The first epistle of Peter should be viewed in the light of the authors stated purpose. In 5:12 Peter declares, "I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it." His fundamental purpose was to establish his suffering Christian readers in their faith. The entire letter is an earnest appeal for them to staunchly maintain their stand in the true grace of God that they have experienced. That hortatory approach is the basic feature of the epistle.
But Peter well knew that Christian exhortation, to be vital and transforming, must be grounded in Christian doctrine. Therefore, he skillfully laid such a foundation in the first twelve verses of the epistle. The opening salutation, rich in doctrinal content (1:1-2), indicates the need for a firm grasp of the realities underlying the Christian life. Peter's grand doxology of praise to God for the marvelous salvation He has provided in Christ Jesus (1:3-12) forms a solid foundation for the urgent exhortations that constitute the body of the letter (1:13-5:11).
1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
The salutation conforms to the conventional three-point opening employed in first-century correspondence: writer, readers, greeting. But it differs from the familiar Pauline salutation by employing a finite verb with the third member, thus making the first two members an independent construction. Paul followed the terse Greek formula and did not use a verb with "grace and peace"; Peter followed the pattern used in the letters in Daniel 4:1 and 6:25, "Peace be multiplied unto you" (ASV).
Each of the three parts of the salutation might be expanded according to the situation confronted and the author's purpose. Peter expanded each and gave them a distinctive Christian content. But his main expansion concerned the identification of his readers, and that indicates his central concern in writing.
The writer's name, "Peter," would at once establish his identity for his Christian readers. He was the only man in the New Testament with that name. "Peter" (Petros) is the Greek form of the Aramaic name Cephas, both of which mean "stone" or "rock." It was given to him by Jesus as a prophetically descriptive title when Peter first met Christ (John 1:42). It was reaffirmed by Jesus after Peter's great confession (Matt. 16:18), when the prophecy was beginning to be fulfilled. Farrar suggests that if Peter had been writing exclusively to Jewish Christians, he would probably have used the Aramaic rather than the Greek form of his new name.
He was originally known by the common Jewish name Simon (Matt. 4:18; Mark 3:16; John 1:41) or the Hebraic Symeon (Acts 15:14). The numerous references to him in the gospels indicate a gradual shift from Simon to Simon Peter or Peter. Apparently, however, his original name continued to be used sporadically (Acts 15:14; 2 Peter 1:1). In non-Jewish Christian circles the name Peter was commonly used. Perhaps Peter prized that Christ-given name as a constant challenge to maintain the steadfastness of character it implied.
The appositional expansion "an apostle of Jesus Christ" is not defensive. Huther notes, "An addition such as dia thelēmatos theou ["through the will of God"], or the like, of which Paul oftentimes, though not always, made use in the superscriptions of his epistles, was unnecessary for Peter." Unlike Paul, Peter's apostolic status was never questioned. This brief phrase indicates Peter's authority. No further explanation of the source or nature of his apostleship was needed. The indefinite article in the English translation "an apostle" (Greek has no indefinite article) does not mean that Peter was only one of a group of apostles. Nor did he write the apostle, as though claiming superiority among the apostles. The noun without an article is qualitative. Peter identified himself as "apostle of Jesus Christ." The possessive genitive defined whose apostle he was, "Jesus Christ's apostle." He was acting as His agent, having been commissioned by Christ to tend His sheep (John 21:15-17).
The noun "apostle" is a compound derived from the verb stellō, "to make ready, send," and the preposition apo, "off, away from"; it has the basic meaning of one sent forth by another on a mission. In a general sense it might be used of an individual who for a limited time was commissioned to act as the authorized representative of another for a specific assignment. Paul applied the term to Epaphroditus, who had been sent to minister to him as the representative of the Philippian church (Phil. 2:25; cf. 2 Cor. 8:23). In Acts 14:14 it is used of Barnabas and Paul as the missionaries sent out by the church at Antioch.
But Peter used the term in the restricted sense of an official apostle of the church, one chosen and commissioned by Christ Himself. In Acts 1:21-22 he mentioned the basic qualifications for the office (cf. John 15:27; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8-9; Paul used apostle to refer to himself as one chosen and commissioned by the risen Christ and so as one who had equal authority with the twelve).
