Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum.
In memory of Thomas Michael Wixted (1889-15 Oct 1958)
The First Epistle of Peter (continued)...
The General Epistles in brief...
The First Epistle of Peter belongs to that section of the New Testament variously referred to as the "general" or "catholic" epistles. This section includes James, the Petrine Epistles, the Johannine Epistles, plus Jude. This terminology reflects the "general" or "catholic" (universal) nature of their contents in that they contain broad-based concepts rather than the specific issues we find Paul grappling with in his correspondence to specific communities. This group of epistles is also sometimes referred to as the "Jewish" epistles in recognition of their thoroughly Jewish content and character and also the belief by some that the epistles that bear their names were penned by James, Peter and John, the "pillars" of the Jerusalem church.
A comparison between the numbers of scholarly works devoted to the Pauline corpus and those focusing on the general epistles will demonstrate that Paul has received far more than his fair share of attention while the general epistles have been largely ignored by both church and academy until relatively recently.
I would argue that this neglect is not merely an oversight. The Pauline epistles have always been fertile ground for the teaching and preaching ministries of those who would tailor their contents to suit particular doctrinal purposes while the general epistles are far less subject to such manipulation.
Even today, commentary on the general epistles is often focused on establishing authorship rather than on content and meaning. This misdirection is often compounded when such commentary is based on the premise that if Peter the Apostle wrote 1 Peter, then it was written in Rome.
Arguably the most influential extant Greek Biblical manuscript is the 4th-century Codex Vaticanus. Many contemporary translations of the New Testament, such as the ESV, NIV, NRSV, and NASB are translated from a Greek text that more closely represents Codex Vaticanus than any other manuscript.
The order of the New Testament books included in Codex Vaticanus are:
- The Four Gospels
- The general epistles (James, the Petrine Epistles, the Johannine Epistles, and Jude)
- Paul's epistles (including Hebrews)
Note that the epistles of Paul's three "pillars" [Gal. 2:9] are placed immediately after Acts, in precisely Paul's order — James, Peter and John — and reflect the Jewish recognition of superior teaching authority deriving from first-hand witness. (In Part IX of this series of commentaries, I pointed out the eyewitness qualifications necessary to become one of the "twelve" and the fact that the "twelve," including Peter of course, can have no successors.)
New Testament translations, however, are not ordered according to teaching authority but according to the order found in Jerome's Latin Vulgate which was, until relatively recently, the only version of the Bible ever encountered by Western Christians.
A proper study of the text of 1 Peter may prove more than a little illuminating however I only propose to address some key issues.
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Messiah, to the parapidemos scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." [I Peter 1:1]
Map showing the regions described in 1 Peter. Click to enlarge and for further information and source.
These five regions are all located in the northern half of Asia Minor, modern Turkey. Note that Paul did not preach in these districts: Paul spent his years in Asia Minor in the Southern, or Greek half. The names of these areas need not imply officially recognised Roman provinces: they could just as easily refer to geographical areas known informally by those names in antiquity. More importantly, these regions lay immediately to the west of Babylon: closer by far to Babylon than they were to Rome.
Among those commentators who do focus on content and meaning rather than on authorship, some proceed on the basis that Peter writes mainly for Gentile converts and some on the basis that 1 Peter was written specifically for Jewish communities. Whatever the case, later Christian doctrinal concepts entirely foreign to Jews are often retrojected into their commentaries.
Let us attempt to settle the question. Consider the following points:
- We learn from Acts 2:5-11 that waiting at Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot were God-fearing Jews from every nation (peoples, Gentiles) under heaven ... Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs... A few verses further on, these same God-fearing Jews are addressed by Peter as Men, Israelites [v.22]. Note that three of these "nations" — Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia — are listed in 1 Peter 1:1
- Peter uses terminology and conceptual frameworks that imply the readers' sophisticated and intimate familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures, a familiarity almost impossible to attain unless imbibed along with mother's milk.
- The persons to whom Peter writes he calls a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people [1 Pet 2:9], a direct reference to the blessings pronounced by God upon the whole House of Israel at Sinai [Ex.19:6]. Further, the House of Israel had been declared by God to be not my people [Hosea 1:9] but they had been brought back to God to be his people [Hosea 1:10; 2:23]. In 1 Peter 2:10, the author specifically applies these passages from Hosea to his letter's intended recipients and in 2:12 he tells these recipients that God expects them to behave righteously among the Gentiles.
- Peter had been directly commissioned by Jesus to preach his coming, the coming of the Messiah, only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and also by agreement among the Apostles had the ministry of the circumcision peculiarly committed to him. [Gal 2:8]
- Therefore, it should come as no surprise that in 1:1 we find Peter describing his readers as eklektois parepidémos diasporas (chosen sojourners of the dispersion living in a strange place). Legally, these persons could fall into the Roman category of "resident aliens" but if we check Chapter 2 we will find that Peter is not referring to their legal status in the eyes of the Romans but to their status in the eyes of God as God's covenant people.
"Beloved, I urge you as temporary dwellers (pároikos) and sojourners (parepidémos) to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." [1 Peter 2:11]
The theme of God's covenant people wandering the face of the earth as strangers and exiles, temporarily dwelling in various places, is the interpretive principle for study of the Hebrew Scriptures and forms the backdrop to the stories of Abraham, Moses, and the whole House of Israel. However, all looked towards the promise of an ingathering of exiles, in God's good time, to the land of Israel from which they would never again be removed. This theme underlies not only the First Epistle of Peter but also every New Testament reference to the Kingdom of God on earth to be ruled over by God's human delegate, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Summing up the recipients...
The First Epistle of Peter was addressed to Jewish Messianists i.e. to Jews who believed that the promises to their fathers had been fulfilled in that God had sent the long-awaited anointed one, the Messiah, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, there would one day be a further promise fulfillment of a restored and purified Davidic Kingdom in the land of Israel. (Interested persons may view my forum post "Great Expectations" HERE.)
These Jews formed part, a very small part, of God's covenantal sojourners who were afflicted in the Diaspora because of their ethnicity and customs.
To be continued...