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Introduction to the First Epistle of St. Peter

St. Peter, originally called Simon, was a native of Bethsaida in Galilee (Jn. 1: 42 — 44), but had settled in Capernaum (Mk. 1: 21). He was married (Mk. 1: 30) and plied the trade of fisherman (Mt. 4: 18). He and Andrew, his brother, had been drawn to the lower Jordan Valley by the Baptist’s preaching. There he was introduced to Jesus the Messiah. Jesus looked with favour on his future vicar* and changed his name to Peter (Rock). Peter then followed Jesus into Galilee (Jn. 1: 42 — 43) and was present for the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2: 2). Later he became a disciple of Jesus (Lk. 5: 1 ff.) and was chosen as an Apostle (Lk. 6: 12 —16). Jesus promised to make him his vicar* (Mt. 16: 17 — 19). More than once he was signally honoured by our Lord (see especially Mk. 5: 37 f.; 9: 1 f.; 14: 33 f.). More than once he acted as spokesman for the other Apostles (Mt. 15: 15; 16: 18; Lk. 12: 41; Jn. 6: 69). After the Resurrection, Jesus solemnly made Peter the head of his Church on earth (Jn. 21: 15 — 17), and after the Ascension Peter immediately  took over as Primate#  of the Church and Vicar of Christ (Acts 1: 15 f.; 2:14 — 41; 3: 1— 5, 12 ff.; 10; 1 – 18; 15: 1f.). After the martyrdom of James the Great, he miraculously escaped from prison and left for some unnamed place (Acts 12: 17), possibly Rome. But he returned to Jerusalem and presided at the meeting in 49/50 (Acts 15). Then he spent some time in Antioch (Gal. 2: 11 f.). It is historically certain that St. Peter also was in Rome where he endured martyrdom, either in C.E. 64 or 67, during the reign of Nero.                                                                                                      

This Epistle was written from “Babylon” (5: 13), which according to the Fathers and nearly all commentators is a symbolic name for Rome. It was addressed to Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, who were being persecuted and oppressed by their pagan neighbours (2: 12, 3: 6; 4: 4; 4: 14) and had fallen into a number  of un-Christian practices  (2: 11 f; 4: 2 f.). They were in danger of relapsing into paganism (1: 7, 14; 4: 12; 5: 7, 12). When St. Peter learned of this situation, he wrote them the present letter of encouragement in their trials of warning against the dangers to which their faith was exposed, and of exhortation to remain steadfast in their hope of heavenly reward.

(From: “The New Testament”
By J. Kleist, S.J. and J. Lilley C.M. Bruce Publishing Co. 1954.)

Footnotes:

We explain two titles the early Church gave to St. Peter and his successors. They are in fact designation of function rather than status. They remain in use today.

*    Vicar  — Latin “vicarious” supplying the place of another. Thus a vicar is one who holds authority as the delegate or substitute of another: so Christ’s vicar. or representative is the person He appointed to be the senior Apostle after His Ascension. This earthly human leadership was soon to be strengthened by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Primate — Latin “primas” — first. Thus, in the Church, the title emphasises the seniority of the one designated first in authority.

 

Index of Reflections and Related Text

This page is a work in progress:

(Meanwhile, please scroll down to chosen reading.)

Note: St. Peter in chapter 3 covers his subject matter in a similar way to that of St. Paul in his letters.
It is believed they may have had in mind a common teaching reference in use at that time. Therefore as the material in Chapter 3 is covered elsewhere, we have omitted this chapter. 

 

The First Epistle of St. Peter 

1.    Chapter 1 verses 1 and 2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen sojourners
of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia,
and Bithynia,

in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through
sanctification by the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling
with the blood of Jesus Christ: may grace and peace
be yours in abundance.

In this letter St. Peter is addressing the Christians who are exiled from their real fatherland and are scattered among the inhabitants of Asia Minor. They are called to the faith ‘according to the fore knowledge of God the Father’ (See Rom. 8: 28 etc) who decreed to give them all the means of salvation and sanctification through the Holy Spirit, which goal is achieved by obedience to Jesus Christ. Exodus 24: 3 – 8 tells us how God made a Covenant with the Israelites when Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of calves as the ‘blood of the covenant’ and pledged their obedience to God’s Law. At the last Supper, Christ inaugurated His Covenant in His own blood with His followers, whereby they contracted to obey and follow Him. Through baptism the believer is made a partaker of the merits of Christ which He won for us by the shedding of His blood on the cross. Thus they become the new members of the people of God by the ‘sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ’.

2.    Chapter 1 verses 3 to 5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you

who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to
a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.

