ΠΕΤΡΟΥ ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ Α
ΠΕΤΡΟΣ ΑΠΟΣΤΟΛΟΣ ΙΥ ΧΡΥ ΕΚΛΕ|ΚΤΟΙΣ ΠΑΡΕΠΕΙΔΗΟΙΣ ΔΙΑΣΠΟ|ΡΑΣ ΠΟΝΤΟΥ ΓΑΛΑΤΙΑΣ ΚΑΠΑΔΟ|ΚΕΙΑΣ ΑΣΣΙΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΒΙΘΗΝΙΑΣ ΚΑΤΑ |
ΠπουΝΩΣΙΝ ΘΥ ΠΡΣ ΕΝ ΑΓΙΑΣ|ΜΩ ΠΝΣ ΕΙΣ ΥΠΑΚΟΗΝ ΚΑΙ
ΡΑΝ|ΤΙΣΜΟΝ ΑΙΜΑΤΟΣ ΙΥ ΧΡΥ ΧΑΡΕΙΣ ...
OF-PETER. LETTER 1.
PETER AN-APOSTLE OF-JESUS CHRIST, TO-THE-CHO|SEN EXILES OF-THE-DISPER|SION OF-PONTUS, OF-GALATIA, OF-CAPPADO|CIA, OF-ASIA AND OF-BITHYNIA; ACCORDING-TO | THE-FOREKNOWLEDGE OF-GOD THE-FATHER IN SANCTICA|TION OF-THE-SPIRIT [RESULTING]-IN OBEDIENCE, AND SPRIN|KLING OF-THE-BLOOD OF-JESUS CHRIST. GRACE ...
|Bodmer Papyrus P72, is dated by writing style to the 3rd or 4th century. It includes the complete text of the letters of 1 & 2 Peter & Jude, now at the Vatican Library, Vatican City. This folio contains the beginning of 1 Peter.
P72 was part of a book. Images: Center for the study of NT MSS.
(Note the use of Nomina sacra (overlined) in this early copy of the NT.)
From Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ (1). There is only one Peter in the New Testament, and the letter purports to come from his pen. This in itself does not settle the matter. The Second Letter of Peter makes the same claim, but the church has always, and for good reason, hesitated to accept it as the work of the apostle. The first letter bears much better credentials: it breathes the authentic spirit of early Christianity, and it expounds the central principles of the faith with a seriousness and authority comparable with that of Paul. Nevertheless, it is not easy to see how it could have been written by the Galilean fisherman who was a disciple of Jesus. It is composed in polished Greek, such as could hardly have been commanded by a Jew who had not spoken Greek as his first language since childhood; and the frequent allusions in it to persecution seem to presuppose a relationship between church and state a great deal more tense and dangerous than anything which is alluded to in the letters of Paul, or which seems probable much before the end of the first century A.D. Peter was almost certainly martyred in A.D. 64. It is possible that there were local outbreaks of persecution before that date in Asia Minor; or that Peter was assisted in writing the letter by Silvanus (5.12), who was doubtless fluent in Greek. But to rely too much on these possibilities is to indulge in special pleading. A somewhat easier explanation of the facts is that the letter was written by a person of considerable standing in the church, who felt inspired to address his fellow-Christians, and found it natural to invest his letter with the authority of the apostle Peter.
God's scattered people. If the letter stands in the tradition of the encyclicals which were issued from Jerusalem to the Jews of the Dispersion (see above, pp. 719-20), then we would expect to find, in its opening sentences, Christian equivalents to the kind of language with which a Jewish leader would have greeted his own people. The author is writing to Christians scattered over a large area: Pontus (and Bithynia: the two districts formed one province), Galatia, Cappadocia and Asia were four Roman provinces which between them covered the whole of Asia Minor apart from the small coastal strip south of the Taurus mountains. Unlike the Jews, the (Christians had no common nationality (the majority of those addressed here seem to
have been Gentiles, see below on 1.14), but only a common loyalty, which transcended any earthly allegiance and made them feel lightly attached (as a philosopher might have said) to the physical conditions of life, like people who only lodge for a while in the countries of their birth. Yet they were not just so many individuals who happened to share a common faith: they were bound together in a solidarity that was no less powerful than the strong national consciousness of the Jews. Like them, they were chosen of old in the purpose of God the Father (2); like them, they were hallowed to his service—though not now by participation in the cult at the temple in Jerusalem, but in a way that affected their inmost being: by the Spirit; and, like them, they were consecrated with the sprinkled blood. Here the NEB gives only a free paraphrase. The Greek, translated literally, runs as follows: "to obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ". This, though it hardly bears logical analysis, gives a clue to what was in the author's mind. When Moses received the Law from God at Sinai and read it to the people, they replied, "we will be obedient", and Moses "took the blood and flung it over the people" (Exodus 24.7-8). This was the "covenant" made between God and Israel. Christians had now entered a new covenant, effected by the blood of Christ. Moreover, sprinkled blood was also an element of the regular Jewish sacrificial ritual (Leviticus 4.6; 5.9; 16.14). To a Christian, the phrase now suggested the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which a believer shared by being "sprinkled" with water at his baptism.
