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Suffering For Christ: A study in 1 peter 4

Suffering For Christ: A study in 1 peter 4

1 PETER 4:12-19


Genre: There isn’t much debate about 1 Peter; it is a letter with all the characteristics of an epistolary letter, with the exception of the co-sender as in the format of Paul’s letters. The opening, thanksgiving, body and closing are the four elements of an epistle. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, is identified at the letter’s opening as the sender (1 Peter 1:1). The recipient (Gentile Christians) 1 Peter 1:1b-2a 1 “to God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…”, chapter 2:10 proves the idea that they are Gentile Christians “once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…”, and the greetings in 1:2b “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” The thanksgiving section covers from vs. 3-9 of c.1, then the body of the letter 1:10 – 5:10 and the closing 5;11-14.


Internal evidence: In the letter’s opening line, the author introduces himself as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This is in line with how other New Testament letter writers write. For example, the first sentences of Paul’s, James’, John’s, and Jude’s letter, as well as 2 Peter 1:1 all has the author’s name. Additional proof can be found in 1 Peter 5:1, where the author identifies himself as “a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” Such a claim is consistent with Peter’s participation in Jesus’ trial. (W. A. Grudem, 1 Peter [Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), 2009] 24pdf)

Historical Evidence: According to historical evidence from the second and third centuries, Peter is the author of these epistles (1&2 Peter). This quotation by D. F. Watson and T. D. Callan sums up these historical facts:

In the late second century, Irenaeus is the first to explicitly cite Peter as the author of 1Peter (Haer. 4.9.2 and 5.7.2 cite 1Pet. 1:8; 4.16.5 cites 1Pet. 2:16). In the third century, Eusebius cites a tradition from Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–ca. 215) that Peter was the author. “He [Clement] also says that Peter mentions Mark in his first Epistle, and that he composed this in Rome itself, which they say that he himself indicates, referring to the city metaphorically as Babylon, in the words, ‘the elect one in Babylon greets you, and Marcus my son’” (Hist. eccl. 2.15.2; cf. 1Pet. 5:13). Eusebius also cites a lost portion of Origen’s commentary on the Gospel of John that refers to Peter as leaving one acknowledged and one suspect epistle, that is, 1 and 2Peter respectively (Hist. eccl. 6.25.8). (D. F. Watson and T. D. Callan, First and Second Peter. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012] 3)

Possibility for pseudonymous: As stated by Watson and Callan; According to contemporary biblical study, 1 Peter was allegedly written under Peter’s name and with his permission. The author is typically thought to be one of Peter’s followers who belonged to the Petrine circle in Rome or a Roman Christian in general who used Peter’s teaching and pastoral counsel to address a later generation. Writing in the names of philosophers and religious instructors while drawing on the knowledge they had imparted to them was a widespread practice in antiquity. (3) Watson and Callan provide a list of several indicators that the proponents of pseudonymous utilize to support their assertions. Let’s see the 6 indicators bellow:

1.  Elegant Greek and rhetoric: The rhetoric is studied, indicating that the author possesses an education at the secondary level, where rhetoric was the mainstay of the curriculum. The quality of the Greek and rhetoric do not appear to be the work of a Galilean fisherman whose native tongue was Aramaic and who, along with John, was regarded by the religious authorities in Jerusalem as an “uneducated” and “ordinary” man (Acts 4:13). This idea should not dispute the authorship of Peter because “amanuensis” (a scribal secretary) is a common practice for apostle Paul (1Cor. 1:1; 16:21; 2Cor. 1:1; Gal. 6:11; Phil. 1:1; 1Thess.1:1; 2Thess. 3:17), he, (amanuensis) could have composed the letter at the dictation of Peter. Another view; Peter had spent nearly three decades preaching to Greek-speaking audiences, which surely improved his skill in Greek.

2.  Author’s use of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT, LXX) as his Scripture: Peter would have been familiar with the Hebrew text or Aramaic Targums of the OT, but after working with the Greeks for almost thirty years, Peter likely also developed a familiarity with the LXX.

3.  Limited personal references (2:11; 5:1, 12) and the absence of any personal recollections of time spent with Jesus: Peter did not make much references to himself in the epistle (1Peter), and Peter is expected as a close disciple of Jesus Christ to at least in a verse or two narrate his life experience with Jesus in order to complement theme of his discuss. However, personal reference is not natural in exhortation, nor is personal recollection common in any of the Letters of the New Testament.

4.  Reference to “Babylon” (5:13): This suggests that 1Peter was written after 70. “’Babylon’ as a designation for Rome is not attested in documents before Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 66–70, as Babylon did in 586 BCE, but is frequent in Jewish and Christian literature after that time.” However, the association of Babylon and Rome would have suggested itself to the Jews and Jewish Christians long before the destruction of Jerusalem because both nations were idolatrous, were immoral, and persecuted the people of God.

