Not to the apostle of the circumcision but to him whom the Lord sent to the Gentiles was it given to make known the mystery, or secret of God, as to Christ and as to the church. Nowhere is it so much as named in Peter’s inspired writings, though we know that it was revealed since redemption, to the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. But Paul was the minister of the church (Col. 1:24, 25) as no one else was led to style himself. To him pre-eminently was the mystery made known by revelation, as to him was given this grace to evangelize among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the mystery, which from all ages had been hid in God Who created all things. Even the word “church,” inserted in 1 Peter 5:13 by the A.V. as by other translators, is an unfounded conjecture; and the R.V. rightly agrees with the correction, “She that is in Babylon, elect together with [you], saluteth you, and Marcus my son.” It was an individual sister, with the brother named.
The subject matter is the government of God, which is richly treated in both Epistles, but on a different side in each of the two. It is however God’s government, not simply as saints of old knew it, but as it was modified by Messiah’s advent and the accomplishment of redemption. Hence there is evident contrast with Israel’s position under law, and the anticipation by faith of what it will be at Christ’s appearing, making the necessary difference that those addressed are strangers and sojourners meanwhile, and hence holy sufferers on the earth, awaiting praise and honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. But while the First Epistle is occupied with that righteous government applied to the Christian’s path day by day as he hopes for the bright result at our Lord’s revelation, the Second pursues it with solemn and detailed energy to the judgment of false teachers, rivalling the false prophets of Israel, and working no less corruption and destruction; and it goes on even to the day of God, by reason of which inflamed heavens shall be dissolved, and burning elements shall melt, succeeded by new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, even the eternal state. The judgment of the wicked was notably distinct in the Second, as the watchful care and eventual triumph of the saints in the First. But, so far from any antagonism or even dissonance, they are the complement of one another.
Accordingly we are told in the beginning of the First Epistle that the apostle Peter addresses “sojourners of dispersion,” which can mean Jews only, of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. But they were Christian Jews, and so described as “elect according to foreknowledge of God the Father by (or, in) sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and blood-sprinkling of Jesus Christ.” The Gentiles of this large region of Asia Minor were settled at home in it; Jews there were sojourners dispersed from the land of Israel. But the description appended, like the Epistle generally, shows that they were pilgrims in a higher sense as God’s children and confessors of Jesus Christ. The Second Epistle (2 Peter 3:1) declares that it was written to the same persons. There is no ground therefore to claim for it a more catholic character than for the First. But “catholic” is a word greatly abused.
That both Epistles are divinely given and intended to profit all the faithful is unquestionable. But if for all saints, it is of interest and not without moment that we should recognise to whom they were written. That which the inspired writer himself says ought to be conclusive. But the learned no less than the unlearned like to have their opinions; and the late Dean Alford was only one of many who cite a number of verses, even in the First Epistle, to persuade us, notwithstanding the express terms of the address, that the apostle addresses himself to Gentile Christians as well as Jewish (for instance, 1 Peter 1:14, 18; 1 Peter 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 3:6; 1 Peter 4:3). Is it true then, that these passages furnish proof that his admonitions were directed to such as had been heathen, and were now converted to the faith of Christ?
Take now the first of these (i.e. 1 Peter 1: 14); and where is the trace of a Gentile? Were not Jews, when begotten again to a living hope, to be as children of obedience, not conformed to former lusts in their ignorance but according to the Holy One Who called them, to be themselves also holy in all manner of living? What indication of previous heathenism is here? Ver. 18, far from pointing necessarily to Gentiles, emphatically supposes Jews only. For they beyond all had a mode of life handed down ancestrally, and all the more vain from their boasted knowledge of the living God.
Still plainer seems the Jewish appropriation of 2:9, 10. It is true that the Jews by their unbelief and rebellion, their idolatry first, and finally by Christ’s rejection, forfeited their special privileges. “But ye,” says the apostle, ye the remnant who believe, ye anticipate what the nation are yet to have “in that day” when they too believe. Ye who in your unbelief belonged to them as “not a people,” but now do believe, ye are “God’s people;” ye who were not shown mercy, now became objects of mercy. And this is entirely confirmed by the verses which immediately follow. For they are exhorted, as strangers and sojourners in a yet higher way, to abstain from fleshly lusts, having their behaviour seemly “among the Gentiles,” as an outside class of evil-speakers.
The next, 1 Peter 3:6, offers no difficulty for after setting forth Sarah’s pattern of obedience, he tells the wives that they were become her children, not by mere flesh and blood, but by doing good and being not afraid with any terror. How does this imply previous heathenism? The last is 4:3; but it is a forcible reminder that in the days of their unbelief they had been morally as corrupt as the heathens. Living far off among them, they were guilty even of their unhallowed idolatries — a thing of course if they were Gentiles, but shameful in Jews. Not a word of proof is there in all or any of these passages that the Epistle goes beyond its address.
It ought not to be doubted that Peter was in Babylon, the literal Babylon on the plain of Shinar, when he wrote the First Epistle, according to the arrangement made in earlier days (Gal. 2:7, 8), that the gospel of the uncircumcision should be confided to Paul, and that of the circumcision to Peter, God working in each to their respective ends. There was no jar whatever, but happy fellowship; and it was marked by Peter’s employing the same brother as his intermediary, who had been Paul’s choice on a remarkable occasion and a former mission. It seems not improbable that Peter’s wife (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5) was the co-elect sister there whose salutation is given, with that of Mark his son in the faith (it appears). And we may feel assured that he would not associate with his own salutation that of one who had drawn out a memorable censure even of Barnabas, until confidence was restored, as the great apostle expressed it in Col. 4:10, Philemon 24, and 2 Tim. 4:11. If the apostle Paul was debarred at this time from visiting the assemblies which he had planted in these lands, the apostle Peter writes to strengthen his brethren; but with singular delicacy he addresses those of the circumcision who were allotted to his care, yet sends the letter by Silas the well-known fellow-labourer of the apostle to the Gentiles, who had founded the assemblies throughout this extensive region. Not a word implies that Peter had served in those parts, though Origen and Eusebius state so from a mistaken inference put as a tradition.
It is scarce worth while to notice the strange error of many ancients and moderns that Rome is meant by Babylon. Even if the Revelation had been known when the Epistle was written, instead of long after, it is harsh to conceive a mystical term of prophecy introduced into a writing so simple and direct, yet more into a greeting of love. What can one think of the theologians who cling to that which in the end is fraught with unsparing judgment, in order to extract its shadowy support to the dream of Peter’s episcopate in the metropolis of the Gentile world?