Commentary on 1 Peter 1:1-2

Last updated: April 16, 2011

Notes (ESV translation)

1:1a Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

Jesus gave Simon the name Peter (Aramaic Kepa, Greek Petros), which means “rock” or “stone” (Mt 10:2; 16:18; Mk 3:16; Lk 6:14; Jn 1:42). According to John H. Elliott, in neither Aramaic nor Greek was the word a normal personal name. Rather it was a nickname for Simon (Elliott 308). However, Karen Jobes notes that there “may be evidence from Qumran (4QM[ilik]130) that this was a Jewish name in use before Christ and not a nickname created by Jesus uniquely for his apostle” (Jobes 1060). The term “apostle” (apostolos) refers to a witness of Christ’s resurrection who was chosen by Jesus to preach the gospel (Mt 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-19; 1Cor 15:3-11).

1:1b To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion

To be “elect” (eklektois) means to be chosen by God (2:9). In the Old Testament, Israel was called the “elect” because of its special status as God’s chosen people (Dt 4:37; 7:6-8; 10:15; 14:2; 1Chr 16:13; Ps 88:4 [LXX]; 105:6, 43; 106:5; Isa 14:1; 41:8-9; 43:20; 45:4; 51:2; 65:9, 15, 22; Hos 11:1). Later, the inhabitants of Qumran (1QS 8:6; 11:16; 1QpHab 18:13; CD 3:21-4:6; 6:4-5) and the early Christians (Mt 24:24; Mk 13:20, 22, 27; Lk 18:7; Rom 8:33; 16:13; Col 3:12; 1Tim 5:21; 2Tim 2:10; Tit 1:1; Rev 17:14) began to use the term to refer to themselves.

The word “strangers” [exiles] (parepidemois) introduces a crucial idea in the letter, that is, that God’s people are pilgrims, sojourners, and exiles on Earth. Again, a key theme of the letter is anticipated (cf. 2:11). The church is God’s suffering people, having no place of rest in this world. The term parepidemos is used in the New Testament only here and in 1 Pet 2:11 and Heb 11:13. In the Septuagint it is found only in Gen 23:4 and Ps 38:13. In the Old Testament, exile was Israel’s punishment for their sin, when they were evicted from their land by Assyria (722 B.C.) and Babylon (586 B.C.). Any notion that Peter’s readers are being punished as exiles is foreign to 1 Peter. Elliott . . . understands the exile in terms of the political status of the readers. By doing so he misses the theological point of Peter from the outset. Believers are exiles, not because they are displaced from their homeland. Many people in the Greco-Roman world no longer lived in their place of origin. Believers are exiles because they suffer for their faith in a world that finds their faith off-putting and strange. Goppelt rightly observes that God’s election is what accounts for their being exiles. This interpretation is borne out in that the word “elect” modifies “strangers.” They are not aliens literally; they are sojourners because they are elected by God, because their citizenship is in heaven rather than on earth. Even though the sociological interpretation by Elliott fails to persuade, he is correct in detecting a sociological implication from the elect status of the readers. Those who understand themselves as God’s elect have the ammunition to resist the norms and culture of the society they inhabit. Divine election reminds the readers that they have status, not because they are so worthy or noble but because God has bestowed his grace upon them. Hence, they have the energy to counter accepted cultural norms and to live in accord with God’s purpose. (Schreiner 50-51)

The “dispersion” (diasporas) was a technical term for Jews living in groups outside of the promised land. In this verse it could refer to the fact that the recipients lived outside of the promised land or it could be a metaphorical usage highlighting the fact that the recipients lived like strangers among the Gentiles (2:12; 4:3).

1:1c in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

All five locations are north of the Taurus mountain range in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) (Michaels 9). The apostle Paul conducted missionary activity in Galatia (Gal 1:2) and at Ephesus in Asia (Acts 19:8-10). Acts 19:1-3 makes it clear that other evangelists had reached Asia before Paul. In Acts 2:9, people from Pontus, Cappadocia, and Asia are present at Pentecost. Pliny’s (Roman governor of Bithynia) correspondence with the emperor Trajan (Epist. 10.96) witnesses to the Christian movement in Pontus-Bithynia in his time (ca. 110) and earlier.