The inheritance to which we are born (4). This was another traditional Jewish expression, now transformed into a Christian concept. The "inheritance" of the Jews was thought to be, first of all, a peaceful and prosperous existence in the land of Palestine; with the advance of religious ideas and the increasing insecurity of the Jewish state, it was reinterpreted as a reward promised to the Jewish people in a future age, or even in the after-life. But however it was conceived, it represented a conviction, common to all Jewish people, that they were reserved for a unique and privileged destiny in the ultimate purposes of God. Christians now believed that this destiny had passed to them. Its full realization must await the end of time (5); meanwhile they were under the protection of God so long as they had faith— this was one of the many possible ways of putting into words what the Christian faith meant to them. Another was new birth into a living hope, a way of describing the Christian experience which appears in several strands of Christian thinking (Titus 3.5; John 3.1-8), and which seemed particularly appropriate to Christian baptism. A third was salvation, a concept common lo many religions, but understood by Christians as something both present and future: to put it almost as a paradox, it was even now in readiness and will be revealed at the end of time.
All these concepts, in part distinctively Christian, in part adaptations of Jewish ones, are worked into an opening which carries the usual form of Christian greeting (Grace and peace to you) and the very common exordium, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1.3; Ephesians 1.3). Only with the mention of trials of many kinds does the letter become more personal. We can guess (in the light of clearer hints later in the letter) that these trials consisted of persecution from the Roman authorities. It was an old discovery of Jewish wisdom that tribulation can purify the character like an assayer's fire (7) (Wisdom 3.6; Ecclesiasticus 2.5); this author takes the idea one stage further. Compared with a Christian's faith, even gold—the precious residue from the refiner's furnace —can be called perishable. The second piece of encouragement is more distinctively Christian. You have not seen him, yet you love him (8). A modern reader thinks at once of Jesus on earth: how easy to love him if (like Peter) one had actually seen him. But in the letters of the New Testament there is very little harking back to Jesus' presence in Galilee and Jerusalem. The Jesus who is longed for is the Jesus who is at present known only by faith but who will one day be revealed in his glory so that all men may see him for what he is. At that final revelation, a Christian will know he belongs to Christ and will be united with him. Meanwhile, his relationship with Christ is one of trust and love. Even this is enough to transport him with a joy too great for words.Christian salvation belongs, not only to the future, but also to the present.
A third source of encouragement for Christians was the fact that they could find the death and resurrection of Christ, and the great consequences which followed, foretold in Scripture. Sayings of the prophets, which had for so long seemed to point to some future event, now took on their definitive meaning in the light of the Christian experience. Some, indeed, though spoken by the prophets themselves in the first person, seemed so perfectly fulfilled by Christ that one could talk of the spirit of Christ in them (11) (a good example is the quotations in Hebrews 2.12-13, on which see above). Those prophets were inspired to cast their utterances in the form of oracles about the future. To understand them, Christians were no longer dependent upon the efforts of learned interpreters. They now had preachers who brought, with the gospel, the key to all that had been foretold in the past. Even angels, who traditionally had access to the secret purposes of God, did not have that perfect understanding of the pattern of human history which was now the possession of Christians.
Therefore. The readers have been bidden to fix their eyes upon what is to come, the salvation which is to be revealed. As so often in the New Testament, a reference to the end of time has a serious moral corollary: be mentally stripped for action, perfectly self-controlled (13)—the warning can be paralleled from many other passages (see above on Romans 13.12). Here it is joined with a reference to the past, which throws precious light on the background of the readers of this letter. The desires you cherished in your days of ignorance. This is how a Jewish writer might have spoken to gentile proselytes: while the Jews had the Law to show them what kind of moral conduct was demanded of men, Gentiles lived in "ignorance", and so were given to the fulfilment of unnatural desires (Romans 1.18-24). The same tone could be used when speaking to Christian converts from paganism: they too had emerged from a life of ignorant immorality into one governed by the Law of Christ. But no Christian would have spoken like this to converts from Judaism. The Jews were never in ignorance, nor would it have occurred to any Christian to talk of the empty folly of their traditional ways (18). Their Law was still the most complete guide to conduct the world had known. The readers of this letter, then, (or most of them) had been pagans before they became Christians.
Christianity was a new and distinctive way of life, totally different from paganism, but different also from Judaism. Yet much of its ethos was inherited from the Jews. It aspired, like the Jewish faith, to form in its adherents a standard of "holiness", a character which would bring them closer to God. Both faiths found inspiration in a passage such as Leviticus 19.2: "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (18).
'Our Father' (17). This address to God,which rose spontaneously to the lips of Christians through the inspiration of the Spirit (Romans 8.15) and which was originally taught them by Jesus himself (Luke 11.2), was such an intimate form of prayer that it could easily breed over-confidence. It was true that Christians were "God's sons" in a very real and intimate sense; but it was also true (and the two truths had somehow to be held together) that God was still what he had always been, the One who judges every man impartially on the record of his deeds. Christians had reason for confidence about their fate at the Last Judgement; and yet that Judgement retained as much seriousness as ever.
