Interpreting First Peter -- By: Robert W. Thurston

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 17:3 (Summer 1974)
Article: Interpreting First Peter
Author: Robert W. Thurston


Interpreting First Peter

Robert W. Thurston*

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The First Epistle of Peter is perhaps one of the most difficult books to interpret of any in the New Testament. Although the epistle is not long, it contains several very puzzling passages. Of many questions which could be raised regarding this book, this article will consider two:

1. What were the origin and destination of the epistle? It is addressed to “sojourners of the Dispersion;” some writers have interpreted this as meaning that the epistle was originally sent to the Jewish Dispersion.1 But others consider this figurative, and believe that the readers were primarily Gentiles.2 A similar problem arises regarding the city of origin. The writer says “your sister church in Babylon sends greetings” (5:13). Some consider this reference to Babylon literal,3 while others consider it figurative, referring to Rome.4

2. 1 Pet. 3:20–22 states that in Noah’s time “eight souls were saved by water,” and that “the like figure, even baptism, doth also now save us.” How are we to interpret this? In what sense are we saved by baptism? And precisely what is the analogy between baptism and the flood?

Both of these questions have been examined previously by a great many writers. The purpose of this article is not to review all lines of evidence they have put forth. Instead, this article will consider these questions primarily from a single perspective: we will attempt to determine what clues the context offers us in interpreting these passages.

To determine the context we will begin with an overview of the book. This overview will attempt to identify the primary subjects of the book, without regard to the ideas presented about these subjects. Next we will try to determine the relationship between these subjects, and the major points which the author presents regarding them. At this point we will try to construct a very general outline of the book. Does the author discuss the

*Free lance Christian writer.

same subjects throughout the book, or is the book divided into recognizable sections?

After determining the context, we will investigate the bearing of that context on the two questions raised above. Finally, we will make some brief observations concerning the question of literary forms und...

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