1 Peter 1 (day 1152) 25 February 2013
1-2: As with James and Hebrews the authorship of 1 Peter is uncertain. There is little internal evidence to his identity. He identifies himself as an apostle in the first verse, and as an elder in the church and as one who witnessed the crucifixion (5:1). He has a close relationship with Silvanus (Silas) and Mark, as did Paul. Although in ancient times it was accepted that the author is Simon Peter the disciple. In more recent times the popular view is that it was written around 67-68 A.D. following the first persecution of Christians in Rome. Both 1 Peter and James are addressed to believers “in the Dispersion,” James to “the twelve tribes” and 1 Peter to “the exiles.” 1 Peter is however specifically addressed to those who live in five regions in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor north of the Taurus Mountain range. It was a common thing for the early Christian communities to style themselves after some period of Jewish history; thus we have the “twelve tribes” in James and the “exiles” here. The “Dispersion” was the term used in reference to the scattering of the Jews following Assyrian and Babylonian conquests, but here (and in James) probably simply refers to those Christian communities scattered about the Empire.
3-9: He wastes no time laying out the basic teachings of the faith: the resurrection of Christ gives us new birth; the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls; God preserves believers for a future yet to be revealed; faith is that attitude of the soul that enables us to believe even when we have not seen.
10-12: Peter makes reference to the prophets who foresaw the coming of Christ and his suffering and death (see, for example, Isaiah 52:3-9) for our salvation, and avers that they knew their prophesies were for future generations – that is, for the people to whom Peter is writing.
13-16: So, he says, live for the future when Christ will be revealed (when he returns to rule). Prepare for it by living holy lives, striving to be like him. (The quote is from Leviticus 19:2.)
17-21: Three important ideas are contained here: First, the “time of exile” is the time from the resurrection of Christ until his return. Peter, along with all the New Testament writers, believed the return of Christ was imminent. Second, the ransom theory of Christ’s suffering and death is put forward – that Christ paid for our freedom from the law of sin and death with his own blood. Third, Christ’s work on our behalf was determined “before the foundation of the world.” This is an important and rather controversial idea because it means that God knew that every prior attempt to save humankind would fail.
22-25: Given all the above, he tells them their task is to learn to love one another because they are of one family – those who have been born anew through the gospel. (The quote in verse 24 is from Isaiah 40:6-8.)
1 Peter 2 (day 1153) 26 February 2013
1-3: Many commentators see in the first 2 chapters of 1 Peter a description of the pre-Christian, the new Christian, the maturing Christian, and the future hope of the followers of Jesus, albeit not in any easily discernable order. Here, however, we do have a list of the kinds of behaviors believers are expected to overcome once they come to faith: malice, deceit, insincerity, envy and slander. And the new believer is encouraged to earnestly desire the basic teachings of the faith (“the pure, spiritual milk”) so that spiritual growth will continue.
4-8: The image of Christ as the “living stone” developed out of the identification of Christ with the “cornerstone” of Old Testament prophecy. The author describes the church as a building made with living stones (see Isaiah 28:16). Christ is precious to believers. To unbelievers he is the “stone the builders rejected,” now become the stone that holds the building together (Psalm 118:22). The cornerstone was the stone at the apex of the main doorway arch which literally did hold together that wall. Continuing the metaphor, he sees unbelievers “stumbling” over the cornerstone (Isaiah 8:14); that is, they cannot make progress toward salvation because they refuse to recognize Christ.
9-10: “Chosen race,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation” are all epithets applied to Israel in the Old Testament (for example, Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 7:6). The author now applies those terms to the church. Before Christ came, of course, Christians were “not a people.” Now, he says, Christians are “God’s people” (Hosea 1:10). It cannot be deduced from these verses that he means that the church has replaced Israel, but it can certainly be argued that these verses point to the early belief that the church was called into existence to be God’s people in much the same way as Israel had been called (and, in the estimation of at least some New Testament writers, had failed in that calling).
11-12: In the same way, Christians were becoming aliens and exiles, just like their Jewish forebears. He urges them to conduct themselves honorably before unbelievers so that the good name of Christ would be protected.
13-17: There are a number of places among the letters of the New Testament where believers are urged to obey and respect the governing authorities (see, for example, Romans 13:1). Lawlessness was not to be engaged in; the reputation of the church was of the utmost importance, especially in those places where the Christian faith was not well established. For the survival and growth of the church it was necessary to silence the foolish, to honor everyone (particularly the emperor!), to love one another, and above all to fear God.
18-25: It is clear that the early church appealed especially to the poor and underprivileged because of its message of mercy and salvation. Slavery was common all around the Mediterranean world, and it is likely that a significant percentage of the membership of many congregations was comprised of slaves. It would have been extremely important not to develop a reputation of stirring up trouble among the slaves, and we find a number of places in the New Testament where slaves are urged to be obedient, even if they are mistreated. In fact, the author insists here that suffering under the heavy burden of a harsh master was a credit to the slave, because it was a way of emulating the suffering of Christ. So, they are encouraged to be like Christ and do their work well and practice no deceitfulness (Isaiah 53:9). Christ trusted God and did not return abuse for abuse but suffered willingly. Believers are therefore freed from sin and the burden of the law because they are healed by Christ’s suffering (see Isaiah 53:4-5), but it was important for the survival of the church – and of each individual believer – to live exemplary lives.