The writer's purpose, as we can see by now, is principally a moral one: he is exhorting his readers to live by the standards of their faith, and warning them of the consequences of licentious behaviour. To do this, he reminds them of important articles of their belief, or of expressions (such as 'Father') which were constantly on their lips, and then draws out the implications of these for moral conduct. Another such expression was "ransom", the price paid for a man's freedom (18). This was an Old Testament metaphor, often used in the church (1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Timothy 2.6) and probably by Jesus himself (Mark 10.45) as a means of describing the effect of Jesus' death. A prisoner ransomed or a slave freed simply by the payment of a sum of gold or silver might not feel under any strong obligation to behave himself afterwards. But if the ransom was a man's life—the price was paid in precious blood (19)—then it would be unthinkable to put such an expensive freedom to immoral uses. Surely Christians were in precisely this situation: their freedom had been bought by Christ's blood, a death which could be understood, both as the payment of a ransom for mankind, and also as a sacrifice of a lamb without mark or blemish, a perfect offering for the sins of men such as the temple sacrifices could never be.
Predestined ... manifest (20). These two statements (particularly in the Greek) sound like something which Christians may often have said or sung—there is a hymn on similar lines in 1 Timothy 3.16. Through him you have come to trust in God (21). If the Christians so addressed were pagans before their conversion, this was an apt description of what had happened to them. Through Christ, they had learnt for the first time what it was to trust in God. But even Jewish converts, whose ancestral religion was also based on "trusting in God", had now come to a new "trust". Previously, their trust had constantly been, so to speak, in spite of appearances: it had often seemed that it was the godless who flourished, and there was little to show that the "trust" of those who believed in God was justified. But Christ had changed all that: God ... raised him from the dead and gave him glory. After that, no Christian could doubt that God was on the side of his own. There existed a new and convincing ground for faith and hope.
You have purified your souls ... You have been born anew (22-3). These expressions would be particularly appropriate to people who had recently been baptized (for the language, compare 1 Corinthians 6.11; Titus 3.5), and it is quite possible that parts of the letter were originally written to be read aloud when a baptism of converts had just taken place. In any case, the symbolism of baptism seems to have been much in the author's mind, and one of his main purposes was to remind his readers of the kind of conduct which necessarily followed from their baptism and their Christian profession. So here: baptism implies that Christians should love one another (22). If the matter were put in the form of a logical proof, the argument might run like this: it is agreed that baptism is a kind of "rebirth"; now this rebirth is through the word of God (23), and the word of God, as a passage of Isaiah proves (Isaiah 40.6-7), endures for evermore (25), it is immortal, whereas
human beings are mortal; the rebirth of baptism must therefore be quite different from mortal birth: it must have to do with immortality, and the new life to which it leads must have immortal characteristics; one immortal characteristic (if we may complete the argument from 1 Corinthians 13.8-13) is love; therefore, love one another.
That religious truth to the newly converted is like milk to a new-born infant—milk that is pure, unlike the devious natural instincts of the heart, and spiritual (2), appropriate to the mind or the soul and not to the natural appetites—was a common enough metaphor in both the Jewish and the Greek world. In the second century A.D. it was even worked into the symbolism of Christian baptism: the newly baptized were given milk and honey to drink. The Bible is full of such sensuous imagery. Psalm 34 is much in this writer's mind throughout the letter. Here he quotes verse 8: "Taste then and see that the Lord is good" (3).
So come to him, our living Stone (4). In isolation, this seems a very strange expression; but the author goes on to show how he arrived at it. Jesus himself was remembered to have quoted Psalm 118.22, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the main corner-stone", as an illustration of the dramatic reversal which would follow his rejection by his own people (Mark 12.10); and the idea of a stone which might either be a corner-stone (7) for the faith of the believer or a stone to trip over (8) for those who refuse to believe was furnished by putting together two texts from Isaiah, 28.16 and 8.14 (6) (the fact that the same combination of texts occurs in Romans 9.33 suggests that these passages were frequently quoted together in the early church). In this sense, a "living stone" was an eloquent image for the Christ who continued to be the basis of life for those who believed, but to make still more confounded the destiny of those who refused to believe.
