Miller, Timothy E. and Bryan Murawski. 1 Peter. A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2022. 294 pp. Hb. $32.99 Link to Kregel Ministry
Timothy Miller (Ph.D. in historical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary) has independently published Translating First Peter Clause by Clause, The Triune God of Unity in Diversity (Reformed Academic Dissertations, P&R, 2017) and Echoes of Jesus in the First Epistle of Peter (Ph.D dissertation, MBTS, Pickwick, 2022). Bryan Murawski (PhD, Old Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as an Associate Professor at Cairn University and served in pastoral ministry for more than fifteen years. His Preaching Difficult Texts of the Old Testament was published by Hendrickson (2021). He maintains a website, Preaching Difficult Texts.
In the fifteen-page introduction, Miller and Murawski argue for the traditional view that 1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter, from Rome. Since Peter was executed by Nero, the book was written some time before AD 68. They present the usual objections to these views with brief responses. 1 Peter 5:13 states the writer is in Babylon, which they (rightly) understand as a common metaphor for Rome in Second Temple period Jewish literature.
For a commentary on 1 Peter, the recipients of the letter are a matter of some debate. Based on the first verse of the letter, the readers are “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (ESV). A minority of commentaries interpret “elect exiles of the Dispersion” literally. The readers are Jewish Christians living five Roman provinces in Asia Minor. Miller and Murawski suggest the evidence “leans in favor of” the traditional view that “elect exiles of the Dispersion” is a metaphor for Gentile Christian believers. “1 Peter 1:1 is a rich metaphorical element” not a literal diaspora like James. This is a “dispersion away from one’s spiritual homeland” (33). Although some Jews may be in the audience, the readers are “primarily Gentiles.”
The introduction includes several pages of historical background setting 1 Peter in the final years of the reign of Nero. 1 Peter has a great deal to say about persecution, so the immediate background of the letter is Nero’s persecution of Christians after the Great Fire. The problem with this view is Peter is not addressing Roman Christians, but Christians living in Asia Minor. Nero’s persecution was not empire wide and there is little evidence for persecution of Christians in the regions addressed in the middle of the first century. The authors argue that 1 Peter’s readers were in danger because of recent events in Rome and Judea. Although there may not be direct persecution in their region at the moment, the readers “are not immune to the effects of persecution elsewhere” (35). Karen Jobes, for example, argues the readers are strangers and aliens because they have recently been exiled (such as Jewish expelled from Rome by Claudius). Although they say this argument should not be dismissed lightly, they understand “strangers and aliens” as a figure of speech. Christians are like Abraham, a “stranger in a strange land.”
Another key historical issue for 1 Peter is the Imperial Cult. Following Paul Achtemeier’s 1996 Hermeneia commentary on 1 Peter, Miller and Murawski suggest the imperial cult contributed to the social cohesion of the region. Because they did not take part in the imperial cult, Christians found themselves as outsiders. This may explain social persecution implied by the book. By rejecting the imperial cult, Christians threatened the social unity of the region. “Things could turn from social mockery to civil accusation quickly” (37). Peter wrote to encourage believers to stand firm in the true grace of God in the face of increasing persecution (1 Peter 5:12).
In the last section of the introduction, Miller and Murawski summarize the theology of 1 Peter. The book emphasizes God’s election and sovereignty in history, suffering as following in the footsteps of Jesus, the suffering servant, and holiness as a work of the Holy Spirit. The elect- exiles are the people of God and as such, they ought to reflect God in the place they are. The introduction also includes an excellent section on the sources for 1 Peter. First, the letter has extensive quotations and allusions to the Old Testament, perhaps as many as forty. The writer has a fondness for Isaiah and Psalm 34. A second source is the words of Christ. Building on his recent dissertation, Miller suggests a series of allusions or echoes to the Jesus tradition. Both sources are helpfully summarized in two charts.