5.  Limited intensity of the persecution being experienced by the recipients of 1Peter: “Christians were persecuted by the Roman emperors Nero (60s) and Domitian (90s), but there was little persecution between their reigns in the 70s and 80s.” Although the letter refers to a “fiery ordeal” (4:12), most of the abuse of Christians referred to is verbal (2:12, 15, 23; 3:9, 16; 4:4, 14). Thus, a date in the 70s and 80s is indicated. However, there was also little persecution of Christians before 64, when Peter himself could have been writing.

6.  Apocalyptic tone: The apocalyptic tone of 1Peter (1:1–9; 4:7, 12–19), explained by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 being interpreted as a precursor of Christ’s return, but there was also plenty of apocalyptic fervor during Peter’s lifetime.

(pages 4-5)

These and other arguments for the pseudonymous authorship of 1Peter are not convincing enough to decline apostle Peter as the author of the epistle. Grudem supports the authorship of apostle Peter with his “Evidence Outside the Letter (1Peter)”, he states that;

Early evidence relevant to the authorship of 1 Peter is found in 2 Peter 3:1, in which the author calls his writing ‘the second letter that I have written to you’. This same author earlier claims to be Peter (2 Pet. 1:1, 16–18). Whether or not one thinks that Peter wrote 2 Peter, 2 Peter 3:1 can still be understood as a very early testimony to the fact that an earlier letter claiming to be from Peter (and widely accepted as that) was known and was in circulation at the time 2 Peter was written. (24pdf)

Place of Writing

1 Peter 5:13, “She who is at Babylon … sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.” Given that it was a minor and unnoticed location by the first century, it is unlikely that Peter is referring to the ancient city of Babylon in Mesopotamia, which served as the capital of the Babylonian empire. There is no proof that Peter and Mark went there. There is currently no indication that there is even a Christian church there. (Grudem, 34pdf) Here are some historical texts that back up Grudem’s claims: (from the same page cited above)

Diodorus of Sicily (writing 56–36 BC):

As for the palaces and the other buildings, time has either entirely effaced them or left them in ruins; and in fact, of Babylon itself but a small part is inhabited at this time, and most of the area within its walls is given over to agriculture’.

Similarly, Strabo (died AD 19) writes:

The greater part of Babylon is so deserted that one would not hesitate to say … The Great City is a great desert’.

Rome is referred to as “Babylon” in New Testament passages (Rev. 16:19, 17:5, 18:2, and note that the ‘seven hills’ of Rome are identified in verse 17:9). Historical evidence suggests that Peter spent his final days in Rome. (Grudem, 34pdf) Tertullian wrote in AD 203:

Since, moreover, you are close upon Italy, you have Rome, from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority of apostles themselves. How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! where Peter endures a passion like his Lord’s! where Paul wins his crown in a death like John’s!

Eusebius’ witness, who wrote in AD 325, is added to this evidence. He writes: “With regard to Peter and Paul.”

And that they both were martyred at the same time Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth [c. AD 170], affirms in this passage of his correspondence with the Romans: ‘By so great an admonition you bound together the foundations of the Romans and Corinthians by Peter and Paul, for both of them taught together in our Corinth and were our founders, and together also taught in Italy in the same place and were martyred at the same time’.

More information on Peter and Paul is provided by Eusebius in his ongoing history:

Peter seems to have preached to the Jews of the Dispersion in Pontus and Galatia and Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia, and at the end he came to Rome and was crucified head downwards, for so he had demanded to suffer. What need be said of Paul, who fulfilled the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem to Illyria and afterward was martyred in Rome under Nero? This is stated exactly by Origen [died c. AD 254] in the third volume of his commentary on Genesis.

Peter’s first letter was written at Rome, according to Eusebius, who also makes this clear:

The bishop of Hierapolis, named Papias [c. AD 60–130] … says that Peter mentions Mark in his first Epistle, and that he composed this in Rome itself, which they say that he himself indicates, referring to the city metaphorically as Babylon, in the words, ‘the elect one in Babylon greets you, and Marcus my son’.

