SNTS – Aberdeen 2006


Armand Puig i Tàrrech (Barcelona)



            1 Peter 1:1 addresses the letter to five Roman provinces in Asia Minor. The text lists, clockwise (N-E-S-W), Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. Acts 2:9-10 also names five territories in Asia Minor. Three coincide with 1 Peter (Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia) and one (Phrygia) corresponds roughly to Galatia. The last one, Bithynia, could be included as part of the province of Pontus, as it was united with Pontus by Pompey in 64 BC. So, it may be that Acts 2 and 1 Peter 1 provide us with some information about the first Christian expansion in Asia Minor and, perhaps, Rome. Curiously, in both documents (Acts 2:10 and 1Pe 5:13) there is a reference to the capital of the Empire –a cryptic one in 1 Peter, where Rome appears under the symbolic name of Babylon. (1) In short, the Christian mission in Asia Minor may have been truly ancient, close in time to those of Syria (Antioch, Damascus), Egypt (Alexandria) and Rome. Although the identity of the missionaries cannot be ascertained, Christian mission was active early. In fact, based on the information given in Acts 2:9-10, we can say that it is quite possible that the gospel may have reached Asia Minor in three ways: from the east (Cilicia as a gateway to Cappadocia), from the south (from Pamphylia towards the centre of Anatolia) and from the west (Ephesus to Bithynia-Pontus, in the north). (2)     



            1. Preaching rooted in Asia Minor

            In 1 Peter 1:12 there is direct reference to ‘those who have preached to you the gospel’. These are the anonymous missionaries of largest areas of Asia Minor. The successful task of those preachers is linked to the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit, confirmed by the angels, who are longing to look into the message proclaimed to the new Christians. In this way, the addressees are given greater importance than the angels (see 3:22)! The missionaries, on the other hand, have preached the same message that had been announced by the ancient prophets, who were also acting under the guidance of the Spirit. Is this link with ancient prophecy a sign that the preaching of the gospel had a prophetic stamp? Did the missionaries present themselves as ‘prophets’, like the wandering prophets of the Syria-Palestine area? Or did the author of 1 Peter build up the relationship to stress the fulfilment of the salvation brought by Jesus Christ?  

            In any case, 1 Peter shows Christianity at work in Asia Minor half a century later. The first generation of believers has reached a degree of maturity, although their ancestors were pagans and the world around them did not share the Christian faith. The author speaks to people who are glad to follow the Christian doctrine and way of life. The audience is a religious and social minority, struggling to maintain its identity within a world which is, at times, hostile and normally not in tune with Christianity. The strength of the convictions and keeping to the rules aided bonding in the communities, which were scattered throughout a large area (275,000 km2), uniting them as the people of God. Christians were probably increasing in numbers slowly but surely, and this very fact may have aroused suspicion, envy and even hate from non-believers. This opposition would have represented a major obstacle to the peaceful presence of the Christian communities and to the proposal of the Christian gospel to those who were not familiar with it. (3)

            The first thing to be noted is that a Christian community, by the very fact of its existence, represents a challenge to society. The conduct, attitudes and ethos shown by Christians move people to different kinds of reactions, no one is left indifferent. The mission begins spontaneously, without previsions or programmes, as it is reflected in 1 Peter 2:9, where the point of beginning of the new people is “to proclaim” the virtues of God. Indeed, the beginning of the Christian mission in a particular place coincides with the foundation of the local church. A Christian congregation leads people to question the nature and ethics of the Church. Although there is no explicit campaign to call for conversion, the attraction of the new belief may be strong. As community life intensifies, so too does this attraction. (4) In 1 Peter these conditions are fulfilled, so the author stresses the Christian identity that spreads both inwards (‘ad intra’) and outwards (‘ad extra’).



            2. The basis of the mission: identity inwards and outwards

1 Peter has been written taking into account the situation of the audience. Proof of this can be seen in the series of metaphors appearing throughout the letter. There are metaphors and images related to agriculture (seed), to cattle (shepherd, flock, lamb, lion), to everyday life (milk for the children, gold for jewellery, braided hair, fine clothes), to the army (garrison, crown, fighting) and to human and social relationships (house / household, stones for buildings, administrators of the estates).

