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.

20 thoughts on “1 Peter and the Diaspora

  1. Like you said, it is hard to know if Peter did visit these places or not. I do not think that it really matters if he did visit them or not. It would not make the writings any more affective or not. They are still the same. I think that Peter might have been more loving toward them or know more about them if he did visit them, but if he did not visit them, he would still have love for them and care about them.
    Also, even though these books may reflect Jewish Christianity, I still think that we are leaving out the mention of Matthew. I think that Matthew is the most Jewish book of all of them because it was written to the Jews to show them Christ in a way that they would understand. I think that we can not forget that.

  2. Could it be possible that Peter was addressing the literally addressing the “Elect” or “Scatted” Jews and metaphorically writing about a New Israel? Reapplying the language most commonly used for the Jewish Diaspora to the church makes sense to me. Did Peter not have a vision from God revealing the new covenant? (Acts 10:11-15). I find it hard to think that after such a revelation from the Lord Peter would focus solely on the Jews. I do believe that a majority of the book is addressed to the Jews. Yet the title of “Sojourner” or “Stranger” does not designate a person or people group as part of the “Elect”. No reason may be found for such a stance to be taken, but that is quite alright with me. Agreeing with the professor typically leads to sounding very redundant and using all the same quotes. Jeremiah the prophet clearly designated his letter in chapter 29 to the exiles who were taken from Jerusalem to Babylon. Apart from not being directly addressed to the Diaspora, the book of 1 Peter is somewhat similar to Jeremiah 29. Yet, a clear distinction can be made between the two.

    • “I find it hard to think that after such a revelation from the Lord Peter would focus solely on the Jews.” (Nick Schippers)
      “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.” (P.Long)
      Although I think you are correct Nick, that Peter, after having such a revelation from God would seem to be compelled to preach not only to the Jews, but the gentiles as well. But in the case of this letter, it seems as if P. Long is correct in saying this particular letter is written to the Jews of the Diaspora. Peter continually encourages his readers to be an example for the Gentiles among them. “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Pet. 2:12) Again in chapter 4 “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.”(14) This verse is concerning the admonishment of his audience for not doing the things that the gentiles do. So I would safely assume that Peter is commending the audience for living holy and blameless lives in the face of unholy temptations.

      • A couple of things to note…

        “For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” – 1 Peter 4.3 I don’t know if it was a quote from page 14, or just a mistake as to the verse. 🙂

        Anyways, it is interesting that in the NIV, the word the ESV translates ‘Gentiles’ is translated ‘Pagans.’ Several other translations also render this word as something other than Gentiles. In the New Testament, this word, ‘ethnos’ is used primarily to describe people separated from God. It is translated as Gentiles, Pagans, Nations, and a few others, but every time it is used, it is used separate from the group under the leadership of God, whether Jews or Christians. That being said, I don’t know if it is an accurate statement to say, “Peter continually encourages his readers to be an example for the Gentiles among them,” – J. Rodgers because at this point, based on the dating from FttE, like Keith said, the Jew/Gentile integration was well underway. At this point, many Gentiles were Christians, so it would seem that the distinction now needed to be made not between Jews who had God and Gentiles who didn’t, but Jews and Gentiles alike who were Christians, and the heathens, or pagans who lived in the sin described in 1 Peter.

        However, I would like to say that I do agree with Jacobs point about the commendation of Peter to his audience, but I would say this is almost more of an argument against the point trying to be made with it. “So I would safely assume that Peter is commending the audience for living holy and blameless lives in the face of unholy temptations.” – J. Rodgers Again, based on the integration of Jews and Gentiles in the church, it makes more sense to make the distinction between those who follow Christ, and the Pagans who are living in sin. If the church is full of Jews and Gentiles, which it most likely is, it would not be fair to those Gentile Christians in the church to lump all Gentiles into the category that 1 Peter commends his audience for being an example to.

        “As FttE notes with me, there is a large amount of OT references, the letter is dependent upon them.” – K. Van

        As far as who the book is written to, I think Keith probably points out the most compelling point towards a Jewish audience. Granted the questions are all good, like the integration of the church, and Peter’s vision from heaven, but the fact of the matter is, the abundance of OT reference in this book supports the idea of a primarily Jewish audience, even in the integrated church.

