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Summary of The Book of 1 Peter:
Those who originally received this letter were Christians who were in danger of losing their way. Their new-found faith had severed the ties which had bound them to their non-Christian relatives and neighbors and was itself being tested because they were facing suffering. This situation was probably not what they had expected when they had first heard the gospel, and it is an experience faced by every generation since then.
Peter met their needs by reassuring them of the gospel. Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together to bring us a new life (1:3–5; 2:2; 4:1–6) in which the past is forgiven (2:24; 3:18), the present is protected (1:5) and motivated (4:2), and the future assured (1:4, 7). This is a way of life to be lived out in practical terms (1:13–16) and in everyday relationships (2:16; 3:1, 7). It equips the followers of Jesus for living in the real world of the here and now (4:1–4) and for that world of eternal glory for which Jesus is even now preparing us (5:10).
So Peter’s response to the question of suffering is that it is a part of the journey of faith. It tests the seriousness of our discipleship (1:7), joins us to our fellow-Christians (5:9), and will be vindicated on the day of judgment (4:16–19). Though believers are ‘strangers’ and ‘scattered’ in this world (1:1), they are part of the pilgrim people of God (2:5, 9), journeying to the Father’s home (1:4). They look forward to the day when Jesus will return for his own (1:7; 2:12; 5:4). These are truths which can motivate today’s Christians to live for God’s glory, just as they encouraged Peter’s original readers. Peter writes as one whose heart has lost none of the fire of love stirred up by the Master at the Sea of Tiberias (cf. Jn. 21:1, 15–19 with 1 Pet. 1:8). In this letter there is all the vividness of the personal recollections of a follower of Jesus Christ.
Purpose of The Book of 1 Peter:
To encourage Christians in their suffering. 1 Peter 5:12 sheds light on the overall purpose of the epistle. Peter sees Christians in danger of persecution (1:6) and not prepared for it (4:12). In the light of this he aimed to do two things: to encourage and to testify to the true grace of God (5:12) in which he urged his readers to stand. These two purposes are intertwined as Peter gives encouragement by declaring God’s gracious acts in Christ, made known and mediated by his Spirit.
Author and Dates of The Book of 1 Peter:
In the four lists of the twelve apostles in the New Testament (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:13-16; Acts 1:13), Peter is always mentioned first. “Peter’s original name was apparently the Hebrew Simeon (Acts 15:14; 2 Pet. 1:1): perhaps, like many Jews, he adopted also “Simon”, usual in the NT, as a Greek name of similar sound. His father’s name was Jonah (Mt. 16:17); he himself was married (Mk. 1:30), and in his missionary days his wife accompanied him (1 Cor. 9:5). The fourth Gospel gives Bethsaida, just inside Gaulanitis, and a largely Greek city, as his place of origin (John 1:44), but he had also a home in Capernaum in Galilee (Mark 1:21ff.). Both places were at the lakeside, where he worked as a fisherman, and in both there would be abundant contact with Gentiles. His brother’s name is Greek. Simon spoke Aramaic with a strong N-country accent (Mark 14:70), and maintained the piety and outlook of his people (cf. Acts 10:14), though not trained in the law (Acts 4:13; literacy is not in question). It is likely that he was affected by John the Baptist’s movement (cf. Acts 1:22): his brother Andrew was a disciple of John (John 1:39f.).
Peter was one of the first disciples called; he always stands first in the lists of disciples; he was also one of the three who formed an inner circle round the Master (Mk. 5:37; 9:2; 14:33; cf. 13:3). His impulsive devotion is frequently portrayed (cf. Mt. 14:28; Mk. 14:29; Lk. 5:8; Jn. 21:7), and he acts as spokesman of the Twelve (Mt. 15:15; 18:21; Mk. 1:36f.; 8:29; 9:5; 10:28; 11:21; 14:29ff.; Lk. 5:5; 12:41). At the crisis near Caesarea Philippi he is the representative of the whole band: for the question is directed to them all (Mk. 8:27, 29), and all are included in the look that accompanies the subsequent reprimand (8:33).