The Christian community has a father, who is God (1:2.3). This is His name, used to invoke Him (1:17). The members speak of themselves as brothers; indeed, the community refers to itself as the ‘brotherhood’, a term designating the local Church (2:17) as well the universal one (5:9). Thus, the community is known as ‘the household of God’, the familia Dei (4:17). The main text for this is 2:4-10, where the image of the ‘stone’ relates to Jesus, the precious cornerstone, and to the believers, living stones making a house filled with the Holy Spirit (2:5; 4:14). (5) Obviously, the image of the building invokes a strong personal relationship binding those who are ‘the people of God’, the populus Dei (2:10). God has built His house / household (2:5) and will not abandon His beloved family; on the contrary, He will protect and care for it until the end, when, like any good architect, He will restore, confirm, strengthen and give to the elect Christians a sound foundation. God’s work is conceived in terms of a building process, from now until ‘the eternal glory’ (5:10). (6) This will be the result of ‘God’s power’ (1:5). In another metaphorical expression, God is the great owner who will provide a heavenly and indestructible heritage (1:4). (7) God’s care for His people is expressed throughout the letter. The Christian community must be extremely strong and united (4:11), as it is elect and holy (2:9). (8) In other words, it belongs to God, the Father. Christians are a community: God’s people (2:10), God’s household (4:17) and God’s flock (5:2). These three names for the Christian community (populus, familia, grex Dei) reflect the community’s own name for itself brotherhood (fraternitas) (2:17; 5:9). All of them are interwoven, so that the cohesion within the community may never be broken.     

            The strong internal bonds act as the basis for the Christian identity outwards, ‘ad extra’. Aside from the Book of Acts (11:26; 26:28), 1 Peter is the only NT document where the name ‘Christian’ appears (4:16). This common use points to the links between Antioch and Asia Minor. According to Acts 11:26 the disciples were called by this name for the first time in Antioch, the city where, similarly, the gospel was preached to Jews and non-Jews alike for the first time. ‘Christian’ is, then, a noun created by the non-believers who realise that ‘Christ’ is the name of the god worshipped by their neighbours. Echoing 1 Peter (4:16), Pliny the Younger informs us that, in Bithynia-Pontus around 110 AD, the so-called ‘Christians’ usually sang hymns to Christ every Sunday before sunrise (Letters 10:96). Therefore, this name had been common in Asia Minor since the end of the 1st century and the start of the 2nd. To Antioch and Asia Minor we have to add Rome. Tacitus tells us that in the time of Nero, people called christianos the adherents to the ‘superstition’ which began with a certain Christus (Annales 15:44). In short, four sources (Acts, 1 Peter, Tacitus and Pliny), related to Antioch, Asia Minor and Rome, lead to the same result: the believers in Jesus Christ were popularly known as ‘Christians’. This term, originating from outside the Church, identified its members as something different to Jews and the other inhabitants of the Roman Empire. This identification is a clear sign of the active presence of the Christian community in the aforementioned areas and indirect evidence of a Christian mission. (9)

             Nonetheless, there is also direct evidence as to the way the Christians conceived their presence in the society which they formed part of. Perhaps the most expressive term in 1 Peter in this sense is avnastrofh. (‘conduct, behaviour, way of life’), which is found six times in the letter (1:15.18; 2:12: 3:1.12.16). For the letter, doing good is the main way in which non-Christians can find out what it means to follow the Christian faith. Secondly, the author puts forward a proposal concerning the kind of role the believers must play in the world in terms of the idea of being an alien or stranger (1:1; 1:17; 2:11). This proposal, however, does not affect the concept of mission: the paradox lies in the fact that whoever maintains their Christian identity patiently will, in fact, contribute to the mission, i.e. to the positive attraction of the Christian faith for those who do not believe. Thirdly, the attitude of the believers must help them overcome the mistrust and misunderstanding. They need to rely on dialogue and exchange. Christians are supposed to give a personal answer to those who ask them the reasons for their hope (3:15-16). This answer, based on dialogue, is accompanied by people being able to witness their good deeds, and is clearly a missionary tool for a community that does not turn its back on the world around it.