      • “If the church is full of Jews and Gentiles, which it most likely is, it would not be fair to those Gentile Christians in the church to lump all Gentiles into the category that 1 Peter commends his audience for being an example to.” (C. Duke)
        Casey is right in saying that it would be wrong to lump Gentile Christians in with the group of Gentiles referred to in those passages and I’m terribly sorry if I implied gentile Christians had “pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” – 1 Peter 4.3 I only meant to refer to the general gentile population that would be in that area. I would also like to think that this letter is written fairly early to a mostly if not entirely Jewish Christian audience due to the references to the ‘elect’ and ‘scattered’. These could also be referring to the church I guess, but I find it highly unlikely due to the similarity to Hebrews and James. Also seeing as how whenever he is referring to the ‘gentiles’ or ‘pagans’ it is in a very negative light seems to imply that these specific gentiles are not apart of the congregation. (NASB, KJV, NKJV, ASB, and Darby also use the term Gentile.) Thank you also for the correction on the verse reference, I must have been combining the named reference with the one before, any matter I don’t know where the 14 came from.

    • Nick – I think that it is a fact that language of a “sojourner” or “stranger” eventually was applied to a Gentile church (I can give you a couple of great country songs along that line!) But this comes down to the date of the book. If Peter, a Jew called to minister to the Jews, calls his readers “sojourners,” that seems to resonate with the OT usage of the word as a metaphor for the Jews, along with Elect and Diaspora, I cannot imagine how that could be missed.

      But if historical Peter did not write the book, and it was written in the 80’s, then the possibility of the metaphor shifting from the Jews to the Gentile – Jewish church is higher. If the letter was written in AD 200 (which no one imagines it was), then I think that the assumption that this is a transfer of a Jewish metaphor to the Gentiles is certain.

      So, the closer you get to a historical Peter, the more likely a Jewish reference was intended.

    • Love that brother… I think Peter’s Epistles were referring to the Church(including Gentiles and Jews alike) but using languages he is acquainted with; Jewish way of writing…. 1 Peter 5 vs 13 prove somehow that Peter was at the church in Babylon when writing this epistle….. So he addresses the Church with Jewish way of writing just like the Pauline epistle always refers to cities in a Romanic way ie ways he is acquinated with….

      • Thanks for the comment….

        Most scholars take “Babylon” as a reference to Rome, as in Revelation 17 (the great whore of Babylon is clearly Rome). Babylon was the great enemy of Israel in the OT and they destroyed the Temple in 586 B.C., for this reason Jewish writers in the first century were using Babylon as a cipher for Rome.

  3. I agree that it is hard to prove or disprove that Peter visited any of those places. He could have gained first hand knowledge or he could have gained second hand knowledge from Silas. Either way like Jessica said he still would care about them either way. He would feel for them because he knows their place.

  4. In this post, I would like to review 1 Peter to determine the primary audience of the letter. I will, in favor of a Jewish Christian audience, argue as such. As the introduction says, and as P-Long points out, the letter is addressed to the “elect” who are “scattered” (v1). V10 speaks of the promise of salvation that was spoken by the prophets “that was to come to you.” 1 Peter seems to imply a direct connection between the audience now and who the prophets spoke to then. Peter’s exhortation in v16 is direct quote from the OT, “Be holy, because I am holy.” V24 is another direct quote from Is 40. In 2.4-8, the author uses a typology of the stone from the OT. There is also a good amount of proverbial attestations within the letter. As FttE notes with me, there is a large amount of OT references, the letter is dependent upon them. Though I believe the audience to be Jewish Christians, I see room for God-fearing Gentiles because of 1.10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” I believe this to refer back to Gentile inclusion as prophesied in the prophets and not merely remembering the start of Israel as a nation with a promise.

    • “Be holy, because I am holy.” V24 is another direct quote from Is 40. This could also be Leviticus, the Typology of the stone appears in Jesus’ teaching, although it is the “stone the builders rejected.” I’ll add Eph 2 here as well, the church is a temple of God being built up into a holy habitation.

      BTW, the list of FttE of references to the OT is a powerful argument in favor of a more Jewish congregation.

      • Many good comments made by all. I think Peter was writing to a predominantly Jewish church. The whole language of the book makes it clear to me. “Dispersion” 1:1, “the elect” 1:2, “the prophets have inquired and searched carefully” 1:10 All of these and extensive OT quotes and allusions would have resonated with a mostly Jewish church. I like the midrash in 1 Peter 2:4-17 of “the Christologized stone metaphor” (FttE 109). “Here the writer would appear to combine OT references with contemporary notions of God’s people” (FttE 109).

