1 Peter and the Diaspora

Like James, Peter’s first letter appears to reflect a Jewish Christianity.  Surprisingly, this is not the majority opinion.  In his brief notes on 1 Peter in the ESV Study Bible,  Thomas Schriener comments that  “Most scholars are convinced that the recipients of 1 Peter were primarily Gentiles” (ESVSB 2402).  Carson and Moo (Introduction, 647) assume a mixed congregation.  Raymond Brown (Introduction, 720) also sees the target audience of 1 Peter as “Gentiles who have been heavily catechized with a strong appreciation of Judaism.”

There are several indications that Peter is addressed to Jewish Christians congregations, which may include God-Fearing Gentile converts, but I would prefer to see these primarily Jewish Christian churches.

1 Peter 1:1 addresses “the elect” who are “scatted” (1:1, NIV).  Both words are significant in that they point to a Jewish audience.  The “Elect” is a common self-designation in Judaism.  They are the nation which God chose (via Abraham, or in the prophets, when he rescued the nation out of Egypt).   “Scattered” is the Greek diaspora, the Diaspora.  This was a word used frequently to describe Jews loving outside of the Land, including those regions addressed in 1 Peter 1:1.

These elect believers are described as being in exile (ESV).  This word is better translated as “sojourners,” or “strangers.” The Greek parepidamos is rare in the New Testament, occurring here, 2:11 and Heb 11:13 referring to the children of Abraham (LXX Gen 23:24, LXX PS 38:13, 39:12 ET).  The synonym paroikos appears in Acts 7:6 with a similar sense.

If one sees the addressees of 1 Peter as Gentile, then these descriptions must be taken as metaphors.  It is assumed that the church is New Israel, and so Christians like Peter picked up on language once applied to the Jewish Diaspora and re-apply it spiritually to the Church (as Schreiner does in ESVSB 2405).   If Peter, like James, is writing a letter to other Diaspora Jews, then there is no reason to take the language referring to anything other than Jewish believers.

There are several other examples of letters to Jews in the Diaspora.  In Jer 29:4-23 a letter is sent to Jews living in Babylon.  Similarly, 2 Baruch 78-87 imagines a similar letter sent from Baruch after the fall of Jerusalem.  The first chapter of 2 Maccabees is a letter sent to Alexandrian Jews.  James should also be included in this list, as well as the book of Hebrews, which is addressed to Jews living in Rome in the mid first century, although the word Diaspora does not appear there.  It is therefore Peter stands in a tradition of Jewish writers and leaders writing to Jews in the Hellenistic world to encourage them in their belief and practice.

I suppose that we can revisit the question of a few days ago – is there anything in the letter (or in history, tradition, etc.) that makes us think Peter actually visited congregations in these regions?  Since we know little of Peter’s ministry after Acts 12, it is hard to be dogmatic.

Peter and Corinth

Bill Heroman’s blog has a nice extension of the question I raised yesterday about Peter and Corinth.  He gives five good reasons to think that Peter did in fact go to Corinth, three of which are quite convincing.

Here’s his “thought experiment.”

Bill Says….

If Peter had innocently assumed all the gentile issues had really been fixed by Jerusalem’s letter (an assumption easier to maintain from Jerusalem, but one which Paul’s entire career proves is false) – then Peter probably went in unprepared; overconfident that all was well. The controversies were all taken care of. In that mindset, Peter casually mentions Jerusalem’s letter. At that point, most likely, someone in Corinth says, “What letter?”

Good question — what evidence do we have that Paul ever distributed the letter from the Apostolic council?  He never refers to it in his letters, even if there is good reason that he might.  Perhaps Peter went to Corinth in order to “check out” the Pauline mission to Gentiles as he did with Philip’s mission in Antioch, or even the diaspora situation in Antioch. (I think Barnabas went first for that reason, but quickly gave way to Paul).  This is (for me) the best explanation for Peter’s presence in Corinth.

Peter After Acts 15

Any “quest for the Historical Peter” faces serious challenges. James Dunn titled his chapter on Peter in his book on the apostolic period “The Voiceless Peter” (Beginning at Jerusalem, chapter, 35). His point is that the book of Acts has little to say about Peter after chapter 12 and there is no historically reliable data which allows us to know much at all about Peter’s ministry after Acts 15. Part of the problem for Dunn is that he does not accept 1 Peter as coming from a historical Peter, although he discusses the locations from 1 Peter 1:1 as possible locations for Peter to have ministered and he uses the reference to Babylon in 5:13 as a in that Peter was in fact in Rome in the early 60’s.

