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Course Hero, "New Testament Study Guide," April 27, 2018, accessed August 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/New-Testament/.

New Testament | 1 Peter | Summary

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Summary

The author reminds his readers of their Christian identity and instructs them in how to hold on to that identity within their communities.

  • The letter is written to several communities in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) that the author calls "the exiles of the Dispersion" (1 Peter 1:1).
  • The faith of the Christ-believers is impressive because they have not ever seen Christ in person, but they can rely on the testimony of the prophets.
  • The believers are instructed to become holy like Christ who called them.
  • The author provides a list of specific vices that the Christ-believers can avoid, including "malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander" (1 Peter 2:1).
  • They should accept the authority of worldly rulers and use their freedom for good.
  • Slaves are told to obey their masters; this obedience is to be modeled on the humility of Christ, who "when he was abused ... did not return abuse" (1 Peter 2:23).
  • Wives should cultivate modesty, avoiding extraneous adornment in favor of "the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4).

The letter continues with an exhortation to think of suffering as a way to become closer to Christ.

  • All people, "the living and the dead," will be subject to divine judgment soon, because "the end of all things is near" (1 Peter 4:5, 7).
  • The community should not commit evils that cause them to suffer, such as murder, but if they suffer because of their Christian faith, then it is aligned with God's will.
  • Writing as one community elder to the other elders, the author exhorts them to "be examples to the flock" instead of seeking any personal gain from their position of power (1 Peter 5:3).
  • The author advises younger members of the community to be humble and obedient to their elders.

Analysis

This letter addresses a situation of perceived persecution among the Christ-believers, but it does not appear to address a form of systematic persecution with legal repercussions. Instead, the letter may provide insight into the way that leaders of the Christ-believers thought the community should handle social and cultural opposition.

There are a number of clues in the letter that may indicate an intended audience of gentiles (non-Jews) who probably participated in Greco-Roman religious cult, including the recognition and worship of multiple gods. For example, the author directs them in 1:14 not to "be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance," a phrase that suggests the believers had no background knowledge about the God of Israel. When he offers advice for wives in the community, he implies that some of them are married to nonbelievers. The author points out that the believers "have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do" and "they are surprised that you no longer join them" (1 Peter 4:3–4). Their new religious identity has alienated them from their former companions.

Given their gentile surroundings, the Christ-believers addressed in the letter would have stood out from their fellow citizens because of their religion but also because of the practical actions their religion demanded. This might have led to public ridicule. The letter teaches that they should seek to live peacefully with their neighbors but not join in their unethical behaviors (see 1 Peter 4:3–4, above).

More importantly, however, the letter's author instructs them to leave their neighbors no room to cast blame or malign the community. At several places the author points out that they should conform themselves to society and not invite trouble. They should live peacefully under non-Christian rulers. This commitment to doing what is right in all circumstances will enable them to defend themselves if anyone attacks them.

Finally, the letter reveals an important aspect of the early Christian understanding of suffering. For this author, suffering is a way to become like Christ. He uses the example of Christ's suffering as a way to exhort readers to accept their own suffering. One striking statement even claims that suffering like Christ is transformative: "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1–2). The letter appears to assume that if someone tries to do the will of God in a hostile world, suffering is inevitable. The call to suffer willingly is an early example of the imitatio Christi (Latin for "imitation of Christ"), an idea that develops in later Christian tradition.
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