  5. After having written my first post, I have a series of questions as a result of the intended audience of 1 Peter. FttE dates this letter around AD 65; let us keep this date in the fore of our minds. First, it troubles me that the audience of 1 Peter, at first glance, appears to be Jewish Christians. However, the date of the letter tells us that the integrative church of Jew and Gentile was well underway making it seem odd that a letter would be designated to one group out of both. Furthermore, the question of God’s faithfulness is not being pulled into question as in Hebrews and Romans giving no need to address Jew over Gentile. Rather, the letter seems mostly exhortative, resting heavily on morality and perseverance. There is also the issue of relation between Jew and Gentile; there is no problems between the two groups that is being addressed as in Galatians and Corinthians. Peter either does not want to deal with any of these issues, highly unlikely, or the major problems between the two have come to pass as result of perhaps Paul’s letters, still does not seem likely, or Peter is putting issues aside to deal with more pressing matters, continuing in the faith. I see the latter of these more likely than the others. 1 Peter is not a letter dealing with relational issues within the church per se as much as it is dealing with relations with paganism, rulers, and authorities, i.e. everything in opposition to God’s kingdom. What is to make of all this? I am sure much of this will be covered in class so this is pondering material until then.

    • Very interesting points…
      “the integrative church of Jew and Gentile was well underway making it seem odd that a letter would be designated to one group out of both” (Keith). If this were the case, would that really be so strange? Maybe these specific issues had to do with the Jewish-Christians and not so much with the Gentile-Christians. Perhaps it makes sense that “the letter seems mostly exhortative, resting heavily on morality and perseverance” (Keith), maybe this is what the Jewish-Christians needed to hear. Perhaps there were pressing matters that needed to be talked about.

      Today, I could imagine writing special letters for Christians in Haiti and Chile who’ve had to deal with natural disasters. Perhaps they are struggling with the faith, would it be so strange to write the believers there and not elsewhere? The answer is obviously no. Maybe 1 Peter was a letter to the Jewish Christians of the time, telling them exactly what they needed to hear.

    • “the integrative church of Jew and Gentile was well underway.” This would be the case if we knew for certain that there was an “integration,” but James is still pastoring a large number of Jewish Christians who are priests and Pharisees in 58, and Paul can still talking about the “circumcision party” in the pastorals (after 62). So the “struggle” witnessed in Galatia is still a problem in the early to mid 60’s.

      Something else Keith said is important: “1 Peter is not a letter dealing with relational issues within the church per se as much as it is dealing with relations with paganism, rulers, and authorities…” This is absolutely correct, the theme is a “live so as not to bring dishonor in the church.” (IMHO, that is a big theme in Titus as well). I think that is the reason there is nothing really about Jew – Gentile relationships — at this point they are being integrated against their will by people who wish to persecute Christians!

      It is a this point that Jew needed encouragement to suffer for his faith in Jesus — he could have gone back to the synagogue and claimed to be something different than the Christian. This likely happened, but I will say that Jews were persecuted in the Diaspora as well.

  6. Have you read Karen Jobes excellent commentary on 1 Peter?

    She makes the case that the original recipients were indeed Jews and that they were those expelled from Rome in the late 40s under Claudius and that they were known to Peter from their time in rome where Peter had gone following his departure from Jerusalem in 42ish.

    I’d be intereste to know what you make of her case. I think it strengthens your argument.

    • Thanks Simon, I will get a copy of her commentary immediately. I have seen it of course, but never taken the time to examine it. A shame on me!

  7. According to Galatians chapter 2, Peter actually confined his ministry to the Jew. His gospel is the gospel of the circumcision. Peter only went to one Gentile in his ministry. That is in Acts 10, after the conversion of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles! The language Peter uses is used of Israel in Exodus 19:6, when he writes in i Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”

    Nowhere else in scripture is the Church, the Body of Christ called a race, priesthood, or a nation. The Gentiles are always called the nations. Unless replacement theology is true, and I believe it is not, Peter is writing to Jews and not Gentiles. Believing Gentiles are not the Israel of God. The true Israel of God are believing Jews. Spiritual Israel is the spiritual seed within the natural seed!

  8. Thanks Mike, Gal 2 is obviously another bit of evidence confirming what I wrote here, although I was limiting my comments only to 1 Peter. I wrote this three years ago, and since then I have taught through 1 Peter at least one more time. I remain convinced that Peter is addressing Jewish Christians, although I am suspicuis that he never actually visited some (or any) of the synagogues in the huge region he mentions.

  9. Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
    11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

    14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

    19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

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