Come, and let yourselves be built, as living stones, into a spiritual temple (5). The metaphor of a living stone suggests to the writer another image which had wide currency among Christians: the church was a spiritual temple, replacing the one of masonry in Jerusalem, its members were living stones, and the sacrifices offered in it were spiritual sacrifices. That is to say, it replaced the old institutions of Judaism; and yet it was not a totally new society, without a past. The author writes to Christians as a High Priest might have written to the Jewish people: the church constituted a "nation" just as Israel did; indeed it was the first true embodiment of the ideal which from the beginning had been set before the Jewish people. Royalty and priesthood, in Jewish history, had always been vested in certain individuals; but these individuals exercised it as representatives of the people as a whole, a people which believed itself to be "chosen" from among other nations as a special kind of "kingdom", and to have the task of offering a unique "priestly" service to God. All these ideas were present in passages such as Exodus 19.6; 23.22; Isaiah 43.20-1 (which are alluded to here (9)). They found their fulfilment in the new community of Christians; but, paradoxically, this community was largely composed of men and women who, being (lentiles, had long been regarded by the Jews as automatically disqualified from playing any such role in history. Yet even this paradox could be illuminated from the Old Testament (10). Hosea, in his vivid representation of the infidelity of the chosen race, had talked of Israel being called by God "Not-my-people", and of the possibility that, when it repented, "Not-my-people "would once more be called "My people" (Hosea 1-2). The Gentiles had always been "Not-my-people": it could be seen as the true fulfilment of Hosea's prophecy when, by entering the Christian church, they became "My people".
Dear friends, I beg you. Moral exhortations fill a substantial part of most New Testament letters. They were, of course, a necessary element of any religious teaching, and the exhortations here (directed to servants, wives and husbands in turn) follow the same conventional pattern as in Colossians and Ephesians. But it may also be true that moral behaviour was something about which Christians were particularly sensitive. Their faith enabled them, whatever their circumstances, to live as free men (16). For those of Jewish background, this meant a new flexibility with regard to the Law of Moses; for those of pagan background, it may have meant a new freedom from superstition, heathen customs and social distinctions. It was not difficult for their enemies to allege that this freedom was in fact simply a screen for wrongdoing; and should there turn out to be any substance in these allegations, it could result in Christians being brought before a civil court, where awkward questions might be asked about their religious beliefs. This author had serious reason for devoting so much of his letter to these matters.
Abstain from the lusts of the flesh which are at war with the soul (11). This was a cliche of popular ethics, and was as old as Plato. It was not, properly speaking, a correct Christian or Jewish way of putting it: in Paul, for example, "spirit", not "soul", constitutes man's higher nature. But here the writer was not concerned to give a Christian doctrine of man, but to tell his readers how to behave, and he used the current moral jargon of his time. Nevertheless, the reasons he gave were specifically Jewish and Christian. As aliens in a foreign land: so the Jews described their hold upon life and property (Leviticus 25.23; Psalm 39.12). All they possessed belonged ultimately to God, and they must never presume to make free with it, but must behave becomingly in the eyes of their Lord. And not only of their Lord: also of the Gentiles by whom they were surrounded, the pagans (12) (the Greek word is that which the Jews used of non-Jews in general). Here, the thought is applied to the present circumstances of Christians. They malign you as criminals now. Christians, for one reason or another, were getting a bad name. It was part of their faith that they would ultimately be shown to be in the right and their persecutors in the wrong. But this could hardly happen before God's final assize. Meanwhile, they must keep their own record absolutely clean.
Submit yourselves. It was not only Christians who advocated civil obedience; and when the writer adds, for the sake of the Lord (13), he is probably saying no more than that this duty also applied to Christians
(compare the way in which, in Ephesians and Colossians, other widely accepted moral principles are endorsed as elements of the Christian way of life; see above on Colossians 3.18). The sovereign (14) was the Roman Emperor, the governor was the Emperor's deputy with whom Christians in Asia Minor had most contact: he administered justice in criminal cases, and promoted public rewards (such as statues and testimonials) for those who served the state well. For Christians, as for anyone else, good conduct (15) was the only sure way to silence calumny. The demands of Christian conduct even in a pagan and hostile society could be summed up in a variation on an old proverb: "My son, fear God and the King" (17) (Proverbs 24.21).
Servants, accept the authority of your masters (18). The Christian movement embraced people of widely different social classes, and included slaves and household servants. Christianity was consequently a potential source of social friction and unrest, and it may have been partly to avoid the danger of disturbances that one of the articles of the Christian domestic code was addressed specifically to servants. There is a similar warning in both Ephesians (6.5-8) and Colossians (3.22-5), and in each case it is supported with a distinctively Christian piece of teaching. Here, it is the cue for one of the most profound passages in the letter. The situation in mind was one of the perennial topics of comedy and casuistry: a servant under a master who is perverse. Christian teaching goes along with that of many moralists: one must be obedient even if, having behaved well, one has to suffer for it (20). But in recommending this difficult course, our author has a motive to offer of great power: the servant's situation is exactly that of Christ himself, and through such a situation the Christian draws closer to his Lord.
