1:1 Symeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, writes this letter to those to whom there has been allotted a faith equal in honour and privilege with our own, through the impartial justice of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The letter opens with a very subtle and beautiful allusion for those who have eyes to see it and knowledge enough of the New Testament to grasp it. Peter writes to "those to whom there has been allotted a faith equal in honour and privilege with our own" and he calls himself Symeon Peter. Who were these people? There can really be only one answer to that. They must once have been Gentiles in contradistinction to the Jews who were uniquely the chosen people of God. Those who had once been no people are now the chosen people of God ( 1 Peter 2:10 ); those who were once aliens and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, and who were once far off, have been brought nigh ( Ephesians 2:11-13 ).
Peter puts this very vividly, using a word which would at once strike an answering chord in the minds of those who heard it. Their faith is equal in honour and privilege. The Greek is isotimos ( Greek #2472 ); isos ( Greek #2470 ) means "equal" and time ( Greek #5092 ) means "honour." This word was particularly used in connection with foreigners who were given equal citizenship in a city with the natives. Josephus, for instance, says that in Antioch the Jews were made isotimoi ( Greek #2472 ), equal in honour and privilege, with the Macedonians and the Greeks who lived there. So Peter addresses his letter to those who had once been despised Gentiles but who had been given equal rights of citizenship with the Jews and even with the apostles themselves in the kingdom of God.
Two things have to be noted about this great privilege which had been extended to the Gentiles. (a) It had been allotted to them. That is to say, they had not earned it; it had fallen to them through no merit of their own, as some prize falls to a man by lot. In other words, their new citizenship was all of grace. (b) It came to them through the impartial justice of their God and Saviour Jesus Christ. It came to them because with God there is no "most favoured nation clause"; his grace and favour go out impartially to every nation upon earth.
What has this to do with the name Symeon, by which Peter is here called? In the New Testament, he is most often called Peter; he is fairly often called Simon, which was, indeed, his original name before Jesus gave him the name of Cephas or Peter ( John 1:41-42 ); but only once in the rest of the New Testament is he called Simeon. It is in the story of that Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-41 which decided that the door of the Church should be opened wide to the Gentiles. There James says, "Symeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name" ( Acts 15:14 ). In this letter which begins with greetings to the Gentiles who have been granted by the grace of God privileges of equal citizenship in the kingdom with the Jews and with the apostles Peter is called by the name of Symeon; and the only other time he is called by that name is when he is the principal instrument whereby that privilege is granted.
Symeon has in it the memory that Peter is the man who opened doors. He opened the doors to Cornelius, the Gentile centurion ( Acts 10:1-48 ); his great authority was thrown on the side of the open door at the Council of Jerusalem ( Acts 15:1-41 ).
Peter calls himself the servant of Jesus Christ. The word is doulos ( Greek #1401 ) which really means slave. Strange as it may seem, here is a title, apparently one of humiliation, which the greatest of men took as a title of greatest honour. Moses the great leader and lawgiver was the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of God ( Deuteronomy 34:5 ; Psalms 105:26 ; Malachi 4:4 ). Joshua the great commander was the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of God ( Joshua 24:29 ). David the greatest of the kings was the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of God ( 2 Samuel 3:18 ; Psalms 78:70 ). In the New Testament Paul is the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of Jesus Christ ( Romans 1:1 ; Philippians 1:1 ; Titus 1:1 ), a title which James ( James 1:1 ), and Jude (Jd 1 ) both proudly claim. In the Old Testament the prophets are the douloi ( Greek #1401 ) of God ( Amos 3:7 ; Isaiah 20:3 ). And in the New Testament the Christian man frequently is Christ's doulos ( Greek #1401 ) ( Acts 2:18 ; 1 Corinthians 7:22 ; Ephesians 6:6 ; Colossians 4:12 ; 2 Timothy 2:24 ). There is deep meaning here.
(i) To call the Christian the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of God means that he is inalienably possessed by God. In the ancient world a master possessed his slaves in the same sense as he possessed his tools. A servant can change his master; but a slave cannot. The Christian inalienably belongs to God.
(ii) To call the Christian the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of God means that he is unqualifiedly at the disposal of God. In the ancient world the master could do what he liked with his slave; he had even the power of life and death over him. The Christian has no rights of his own, for all his rights are surrendered to God.
(iii) To call the Christian the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of God means that he owes an unquestioning obedience to God. A master's command was a slave's only law in ancient times. In any situation the Christian has but one question to ask: "Lord, what will you have me do?" The command of God is his only law.
(iv) To call the Christian the doulos ( Greek #1401 ) of God means that he must be constantly in the service of God. In the ancient world the slave had literally no time of his own, no holidays, no leisure. All his time belonged to his master. The Christian cannot, either deliberately or unconsciously, compartmentalize life into the time and activities which belong to God, and the time and activities in which he does what he likes. The Christian is necessarily the man every moment of whose time is spent in the service of God.
We note one further point. Peter speaks of the impartial justice of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. The King James Version translates, "the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," as if this referred to two persons, God and Jesus; but, as Moffatt and the Revised Standard Version both show, in the Greek there is only one person involved and the phrase is correctly rendered our God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Its great interest is that it does what the New Testament very, very seldom does. It calls Jesus God. The only real parallel to this is the adoring cry of Thomas: "My Lord and my God." ( John 20:28 ). This is not a matter to argue about; it is not even a matter of theology; for Peter and Thomas to call Jesus God was not a matter of theology but an outrush of adoration. It was simply that they felt human terms could not contain this person they knew as Lord.