April 6, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The First Letter of Peter

John F. FinkBeginning next Monday, the biblical readings in the Office of Readings are the First Letter of Peter. The letter consists of five chapters.

In this letter, Peter instructs his readers on how Christians should live in a society that doesn’t share their faith and values. That could easily pertain to our own society.

Don’t think, though, that the letter is negative. It’s the most positive writing in the New Testament in its evaluation of the world, while also compelling in its call to holiness.

The first verse says that it is addressed to “sojourners of the dispersion” (1 Pt 1:1) living in five provinces of Asia Minor, including areas evangelized by St. Paul. These Christians would have been Gentiles who recently converted from paganism.

Did the Apostle Peter write it? Some exegetes doubt it since its excellent Greek is hard to attribute to a Galilean fisherman. But the conclusion of the letter says, “I write this briefly through Silvanus” (1 Pt 5:12) so perhaps Silvanus put it into Greek.

It is more likely that Peter at least dictated this letter than that he wrote the Second Letter of Peter that I wrote about last November.

Peter tells his readers that he understands that they are undergoing many trials, and he encouraged them not to yield to their former desires but to become holy in every aspect of their conduct.

He is not concerned only with individuals. He wants the Christians to form a community. So he reminds them, using Old Testament passages, that they are a chosen race (Is 43:20-21), a royal priesthood (Ex 19:6), a holy nation (Ex 19:6) and a people of his own (Mal 3:17). They are no longer “no people,” he says, but God’s people.

They must be God’s people, though, within the social structures of society. They must be good citizens “for it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Pt 2:15). Even Christian slaves, Peter says, must be subject to their masters with all reverence.

He then has advice to wives and husbands. In keeping with the social mores of the time, wives should be submissive to their husbands, but also, “You husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor to the weaker female sex, since we are joint heirs of the gift of life” (1 Pt 3:7).

Peter acknowledged that the Christians in Asia Minor were being insulted, maligned, defamed and vilified because they were different from their neighbors. However, he didn’t advise them to withdraw from society, but rather to engage in dialogue. “Always be ready to given an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:15-16).

He tells them not to be surprised by their trials, “but rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pt 4:13).

After advice to presbyters, Peter tells the Christians to resist the devil, “knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings” (1 Pt 5:9). †

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