Christ ... thereby left you an example; it is for you to follow in his steps (21). The idea that Christians are to follow the example of Christ has become a commonplace of Christian teaching, but this is one of the very few places where it occurs in the New Testament. For the most part, early Christian writers concentrated on Christ's death and resurrection; Christian conduct was ultimately based on the implications of these fundamental facts. But this writer appeals to a slightly earlier moment in the story: Jesus' trial. For the most part he does not describe it directly: He committed no sin, he was convicted of no falsehood ... he carried our sins ... by his wounds you have been healed (22-4), are all phrases which occur in Isaiah 53, the chapter describing the death of a nameless Suffering Servant which was found by the early church to throw precious light on the meaning of Jesus' suffering and death. If Christians were to follow the example of Christ, what they must have most in mind was the manner in which Christ himself followed a pattern of suffering which was laid down for him, so to speak, in the Old Testament. At the same time our author works in something new (which he may either have witnessed himself, or have heard or read about at second hand). When he was abused he did not retort with abuse, when he suffered he uttered no threats, but committed his cause to the One who judges justly (23) are words with no precedent in the Old Testament: the author knew what had actually happened at Jesus' trial. Moreover, it was common knowledge that the trial had been followed by the crucifixion, a penalty not allowed for in the Old Testament. But at a stretch one could call the cross the gibbet (24), which did appear in Scripture (Deuteronomy 21.23); and (doubtless for this reason) Christians soon began to use this scriptural word for the crucifixion. Thinking, then, of Christ as the Suffering Servant, one could fill in a gap which is left in that chapter of Isaiah. It is not said there, though it seems to be implied, that the Servant was actually killed. How did he meet his death? Presumably, on the gibbet. By adding this detail, the writer completes the scriptural prototype which found its final expression in Christ. With a slight strain of grammar, he inserts his addition after Isaiah's words, he carried our sins. The resulting phrase is compressed and suggestive: he carried our sins to the gibbet.
You were straying like sheep (25). The metaphor of straying sheep (standing for a people who have lost their sense of moral direction, and so fallen into sin) appears for a moment in Isaiah 53. This author takes it a stage further. The opposite of straying sheep is a compact flock purposefully following its shepherd. Jesus was such a Shepherd (the idea is worked out in John 10, but occurs also in Hebrews 13.20, and was doubtless familiar to Christians). He was also a Guardian: the word is that which was subsequently used as a title for the highest order of ministry in the church (episkopos, bishop), but it already had a long history as a word for describing God's care for his flock. Jesus, the Shepherd, had now assumed God's historic guardianship of his own people.
In the same way you women must accept the authority of your husbands (1). A section on wives forms part of the exhortations in Ephesians and Colossians, and there is a similar paragraph in 1 Timothy 2.9-15. The topic was conventional, and it was a commonplace among Christians, as among other moral teachers, that wives should be submissive to their husbands, and that they should concentrate on inward beauty rather than outward adornment (3). To this our author adds, first, a particular reason for submissiveness. If a husband was a non-believer (and the problem of "mixed marriages" between Christians and non-Christians seems to have been as actual here as it was in Corinth), then the proper attitude of the wife was neither to seek a separation nor to assume any kind of superiority, but a to persevere in chaste and reverent behaviour (2) by which the husband might be won over (1). Secondly, just as it was possible to regard Christian men as "sons of Abraham" by reason of their Abraham-like faith (see above on Galatians 3.7), so Christian women could be called children of Abraham's wife Sarah (6) if they imitated Sarah's obedience to her husband. For us, who have only the Old Testament to go by, and not the subsequent traditions and legends by which Jewish readers interpreted it, the argument seems farfetched; for in fact the only place in the Old Testament where Sarah refers to her husband at all is Genesis 18.12, where (though admittedly she calls him 'my master') she is being anything but obedient. But Sarah, like other Old Testament figures, had since come to be regarded as a model of virtue. As such, she was a suitable figure for Christian wives to emulate by doing good (and also apparently by showing no fear; but why the author adds this is mysterious. The Greek words are reminiscent of Proverbs 3.25, a chapter which is alluded to again in 5.5; but this hardly explains their occurrence here. Possibly wives of non-Christian husbands are once again in mind (7), who might well have had reason to fear the consequences of following their new faith.)
The series is completed by a brief word to husbands, which again (like Paul's treatment of the same theme in 1 Corinthians 7.3-6) stands in the very best tradition of Greek and Jewish domestic morals.
To sum up. In conclusion, a general exhortation is given to the church as a whole on the kind of life Christians should seek to live together. The church did not attempt to evolve a completely new code of values: many passages in the Old Testament which offered a definition of the righteous life could serve as examples. Psalm 34 was one of these: it has already been quoted once (2.3), and here several verses are given (13-17). It enunciates the basic standards of the common life; upon this basis, Christians could build their own distinctive society, of which one of the principles was Do not repay wrong with wrong (9) (as in 1 Thessalonians 5.15; Romans 12.17) but on the contrary—and the positive side of this reflects the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.43-8)—retaliate with blessing.
Who is going to do you wrong if you are devoted to what is good? (13) It is possible that cases had occurred of Christians abusing the moral freedom which seemed to belong to their religion and thereby finding themselves taken to court on criminal charges. If so, they deserved their punishment; but in any case, it was vital that in all matters of civic life Christians should keep their conscience clear (16). Even when giving an account of their beliefs, they must indulge in no superior attitudes or violent demonstrations, but must make their defence with modesty and respect (15). Simply by being conscientious and peace-loving citizens, they could silence calumny and keep out of harm's way.
