I was reading this book by Craig S. Keener 1 Peter: A Commentary and he believes that the apostle Peter is the author of the letter. If his assertion is correct would that make 1 Peter the oldest book of the New Testament? I mean would this then be likely to predate Paul's earliest letters?
John A. T. Robinson, in "Redating the New Testament" offers arguments for dating 1 Peter to "somewhere around the end of April 65" (p169), because of the signs that it was being prompted by Nero's persecution. He dates Paul's letters to the previous decade.
Paul's first letters were very much written in the heat of active service in the first expansion of the church, so they are known from the early days of his ministry. If Peter wrote any letters of that kind, they have not survived.
1+1 but could you specify the signs of Neroan persecution other than "she [the church] who is Babylon"? (5:13) Mar 23 at 17:40
2@ Dan Fefferman Re-opening Robinson, I find the claim that 1 Peter has "a preoccupation with suffering and with Christian behaviour under it" (p152) , considering especially ch4 vv12-19. It is the pagans, not the earlier Jews, who are now maligning them as wrongdoers (ch2 v12), and it is important not to offer them additional excuses for hostility Mar 23 at 17:52
Since in the Question, we are presuming the authenticity of 1 Peter, we should also presume the timeline of Peter and Paul's lives as given in Acts. In that account, Paul is active in Asia Minor at a time when Peter is still working mainly in Judea and Samaria. The author begins his epistle with the following address:
To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.
Since 1 Peter addresses the so-called "Pauline" churches of Asia Minor it is more likely that Peter would be writing after Paul had already written some or most of his letters especially to the Galatians. Admittedly, this does not absolutely preclude the possibility that Peter wrote to the Pauline churches prior to Paul's writing. However, the answer to the OP is "probably not."
If we accept that the early church was correct in its attributions of the authorship of the New Testament epistles (we'll set Hebrews aside as a special case), it is very unlikely that 1 Peter is the first of the New Testament epistles -- that distinction would go to either James, Galatians, or 1 Thessalonians.
- James deals with the subject matter of the Jerusalem Conference which took place in approx. AD 49, and speaks to a church that is still overwhelmingly Jewish. John AT Robinson (already cited by Stephen Disraeli) suggests in Redating the New Testament that the epistle of James makes the most sense as a document written just prior to the conference. I agree with his reasoning, and would add that Galatians is a sensible clarification to give to people who misunderstood James, but James is not a sensible clarification to give to people who misunderstood Galatians.
- Galatians was either written around the time of the Jerusalem Conference (more common view), or several years later, during Paul's 3rd missionary journey (a prominent but less common view). See further discussion on the site here.
- 1 Thessalonians can be dated with unusual precision, based on the account provided in Acts. 1 Thessalonians was written while Paul, Silas, and Timothy were in Corinth in AD 50 (+/- about a year).
For 1 Peter to predate all 3, it would have to have been written in the late 40s AD, just after Christian communities had been established in this region. As noted by Dan Fefferman, we have no reason to believe that Peter was immediately corresponding with the nascent Christian communities Paul established in Asia Minor, and in fact this would have been at odds with the common church-building practice described in Romans 15:20.
- The context of 1 Peter does indeed appear to suggest persecution (e.g. 1 Peter 4:12), as noted by Stephen Disraeli. The Neronian persecution is a viable candidate, though not the only one.
- The epistle was written from Rome, which effectively rules out composition during the late 40s & early 50s, due to the edict of Claudius expelling Jews (and therefore Christians) from Rome (it is probable that only leaders, not lay Jews & Christians, were made to leave, but that still keeps Peter out of Rome during this interval)
- Silas is with Peter when this epistle is written (1 Peter 5:12). Since this is almost certainly the same Silas mentioned in 1 Thess. 1:1, we know that Silas is with Paul and not in Rome during the period shortly after the Jerusalem Conference.
There is good reason to believe 1 Peter is not the oldest of the New Testament epistles.
2A very thorough and well reasoned answer! Mar 24 at 15:25