In this and the next two readings, St. Peter proclaims a beautiful doxology blessing God and giving thanks for His mercy. God is blessed for bestowing on Christians a new life of hope, the basis of which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its goal is an inheritance imperishable and secure, which is still in the future, but is already prepared, and only waits for the proper time to be revealed.  That time is the day of the second coming of Christ. This reward depends neither on fortune nor human causes, for the power of God assures it; and the virtue of faith will maintain it thro trial and temptation. Thus the Christian already possesses salvation in germ. Its full effects will be realized only at the end of time with the resurrection of the body.
 
3.    Chapter 1 verses 6 to 9

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you
may have to suffer through various trials,

so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious
than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the
revelation of Jesus Christ.

Although you have not seen him you love him; even
though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

 
as you attain the goal of (your) faith, the salvation of
your souls.

In the assurance which faith gives the Christian of securing eternal salvation, they should be able to hear with joy the various trials to which Divine Providence subjects them. Even as gold must be purified by fire, so must faith likewise be tried in the furnace of humiliation. Unlike human love, which depends upon personal contact for its existence, their live is for one whom they have not seen, or rather for one they have only seen with the eyes of faith. By believing in Him, they have a foretaste of the unremarkable joy of the glorified, and thus consider the furnace of humility or any other suffering as temporary hindrances on their way to being with God.

4.    Chapter 1 verses 10 to 12

Concerning this salvation, prophets who prophesied
about the grace that was to be yours searched and
investigated it,

 
investigating the time and circumstances that the
Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified
in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and
the glories to follow them.

 
It was revealed to them that they were serving not
themselves but you with regard to the things that
have now been announced to you by those who
preached the good news to you (through) the
holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which
angels longed to look.

Due to their interest in the Messianic salvation, the Old Testament prophets tried to fathom the meaning of future events made know to them. They were particularly anxious to know the time when the sufferings and glorifications of the Messiah were to take place, but were informed that their prophecies would not be fulfilled during their life time. How fortunate therefore are those for whom the prophets predicted such mysteries of grace, which were explained to them by those, who spoke by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. And not only the prophets, but even the angels longed for a chance to witness and understand the mystery of salvation.

5.    Chapter 1 verses 13 to 16

Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly,
and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought
to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

 
Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with
the desires of your former ignorance

 
but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in
every aspect of your conduct,

 
for it is written, “Be holy because I (am) holy.”

While invoking God as a Father, says St. Peter, let them converse in fear i.e. stand in awe of Him, and conduct themselves as dutiful children since He is an impartial judge. This contains a clear caution against the error of some of the Israelites who believed that mere physical descent from Abraham alone admitted one to the promises made to Abraham’s children. God’s children must prove themselves such by God-fearing works, which was, in fact, the well-established teaching of the Sages. Although this Epistle was written mainly to non-Jews, St. Peter nevertheless deals with absurd opinions of some uninformed fellow Jews. He thus emphasised that it was vain for them to hope to be saved by highly selective practices and precepts of the former ceremonial law whilst leaving aside the precepts with which they did not wish to be bothered. If they accepted Christ as Messiah, then they should hope for salvation by believing in Him, by the price of whose precious blood they were redeemed from their sins as they had heard by the word of the gospel preached to them. His doctrine is the same as all the writings of the Apostles attest: that to be saved it is not enough to have faith or hope in Christ, but it must be a faith joined and working by charity, obeying the law of Christ in the spirit of charity with a sincere and brotherly love of everyone without setting our hearts upon the vanities and corruptible things of this world.

6.    Chapter 1 verses 17 to 21

Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially
according to each one’s works, conduct yourselves with
reverence during the time of your sojourning,

 
realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct,
handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things
like silver or gold

 
but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless
unblemished lamb.

 
He was known before the foundation of the world but
revealed in the final time for you,

who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead
and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Christians are called to a renewed and virtuous life, free from malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and detraction. Whether convert or long-standing follower, all must develop an appetite for the milk of God’s word, specifically the doctrine of the Messiah, and by continually feeding on it, grow to maturity in the faith. A further inducement to progress, are the sweet consolations which the Lord brings them when He takes possession of a soul – drawing on Ps. 33 [34]: 9.They are to become a spiritual house built upon Christ as the corner stone. Christ is ‘a living stone’, i.e. one capable of growth and expansion, capable also of imparting life to others. They are to share in and reproduce this quality by becoming ‘as living stone’ built up into a temple of God by progress in holiness. But they are not only to compose the temple. They are to minister in it. They constitute a new priesthood that is holy, i.e. they are consecrated to God’s service, to offer up spiritual sacrifices of prayer and good works, which are acceptable to God, because they are offered through Christ as Mediator.

