By: Daniel Goepfrich
Peter’s intended recipients were people scattered throughout Asia Minor. The word διασπορά (diaspora, “dispersion”) is used elsewhere in the New Testament only twice. In James 1:1 the “twelve tribes”are specified, and in John 7:25 it refers to Jews dispersed “among the Greeks.”Although 1 Peter contains principles available for all Christians of all time, since Peter was acknowledged to be the apostle to the Jewish people (Galatians 2:7) and since the word διασπορά was used to refer to Jews outside of Israel, it is likely that this letter was originally written specifically to Jewish believers.
However, this possibility has been debated and at least two solid arguments support the view that Gentile Christians may have been in view. First, διασπορά does not have an article (“the”), meaning that it does not necessarily refer to a specific “dispersion.” It could easily refer to all Christians scattered throughout the pagan world. Second, Peter stated that his readers were once heavily involved in pagan lifestyles (4:3-4), which would have been unlikely even for unsaved Jews.Thus, although Peter may have intended this letter for Jewish believers, he probably knew that Gentiles would read it as well. Again, there are certainly principles that still apply to all believers in the Church Age.
The Role of Silas
Peter’s final greeting (5:12-13) includes three important pieces of information. First, Peter wrote this letter “through Silvanus.” This name appears alongside Paul and Timothy in the greetings of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 2 Corinthians 1:9 and is almost unanimously acknowledged to be the man Luke called Silas throughout the book of Acts. (The name “Silas” appears only twelve times, all of them in Acts 15:22–18:5, and all of them in conjunction with Paul or Paul and Timothy.) Silas was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37), a leader in the Gentile church in Antioch of Syria (Acts 15:22), and a prophet (Acts 15:32). He was Paul’s co-worker and probably an outspoken preacher since he and Paul were imprisoned together in Philippi while Luke and Timothy were not. It seems possible that Silas/Silvanus had a hand in composing Peter’s letter as well as Paul’s Thessalonian letters.
The Church of Babylon
Second, Peter sent greetings to his readers from “the church in Babylon.” This has generated a great deal of debate over the centuries. The tradition that Peter ended his ministry in Rome has given rise to the speculation that “Babylon” is meant to be code for “Rome.” If he wrote during the early stages of Nero’s persecution of Christians, it would certainly be advantageous if the Emperor did not know that the great apostle was within his grasp. The letter’s primary theme of bearing up under persecution gives weight to this time frame.
Another option is that Peter used Babylon figuratively to mean any place of exile. For Jewish readers, Babylon would invoke memories of their national exile in Babylon in the 7thcentury B.C. This option has support in the concept of the “dispersion”(1:1), that he called them “foreigners and exiles…among the non-Christians”(2:11-12), and his reference to “your brothers and sisters throughout the world”(5:9).Some have insisted that he literally went to Babylon in Persia (Iraq) and while that is the natural reading, there is little in church history or tradition to support it. Regardless, there is nothing in the text itself to solve the issue satisfactorily.
The Role of Mark
Third, Peter mentioned that Mark was with him and called him “my son.” This Mark must refer to John Mark, who traveled with Barnabas and Paul for part of their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25). Although he deserted them (Acts 13:13; 15:37-38), Mark continued his spiritual growth and ministry with Barnabas (Acts 15:39-40) and eventually became very useful to Paul (2 Timothy 4:11). Church tradition records that it was this Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark during his time with Peter. It is possible that he became to Peter what Timothy was to Paul. Peter’s use of “my son” is reminiscent of Paul’s feelings toward Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2) and Titus (1:4). Mark must have had a significant ministry after his time with Paul and Barnabas for him to have been known to the believers throughout Asia Minor reading Peter’s letter.
As the Hebrew Prophets show, idolatry was the overarching reason Israel was taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon. The Israelites knew this and, after the exile, idolatry and paganism never again became a national problem for Israel. It is possible or likely that some individual Jews participated in it again by Paul’s and Peter’s time, but they would have been the exception, not the rule.
Each Thursday, DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at www.TheologyIsForEveryone.com
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