"The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son."
This is the most popular proof text used by Roman Catholics to establish that the apostle Peter was writing from his residence at Rome. For example, the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “St. Peter's First Epistle was written almost undoubtedly from Rome…"Catholic Answers states, “Babylon is a code-word for Rome." Well, is there a Biblical basis for this interpretation? Is there an infallible “Tradition” that supplies this information about Peter’s use of “code words”? Below are some voices not normally heard by Roman Catholics.
From this it is clear that it was written at Babylon, but still there has been no little difference of opinion as to what place is meant here by Babylon… the apostles, when they sent an epistle to the churches, and mentioned a place as the one where the Epistle was written, were accustomed to mention the real place… It would be hardly consistent with the dignity of an apostle, or any grave writer, to make use of what would be regarded as a nickname, when suggesting the name of a place where he then was… If Rome had been meant, it would have been hardly respectful to the church there which sent the salutation - “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you” - to have given it this name. Peter mentions the church with respect and kindness; and yet it would have been scarcely regarded as kind to mention it as a “Church in Babylon,” if he used the term Babylon, as he must have done on such a supposition, to denote a place of eminent depravity…) The testimony of the Fathers on this subject does not demonstrate that Rome was the place intended…[T]hey do not give this as historical testimony, but as their own interpretation; and, from anything that appears, we are as well qualified to interpret the word as they were.” [Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible, introductory comments on 1 Peter]
Believer’s Bible Commentary
“It is impossible to state with certainty who or what is meant by ‘She who is in Babylon, elect together with you.’”[ (MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (electronic ed.) (1 Pe 5:13). Nashville: Thomas Nelson]
“There is no evidence that Rome was ever called Babylon until after the writing of the Book of Revelation in a.d. 90–96, many years after Peter’s death”- [Believer’s Bible Commentary, Electronic Edition 1991 by the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies, Note on 1 Peter 5:13].
Believer’s Study Bible
“Peter is probably alluding to the Babylon on the Euphrates, a part of that Eastern world where he lived and did his work, rather than Rome (with Babylon being utilized as a cryptic word). Evidence for this position includes the following: (1) There is no evidence that Rome was ever called Babylon until after the writing of the Book of Revelation in a.d. 90–96, many years after Peter’s death. (2) Peter’s method and manner of writing are not apocalyptic. On the contrary, Peter is a man plain of speech, almost blunt, who would not interject such a mystical allusion into his personal explanations and final salutation. (3) Babylon is no more cryptic than Pontus, Asia, or the other places mentioned when Peter says the elect in Babylon send greetings to the Jews of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. (4) Babylon, no longer a great world capital in the time of Peter, was still inhabited by a colony of people, mostly Jews, many of whom Peter befriended and won to Christ. (5) A study of the chronology of Peter’s travels argues for Babylon to be the Babylon on the Euphrates.
“…Paul's work was primarily among the Gentiles, while Peter's was primarily among the Jews. Peter ministered to the Jews who were in exile in Asia Minor, "to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (I Peter 1:1), and in his journeys he went as far east as Babylon, from which city his first epistle (and probably his second) was addressed to the Jewish Christians in Asia Minor—She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you” (1 Peter 5:13). As most of Paul’s letters were addressed to churches he had evangelized, so Peter wrote to the Jewish brethren that he had evangelized, who were scattered through those provinces. While there is no Scriptural evidence at all that Peter went west to Rome, here is a plain statement of Scripture that he did go east to Babylon. Why cannot the Roman Church take Peter’s word to that effect? But his testimony, of course, must be circumvented by those who are so anxious to place him in Rome, and they take a curious way to do it. The Confraternity edition has an introductory note to I Peter which reads: "The place of composition is given as 'Babylon'...a cryptic designation of the city of Rome."
But there is no good reason for saying that "Babylon" means "Rome." The reason alleged by the Church of Rome for understanding Babylon to mean Rome is that in the book of Revelation Rome is called by that name (Rev. 17:5; 18:2). But there is a great difference between an apocalyptic book such as the book of Revelation, which for the most part is written in figurative and symbolic language, and an epistle such as this which is written in a straightforward, matter of fact style. In regard to Peter's assignment to work among the Jews, it is known that there were many Jews in Babylon in New Testament times. Many had not returned to Palestine after the Exile. Many others, such as those in Asia Minor and Egypt, had been driven out or had left Palestine for various reasons. Josephus says that some "gave Hyrcanus, the high priest, a habitation at Babylon, where there were Jews in great numbers" (Antiquities, Book XV, Ch. II, 2). Peter's assigned ministry to the Jews took him to those places where the Jews were in the greatest numbers, even to Babylon. (Roman Catholicism, 120)
“As to the place from which he wrote, all do not agree. There is, however, no reason that I see why we should doubt that he was then at Babylon, as he expressly declares. But as the persuasion had prevailed, that he had moved from Antioch to Rome, and that he died at Rome, the ancients, led by this sole argument, imagined that Rome is here allegorically called Babylon. But as without any probable conjecture they rashly believed what they have said of the Roman episcopate of Peter, so also this allegorical figment ought to be regarded as nothing. It is indeed much more probable that Peter, according to the character of his apostleship, traveled over those parts in which most of the Jews resided; and we know that a great number of them were in Babylon and in the surrounding countries.” [Calvin’s Commentary on 1st Peter, introduction].
