1 Peter

Good morning! On this shortest day and longest night of the year, I give thanks for this community of light and wisdom. You have been sources of encouragement and hope in all the past year. Since we read 1 Peter today, I might say (in a paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:10) “once we were no people, but now we belong to each other and to God”, though I won’t presume that all of us are on the same page regarding those things. 🙂

Reading 1 Peter, prominent themes that emerge are encouragement through hardship, the virtues of suffering, and expectations of social order. The book is almost certainly not written by Peter but by later disciples in his name. It presumes a context of persecution, where Christians are targeted by social and governmental forces for their divergent beliefs. The author writes to a group of churches with the same message for each: persevere in the loyal service of the gospel, even though it’s getting harder to be a Christian in public. The author interprets Christ’s sufferings as an example for all to follow: his endurance of unjustified pain earned God’s approval, and “won the war” for human salvation even though it cost him the “battle” of crucifixion. This “substitutionary atonement” theology has a long history in the Christian tradition, and creates an investment in Christ’s suffering on the part of believers. The more deeply Jesus suffers, the greater the benefit won for others. (This is one of the ideas behind Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”, which features such graphic images of the crucifixion, especially in the extended edition.) One verse summarizes this view succinctly: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (2:24)

Praising pain as a means of salvation serves a psychological function in helping people to make sense of their circumstances, but it’s too often used as either encouragement to accept the status quo or as justification when the pain is on others. Women and slaves, for instance, are told in this book to maintain their servile attitudes to men and masters, respectively. In the same way, Christians must obey the governors, the emperor, and all other Roman authorities. These social constraints may have helped those Christians in relative power (free men especially, and the writer of this letter) to argue in the face of oppression that the Christian tradition presents no threat to the social order. However, they do so at the expense of those who are subjugated, and by focusing on the suffering of Christ rather than on his resurrection. While there are some gems in the imagery of 1 Peter (“living stones”, etc), the underlying theology that says the pain of others (or Christ) makes my life less painful is a bargain I’m disinclined to buy. Happy reading!

Read 1 Peter.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Peter. Thanks for reading!

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