            3. The importance of doing good

            What does it mean to live as a minority, as strangers, among a majority to whom one had earlier belonged? What should the response be to the social pressure felt by the Christians? If this response was self-imposed isolation, Christian minority could not establish any relationship with the non-Christian majority? The letter (4:3.15) summons believers to keep to the ten commandments and the laws faithfully (avoiding murder, adultery, robbery or crime), whilst also showing complete respect for those who are not Christians (2:17). This is the most likely sense of the difficult word avllotriepi,skopoj (4:15): the believers must not interfere in the affairs of the other social groups or associations (the famous haeteriae) and respect everybody. The ethical commitment of the believers, alongside worship, is then the main focus for Asian Christianity, as Pliny states in his letter (10:96) to Trajan: the Christians swear not to steal (furta), do evil (latrocinia) or be adulterous (adulteria), e.g., not perform any crimes at all (in scelus aliquod).

The similarities between First Peter and Pliny’s letter are striking. Indeed, the Christian motto for both documents could be the statement found in 1 Pe 3:17: ‘It is better (for the Christians) to suffer for doing good (avgaqopoiou/ntaj) than for doing wrong (kakopoiou/ntaj)’. Although Christians refuse to follow the customs of the majority, the mox maiorum, handed down from their ancestors (1:18; 4:3), and similarly to worship false gods (4:3), they have not broken the personal links with their former neighbours or friends. On the contrary, they should behave like Jesus Christ, who ‘had done nothing wrong’ (2:22) and, when he was despised and insulted, did not retaliate with insults or threads. As it is said in 3:9, they must not ‘repay one wrong with another, or one abusive word with another’. Envy and criticism from those who do not believe can only be defeated with good deeds. Thus, doing good is vital for an active presence, which becomes missionary as neighbours begin to change their opinions and look sympathetically on the Christians. Obviously, the author of the letter considers this change to be progressive, with its culminating in definitive and complete acknowledgement at the end of time, on ‘the day of reckoning’ (2:12). Meanwhile, until that day comes, Christians are urged to continue doing good, so that ‘those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations’ (3:16). Indeed, mission begins where slanders end, or even in spite of them. In fact, what is really decisive in attracting interest and new members, is the Christian witness for doing good.




            4. Maintaining the identity

            We have already mentioned how unity of hearts and feelings is essential to resist and not to be swallowed up ‘by the devil… looking for someone to devour’ (5:8). Those who decide to live as Christians are put on trial and there is a real danger of their returning to their old Gentile convictions. Therefore, the Christian struggle is against the earthly desires of the flesh, which would look to overcome the resistance of the ‘aliens and strangers’, attacking their soul and destroying their ‘good conscience given to God’ as part of the baptism (2:11; 3:21). In other words, mission is only possible because the Christians remain ‘aliens and strangers’ to this world and to its principles. (10) If Christians returned to their old way of life, they would no longer be able to discern their criteria from the rest of the world and their identity would disappear completely. The mission rests on the faith and ethics of the believers.  

            The point of departure for 1 Peter is the divine choice. God has made the Christians of Asia Minor ‘elect and holy’ (1:1-2). Their human condition is so new, that it can be compared to a new birth, made possible by the divine seed, ‘the living and enduring word of God’ (1:23). He has called them to a living hope, to an incorruptible heritage and to a magnificent salvation, which is the goal of their faith (1:3-9). Thus, their life leads to the revelation and the glory that will be bestowed upon them (4:11). They are also filled with an inexplicable joy. The principles of Christian life state that divine election precedes human conversion and that the merciful grace of God is the definitive reason for the mission. When somebody decides to enter the community of believers, that means he / she is hearing the word of God sown in their soul. Believers experiencing this divine grace and love are astonished and thankful, and feel that this gift has to be bestowed on others. The very fact that the divine mercy fills their hearts is the first and last reason for the existence of the mission. Mission begins with the action of the Holy Spirit in a specific place or territory. The idea presented in 1 Peter in terms of the salvation for believers and the subsequent joy that embraces them are pillars of the Christian mission. It is true then, as N. Brox stresses, that the mission is God’s matter. (11) In this light, when the Christian identity is maintained, the mission becomes a growing reality.      



