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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

1 Peter - Introduction

Despite attempts of scholars such as R. Perdelwitz, B. H. Streeter, H. Windisch, H. Preisker, and F. L. Cross in the first half of the twentieth century to argue to the contrary, 1 Peter should be read as a genuine letter. Earlier attempts to argue that 1 Peter was a baptismal sermon or liturgy that was subsequently incorporated into a letter have now largely fallen out of favour.

1 Peter was quickly accepted as an authentic apostolic writing. The first probable citations from 1 Peter are in Polycarp's epistle to the Philippians (c.130 CE), and the letter is also referred to at 2 Pet 3:1 . It is first cited explicitly as a Petrine writing by Irenaeus (in the late second century), and thereafter its use becomes widespread.

Despite 1 Pet 1:1 , the author is unlikely to have been the apostle Peter. The cultured Greek of the epistle makes it perhaps the most literary composition in the NT. The apostle Peter probably knew some Greek, but 1 Peter does not look like the product of an unlettered (Acts 4:13 ) Galilean fisherman. It employs a sophisticated vocabulary incorporating several NT hapax legomena, and its author appears to have some command of the techniques of Hellenistic rhetoric. He is also intimately acquainted with the OT in the LXX, whereas we should have expected the Galilean Peter to have been more familiar with an Aramaic Targum or the Hebrew.

One cannot save Petrine authorship by arguing that Peter employed a secretary. If one argues that this secretary was Silvanus, the travelling companion of Paul (e.g. Selwyn 1958 ) or an anonymous amanuensis of the Roman church (Michaels 1988 ) the letter then becomes the product not of Peter, but of the secretary, since it is the latter's language that the epistle exhibits (see Beare 1970 ).

The epistle appears to rely heavily on traditions and not on personal reminiscences of Jesus. It is not clear that similarities between 1 Peter and, for example, Romans and Ephesians require literary dependence, but at first sight the letter does have a deutero-Pauline feel. Yet many distinctive elements of Pauline theology (e.g. justification by faith) are entirely absent from 1 Peter, and even where characteristic Pauline expressions, such as ‘in Christ’ are employed, they are hardly used in a distinctively Pauline manner (see 1 PET 5:14 ). The epistle also shows some affinities with non-Pauline writings such as James, Hebrews, and 1 Clement. This suggests either that all these writings are drawing on common traditions, or that at least some of them were sufficiently well known to our author to have influenced his language (in favour of literary dependence, see Beare 1970 ; in favour of common catechetical and liturgical traditions, see Selwyn 1958; Achtemeier 1996 ). Knowledge of any of these writings would point to a date later than the apostle Peter is meant to have perished, in the Neronian persecution (c.66 CE). Indeed, the thought and tenor of the epistle would seem to place it towards the end of the first century, at a stage of development not far removed from that of the Pastoral Epistles (see Best 1971 ).

More specifically, the use of the code name ‘Babylon’ for Rome ( 5:13; cf. Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21 ) probably reflects the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. There must have been time for Christianity to have spread into a wide region of Asia Minor ( 1:1 ) and for the name ‘Christian’, apparently first coined in Antioch (Acts 11:26 ), to have become current ( 4:16 ). There is, however, still a lively eschatological expectation ( 4:7, 17 ), and the letter must be early enough to have been known to Polycarp. All this points to a date somewhere between 70 and 100 CE (so Best 1971; Balch 1981; Elliott 1982 ; on the inconclusiveness of some of this evidence, however, see Achtemeier 1996 ).

It is conceivable that, as Harnack first argued, the ascription to the apostle Peter was added to the epistle in the second century to secure its place in the canon (although there is no evidence for this). A more probable explanation, however, is that the letter was issued from a circle of Peter's followers in Rome in his name after his death (so Best 1971; Elliott 1982; Achtemeier 1996 ; on the general issue of pseudepigraphy see EPH c). To be sure, once doubt is cast on the authorship, doubt may also be cast on the identification of Rome (‘Babylon’) as the place of origin, since this could be part of the mechanism of pseudepigraphy. But the affinities of 1 Peter with 1 Clement, together with its possible echoes of Romans, tip the balance in favour of a Roman provenance for this letter.

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