The Peter Principle– Part Twenty Four

The Peter Principle– Part Twenty Four January 29, 2020

BEN: Let’s talk about 1 Peter for a bit. I entirely agree with you that it reflects the apostle Peter’s thought, though he had the help of Silas to express himself in pretty good Greek. I am wondering however about the audience of this document. I think Eusebius is clear enough that Peter was writing to Jews in the Diaspora in Asia Minor, and I agree with him. When he critiques the audience’s idolatry and immorality, it is the very same critique the OT prophets made of God’s chosen people, again and again. Even Hosea’s discussion of the no people is about Israel, not about Gentiles, and of course all the way back to Exodus we have the golden calf and both adultery and immorality. In short, I’m pretty sure Peter is largely addressing Jewish Christians and perhaps some God-fearers that associated with them. This seems to me to make much better sense of what is assumed about the audience being able to understand all the rich intertextual uses of Isaiah and Exodus etc. Why do you think this is wrong?

GENE: Ben, as you know we run in different directions on this question. For many years we viewed the audience of 1 Peter as diaspora Jews who became followers of Christ. But the pendulum swung the other way some time ago with authors like J. N. D. Kelley, Jack Elliott, and many others arguing for a gentile audience. The heavy references to Israel’s story may, on the one hand, testify to an informed Jewish audience or they may be witnesses to the way Peter saw the gentiles as those who are now incorporated into Israel’s story. You’re not alone in pulling us back to consider that the audience of the letter were Jewish Christians. Kelly Liebengood’s work comes to mind, for example (The Eschatology of 1 Peter). I welcome the invitation to reconsider my position.

But – I’m going to stick to my position here, since the apostle regards the readers’ former way of life inherited from their ancestors as “vain” or “empty,” a word often used in critiques of cult idolatry (1.18). Their contemporaries are surprised that they no longer go along with the flood of debauchery, including unbridled sexuality and drunkenness that marked banqueting at the time. They also abandoned idolatry (4.3-4), the axis of evil we might say. The descriptions of their former life and the surprise of their contemporaries at their conversion are best explained by positing largely gentile audiences. The Jewish population did not run down these gentile roads. Peter does his own riff on the household codes found in Greek and Latin moral philosophy (2.11-3.7) and this may well be another marker that points to a gentile readership.

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