This blog continues my project of translating the First Letter of Peter with a brief commentary.
1st Peter 1: verse 17 forward
And if you address as “father” the One who judges every one by his actions without favouritism, lead your life with reverent fear during the time of your sojourn on the earth, knowing that you were bought back from the useless life-style handed down by your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the costly blood of Messiah, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb. Known by God before the founding of the cosmos, he was made actual for your sake in these end times. Through him you trust in God who raised him from the dead and gave him splendour, so that your trust and hope are in God.
Now that you have cleansed your souls for honest brotherly love, by obedience to the truth, love each other eagerly from the heart. You have been reborn, not from perishable seed but from imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. For “All flesh is grass and its beauty is like the flower of the grasslands. The grass withers, the flower falls down but the Lord’s word will remain forever.” That word is the joyful news announced to you.
Powerful image of Roman slavery
My first comment has to be an admission that my initial identification of the addressees of this letter as (literally) the Jewish diaspora in Asia Minor, (see four blogs back) was probably mistaken. The author does return a number of times to the image of a scattered people sojourning or living as aliens in a strange land, using it as a metaphor of the human lifespan on earth, as here. Doubtless the messianic assemblies were of mixed ethnicity, with Jewish expats as first members. This acceptance of earthly life as limited and painful in comparison with the life to come, is one of the convictions that distinguishes this author and his converts from modern readers in developed countries, most of whom regard earthly life as a comfortable reality and anything else as an unlikely bonus. The discovery that our comfort is rapidly destructive of the earth itself, may produce a rethink.
A very Jewish insistence on God as a God of justice reinforces a message about a sober and God-fearing life style which is contrasted with the “useless” life-style of their forefathers – surely referring in this instance to Gentiles- where the word “useless” refers as it often does in Jewish polemic, to idolatry. Trust in the one God entails banishing the idols and the immoral behaviour associated with them.
The status of believers is compared to that of slaves “bought back” from slavery to live as free people. The whole meaning of redemption in the New Testament comes from this comparison, which refers to the most fundamental change of human condition in the ancient world. The implication is that idolatry brings enslavement, while worship of the one true God offers liberation. The cost of this redemption is high: not the payment of money, but bloody sacrifice of Jesus’ death, which is seen as an offering to God, so that God’s goodness might be evident to all.
The New Testament has a variety of phrases that suggest Jesus’ life with God before as well as after his life on earth. Here we have a very delicate expression: “God knew him before the founding of the cosmos” but he was “made actual” or real for us in the end times. The author balances his sacrificial death which declares God’s love, with his resurrection which offers life and hope and trust in God. The readers are called to love each other as brothers and sisters, and are enabled to do so by a rebirth, a transformation, brought about through “God’s Word,” which is seen as, in effect, the sperm of this rebirth, and defined as the joyful news about Jesus Messiah which has been announced to his readers.
None of this theological material is developed at any great length or depth. It is more like a careful mixture of common theological phrases to establish a bond between readers and the author, for the purpose of strengthening their faith in a time of persecution.