While we may not all be well-versed in the epistolary conventions of the 1st century world, we can at least appreciate the ways in which the New Testament authors address their recipients. These authors address the recipients as the “church of God” or “saints” or a “true child in the faith”—all theologically significant terms. They are not just something to quickly skip over! Let’s see what we can learn from the terms Peter uses to address the recipients of his letter with some help from the Hermeneia Commentary Series.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

1 Peter 1:1–2

Peter’s Telling Description

The opening two verses set the stage for what follows in the letter in terms of content and themes. This opening expands on the standard epistolary greeting that characterize the Pauline letters. The three prepositional phrases of v. 2 anticipate further development in the following verses. Peter develops God’s directive activity in 1:3–12, and the concept of holiness in 1:13–17. The theme of obedience and Christ’s sacrifice in 1:18-25. Again, the theme of exile, announced in the first verse, serves as an introduction to the larger section 1:3–2:10. The addition of πάροικοι in 2:11, continues to underlie the discussion of 2:11–4:11.

In a larger sense, the interrelationship of the three words describing of the readers in v. 1 (ἐκλεκτός, παρεπίδημος, διασπορά; “elect, exile, diaspora”) reveals the author’s underlying convictions about the nature of the Christian community and its relationship to its surrounding world.

Peter takes the language itself from the record of God’s dealing with his chosen people Israel. It shows how the author understands God’s intention for the community grounded in God’s act in Christ. This language describes that community in terms taken directly from the OT records of Israel as the chosen people (2:9–10). Peter makes evident the community is to look to find the means of interpreting its existence in its own world. It looks to the record of the existence of God’s chosen people. This furnishes language and perspective for the self-understanding of the people of Christ (1:10–12).

Thus, the understanding of the Christian community as the new people of God, an understanding that dominates the discussion in 1 Peter, is announced in the first words used to describe its members.

The Elect – ἐκλεκτός

The readers are identified by the use of three substantives (ἐκλεκτός, παρεπίδημος, διασπορά) that announce important themes in the letter. The identification of the readers as “elect” (ἐκλεκτοῖς) employs a term that in the OT refers to Israel’s special status as the people chosen by God. This term, also familiar to the covenanters of Qumran, became a common designation in the NT for Christians. The idea of Christians as elect receives its fullest treatment in the NT in 1 Pet 1:3–2:10, with the specific term repeated in 2:9, indicating the importance the author ascribes to the OT understanding of the special place Israel occupied in God’s economy of salvation as paradigmatic for understanding the new elect community.

In 1 Peter, such election is based in Christ, whose election as the foundation for the church is from eternity (1:20; 2:4). Such election eventuates in final salvation (5:10), but as the ethical admonitions throughout the letter make clear, such election puts upon those elected the responsibility to live in accordance with the character of the one who elected them (1:15–16).

The Exiles – παρεπίδημος

The term παρεπίδημος (“exile”), rare in the Bible, is not uncommon in secular Greek, and is widely used among later Christian authors, where it designates one who, willingly or not, dwells in a foreign land. Frequently used as a punishment, exile was regarded as a calamity, but because of the social conditions in the Roman Empire in the first century CE, there were large numbers of people living in places other than their native lands. In this verse, however, the word is used metaphorically, and its association with “elect” and “diaspora” indicates that its origin lies in the story of Abraham rather than in the political situation of the first century. Used of Christians, it describes the fact that because of their unwillingness to adopt the mores of their surrounding society, they can expect the disdainful treatment often accorded exiles (e.g., 1 Pet 4:3–4).

It refers for that reason less to the notion of Christians disdaining the temporal because of their longing for their eternal, heavenly home, with its implications of withdrawal from secular society, than to the notion that despite such treatment, they must nevertheless continue to practice their faith in the midst of those who abuse them (e.g., 2:12; 3:9, 15b–16; 4:19).

As exiles, they are dispersed throughout the world, as was Israel of old in its diaspora. Thus the Christian community is estranged by its customs and beliefs from its surrounding world. It awaits a transformation that will finally end its status as scattered exiles. These exiles await a future union in a transformed world under the will of God (4:17–19; 5:10).

The Diaspora – διασπορά

The term διασπορά (“diaspora”) is, like ἐκλεκτός (elect), drawn from Jewish tradition. Because of that fact, some commentators have concluded that Peter addresses this letter to Jewish Christians. The whole tenor of 1 Peter, however, argues for this to be metaphorical. This refers to all Christians, who, like the exiled Jews, lived as strangers in their surrounding culture. It is thus closely linked with παρεπίδημος (“exile”). Both point to Christians as people who share values other than those of the surrounding world. The implication is that, as a result, they will suffer for their nonconformity. These opening words set the pattern for the ethical admonitions that center on the need to live in a potentially hostile world as true followers of Christ. It also anticipates the argument, developed later in the epistle, that the Christians are the new people of God.

Members of the community are such because of the direct intention of God; the process by which their divine election occurs in Christ predates even the creation of the world (1:20). The community thus owes its existence to the direct intention of God. Their status as exiles grows directly out of such election to participation in the divinely willed community. To be exiles in their surroundings as a result of their election is again not a sociological accident; it grows directly out of membership in a community whose members are by definition to exclude themselves from the value systems and mores of that world (4:2–4).

Check Out More from the Hermeneia Commentary Series

As you can see, there is much we can learn from the words Peter uses to address his readers. The Hermeneia Commentary Series helps us see these verses as something not to simply skip over. There is much for us to feast on before we get to the heart of the letter. Visit our website to learn more about this series and add it to your Olive Tree Library!

Write A Comment