Timothy E. Miller and Bryan Murawski, 1 Peter (Kerux)

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.

1 Peter (Kerux)

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:

Persecution as Opportunity – 1 Peter 3:13-16

Persecution is therefore not a cause for fear, but rather an opportunity to honor Christ and revere him as Lord (as opposed to Caesar!) Peter is not commanding a completely passive acceptance of suffering. Rather, he tells the readers to be ready to give an answer when asked about their hope in Christ (v. 15b). Typically this verse is used to encourage people to know what they believe and why they believe it.

This is a good application (and it is true that you ought to know why you believe what you do), but Peter has in mind believers who are being unfairly harassed because of their faith in Jesus. Although it may not be the case than anyone has Suffering Churchbeen tried before a court on account of their faith in Jesus, the word Peter uses here is typically used for a legal defense (ἀπολογία, Acts 22:1, 25:16; 1 Cor 9:3). The believer is not to revile his opponent or repay insults with insults, but he is ready to give an honest answer when asked why he suffers for his faith.

The command is to be prepared, meaning that the believer has already knows why they are willing to put up with harassment for their faith.  To prepare something is to do the work ahead of time. The word “always” or “constantly” also implies that the reasons for one’s faith are prepared and always available. Peter does not envision a sudden rush of the Holy Spirit inspiring someone to give a good defense, rather the believer has ready an explanation for why they are humbly suffering for their faith.

By way of analogy, if someone is called into court on some charge, a lawyer “prepares a case.” this means there is some investigation of the evidence so that the lawyer can anticipate questions and give a good answer. A lawyer who comes into court without ever looking at the case ahead of time will fail and the person under arrest will be convicted.

This defense is to be “with gentleness and respect.” Since the Roman world was used to verbal abuse between philosophical schools, it would be very easy for the Christian to give his defense of his faith with the same sort of abuse the orator heaps on his opponents.

This is a very convicting verse since there are many Christians who have no idea what they believe, or if they do know what they believe, they are unable to give much of a reason for that belief. (The old hymn, I need no other argument, I need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me – that is a nice sentiment, but perhaps knowing a little bit of the “device or creed” will help confirm one’s faith when suffering does occur!)

The “hope we have” should be taken as eschatological. In the midst of suffering, the believer can know than Jesus is going to return at some point at render justice. For the believer, that means vindication (they were suffering unjustly) and reward, but for the persecutor, it means punishment.

The point of all of this is that the Christian ought to maintain a clear conscience so the outsider will be ashamed to slander the Christian faith (v. 16). This seems to me to be opposite of Christianity in recent years, or perhaps it only seems so because the media is able to broadcast a few particularly shameful examples of Christian hypocrisy. Think for a moment about presidential candidates claiming to be Christian yet giving hate-filled and vulgar speeches.

Rather than dwell on people who are shameful yet claim to be believers, what are some positive examples of Christians who are living out this “patient suffering” and have given outsiders no reason to slander them?

Suffering for Doing Good – 1 Peter 3:13-16

1 Peter 3:13 makes the simple point that no one usually attacks people for doing good things. As he stated in 2:13-14, people generally do not suffer insults and persecution for doing good things (although there are always exceptions). It is better to suffer for doing good even if it is unjust, than suffer justly for doing wrong things.

The verb “zealous” may have been chosen because at this point in Judea the Zealots were beginning to coalesce into an armed resistance against Rome. Even if the “zealous Jews” were rebellion against Rome Sufferingin Judea, Peter tells his readers to channel their zeal into a quiet life that is worthy of respect.

But Peter knows that “strangers and aliens” are not always fairly treated, and it is likely that they will be attacked unjustly (v. 14-15a). The syntax of verse 14 is very difficult, the ESV’s “even if you are persecuted” expresses the optative verb well. It is not that the readers are already facing regular persecution, but the sorts of slander that outsiders usually face when they live in another culture.  The verb is a present active optative from πάσχω, the verb Jesus used to describe his suffering in Luke 22:15, for example, but it also appears frequently for Christian suffering (1 Peter 2:21, Phil 1:29). Peter may allude to the teaching of Jesus when he says that the believer will be blessed when people persecute them. In Matthew 5:10 Jesus says much the same thing (in the form of a beatitude).

The one that suffers for Christ’s sake has no reason for fear or trouble, probably an allusion to Isa 8:12-13. This is a significant because the original line in Isaiah referred to a time in Judah’s history when Jerusalem was threatened by the politics of the larger world. Isaiah is warned in 8:11 not to walk in the ways of the people of Jerusalem, who are afraid of the nations that threaten the city. In contrast, Isaiah is to not fear the things that the people fear, but rather to honor and fear the Lord alone.

The readers are living as strangers and aliens, among people that suspect them and will eventually begin to hate them and physically persecute them. The quote functions as an encouragement for the readers to fear what really needs to be feared, the Lord and him alone.  Fearing persecution is not necessary since the Romans cannot really harm the believers (Matt 10:28). Peter has just said this specifically to the wives in 3:6, now he repeats the command to the whole congregation.

Responding to Malicious Attacks – 1 Peter 3:8-12

Since Peter’s audience is about to face persecution, he tells them how they are to respond to attacks on their faith. Most scholars think that the kind of persecution that Christians faced in Asia Minor in the middle first century was the sort of insult and malicious character attacks that typically occurred in the Roman world (Jobes, 1 Peter 216; Elliott, 1 Peter, 607).