Many commentators have suggested that the order of the place names has something to do with the route taken to deliver the letter. J. Ramsey Michaels writes (9-10):

The order in which Peter names the provinces is curious in that Pontus, with which the list begins, and Bithynia, with which it ends, had been considered a single province since about 64 B.C. The most plausible explanation is still that of Hort who suggested that the sequence represents the projected route of the messenger who was to deliver the epistle. The messenger would travel by ship from the Mediterranean and Aegean seas through the Hellespont (or Dardanelles) and the Bosporus straits to the Euxine (or Black) Sea. His entry to Asia Minor would be at one of the Black Sea ports in Pontus, perhaps Sinope, but more likely Amastris or Amisus because of easier access to the interior. Dionysius of Corinth’s letter to “the church sojourning in Amastris, together with the churches of Pontus” (Eusebius, HE 4.23.6) provides evidence that Amastris was a port of entry to the Christian community in Pontus in the late second century, but Hemer makes a strong case for Amisus as furnishing quicker access to the whole of Asia Minor through Galatia and Cappadocia.

A generally similar land route to the one suggested by Peter’s list of provinces is described by Josephus in connection with a visit by Herod the Great and his friend Marcus Agrippa in 14 B.C. starting from Sinope: “Now when they had completed the mission on Pontus on which Agrippa had been sent, they decided not to return by sea; instead, they went successively through Paphlagonia and Cappadocia, and from there traveled overland to Great Phrygia and reached Ephesus, and again sailed from Ephesus to Samos” (Ant. Jud. 16.23). On Hort’s hypothesis, the messenger who delivered 1 Peter traveled south from Sinope or Amastris to Ancyra (i.e., Ankara) in Galatia, then possibly as far east as Caesarea in Cappadocia, back again into Galatia by the westward trade route through Iconium and Pisidian Antioch to the cities of provincial Asia mentioned in Rev 2-3, and finally north into Pontus-Bithynia once more, sailing from Asia Minor perhaps at Nicomedia or Chalcedon. Hemer’s proposed route is from Amisus south through Amasia (instead of Ancyra) to Caesarea, but for the rest of the way much the same. Either route differs from that suggested for the Book of Revelation both in its vastly greater scope and in its orientation. The “seven churches in Asia” of Rev 1:4 are oriented around Ephesus and toward the Aegean Sea. The provinces listed in 1 Peter encompass that area and much more; they suggest a route oriented rather toward the Black Sea and centering on northern and eastern churches not reached by the journeys of Paul. There is no evidence that Peter had visited these churches either. Whether he had done so, in circumstances now forgotten, or whether he is responding to reports heard in Rome (perhaps through emigrants like Aquila) is uncertain.

Karen Jobes is more cautious (1151):

Since the time of Hort (1898), some commentators have understood the order of the list – Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia – to have something to do with the route taken to deliver the letter. The most obvious feature of the list is that it does not follow a west-to-east route that one might expect if the letter arrived from Rome through one of the large ports of western Asia Minor; such as Ephesus. Although various proposals have been made, none seem able to describe an itinerary that both follows the list and is consistent with what is known of the network of roads in first-century Asia Minor – unlike the order of the seven churches of Revelation, which were on a known major route of travel in the sequence given. Moreover, such an attempt presumes that only one copy was taken ad seriatim throughout the regions named. That may be likely if only one person, namely, Silvanus (1 Pet. 5:12), was personally responsible for delivering the letter, but his exact role in the origin and delivery of 1 Peter is not known with certainty. Instead of describing an anticipated delivery route, it seems more likely that the list of regions simply represents the author’s mental map of Asia Minor, probably using the names of regions as he first learned them, even if Roman administration had subsequently altered the map.