The authors divide 1 Peter into twenty preaching units (including the introduction and conclusion, 1:1-2 and 5:6-14). Each unit begins with a summary of the exegetical idea, theological focus, preaching idea, and preaching pointers. After a brief paragraph on the literary structure and themes of the unit, Miller provides an exposition of the Greek text. Greek appears without transliteration, but most syntactical notes appear in the footnotes. There are occasional in-text citations to other commentaries, but for the most part, Miller is not heavily dependent on other commentaries. Often, he compares modern translations, explaining why these decisions were made grammatically or syntactically.
Following the exposition is a brief paragraph or two summarizing the theological focus of the section. This serves as an introduction to the preaching and teaching strategies. Murawski offers some synthesis and repeats the preaching idea once again. There are three sections (What does it mean? Is it true? Now what?) which attempt to draw contemporary connections from the text of 1 Peter to modern congregations. Finally, he offers a section entitled creativity in presentation. These are illustrations or pointers to additional resources to help pastors present this material to their congregations. Usually, these pointers descend into a list of pop culture references, but Murawski does not do this. Several times he offers advice based on his own experience preaching through first Peter. He also provides several short outlines, which will serve a busy pastor well.
One of the more difficult problems when teaching through 1 Peter is the meaning of 1 Peter 3:18-22. Miller provides a three-page sidebar on this unusual passage and a second almost full-page sidebar on 1 Enoch. After a chart borrowed from Patrick Schreiner (posted on twitter!), Miller comparison contrast five different views of what Jesus did and where he went (the “spirits in prison). Miller concludes Jesus entered a place of judgment to proclaim a message of victory over his enemies, but those enemies are fallen angels. It was not a message of salvation, and there was no chance for these fallen angels to repent. He suggests the readers would be familiar with the idea of a place of judgment for fallen angels based on 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and Jubilees. I agree. But I would suggest that no Gentile in Asia minor would read a Jewish apocalyptic book like 1 Enoch, etc. Like “elect exiles of the Dispersion,” I see this is evidence the readers were primarily Jewish Christians.
The commentary includes a series of sidebars on theological, historical, and cultural details. For example, “Israel and the church,” “the spirit of Christ and scripture,” “milk analogies in the New Testament,” “Isaiah 53 in the New Testament” and “using apocryphal texts in a sermon.” This last example is excellent. Since 1 Enoch is not a canonical text some congregations will be uncomfortable if a teacher or preacher implies it has had some influence on Peter. Murawski draws an analogy to Mere Christianity, a book that is not inspired but is helpful (and has had an influence on generations of preachers and teachers!) He also suggests references to apocryphal texts like 1 Enoch should be used sparingly. “Too much pepper on a steak can ruin a whole meal” (227).
Each unit of the commentary concludes with a few discussion questions.
Conclusion. Miller and Murawski’s commentary on 1 Peter achieves the goals of the Kerux series: solid exegesis and preaching strategies for the busy pastor. I noticed several subtle differences between this commentary and earlier contributions to the series. First, the footnotes in this volume are robust. Miller has provided excellent pointers to scholarly resources for interested readers. Second, the sidebars in this volume seem more substantial than previous Kerux volumes. That might just be my subjective impression, but I found myself flipping through the commentary, reading all the sidebars first. Third, unlike earlier Kerux volumes, there are no boxes in the expositional section for translation, syntax, and grammatical issues. Sometimes these were labeled “word study.” Miller covers these issues in the commentary’s body, but they are no longer separated from the main text with a different font, etc. I think this is an improvement and makes for a more readable commentary.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.
Other volumes reviewed in this series:
- David B. Schreiner, and Lee Compson, 1 & 2 Kings
- W. Creighton Marlowe and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: Wisdom Psalms
- Duane Garrett and Calvin Pearson, Jeremiah and Lamentations
- Gregory MaGee and Jeffrey Arthurs, Ephesians
- Thomas Moore and Timothy D. Sprankle, Philippians
- Adam Copenhaver and Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Colossians, Philemon
- Herbert Bateman and Steven Smith, Hebrews