What Type of Persecution Was Endured?

09 Jan

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Perhaps due to Hollywood productions that depict early Christians in Roman arenas facing lions and the like, we have come to believe persecution means persecution to the death, but this is not so. We are told that, because Jesus healed the afflicted on the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities persecuted him (John 5:16). The idea that they also sought to slay him is added to the fact that they were already persecuting him in some way or another. In one instance they claimed he was mentally unstable and had a demon (Mark 3:21-22). At other times the authorities stalked him, hoping for an opportunity to take him into custody (cf. Luke 6:7; 14:1; 20:20). They sought out people who would lie about him (Matthew 26:59-61), and provide “evidence” they could use in their effort to have him executed in their courts (cf. John 7:20, 25; 11:49-50, 53). Finally, they paid a large sum of money to have one of his own to betray him (Mark 14:10-11). All this, although culminating in Jesus’ death, was persecution, and Jesus tells us: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20).[1]

The question for us in this study is: was the sort of persecution that occurred in Asia Minor during the first century AD the type where the believer would expect to die? Not necessarily! While it is true that some believers may have died (cf. Acts 14:19) at the hand of zealots (fanatics) or may have placed their lives in jeopardy for the sake of righteousness during any persecution, this is not something one normally expects when one suffers for righteousness. Enduring verbal abuse, accepting ostracism in one’s community, being falsely accused of wrongdoing and enduring like persecution without complaint is what Peter had in mind. This was the kind of thing that we would expect the believers in Asia Minor endured at the time of Peter’s epistle.

Peter told his readers that they should no longer be man-pleasers, succumb to peer pressure etc. Rather, they should live out the rest of their lives to please God (1Peter 4:2), which puts 1Peter 4:1c in context. That is, they could not have expected the persecution in Asia Minor to lead to death, if they planned on living out the rest of their lives (implying some length) to please God!

In 1Peter 4:2 Peter mentions the lusts of men and then goes on to mention what he means in the next verse: lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, reveling, banqueting, and abominable idolatries (1Peter 4:3). If Peter was writing to believing Jews of the Diaspora (1Peter 1:1), how can he be saying that Sabbath-keeping Jews of the Diaspora who frequented the synagogues in their respective communities participated in these things—especially abominable idolatries? Many have taken this to mean that Peter must have been writing to gentiles who received Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but Peter isn’t speaking of the blatant idolatry practiced in the pagan temples throughout Asia. Rather he is speaking, as I intend to show in my next blog post, that Peter was speaking of behavior that led one away from God.

Although Peter wrote to believing Jews, believing gentiles would have read Peter’s epistles and benefited. We need to remember that Scripture tells us that Paul went to the gentiles specifically (although believing Jews would benefit upon hearing or reading his epistles), so, too, Peter specifically went to the Jews (Galatians 2:7-9). That is where his ministry lay. Of course, gentiles worshiping among the believing Jews would want to read his letter, but contextually we need to keep in mind that Peter was sent to the Jews, not gentiles.


[1] See my previous blogpost: The Persecution in Asia Minor that considers the source of the persecution in Asia Minor. There I conclude that the source came from the Jerusalem authorities (probably conducted at the command of Annas, the high priest, who was so instrumental in Jesus’ crucifixion)  in an effort to undermine Paul’s work there. Paul was in Rome at Peter’s writing and under house arrest.

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Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Epistles of Peter


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