Scratchpad: Final NT 1 Paper – 1 Peter 2.1-10 (Part 1)

St. Peter Denying Christ, by Gustave Doré
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The goal of the assignment was to write 5 pages on your overall view of Peter, 5 pages on your selected passage and then 5 pages of theological reflection. When writing this paper, I did so in 11pt font. I like that font because it looks neater, and frankly, I think 12pt font is for those who cannot fill up a page with good thoughts. The professor has this 15 page rule (I understand it. I don’t like it, but I understand it). So when I blew up the font to 12pt, I was 14.75 pages – up from 13.25. So I rushed a final paragraph, had my wife edit it and sent it on its way.

So, this is the rough draft. I am not happy with it because I ran out of time. I wrote it in 8 hours, but I had about 8 weeks to do it in. I’m  a slacker.

Part’s 2 and 3 will follow this post in short order.


1 Peter is about the holiness of life lead in Christ, but as Barth noted, holiness is not holiness if it is only in itself; instead, the author of 1 Peter is calling for his audience to seek a place during their persecution and suffering to be a part of God’s graciousness in effecting a New Creation, in that they reject the Roman notions of honor and duty and instead assume their birthright of being a kingdom of priests, holy and wholly devoted to God in Christ. It is difficult for the Western Christian to fully grasp the sitz im leben of 1 Peter as often times we rest upon miniscule controversies which we, through our traditions and interpretations, have created, especially around such ideas as the role of the wife (3.1-6). Modern, Western readers, seem to be ignoring the suffering of the community and how that might factor into a proper reading, or they place their own current political sufferings as similar to that of the community. In getting lost in the forest which we have grown around 1 Peter, we fail to see the tree of life which Peter is planting in the garden of his reader’s minds, which is that the only honor, politics, and future which his community has need of, is that of Christ and Christ alone.

This Epistle is written from Babylon (5.13), identified as the City of Rome, to those who are ‘temporarily residing abroad (1.1 NET) in Roman provinces. It is this light that causes us to read the letter in light of Imperial policies and contemporary culture, which was one of honor, duty, and assigned roles as well as a culture which was hesitant to allow a new religion, which only later came to be call Christianity, which looked to overthrown cultural boundaries. This letter takes on the form which is calling for encouragement instead of providing correction. Peter’s intent is not to lay out doctrine, but to call his readers to remain steadfast as a Chosen People (1.2; 2.9) so that as the End nears (4.7), the Glory of God in Christ may be revealed through them (4.13). It also serves as a warning not to falter and to remember that a position in life (5.5), in society, matters not to the one who has all Glory and Power (4.11).

Peter is writing to a people who have not a home. They are exiles and alien in the Roman province while he himself is but an alien (an immigrant from Palestine) in the most powerful city on earth. These homeless, then, are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, who can trace their roots to the prophets and no need of the justification of existence save that of the death of Christ who preceded them in their sufferings. If we were to read this from the perspective of the audience, we might would note that Peter signs the letter, so to speak, as he sat in the City of Rome, under the Imperial eye but that his audience is homeless. Peter’s residence is of importance in reading the letter just as his audience’s is in that he is reminding them that his community is in mortal danger as well, so that he is not just united to them as a pastor, but as a fellow sufferer for Christ. Peter’s position also serves to stand as a symbol that the believing community is not to withdraw from society and culture, not to renounce the world, but to sanctify it by their suffering and remain within the social constructs around them. This may well feed into the modern argument of a personal versus private faith and if so, Peter was answering his community that in the Grace of God, they were serving (as a Wesleyan may put it) as an instrument of God’s grace which goes before and therefore, separation or exclusion was the answer, that they must suffer persecution for the name of Christ so that Christ may be glorified.

1 Peter, for such a short book, makes substantial use of the ‘Old Testament’ which should not be unexpected as Peter is writing to a community with a majority of Jewish believers in Christ. This is easily recognized by the fact that the use of ‘Gentile’ is retained in speaking to people outside of the receptive community (2.12; 4.3; although Green suggests that Gentiles were included in the letter especially in light of Peter’s use of anti-pagan words and phrases in 1.14, 18; 2.10, 25; 4.3-4). In several instances formulas are used, such as dioti gegraptai, dioti periechei en graphē, dioti, and gar, but about 20 quotations aren’t introduced; however, because those quotations are lengthy, the readers no doubt would have recognized the Scripture. Several authors further see a great deal of allusions in 1 Peter (Osborne (1981: 65) counts thirty-one; Schutter (1989: 43) has forty-one). The author makes regular use, which is not uncommon for the New Testament authors, of Isaiah and Psalms. Achtemeier (1996: 12–13) suggests that the citations/allusions used by the author is not as proof-text but as illustrative points, giving a facet of how New Testament authors used Old Testament Scripture. This clearly indicates that Peter didn’t see a break with his Jewish tradition, but instead saw his community as a continuation of the Israel of Scripture, which would not be outside mainstream New Testament thought. This view, that the present community was the continuation of God’s covenant with Israel was not uncommon, even for isolationist groups such as those at Qumran.