But of course that was only a part of the matter. Christians might well find they had to suffer for their virtues (14) (a translation which suggests a certain moral complacency: the Greek says simply that they might suffer "for doing right"). It is probable that at the time of writing it was already, under certain circumstances, a criminal offence to practise the Christian religion (though it remained the responsibility of their fellow-citizens to institute legal proceedings against Christians, and this may not have happened often). In any case, it was impossible for Christians to identify themselves completely with the pagan society in which they lived: they were people called out of it to bear witness to a particular faith and a particular way of life. In this respect they could read the pattern of their situation in a passage of Isaiah (chapters 6-9, a passage which, through its reference to Emmanuel, to the virgin bearing a son, and to a stone thqj: was both a cornerstone and a stumbling-block, seemed rich in intimations of Christianity). In the course of that passage, the prophet encourages the people of Jerusalem to dissociate themselves from the panic of the leaders of the state, whose motives are dictated by fear and a desire to compromise, and to "hold the Lord in reverence, and let him be your fear" (Isaiah 8.13 in the Greek version of the is Septuagint). Our author here adapts the words of Isaiah to his purpose of describing the Christian community as a people necessarily independent of the secular state, and therefore necessarily in danger of suffering for its beliefs—which amounted (so long as their conscience was clear) to suffering for well-doing (17). What was the philosophy which would support them in this situation?
One answer could be given immediately, which was simply an echo of Jesus' teaching (Matthew 5.10): If you should suffer ... you may count yourselves happy (14). But the strength and courage with which Christians faced persecution was inspired by more than this bare statement. It followed from their whole understanding of the new situation created by Christ. This could be stated quite simply in terms that were already familiar to Christians. Christ ... died for our sins once and for all ... the just ... for the unjust (18) is a statement which forms the basis of Paul's great argument in Romans 6. But there was another way of putting it, which is hinted at elsewhere, and is developed with a good deal of elaboration here (18-22). The passage is solemn, allusive, and stylized; its opening and its ending may be another example of an early Christian hymn, such as seems occasionally to be quoted in the New Testament (its opening is strikingly similar in form to the hymn in 1 Timothy 3.16); and its theme would again make it appropriate to an occasion when Christian baptism was fresh in people's minds. But taken as a whole it amounts to a statement of the efficacy of Christ's death and resurrection in the light of a particular approach to the problem of evil and of human sin.
When a man does wrong, there often seems something irrational about his conduct: he knows what he ought to do, but for some reason he does not do it. In Jewish thinking, various explanations were offered for this apparent failure of human reason. One was what we should now call a psychological one: it was an evil impulse within a man, a destructive constituent of his nature, which caused him to sin. If Christ had "saved" us, it must therefore be by having effected some change in our nature which altered the balance of power (so to speak) within us, and enabled us to resist the evil impulse. But another explanation was also popular, which located the cause of human sin and human misfortune outside a man, in the realm of objective evil powers and demonic forces. Man sinned because he was forced to, and if he were to be saved from sin, it followed that Christ would have to have defeated and disarmed the evil spirits which were the ultimate cause of the human predicament.
This was in fact one of the ways in which the Christian proclamation was expressed: Christ had overcome the forces of evil. But people who took seriously the existence of the world of spirits and demons (and most of the original readers of this letter will have taken it for granted) were almost bound to accept at the same time a certain amount of mythology. These spirits were not timeless elemental forces: they had a history, and their history explained their present activity. A popular version of this history was that the spirits had originally been in heaven, that they had "fallen" soon after the creation of the world, and had wrought such havoc on earth that God was compelled to put an end—by means of the Flood—to the generation of human beings whom they had corrupted, and to restrain all but a small number of the spirits by having them "bound" or imprisoned (19) beneath the earth. On that occasion, God had nevertheless saved a few persons (20) from the consequences of the spirits' influence by bringing them to safety through the water. He had waited patiently, in the hope that someone would be found who had not deserved the fate incurred by mankind in general; and that person was Noah with his family. But the descendants of Noah were still subject to a certain amount of evil influence from these spirits. It remained for Christ to administer the coup de grâce.
In the body he was put to death (18). This seemed like a victory for the forces of evil, an assertion of the supremacy of Death. But—in the spirithe was brought to life. Death was made impotent by his resurrection: in that moment the forces of evil were overwhelmed. All that remained was to inform them of the fact, and Christ is imagined as doing precisely this: in the spirit he went and made his proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. As a result, Christ ... entered heaven after receiving the submission of angelic authorities and powers (22). The issue in the realms of angels and spirits was decided. But how did this affect human beings? How were they to be rescued from the still continuing consequences of the long activity of these spirits on earth? The answer was prefigured by the story of Noah itself. Safety was available once again through water, this time the water of baptism.
(This interpretation knits the passage into its context, and does reasonable justice to the very compressed and allusive language. But many other interpretations are possible. The most famous, and one of the oldest, is that which connects this passage with the Christian doctrine of Christ's "descent into hell": Christ, on this view, used the period of 2½ days during which he was buried to visit the underworld and "make his proclamation" (i.e. preach the gospel) to "the imprisoned spirits" (i.e. the dead), who thus had the opportunity to repent.)