7.    Chapter 2 verses 1 to 5

Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy,
and all slander;

like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through
it you may grow into salvation,

for you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but
chosen and precious in the sight of God,

and, like living stones, let yourselves be built  into a spiritual
house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

St. Peter opens a short two-verse comment on his previous statement. He quotes freely from the Greek (Septuagint) Old Testament as in Isaiah 28: 16. God Himself laid his corner-stone and He promised salvation to those who believe in Christ. But Christ and His message is a stumbling –stone and a rock of scandal to unbelievers. Christians must be ready for a vitriolic response from some who take offence at this.

8.    Chapter 2 verses 6 to 8

For it says in scripture: “Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion,
a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes
in it shall not be put to shame.”

 
Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but for those
without faith: “The stone which the builders rejected has
become the cornerstone,”

 
and “A stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that
will make them fall.” They stumble by disobeying the word,
as is their destiny.

St. Peter applies to his readers all the attractive titles of the Israelites, which are now, through their incorporation into the Body of Christ, shared by Christians, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people. Then wishing to make them realise what membership in Christ means, he bids them compare their former with their present state, which he does by paraphrasing Hosea 2: 23 and 24.9.    

Chapter 2 verses 9 and 10

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a
holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may
announce the praises” of him who called you out
of darkness into his wonderful light.

Once you were “no people” but now you are
God’s people; you “had not received mercy”
but now you have received mercy.

St. Peter exhorts the poor and oppressed to keep their focus on the promises of God, reflected in the words of the prophets. There is a day set for the return of the Lord, but this was not disclosed even to the Apostles. They too found they needed the patience of Job.

10.    Chapter 2 verses 11 and 12

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep
away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.

Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if
they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your
good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.

St. Peter emphasises the evangelistic power of patient, humble, yet loyal good example. Christians dwell as strangers in not just a pagan — but anti-theistic world; hence their moral conduct must be faultless, less they scandalise non-believers. Even though many speak against them as evil-doers i.e. slander their conduct, yet if it be faultless, it will bring others to praise God, on the day of visitation, i.e. when God chooses to make the truth known to them.

11.    Chapter 2 verses 13 to 17

Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s
sake, whether it be to the king as supreme

or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of
evildoers and the approval of those who do good.

For it is the will of God that by doing good you may
silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil,
but as slaves of God.

Give honor to all, love the community, fear God,
honor the king.

Christians are to accept the established forms of government and to submit to those in authority for the sake of the Lord, in order not to bring discredit upon Christ’s teaching and His Church. Submission to their authority is indirectly obedience to God, the source of all authority. It has a very practical side, since it silences those who, through ignorance or malice, slander the Christian way of life. By obeying the laws, Christians do not use their freedom as a pretext for evil, (as calumniators said they did), but they make the will of God the standard of their conduct.

12.    Chapter 4 verses 1 and 2

Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves
also with the same attitude (for whoever suffers in the flesh
has broken with sin),

so as not to spend what remains of one’s life in the flesh on
human desires, but on the will of God.

Christ accepted suffering; so must the good Christian. If he suffers for and with Christ, he is armed against sin, which strengthens the will, and makes it able to resist temptation and avoid sin. Such a sufferer will not live according to human desires; being united with Christ in His sufferings, he lives according to the will of God.

13.    Chapter 4 verses 3 to 7

For the time that has passed is sufficient for doing what
the Gentiles like to do: living in debauchery, evil desires,
drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry.

They are surprised that you do not plunge into the same
swamp of profligacy, and they vilify you;

but they will give an account to him who stands ready
to judge the living and the dead.

For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead 
that, though condemned in the flesh in human estimation,
they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God.

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious
and sober for prayers.

St. Peter continues his lesson on holiness through suffering. Many come to Christ after having lived lives characterised by pagan acts of which they were ashamed. After conversion they remained aloof from the sinful character from the sinful character of many pagan gatherings. This silent rebuke stirred pagan resentment which vented itself by calumniating the Christians, who placed their hope in Christ as a just judge. All must undergo judgment. Christ demonstrated, this by preaching the Gospel ‘even to the dead’ i.e. those for instance who paid for their unbelief in the time of Noah (though they repented when the flood came, 3: 19 and 20) by a form of temporary death. The first Christians saw Christ’s action in doing this, as seeking to restore them to Himself. Though restrained from entering heaven because of human frailty, they were not beyond the reach of salvation. This state was often referred to as ‘prison’ where just souls were detained until heaven was opened to them #. This is a very important teaching of the Apostles and led to prayers for the dead, awaiting God’s mercy. Some commentators dismiss this by claiming Christ preached to those living at the time but now dead (at the time of St. Peter’s writing). However this ignores the very specific language he uses – not a participle, to people ‘having since died’, but a noun, the preaching of Christ to the dead, i.e. to people who are ‘dead’ in the human sense.St. Peter thereby emphasises that all must undergo judgment before the tribunal of Christ who hears the prayers of the just for mercy.
   
