1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
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1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)

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1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)

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In this newest addition to the acclaimed BECNT series, respected New Testament scholar Karen H. Jobes provides a fresh commentary on 1 Peter. 1 Peter admirably achieves the dual aims of the BECNT series--it is academically sophisticated as well as pastorally sensitive and accessible. This volume features Jobes's own translation of the Greek text and detailed interaction with the meaning of the text, emphasizing the need to read 1 Peter in light of its cultural background. Jobes's commentary will help pastors, students, and teachers better understand the Christian's role as a "foreigner" in contemporary society.

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Introduction to 1 Peter
Significance of the Letter
The apostle Peter ends his letter with a statement of its significance, “This is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it” (1 Pet. 5:12 TNIV ). For two thousand years, believers around the world have read the letter Peter wrote to the Christians of first-century Asia Minor as God’s word. The apostle explains the significance of Jesus’ suffering and how those who follow him must live out their faith. Some have accurately described 1 Peter as “the most condensed New Testament rĂ©sumĂ© of the Christian faith and of the conduct that it inspires” (Clowney 1988: 15). Martin Luther describes it as “one of the noblest books in the New Testament” and a “paragon of excellence” on par with even Romans and the Gospel of John (Pelikan 1967: 4, 9; Blevins 1982: 401). Luther believed it contained all that is necessary for a Christian to know (Achtemeier 1996: 64). Perhaps this letter’s universal relevance is due to its presentation of how the gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundational principle by which the Christian life is lived out within the larger unbelieving society.
The life of Jesus and the believer’s life are inseparable in Peter’s thought. In 1 Peter Jesus is not only the object of Christian faith; he is also the pattern of Christian destiny. Jesus’ resurrection is the source of the believer’s new life (1:3). His willingness to suffer unjustly to fulfill God’s purpose is the exemplar to which Christians are called as they live out their lives in faith, following in his footsteps (2:21).
For the original readers to whom Peter wrote, their identity as Christians was not only the source of great joy but ironically also the reason they suffered grief in various kinds of trials (1:6). Because of their Christian faith, they were being marginalized by their society, alienated in their relationships, and threatened with—if not experiencing—a loss of honor and socioeconomic standing (and possibly worse). Many Christians around the world throughout these last two thousand years have experienced a similar negative reaction to their faith by the societies in which they live. Even today there are those who live in peril because of their faith in Christ. For them, the words of the apostle speak directly to their situation, providing consolation, encouragement, and guidance.
But there are also many modern readers of 1 Peter who cannot relate directly to that situation, for we have been fortunate enough to live in societies where, generally speaking, Christian faith does not lower social standing, jeopardize livelihoods, or threaten life itself. What significance could this ancient letter have for Christians for whom social alienation and suffering for the faith are generally unfamiliar experiences? One Lutheran biblical scholar who has devoted most of his professional career to 1 Peter confesses, “The more I study it, the more alien it seems to the interests and projects of mainstream Christianity” (J. H. Elliott 1998: 179). Classroom discussion of 1 Peter has raised the suggestion that perhaps 1 Peter is for the church in another time and place and that its message of suffering is not necessarily applicable to the church today. The relative neglect of 1 Peter in sermons and Bible studies may attest to the truth of that thought in practice, if not in principle.
However, when viewed from a global perspective, North American Christianity occupies an increasingly receding place in Christendom. Writing about the emergence of large Christian populations around the world, P. Jenkins (2002: 218) observes,
For the average Western audience, New Testament passages about standing firm in the face of pagan persecution have little immediate relevance. . . . Millions of Christians around the world do in fact live in constant danger of persecution or forced conversion, either from governments or local vigilantes. . . . Ordinary believers are forced to understand why they are facing these sufferings, and repeatedly do so in the familiar language of the Bible and of the earliest Christianity.