Remembering that Christ endured bodily suffering (1). This seems to be a third approach to the problem of the suffering of Christians. That Christ's suffering (and not merely his death and resurrection) has power to help a Christian in adversity is an idea already worked out earlier (2.18-25). Here it is related to what has just been said by means of the proposition, When a man has thus endured bodily suffering he has finished with sin. As a general statement, this is obviously untrue. To make sense of it, we must read into it a good deal of Christian meaning, perhaps along the following lines: the suffering a Christian endures (as a Christian) is suffering for the sake of Christ, suffering which is therefore to be identified with Christ's own suffering, a suffering which is a kind of "death" to which a Christian commits himself at baptism; and at his baptism (as the previous passage made clear) he has finished with sin. At any rate, the Christian profession meant a complete break with the licentiousness (as Jews and Christians always saw it) of pagan life. Pagans might vilify this attitude (4). They might accept that there was an ultimate moral judgement which would demand a reckoning from every man, but when they saw Christians still exposed to the common lot of death, and especially perhaps when they saw them suffering and dying for their faith, they might ask sarcastically what use their Christianity had been to them. What was the point of it, if believers died all the same? Why was the Gospel preached to those who are dead? (6) To this, Christians replied that, although (granted) in the body they received the sentence common to men, their faith was gloriously justified in that they shared the victory over death, the resurrection, the "being brought to life in the spirit" (3.18) of Christ himself: they were alive with the life of God.
(This last sentence is again open to different interpretations: that the Gospel was preached to those who are dead is reminiscent of 3.19, 'Christ made his proclamation to the imprisoned spirits', and it may possible to work out a connection between the two. Nevertheless, the Greek words themselves fit more easily into the interpretation given above.)
The end of all things is upon us (7). This conviction is voiced again and again in the pages of the New Testament. In literal terms, it was not justified: the end did not come. Yet there is little evidence that this delay disturbed the faith of the church. The serious expectation that the present was about to give place to a new age was characteristic of Christianity throughout at least the first century of its existence and has remained so (though usually in a less na'ive form) ever since. Moreover, the New Testament writers were careful to draw the right consequences from it. It must not be thought of as a pretext for irresponsible excitement or for failure to fulfil one's social responsibilities. On the contrary, it was a spur to prudent and moral behaviour. Almost every time it is mentioned in the New Testament it leads into an exhortation to vigilance and sobriety. You must lead an ordered and sober life is a typical example.
What follows provides a distinctive portrait of the Christian community. (7-11) Love, hospitality, service, were three key-words of Christian life. Most of the ideas can be found in Paul's letters (hospitality, Romans 12.13; the use of varied gifts, 1 Cor.12; Christians as stewards, 1 Cor.4.1-2, Titus 1.7): they were doubtless a common factor in Christian teaching throughout the early church. This writer adds one piece of proverbial wisdom: love cancels innumerable sins (8). In isolation, this sounds like a weighty statement about the power of love to procure the forgiveness of a sinner. But in fact it should probably be taken in its original context:
"Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offences"
In this form, the proposition is a simple one: in an atmosphere of hatred, the smallest offences are magnified; in an atmosphere of love they are immediately overlooked, covered, cancelled. The proverb certainly circulated in the early church (it occurs also in James 5.20). It may even have been used by Jesus himself. In any case, it served the purpose well of supporting the exhortation to keep your love for one another at full strength (8).
The fiery ordeal that is upon you (12). What is this? Earlier references to persecution have suggested that it was, at most, a possibility to be taken seriously. Here it seems to have broken out in earnest. It is possible the writer has just heard of the crisis, and hastily adds a postscript to his letter (the previous verse, with its Amen, might have been intended to be the end of the letter compare the ending of Judo but there are many more cases where this kind of formula occurs in the middle of a letter). On the other hand, it is hard to he sure how literally we ought to take the fiery ordeal. In our minds, it arouses a picture of arson and violence, and even perhaps of the Emperor Nero burning Christians alive. But if it is taken as a metaphor, it need be nothing so dramatic. At the beginning of the letter, the writer commented on the apparently minor tribulations of the church and pointed out that 'even gold passes through the assayer's fire'. The analogy was a very old one, and provided one of the ways in which innocent sufferers could see some meaning in their sufferings. Following the same line of thought, the writer may still have only sporadic and relatively mild persecution in mind when he calls it a fiery ordeal.
The reason given for encouragement under the ordeal is similar to one given previously (2.18-25): it gives you a share in Christ's sufferings (13). Count yourselves happy (14)—this is reminiscent of Jesus' words, 'How blest (the same word, in the Greek, as happy) you are, when you suffer insults ... for my sake' (Matthew 5.11), and seems to be supported also by a reference to Jesus' promise that when Christians found themselves under attack the Spirit would tell them what to say (Mark 13.11).
