Old Testament Allusions in 1 Peter

Michael Hardt

In his first epistle, Peter makes extensive use of the Old Testament scriptures, in at least three ways:

  • quotations from the Old Testament;
  • allusions to Old Testament scriptures;
  • the use of concepts borrowed from the Old Testament (without specific Scripture references).

In many cases, quotations are not explicitly introduced as such (e.g. ‘as Isaiah says’) but simply used with the understanding that the readers would immediately recognise the scriptures. This did not pose a problem because the recipients of this letter came from a Jewish background: they were of the ‘dispersion’ (1 Pet. 1:1) or ‘diaspora’ — a term known to designate Jews dispersed among the Gentiles (see John 7:35, which is the first reference to the term in the New Testament). This was very much in line with Peter’s commission as apostle of the circumcision or Jews (Gal. 2:7, 8).

The table below provides a list of references in the epistle, the respective Old Testament references quoted or alluded to, and the respective key phrases. Out of the 22 examples shown, most are direct quotations and the remainder allusions. By comparison, Paul, in his first epistle to the Thessalonians (largely from a heathen background) uses hardly any allusions[1] to, or quotations from, the Old Testament.



Reference in 1 Peter

Old Testament reference

Key phrases



Lev. 11:44
(cf. 20:7)

Be ye holy, for I am holy



Deut. 1:17; 16:19

Without regard of persons


1:24, 25

Isa. 40:6–8

All flesh is as grass



Ps. 34:8, 9

Tasted that the Lord is good



Ps. 118:22

Stone, cast away … by men



Isa. 28:16

In Zion a corner stone



Ps. 118:22, 23

Head of the corner



Ex. 19:5, 6
(cf. Deut. 10:15)

Chosen race, kingly priesthood, holy nation, people for a possession



Isa. 43:21

Set forth the excellencies …



Hos. 2:23

Who once were not a people, but now God's people; who were not enjoying mercy, but now have found mercy[2]



Prov. 24:21

Fear God, honour the king



Isa. 53:9

Neither was guile found in his mouth



Isa. 53:5

By whose stripes ye have been




Isa. 53:12

Bore our sins



Gen 18:12

Calling him (Abraham) lord



Ps. 34:12–16

For he that will love life and see good days, let him cause his tongue to cease from evil …


33:14, 15

Isa. 8:12, 13

Be not afraid of their fear …, but

sanctify the Lord … in your hearts



Gen. 6:3, 12, 13

The days of Noah while the ark was preparing



Prov. 10:12

Love covers a multitude of sins



Prov. 11:31

The righteous … the impious



Prov. 3:34

God sets himself against the proud …



Ps. 55:23

Cast your care upon him


Whilst it would be deeply interesting to consider each of these quotations, their respective Old Testament setting, and the differences between the Old Testament texts and their quotations in the New Testament, we only comment briefly here on some of the main concepts Peter borrows from the Old Testament.

Strangers (1:1)

The recipients of this epistle are addressed as ‘sojourners’ or ‘strangers’ in the first verse. They were strangers in a double sense: first, they had been dispersed — mainly through persecution — from the land of Israel into the central and northern areas in what is now Turkey; second, having become Christians, they were away from heaven, their real home.

In the course of the letter, two different words are used in connection with their status as strangers:

  1. Parepidemos: this denotes a visitor who spends a short amount of time in the place in question (1:1; 2:11). The only other reference where the word is used in the New Testament is Hebrews 11:13: All these died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them from afar off and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth’. Hence the recipients of Peter’s letter had this in common with their forefathers: they were ‘sojourners’.
  2. Paroikos (2:11): a resident foreigner, and the related noun paroikia describes the corresponding lifestyle (1:17). The only other occurrence of this word in the New Testament is in Acts 13:17 where it relates to the stay of the Israelites in Egypt.

It is touching to consider the implications of these two expressions: one reminds us that, as Christians, we are only here for a short time (why do we often act as if earth were to be our home for many centuries to come?). The other tells us that the world we are in is not our real home. We have duties here, and responsibilities, but it is not where we ‘belong’.

The suffering recipients of this epistle would have been very alert to these aspects of strangership, and these Old Testament examples must have been reassuring for them. Indeed, the patriarchs had lived as visitors and waited patiently, and Israel had stayed in Egypt, where they did not belong, but God finally delivered them.

Elect (1:2)

As Israelites they were familiar with the notion of election. They were used to being God’s chosen people (Deut. 7:6). And they would have understood that election was not based on merit but on divine sovereignty: ‘Not because ye were more in number than all the peoples, hath Jehovah been attached to you and chosen you, for ye are the fewest of all the peoples; but because Jehovah loved you …’ (7:7–8). Now, as Christians, they had been chosen in a far higher sense: before the foundation of the world and for the possession of every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3.4) and for a heavenly inheritance (see below). God had foreknown them (this is not a question of foreknowledge of actions but of persons) and in sovereign love had chosen them.

The sprinkling of the blood (1:2)

In the second verse, Peter describes the recipients of the letter as ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by sanctification of the Spirit, unto the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’. They had been chosen by God, the Father, and a divine work had taken place in them at the point of new birth, effected by the Holy Spirit (‘sanctification of the Spirit’), with the purpose that their lives might be marked by obedience. But why does it say: ‘and [the] sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’?