(Grudem, 34-35pdf)

Thus, Grudem make this conclusion that; “…the name ‘Babylon’ in the letter and the external historical evidence that Peter was in Rome with Paul near the end of his life combine to indicate that 1Peter was written from Rome.” (35)


It is challenging to pinpoint the exact date that the Epistle of 1 Peter was written, despite both external and internal evidence to that effect. Watson and Callan, however, came to this conclusion:

In summary, internal evidence does not provide a range of possible dates, and external evidence gives us a range of 80–180, with the earlier date being more likely due to the reference to 1Peter in 2Peter. In conjunction with my position that the apostle Peter wrote this letter and the verbal nature of the persecution, I am assigning 1Peter to the quiet period before the Neronian persecution of 64–68, in which tradition says Peter was martyred (1Clem. 5.4; Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 2.25.5). This date fits the verbal nature of the persecution and gives time for the letter to gain enough notoriety to be referred to by the author of 2Peter (3:1) in 80–90. (Watson and Callan, 6)

Grudem admit at the end of his statement that the evidence supporting this argument is “evidence from silence,” (Grudem, 37)

Major Themes in 1Peter

In 1 Peter, there are three main topics that are discussed; the verse we are studying today starts the third theme.

·         The salvation provided by God and the standing of Christians before God (1:1–2:10)

·         Living the New Life among gentiles (2:11–4:11)

·         Exhortations to endure suffering and conclusion (4:12–5:14)

1 PETER 4:12-18


Grammatical Analysis

·         The verb pyrosei in v. 12 is from pyroo, “to burn.” As in 1:7, where the context is very similar, the meaning could be metaphorical. (J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Dallas Seminary Faculty), 854) “The ‘fiery ordeal’ (pyrōsis) is a word used in the LXX to describe removing the dross from metals melted in a crucible and God’s refining or testing God’s people (Zech. 13:9; Ps. 65:10–12 [66:10–12]; Prov. 27:21). The fiery ordeal is a God given test (peirasmos) of faith commitment, as it is in 1:6–7.” (Watson, 110).

·         koinoneite, from koinoneo v. 13, “to share”; related nouns are koinonia, “communion, fellowship, close relationship,” and koinonos, “sharer” (Walvoord and Zuck, 854). Christians who are in communion with Christ will rejoice in sharing his pain. “The New Testament is clear that those who take part in the suffering of Christ also will take part in His glory, when it is revealed (1 Peter 1:7; 5:1).” (854)

allotriepiskopos, is an adjective used to describe those who interfere in other people’s business (busybodies, v. 15). Watson suggest that;

Possibly the Christians understood themselves as the guardians of public morality in the fashion of the Cynics, who thought they should oversee others (Balch 1981, 93–94). “Busybody” may also indicate embezzlement of the goods of others that one oversees (Achtemeier 1996, 310–13) and movement beyond prescribed social boundaries, which would further cast suspicion on Christianity (J. Brown 2006). (111)

Literal Analysis

The emphasis of 1 Peter 4:12-18 was on the believer’s capacity to steadfastly withstand hardship among nonbelievers in this world.

·         4:12-14: The vocative Beloved agapytoi “reaffirms the familial love binding the community together” (Watson, 109). The recipients of this message are a loving community that exemplifies Christ’s love for them. The “beloved” messianic community has been chosen by God, removed from all promiscuous way of life, and created anew in order to proclaim through their shared existence and doxological adoration that the true order of things arises through the worship of God and Jesus the Messiah. (D. Harink, 1 and 2 Peter: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Brazos Press), 152pdf). These people who are set aside for Christ are expected to suffer on account of Christ.

·         4:15-16: In contrast to the initial exhortation; “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” In other words, they are not to suffer in a “non-messianic” way. (Harink, 155) It is disgraceful to suffer for crime, but it is not dishonorable to suffer for one’s faith. (Watson, 111)

·         4:17-18; this last section gives motivation as to why they must suffer for Christ, “for it is time for judgment” and the judgment will “begin with the family of God.” (v.17a) v. 18 amplified the motivation in v. 17. “If the righteous person is barely saved, it is implied that the ungodly person will not be saved. However, the nature of their fate is not stated, as is typical elsewhere in the letter (2:8; 3:12b, 16b–17).” (Watson, 112)

Historical Analysis

The teaching of Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:10-12, 10:22; Luke 14:27; John 15:20-21, 16:20 etc.) is what starts the mindset for Christian suffering, as shown by the numerous historical examples of Christian suffering. Jesus’ followers and the early apostles faced various forms of persecution. For example:

·         The apostles were flogged before the Sanhedrin because of their faith (Acts 5:29-41)

·         Stephens (Acts 7:54ff); was stoned to death.

·         Neronian persecution (AD 67): “Christians were blamed for the burning of Rome. Some were covered with pitch and used as living torches to light the imperial gardens at night.” (Walvoord, 854)


I’d like to wrap up by connecting this message to the modern age. Since God has always loved us (Christians), we are a people He has chosen. We should demonstrate this love. According to Matthew 6:16, “Let your light shine before others,” we should be ready to endure any form of persecution due to the Crossmark we wore on our forehead. Persecution can take many forms, including mockery, insult, denial of human rights, discrimination, and more. Instead of being worried, we should be joyful because when we suffer for Christ, we share in his suffering and will one day share in his glory both now and forever.


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