We know almost nothing about the life of the apostle Peter from the Council of Jerusalem, in the year 49 (see Acts 15), until the time he wrote this letter, around the year 64. It is certain that he went to Rome. Being in charge of the entire Church, he, like Paul, had to go to the center of the Roman world, though their motives were different.
A very ancient tradition affirms that he was killed in the persecution of Nero, in 66, and that he was buried on the grounds of the Vatican Hill. Investigations carried out these past years have enabled us to discover a grave and bones with various inscriptions which are, almost certainly, those of the apostle, the first Rock of the church.
Thus it was a short time before his death that he wrote this letter from Rome. Peter had neither the genius nor the literary talent of Paul. Instead, with simple words, he addressed the Christians of the Asian province, where the first persecutions were beginning. Different from Paul, he is not concerned with clarifying or defending the faith. He tries to encourage believers who are suffering by presenting the example of Christ to them and by explaining the consequences of baptism.
In this letter, everything from 1:3 to 3:7 is inspired by the baptismal ceremony in the early Church: hymns, homily on the ritual and on Christian life. For Peter, it is an excellent way to remind his readers that they are Christians.
The end of the letter tells us that Peter wrote through Silvanus, who had been a disciple of Paul. This may be why, in various passages, we find the same topics found in Paul’s letters.
•1From Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, to all those living as aliens in the Dispersion, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
2to those whom God the Father has called, according to his plan, and made holy by the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be purified by his blood: may grace and peace increase among you.
You have been saved
3Let us praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for his great mercy. In raising Jesus Christ from the dead he has given us new life and a living hope. 4The inheritance that does not corrupt nor goes bad nor passes away was reserved to you in heavens, 5since God’s power shall keep you faithful until salvation is revealed in the last days.
6There is cause for joy, then, even though you may, for a time, have to suffer many trials. 7Thus will your faith be tested, like gold in a furnace. Gold, however, passes away but faith, worth so much more, will bring you in the end praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ appears.
8You have not yet seen him and yet you love him; even without seeing him, you believe in him and experience a heavenly joy beyond all words, 9for you are reaching the goal of your faith: the salvation of your souls.
10This was the salvation for which the prophets so eagerly looked when, in days past, they foretold the favor of God with regard to you. 11But they could only investigate when the Spirit of Christ present within them pointed out the time and the circumstances of this—the sufferings of Christ and the glories which would follow.
12It was revealed to them that they were working not for themselves but for you. Thus, in these days, after the Holy Spirit has been sent from heaven, the Gospel’s preachers have taught you these mysteries which even the angels long to see.
•13So, then, let your spirit be ready. Be alert, with confident trust in the grace you will receive when Jesus Christ appears. 14Like obedient children, do not return to your former life given over to ignorance and passions. 15Imitate the one who called you. As he is holy so you, too, be holy in all your conduct, 16since Scripture says: Be holy for I am holy.
17You call upon a Father who makes no distinction between persons but judges according to each one’s deeds; take seriously, then, these years which you spend in a strange land. 18Remember that you were freed from the useless way of life of your ancestors, not with gold and silver 19but with the precious blood of the Lamb without spot or blemish. 20God, who has known Christ before the world began, revealed him to you in the last days. 21Through him, you have faith in God who raised him from the dead and glorified him in order that you might put all your faith and hope in God.
22In obeying the truth, you have gained interior purification from which comes sincere mutual love. Love one another, then, with all your heart, 23since you are born again, not from mortal beings, but with enduring life, through the Word of God who lives and remains forever. 24It is written: All flesh is grass and its glory like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flower falls, 25but the Word of the Lord endures forever. This Word is the Gospel which has been brought to you.
Christ is the cornerstone
•1So, give up all evil and deceit, hypocrisy, envy and every kind of gossip. 2Like newborn children, seek eagerly for the pure milk of the Word that will help you grow and reach salvation. 3Did you not taste the goodness of the Lord? 4He is the living stone rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him 5so that you, too, become living stones built into a spiritual temple, a holy community of priests offering spiritual sacrifices that please God through Jesus Christ. 6Scripture says: See, I lay in Zion a chosen and precious cornerstone; whoever believes in him will not be disappointed.
7This means honor for you who believed, but for unbelievers also the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone 8and it is a stone to stumble over, a rock which lays people low. They stumble over it in rejecting the Word, but the plan of God is fulfilled in this.