Once again, the point is made that Christians must not lay themselves open to any charges which might legitimately be punished by the state, except that of being a Christian (16). This time the argument appears to be based on a passage of Malachi (3.1-5): "Suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his temple ... Who can endure the day of his coming? ... He is like a refiner's fire ... he will purify the Levites and cleanse them like gold and silver . . . prompt to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers." The "temple" of the Lord is now his household (17) (one word in Greek does for both)—that is, the Christian church. The "Levites" who served the Jerusalem temple have been replaced by a new priesthood (2.5) which is now undergoing "the refiner's fire", the fiery ordeal (12, 17). The judgement which was the theme of Malachi's prophecy is now about to begin, and it will follow the pattern which Malachi foretold. Those in God's own household will be the first to be exposed if they are found guilty of murder, theft, or sorcery or infringing the rights of others (15). This is sufficient warning to Christians; for those outside the church it is still more sombre. As a verse of Proverbs puts it (11.31), It is hard enough for the righteous to be saved; what then will become of the impious and sinful? (18) Christians
need not fear: their Maker will not fail them (19). But even so, their salvation will be conditional upon their doing good.
And now I appeal to the elders of your community (1). The letter has already had one section addressed to different groups within the community. It now has another, and this time the distinction is between the elders and the younger men. This was perhaps a more natural grouping than it would seem now: most of the Greco-Roman cities of Asia Minor had highly organized guilds and associations of "older men" and "younger men", and a similar tendency to form separate societies within the whole may have been present in the church. It was also doubtless true of the church, as of most institutions, that the responsibility for leadership lay mainly in the hands of the elders (or some of them). At any rate, it is no surprise that this appeal to the elders is concerned with their exercise of responsibility.
The author writes as a fellow-elder. His authority to write such a letter must in fact have been due to a position of considerable respect in the church at large; but he prefers to dwell on the dignity and responsibility which he holds in common with other "elders". A witness of Christ's sufferings would be a particularly appropriate description of Peter while present at the trial of Jesus (and so would come naturally from the pen, either of Peter himself, or of a writer wishing to invest his letter with the authority of the historical Peter). But it also had a more general meaning. Christ's sufferings were continued in the church (Colossians 1.24), and a witness of them might be anyone who was personally involved in those sufferings and who believed (like any Christian) that they would be more than compensated for by the splendour that is to be revealed.
Christian leaders are shepherds (2), pastors: the church took the metaphor from the Old Testament and enriched it with overtones which had in fact sounded through much of the teaching of Jesus (see above on John 10). The pattern for their shepherding was set by Christ himself, the Head Shepherd (4). In practice, the task was doubtless onerous, and some may have been inclined to undertake it only under compulsion (2); it commanded a stipend, and some may have been attracted by the money; and it bestowed a particular rank and sphere of influence which some may have coveted as an opportunity for tyrannizing over others. Such motives were the opposite of those which should animate Christian elders.
The particular subordination demanded of the younger men (5) (by custom in any society) was no more than an example of that humility towards each other which should characterize all members of the church. Humility had already been often commended in the Old Testament (there is a quotation here from Proverbs 3.34), but it came into its own as a general principle of human relationships only in the Christian church.
Awake! be on the alert! (8) Not only violence, but also stealth and deceit, were the weapons of the church's enemies. Now, at the end of the letter, these enemies are finally identified as agents of the devil, who is active wherever the Christian church exists. The pattern is everywhere the same. The writer closes in words that recall his opening (1.6). In the present, brief suffering (10); but in the future, a share in the unimaginable glory of Christ.
I write you this brief appeal through Silvanus (12). Writing a letter in antiquity usually meant dictating it to a member of the household or a pupil, and then entrusting ii to a personal messenger. Silvanus (which is the Latin form of the name which appears as Silas in Acts) was a companion of Paul's; he is mentioned in the opening of the letters to the Thessalonians, and he may have assisted Paul in one of these ways. We did not know that he was also a companion of Peter's. Whether he was or not, the name could easily have suggested itself to a writer who wished to imagine whom Peter would have had as a secretary at that time. Mark (13) was also (for a time) a fellow-worker with Paul. A later tradition has it that he was with Peter in Rome, and stood in a relationship to him which could well have been metaphorically described as being Peter's son.
Greetings from her who dwells in Babylon. A Jewish "Letter to the Dispersion" would properly have come from Jerusalem. But at a certain moment in the history of the Jewish people, its leaders had all been taken into exile in Babylon. During that period, they had to address their fellow-Jews "from Babylon". The actual city of Babylon had ceased to be important long ago; but it still stood in the minds of Jewish people as the archetype of any great pagan city, and in the first century A.D. there was only one city which obviously deserved the name: Rome (see below on Revelation 17). The writer of this Letter to the Christian Dispersion was presumably in Rome. Everyone would have known what he meant when he mentioned Babylon.
Her who dwells ... chosen by God. This soon established itself as a formula for conveying greetings from one church to another (compare 2 John 1.13). On the kiss, see above on the similar phrase in Romans 16.16.