The readers of Jewish background would have caught the allusion to the first covenant when Moses sprinkled the blood on the altar, on the book of the covenant, the tabernacle and vessels, and on the people (Ex. 24:6–8, Heb. 9:19, 21). The message was clear: obey the law, or else you are guilty and the death penalty applies. This is legal obedience. The happy and wonderful addition here is ‘of Jesus Christ’. This changes everything. We have been sanctified (this is our position) with a view to: 1) practising, not legal obedience but the obedience of Christ, i.e. obedience from the heart; and 2) knowing the efficacy of the blood of Christ.

The inheritance (1:4)

In verses 3 and 4, we find a doxology: ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his great mercy, has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead, to an incorruptible and undefiled and unfading inheritance, reserved in the heavens for you’. Every Israelite knew what it was to have an inheritance. Nationally, their inheritance was the land of Canaan (Num. 26:53). They received this inheritance (Josh. 11:23) but, alas, subsequently it was corrupted (only a shadow of what it was meant to be: see Josh. 1:4), defiled (by idolatry: Jer. 2:7; Ezek. 36:17, 18) and lost (first at the time of the captivity and soon after the writing of this letter in AD 70). Their Christian inheritance is just the opposite: ‘incorruptible and undefiled and unfading’.[3]

The blood of the Lamb (1:18–20)

A little later, Peter exhorts his brethren to walk in fear (not in anxiety but in fear of dishonouring the Lord), knowing that they had been redeemed by the ‘precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, the blood of Christ’. The immensity of the price paid resulted in a total claim on their lives and affections. As Jews they knew well how their forefathers had been redeemed out of Egypt. A lamb had to be slain and the blood had to be applied to their door posts and lintels if they were to find shelter from righteous judgment (Ex. 12). This resulted in a claim on those who had been redeemed, in particular the firstborn, who had to be sanctified (Ex. 13). But the passover lamb in Egypt was but a faint foreshadowing of the Lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20).

The priesthood and nation (2:4–10)

In this section Peter uses a cluster of expressions with Old Testament connotations. As (former) Jews the readers would have grasped these concepts easily:

  • As a ‘holy priesthood’ (v. 5), they were in a position of privilege (in Israel, the right to draw near to God in the sanctuary had been limited to one family, that of Aaron).
  • They were to offer — not material but — ‘spiritual sacrifices’, and these were guaranteed to be acceptable to God ‘by Jesus Christ’.
  • They not only had access to God’s dwelling place but also, as ‘living stones’, formed part of it (v. 5).
  • They had come to know Christ as the ‘corner stone’ (v. 6). Having trusted in Him, they would not be put to shame. In a sense, they had pre-empted the future remnant who will flee to Christ and come to know Him as a precious corner stone in Zion, the rallying point for those who will believe in a time of trouble when the Assyrian (‘the overflowing scourge’) will have invaded the land and all hope seems lost (Isa. 28:15–17).
  • They also knew Christ as the head of the corner’ (v. 7) — that is, as the one who had been rejected but will receive the pre-eminent place (Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42).
  • That same person will be the ‘rock of offence’ (v. 8) for those who do not believe on Him (Isa. 8:14).
  • They were also a ‘royal priesthood’ (v. 9), which the sons of Aaron had never been. Only Melchisedec was a royal priest, foreshadowing the true Melchisedec who will be ‘priest upon his throne’ (Zech. 6:12–13). As royal priests they were to show forth the excellencies of Christ.
  • As Jews, they had been ‘Lo-ammi’, not ‘[my] people’ (1 Pet. 2:10). This sentence had been on Israel for over 600 years already — and, until today, has not been reversed. The Jews felt keenly what it was to have lost their unique position as the people of God. Those of them who had now trusted in Christ did not replace Israel. For example, they had no earthly privileges or country but remained strangers (v. 11). Rather, they were formed into a new people (with heavenly blessings) and had indeed ‘found mercy’ (v. 10) — while Israel nationally is still looking forward to being granted mercy in a future day (Hosea 2:23).

A number of other Old Testament quotations, allusions and concepts (such as the matter of the keeping of the flock (1 Pet. 5:1–4), reminiscent of many Old Testament scriptures such as Ezekiel 34; Psalm 23:1 and Zechariah 11:4; 13:7) could be added, but we trust those mentioned above will help the reader to pursue this line of enquiry further. A good understanding of the Old Testament concepts will help greatly in getting the full benefit of this interesting epistle.



[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:8 could be regarded as an allusion to Isaiah 59:17 but no knowledge of this Old Testament scripture is required to benefit from what Paul is saying.

[2] ‘Lo-ruhamah’ and ‘Lo-ammi’ in Hosea 2:23 mean ‘not having obtained mercy’ and ’not my people’ respectively.

[3] Our inheritance is not always viewed in the same way. In Ephesians, it has to do with Christ sharing his universal reign with us (Eph. 1:14, 18, 22) whereas Peter looks at it as ‘reserved’ for us ‘in heaven’.