Historical and Cultural Background for 1 Peter
Welcome to your 1 Peter Bible Study Orientation. In order to truly understand 1 Peter, we must do a little study of its historical and cultural background.
1 Peter’s Audience
1 Peter is addressed to Christians living in Asia minor which forms part of modern-day Turkey.
Peter calls his readers:
- Elect – They are God’s chosen people
- Resident aliens – Signals a particular social status (see explanations below)
- Of the “diaspora” – Describes Jews who were living outside of their homeland (Palestine). Peter now applies this Jewish term to Christians to describe their social and religious displacement within the Roman Empire.
The Context of Suffering
The traditional view depicted the suffering in 1 Peter as state-wide or empire sanctioned persecution.
However, many scholars now believe that the suffering in 1 Peter represents social oppression, marginalization and abuse. Christianity was a peculiar religion that stood out within a pluralistic, decadent and hostile society.
This is important to keep in mind.
It would be difficult to connect to an ancient audience whose primary concern was being fed to the lions. This is not the case with believers who suffered mockery, marginalization and verbal abuse for wearing the Christian name.
1 Peter’s context looks very similar to our own.
The Pilgrim Language
1 Peter also utilizes a term that is usually translated as “pilgrim” or “sojourner” (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11).
These translations give the impression that Christians are just passing through this earth. This provides believers with a ready made excuse to disengage from this world.
But the term in question is better translated as “resident alien.” Many in 1 Peter’s audience were literally foreigners and were experiencing the displacement, disorientation, and marginalization common to any person living a foreign land.
Even in this difficult situation, Peter did not counsel his audience to disconnect from society. Rather he called for a radical engagement. In so doing, Peter was hopeful that many Gentiles would come to Christ and “glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
Occasion for The Letter & Main Themes
The occasion for the letter is to provide encouragement, advice and a divine perspective for the societal persecution that the readers are experiencing.
Peter makes several bold claims:
- Christians are God’s holy and chosen people in direct continuity with these Old Testament concepts
- Christians are to live as a holy people within a hostile society. This provides a witness to the gospel and a contrast to society’s norms.
- When Christians are persecuted, they identify with Christ who also suffered
These themes are relevant for Christians living in a post-modern culture. We will explore them in greater detail in this 1 Peter Bible study.