9You are a chosen race, a community of priest-kings, a consecrated nation, a people God has made his own to proclaim his wonders. For he called you from your darkness to his own wonderful light. 10At one stage you were no people, but now you are God’s people, you had not received his mercy, but now you have been given mercy.
Live a blameless life
•11Beloved, while you are strangers and exiles, I urge you not to indulge in selfish passions that wage war on the soul. 12Live a blameless life among the pagans; so when they accuse you falsely of any wrong, they may see your good works and give glory to God on the day he comes to them.
13For the Lord’s sake, respect all human authority: the king as chief authority, 14the governors as sent by him to punish evildoers and to encourage those who do good. 15And God wants you to do good so that you may silence those fools who ignorantly criticize you. 16Behave as free people but do not speak of freedom as a license for vice; you are free men and God’s servants. 17Reverence each person, love your brothers and sisters, fear God and show respect to the emperor.
18Servants must respect their masters, not only those who are good and understanding but also those who are difficult. 19For there is merit in putting up with unprovoked suffering, for the sake of God. 20What merit would there be in taking a beating when you have done wrong? But if you endure punishment when you have done well, that is a grace before God.
21This is your calling: remember Christ who suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you may follow in his way. 22He did no wrong and there was no deceit in his mouth. 23He did not return insult for insult and, when suffering, he did not curse but put himself in the hands of God who judges justly. 24He went to the cross bearing our sins on his own body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live an upright life. For by his wounds you have been healed. 25You were like stray sheep, but you have come back to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
Duties of husbands and wives
•1In the same way, wives must be submissive to their husbands. If any of them resists the Word, they will be won over without words by the conduct of their wives. 2It will be enough for them to see your responsible and blameless conduct.
3Do not be taken up with outward appearances: hairstyles, gold necklaces and clothes. 4There is something more permanent that shines from within a person: a gentle and peaceful disposition. This is really precious in God’s eyes. 5This was the way the holy women of the past dressed. They put their trust in God and were obedient to their husbands, 6namely Sarah who had such respect for Abraham that she called him her lord. You are her children if you do what is right and are not afraid.
7Husbands, in your turn, be sensible in your life together. Be considerate, realizing that the woman is of a more frail disposition and that you both share in the gift of life. This will prevent anything from coming in the way of your prayer.
8Finally, you should all be of one mind: share each other’s troubles with mutual affection, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil for evil or answer one insult with another. Give a blessing, instead, since this is what you have been called to do, and so you will receive the blessing. 10For if you seek life and want to see happiness, keep your tongue from evil and your mouth from speaking deceit. 11Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 12Because the Lord’s eyes are turned to the just and his ears listen to their appeal. But the Lord frowns on evildoers.
Do not fear or be disturbed
13Who can harm you if you devote yourselves to doing good? 14If you suffer for the sake of righteousness, happy are you. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed as they are, 15but bless the Lord Christ in your hearts. Always have an answer ready when you are called upon to account for your hope, but give it simply and with respect. 16Keep your conscience clear so that those who slander you may be put to shame by your upright, Christian living. 17Better to suffer for doing good, if it is God’s will, than for doing wrong.
Endure sufferings as Christ did
•18Remember how Christ died, once and for all, for our sins. He, the just one, died for the unjust in order to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the Spirit he was raised to life, 19and it was then that he went to preach to the imprisoned spirits. 20They were the generation who did not believe when God, in his great patience, delayed punishing the world while Noah was building the ark in which a small group of eight persons escaped through water. 21That was a type of the baptism that now saves you; this baptism is not a matter of physical cleansing but of asking God to reconcile us through the resurrection of Christ Jesus. 22He has ascended to heaven and is at the right hand of God, having subjected the angels, Dominations and Powers.
•1Given that Christ suffered in his human life, arm yourselves with this certainty: the one who suffers in his body has broken with sin 2so as to spend the rest of his life following the will of God and not human passions.
3You have given enough time, in the past, to living as the pagans do: a life of excess, evil passions, drunkenness, orgies and worship of idols. 4They now find it strange that you are no longer swept along with them in this ruinous flood, and then abused you for it. 5But they will be accountable to the one who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6The Gospel has been preached to many who are now dead. As humans they received a deadly sentence, but through the Spirit they shall live for God.
