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In many cases this suffering arose from persecutionproceeding from suspicion and ill-will on the part of the non-Christian members of the community. For the endurance of all such unmerited sufferings the apostle points them to the example of the Saviour (whose sufferings are referred to in every chapter), at the same time bidding them take care that they do not bring trouble on themselves by their unworthy conduct. Their trials, he reminds them, are only for a time, and will receive abundant compensation at the revelation of Christ's glory. “The sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them," are indeed the two poles around which the whole argument of the epistle turns, resulting in a beautiful blending of patience and hope. Hence Peter has been styled “the apostle of
Along with the calls to patience there are mingled various other admonitions addressed to citizens, servants, wives, husbands, elders of the Church, and the congregation generally, with reference to various duties. It is worthy of note, that although this epistle has so little of a speculative character, it has been the means of revealing two interesting truths, which would not have been otherwise known to us.5
being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, might be found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ”; ii. 19-21: “For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall
take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were ye called : because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps”; iii. 13-18 (p. 238, note 1); iv. 12-19 (p. 238, note 1).
11. 6: “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold temptations"; iv. 7: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer”;
" And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in
Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you."
2 i. 7: “that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, might be found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ”; iv. 13, 14 (quoted p. 238, note I); V. 10: (quoted above, note I).
3 As compared with John the apostle of love, Paul the apostle of faith, and James the apostle of works.
4 ii. 13-17, 18-20; iii. 1-6, I; V. 1-4, 5-11.
5 i. 12: “ To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Ghost sent forth from heaven ; which things angels desire to look into"; iii. 18-20 : " quickened in the spirit ; in which also he went and preached unto the spirits
It may also be said to contain a practical refutation of the Romish theory as to Peter's jurisdiction in the Church. So far from making any claim to authority or pre-eminence, the writer expressly puts himself on a level with the other presbyters, and deprecates anything like a spirit of lordship in the exercise of their ministry.1 The names "priest," “bishop,” “Church,” are never even mentioned by him.2
The opinion held by many German critics that the persecution of Christians on account of their religion, of which we have tokens in this epistle (iv. 15, 16, quoted p. 238), did not exist before the issue of Trajan's famous rescript to Pliny (112 A.D.), and that the epistle must therefore be a forgery of the second century, may be regarded as no longer tenable. It is now generally acknowledged that the effect of that rescript was not to initiate a new procedure, but rather to moderate the zeal of provincial authorities, and discourage them from seeking out Christians or taking action against them unless the charge was brought forward by a responsible accuser. That the persecution of Christians as such was not unknown in Nero's reign after the burning of Rome (64 A.D.), may be inferred from the statements of several Roman historians. Thus Tacitus says (Annals xv. 44): Igitur primum correpti qui fatebantur, deinde indicio eorum multitudo ingens, haud perinde in crimine incendii quam odio humani generis conjuncti sunt. “Accordingly those were first seized who confessed they were Christians, then, on their information, a vast multitude were similarly dealt with, not so much on the charge of incendiarism, as of hatred to the human race (society).” This view is confirmed by Suetonius (Nero, 16): Afflicti suppliciis Christiani, genus hominum superstitionis nova ac maleficæ. “ The Christians were visited with punishment, a class of people addicted to a new and pernicious superstition.”
The language of Sulpicius Severus (who is, however, a much later and inferior authority) gives a similar impression. Referring to the persecution by Nero, he says (Chron. ii. 29): Hoc initio in Christianos sæviri cæptum, post etiam datis legibus religio vetabatur, palamque edictis propositis Christianum esse non licebat. "This was the beginning of severe measures against the Christians. Afterwards the religion was forbidden by formal laws, and the profession of Christianity was made illegal by published edicts.”
Professor Mommsen, who may be regarded as the highest authority on the subject, in a recent article in the Expositor (July 1893), states that “it is probable that the separation of Jews and Christians by the general public and the rise of animosity against the latter took place under the second dynasty, as Nero's measures show it fully developed. The double foundation on which the persecution rested, the general contempt of the Roman gods and the belief in special crimes of lewdness and other misdemeanours attributed to their conventicles, the nomen Christiani and the flagitia Christianorum, without doubt sprang up together.” Again : "the national religion was the foundation as well of Latin Rome as of the Roma communis omnium patria, the spiritual symbol of the political union. Now this foundation was sapped, this symbol rejected by the Christians, and by the Christians first and alone. The severing of the nationality from the creed, the basing the religion on humanity, is the very essence of the Christian revolution. ... The Christian 'atheism,' the negation of the national gods, was, as I have shown elsewhere, the contempt of the dii publici populi Romani, in itself high treason; or, as the Christians express it (thoughts being free but words not), the mere Christian name, the "testimony' of such atheism, constitutes a crime in the eye of the law."
