Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Aliens? 1 Peter 1

In Summary:

We finished Luke a few weeks back, and I’ve been wrestling over how to get into the next book installment of Through the Whole Bible here on the blog. I’ve covered three of the Gospels, Acts, and a few Pauline Epistles. I’m almost done with the Pentateuch (finally!) on the Old Testament side. I’m not ready to tackle Revelation here…I may even pull a Calvin and not ever do Revelation! (Seriously, there are 46 Logos volumes, or 23 print volumes, of Calvin’s Commentaries. He stops at Jude.)

I thought we’d take a trip together into 1 and 2 Peter for the next few months. I’ve written a bit before, in fragments, on Peter’s Epistles (see here), but not as part of this series. As with any of the New Testament Epistles, it’s hard to get past the first verse without camping out. We’ll throw 1 Peter 1:1 under the In Focus section, then, and try to summarize the rest of chapter 1.

Which will not be simple. Peter writes to the church-at-large, rather than to a specific local church. He highlights the mercy of God amid trials (v.4-6) and goes on to emphasize the continuity of the Christian message with the prophets of old.

We also see that Peter is concerned that the believers evidence their faith by acting on it. He does not suggest social improvement projects or joyful community service. From v. 13-19 the command is to live out the holiness of God through a mind prepared for action, with fear of God, and in recognition of God’s impending judgment of humanity.

The chapter concludes with a reminder of the eternal nature of the Word of God, including a reference to Isaiah 40 and the statement that the “Word of the Lord endures forever.” It was a good reminder to those he called “aliens” back in verse 1.

In Focus:

Let us take the focus light and shine it on 1 Peter 1:1. The first point that rises is “Peter.” Peter, whose life changed as he started following Jesus back on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Peter. If you know the Gospels, you’ve heard of Peter. There are whole volumes written about his life, his work, his theology, and his legacy.

What I would focus on in this: Peter opens with his name. Yes, it is the standard pattern of letters in the time. Except for Hebrews and 1-3 John, that is. You see, anonymous was possible—we even accept all four anonymous Gospels, though our traditions tell us the authors. Peter could have posted this to churches that knew him and would have listened.

But he chose to be clear about who it was from. To invoke his legacy, his whole legacy, into the message. He made it personal, not by making it about him but by being clear the message is from him.

The second point of focus is the reference to believers as “aliens.” I’m glad “Christian” stuck as the label, but I could go with alien. Wrapped up in this label are all the things we ought to be: different but present; obvious but similar; foreign but respectful. That sums up the Christian life.

In Practice:

Two quick notes on practice from these focused points. First, make the message personal. It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus—that is absolutely true. But if you are not personally involved in living and proclaiming the message, what are you doing? And what are you hiding from?

Second, be an alien. Your thought processes, your actions, your attitudes, all ought to be different as a Christian. And it should be clearly visible to the people around you. Aliens stand out—aliens in residence do their best to respect the indigenous population but remain true to their heritage. Do the same.

In Nerdiness: 

A pair of nerd notes:

1. Most of the locations mentioned are in modern-day Turkey. That’s not exhaustive, but a good generalization.

2. The consensus of my sources is that Peter writes this, likely with the aid of Silas (Silvanus, 5:12). Overall, there’s no definite reason to remove the writing of this letter from Peter’s lifetime and ministry. Many of the grammatical/vocabulary arguments are blurred when one considers the work of Silas as an amanuensis.

And an unpaired note: probably, Peter writes this with Silas around the early 60s AD. It’s likely Peter was in Rome at the time, but not under any form of arrest or threat. That comes a bit later.

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