Wherever Christians are a minority, the message of 1 Peter takes on renewed relevance. For instance, the apostle’s letter became a source of hope and encouragement to Christian students at the University of Halle in Soviet-dominated Germany after World War II (Boring 1999: 143). In former Yugoslavia and Muslim Indonesia, 1 Peter is said to be the most popular book among Christians (McKnight 1996: 35). E. Wendland (2000: 68–78) discusses the contemporary relevance of 1 Peter to the Bantu in Africa. Even within the United States, J. H. Elliott applies Peter’s principles to the sanctuary movement that shelters political refugees (1998).
The social ethos of the first-century Greco-Roman setting of 1 Peter is undoubtedly substantially different from that of those cultures today founded upon the Judeo-Christian ethic. Nevertheless, the principles upon which Peter offers his original readers consolation, encouragement, and guidance in their specific situation are applicable to all Christians at all times. The apostle wants his readers to recognize the sweeping scope of new life in Christ and the implications for how they view themselves now that they have been born again by the mercy of God the Father through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1:3). They must no longer think of themselves and their relationships to family and society in the same way they did in their former life (4:3). As S. McKnight (1996: 36) puts it, “Peter intends his readers to understand who they are before God so that they can be who they are in society.”
However, a Christian self-understanding based on the NT is christocentric and society is not. Herein lies the significance of 1 Peter for modern readers. Christians need to be transformed in their thinking about who they are in Christ and what that implies for relationships with other believers and with society, regardless of one’s historical moment or geographical location. First Peter applies principles of Christian conduct to a specific Christian community living out the faith in troubling times, and so this letter has something important to say about the engagement of Christians and culture. These concepts of Christian self-understanding and cultural engagement speak to the heart of the believer, whether babes in Christ or seniors in the faith.
First Peter encourages a transformed understanding of Christian self-identity that redefines how one is to live as a Christian in a world that is hostile to the basic principles of the gospel. Acknowledging that estrangement, Peter writes to those whom he addresses as “foreigners and resident aliens” (2:11) within the society in which they lived. He holds up Jesus Christ as the true outsider, coming into this world but being rejected and executed by it. Reflecting on the message of 1 Peter, M. Volf (1994: 17) writes, “The root of Christian self-understanding as aliens and sojourners lies not so much in the story of Abraham and Sarah and the nation of Israel as it does in the destiny of Jesus Christ, his mission and his rejection which ultimately brought him to the cross.” The example of Christ’s suffering in 1 Peter is the pattern that explains the experience of Christians who suffer for their faith. The relationship between Christ and the world defines the basic principle of Christian self-understanding and engagement with culture. Therefore, Peter exhorts Christians to engage the world as foreigners and resident aliens, having a healthy respect for the society and culture in which they live while at the same time maintaining an appropriate separation from it. It is as foreigners and resident aliens that Peter’s readers are to abstain from carnal desires that, even though perhaps socially acceptable, war against the soul, while at the same time living good lives among the Gentiles (2:11–12).
The relationship between the Christian and culture is an overarching theme of 1 Peter, as relevant now as it was when first penned. Using sociological methodology, J. H. Elliott (1981) argued that the author of 1 Peter was concerned to maintain the identity of the Christian community and to discourage accommodation to the surrounding culture. In the same year Balch (1981) approached the issue of the relationship of the Christian community to culture by considering the household codes in their sociohistorical setting (2:18–3:7). He concluded the opposite of Elliott, that the author of 1 Peter was in fact encouraging a level of accommodation to society in order to avoid undue alienation from it. Both positions reduce the complexity of 1 Peter on this point, which, as Volf (1994: 22) observes, calls for “the possibility of either rejecting or accommodating to particular aspects of the surrounding culture in a piece-meal fashion.” First Peter offers various examples of accommodating, rejecting, subverting, and transforming culture. A prime example is the so-called household code of 2:18–3:7, which discusses the relationship of members of the first-century household with each other but does so in view of apostolic concern with the relationship of the Christian community to the society in which it has taken root (see comments on 2:18–3:7). The principles of 1 Peter’s differentiated acceptance and rejection of first-century culture offer perhaps the letter’s most significant contribution to contemporary Christian thought of its time. Moreover, Peter’s principles remain significant for the church today, living in times when social values and structures are changing at a rapid pace. The epistle is especially relevant in the Third World, where Christianity is no longer a missionary religion but is becoming indigenous in cultures that were not formed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. First Peter’s emphasis on Christian engagement with society makes it a relevant and thought-provoking book for all times and places.