Prof. Ramsay in his recent work (The Church in the Roman Empire) and in the Expositor for July and August 1893, argues strongly that the absolute proscription of “the Name” and the treatment of Christians as outlaws, did not take place till the time of the Flavian dynasty, probably in the reign of Vespasian (about 75 A.D.), and that this epistle cannot have been written much earlier than 80 A.D. But the external evidence which Prof. Ramsay adduces, however ably and skilfully handled, is in itself very meagre and precarious; and he finds it necessary to rest his case chiefly on the wide difference which he traces between the language of the Pastoral Epistles and th of this epistle (and still more of the Book of Revelation) as regards the persecution to which the Christians were exposed. He dwells particularly on the representation given of the readers, in this epistle, as “reproached for the name of Christ,” and being liable to “suffer as a
Christian,” thus having it in their power to "glorify God in this name” (iv. 14-16). He also gives a judicial sense to the “ answer (droloylav) which they are to be ready to give "to every man that asketh (them) a reason concerning the hope that is in (them) (iii. 15). But the expression “to every man” would seem rather to refer to the intercourse of social life; and with regard to suffering for “the Name,” we can imagine that, after Christians as a class had fallen under general suspicion (as they did in the reign of Nero—if not still earlier), it would not be long before such a way of speaking would come into use. In this connection we may quote Prof. Ramsay's own statement (p. 241) that “the persecution of Nero, begun for the sake of diverting popular attention, was continued as a permanent police measure under the form of a general prosecution of Christians as a sect dangerous to the public safety.”
It has also to be noted that the writer of the epistle does not look upon the state as absolutely hostile, or on the position of the Christians in the world as altogether hopeless. He speaks of “governors as sent by (the Lord) for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well” (ii. 14); and he asks, “And who is he that will harm you,
ye be zealous of that which is good” (iii. 13). As Prof. Ramsay says (p. 282): “He still clings to the idea that the Christians are persecuted because they are believed to be guilty of great crimes; the old charges of the Neronian time are still in his memory, and he hopes that, if the absurdity of these charges be fully brought home to the minds of men, the persecution must be stopped.” And again (p. 348), “Christians suffered by being convicted as criminals, and not as Christians ; defence lay in a life above suspicion (1 Peter iv. 25).”
It is quite true that the subject of persecution is much less prominent in the Pastoral Epistles (67-68 A.D.), there being only a few passages in which it is mentioned (see 1 Tim. iv. 10; vi. 1 ; 2 Tim. i. 8; ii. 3, 9 ; iii. 11, 12; iv. 17, 18). But this may be accounted for by the reaction which (Tacitus tells us) took place in the public mind after the atrocities perpetrated on the Christians by Nero, in connection with the great Fire at Rome (64 A.D.). Prof. Ramsay puts this strongly when he says (p. 243), “ The persecution began in 64, and it was obviously at an end when Nero left Rome towards the end of 66. It had been continued by the Emperor after the people had become sick of it; and when his personal influence was withdrawn, it can hardly have continued."
Referring to the same period, Prof. Mommsen says: “The huge proportions and the cruel features which this repression assumed in the worst years of this reign, form an exception to the general preponderance of toleration or, what comes to the same, of moderate persecution, which confirms the rule. This in my opinion continued under the Flavian dynasty."
The subsidiary arguments which Prof. Ramsay adduces in favour of a later date than the reign of Nero (e.g. the symbolic use of the term “Babylon” and of the “Dispersion,” the familiarity of the writer with James, Romans, and Ephesians, the organisation and intercommunication of the Church in all parts of Asia Minor) have a certain degree of force, but are scarcely sufficient to outweigh the general probability in favour of the earlier date that is usually assigned to the epistle. Even if Prof. Ramsay's view be accepted, however, it is quite consistent (as he points out) with the Petrine authorship. (See above, p. 231, note 3.)