            5. Beyond a closed community

            In 1 Peter the mission is carried out by a community committed to society, through an active presence and an authentic witness of how to live according to the gospel. Christians should not think of themselves as a ‘society’ within the society. They believe in God, they love the other members of the community and they respect everyone, including the emperor (2:17). Conviviality and care for non-Christians are among the strategies included by the author in his letter. This comes as a greater surprise given that the society which surrounds them mistrusts and slanders them, and even fights them. In this sense it is quite possible that the phrase ‘the fire which is taking place among you’ (4:12) may refer to a worsening of the situation and an increasing of the social difficulties the Christians have to face. (12) However, Christian communities do not seem to have modified their conduct and they bear all their ills with the conviction that they are sharing in ‘the sufferings of Christ’ (4:13).

            Moreover, they are invited to live their faith without complexes and fear and to communicate the Christian message without hesitation. Being alien to the criteria which conform non-Christians’ everyday life does not mean that they are confined by the Christian option and have to respond with fear or violence. Quoting Is 8:12, the author of 1 Peter admonishes his audience saying: ‘Have no dread of them (= the non Christians); have no fear’ (3:14). The strategy proposed by the author of 1 Peter is based on Christian people witness for doing good as a general attitude and part of everyday life. Christians have to explain their choices to the others. Since their hope is so great and marvellous, they should not remain silent. If they are asked about their faith, they should try to tell how and why they are Christians. Mission is the answer to the ordinary questions that may arise in a conversation on the street or in the fields. (13) Hence, the author stresses the need to explain one’s inner feelings with courtesy, but adds: ‘Have always your answer ready for people who ask (aivtou/nti) you the reason for the hope that you have’ (3:15). (14) Christian identity must not be something cryptic or hidden. When somebody shows interest in Christian beliefs, which is not always the case, they deserve an answer. The gospel is to be communicated ‘always’, without restrictions. The antipathy towards the Christian minority must to be changed into sympathy. Even when the hostility may lead to a report before the Roman court, the ‘answer’ must not be revenge, but dialogue and, if necessary, self-defence. (15) The author insists on using friendly conviviality as the main tool for spreading the Christian identity and the Christian mission.

              The communities addressed by the letter were scattered throughout a very large area and this must have increased the feeling of isolation amidst a society which is somewhat recalcitrant to the Christian way of life. However, in 1 Peter 1:1, it is made clear that Christianity has reached the whole Asia Minor: one gets the impression that all the Roman provinces mentioned have heard the gospel preached. In fact, not only this area of the Empire but the whole ‘world’ (5:9) has been reached by Christ’s message. (16) Obviously, we are faced with a theological doctrine that sees the mission as the presence of the gospel throughout the world, not the conversion of its entire population. (17) Perhaps the use of the multifaceted concept of the diaspora, in 1:1 has been chosen to underline the universal nature of the mission and, likewise, the actual conditions in which Christian communities live. The term diaspora,, which must not be confused with ‘exile’, is borrowed from Jewish theology and indicates that the whole world has been filled with Jewish communities. In this positive sense, seen both in Philo and Josephus, diaspora, (all the countries outside Israel) and the ‘world’ are one and the same. In this way, the five provinces presented in 1 Peter 1:1 form part of this dispersion. (18) From the other side, the use of the term ‘dispersion’ points to the conditions prevailing in the Christian communities, akin to those of Jewish congregations. In both cases, there is a minority which is scattered and relatively isolated amongst large areas of Gentile population. Moreover, this minority is ‘alien’, in the sense that it does not share the dominating values and criteria. Its life is ‘diasporic’ as it differs from the surrounding world and culture. As is stated in Diognetus in relation to Christians: ‘They live in their homeland, but as aliens (paroi,koi)’ (5:5). Or, ‘they live in the world, but do not belong to the world’ (6:3). Yet, in spite of this, ‘their conduct is wonderful and full of surprise’ (5:4).



