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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on 1 Peter

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Greeting ( 1:1–2 )

( 1:1 )

On the attribution of the letter to the apostle Peter see 1 PET A. The term ‘exiles’ does not refer to the Christians' earthly sojourning prior to arriving at their heavenly home, nor is it likely to mean that most of those addressed had the official status of resident aliens prior to their conversion (so Elliott 1981). It may reflect the social experience of the addressees following their conversion, though the language is probably drawn from the story of Israel's progenitor Abraham (Gen 23:4 ). The exiles are said to be located in the ‘Dispersion’, which may suggest that they are diaspora Jews. Other indications in the letter, however, suggest that the recipients were formerly pagans (e.g. 1:18; 2:10 ). The specific region referred to (Pontus, Galatia, etc.) would cover most of Asia Minor north and west of the Taurus mountains. Pliny's letters to Trajan (c.112 CE) indicate that by his day Christianity was well established in Bithynia-Pontus, not only among the towns but also in the countryside.

( 1:2 )

That the recipients are said to have been ‘chosen and destined by God the Father’ relates their destiny to Christ's ( 1:20 ). Just as Christ suffered and was raised to glory ( 1:11, 21 ), so too will the Christians suffering abuse receive eschatological vindication provided they stand firm. One should probably translate v. 2 as ‘for obedience [to God rather than Jesus] and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ’. Sprinkling with the ‘blood of Jesus Christ’ recalls the covenant ceremony of Ex 24:3–8 , and suggests that the author sees the church as the people of God constituted by Christ's sacrifice ( 1:19 ). It may also suggest that God's people are to share in Christ's sufferings. Grace and peace are common enough in Christian greetings, but may have a special poignancy here, where those wished grace and peace are suffering opposition and abuse (cf. 5:14 ).

Prooemium ( 1:3–12 )

This section is in the form of a blessing (cf. Eph 1:3; 2 Cor 1:3 ), though here our author does not merely praise God but sets out the main themes that are to follow. These are that the addressees are greatly privileged as believers, both in what they have received already and in what they can expect in the future. Therefore, they should stand firm despite opposition, regarding their suffering as an opportunity to prove their faith and as a sign that deliverance is at hand.

( 1:3–9 )

In v. 3 the author lays the groundwork of his appeal to the recipients; they have been begotten again (see 1 PET 1:22–2:3 ) and as believers they already enjoy great benefits. These are not to be abandoned lightly, even under pressure, for this would also be to forfeit the future benefits promised at v. 4 . At v. 5 the author continues to assure his audience of their fundamental security and their ultimate vindication. The salvation mentioned here is probably both from their current troubles and from an adverse judgement by God at the eschaton, whereas ‘faith’ will include faithfulness to their calling as Christians. The first two words of v. 6 may be translated either ‘in whom’ (i.e. God) or ‘in which’, i.e. the entire sentiment expressed in v. 5 ; NRSV opts for the latter. The addressees can rejoice in the hopes expressed in v. 5 even if they are currently suffering. Here we note two features of the author's rhetorical strategy: (1) The author presumably does not know that his addressees actually are rejoicing; he probably suspects the reverse (hence the letter!); but by asserting that they are already doing what he wants he encourages his addressees to accept his view. (2) The author introduces his first explicit reference to suffering with great tact (‘even if…for a little while…’); later on the sufferings appear more painful; here they are made to appear insignificant compared with the privileges enjoyed. The reference to ‘various trials’ may indicate a further cause for rejoicing: such trials were expected to beset the faithful at the end-time, so their occurrence can be taken as a sign that the end is near. The trials also allow the suffering recipients to prove their faith (v. 7 ), that is to demonstrate its worth in adversity just as precious metal is proved and separated from dross in the heat of the refining process. Faith thus proved will result in the suffering faithful receiving (from God) the very things that their unbelieving neighbours are currently denying them (praise, glory, and honour). This will occur ‘when Jesus Christ is revealed’, i.e. when he appears from heaven at the Parousia, which the author believes to be close at hand ( 4:7 ). At vv. 8–9 the author again employs indicatives to describe the attitudes he wants his audience to adopt, love of and belief in Christ and joy in their salvation, which is described as being realized even now.

