Background of I Peter

Text: I Peter 1:1-2

Getting Acquainted:

  1. What section of the Bible does I Peter fit?
  2. Read the book of I Peter in one sitting as if you just received this letter from your grandpa.
  3. What kind of book is I Peter?
  4. Read the book of I Peter a second time while jotting down answers to the following questions:
    1. What words, phrases, or ideas do you see repeatedly being mentioned?
    2. Who are the people mentioned in the book?
    3. What events are mentioned that would help date this book?
    4. What locations are mentioned?
    5. Jot down any passages that were particularly hard to understand, so we can come back to them later.

The Author

The letter clearly states that this letter was written by the apostle Peter. Up until recent years, the authorship of I Peter hasn’t been questioned. It seems to be a popular fad to attempt to spread doubt on the authenticity of the Bible. However, there are several ways to show that Peter wrote this letter, besides putting his name at the start of the letter.

Peter’s letters use phrases that are similar to the phrases Peter used in his sermons. For example, Peter refers to the cross using the Greek word xylon, which means wood or tree ( Acts 5:30; 10:39; I Peter 2:24). The other apostles used this word, but not in regards to the cross.

Peter also alludes to events that we know Peter witnessed and were significant to him. Peter alludes to Jesus’ trial, which both he and John witnessed (I Peter 2:23). He speaks of Jesus’ death (I Peter 3:18) and Jesus’ suffering (I Peter 4:1; 5:1).

Like Paul, Peter used a scribe to record his letter (I Peter 5:12). Many believe that this Silvanus (or Silas) is the same mentioned by Paul (II Corinthians 1:19; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:1).


Peter mentions that the church in Babylon sends greetings (I Peter 5:13). There was a Jewish community located where Babylon used to be during the first century [“Ancient Jewish History: The Babylonian Jewish Community,” Jewish Virtual Library].

Some debate this and claim that it is a symbolic reference to Rome, much as John used it in Revelation 17-18. Roman Catholics tend to press this view because their tradition is that Peter founded the church in Rome and they use this verse as evidence that Peter was in Rome. The problem is that there is nothing in this passage indicating that symbolic language is being used. The simpler reading that Peter was in Babylonia should be preferred.


The letter is addressed to those dispersed into the region that the modern country of Turkey occupies. The names given are the regional names under the Roman Empire. The fact that there is a dispersion indicates that persecution is taking place.

It is commonly ascribed that Peter was addressing Jewish Christians because there was a great scattering of Christians recorded in Acts 8:4. There is a similar salutation at the beginning of James, "James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings" (James 1:1). But both Peter and James wrote their letters long after the dispersion, so it would seem strange to continue to refer to it. We also know that in the church the barrier dividing Jews and Gentiles was removed (Ephesians 2:11-22). "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). To address letters to only one subgroup would be strange unless there was a purpose.

Those Peter is addressing are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God. This simply means that these people are Christians because of God’s advanced planning (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4). Peter then continues to explain how God accomplished this election: in the sanctification of the Spirit, by obedience, and by the sprinkling of Jesus' blood. It is similar to what Paul stated, "But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thessalonians 2:13-14). It was the method or the plan for saving men that God laid out in advance.

They were set apart as holy people by the work of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who brought God’s message to mankind by inspiring the prophets and apostles (II Peter 1:19-21; I Corinthians 2:10-13). That message produces faith (Romans 10:17) and convicts the world (John 16:8-13). People are Christians because of the efforts of the Holy Spirit.

Under the Old Testament, people and things were sanctified, in part, by the sprinkling of blood (Leviticus 8:14-15; 24-28). It also was done to atone for sin (Leviticus 16:14-16). But what stands out is that blood was sprinkled when the people entered into a covenant with God. “Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient." And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words" “ (Exodus 24:7-8).

By the foreknowledge of God, people were set apart for the service by the work of the Holy Spirit in order to obey Jesus Christ, and as a result, we are sprinkled with his blood that cleanses us from sin and makes us a part of the covenant with Christ (Colossians 2:11-13). The result is that they have received grace and peace in abundance. What Peter is telling us is that God pre-planned how Christians were to be saved from their sins, how they would become His chosen people, how they would be purified from those sins, and what they would be expected to do all in advance. Christianity is not some last-minute plan to cover a mistake made when Jesus was killed. Each step was a part of a greater purpose

Clearly, Peter’s letter is addressed to Christians (I Peter 5:14). Some assume that because Peter’s duty was to the Jews that these were the ones scattered in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem. The frequent allusions to the Old Testament seem to support that idea. However, there are other statements that make it clear that Peter is addressing Gentiles. He speaks of his audience as being once not a people but are now a people and who were once without mercy but now have received mercy (I Peter 2:10). The phrase "who once were not a people" is one way the Old Testament prophets referred to the Gentiles. "Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they shall say, 'You are my God!'" " (Hosea 2:23). And right after this Peter refers to these people as strangers and pilgrims (I Peter 2:11). He talks of them becoming descendants of Sarah (I Peter 3:6). Peter speaks of their former life as being futile (I Peter 1:18) and that they lived in the past doing the will of the Gentiles (I Peter 1:14; 4:3-4).

Therefore, in Peter's letters, Gentiles generally refer to non-believers, but pilgrims refer to Christians, whether they had a Jewish or Gentile background before becoming a child of God. Instead of seeing I Peter as a Jewish letter or a Gentile letter, we need to read it as a letter directed to Christians who came from diverse backgrounds. These people lived among the Gentiles but were not a part of them (I Peter 2:12).

The Time of Writing

The scattering indicates that this letter was during a time of persecution. They are distressed by a variety of trials (I Peter 1:6). They are being threatened, slandered, reviled, and suffering because they have chosen to follow the path of righteousness (I Peter 3:13-17; 4:4). Peter says it is a testing of their faith (I Peter 4:12-19). This suffering is not limited to just those living in Asia Minor. It is currently a worldwide problem (I Peter 5:9).

The book of Acts records many of the difficulties the early church faced mostly at the hands of the Jews. But this persecution eventually was taken up by the Gentiles as well. For the purpose of pinpointing when this letter was written, the possibilities are too broad.

Since the churches are widespread through Asia Minor, it is likely that this is in the latter half of the first century.

Peter mentions that Mark is with him in Babylon (I Peter 5:13). We know that Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey which focused on Asia Minor (Acts 12:25), but he abandoned the trip early on (Acts 15:36-39). On the second journey, Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus. Later, he was with Paul during his first imprisonment in Rome (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24). Paul also sent for him from somewhere near Ephesus during his second imprisonment in Rome (II Timothy 1:18; 4:11). A highly likely time would be between Paul’s first and second imprisonment in Rome.

Historically, Peter is said to have died in Rome during the persecution by Nero. Tertullian, in Prescription Against Heretics, believed to have been written near the end of the second-century states, “The budding faith Nero first made bloody in Rome. There Peter was girded by another, since he was bound to the cross.” That would put Peter’s death at A.D. 64.

The best estimates of when I Peter was written would be somewhere between A.D. 60-63.


1.         What was Peter’s character like? Look up passages that help us understand who Peter was as a man.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email