As is usual, the earliest information we have on Peter’s ministry comes from Paul. According to Gal 2, Peter spent some time in Antioch. Based on Paul’s comments in Corinthians, it is usually though that Peter worked in Corinth at some time after Paul founded the church. Peter is mentioned in 1 Corinthians four times, once in the traditional evidence of the resurrection, and twice in the context of factionalism in Corinth (1:12 and 3:22). Lastly, he is mentioned in 1 Cor 9:5 as traveling as an apostle with his wife.

That there was a faction in Corinth that saw Peter as a leader does not mean that Peter ministered in the city. Jews from all over the empire passed through Corinth, as seen by Aquila and Priscilla. If there were factions in Jerusalem (James, Peter, maybe later John), then those factions could be present in Corinth as well.

That there is a group that claims only to follow Christ implies is important since it is obvious that Jesus did not visit Corinth. This faction looked to Jesus as a sole source of authority perhaps because they were followers of Jesus during his ministry and have since relocated to Corinth. The same might be true for those of the Peter faction. They knew Peter from Judea and considered him to be the chosen successor to Jesus, the leader of the Twelve.

More positively, 1 Cor 9:5 does in fact state that Peter traveled, implying that Peter engaged in some sort of mission activity.. The implication is that he traveled with his wife and when he was in a location his needs were covered by the church in which he ministered. This sounds as if Peter traveled to established churches and provided some sort of teaching services, perhaps as a witness of Jesus’ ministry and teaching it was important for him to pass along this tradition to the next generation. This means that it is at least possible that Peter traveled as far as Corinth and taught in one or more of the house churches in that location, but it is not required by Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 1:12.

Peter’s traveling ministry may have been to observe or inspect churches in order to see of they were keeping the traditions as they were handed down to them. Acts 8 is evidence that Peter and John did this, following up on Philip’s ministry in Samaria and dealing with a potential problem, Simon Magus. This also may explain his interest in the Antioch churches as well. The impression we get from the book of Acts is not that Peter is a church planter, but rather a traveling teacher who builds up already-established congregations by ensuring that these churches are teaching the apostolic Faith.

What is the Diaspora?

James 1:1 indicates that he is writing to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.”  Assuming that this line is to be read literally, we need to understand what a Jewish writer would have meant when he said “twelve tribes” and Dispersion.  Simply put, a Jew living in the diaspora was a Jew living outside of the land.  But things are a bit more complicated than that.

The Judaism of the first century developed the way it did because of the exile. This is the single event which shaped the religion primarily because it stripped the Jews of all things which constituted ethnicity.  They no longer had land, their language began to shift from Hebrew to Aramaic, and there was a significant threat from intermarriage.  The Jews, as a people, were at risk of losing their ethnicity.

How did the Jews survive the exile? All other peoples of the ancient world integrated and disappeared from history (for example, how many people claim to be Moabites these days?)  The primary factor is Jewish Religious Tradition. This was a powerful force, based on scripture, which kept them from assimilating into a host culture. Centers of Jewish cultures developed in Alexandria, Elephantine, Babylon, etc. and continued to develop well into the current era. It is likely that Babylon and Alexandria were superior centers of Judaism to Jerusalem for much of the Second Temple period.

Those who chose to live outside of the land rather than return to Jerusalem always face problems in living in accordance with their traditional customs.  The main three which are typically identified: monotheism, Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws.  It is not a surprise to find these as the main points of controversy in the New Testament.  While Paul does not shift on monotheism, he does not require gentiles to conform to the other three boundary markers and it is at least possible he may have been open to Jews not practicing food laws or worshiping on a day other than Sabbath.

The important thing to remember when thinking about the Diaspora is that it was not as much geographical as cultural.  Paul might encounter strongly traditional Jews in Ephesus or Rome, and relatively “liberal” Jews in Jerusalem.  In fact, I suggest that the Jews who ran the Temple in the first century were far less traditional than the Jews who worshiped in the Greek-speaking synagogues in and around Jerusalem. The first violent persecution grew out of the Greek-speaking synagogue (Acts 7).

