In a word St. John’s Gospel and his epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know even if you were never to see or know any other book or doctrine.- Martin Luther, “Prefaces to the New Testament” (LW 35:362)
Texts from I Peter are read as the continuing lectionary for the Sundays of Easter this year. In this season of a global pandemic, Peter’s little letter is especially potent as he writes to sustain the hope born of Christ’s resurrection in scattered believers whose lives were marked by suffering.
Probably written around 61 or 62 AD, I Peter addresses disciples in diaspora, identified in 1:1 as “exiles” living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia. Asia, and Bithynia. Leonhardt Goppelt describes the context of I Peter: “Christians were discriminated against by slanderous accusations… This verbal hostility against the Christians comes from their fellow citizens, also and precisely from their relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances. It is more than personal insult: It takes from them the public respect on which existence in society depended, even more than in our time, and public officials have found action against them appropriate.”
Peter’s salutation is Trinitarian as he speaks of God the Father calling and giving the destiny to His disciples as those sanctified by the Spirit for “obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with blood.” They are recipients of grace and peace.
Discipleship in 1 Peter
The doxological prologue of 1:3-12 takes the form of a Trinitarian blessing. “Like the salutation, this apostolic descant is structured around the three Persons of the Trinity.” The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth to a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. With this birth comes an inheritance which is, “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1:4). God’s power is keeping and guarding disciples through faith for the eschatological outcome of discipleship. Peter’s language is echoed in Luther’s Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism.
Discipleship lives under the holy and blessed cross. The Apostle mentions the suffering of various trials so the genuineness of faith may be tested: Tentatio. But the outcome of this faith is salvation. This is the salvation inquired about by the prophets who proclaimed it (1:10) through the Holy Spirit who inspired their speaking and writing. Their prophetic message is now announced through preachers sent by the same Spirit.
The doxology of 1:3-12 leads to an exposition of the life of discipleship as set apart by the blood of Christ, lived in the obedience of faith, anchored in hope secured by Jesus’ resurrection. In verse 1:13, the Apostle exhorts disciples to “gird up” their minds, language that echoes Exodus 12:11; they are to be prepared for rigorous travel with a sober hope fixed in Christ. Not conformed to the passions of the old aeon with its deceptive lusts, disciples lived in the holiness borrowed from the Lord who redeemed them not with silver or gold but the precious blood of the Lamb. I Peter’s language here is recalled in Luther’s Explanation of the Second Article. Disciples find the confidence for obedience in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The language of ransom, Martin Franzmann observes is “a call to holy fear in the Christian life.”
Not conformed to the passions of the old aeon with its deceptive lusts, disciples lived in the holiness borrowed from the Lord who redeemed them not with silver or gold but the precious blood of the Lamb.
In 1:20, the Apostle returns to the new birth that takes place not through “perishable seed” but the imperishable seed of the Word of God, citing Isaiah 40:6-9. Disciples live by this Word of the Lord which has given them a new life set apart and cleansed for sincere love of the children of God. Bo Reicke notes the parallel to Titus 3:5 where Baptism is spoken of as the new birth, noting how Peter links the power for Baptismal regeneration in the Word of God. He then goes on to observe that this Word which remains forever is exactly the, “Word which has now been ‘evangelized,’ that is proclaimed as a message of joy, to the recipients of the epistle. They depended previously on perishable ‘flesh’ and its seed that is on human interest and propaganda. Now they have been born anew to eternal seed, God’s Word.”
I Peter 2:1-8 describes repentance as a “putting away” of the traits of the old life: Malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander. In place of these destructive cravings, disciples remain “newborn babes” (2:1) with an appetite for the pure spiritual milk of the Word now that they have, “Tasted the kindness of the Lord” (see Psalm 34:8).
Repentance is a turning from unbelief to faith. In verses 4-8, Peter speaks of the life of faith as being built on Christ, the living stone rejected by men but chosen and precious by God. Built on this unshakeable foundation, disciples are joined together as a spiritual house and a royal priesthood. Discipleship is never a solo. Luther describes it: “The house of stone or wood is not His house. He wants to have a spiritual building, that is, the Christian congregation, in which we are all equal in one faith, one like the other, and all are placed and fitted on one another and joined together through love without malice, guile, hypocrisy, hatred, and slander, as the apostle has said” (LW 30:52).