By designating himself an "apostle of Jesus Christ," Peter called attention not to himself but to the One who commissioned him. The double designation "Jesus Christ" indicates His true nature. "Jesus" (Iēsous) is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. Both mean "salvation of Jehovah" (Matt. 1:21). It is the name of His humanity, denoting the Jesus whom Peter first met along the shores of the Jordan River (John 1:40-42), the One recognized by His followers as the promised Messiah. "Christ" is the Greek translation of the Hebrew term Messiah (transliterated Messias in John 1:41 and 4:25) and means "anointed." For Peter and the early church, the name Jesus Christ embodied their basic conviction that the human Jesus was the anointed Messiah, the bringer of messianic redemption. "Jesus is the Christ" thus became the earliest Christian confession (Acts 2:36; 3:20; 5:42; cf. John 20:30-31). Early in the gospels "the Christ" is a designation of the expected Messiah (Matt. 2:4; John 1:20; etc.), not a personal name. But because Christian faith inseparably identified the Christ with Jesus, "Christ" came to be used as a personal name; but it never lost its messianic connotations (cf. 1 Pet. 2:21-24).
The order "Jesus Christ" reflects Peter's personal experience with the central Person of Christianity That order is always used by the New Testament writers as consistent with their experience, except Paul who also uses the order "Christ Jesus"; this order reflects his experience on the Damascus road. The glorified "Christ" who arrested the persecutor identified Himself as indeed the man "Jesus" whom Saul regarded as a blasphemer. Paul's unique experience transformed him into the unswerving messenger of "Christ Jesus."
The recipients of the epistle are identified at considerable length (1:1b-2a). In the original there is no definite article in the lengthy designation. That suggests that Peter was not merely concerned with their identity but with their spiritual character. In view of the difficult situation they faced, Peter's "concern is to emphasize, in the most solemn manner, the supernatural vocation of his correspondents, which should be their sheet-anchor in their trials." The entire designation is best viewed as a unit. Peter delineated the true character (v. 1b), geographic location (v. 1c), and spiritual supports of the readers (v. 2a).
"To God's elect, strangers in the world" translates three words in the original (eklektois parepidēmois diasporas). The added place names make it obvious that specific groups of believers are in view, yet the absence of an article imparts a qualitative character, "to such as are..." It appears that the terms are used figuratively.
It is unclear whether the first word (eklektois, "elect") is to be taken as a separate noun or as an adjective modifying the following noun. A strictly literal translation of the first possibility would be "to (such as are) elect ones, sojourners of (the) Dispersion," and the second would be "to (such as are) elect sojourners of (the) Dispersion." The first view identifies the readers under two separate and distinct concepts; they are elect and also sojourners. The second view fuses the two thoughts into one two-sided designation of the readers; they are "elect sojourners." The first view makes it possible to separate the two concepts and even to transfer "elect" to v. 2, as is done, for example, in the KJV.
The word eklektos is a verbal adjective, but it may also function as a noun. When used alone with the article, it naturally serves as a noun (Matt. 24:22, 24; 2 Tim. 2:10; etc.). But it can also be a noun without an article (Matt. 22:14; Rom. 8:33; Titus 1:1; etc.). Peter may have intended it as a noun, but the grammatical structure does not suggest it. It is more natural to accept parepidēmois ("sojourners") as the governing noun of the expression, modified by a preceding adjective and a succeeding noun in the genitive. That is in keeping with Peter's use of eklektos as an adjective in 2:6, 9, though in both of those instances the adjective follows the noun. We prefer to accept it as an adjective and to translate "to (such as are) elect sojourners of the Dispersion." So understood, Peter's designation fused heavenward and earthward relationships. That two-sided characterization of the readers underlies the material that follows in the epistle.
The verbal adjective "elect" is passive, marking the readers as the objects of the electing action of God, who is the unnamed agent. They were chosen by God to be His own in order that they might be partakers of the heavenly inheritance being reserved for them (1:4). United by faith with Christ, the "corner stone, elect, precious" (2:6, ASV), they constituted "an elect race" (2:9). As God's elect people, they formed a group separate and distinct from the world and subject to its hatred and persecution. In themselves they were just ordinary people, not superior to their unsaved neighbors; but the initiative of God made them what they were.
The opening characterization of the readers as elect was meant to strengthen and encourage them in their affliction. The doctrine of election is a "family truth" intended to foster the welfare of believers. Unfortunately, that doctrine, which the human mind cannot wholly comprehend, has been the occasion of much controversy among the saints. The sacred writers do not explain all the problems that cluster around the doctrine, nor do they attempt to harmonize it with "that other great truth, taught in Scripture and revealed in conscience—the freedom of the human will; their statements of the two apparently conflicting doctrines balance, but do not explain, one another;... they teach us by their silence that the proper attitude of the Christian, when brought face to face with mystery, is rest in the Lord, humble child-like confidence in his love and wisdom." But in the broader context Peter made it clear that their election served God's purpose, "that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (2:9). "Election involves responsibility and accountability."