So back to James.  I think that he is certainly writing to Jews who are Christians, but they are people who may very well represent the more conservative form of Judaism before accepting Jesus as Lord.  If this is true, it may explain James’ insistence on good works, for example, as a sign of true faith.  To what extent does James’ letter actually reflect diaspora thinking?

The Old Testament in Hebrews

One cannot help but be impressed by the knowledge of the Hebrew Bible displayed by the writer of Hebrews.  What is more, he handles scripture in a subtle way which brings out nuances of meaning which are not obvious to the casual reader.  George Guthrie’s article on the Old Testament in Hebrews gives three uses of scripture in the book of Hebrews.  Chain Quotations and Example lists are fairly straightforward, so I will focus on midrash here.

Midrash is a method of interpretation which uses key words to make connections between texts.  These connections are often surprising.  Texts are connected on the basis of similar vocabulary and similar themes.  Guthrie points out that in Hebrews 10:5-7 the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 39:7-9 (LXX) and builds his argument around the words “then” and “will.”  In fact, then word “then” is used to imply that “the old order has been set aside” and has been replaced by a new order in Jesus (Guthrie, 843).

Hebrews 7 does some remarkable things with the text of Genesis.  Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood because he was the “King of Righteousness,” he has no genealogy, and Abraham tithed to him.  He is therefore an eternal priest who is superior to Levi, since Levi was present in Abraham when he gave a tithe to Melchizedek.  I think that if your pastor tried to do this sort of exegesis next Sunday Morning, you might have some objections! Yet here in Hebrews we have a sort of exegetical maneuver which argues Jesus is superior to the Levitical priesthood, employing a method recognized by Jewish scholars of the day.   Read Genesis Rabbah, 43:6, 56:10 for similar comments to Hebrews.

Midrash-like techniques are found in Paul and Jesus as well some of the apostolic fathers.  If this was a legitimate method of interpretation in the first centuries of the church, why do most Christians reject it as an inappropriate way to read the Bible? Perhaps we do not reject it as much as we like to think.

Frequently midrash is described as a form of intertextuality.  Intertextuality is a bit of a buzz word in biblical studies a the moment, perhaps because it sounds a bit like trendy post-modern literary hermeneutics.  Many have pointed out that scholars who describe their method as “intertextual” are really working with the same sorts of principles as Jewish midrash and are not at all doing post-modern intertextual studies.  This is a valid criticism, although most New Testament scholars will stop short of creating a midrash.  Most of us are content to find the method used in Hebrews.

I suspect that it is the pastor  who “does midrash” as he seeks to explain the text of the Hebrew Bible to a congregation, although I doubt many pastors consciously try to create new meaning from a text by finding key words and connections between texts.  While some may be legitimate, most of the time they do not bear up to close study.

Bibliography: G. Guthrie, “Old Testament in Hebrews,” pages 841-850 in The Dictionary of Later New Testament (Downer’s Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1997).

Endure, in the Light of the Future (Hebrews 10:32-39)

In Hebrews 10:32-39 the writer of Hebrews invites his readers to “recall the former days,” likely a reference to the time just after the accepted Christ.  The writer wants the readers to recall what they have already suffered so that they might continue to endure in the present.  What have they already endured?

They endured struggle with suffering. Whenever people in the Roman world accepted Christ, they necessarily rejected the culture of the Roman World – their gods associated practices.  For this they suffered some level of persecution.  The book of Acts demonstrates that the Greco-Roman world did in fact “fight back” against the Pauline mission in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Ephesus.

They were publicly exposed to reproach and affliction. While some commentators have connected this with the persecution of Nero, this does not seem to be the case.  It may refer to the Claudius’ decree expelling Jews from Rome; or it is a general comment that describes the experience of many Christians in the first century.  The noun used for reproach (ὀνειδισμός) is used only a few time sin the New Testament, most importantly for the suffering of Jesus in Rom 15:3 (citing Ps 68:10), and similarly in Heb 11:26 (Moses’ reproach in Egypt).   The word-group has the connotation of “loss of standing connected to disparaging speech” (BDAG), perhaps a reference to rumors and lies spread about Christians which led to their loss of property in the community.  The verb translated “be shamed” (θεατρίζω) is only used here in the New Testament and includes a public shaming, the related noun has to do with a theater or public spectacle.  The suffering described is not “behind closed doors,” but rather in front of the whole community.