In order to build one’s own honor, it was sometimes necessary to attack an opponent in order to reduce their honor (i.e., to shame them). This is not unlike modern politics, where an opponent is often attacked publicly in order to “hurt them politically,” but it went far beyond that. In modern political cartoons some characteristic of the politician is over-emphasized (think of cartoons featuring political figures).

HIllary TrumpThe typical response to an attack on one’s character in the Roman world would be an equally spiteful attack in revenge. This sort of verbal “eye for an eye” was common and accepted as a part of society. One did not suffer insults quietly!

Peter’s command to not reply to insults with insults is therefore socially disruptive. The Christian community does not retaliate with the sort of verbal assaults common in the society.  Just as Jesus was silent, Peter said in 2:23, so too ought the Christian is not to pay back evil for evil.

Rather than reviling opponents, Peter tells his readers they are to bless those who attack them. Followers of Jesus are to be like Jesus and do good toward those who attack them, rather than follow the culture and seek revenge.  This non-retaliation is exactly what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:27-26, Matt 5:43-47, “love your enemies,” Matt 5:38-42, “turn the other cheek,” etc.). Paul teaches virtually the same thing in Romans 12:14, 17-21.

The real challenge is actually doing what Jesus, Peter and Paul all say that we ought not do. Not retaliating when we are attacked is difficult, but to actually do something that blesses our accusers is culturally shocking.

Christians sometimes reduce this “blessing” to prayer.  When we face persecution we pray for our enemy so that we can “heap burning coals on their head.” If you are praying to harm your enemy, you are not at all catching the spirit of this command, and are engaging in some sort of curse-prayer that seems inappropriate to Christians.

War On Christmas“Blessings” are tangible in this context, not simply prayers for the salvation of the bad people who are hurting you. If you are suffering abuse from someone. Peter says that it is not only inappropriate for the Christian to attack, but they ought to do some real, tangible action that brings some blessing on the attacker.  Imagine a politician who did not respond to some slander, but rather offered his attacker an opportunity to make his claim on national TV, tells people to buy the guy’s book, etc. That would be a shocking response!

But Peter is not talking to political candidates, but the church. How should Christians respond to someone who is attacking their faith? In America, the some Christians immediately go on the offensive against their alleged persecutors, claiming a a “war of Christmas” or using the Martin Luther Insult Generator to vilify them. Setting aside the question of whether this is real persecution or not, is this a proper response?

How can we “bless those who persecute” in a tangible way?

An Ideal Christian Community – 1 Peter 3:8-12

Peter concludes the ethical section of the letter with a description of what the Christian community ought to look like (v. 8).  All five of these phrases are single words in Greek, and are rare outside of this passage. (The only exception is tender hearted, although it appears in medical texts to describe a physical condition.) The first and the last words refer to the mind (φρήν, φρονέω), and the middle three refer to some aspect of emotions. This implies that there is a conscious choice to have unity or humility, to control one’s passions so that they are sympathetic and loving. Peter is not commanding the Christians to be servile, trembling before their betters. Rather, they are making a choice to have unity and humility.

1 Peter BibleUnity of mind (ὁμόφρων). This word means something like “thinking the same things.” The Greco-Roman world appreciated traditions that held communities together, especially in families. It is shameful for families to disagree among themselves, or for brothers to fight among themselves. While the modern world commonly has families with several religions or political associations, that simply did not happen in the Roman world. Families were defined by their common beliefs that everyone held. For Peter, the Christian community has a set of beliefs and values that define it as a “family” so that outsiders can see that there is no discord within the family.

Sympathy (συμπαθής). This word does not mean “pity,” as it does in modern English. If “unity of mind” means thinking the same things, sympathy refers to “feeling the same things.” The passions of the Christian community are unified in the same way their beliefs are. Again, on the analogy of a family, the Christian community ought to respond to situations with a similar emotion (compassion on those who need it, encouragement to those who need it, etc.)

Brotherly love (φιλάδελφος). This virtue is found in descriptions of families, where the “brother” is literal (it appears on gravestones, for example, praising the person for being a good brother).  It is shameful in the Roman world for siblings to fight and feud among themselves.

A tender heart (εὔσπλαγχνος). Like sympathy, a “tender heart” sounds like “soft heart,” or even pity. A hard-hearted person never forgives or hears another person’s views, but a “tender heart” is open and teachable.  Quite literally the word refers to “good compassion. (It actually means “good bowels” and appears in medical texts referring to regularity).  Like brotherly love, the tender heart is a characteristic of a family in the Roman world (see f0or example, Pilch and Malina, Biblical Social Values and their Meaning).

A humble mind (ταπεινόφρων). Of the five virtues listed here, humility was the least likely to be considered a virtue in the Greco-Roman world.  The competition for honor in the Roman world made humility and humble service of others a liability. Imagine an athlete who humbly allows others to succeed without thinking about his own success, a rare thing indeed! But in a family, the other members of the family do what they can to help their brothers and sisters succeed because any success brings honor to the family.

These virtues are particularly applicable to the family, especially brotherly love and tender hearts (Jobes, 1 Peter, 214). The reason for this is that Peter sees the Church as a “real family” that deserves the kind of loyalty one finds in biological families.

The Church is supposed to be a place where the believer is free from the sort of hostile attacks that they face when they are in the world.  When the believers gather, they are coming from situations where they are the subject of malicious gossip or abuse on account of their faith in Jesus (the unsaved husband or the unsaved master in the previous passage).  Peter wants his churches to be like the proper family that the individual Christians have lost when they accepted Christ as savior.