The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter -- By: James R. Slaughter

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 152:605 (Jan 1995)
Article: The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter
Author: James R. Slaughter

The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter

James R. Slaughter

[James R. Slaughter is Professor of Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.]

A survey of the literature dealing with Peter’s epistles, including New Testament introductions, commentaries, Bible encyclopedias and handbooks, and even journal articles reveals a serious lack of consideration for the argument that flows through each letter. Much attention has been given to identifying Peter’s sources and the original form of 1 Peter, and to exegeting and expounding the text. But scholars have expended little energy on thoroughly articulating Peter’s comprehensive message and demonstrating the immense influence this message has on the various sections of 1 Peter. Studies in 1 Peter often identify the themes of persecution and suffering, usually in a summary statement regarding the letter’s purpose, but those studies seldom demonstrate how these themes are recapitulated throughout the different segments of the work. Some commentators do not address Peter’s purpose, theme, or argument in any way.1

The neglect of Peter’s argument and its influence on his words and their interpretation in individual passages is typical of many expositions of 1 Peter.2 Instead, the apostle’s instructions

are usually presented as a kind of teaching catechism without consideration for the basis on which the instruction builds. But the argument of the epistle, particularly the element of the believer’s lifestyle in the face of unfair circumstances, is crucial for understanding the full range of Peter’s injunctions.

The Function of Argument in a Literary Work

Because 1 Peter constitutes a literary work, it should be studied as literature having purpose, themes, and a message that influence the meaning and impact of its various parts. Such features as allusion to and citing of Old Testament Scripture, the use of metaphor and simile, and the elements of rhetoric and style, characterize the New Testament epistles as literature.3 Deissmann argues that as an epistle 1 Peter “is an artistic literary form, a species of literature, just like the dialogue, the oration or the drama.”4 He distinguishes between a true epistle and a letter, suggesting the letter is simply a personal “piece of life,” not literary at all, while the epistle is a “product of literary art.”5 Longenecker denies this difference between letters and e...

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