            6. Conclusion

            1 Peter is a NT document which opens new paths, to be continued later by Diognetus and other Christian writers. Christianity shows a remarkable strength, whereby believers can be found not only in the towns and cities, but also in rural areas, (most of them on the outskirts of these towns and cities), as metaphors in the letter point out. This is echoed in the description provided by Pliny: ‘(Christian) superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms’ (sed vicos etiam atque agros) (Letter 10:96). This trend was to continue in the coming years, as Tertullian (Apologeticum 1:7) and Origens (Contra Celsum 3:9) show. The key to understanding the success of the Christian mission is to be found in the personal commitment of every Christian for doing good, the effort to maintain an alternative identity whilst faced with that of the world and cultures around them, and a welcoming attitude towards everybody, even those who show hostility and rebuke. Mission becomes a necessary choice, carried out without strategies or well-designed plans. It is a choice deeply rooted in the personal conscience of every baptised, called to communicate the Gospel with inner conviction. It goes hand in hand with a responsible Christian presence in the world.



















(1)    The list in Acts 2:9-11 has warranted the attention of many scholars. Luke is certainly willing to enumerate the known world according to Graeco-Roman culture: from the Parthians to the city of Rome (from east to west) and coming back to Jerusalem (this is why he mentions at the end of his list ‘Cretans and Arabs’, peoples who flank Jerusalem respectively from the west and from the east). However, as E. Haenchen has pointed out, the historical interest of the author cannot be ignored: ‘the countries named possessed a considerable Jewish minority’ (The Acts of the Apostles. A Commentary [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971] 169). This interest could have had something to do with the expansion of Christianity. We find in the list ‘Judaea and Cappadocia’ (the line Palestine-Syria-Cilicia-Cappadocia), ‘Pontus and Asia’ (north-west and northern Asia Minor), ‘Phrygia and Pamphylia’ (southern and central Asia Minor), ‘Egypt and the regions of Lybia round Cyrene’ and ‘Rome’. The three main centres of Eastern Christianity (Antioch, Alexandria and Rome) are included in the Lukan map, as well as Rome. This would fit into the first two decades of Christianity (thirties and forties). Greece does not appear at all, though it does plays an important role in the Christian mission, whereas Asia Minor is broadly represented. Greece will be the main –and new!– field for the Pauline mission in the fifties (see note 14).   


(2)    It should be noted that the churches founded by Paul in Asia Minor are located in Pisidia (Antioch) and Lycaonia (Iconium, Lystra -Timothy’s homeland- and Derbe, ‘and the surrounding country’, Acts 14:6). All of them lie in the centre of Asia Minor and belong to the province of Galatia. In the province of Asia, the only names that can be ascertained, but as result of the missionary activity of Epaphras, Paul’s companion in the country, are Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis in the Hinterland (see Col 4:13; Acts 19:10). Ephesus, the provincial capital, was already the seat of a church (Acts 18:19; 19:1). Apparently, Paul never visited either Cappadocia or Bithyinia-Pontus. Most of the Pauline founding activity took place in Europe, in the Greek provinces of Macedonia and Achaia (Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea and Corinth). It seems clear then that, according to his principle ‘to preach the gospel only where the name of Christ has not already been heard’ (Rm 15:20), Paul restricted himself to preach the Christian message throughout Asia Minor and founded communities in the regions of Pisidia and Lycaonia, in southern Galatia, probably the only territories not reached by any Christian mission in the area before him (according to Acts 2:9-10).


(3)    Most of the critical questions regarding 1 Peter’s communities can be found in the classical commentaries on 1 Peter (Selwyn, Goppelt, Reicke, Spicq, Brox, Elliott, Achtemeier). I have tried to explain my own position in “Le milieu de la Première Épître de Pierre”, Revista Catalana de Teologia 5/1 (1980) 95-129 and 5/2 (1980) 331-402. Recently, I have introduced some modifications to my previous conclusions in the article “Els cristians com a forasters en la Primera Carta de Pere”, in: A. Puig i Tàrrech (ed.), La Bíblia i els immigrants (Scripta Biblica 6; Barcelona: PAM-ABCat, 2005) 197-242. 1 Peter’s audience includes people of different ages, sexes and socioeconomic status. They come from the Graeco-Roman population, not from the Jewish one, and are gathered in small urban and rural communities scattered throughout a very large area.     


