1 Peter 5: From Babylon


With the help of Silvanus, who would personally deliver the apostle’s letter, Peter concluded his teaching with greetings from those who were with him, a final instruction to extend the love of Christ to each other, and a prayer they would experience the peace Jesus gives.

Silas/Silvanus

Through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother, I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

1 Peter 5:12 (NRSV)

Silvanus—or Silas, as he was also called—was a well-respected prophet and teacher Peter had met in Jerusalem when all the leaders in the greater church gathered for the Jerusalem council described in Acts 15.  Once it was decided how to proceed with Gentile Christians, the council chose men from among the Jerusalem church assemblies to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Antioch—the rapidly growing new nexus of believers worldwide.

Then the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas [Silvanus], leaders among the brothers, with the following letter . . .

Acts 15:22-23 (NRSV)

Silas [Silvanus] was chosen because of his anointing from God to teach and prophesy. He would be able to explain all that had transpired in the council, and what the contents of the council’s open letter to believers would mean for Christians.

According to Luke, both Judas and Silas [Silvanus] “who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.” But it was Silas [Silvanus] Paul selected to accompany him on his second mission trip. Together, they would encourage and strengthen the believers in all the churches Paul had helped to establish during his first missionary journey.

As Paul and Silas [Silvanus] continued north (and not east, prevented as Paul was by the Spirit of Christ), people began to join them.

Paul [and Silas/Silvanus] went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him.

Acts 16:1-3 (NRSV)

And now they were a company of three.

From there, they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia (surely encouraging the Gentile believers there, bringing with them the letter from the Jerusalem council to reassure them), passed through Mysia and came to a stop in the port city of Troas.

There they met up with Luke to become a foursome, Paul had his vision of the Man from Macedonia, and proceeded straight to Philippi. While sojourning there, Paul and Silas [Silvanus] were thrown into prison for casting a demon out of a young enslaved girl. In a sense, this was Silas’ [Silvanus] severe “baptism” into apostolic work. They were brought before the magistrates of Philippi and accused.

“These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods

After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.  Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas [Silvanus] were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 

Acts 16:20-26 (NRSV)

This earthquake was signature of God’s release, described at Jesus’ death and resurrection, and in previous responses to prayer in the Book of Acts.

Silas [Silvanus] was with Paul for similar turmoil in Thessalonica, where many came to saving faith, but many others became so incensed, they fomented a riot. From there they went to Berea together, where Silas [Silvanus] remained with Timothy to teach and train new believers as Paul continued on to Athens. Eventually, Timothy and Silas [Silvanus] rejoined Paul in Athens and established the work Paul had begun there.

Paul wrote of Silvanus [Silas] in three of his letters, reminding his readers of the gospel they together had preached and taught.

At some point, Silas/Silvanus and Peter reunited and partnered at least in the writing of this letter (he may have helped Peter as both a scribe and a repository of Paul’s teaching), then Silas/Silvanus would have personally delivered the letter to the churches in Asia.

Babylon

She in Babylon, chosen together with you, welcomes you all . . .

1 Peter 4:13 (my translation)

Who is “she”?

Two possibilities seem plausible.

  1. Peter may have been referring to his wife.
  2. Peter may have been referring to the local assembly (ekklesia, which we today term “church,” meant assembly duly summoned, or an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned, the legislative assembly, in the koine Greek of Peter’s day. Because the noun ἐκκλησία is feminine, the third person pronoun for it would be “she.”

It seems more likely Peter was referring to an assembly, the local believers who met with him and cared for him while he was in prison, but it is certainly plausible Peter was referring to his wife, who had come to stay with him, or at least near him.

But where is Babylon?

Most scholars point to Rome. It is pretty unlikely there was a church in actual Babylon yet, and Rome was the capital city of the empire that now held Palestine (once Israel) and Judea (once Judah) in their grip. The Babylon of antiquity had invaded Jerusalem, stripped and destroyed the temple, and taken God’s people into captivity. Now, Rome in similar fashion occupied the ancient holy land of God, even building a fort adjacent to the temple on Mount Zion.

By Peter’s writing, Nero’s savage persecution of Christians was underway, making Rome even more of a Babylon to believers.

Put together with the writings of early church historians, this places Peter in prison in Rome under Nero’s dominion, together with the assemblies there somewhere between 60-64 AD.

John Mark

. . . as well as Mark my son.

1 Peter 4:13 (my translation)
Frans Hals, By Frans Hals – kunstjaar.wordpress.com : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10312585St. Mark [II]

In Peter’s day, rabbi’s were often called “father” due to the close relationship rabbis had with their talmidim, their students or disciples. Though the apostles certainly regarded Jesus’ teaching that no one was to be called “teacher” or “father” because there is only the One Teacher and Father in heaven, still, both Paul (with Timothy) and Peter acknowledged the close relationship they held with the young men they were mentoring.

John Mark had lived with his mother Mary in Jerusalem. It was here Jesus gathered with his disciples for the last supper and where the believers had gathered to pray and wait after Jesus ascended to heaven. When Peter had been released from prison, he went straightaway to John’s house, where he knew the faithful were gathered, praying for him.

One of John Mark’s cousins was Barnabas, a Levite whose family had settled on the island of Cyprus. Barnabas, called “Son of Encouragement,” was an early convert, a wealthy man who had sold his property and shared the proceeds with the fledgling church. Barnabas helped found the church in Antioch, mentored Paul, then mentored his young cousin John Mark.

When Barnabas and Paul parted ways, Barnabas took Mark on a shorter mission trip to Cyprus to encourage the assemblies there, then back to Jerusalem. Later, in several of his letters, Paul commended Mark who was then with him in Rome.

John Mark eventually became Peter’s student and ardent supporter, writing Peter’s gospel posthumously, after Peter was executed in 64 AD.

As Ones Who Love Each other

Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ

1 Peter 5:14 (NRSV)

The kiss of love was the symbol of mutual affection, which even today is practiced among those who live along the Mediterranean Sea—a kiss on both cheeks, and a third or fourth kiss for those who are close friends and family. Expressing affection helps to bond relationships and reassures people in times of crisis.

Finally, Peter prayed they might experience the peace Jesus gives, peace that goes beyond human understanding, which enlarges the heart and mind to know joy in the midst of suffering, tranquility in the midst of turmoil, confidence in the midst of calamity, hope in the midst of tragedy, that the Spirit of Christ would fill them with divine power and grace.


Peter’s first letter was written to encourage believers to rejoice in the face of suffering. His next letter would help them stay true, reminding them that following Christ means putting away immorality to live a holy, godly life.


[St. Mark writes his Evangelium at the dictation of St. Peter, by Pasquale Ottino, 17th century, Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux. | By Attributed to Pasquale Ottini – http://www.europeana.eu, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7513389

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