1:2a according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,

The word “foreknowledge” (prognosis) could simply mean that God foresaw whom would be his elect or chosen. No one doubts, of course, that such an idea is included. The question is whether the term means more than this, whether it also includes the idea that God ordains whom would be elect. We should begin by observing the covenantal dimensions of the word. The word “know” in Hebrew often refers to God’s covenantal love bestowed upon his people (cf. Gen 18:19; Jer 1:5; Amos 3:2). The rich associations of that term continue in the New Testament. That foreordination also is involved is clear from Acts 2:23, where foreknowledge is paired with predestination. Romans 11:2 drives us in the same direction. Paul queries whether God has “rejected his people whom he foreknew” (NRSV). The terms “rejected” (aposato) and “foreknew” (proegno) function as antonyms. We could rephrase the verse, “Has God rejected his people whom he chose?” Paul wondered if God had set aside Israel, upon whom he had set his covenantal favor. The same notion informs Romans 8:29, where we see that God has foreknown those whom he predestined. God foreknew “people,” not objects or things. He has set his love upon them (cf. also 1 Cor 8:3; Gal 4:9). Probably the most important verse for Peter is 1 Pet 1:20, where it says that Christ “was chosen before the creation of the world.” The term translated “chosen” by the NIV is actually “foreknown” (proegnosmenou). Peter was not merely saying that God foresaw when Christ would come, though that is part of his meaning. He was also saying that God foreordained when Christ would come. Indeed, God had to plan when he would come since Christ was sent by God. Christ’s coming hardly depends on human choices. Therefore, when Peter said that believers are elect “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” he emphasized God’s sovereignty and initiative in salvation. Believers are elect because God the Father has set his covenantal affection upon them. The words “according to” (kata) may designate “result” or “cause.” (Schreiner 53-54)

Peter describes his readers’ relationship to God by referring to him as God the Father. Contrary to the popular idea that all people are entitled to call God “Father” because he is the Creator of all, Peter’s use of the term is anchored to two reference points. Of first importance, the God to whom Peter refers is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:3). God’s fatherly relationship to Christ is the theological foundation for his fatherly relationship to believers in Christ. Second, Peter develops and expands the father-child paradigm throughout his letter. The Christians to whom Peter writes have been regenerated, or reborn (anagennesas), by the imperishable seed of God’s word (1:3, 23). God has therefore become their Father, though in a different sense than he is the Father of Jesus Christ. (Jobes 1189)

1:2b in the sanctification of the Spirit,

The ESV translation could be improved by replacing “in” with “by” or “through” since the Greek (en) refers to the means by which the letter’s recipients became elect (Achtemeier 86). The Greek term for “sanctification” (hagiasmoi) could be better translated in this context as “consecration,” the setting apart of the elect (probably at their conversion) (Jobes 1209; Schreiner 54).

1:2c for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

The meaning of this sub-verse is not immediately clear. “The major problems concern the force of the preposition eis [for], the meaning of the phrase rhantismon haimatos (‘sprinkling of blood’) and its relationship to hypakoen (obedience), and the relationship of both to Iesou Christou (‘Jesus Christ’)” (Achtemeier 87). Thomas R. Schreiner finds the most satisfying translation of verse 2 to be: “The foreknowing work of God and the sanctifying action of the Spirit result in human obedience and the sprinkling of Christ’s blood” (55). Obedience refers to the conversion of the readers (1:22). The parallel phrase on the sprinkling of Christ’s blood refers to the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross needed for the readers to stand in right relation with God. John H. Elliott believes the verse means that Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will and death caused believers to be elect (319). Schreiner’s view is more popular among scholars (Jobes 1226).

The final issue in this sub-verse is why the term “sprinkling” appears and what it refers to. In the Old Testament the sprinkling of blood occurs in three circumstances: the cleansing of a leper (Lev 14:6-7), the ordination of priests (Ex 29:21), and the inauguration of the covenant under Moses (Ex 24:3-8). Peter is most likely drawing on Exodus 24:3-8 where the Israelites pledge their obedience (vv 3, 7) and are sprinkled with blood (v 8). In the words of Paul J. Achtemeier, the readers have become elect “to the end that they be the people of a new covenant, which like the covenant with Israel entails obedience and sacrifice, in this case the sacrifice of Christ” (89). Thomas R. Schreiner concludes: “Believers enter the covenant by obeying the gospel and through the sprinkled blood of Christ, that is, his cleansing sacrifice” (56).

1:2d May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

This prayer has a Jewish flavor to it. The word “grace” (charis) is used instead of the typical Greek “greetings” (chairen) (Schreiner 57). A prayer for peace was common among Jews (2 Macc 1:1; 2 Bar 78:3).

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Elliott, John Hall. 1 Peter. Yale University Press, 2007.

Jobes, Karen. 1 Peter. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2005.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Thomas Nelson, 1988.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

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