Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


26. 1 Peter

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of 1 Peter, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, the letter presents itself as offering pastoral advice from the apostle Peter to gentile Christians in Asia Minor who are suffering humiliation and hardships. Many scholars believe the letter is pseudepigraphical but allow that it may represent a “Petrine perspective” typical of the apostle’s beliefs. First Peter is regarded as exemplary of “mainstream Christianity,” offering few original insights, but broadly expressive of what would have been common Christian ideas in the first century.

First Peter offers a number of points that might be meaningful to Christians who are experiencing suffering, but then also provides practical advice that might minimize their distress: (1) the church is to be an alternative community, offering believers the honor and respect they no longer find in the world; and (2) believers are urged to live in ways that will give their opponents less reason to malign them. First Peter is also noteworthy for the extent to which it identifies Gentile believers as the new Israel: this is often viewed as an expression of Christian supersessionism, but the emphasis in 1 Peter is on privileges extended to Gentiles rather than on the cancellation of those privileges for Jews. First Peter is also sometimes thought to employ baptismal imagery, in that many passages seem to be addressed to new Christians, with interest in the promise and possibility of spiritual growth. Finally, 1 Peter calls for submission to earthly authorities in a way that is somewhat in tension with perspectives expressed elsewhere in the Bible. The view taken in 1 Peter is usually thought to have been prompted by a concern for Christianity to establish itself as a movement that is not intrinsically subversive.

Study Questions

  1. Summarize what is known about Peter, the disciple of Jesus. How is he presented in the New Testament and what do we know of him from other sources?

  2. Explain what is meant by the claim that 1 Peter is exemplary of “mainstream Christianity.”

  3. How does 1 Peter address the problem of suffering? List six points that the letter makes regarding the experience of suffering and list two practical suggestions the letter offers believers to make their lives more bearable.

  4. What is supersessionism? Evaluate the extent to which the teaching of 1 Peter might be read in support of this doctrine.

  5. Discuss the reference in 1 Peter to women as “the weaker vessel.” How has this identification been interpreted?

  6. Describe what 1 Peter says about submission to earthly authorities and indicate how interpreters have sought to make sense of this within the context of biblical writings as a whole.

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