Who Was Emperor When 1 Peter Was Written?
As I've mentioned many times on this blog, my family's devotions have centered around the chronological reading plan in the Daily Readings module. It's supposed to take a year, but I think we've been working on it for going on four years now! Anyway, we're now in 1 Peter so we may just finish before the start of year five.
In our devotions, my wife and kids will take turns reading portions of the passage, and then I'll read through it again offering commentary, explaining the historical background, ripping off tidbits I've heard from various preachers and teachers over the years, and generally trying to help them understand the passage's meaning. I almost never prepare ahead of time, so anything I say is pretty extemporaneous. I can do that because I teach from my laptop using Accordance, and so am able to find answers to any questions that come up very quickly.
As we've been reading through 1 Peter, I've been underscoring the author's purpose of encouraging Christians to stand strong in the face of rising persecution. So when we came to 1 Peter 2:13, where the author encourages submission to the emperor, I wanted to talk about just who the emperor was at that time. I was pretty sure it would have been Nero (assuming of course that Peter actually was the author), but I wanted to be sure. So I opened the Timeline.
The Timeline is divided into geographical regions including Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Greece, Rome, etc. It includes five different kinds of items: Rulers, Individuals, Prophets, Events, and Writings. Although the books of the New Testament were written from lots of different locations, we decided to place all Biblical writings in the Israel region to make it easy to compare them with each other. So I needed to be able to compare the writings in the Israel region with the rulers in the Rome region.
The Timeline lets you create your own custom layers of regions (so you can view distant regions side-by-side) and items (so you can view only those items that interest you. I'll show you how to define these layers in a future post, but for now, I'll just show you the timeline with NT writings and Roman rulers displayed side-by-side.
Here it is clear that Nero was indeed the emperor Peter would have been encouraging submission to. Knowing what we know about Nero, that makes the exhortation in 1 Peter 2:13 all the more remarkable.
This, of course, is the Conservative dating scheme. The Critical dating scheme dates 1 Peter to the reign of Domitian, another emperor known to have persecuted Christians. The cool thing about the Timeline is that you can select an item, then switch from one dating scheme to another, so you can immediately compare how an item is dated.
By consulting the Timeline in this way, I was able very quickly to learn more about the historical background of the epistle and bring that information to bear on my family's understanding of the passage.