Having read Mark’s gospel, we now turn to spend time in some of the letters. Because Mark is often linked to Peter we begin with 1 & 2 Peter and then Jude before turning to Paul’s letters.
The letter of 1 Peter is one which many see as speaking into the current situation of the church in the West. In the words of one recent commentator, Joel Green:
Together with the Book of Revelation, 1 Peter is unrivalled among NT documents for its concern with questions of Christian identity, constitution, and behaviour in a hostile world. For 1 Peter, Christian communities must struggle with how to maintain a peculiar identity as God’s people in the midst of contrary cultural forces. This is accomplished by identifying with Christ, both in his suffering and in the promise of restoration and justice. Through maintaining their allegiance to God the Father, theirs is a living hope certified by the resurrection of Jesus to life and animated by the Holy Spirit. Their inheritance is nothing less than eschatological salvation.
The opening (1.1-2) identifies the author as Peter (though many scholars now question this) and makes clear that it is a letter written to churches across a wide area. In a common theme of the letter, drawing on the Old Testament, they are described as exiles (or foreigners or sojourners) who have experienced the work of the Father, the Spirit and Jesus. Peter then begins with praise (1.3-9) which highlights other key themes including the Christians’ future hope and present suffering and how to respond rightly to this situation. Their salvation is related back to the Old Testament (1.10-12) which is directly quoted (1.16, citing Lev 11.44,45, 19.2 and 20.26 and later 1.24-25 quoting Isaiah 40.6-8) as Peter calls them to be holy, reminds them of all God will do and has done for them (1.17-24) and how they should therefore live (2.1-3).
Peter weaves together central images from Israel’s life in the Old Testament and echoes and quotations from those Scriptures (2.4-10) to teach his readers what has happened in Jesus Christ and to give them a sense of their identity, who they now are. He then turns to explain how they should live in the light of this with general exhortations (2.11-12) leading into specific teaching. The detailed guidance discusses their relationship to political authorities (2.13-17) and instructs slaves how to relate to masters (2.18-25) in the light of how Jesus lived and died, following the pattern set out in Isaiah 53. Peter then speaks to wives (3.1-6) and, more briefly, husbands (3.7). These verses can strike us as very reactionary but we need to remember their different social context and how radical some would sound: despite his claims to be divine the emperor is not the Lord (2.13) and what he is owed is the same as everyone (2.17), slaves are like Christ (2.21), wives can embrace a religion different from their husband’s religion and possibly lead them to convert (3.1), husbands should respect rather than take advantage of their weaker wives (3.7).
Peter then offers more general advice on the virtues and actions of believers supported by echoes of Jesus’ teaching and an appeal to Psalm 34.12-16 (3.8-12). Chapter 3 concludes with more exhortations related to the proper response to suffering. These are again focussed on Christ and what he has done for us (with some of the New Testament’s most difficult to understand verses in 3.19-20), our baptism and the authority Christ now has (3.13-22).
Reflecting a common pattern in this letter and much of the New Testament, Peter again calls believers to live in a certain way because of what Christ has done and also to abandon their former way of life even if that change leads to opposition (4.1-6). In the light of the future (4.5,7), he offers short but profound descriptions of how they should live and exercise their God-given gifts of word and action (4.7-11). He then returns to the harsh reality of their present suffering, calling for joy and praise, relating their experience to the sufferings of Christ and the presence of the Spirit, and appealing to Proverbs 11.31 (4.12-19).
Finally, Peter addresses the elders (5.1-4) about their responsibilities and how to exercise them and the younger Christians who are called to humility, reliance on God, watchfulness and resistance, aware of the wider Christian family and God’s good purposes for the future (5.5-11). His concluding words suggest Silas may have played a significant role in writing the letter (5.12) and convey greetings from the Christians in Rome (described, as a final echo of the Old Testament, as the great empire hostile to God’s people – Babylon) and Mark (highlighting the connection which some see as supporting Peter being the primary source for Mark’s gospel, 5.13). He ends by calling the suffering Christians to show their love for one another and with the blessing of peace (5.14).
To listen to or download a reading of each chapter from Tom Wright’s New Testament for Everyone (SPCK), click here.
To read 1 Peter 1-5 online at STEP follow the links below (the right hand box gives some help and can be closed to give text on full screen, the site is worth exploring for more detailed study of any text):
ESV & Greek side by side (with various highlighting (when you hover the mouse over words and references) and search tools that don’t require knowledge of Greek to use)