They had compassion on those in prison. Those who have been arrested and placed in prison must be cared for by friends and family.  The Roman world did not usually imprison people for punishment, so they were in prison until they face trial.   Compassion on the prisoner is part of the duty of a disciple of Jesus (Matt 25, for example, Philippians).

They joyfully accepted plundering of their possessions. The readers “welcomed” the loss of their property, with the connotation of friendliness.  Imagine if someone was losing their home to a creditor and their property was being repossessed, and they helped carry their stuff to the trucks and served the workers coffee and donuts!  We cannot know how the readers were joyful or if they acted in this way to the ones who were attacking them, but the idea here is that they did not fight the loss of property because they know where their treasure truly is kept.  These people who lost property could do so because they knew they had a “better possession” which is real, abiding. This word will also re-appear in 11:26 describing Moses loss of position in Egypt.  In fact, this verse anticipates Moses as an example of one who suffered great loss for the cause of Christ.

All of this suffering is not simply in the past (when they were first enlightened). They are in fact suffering now, and perhaps the writer is concerned that their ongoing suffering will cause some of the readers to become discouraged to the point of “shrinking back.”

The faith of these early Christians is remarkable since I think that most American Christians would “shrink back” well before they were publicly shamed or lost property on account of their faith.  If it was going to cost you money, position, or status to attend a church meeting, would you be as eager to attend a service?   Or would you give up meeting together in order to avoid suffering?  Frankly I think that most of us would find a convenient excuse to avoid suffering, since we make those excuses now without external pressure.

Jesus and the Heavenly Sanctuary

Jesus is superior because he ministers in the “true tent” as opposed to the earthly “copy and shadow.”  He is not a priest in the earthly tabernacle or temple, but rather in the “real tabernacle” which is in heaven.  This text alludes to Exodus 25:40 which indicates that the original tabernacle was built after a pattern which was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

In Exodus Moses received the plan for the Tabernacle from God.  The noun tabnit means something like “an architectural plan” often with the connotation that the item which is designed follows the pattern of something else.  An idol, for example, is in the pattern of a person or animal (Deut 4:16-18, referring to “graven images.”)   In the Greek translation, the word is tupos, a pattern or plan.  But in philosophical writings the word can have the sense of archetype, the ideal thing after which something is patterned.

As with other elements of Israel’s history, the writer of Hebrews is creating a typology between the earthly, historical fact of the tabernacle and the heavenly, “substance behind the reality.”  The writer is explaining that the heavenly is greater than the earthly, therefore the heavenly priest who ministers in the heavenly sanctuary is superior to the earthly.

It is significant that 8:2 states that the earthly tabernacle was set up by the Lord, alluding to Num 24:5-6 (describing the loveliness of the tents pitched by the Lord).  The immediate reference is to the tabernacle, but all of creation is the “tent pitched by the Lord” (Isa 42:15; 40:22).  The tabernacle was a kind of replica of Eden, decorated with trees and guarded by Cherubim.

Does this imply that there really is a “heavenly sanctuary”?  Possibly, since the idea of a heavenly sanctuary is common in both the Hebrew Bible and in the Second Temple period literature.  Ezekiel 40-48 is most obvious example, but see also Jub 31:34, 1 Enoch 90:28f., 1QSb 4.24ff, (Mark 14:58 may also be included here, although this comes on the lips of false witnesses at the time of Jesus’ trial.)   But the point the writer is trying to make is that just as the copy is inferior to the original, so too the earthly copy is inferior to the heavenly perfection.  If Jesus is a high priest in that heavenly sanctuary, then his priesthood and sacrifice are also therefore superior.

Ellingworth (Hebrews, 408) sees this passage as a reversal of the intent of Exodus 24.  There, Moses had a copy of the perfect model from heaven, therefore the worship in the tabernacle was superior to any other form of worship.  Here in Hebrews, he argues, the copy Moses made is inferior to the heavenly reality in Jesus. But these may not be mutually exclusive points, Moses’ tabernacle was superior to all forms of worship in the Ancient world, but now in Jesus the “substance” of Jesus’ ministry is greater than the shadow of Moses’ ministry.

The writer therefore sums up the argument so far in the book (Jesus and his high priesthood are superior to the levitical priesthood) and anticipates the major point of this chapter – that the covenant under which Jesus operates is superior to the old.