In addition to thoughtfully reflecting on the Christian’s relationship to society, 1 Peter raises a second related issue by presenting the challenging principle that it is better to suffer than to sin. Christians are to understand themselves as a people who are done with sin (see comments on 4:1), which means that one must be prepared to suffer the consequences of not sinning. The thought that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life (4:12) and within God’s will may be a startling thought, especially for those who became Christians with the idea that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It is easy to confuse vicarious atonement with vicarious suffering and think that because Jesus suffered, Christians do not have to. The place of suffering in God’s will was also confusing to Peter’s original readers. The apostle explains their experience in light of the example of Jesus and challenges the Christian to live out the gospel boldly by embracing suffering if it should come. In the face of pressure to conform to social expectations, Peter exhorts his readers to live good, godly lives, to accept consequential suffering, and to continue trusting God.
The Christians to whom Peter wrote were suffering because they were living by different priorities, values, and allegiances than their pagan neighbors. These differences were sufficiently visible to cause unbelievers to take note and in some cases to heap abuse on those living out faith in Christ. Are Christians today willing to suffer alienation from our society out of obedience to Christ? If statistics tell the true story, it would seem that most Christians today, even those who call themselves evangelicals, are in some important ways not very distinguishable from unbelievers. We divorce at the same rate. We have the same addictions. We seek the same forms of entertainment. We wear the same fashions. And so on. First Peter challenges Christians to reexamine our acceptance of society’s norms and to be willing to suffer the alienation of being a visiting foreigner in our own culture wherever its values conflict with those of Christ.
Even those Christians who do not suffer persecution for the faith are called to the suffering of self-denial. Sin is often thought of as being motivated by the temptation for pleasure. But perhaps the real power of sin lies in the avoidance of pain and suffering. It is better to suffer unfulfilled needs and desires than to sin. Is this not what self-denial means? Jesus linked self-denial with following in his footsteps when he said, “Those who would be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 TNIV ). For instance, isn’t the temptation to lie often an attempt to save face rather than face the consequences of the truth? Isn’t the temptation to cheat on an exam an unwillingness to suffer the loss of reputation or other consequences that failure might bring? Isn’t sexual sin often the alternative to suffering by living with deep emotional and physical needs unmet? According to Peter, the pain and suffering that self-denial brings is a godly suffering that is better than yielding to sin (1 Pet. 4:1–2).
The “foreignness” of Christians increases as modern society accepts values and legalizes principles that are inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Reflecting on tolerance as a highly esteemed modern virtue, S. Gaede (1993: 11) writes, “We live in strange times. Or the times we live in make strangers out of folks like me. I’m not sure which.” First Peter presents the Christian community as a colony in a strange land, an island of one culture in the midst of another. The new birth that gives Christians a new identity and a new citizenship in the kingdom of God makes us, in whatever culture we happen to live, visiting foreigners and resident aliens there.
Date and Authorship: Apostolic or Pseudonymous (and Can It Be Both)?
The dual issues of when 1 Peter was written and who wrote it are so intertwined that they must be considered together. The most basic issue, of course, is whether the apostle Peter wrote the letter, since the text indisputably claims it is from him, or whether it was written pseudonymously sometime after his death (composed by an anonymous author who wrote in Peter’s name with unknown motives). A prevalent opinion today is that 1 Peter is a pseudonymous work written by someone of the Petrine group in Rome between AD 75 and 95 who was accurately representing the apostle Peter’s thoughts (e.g., J. H. Elliott 2000: 127–30). The presumption of a Petrine school is an attempt to preserve some semblance of Peter’s apostolic authority while allowing for a date of writing that places the book well beyond the apostle’s lifetime. J. H. Elliott believes the existence of a Petrine group was inevitable from a social and practical point of view. This may be plausible from a sociological viewpoint, but it does not address why such a group would write in the specific form and terms found in 1 Peter.