( 1:10–12 )

The prooemium concludes with a section that emphasizes just how privileged the addressees are. It is they who are the recipients of the great promises the prophets enquired into (vv. 11–12 ), and they who have received the good news of things into which even angels long to peer (v. 12 ). Yet what the prophets testified in advance bears directly on our author's theme, for they foresaw that Christ would first suffer and then receive glory, the pattern that the addressees are also expected to follow, as will become increasingly apparent.

Body of Letter, Part 1: Living as God's People ( 1:13–2:10 )

( 1:13–21 ) Redemption into the Christ Group

The start of the new section is marked by the word ‘therefore’ and the shift into the imperative mood (v. 13 ). Despite NRSV, however, the first word in the imperative is the command to ‘hope’, the previous two verbs are participles (‘discipline yourselves’ is more literally, ‘being perfectly sober’). Many commentators take the participles here and elsewhere in 1 Peter as having imperatival force, but this is not necessarily the case (see Achtemeier 1996 ). The author could be describing his addressees as those who have girded the loins of their minds (the imagery is that of fastening one's outer garment around the waist so that it does not impede one's movements, hence NRSV's ‘prepare your minds for action’) and are perfectly sober, or he may be saying that this is the manner in which they should hope. The object of that hope is eschatological, since it is linked to the Parousia, but the Greek participle (rendered by NRSV as the future ‘will bring you’) suggests that the promised grace can already begin to be experienced now or in the near future.

The author next contrasts his addressees' former way of life (v. 14 ) with the holiness to which they are now called (v. 15 ). Holiness contains the idea of separateness; the addressees are to be a people set apart for God from the surrounding culture. The notion that this holiness is to express itself in conduct (v. 15 ) is one of the pervading themes of the letter. It is repeated already at v. 17 (NRSV's ‘live’ is more literally ‘conduct yourselves’), where it is related to the final judgement of God. At first sight the sentiment of this verse is strongly at odds with the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith, but compare, e.g., Rom 2:6–11 . In any case Paul and ‘Peter’ would have agreed that being right with God necessitated being part of the people of God now constituted through Jesus Christ, and that this must express itself in conduct (cf. Gal 5:13–26 ). Our author is concerned with helping his audience cope with the sense of alienation this brings (on ‘exiles’ see 1 PET 1:1 ), and so immediately upon urging them to appropriate conduct he reminds them once more of their privileged position (vv. 18–19 ), this time in terms of the cost of their redemption, and the futility of the life from which they have been redeemed.

Christ is here described in terms of a sacrificial victim (cf. e.g. Lev 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6 , etc.). It is not said how his sacrifice achieves redemption, but the thought may be that Christ's death deals with sin, enables righteous behaviour ( 2:24 ), and allows access to God ( 2:4 ) to those who were formerly not his people ( 2:10 ). The fledgling Christian church offers a new reference group by which its members measure their conduct, and this enables them to live with a fresh orientation. Our author does not express himself in this sociological language, but he is nevertheless keen to promote the kind of group cohesion and separateness needed. This group is oriented on Christ not only as its redeemer but as its exemplar. Christ, like them ( 1:2 ), was foreknown or ‘destined’ by God (v. 20 ). Like them, he suffered ( 2:21 ), but since God raised him from the dead and gave him glory, those who pattern themselves on him can hope for the same (v. 21 ).

The contrast between ‘destined’ and ‘revealed’ (v. 20 ) is not so much intended to teach predestination (see also 1 PET 2:8 ) as once again to emphasize the privileged status of the believers. What was foreknown from before the creation of the world has only now been made known in the last times (note the eschatological emphasis) and for their sake.

( 1:22–2:3 ) Rebirth through the Word

Patterning on Christ must include Christ-like conduct, or ‘obedience to the truth’ (which is also obedience to God the Father), but can only be sustained in contrast to the world with the aid of a mutually supportive group ( 1:22 ), membership of which is a mark of rebirth (see below).

