The First Epistle of Peter

Extracts from the Bible Study Monthly on a New Testament book

With the close of the Jerusalem conference of AD 50, recorded in Acts 15, Peter drops out of New Testament history. A few brief allusions in one or two of the Epistles afford some slight clues to his later movements but that is all.

With the aid of this admittedly slender store of data it is possible to frame a very tentative outline of Peter’s probable activities during the last twenty years of his life. Nothing definite can be claimed, but the outline is at least consistent with what is known and with what could be expected of a man of Peter’s character and calibre.

From the Day of Pentecost to the conference at Jerusalem, Acts 2 to Acts 15, was a period of seventeen years. During the whole of that time Peter had laboured tirelessly and zealously to build up the church in Judea, Samaria and Galilee. He had worked virtually entirely inside the Jewish community whilst Paul had been travelling the wider world taking the Gospel to the Jews of the Dispersion and the Gentiles. Now the Jewish-Christian churches in Jewry were well-organized and ably led. James the Just was leader of the central church at Jerusalem and had many efficient helpers.

mapThe first move appears to have been to Antioch. Paul’s reference in Gal.2:11-14 to an altercation he had with Peter at Antioch concerning the latter’s alleged ‘separation’ or ‘dissembling’ could only have taken place in AD 54, four years after the Jerusalem conference. Paul was with his home church at Antioch for about six months in that year, between his second and third missionary journeys, and after that he never returned to Antioch. It could be inferred therefore that Peter spent the next few years as leader of the Antioch church. There might have been a real need for his service. Not only Paul, but Barnabas, Silas, Lucius and possibly others of the church presbyters had all gone off on extended missionary tours.

The next clue to the Apostle’s movements is afforded by his First Epistle, written from Rome a decade later and addressed to “the strangers” (a term for Jews living in Gentile lands) “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Pet.1:1). These provinces were adjacent one to another in what is now modern Turkey, and some of them were areas into which the Apostle Paul never penetrated. The inference is obvious that Peter wrote to these particular brethren because he himself had been the means of their conversion, and that he had undertaken an extensive missionary journey in these lands similar to those conducted by Paul farther west. This would account for Peter writing to them later on in life when he realised that his own end was approaching and he could not expect to see them again in the flesh. It is certainly a fact that Christianity was very strong in these provinces at a very early date, especially in Bithynia where Luke is reputed to have ended his days twenty years after Paul’s death. It is difficult to account for this fact except on the supposition that they were evangelised by Peter. Antioch was the great missionary church of the times. Antioch had sent Paul and others on many such journeys. It is quite in keeping to think that after Peter had spent say three or four years at Antioch he too, with the blessing of that church, should set out on this enterprise, the result of which was the establishment of so many Christian communities in these five provinces. On the basis of the time taken by Paul’s similar journeys, this tour by Peter would have occupied at least three years. It would in such case have extended over the years round about 58 to 60, so that Peter could have returned to Antioch at about the same time that Paul, as a prisoner, was being sent by Porcius Festus to Rome to stand trial before Caesar the first time.

The native Christians of Rome, who had so recently endured the horrors of Nero’s persecution in AD 64 following the Great Fire of Rome, might perhaps be excused for not wishing to be involved in the trial of Paul, but not so one of Peter’s calibre. Moreover, on the authority of Peter’s First Epistle, both Mark (1 Pet.5:12-13) And Silas were with Peter in Rome.

The logical inference is that Peter arrived in Rome after Paul left the city in AD 63 and was martyred before Paul was brought back in AD 67/68 for his own trial and death. Silas had already gone, bearing Peter’s First Epistle to the churches in Asia, and Mark would obviously go immediately after Peter’s death, so that when Paul arrived there were none of his old friends in the city. That is what all relevant Scripture allusions seem to indicate.