Are references to Peter, Mark, and Silvanus (1:1; 5:12–13) all part of a pseudonymous fiction? But if Silvanus were the true carrier of the letter, as J. H. Elliott (1980: 265–66) suggests, assuming he was aware that Peter had not in fact written it, how would he have represented the letter to the recipients he actually had to face? Furthermore, apart from the letter itself, there is no extant evidence from the first century that a Petrine group existed that could pseudonymously represent the apostle Peter with authority. Even if the Gospel of Mark is Peter’s testimony, its author does not presume to write in Peter’s name. Moreover, even if a Petrine group did exist, why would they be writing to the remotest areas of Asia Minor? The explanation J. H. Elliott (1980: 264–65) offers, that the Petrine group’s concern for Asia Minor confirms “the universal ethnic and geographical dimensions of the universal grace of which they write” and reflects a first attempt of the hegemony of the Roman church, does not explain their specific connection to the regions of Asia Minor addressed.
On the other hand, the theory that the letter was written by Peter using an amanuensis usually understands it to have been written during Peter’s lifetime and under his direction. But an amanuensis merely shades into a pseudonymous author if a close associate composed the letter shortly after Peter’s death. On this ground the letter is often claimed to be pseudonymous, yet bearing Peter’s apostolic authority.
Challenges to Petrine Authorship
The weightiest evidence that 1 Peter is a pseudonymous work has rested on four points: (1) the Greek of the epistle is just too good for a Galilean fisherman-turned-apostle to have written; (2) the book’s content suggests a situation both in church structure and in social hostility that reflects a time decades later than Peter’s lifetime; (3) 1 Peter exhibits a dependence on the so-called deuteropauline books and must therefore have been written after them, which would date 1 Peter to the late first century; and (4) Christianity could not have reached these remote areas of Asia Minor and become a target for persecution until a decade or more after Peter had died, at the earliest.
As for the first point, the Greek of 1 Peter does seem to be too good for Peter himself to have written it, in the opinion of scholars on both sides of the authorship question. Even those supporting a date within Peter’s lifetime propose that he used an amanuensis more highly skilled in Greek than himself. However, the quality of the Greek is a somewhat subjective judgment that must be evaluated on several levels. Recent scholarship has concluded that the overall structure of the letter does seem to follow the contours of formal Greek rhetoric (B. Campbell 1998; ThurĂ©n 1990; ThurĂ©n 1995; Tite 1997). However, even if such a rhetorical structure does organize 1 Peter, does it follow that its author was deliberately following the principles of formal rhetoric? Or was he simply presenting a well-structured argument consistent with general practice of the time? Assigning Latin rhetorical terms to various sections of the epistle does not prove that the author had a high level of formal training in Greek rhetoric. But beyond the overall rhetorical structure, it is argued that features such as its “polished Attic style, Classical vocabulary . . . and rhetorical quality . . . make it one of the more refined writings in the NT ” (J. H. Elliott 2000: 120). First Peter does contain series of words with similar sounds, accumulation of synonyms, the use of anaphora, antithetic and synthetic parallelism, coordinate parallel expressions first negative and then positive, rhythmic structure, and the frequent use of conjunctive participles and relative clauses (Achtemeier 1996: 3). However, 1 Peter is not nearly as rhetorically ornamented as is, for instance, the book of Hebrews. And one could probably find examples of well-argued modern English discourse that follow the general contours of formal Greek rhetoric. The question remains, on the one hand, whether the traits displaye...