7The end of all things is near; keep your minds calm and sober for prayer. 8Above all, let your love for one another be sincere, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Welcome one another into your houses without complaining. 10Serve one another with the gifts each of you received, thus becoming good managers of the varied graces of God. 11If you speak, deliver the word of God; if you have a special ministry, let it be seen as God’s power so that, in everything, God may be glorified in Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Be glad to share in the sufferings of Christ
•12My dear people, do not be surprised at the testing by fire which is taking place among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13Instead, you should be glad to share in the sufferings of Christ because, on the day his glory is revealed, you will also fully rejoice. 14You are fortunate if you are insulted because of the name of Christ, for the Spirit of glory rests on you. 15I suppose that none of you should suffer for being a murderer, a thief, a criminal or an informer; 16but if anyone suffers on account of being a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace; rather let this name bring glory to God.
17The time of judgment has come and it begins with God’s household. If its beginning so affects us, what will be the end of those who refuse to believe in the Gospel? 18If the just one is barely saved, what will happen to the sinner and unbeliever? 19So, then, if you suffer according to God’s will, entrust yourself to the faithful Creator and continue to do good.
•1I now address myself to those elders among you; I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ, hoping to share the glory that is to be revealed. 2Shepherd the flock which God has entrusted to you, guarding it not out of obligation but willingly for God’s sake; not as one looking for a reward but with a generous heart; 3do not lord it over those in your care, rather be an example to your flock. 4Then, when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will be given a crown of unfading glory.
5In the same way, let the younger ones among you respect the authority of the elders. All of you must clothe yourself with humility in your dealings with one another, because God opposes the proud but gives his grace to the humble.
6Bow down, then, before the power of God so that he will raise you up at the appointed time. 7Place all your worries on him since he takes care of you.
8Be sober and alert because your enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. 9Stand your ground, firm in your faith, knowing that our brothers and sisters, scattered throughout the world, are confronting similar sufferings. 10God, the giver of all grace, has called you to share in Christ’s eternal glory and after you have suffered a little he will bring you to perfection: he will confirm, strengthen and establish you forever. 11Glory be to him forever and ever. Amen.
•12I have had these few lines of encouragement written to you by Silvanus, our brother, whom I know to be trustworthy. For I wanted to remind you of the kindness of God really present in all this. Hold on to it.
13Greetings from the community in Babylon, gathered by God, and from my son, Mark.
14Greet one another with a friendly embrace. Peace to you all who are in Christ.
• 1.1 Notice the greeting, “in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” which is the same as Paul’s greetings.
This passage could be the preaching of a leader of a Christian community, addressed to adults who have just been baptized. In those days people were more preoccupied than they are now about their salvation after death. To those being baptized, the apostles spoke of the inheritance of God which was reserved for them and had been won by Christ in his resurrection: The inheritance that does not corrupt nor goes bad nor passes away (v. 4).
The newly baptized knew that their Christian faith was threatened and persecuted. To ask for baptism meant to commit oneself to Christ until death.
You have not yet seen him… (v. 8). Hope, love for Christ: the three virtues (or powers) urging Christians, go together. Christ came to glory through suffering. The Christian follows the same path and already knows true joy in the midst of trials.
• 13. The logical consequences of baptism are developed. We cannot go backward; giving in to the evils of the world would mean going back to the slavery from which Christ delivered us through his blood.
Verses 22-25: here we recognize this being born anew, being born from above, which Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:9.
What follows is a call to live perfectly: not attached to the things of the present, but eager to live a useful and holy life before God, in proportion to what we have cost him.
• 2.1 Two words stand out in this paragraph: stones and priests. They speak about what the new Christians will be.
You are stones (v. 5). God’s presence in his people is the stone which stands out and on which, all those who neither saw nor took notice of him, stumbled (Is 8:14). In another sense, Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders, which becomes the foundation of a new building: this is the new people of God that arises from the remnant of Israel and then extends to all nations. Christians are the stones of this Church: living stones because each one shares the life of God, and because each one has an active part to play in the Church, the body of Christ (Eph 4:12-16).
You will also be priests. To understand what this means, we must read God’s words to Moses in Exodus 19:5. God decided then to become present in the world and to transform the course of history through a people of his own which would be Israel. Peter tells us: “The real people of God, the true Israel, are you who have accepted Christ.” We, who are baptized, do not form one more religion: we are an active minority and the leaven of the world.