Of special consideration to the following exegesis is the Petrine Christology. As with the rest of the epistle, Peter’s view of Christ is centered on the passion of Christ. Although there is not a developed doctrine of Christ, we are still able to draw from three passages (1.18-21; 2.22-25; 3.18-4.6) Peter’s view of Christ. Since 1931, when Gustaf Aulén issued his work on the study of the ancient atonement theory of Christus Victor, New Testament readers have been given a new lease on reading ancient cosmology alongside the text and in examining Peter’s Christology, we arrive at Aulén’s configuration of Christus Victor. In 1.18-22 Christ is the spotless lamb that has redeemed (NASB) those previously engaged in idol worship. The focus here is the redemptive power of Christ made possible through his suffering and it is this suffering which has already brought about their liberation. Peter, in this passage, is still well within the Jewish notion of Ideal Preexistence (v20) with Christ being foreknown but now revealed during this last times.

In 2.4, Christ is set as the example for the community which is further detailed in 2.22-25. In this latter passage, Christ is the sinless sacrifice (cf Isaiah 53) which serves the broader reason of redemption. It is here that we see again the connection between suffering and God’s grace. Christ suffered so that believers were already made a part of the community and could now ‘cease from sinning and love for righteousness (2.24 NET). It is not that Christ suffered, but that he prevailed in his suffering which is the key to understanding this epistle. Neither is it a sacrifice which brings about the liberation of the believer, but the victory of Lordship over even the dead, which is what we have in 3.18-4.6.

It is in this passage which we see the sacrifice of Christ become what we might subscribe to as the Christus Victor model. Here, we are told that Christ has turned his face against those who do evil (3.12), and that by our suffering we are bringing glory to God through Christ. Further, we are told that Christ suffered once to bring us to God (3.17), that the loss of life was countered by the victory in the resurrection. Not only is the audience now able to live righteously, but Christ in defeating death, went to the spirits in prison and preached to them what we can only assume the gospel of liberation. In what is classically called the Harrowing of Hell and celebrated in some forms of the Apostles’ Creed, Christ is seen as rescuing from the prison of disobedience even those who had refused God in life. Once this battle was won, Christ assumed his position as victor over the angels, authorities and powers which are now subject to him. Peter goes further to state that as Christ suffered we must also suffer a part from the hedonistic and pagan lifestyle of the culture. Here, I focus on the ‘wanton idolatries’ (4.3 NET) which Christ defeated and now Peter is calling for his community to resist. He tells his community that the victor Christ will not judge and that this is the reason that the Gospel was preached to those who are now dead. Early Christian interpretation (Hermes Similitudes 9.16.5-6; Melito of Sardis On the Passion 102) provides us with the understanding that Peter is telling his audience that Christ has triumphed over the powers and authorities, even those who are causing them to suffer, even to the point which Christ has exercised Lordship over all things, even the dead. It is then the revelation of this power brought about through suffering, makes both the beginning and the end of the community.

Throughout 1 Peter, the author is addressing a community undergoing persecution, and while no direct examples are given, we may assume that they are living as exiles from the social structure which surrounds them. While it may be of a scholarly pursuit to examine which persecution 1 Peter was addressing, instead, I believe that Peter is not addressing one particular persecution, such as the one brought on by Nero, but a general suffering brought on by being a believer in Christ and suffering as a Christian. This suffering is due to the believers having left their previous socio-political structure behind which included idol worship, a common enemy to the early believers in the Roman Empire (1.18; 2.1, 11; 3.1-6; 4.3). We find that this suffering is part of the current age and must take place, but through this suffering the community of Messiah-believers become more like Christ and will participate in his victory.

However, throughout 1 Peter, the author uses Christ as the supreme example of the glory revealed through suffering. The audience is reminded that their reward is reserved in heaven for after the trial (1.4) which will be over when Christ is revealed (1.7, 13). It was this Christ who, through Peter’s Christology, suffered and died and was then resurrected serving first as the sacrifice who redeemed the community, already a past redemption, and then as the Eternal Evangelist who preached to the spirits and the dead who had served only disobedience to further extend his Lordship over all Creation, even now reigning over the angels, the powers, and the authorities. They are reminded as well that the ‘eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous’ but that his ‘face is against those who do evil’ (3.12 NET). Further, it is the suffering through Christ which first liberated the community, and now, it is the service to God to suffer and thus glorify Christ. The community is then promised to be exulted in due time (5.6). It is here that we find the connection to Christ as well. Whereas Christ suffered and was glorified, the community is now called to suffer. Whereas Christ was exulted, the community will be exulted. Whereas Christ is the chief cornerstone, so too is the community living stones, ready to be built up together to be God’s home.

Barth, “Christian’s Place,” p.276

Joel B. Green, The Two Horizons New Testament Comment, 1 Peter, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007: 5-6)

Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, vol. 16, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, New Testament Commentary, 13 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001).

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