Introduction. Introductions to commentaries on 1-2 Peter tend to spend a great deal of time on the authorship of the letters. While many scholars will accept the traditional view that the apostle Peter is the author of the first letter, the second letter is routinely dismissed as pseudepigraphal. I will deal with that in the next installment of the series (on 2 Peter / Jude commentaries). For 1 Peter, authors who support the traditional view that Peter wrote the letter draw comparisons between the Gospel fo Mark and 1 Peter, as well as a number of allusions to the gospel story (the Transfiguration in 1 Peter 5:1, for example).
A second issue which most commentaries will treat is the original audience. Were the churches Peter addresses primarily Jewish or Gentile Christians? Since the regions mentioned in 1:1 are in Asia Minor, older commentaries assumed that the readers were Gentiles. But the description of the churches as elect, exiles and diaspora imply strongly that they are Jewish Christian readers, albeit Hellenzed Jews. It appears that commentaries written after 2000 have been more willing to take the description in 1:1 literally and are more likely to read the letter as addressed to Jews in Asia Minor.
One book that I ought to mention on Peter that I have found helpful is Martin Hengel, Saint Peter: The Underestimated Apostle (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010). In this little book Hengel draws together scripture and tradition in order to come to a more developed view of who Peter was. It seems strange to call Peter an “Underestimated Apostle,” but it is true that Peter is rarely considered a “theological thinker” in the same breath as Paul or John. Nevertheless, Hengel provides a great deal of data which points to Peter as one of the two “premier Christian teachers” of the early church (102).
John Elliott, 1 Peter (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2000). At over 900 pages, Elliot’s commentary on 1 Peter has to be one of the longest written on a short book. The introduction runs to 304 pages alone, half of which is bibliography. For Elliot, 1 Peter was written sometime between A. D. 73 and 95 by someone who was associated with Peter, probably living in Rome. Consequently, he understands the readers as a mixed audience of Jewish and Gentile Christians. The language of the first verse as using Jewish language to describe the increasingly Gentile church. This commentary is one of the first in recent years to take the “resident alien” language literally, seeing it as an allusion to people who are outside of Roman society. This status as “resident alien” makes them susceptible to persecution. The commentary itself follows the Anchor Bible pattern by offering a fresh translation followed by detailed notes on the English text. In this case, the notes proceed almost word-by-word through the book, with Greek in transliteration. Elliot is masterful at drawing out allusions to other texts; virtually the whole of Greco-Roman and Second Temple Period Jewish literature is mined for potential allusions or parallel texts in 1 Peter. Occasionally he offers “Detailed Notes” (an excursus) on a particular point. This commentary will challenge readers, but it is worth the effort – all later writers on 1 Peter will have to take Elliot’s views into consideration.
Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2005). Jobes considers the question of whether the letter is addressed to Jews or Gentiles of no real consequence, although she argues at length that the letter is addressed to Jewish Christians who have moved into the regions listed in 1 Peter 1:1 by Roman colonization (or as a result of the Edit of Claudius). The colonization theory helps to explain some of the metaphors in the book, especially the motif of foreignness found in the letter (39-41). She accepts the traditional view that Peter is the author of the letter. Throughout the text of the commentary how Peter alludes constantly to the Hebrew Bible. The text of the commentary is less cluttered than others in the BENTC series, with Greek appearing in text with transliteration. All sources are cited in-text, only a few footnotes appear in the book. Textual critical issues are relegated to the “additional notes” at the end of each section. This ought to be a “first off the shelf” commentary for most pastors teaching through 1 Peter.
Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Vol. 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2007). Witherington follows Elliot and others who argue that the phrase “strangers and aliens” ought to be taken as a reference to Jewish Christians. This commentary therefore sees the recipients as Hellenized Jews who have accepted Jesus as messiah and now are Christians. Peter is writing to these Jews living in Asia Minor, contra Peter Davids (for example), who cannot understand how 1:14-18 could ever be applied to Jews. The body of the commentary is based on the English text, Greek words appear only in transliteration. As with other commentaries in Witherington’s Socio-Rhetorical series, there are numerous references to Greco-Roman sources, especially with respect to rhetorical categories. These may not be helpful to everyone, but Witherington works very hard to place the letter in a proper rhetorical context. He has several interesting excursuses, entitled “A Closer Look.” For example, his short essay on “Ascending Enoch; Jesus and the Falling Spirits” provides insight into a very difficult problem in 1 Peter 3.
J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Dallas: Word, 1988). Michaels reads 1 Peter as a letter addressed to Gentiles, although the letter he says “sends mixed signals.” He recognizes that the opening verse could very well refer to literal Jews, but 1:14-18 seems to imply rather strongly that the readers are Gentiles. Since the commentary was published in 1988, Michaels can say there is a “near consensus” that Peter was writing to Gentiles. For Michaels, 1 Peter is an “apocalyptic diaspora letter to ‘Israel.’” While James was written to (real) messianic Jews in the Diaspora, Michaels thinks 1 Peter was written to (metaphorical) Jews in the Diaspora, ie., Gentiles. He surveys at length the problems with the historical Peter as author and concludes that we cannot be certain simply because the evidence is thin. In the body of the commentary, each section begins with a bibliography and fresh translation followed by textual notes. Since 1 Peter use the Hebrew Bible a great deal, Michaels often uses these notes to delve into the complicated matter of Peter’s used of Septuagint versus Hebrew Bible. The textual notes are followed by a “Form/Structure/Setting” section, often commenting on possible pre-Petrine forms (hymns, traditional formulae, etc.) The comment section proceeds phrase-by-phrase in Greek, no transliteration is provided. Michaels makes detailed lexical and syntactical comments; it is here that the commentary excels. Following the long comment sections is a more brief “explanation” which ties the pericope to the overall themes of 1 Peter.
Ernest Best, 1 Peter (NCC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971). Best is well known for his ICC commentary on Ephesians, but this little commentary on 1 Peter is quite good, although a bit dated. His 66 page introduction reflects the state of thinking about 1 Peter in the 1960s, much has happened in the last 50 years. For Best, the book is pseudonymous, but it emerged from a Peterine school of thought sometime in the final two decades of the first century (63). Elliot cites Best as the “rudimentary form” which he develops in more detail in his commentary (Elliot, 127). With respect to recipients, Best comments that “the majority of the members of these congregations were of Gentile origin,” but then he backs off a bit and says that “a superficial glance at the letter might suggest that the author had Jewish Christians in mind” (19). Best also deals with various literary issues (pre-existing material, liturgy, household codes, etc.) Exegesis is based on the English text and all Greek appears in transliteration. In fact, the explanation of the text is done with very little reference to syntax and grammar, only occasionally does Best address a lexical issue. The style of the commentary required no footnotes, and in-text citations are light. This makes for a fairly readable commentary.
Conclusions. Because commentaries on 1 Peter are often grouped with 2 Peter, I can cheat a bit on these two posts. There are a few commentaries which could be included here which will appear on the 2 Peter post, mostly because “solo” 2 Peter commentaries are quite rare. What have you found useful in your teaching of 1 Peter?
Index for the Top Five Commentary Series
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts
Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians Pastoral Epistles Philemon
Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter & Jude
Letters of John Revelation