(1 Pet. 5:13) Was Peter really in Babylon?

CLAIM: Peter claims that he is writing from “Babylon” (1 Pet. 5:13). Is this the case?

RESPONSE: Peter is most likely writing from Rome—not Babylon—for a number of reasons:

First, the book of Revelation symbolically refers to Babylon as Rome (Rev. 16:19; 17:5; 18:2).[1]

Second, Peter says that “Mark” is with him (1 Pet. 5:13). Since we know that Mark was with Paul at the end of his career in the mid-60s (2 Tim. 4:11), it seems likely that Peter is writing from Rome—not Babylon.

Third, Babylon had been long destroyed, and it wasn’t a popular empire anymore. At this period of history, Babylon was a “desolate and ruined city in Mesopotamia.”[2] Diodorus of Sicily (who wrote from 56-36 BC) states, “As for the palaces and the other buildings, time has either entirely effaced them or left them in ruins; and in fact of Babylon itself but a small part is inhabited at this time, and most of the area within its walls is given over to agriculture.”[3] Likewise Strabo (who died in 19 BC) writes, “The greater part of Babylon is so deserted that one would not hesitate to say … The Great City is a great desert.”[4] Therefore, it seems unlikely that Peter would be there.

Fourth, Christians hadn’t reached Babylon at this period in history, and it’s unlikely that Peter would be there with an entire Christian community. Craig Blomberg writes, “No other ancient documents ever suggest that Christianity had reached this area this early (or that it would reach there for several centuries), and Babylon was a long way from the addressees who lived in what we would call western and central Turkey (1:1).”[5]

Fifth, the early Christian leaders claimed that Peter and Paul both died in Rome—not Babylon. Dionysius (the bishop of Corinth, AD 170) wrote, “[Peter and Paul] also taught in Italy in the same place and were martyred at the same time” (Cited in Eusebius, Church History, 2.25.8). In the context of writing about Rome, Tertullian (AD 200) wrote, “How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! where Peter endures a passion like his Lord’s!” (Against Heretics, 36). Eusebius also wrote that Origen (AD 250) claimed that Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was beheaded in Rome under the reign of Nero (Church History, 3.1.2-3). Eusebius adds that Peter “composed this [1 Peter] in Rome itself” (Church History, 2.15.2), getting his information from Papias (AD 110).

Since 2 Peter is written at the very end of Peter’s life (2 Pet. 1:14), it is more likely that Peter was writing from Rome—not Babylon.

[1] Of course, Preterist interpreters hold that this refers to ancient Rome. However, I believe that this refers to a future Rome at the end of human history—based on the imagery of the ancient city (see comments on Revelation 17:9).

[2] Clowney, E. P. The message of 1 Peter: The way of the cross. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1988. 23.

[3] Diod. Sic. 2.9.9. Cited in Grudem, W. A. (1988). 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 17, p. 34). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Geography 16.1.5 (C738). Cited in Grudem, W. A. (1988). 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 17, p. 34). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 443.