On any satisfactory interpretation of Mk. 9:1 the transfiguration is intimately related to the apostolic confession which precedes it. The experience made a lasting impression on Peter: 1 Pet. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:16ff. are most naturally interpreted of the transfiguration, and, for what they are worth, the Apocalypse and Acts of Peter show that their authors associated the preaching of this subject with Peter. In a measure, the disastrous boast of Mark 14:29ff. is also representative of the disciples; and, as Peter’s protestations of loyalty are the loudest, so his rejection of the Lord is the most explicit (Mk. 14:66ff.). He is, however, specially marked out by the message of the resurrection (Mk. 16:7), and personally receives a visitation of the risen Lord (Lk. 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5).
Peter wrote his epistle to Christians scattered throughout the region of Asia Minor, that is, modern-day Turkey (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2). The letter of 1 Peter is addressed to Christians residing in Pontus, Cappadocia, Galatia, Asia, and Bithynia, a vast area of approximately 129,000 square miles. As a comparison, the state of California covers about 159,000 square miles.
Outline of The Book of 1 Peter:
Themes of The Book of 1 Peter:
Peter wrote with a practical purpose, and would no doubt have been surprised if asked about the letter’s theological content. He did not write to set out a theology (as Paul did in Romans or Colossians) but, as a pastor, he based his advice on his knowledge of the character of God. So the doctrines set out in the letter are those that provide a motive for Christian living.
Doctrine of God: In 1:1–2 Peter clearly sets out the practical relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. God is sovereign, and so can be trusted (4:19). He is holy, and so is to be copied (1:15–16). He is a Father, and so his children must live up to the family name (1:17), and the fact that he has redeemed his people is a ground for assurance (1:18–21).
Doctrine of Christ: Christ is sinless, obedient and prepared to suffer to the limit. This is an example for us (2:21–24). He died and rose again, so we must die to sin and live by his risen power (2:24; 4:1). His work is described in terms of redemption (1:18–19), reconciliation and being the sin offering and the substitute (3:18), and he was predestined for this very purpose by the Father’s love (1:20–21). He is also the foundation of God’s church, providing the ground of faith and hope, and inspiring to holiness and love (2:16; 1:21–22).
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is seen as the agent of sanctification (1:2), the author of Scripture (1:11), the enabler of Christian ministry (1:12) and the encourager of Christians undergoing persecution (4:14).
Doctrine of Scripture: The authority of Scripture is stressed by the way Peter appeals to the OT to support his teaching (e.g. 1:24–25; 2:6–8; 3:10–12; 4:18). Its source is seen to be in the guiding of the writers by the Holy Spirit (1:11; cf. 2 Pet. 1:21) and its enduring quality is underlined by a quotation from Is. 40:6–8 (1:23–25). Scripture is also pictured as a seed, by which the new birth is effected in human lives as people hear and respond to the preaching of the gospel (cf. 1:23 with 25), and as the means of Christian growth (if 2:2 is translated ‘milk of the word’).
Doctrine of the church: Peter has a high regard for the corporate nature of the people of God, entered into by the individual believer at his or her new birth (2:2–5; cf. 1:22–23). The church is God’s building, on the foundation of Christ himself (2:4–8), and as such it is the inheritor of the blessings promised to Israel (2:9–10). Its twofold function is to offer worship to God and witness before people (2:5, 9). Already in Peter’s day the church had a corporate eldership, seen as a responsible and sacred office (5:1–4), but also encouraged the development and use of spiritual gifts by each member (4:10–11).
Doctrine of the last days: Peter writes as one who looks forward to the great unveiling in the last days, and he uses the Greek root apocalyp-(‘revelation’) to describe the return of Christ. So he reminds his readers that the unseen Christ is never far away, and points them to the glories they will share when Christ is revealed. Their salvation will be fully realized and they will enter into their full inheritance (1:5). Their faith will be finally honored (1:7; 4:13), and the full extent of God’s grace discovered (1:13). Christ’s glory will be shared (5:1) and faithful service rewarded (5:4). The expectation of Christ’s return is a most compelling argument for holy living and careful stewardship now (4:7–11, 17–18).