1 Peter 3 (day 1154) 27 February 2013
1-6: Advice for husbands and wives is standard fare in the New Testament epistles. Note that the phrase “accept the authority” is used four times in 1 Peter: All Christians should “accept the authority of every human institution” (2:13); slaves should “accept the authority of your masters” (2:18); wives should accept their husband’s authority (3:1); and “you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders” (5:5). Here, however, the instructions to Christian wives seems to be specifically aimed at wives of unbelievers, in hope that their purity and reverence will win their husbands over to the faith. Inner beauty is more lasting and more to be sought after than outer beauty, he says – advice our modern narcissistic culture casts aside. (By the way, I have not been able to find any occasion in which Sarah referred to Abraham as her lord.)
7: Husbands are advised to honor their wives. After all, he says, “they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life” – a rare concession of equality between men and women. I’m not sure why this particular point has anything to do with answered prayers.
8-12: Again relying on the scripture (the Old Testament – the only scripture he knew) to support his directions (see Psalm 34:12-16) the author presents a list of characteristics to be pursued: unity, sympathy, love, tenderness, humility, and so forth.
13-17: It is apparent that the author is writing during a time when followers of Jesus were often persecuted. His argument is that the best defense against persecution is to live an exemplary life. There’s nothing wrong with doing good, and if you are punished for doing good that is a good thing, a blessing because you are suffering for doing what God wants you to do.
18-19: This is a summary of the work of Christ. He, the righteous one, suffered for the sins of the unrighteous in order to save them. He was killed, but his spirit survived to visit the “spirits in prison” – that is, the dead. (This is the source for the line in the Apostles’ Creed, “he descended into hell.”)
20-22: Now he goes all the way back to the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 7-8. God saved Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives – 8 people in all – through water. Actually, they were saved by boarding a boat that carried them on the water. The flood event, he says, prefigures the ritual of baptism, which he sees as “an appeal to God for a good conscience.” The appeal is carried by Christ who, after his resurrection, now rules “angels, authorities, and powers.”
1 Peter 4 (day 1155) 28 February 2013
1-6: If you are willing to suffer for your faith that is a pretty good indication that you are maturing in the faith, and also gives you an inner assurance that you are forgiven. Early Christian teachers emphasized over and again that the goal of faith is to move from being guided by your own desires to being guided by God’s will. Verses 3 and 4 are significant – here is the difference between those who have had an honest encounter with Jesus and those who have not. Their lives are changed. Old habits based on human desires – licentiousness, passions, etc. – are replaced by habits based on the guidance of the Spirit. Unbelievers who used to be their companions are surprised and fall into slandering those who no longer enjoy their company. But all will be judged, both the living and the dead. Here the author returns to the idea that Christ preached the good news to the dead (see again 3:19). The dead through Christ will live “in the spirit” though no longer in the flesh.
7-11: First generation Christians, especially those who had known Jesus personally, expected the “end of all things” at any moment. The church had to make adjustments to expectations as time went by, and that it did so successfully is one of the great success stories of Christianity. Discipline, love and hospitality were therefore especially important: discipline, to keep the individual believer faithful; love, to preserve unity in the congregation; hospitality, to bring in as many as possible into the fold of the faith. The author exhorts his readers to heroic levels of faith and loyalty.
12-19: The letter is addressed primarily to those who are undergoing persecution for being Christians. Evil is against God and God’s people, and they can therefore expect to suffer for the faith. He encourages them to refrain from sin – listing a handful of the worst ones in verse 15 – so that their suffering will not be deserved and therefore will be counted as a sharing in the suffering of Christ. He tells them to redouble their efforts to be faithful, quoting Proverbs 11:31. Righteousness in this instance should be understood as law-abiding. Simply keeping the law does not suffice for salvation; therefore how can sinners expect to be saved – unless, of course, they obtain the forgiveness of their sins.
1 Peter 5 (day 1156) 1 March 2013
1-5: The metaphor of the church as a flock of sheep and the elder or leader as the shepherd goes back to the sayings of Jesus (see especially John 10:11), but also dates to the Old Testament where Israel is the flock and God or God’s chosen leader is the shepherd (as early as Numbers 27:17). In that vein the author urges the other elders to “tend the flock of God that is in your charge.” In order for that arrangement to work, though, it is imperative that those in the “flock” deal with each other humbly and not “lord it over” the others. It is also important that elders be respected by younger members of the community. Humility is an especially important attitude particularly in light of Old Testament teachings about God’s relationship with the proud as contrasted with God’s relationship with the humble (the quote in verse 5 is a direct quote from James 4:6 – one of the few places in the New Testament that quotes from other New Testament writers).
6-11: Humility is all important. Anxiety must be discarded, of course; faith cannot admit of such a thing. Discipline is essential. Alertness – not just for Christ’s return but also for the devil’s machinations – is also essential. The devil is personified as a roaring lion prowling about for unsuspecting souls. There is solidarity in suffering. The readers of this letter are not the only ones being persecuted – he’s telling them to trust that they are not alone in that. Persevere; Christ will come and save.
12-14: Silvanus would seem to be the one to whom the letter is dictated, reminding us of Paul’s use of secretaries. The mention of Babylon here is certainly a reference to Rome, which leads many to the conclusion that the letter was written from there.