Peter was also keenly aware of the earthly status of his readers as "strangers in the world." The noun here translated "strangers" (pareptdemois, "sojourners") occurs in the New Testament only in 1 Peter 1:1, 2:11; and Hebrews 11:13. That compound term pictures the readers living as resident aliens beside a people to whom they did not belong. They did not ex-pea to be regarded as natives of the places where they resided. Hebrews 11:13 uses the term of the Old Testament saints, and Peter used it metaphorically to refer to Christians. Called to be God's people, they recognize themselves as temporary residents in the world. They are on their way to a heavenly home, one to which they eagerly expect to be removed by the summons of the Lord. The rendering "strangers" should not be taken to mean that they are not well known by their neighbors; it rather underlines their status as no longer being a native part of their world-scene.
Peter's understanding of the Christian life is beautifully illustrated in the Epistle to Diognetus, an anonymous work dating from the second century.
Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by either country, speech, or customs.... They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens. They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their home, and every home a foreign land... They find themselves in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their days on earth, but hold citizenship in heaven.
The earthly status of the readers is further described by the added genitive, "of the Dispersion" (diasporas). The term supplements the thought of their alien status. It is a compound noun, made up of the preposition dia, basically meaning "through," and the noun spora, "a sowing." It indicates that Peter's readers were scattered minority groups. "The Dispersion" was a standard Jewish way to refer to Jews living among the Gentiles outside of their Palestinian homeland (cf. John 7:35). In James 1:1 the expression "to the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion" (ASV) most likely refers to Jewish Christians outside of Palestine. Those who believe that Peter, too, was writing to Jewish Christians understand the term to confirm their position. But the lack of a definite article and the failure to mention the twelve tribes detract from the alleged parallel with James 1:1. It seems more natural to understand Peter's use of the term metaphorically, as a picture of Christians scattered in various areas as minority groups in a non-Christian world. But that designation does not mean that Peter's readers were individual or unorganized local groups; 1 Peter 5 reveals the addressees as members of organized churches.
The use of the terms "sojourners" and "Dispersion" (ASV) describes the earthly status of the readers from two different points of view. The former views them in relation to the land in which they were then living as aliens; the latter portrays them in terms of their true homeland from which they were absent. As God's "elect," the readers were living as "sojourners" in an alien land, dispersed and far removed from their homeland. However, they were assured of their future in-gathering to their heavenly home.
The nouns "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia" specify the geographical location of the readers and mark 1 Peter as an encyclical letter. How widely the readers were dispersed in each of those regions is not known.
Pontus was the rugged region south of the Black Sea, extending east from Bithynia into the highlands of Armenia. After the overthrow of the kingdom of Mithradates by Pompey in 65 b.c., the area was divided. The western part was united with Bithynia under one administration; the eastern portion continued under the rule of a Greek dynasty. Important Greek cities were located along the shores of the Black Sea, and the Jews in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9) probably came from those coastal cities. We do not know when Christianity was first introduced into the region.
Galatia was formerly a district in central Asia Minor ruled by the Celtic Galatians. But in 25 b.c. the area was made a Roman province and parts of Phrygia, Lyconia, and Pisidia were added to it, so that the province extended considerably farther to the south than the old ethnic Galatia. Acts 2 makes no reference to Galatian Jews. Apparently, none were in Jerusalem on that Day of Pentecost. On his first missionary journey, Paul established churches in the southern part of the Roman province (Acts 13:13-14:23). According to the North Galatian theory, Paul also established churches in the northern part of the province during the second missionary journey (Acts 16:6). But the South Galatian theory, the more generally accepted of the two, rejects the view that Paul conducted a missionary campaign in the northern part of the province. So according to that view, we have no information about how the gospel was brought to that part of the province.
Cappadocia was a mountainous inland area in eastern Asia Minor. In A.D. 17 the Roman Emperor Tiberius incorporated it as a province into the Roman Empire as a bulwark for its eastern borders. Jews from Cappadocia were present in Jerusalem during the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9). But apart from that reference and the one in 1 Peter, the area is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. When and by whom the gospel was first brought to the area is unknown.
Asia, as in all twenty-one occurrences of that term in the New Testament, denotes the Roman province occupying the western regions of Asia Minor. It included the whole western shore of Asia Minor, which was dotted with important Greek cities, and extended east to the borders �