The quotation in 1:24–5a from Isa 40:6–8 is the first of many allusions to Isaiah in this letter. The ‘word’ is here equated with the good news that has been preached to the addressees, and this perhaps illustrates prophets testifying in advance ( 1:10 ). The main point of the quotation, however, is to contrast the transitoriness of natural life with the permanence of the life that springs from God's word. Natural birth is birth into the worldly community. Rebirth by the word comes about through entering the new community that is the redeemed people of God constituted by the word. The worldly community is transitory not only because of normal human mortality, but because it is about to fall under God's judgement ( 4:17 ); the alternative community of the word is guaranteed permanence, provided it stands firm, since it is rooted in God, and will be vindicated by him at the last judgement.

Those who have undergone rebirth may be metaphorically described as ‘newborn infants’ ( 2:2 ). Babes are no doubt best fed on pure milk, but there is a play on words in the Greek, since the word translated ‘pure’ can also mean ‘guileless’, the quality that would result from obeying the injunctions of 2:1 . It is not clear whether the author has primarily in mind his audience's dealings with one another (as the immediate context might suggest) or towards outsiders (as 2:12 indicates). He may well have intended both. Slander is one of the things they seem to have been particularly suffering from outsiders, and they will later be commanded not to revile in turn ( 3:9 ). For now the author wishes to remind his audience that rebirth is not enough by itself, it must be followed by growth towards the desired goal ( 2:2b ). The doubt implied by ‘if’ in 2:3 is a rhetorical device. The recipients will not want to deny that they have tasted God's goodness, and so they will be led into accepting what the author has just said.

( 2:4–10 ) God's Chosen People

The recurrence of the word ‘stone’ throughout this section suggests the thought of a building, in particular the temple (the ‘spiritual house’ of v. 5 ), not in the literal sense of the Jerusalem temple, but in the metaphorical sense of God's people (the use of ‘temple’ to denote one's own elect community is also found in the Qumran literature). The people of God constitutes the other controlling theme in this section, in which language formerly applied to Israel is now applied to the addressees (vv. 5, 9 ). The purpose is to persuade them of their worth as God's chosen people in the face of a hostile environment.

The living stone (Christ) at v. 4 is said to have been rejected, not by the Jews, but by humankind in general; there is little anti-Judaism in this epistle, even though its addressees (unlike Paul's Gentile addressees) are regarded as having taken over the role of Israel without remainder (so Achtemeier 1996 ). The addressees are also to become living stones (v. 5 ), and thus to share the fate of Christ their exemplar. Just as he was rejected by humans but was chosen and honoured (rather than NRSV's ‘precious’) with God, so too those who are experiencing rejection on account of their faith have been chosen and will be honoured by God. Honour, a pivotal value in Mediterranean society (Malina 1983 ), is precisely what these Christians lack in the eyes of their unbelieving neighbours. The phrase ‘chosen and honoured’ thus reassures the audience of their true status, as well as preparing for the quotation from Isa 28:16 that is to follow (v. 6; cf. Rom 9:33 ). Believers are also promised honour at v. 7 (which should be translated ‘so to you who believe is the honour’), in contrast to the stumbling that is the fate of the unbeliever (vv. 7b–8 ). The function of v. 8 is not to teach that some individuals were foreordained to stumble, but rather to reassure the addressees that their persecutors are heading for a fall, and that this is all within God's plan.

Although the language of priesthood and sacrifice (vv. 5, 9 ) is cultic, this probably derives from the use of the temple as a metaphor for God's elect people (rather than referring to Christian worship). It may be, however, that the ‘spiritual sacrifice’ the author intends is that of costly obedience to God in the face of abuse, since he later goes on to stress the passion of Christ as the pattern of uncomplaining suffering for the believer ( 2:21–4; 3:17–19; 4:13–14 ).

v. 10 (like 1:18 ) suggests that the author is addressing converts from paganism rather than Jews (this verse is an allusion to Hos 2:23 ; cf. Paul's use of Hos 1:10 at Rom 9:25–6 ). He concludes this section by again reminding them of their privileges. The implication is that they would be foolish to give up such a glorious state and revert to their former paganism, for that would be to give up light, mercy, and belonging for darkness, no mercy, and non-belonging.

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