Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13| Rome or Jerusalem?

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babylon in 1 Peter 5:13
When Peter sent greetings from “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13, was he in Rome, or in Jerusalem? A fascinating and important study!

Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13| Rome or Jerusalem?

One of the most comment views in the commentaries is that when Peter sent greetings to the churches from “Babylon” he was cryptically saying that he was in Rome. (Some say he was in literal Babylon, but, that is untenable). Was Peter in Rome referring to that city under the cryptic appellation of Babylon?

I think there is good evidence to the contrary on this. In fact, I think that Peter’s emphasis on the exodus motif – not to mention his allusions to Revelation as an already written book – points us in the direction of Jerusalem.

We know that Biblically, Peter’s base of operations was Jerusalem. This is not to suggest that he never traveled outside there, but, it is to emphasize that Jerusalem was his base. Now, if we can assume– and I see no reason to question this – that Peter viewed Torah and Jerusalem as the city of “bondage” like Paul did (Romans 7 / Galatians 4-5) then it makes perfect sense to see Peter cryptically referring to Jerusalem as Babylon.

This gets back to my point that “outsider” sources, such as the DSC referring to Rome as Babylon are irrelevant. They had a totally different perspective than did the Christian community. This goes again to address all of Andrew’s points where he appeals to those “outside” sources. I would also observe that Eusebius lived three centuries after the fact, thus, it is distinctly possible that he had lost contact with the original context.

1 Peter, Revelation and Babylon

Peter wrote to the same churches as did John in Revelation. He wrote about the same issue– persecution. In fact, note that in Revelation 3:9f Jesus told the Philadelphian church – being persecuted by the false Jews – that he would spare them from the fiery trial that was coming (about to come) on the whole world. In 1 Peter, the apostle said: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.” This is not a happy translation. It should be, as the NASV renders it: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” What Jesus predicted in the Apocalypse was occurring in 1 Peter. This strikes me as a powerful argument for the early dating of Revelation as well as positing the conflict as one springing from Jerusalem as the persecutor.

I think it relevant to note that in Revelation 18:4 the followers of Jesus are urged “come out of her my people.” To my knowledge, Christians were never urged to leave Rome. But, in the Olivet Discourse Jesus warned his disciples to flee from Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15f) when they saw the signs of the impending disaster, and Hebrews 13 likewise urged Christians, in light of the imminent destruction of the Old Jerusalem, to abandon the city and Old Covenant World. Then, interestingly enough, in 1 Peter 2:11 Peter refers to his audience as “strangers and pilgrims” indicating that they had left “Egypt” and were traveling to the promised land, just as in the Apocalypse (Revelation 15).

Now, since 1 Peter is saturated with Exodus imagery, in light of the very imminent “end of all things” (1 Peter 4:7) I see his reference to Babylon fitting Jerusalem and the image of bondage very well. It is, I think, significant that as Wilson notes, in post-AD 70 Jewish writings references to Rome as “Babylon” focused on Rome as the destroyer of the Temple, whereas pre-AD 70 references focused on Babylon as the place of exile and bondage. (J. Christian Wilson, “Babylon as a Cipher For Rome and the Dating of Early Jewish and Early Christian Documents,” (Unpublished paper read at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Cited by Beale, Revelation, 19). This agrees well with the fact that early Christianity– and certainly not Paul or Peter – did not see herself as in bondage to Rome.

1 Peter, Babylon and the Exodus Motif

In 1 Peter 1:18f the apostle said: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

Peter’s reference to being “redeemed” echoes the Exodus motif for sure, since perhaps no other word suggested “Exodus” more to the Jewish mind than “redemption” (lutruoo). (See Deuteronomy 7:8; 9:26; 15:15, etc.)

Peter said they had been redeemed from aimless conduct “received by tradition from your fathers.” Now, the “fathers” in Petrine thought – and generally in NT references- were the Jewish fathers. Furthermore, his reference to the “tradition” of the fathers takes us back to Jesus and his castigation of the Pharisees and their “traditions of men” (Matthew 15:8).

Lastly, Peter said they had been redeemed, “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” This is a direct allusion to the Passover / Exodus. Jesus was the Passover sacrifice offered to redeem them from their vain manner of life. (For a discussion of the Second Exodus in 1 Peter, see Mark Dubis, Messianic Woes in First Peter, Suffering and Eschatology in 1 Peter 4:12-19– Studies in Biblical Literature, Vol. 33, (New York, Peter Lang, 2002)48f).

So, if Peter has “Egypt” and “bondage” in mind in 1:18f and if he has “bondage” in mind in 5:13, then by far the better understanding of “Babylon” in 5:13 was Old Covenant Judaism. Let me point out again that since Revelation could refer to Jerusalem as Sodom (a pagan entity) and Egypt (a pagan nation) then it is clearly possible that Peter could likewise refer to Jerusalem as Babylon.