On this basis events begin to fall into place. If, after his return from his missionary journey into the Asiatic provinces, Peter spent a few more years as the leading presbyter at Antioch, which is what the traditions insist, one comes to AD 64, when Nero instigated the first and most terrible of all persecutions. The Church at Rome was decimated and most of its leaders martyred. What more natural than that Peter, fired by his ever-present burning zeal, upon receiving the news should decide to proceed to Rome himself to help his suffering brethren? He would probably arrive as the persecution was ending. Although terrible, it lasted less than six months and was virtually over by the end of AD 64. Peter would find much to do in re-organising and encouraging the scattered remnants of the Church and he took Silas with him. Silas was an old stalwart of Antioch who had originally come from Jerusalem so that Peter had known him from the beginning. It is quite likely that Silas, who had accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey, had also shared Peter’s missionary tour to the five provinces. He is described in Acts 15:26 as one who had “hazarded (his) life for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”; just the kind of man Peter needed by his side. The couple were accompanied by Mark, and this is where certain scraps of history fit the picture. Mark is known to have founded the church at Alexandria in Egypt, at a much earlier time. He was at Rome for a short time during Paul’s first imprisonment in AD 60/62 according to Col.4:10 and Philemon 24. This coincides with the statement of Eusebius, the learned 4th Century church historian, who says that Annianus succeeded Mark in AD 62 as the bishop of Alexandria. After Paul’s acquittal and departure from Rome with Luke and Aristarchus, Mark, as the only one left, would not be likely to stay. Moreover, Paul would want his home church at Antioch to be apprised of the turn of events; most likely, therefore, Mark was sent there for that purpose, and so was available two or three years later when Peter was ready to set out.

For the present this was hidden from their sight. The sun shone warmly and the wind filled the great sail as the ship made its way steadily towards Rome. And Peter talked vigorously and enthusiastically of the work they must do in rallying the remaining brethren, binding up the wounds they had suffered, and encouraging them to hold fast to their faith. The prospect of persecution he probably dismissed as unimportant; he had already had many conflicts with the authorities and miraculous deliverance several times. He was now quite persuaded that he was immortal until his work was finished. It was almost certainly with intense interest and eager expectation that the Galilean fisherman set eyes upon the great city which was the capital of the world, impatient to begin his labours under the shadow of its walls. Perhaps he dreamed of a repetition of Jerusalem at Pentecost here in Rome: perhaps of another missionary Church like Antioch...

It was not so to be. About three years at the most seems to have been the limit of his service for the scattered brethren in Rome. Assuming that he commenced his work there in AD 65, he must have written his First Epistle a year or so later and dispatched it by Silas to the Asiatic brethren to whom it was addressed. That left only Mark with him (1 Pet.5:13). That the shadow of persecution was over the church is evident from his use of the symbolic term “Babylon” for Rome when he said in the same verse “the church that is at Babylon salutes you”. If the letter fell into the authorities’ hands before Silas got clear away from Rome there would be nothing to incriminate the writer or his brethren. (Simon Peter—Fisher of Men P.11)

1 Peter 1:2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

And while his (Peter’s) immediate readers were already of an elect nation—inasmuch as Israel had been separated out of the nations to be God’s people—yet he speaks of these followers of Jesus as participating in a further and more exclusive ‘election’—“elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus.” Aug 41

It was the heavenly Father’s foreordained intention to select the “Bride” for his Son from the fallen human race; and in so doing he has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence (1 Pet.1:2; Eph.1:4-12). ME

“For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren, and whom He...called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom.8:29-30 ASV). Thus writes the Apostle Paul in words of great force and insight. “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the elect...according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

Such are the words from Peter’s pen. These are the most direct and specific phrases in the New Testament setting forth the stages in the process of selection, and of the experiences involved in the equipment of the elect for the work to which they have been called. It may be to some advantage to strip the language used in our Versions of some of its Calvinistic austerity by substituting other words for those around which Calvinistic and Arminian advocates fought so fiercely in other days. Fore-ordination and pre-determination sound much harsher and forbidding than the word “pre-arranged”, but in essence they mean the same. “Select” or “choose” have a milder sound than their equivalent “elect”, but their meaning is the same.

Carrying the New Testament phrasing back to the institution of the Aaronic service, it may be said, first, that this priestly service was instituted exactly as it was pre-arranged by God. It was all foreknown by God, and predetermined by him before the pattern of the Tabernacle was shown to Moses. It was arranged before the foundation of that “kosmos” were laid. Thus Aaron and his house were foreknown of God in connection with that service from before the foundation of that World. July/Aug. ‘85

It needs a strong faith to believe that faulty, tainted men can be of use to God, and that men with ingrained sin can be counted holy men—yet, so it is! Aaron was but an ordinary man till God chose him and clothed him in white robes and chrismed him with oil. It was not for what he had already done that God’s choice fell on him, but for what God could cause Him to do. No more is it for what we have done that God’s Spirit comes upon us, but for what God will fit us to do. Consequently, as in Israel the priests were not made holy by service, but for service, so the priestly members of the Royal Priesthood are not accounted holy by what they have done, but by the blood of sprinkling and by their reception of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet.1:2). The Beauty of Holiness