Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: 1 Peter

Sara and Justin Kraft

Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: 1 Peter

While the Gospels reveal the life of Christ, the bulk of new testament books actually consist of letters written by the first apostles.  These letters often provide direct instruction regarding how Christians are to respond to challenges in daily life. The letters can be very enlightening because we face many similar challenges today. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” (What’s Wrong with the World? by G.K. Chesterton) As such, there is much that can be learned from these letters. 

A Brief Background on 1 Peter

While the bulk of the new testament letters were written by St. Paul, the new testament also contains letters from other apostles. The letter entitled 1 Peter is traditionally attributed to St. Peter himself. This tradition reaches all the way back to the earliest days of the church and is attested to in writing by the early church fathers such as St. Irenaeus. This would place the writing sometime between 64 and 67 A.D. and just shortly before Peter was martyred. Some modern scholars have tried to argue based on the writing style that it may have been written later by another author, but there are also counter arguments to these opinions. Therefore, I prefer the traditional belief that it was either written directly by Peter or through a scribe at Peter’s instruction. 

The letter is written to 5 early Christian churches. The letter begins, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen sojourners of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,…” (1 Peter 1:1) These are primarily Gentile churches and were likely founded by St. Paul. The fact that Peter is writing to these churches corroborates the authority of the papacy and in my mind also reinforces the fact that these instructions come from St. Peter himself. 

A Deeper Dive into 1 Peter

The letter itself is fascinating. Throughout the letter, Peter explores the themes of baptism, hope, and suffering. However, the key to the whole letter is found in Peter’s very first address to the churches, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen sojourners of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,…” (1 Peter 1:1) 

Peter will address the early Christians as sojourners twice in the five short chapters which make up the book. This makes it clear that Peter’s reference to the early Christians as “sojourners” or “travelers” is the lens through which the rest of the book must be interpreted.

You see, being a traveler changes our perspective. Travelers are not focused on the present. Rather a traveler’s eyes are always set on the horizon, looking forward toward the destination. As such, the traveler is a hopeful soul. Always straining their eyes toward what can not yet be seen.  

“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.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Peter is exhorting us to look to the promises we have in Christ through baptism, our new birth. At the same time, Peter acknowledges that birth is not an easy process. Likewise, our current state will be filled with trials. 

“In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials,…” (1 Peter 1:6)

Here again the perspective of a traveler is necessary. For a traveler, will have to undergo many discomforts in order to reach the destination. The journey may be filled with wrong turns, flat tires, uncomfortable hotel beds, and hurried and unpleasant meals. Yet, none of these things dissuade the traveler from pursuing their destination with determination. 

“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.” (1 Peter 1:13)

Yet our determination and willingness to suffer is also not merely a stoic determination. Rather, it is an imitation and solidarity with Christ who suffered first. Our determination is born out grace. The grace of baptism and mutual love. 

“Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a [pure] heart. You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God,…” (1 Peter 1:22-23)

The following chapters, then expand on the working of grace in our lives. 

“…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5)

The remaining chapters provide practical advice to dealing with adversity as a Christian in a variety of situations. For example, Peter addresses questions of how a Christian should perform civic duties. He offers advice for Christian slaves, to Christian spouses, and for priests. 

Most poignantly, he offers advice on how the Christian is to face suffering in all these settings. First, and foremost, we must never let our hope in Christ be dampened. 

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,…” (1 Peter 3:15)

For hope is the Christian antidote to suffering. It is the secret to joyfulness in the midst of suffering. 

Secondly, we ought never be surprised.

“Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) 

“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

This is because the world is not our home. We are sojourners. 

Advice that Works

This is deep advice that Peter himself lived. Given the likely time of the writing, shortly before his own martyrdom, one can assume these words are the fruit of Peter’s own suffering. They are his direct response to fear and adversity and the bedrock of his own courage in the face of death.