Considering that Peter was writing to the “Diaspora” (1 Peter 1:1– Not, as some contend, a Gentile audience) his language is a cryptic manner of saying that through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, Jesus, they had been redeemed from “Egypt” which was none other than life under Torah! His imagery simply does not fit Rome. Thus, Peter echoes Paul in his thoughts about bondage and the Exodus out of Torah and Old Covenant Judaism.

If Peter was saying that Judaism was “Egypt” this ties in perfectly with Revelation 11:8, where Jerusalem was “Egypt.” And, if this connection with “Egypt” in 1 Peter 1 is valid, it would demand some strong evidence for suggesting that his reference to Babylon was something other than an equally cryptic reference to Jerusalem.

And there are two other motifs here that are relevant to 1 Peter.

Babylon’s “cup of sin,” her “measure of sin” was full in Revelation 17-18; “her sins have reached unto heaven” (18:5). Likewise, in 1 Peter 5:9 the apostle referred to the sufferings of the saints as “experienced by your brotherhood in the whole world.” The idea in the Greek is that the suffering was being “brought to the goal” – being filled up (epiteleisthai).

This is the idea of Matthew 23– “fill up then the measure of your father’s guilt.” It is the thought of 1 Thessalonians 2:15f where Paul said the Jews were filling the measure of their sin by persecuting the saints. It is the thought in Revelation 6:9-11, where the martyred saints, crying out for vindication, were told that they would only have to rest for “a little while, until their brethren, who should be slain as they were, should be fulfilled.” It is the thought of Revelation 14 where the sin of the land / City (Babylon) was full, and the imagery there all but demands that Babylon was Jerusalem. (Note the perfect correspondence between Revelation 6:9f and 1 Peter 1– in reference to the little while of suffering, and compare it with Luke 18:8).

Peter clearly had the imminent vindication of the martyrs in mind. He could hardly have had Rome as Babylon in mind, since Rome’s judgment was hundreds of years away, lying well outside the scope of “the end of all things has drawn near,” and, “the time has come for the judgment to begin.” In light of Jesus’ and Paul’s references to Israel / Jerusalem filling the measure of her sin, the saints filling the cup of suffering, with Peter using that same language, I find it dissonant to then point to Rome as Babylon. Here is why.

In both Matthew 23 and in 1 Thessalonians 2, the thought is that it took Israel a long time (centuries) to finally fill up the measure of her sin by persecuting the saints of God. (And let us not forget that this included the killing of the OT prophets – and “Babylon” of Revelation was guilty of that very thing. That alone precludes Rome from being Babylon). If we posit Revelation as authored during the Neronian persecution, how do we explain how Rome could fill the measure of her sin – via persecution of the saints – in such as short time, when it took Israel / Jerusalem centuries to do that? Even if one took the Domitianic date for Revelation, (I do not), the evidence for a Domitianic persecution is weak at best, thus compounding the problem of the language of Babylon filling the measure of her sin, i.e. of bringing the suffering of the saints to the full, per 1 Peter.

So, if we accept the evidence of Matthew 23 and Thessalonians as corroborative and even normative, then to suggest that Babylon in Revelation – or in 1 Peter – was Rome, is anomalous. To suggest that Rome could do in such a short time, what it took Jerusalem centuries to do, just does not “add up.” How do we divorce Peter’s discussion from that of Matthew 23 and Thessalonians, when the motifs, the themes, the promises and the timing are the same?

I would also note that in Revelation 18:5, it says that “God has remembered her (Babylon’s) iniquities.” The word “remembered” just as in 16:19, historically carried covenantal connotations. The word could mean simple mental recall. Nonetheless, in the OT, just as the word “harlot” carried covenantal significance, the word “remember” likewise meant that God “remembered” His covenant with Israel. When He “remembered” her He brought either covenant blessings or covenant curses on her. We hardly need to state that Rome was never in any such covenant relationship with the Lord, for Him to “remember” her actions as violation of covenant.

I think this plays into 1Peter very well, because Peter is saturated with concern about the fulfillment of God’s Old Covenant promises made to Israel. His epistle is filled with these ideas and language. Not only that, the OT is full of references to the last days vindication of the martyrs, at the Day of the Lord, and those prophecies are almost invariably predictions of judgment of Israel (cf. Isaiah 2-4), when her cup of sin for persecuting the saints, would be full. So, given this covenantal context of 1 Peter, focused on the last days of Israel, on martyr vindication, on filling the measure of suffering, to suggest that he had Rome as Babylon in mind is disjunctive.

There is a great deal more I would like to say about 1 Peter and Revelation, because the parallels between the two books are incredible, but, I will stop here. I think what I have presented here is actually sufficient to establish that Babylon in 1 Peter 5:13 was in fact Jerusalem. See my Who Is This Babylon? for more on the identity of Babylon in Revelation.

Who is This Babylon?
This book is a definitive study of the identity of Babylon in Revelation.