Historical Context

1 Peter 5:1-4

Churches in Asia Minor; the Imperial Cult and Persecution

Churches in Asia Minor

  • The recipients listed in 1 Peter 1:1 are churches throughout the region of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). If Peter was writing from Rome, a fact which many commentators deduce from the reference to Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13, then the five locations listed by Peter likely indicate the order of travel in which Silvanus brought this letter. 
  • While it is unclear whether Peter ever physically visited these churches, the gospel likely invaded this region prior to the apostolic missionary journeys. Although Paul and his companions would spend some considerable time in this region, the seeds of the gospel may have been planted through the testimony of men and women returning from Jerusalem who were present on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9).

The false teaching encountered in 1 Timothy

  • The imperial cult heavily influenced cultural life throughout all of the territories under Rome’s influence. In the first century, the Roman emperor was revered as a god, and many aspects of society were geared toward directing praise to the emperor. The churches in Asia Minor likely struggled with how to live within a culture dominated by worship of the emperor. 
  • Since imperial worship was interwoven with various aspects of society, the Christian community stood out as they attempted to reserve worship for God exclusively. Refusal to participate in the worship practices of their broader communities likely resulted in the church being subjected to social pressures and a certain degree of ostracization. 
  • While state-sanctioned persecution of Christians had not yet been instituted, Peter’s audiences apparently received some localized persecution. One likely cause for such social pressures may be the church’s refusal to participate in the imperial cult.

In summary

Peter wrote to several churches within the region of Asia Minor. These churches may have been started by native residents who returned from Jerusalem after hearing the gospel from Peter on the day of Pentecost. Asia Minor, like the rest of the Roman Empire, was a stronghold for imperial worship. Since worship of the emperor conflicted with worship of God, Christians within this region struggled with how to reconcile their beliefs with cultural expectations. These Christians were likely ostracized for not participating in emperor worship, and this suffering apparently weighed heavily on them. For this reason, Peter wrote to encourage them in their identity as the people of God and to exhort them to perseverance in godliness through their suffering. Pastors are given the weighty responsibility of shepherding God’s people while leading by example in these areas.

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