To be a disciple of Jesus is to share in a “holy priesthood” (1:5) that offers, “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” These spiritual sacrifices are the broken and contrite heart (see Psalm 51:17), the praise of God, lips that confess His works, lives given to service of those in need (see Hebrews 13:15-16) and bodies as living sacrifices (see Romans 12:1-2).
I Peter 2:9-10 describes the identity of disciples: A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. Underlying this pericope are several OT texts: Exodus 19:5-6 (“and you shall be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”), Deuteronomy 7:6 (“you are a people holy to the Lord”), Isaiah 43:21 (“the people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise”), Isaiah 45:4-6 (“I call you by your name, I name you, even though you do not know me”), and Isaiah 61:6 (“you shall be called priests of the Lord”). What God had prophetically promised to Israel is now given to the Church of Jesus Christ, the new Israel of God (see Galatians 6:16) as the recipients of God’s mercy in Christ. Once without identity (“no people”), now they are God’s people, possessed by Him (see Hosea 2:23). Previously without mercy, they have received mercy (see Hosea 1:9).
The Table of Duties
The Apostle provides a “table of duties” for disciples who live as “aliens and exiles” in 2:11-3:7. Paradoxically, disciples are at one and the same time those called to live in God’s holiness. We are strangers to the ways of the perishing world and yet given responsibility for life in various earthly callings. Disciples maintain good conduct among unbelievers so their blameless behavior guards them against accusations of evil. Instead, the good works of disciples draw the Gentiles to glorify God on the day of His visitation (compare with Matthew 5:16). Here vocation and mission go together. Bo Riecke states, “Here, the epistle’s remarkable theory of missions is expressed. The gospel will be promulgated to the extent that believers everywhere show such extraordinary patience and loyalty, in spite of the ill will of non-Christians, that every observer will be astonished and converted. This is also one of the basic thoughts in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew V, 16, 47). What follows in First Peter is largely characterized by an unshakeable confidence in the success of such a practical demonstration of Christianity.”
Paradoxically, disciples are at one and the same time those called to live in God’s holiness. We are strangers to the ways of the perishing world and yet given responsibility for life in various earthly callings.
The ethical content of this section of I Peter is intertwined with the Apostle’s proclamation of Christ. “Our letter’s proclamation of Christ is completely interwoven with its paraclesis. It presents Christ as savior of the world, as comforting example for all who suffer, and as Lord and coming judge. The individual formulations depend on previous texts about Christ that bear a hymnic and confessional stamp and develop their statements with a paraenetic interest.”
The Apostle turns first to discipleship in view of governing authorities (2:13-17). This section finds a parallel in Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1. Christians are not anarchists but willingly submit to temporal rulers, “for the Lord’s sake” (v.13), recognizing the God-ordained authority which upholds these offices. Freedom in Christ is not a pretext for evil. The civic community is an arena where the disciple lives as servants of God (see AC XVI).
Next, the Apostle turns to servants and masters (2:18-25) setting this aspect of his table of duties in a Christological context demonstrating the credibility of Stuhlmacher’s assertion that the paraclesis is bound up with the proclamation of Christ. There are numerous parallels in this text to shorter passages in Ephesians 5:5-9 and Colossians 3:18-4:1. Disciples are to submit to earthly masters even when this involves suffering. The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) who is also the Shepherd of His sheep enables such humility even as His sacrificial life is the example for those who are His by faith. Christ is not an example or pattern His disciples follow in order to attain salvation. Recall here Luther’s insistence that Christ is foremost God’s gift or sacrament. He is example in the sense that He is the pattern for the horizontal life, the life lived in love toward the neighbor. Here the disciple follows in his Lord’s steps, indeed being a little-Christ to the neighbor even when it means enduring insult and injury.
Husbands are exhorted to love and be considerate toward their wives on the basis of I Peter 3:7. Physically, the wife is the weaker partner but spiritually she is bound with him in the common calling to faith and the inheritance of the gift of life in Christ. This is a union to be tended and guarded so the life of prayer is not impeded.
Adornment does not consist of outward decorations but the decorum of a quiet spirit. The marriage of Sarah and Abraham is lifted as a model for disciples living in wedlock according to God’s design.