moral teaching and encouragement that repeats multiple times. We gain some insight into the life of an early, largely gentile Christian community (note that this text is one of only 2 in the NT where the word Christian is used (here in 4:16, also Acts 11:26 and 26:28).
Blessings on your reading!