We are priests in the sense this word had for ancient people: those who know, those who risk coming close to God. We were made responsible for the mission of preparing men and women so that salvation may mature in them. People and nations may discover their common destiny and, in the end, admit that they cannot solve their problems without making the Gospel the Law of their whole lives.
A Christian aware of his dignity as a priestly member of the people of God, by sheer gift and grace cannot but proclaim his wonders (v. 19). This is what evangelization is all about. These Christians are a chosen race, a community of priest-kings called to proclaim the Gospel.
• 11. Here we are invited to be model citizens, workers and spouses. If we are slandered, that is one more occasion to show the beauty of Christian life and that those who slander us are wrong. If the authorities begin to persecute us, this is not an excuse to disobey the laws.
Also see the commentary on Titus 3:1.
• 3.1 In speaking to married couples, Peter prefers to address himself to women. Is it because he recognizes the importance of their mission? Or rather, because in the rest of the letter, he paid more attention to men who, according to Jewish customs, occupied the front rows of the assembly?
Why does he ask them to obey their husband? Is it because God wants it that way, or because the Church is anti-feminist and wants women to be submissive? This point was explained in 1 Corinthians 11:9 and Ephesians 5:22. The apostles heard and taught the revolutionary ruling of Jesus who gave women the same rights as husbands in marriage. However, since they lived in a male-dominated society, they could hardly imagine or discover a new way of sharing between spouses.
In any case, they could not reform the male-centered culture of their time overnight. They were speaking for women accustomed to obey. Some among them understood their promotion (Lk 8:1), but it happened that they showed this with actions which scandalized many (see commentaries on 1 Cor 11:6 and 1 Tim 2:11).
• 18. In this paragraph we have the reference to “the descent of Christ into hell” mentioned in our creed: see also Ephesians 4:9 and the commentary on Matthew 27:52.
Peter, using the expressions of his day, speaks of the sinful people in Noah’s time. For the Jews, they were the example of those who sin by irresponsibility and lack of real concern for the will of God. Yet, Christ saved them: he came for everyone, and not only for those who have been faithful or who had the chance of meeting him in his Church.
Note the comparison between the deluge and baptism: water washes away the old world, a life of sin: the person who comes to Christ begins a new life, striving for “a pure conscience.”
In the body he was put to death, in the Spirit he was raised to life (v. 18). (The text says, “he died according to flesh.”) This means that he died because he had accepted and really taken on our mortal condition, but he had to be repossessed by the Spirit of God. It is a reaffirmation of the double nature of Christ. Compare with Romans 1:4.
• 4.1 Given that Christ suffered. See Romans 6.
They find it strange (v. 4). We, perhaps, too easily accept to organize our life, as do those who are not waiting for the promises of Jesus; in our conduct there is nothing to surprise them.
The Gospel has been preached to many who are now dead (v. 6). This refers to the previous passage 3:18-20. It is a way of speaking about the mysterious encounter that, after his death, Jesus had with the dead of past ages, whom he had come to save as well.
Keep your minds calm and sober for prayer (v. 7). Prayer requires a disciplined life. Go to bed when it is time and give up entertainments that only devour time and make us halfwits.
• 12. These verses present a summary of the central idea in this letter.
Let us note that Peter cannot concede that a Christian should have to be judged or go to jail through his own fault, murder, theft, etc. How many “Christians” in name only are in jail today? And, how many more should be there?
• 5.1 In the varied counsels that follow, note what concerns the elders, leaders and pastors of the community.
In persecution Peter also sees a work of the devil, who does his best to discourage those who hope in Christ.
It is a proven fact that when we get ready to make an important decision or to make some commitment in the service of Christ, many unexpected obstacles arise. The person who becomes intimidated loses everything. When he tries again to take some step, the devil will increase his attacks. These trials are common and to face them we need to be alert in our faith.
• 12. To remind you of the kindness of God (v. 12). This kindness, or grace, means God’s whole plan to save us, all that came to us through Christ.
Babylon: in the language of the Christians of the time indicates “the great city,” the center of pagan religions, namely, Rome (see Rev 17). Rome already has a community, the Church, at the time that Peter writes.