#    This is not a facile merging with verse 19 of the previous chapter as some object. It is a reflection of the growing insight of  the infant Church concerning the universality of Christ’s mission in and beyond time and space.

14.    Chapter 4 verses 7 to 10

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious
and sober for prayers.

Above all, let your love for one another be intense,
because love covers a multitude of sins.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining.

As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one
another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

St. Peter reflects the custom, well-established at the time of his writing, that the truth of Christ’s Second Coming and the judgment are to be ever present to the Christian. Everything is to be seen against this backdrop. There is no time to hold grudges or be critical of anyone’s behaviour other than one’s own. If we have true love for our neighbour we will be willing to cover their sins in silence, not speak about them – even forget them. The sins of the one who exercises charity (love) and even (he hints) of the one to whom the love is directed, are forgiven. Even the might of all the forces of Rome could not withstand this kind of power!

15.    Chapter 4 verse 11

Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God
supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified
through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and
dominion forever and ever. Amen.

St. Peter emphatically states that those who speak convey not their own message, but, ‘words of God’. This phrase (in Greek logia theou) does not refer immediately to Scripture. He is in fact counselling the preacher not to purvey his own ideas, but to transmit God’s message as he has come to understand it through constant and focussed reflection rather than some instant, self-initiated explanation. Secondly, he calls on the individual who serves in matters of spiritual or material comforts to disclose that these gifts come from God. In this regard, St Peter gave good example in practising what he preached. (Acts 3: 12 and 13)

16.    Chapter 4 verses 12 to 14

Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring
among you, as if something strange were happening to you.

But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of
Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also
rejoice exultantly.

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you,
for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

St. Peter now discusses the problem of suffering and persecution in relation to the Christian community. The severe trial, which threatened to affect them, should not cause surprise, but joy, since it would associate them more closely with Christ. Persecution makes the Christian community conformable to the suffering Christ — a condition for participation in the ‘revelation of his glory’ (His Second Coming). God’s Spirit, as the source of glory and the pledge of future glory, is regarded as resting on the suffering Church (see Isaiah 11: 2 and Luke 10: 6).

17.    Chapter 4 verses 15 to 17

But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer,
a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.

But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not
be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.

 
For it is time for the judgment to begin with the
household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for
those who fail to obey the gospel of God?

St. Peter is addressing frightened and harshly treated people. Whereas it would be most shameful to suffer just punishment for crimes committed, to suffer as a Christian is no disgrace. By bearing the name Christian (originally a somewhat degrading term used by the Romans to distinguish them from the Jews), they glorify God. These sufferings are the beginning of God’s judgment in His own household. They will sift the virtuous from the lax Christian. And if this is thought severe, what will happen to those who disregard the Gospel?

18.    Chapter 5 verses 5 to 11

Likewise, you younger members, be subject to the presbyters.
And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility in your
dealings with one another, for: “God opposes the proud
but bestows favor on the humble.”

So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that
he may exalt you in due time.

Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling
around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour.

 
Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow
believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.

The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory
through Christ (Jesus) will himself restore, confirm,
strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.

To him be dominion forever. Amen.

St. Peter reflects the infant Church’s call for watchfulness always implying a confidence and trust in God. He personifies the persecution that Christians experience as an attack of Satan. But there is another adversary to Christians, an ally of the devil, namely, the world, ready to afflict the loyal members of Christ’s Body, the Church. The foundation of the Christian’s hope is the assurance that God will perfect, strengthen and firmly establish us in our call to His eternal glory. Compared with that, thankfully our sufferings diminish in their power to weaken our resolve.

 

This page is a work in progress:

(Meanwhile, please scroll down to chosen reading.)

 

 

Chapter and verse/s

1          1:    1   2

2          1  3 5

3          1:    6   9

4          1:  10 12

5          1:  13 16

6          1:  17 21

7          2:   1 —   5

8          2:  9  10

 

9          1:  25 26

 

 

Chapter and verse/s

10        2:   11 —  12

11        2:   13 — 17

12        4:     1 —  2

 

13        4:     3 —  7

 

14        4:    7 — 10

 

15        4:    11

16        4:  12 — 14

17        4:  15 — 17

18        5:    5 — 11

 

   

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