(4)    Brox rightly notes that the ancient Church worried greatly about the spirituality of the communities, ‘in der Zuverschicht, dass das deutlich und unverwaschen gelebte Ideal die Menschen am wirksamsten auf die Wahrheit des Christentums aufmerksam macht’ (“Zur christlichen Mission in der Spätantike”, in K. Kertelge [ed.], Mission im Neuen Testament [QD 93; Freiburg-Basel-Wien: Herder, 1982] 211). 


(5)    This would be the best interpretation of the Greek phrase oi=koj pneumatiko.j (2:5). It is worth noting that the prophecy in Is 11:2, referring to the Messiah, is applied in 1 Peter 4:14 to the Christians. Jesus always offers an exemplary role model for believers: ‘(he) left an example for you…’ (2:21).


(6)    See my article “Milieu”, 350. The three / four verbs in 5:10 are most likely related to the world of building. Eternal reward is completely assured.


(7)    Three emphatic adjectives in 1:4, all of them beginning with the Greek prefix a-, explain, as in 5:10, the firm basis of the heavenly heritage. The inclusion between the two verses envelops the whole text.


(8)    For this expression see J. H. Elliott, The Elect and the Holy. An Exegetical Examination of 1Peter 2:4-10 and the phrase basi,leion i`era,teuma (NTSuppl 12; Leiden: Brill, 1966).


(9)    There is an interesting coincidence between (some of) those who appear in Jerusalem for Pentecost and who hear the first gospel preaching according to Acts 2:9-11 (see note 13), and the areas where the name “Christian” seems to be used: Antioch (indirectly), Asia Minor and Rome.


(10) Cf. P. J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996): “The status of exile and alien describes the condition within which Christians must continue to pursue their good conduct” (175).


(11) It is worthwhile reproducing the words of N. Brox: ‘Gott hat zur Rettung davor berufen, wen er will, und tut das weiter… die Bekehrung vieler oder sogar aller Menschen ist im Grunde also seine Sache’ (“Mission”, 207).


(12) There may be an echo of this situation in Pliny (Letter 10:96). Here it is said that some former believers who had abandoned the faith twenty years before did not have any difficulty in cursing Christ and worshiping the statues of the gods and the emperor, when they were requested by Pliny to do so. There is a coincidence in time between their apostasy and the time when 1 Peter was supposedly written (around 90 AD).


(13) The term aivtou/nti (3,15) ‘indicates conversation rather than police enquiry’ (E. Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter [London: Macmillan, 1947] 193).


(14) See D. Senior – C. Stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundations for Mission, London: SCM, 1983: ‘The author (of 1 Peter) does not speak of itinerant mission preaching, but he does insist that the community members turn their interests and involvement outside the community’ (302). 


(15) The judicial pressure against Christians would seem to be confirmed in 4:15-16 (see also 2:14). Likewise, in 3:15 terminology does not exclude a judicial context: the formula aivte,w lo,gon (‘ask the reason’) fits with a judicial interrogation and avpologi,a (‘answer’) indicates the right to reply of somebody being interrogated in court.


(16) The author refers to the universal Church as ‘brotherhood throughout the world’ (th/| evn Îtw/|Ð ko,smw| u`mw/n avdelfo,thti) at the end of his letter (5:9). Throughout the text, the author refers to the community in a broad sense, without making a clear distinction between a local congregation and the universal Church. The only territorial references are at the beginning (1:1: the five Roman provinces) and at the end (5:9: the whole world). Note that the term used here is ko,smoj and not oivkoume,nh. The perspective is as universal as possible, even beyond the borders of the Empire. Similarly, Diognetus 6.2: ‘There are Christians in all the cities of the world’. 


(17) 1 Peter is one of the first Christian documents to make the distinction between the universal spreading of the message and the actual conversion of all individuals to the Christian faith. N. Brox concludes: ‘Auf der ganzen Welt sind, wenn auch verstreut und nicht massiert, Christen’ (“Mission”, 207).


(18) Indeed, the letter begins with the term diaspora,, the general term that should be used to describe the five provinces. See also Jm 1:1, which mentions “the twelve tribes of the Dispersion”, i.e., scattered throughout the world.