“That is at Babylon. Many of the ancients thought that Rome is here enigmatically denoted. This comment the Papists gladly lay hold on, that Peter may appear to have presided over the Church of Rome: nor does the infamy of the name deter them, provided they can pretend to the title of an apostolic seat; nor do they care for Christ, provided Peter be left to them. Moreover, let them only retain the name of Peter’s chair, and they will not refuse to set Rome in the infernal regions. But this old comment has no color of truth in its favor; nor do I see why it was approved by Eusebius and others, except that they were already led astray by that error, that Peter had been at Rome. Besides, they are inconsistent with themselves. They say that Mark died at Alexandria, in the eighth year of Nero; but they imagine that Peter, six years after this, was put to death at Rome by Nero. If Mark formed, as they say, the Alexandrian Church, and had been long a bishop there, he could never have been at Rome with Peter. For Eusebius and Jerome extend the time of Peter’s presidency at Rome to twenty-five years; but this may be easily disproved by what is said in the first and the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians. Since, then, Peter had Mark as his companion when he wrote this Epistle, it is very probable that he was at Babylon: and this was in accordance with his calling; for we know that he was appointed an apostle especially to the Jews. He therefore visited chiefly those parts where there was the greatest number of that nation. In saying that the Church there was a partaker of the same election, his object was to confirm others more and more in the faith; for it was a great matter that the Jews were gathered into the Church, in so remote a part of the world.” [Calvin’s Commentary on 1st Peter 5:13].
The Editors of Calvin’s Commentaries
“…[T]he Romish communion, [say Babylon]… is to be taken figuratively for Rome, according to what was done by John in Revelation 17 and 18: What renders [this] opinion very improbable is, that to date an epistle at a place to which a figurative name is given, is without another instance in Scripture, and the thing itself seems quite absurd. The language of prophecy is quite a different matter. Paul wrote several of his epistles at Rome, and in no instance did he do anything of this kind. Such an opinion would have never gained ground, had there not been from early times a foolish attempt to connect Peter with Rome. And it is to be regretted that some learned Protestants have been duped on this subject by a mass of fictitious evidence which has been collected by the partisans of the Romish Church. — Ed. [John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Peter, in The Comprehensive John Calvin Collection (Ages Digital Library, 1998].
"It true that all the ancient ecclesiastical writers have ascribed to the word Babylon a mystical meaning; for though the Greek and Latin fathers commonly understood Rome, yet the Syriac and Arabic writers understood it literally, as denoting a town in the east; and if we are to be guided by opinion, an oriental writer is surely as good authority, on the present question, as a European.” [commentary notes on 1 Peter].
A. R. Fausset
“How unlikely that in a friendly salutation the enigmatical title of Rome given in prophecy (John, Re 17:5), should be used! Babylon was the center from which the Asiatic dispersion whom Peter addresses was derived. PHILO [The Embassy to Gaius, 36] and JOSEPHUS [Antiquities, 15.2.2; 23.12] inform us that Babylon contained a great many Jews in the apostolic age (whereas those at Rome were comparatively few, about eight thousand [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 17.11]); so it would naturally be visited by the apostle of the circumcision. It was the headquarters of those whom he had so successfully addressed on Pentecost, Ac 2:9, Jewish "Parthians . . . dwellers in Mesopotamia" (the Parthians were then masters of Mesopotamian Babylon); these he ministered to in person.(Commentary on 1st Peter)
“[Peter] closes with salutations and a solemn benediction. Observe, 1. Peter, being at Babylon in Assyria, when he wrote this epistle (whither he traveled, as the apostle of the circumcision, to visit that church, which was the chief of the dispersion), sends the salutation of that church to the other churches to whom he wrote (v. 13), telling them that God had elected or chosen the Christians at Babylon out of the world, to be his church, and to partake of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus, together with them and all other faithful Christians, ch. 1:2. In this salutation he particularly joins Mark the evangelist, who was then with him, and who was his son in a spiritual sense, being begotten by him to Christianity”. [Matthew Henry's commentary : On the whole Bible (electronic ed. of the complete and unabridged edition.) (1 Pe 5:10). Peabody: Hendrickson]
D.M. Howard, Exploring Church History
“If the Babylon from which Peter wrote (1 Peter 5:13) was Babylon on the Euphrates instead of a symbolic representation of Rome, then Babylonia was also evangelized during the first century.” (Howard, D. M. (1997, c1993). An introduction to the Old Testament historical books (electronic ed.). Chicago: Moody Press.)
Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown: Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871)
“The PLACE OF WRITING [1 Peter] was doubtless Babylon on the Euphrates (1Pe 5:13). It is most improbable that in the midst of writing matter-of-fact communications and salutations in a remarkably plain Epistle, the symbolical language of prophecy (namely, "Babylon" for Rome) should be used. JOSEPHUS [Antiquities, 15.2.2; 3.1] states that there was a great multitude of Jews in the Chaldean Babylon; it is therefore likely that "the apostle of the circumcision" (Ga 2:7, 8) would at some time or other visit them. Some have maintained that the Babylon meant was in Egypt because Mark preached in and around Alexandria after Peter's death, and therefore it is likely he did so along with that apostle in the same region previously. But no mention elsewhere in Scripture is made of this Egyptian Babylon, but only of the Chaldean one. And though towards the close of Caligula's reign a persecution drove the Jews thence to Seleucia, and a plague five years after still further thinned their numbers, yet this does not preclude their return and multiplication during the twenty years that elapsed between the plague and the writing of the Epistle. Moreover, the order in which the countries are enumerated, from northeast to south and west, is such as would be adopted by one writing from the Oriental Babylon on the Euphrates, not from Egypt or Rome. Indeed, COSMAS INDICOPLEUSTES, in the sixth century, understood the Babylon meant to be outside the Roman empire. Silvanus, Paul's companion, became subsequently Peter's, and was the carrier of this Epistle.”[source]
“She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings. This is the way it is customary to write “Good night!” in letters. She—namely, the congregation at Babylon—sends you greetings, he says. It is my opinion—but I am not sure—that here he means Rome, for it is believed that he wrote the epistle from Rome. Otherwise there are two Babylons. One is in Chaldea; the other is in Egypt, where Cairo is situated today. But Rome is called Babylon only in a spiritual sense. As the apostle has stated above (1 Peter 4:4), the “wild profligacy” is meant. For the Hebrew word “Babel” implies confusion (cf. Gen. 11:9). Perhaps the apostle called Rome a confusion because such profligacy and such a jumble of disgraceful living and wickedness of all kinds were prevalent there, and because whatever depravity there was in the entire world converged there. In this city, says St. Peter, a congregation has been gathered. These people are Christians. They send you their greetings. But I am willing to give everyone freedom here to interpret this verse as he chooses, for it is not vital.” [LW 30:144]
“Commentators do not agree in regard to the meaning of the word Babylon, some taking it in its literal and proper sense, others giving it a figurative and mystical interpretation. Among the advocates for the latter sense, have been men of such learning and abilities, that I was misled by their authority in the younger part of my life to subscribe to it: but at present, as I have more impartially examined the question, it appears to me very extraordinary that, when an Apostle dates his epistle from Babylon, it should even occur to any commentator to ascribe to this work a mystical meaning, instead of taking it in its literal and proper sense.” [Michaelis, as quoted by Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, n.d., Vol. VI, p. 838.]
“Of a residence of Peter in Rome the New Testament contains no trace, unless, as the church fathers and many modern expositors think, Rome is intended by the mystic "Babylon" mentioned in 1 Pet. 5:13 (as in the Apocalypse), but others think of Babylon on the Euphrates, and still others of Babylon on the Nile (near the present Cairo, according to the Coptic tradition). The entire silence of the Acts of the Apostles, respecting Peter, as well as the silence of Paul in his epistle to the Romans, and the epistles written from Rome during his imprisonment there, in which Peter is not once named in the salutations, is decisive proof that he was absent from that city during most of the time between the years 58 and 63. A casual visit before 58 is possible, but extremely doubtful, in view of the fact that Paul labored independently and never built on the foundation of others; hence he would probably not have written his epistle to the Romans at all, certainly not without some allusion to Peter if he had been in any proper sense the founder of the church of Rome. After the year 63 we have no data from the New Testament, as the Acts close with that year, and the interpretation of "Babylon" at the end of the first Epistle of Peter is doubtful, though probably meant for Rome. The martyrdom of Peter by crucifixion was predicted by our Lord, John 21:18, 19, but no place is mentioned. We conclude then that Peter’s presence in Rome before 63 is made extremely doubtful, if not impossible, by the silence of Luke and Paul, when speaking of Rome and writing from Rome, and that His presence after 63 can neither be proved nor disproved from the New Testament, and must be decided by post-biblical testimonies.”
Smith’s Bible Dictionary
“We next have traces of (Mark) in 1 Pet. 5:13: “The church that is in Babylon . . . saluteth you, and so doth Marcus my son.” From this we infer that [Mark] joined his spiritual father, the great friend of his mother, at Babylon, then and for some hundred years afterward one of the chief seats of Jewish culture.” [Smith, W. (1997). Smith's Bible dictionary (electronic ed. of the revised ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson)]