Reading 1 Peter – Listening Well (Sabbath School 4-8-2017)

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Reading 1 Peter – Listening Well (Sabbath School 4-8-2017)


Years ago, I read a book entitled How to Read A Book by Mortimer J. Adler. In addition to solidifying my developing approach to learning to listen well in any genre of literature, it reminded me of the great gulf between any author and reader. Contrary to popular thinking, the inspiration of the Bible doesn’t mean the Bible dropped from the sky and therefore needs no interpretive skill. A common statement like “I just take the Bible as it reads…” really does an injustice to the skillful articulation of truth, challenges to Christian life (1 Peter 4:3), how the world was understood (2:13–3:7), why things were the they were and where they are headed (1:2–5), and how the gospel addresses these issues (3:21–22).

This indeed is part of the ministry of those who have the spiritual gifts to teach and preach (Eph. 4:12–14), not just telling us what to believe, but pointing to a sound method of interpretation. I say that to make the point that unless someone helps us with the tools to grow we can become limited solely to our own thinking and understanding. That doesn’t mean a person will be lost, but it does mean our understanding of what Christianity should look like in the world will be shallow at best. The contemporary readers of Bible times, had the benefit of living in a time where knowledge of five important issues to studying the bible was more readily accessible.

  • Knowledge of Language/Literature
  • Knowledge of Culture/Customs
  • Knowledge of Geography
  • Knowledge of Religion/Philosophy: Basic Patterns of thought (Worldview)
  • Knowledge of History

To bridge this gap, it is necessary to recognize that the Bible is a 1) literary document written in a 2) historical setting and context with 3) specific aims from the Author and co-authors (prophets, priests, disciples, etc.).[1] Just as in Christ, this points to the divine and human intermingling of Scripture, which cannot be separated.

Knowledge of Language/Literature

So, here is a brief suggested method for Reading 1 Peter so that we can listen well.

First, of course PRAY. No human knowledge or skill can replace the Lordship of the Holy Spirit when we read the Word.

Second, recognizing our varying familiarity with 1st ca. literary styles and language, it would be good to READ THE WHOLE BOOK (in one sitting) using several different versions each time. Remember, knowing who the original audience is helps us to think in terms of how they would have heard what was being said. This will help us to

  • Learn the style of the author
  • Listen for repetition of phrases and words
  • Follow the flow of the text (get the main ideas)

WRITE DOWN your initial observations, here were some of mine.

  1. Peter uses a common Greco-Roman letter writing style that included an:
  • Introduction (1:1–2)
  • Blessing and Praise (1:3–12)
  • Main Body- propositions modified by examples, quotes, and admonitions (1:13–5:11)
  • Doxology/salutation (5:12–14)
  1. Peter made frequent reference to the Old Testament[2]
  • He cites, quotes, and alludes to the prophet Isaiah the most.
  • He uses the historical figures Abraham and Noah as examples.
  1. Peter’s Method: Applied CHRISTOLOGY for Christian growth
  • Peter points to Jesus as the example to follow (suffering; 3:8–4:19), the answer to the present dilemma (Jesus the foundation of the church; 2:1–13; Jesus the Great Shepherd; 5:1–11), and the means to live out God’s ethical imperatives and moral teaching (called to be holy; 1:13–25).
  1. Peter makes reference to social institutions (politics, 2:13–17; servants, 2:18–25; and marriage and family, 3:1–7) when talking about submission.[3]

Knowledge of Culture/Customs

Two cultural issues Peter addresses are the honor/shame mentality and displacement. First often the question of ethics was tied to religious practice, so social discourse often involved what would be considered idolatry. A few questions Peter’s audience[4] would have had to wrestle with that might seem strange to us were:

Is it okay to go to the theaters? Theaters were different in the first century. Plays depicted polytheism, religious ritual, and questionable moral themes.

Is it okay to go to a gymnasium? Wrestling was often a naked affair between men.

How should I engage with different groups like Greco-Roman moralists, Platonists, Stoics, and Epicureans? (i. e. philosophical/religious traditions; cf. Acts 17:18)

When it came to the issue of displacement or exile Peter is really speaking about citizenship, so a few questions that would be raised are:

What type of citizen should I consider myself?

How should church members handle internal dissension and division within the Greco-Roman structured social system of class distinctions?

What should we do when false teachings have political or social consequences?

How do we define our faith in relationships to post-resurrection Judaism?

As you can see living in the first century was just as complicated as living in the twenty-first. But knowing the difficulties they faced can give us encouragement that the gospel can and does address societal issues. Peter addresses these issues, so it behooves us to ask what type of issues stimulated inspired responses?

Knowledge of Geography

To understand some of Peter’s metaphors and emphases it is helpful to know where Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia were, what they were known for, why Christians would be dispersed in these places, and what implications does that have on our understanding of the use and reach of Peter’s letters.

  • Peter probably wrote from Rome (cf. 5:13) and these five ethnically diverse Roman provinces in Asia Minor (Modern day Turkey) represented a large swath of culturally and socially diverse peoples under the control of Rome.[5]
    • Natives (local aristocrats, administrators, and ordinary citizens).
    • Freed persons
    • Slaves (great numbers)
    • Resident aliens/strangers passing through (sizable numbers)
    • Roman officials/military veterans (small number)
    • Numerous Jewish communities (afforded some special rights)

Knowledge of Religion/Philosophy: Basic Patterns of thought (Worldview)

The religious implications of 1 Peter 4:3 are often overlooked, Peter makes a statement about living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. In some shape, form, or fashion what the Bible calls idolatry was always related to some religious belief. When we read the Bible we must not impose our understanding of “godless” meaning secular, agnostic, or atheistic on Scripture for that would have been the furthest thing from common practice. Everyone was religious in some sort.[6]

Knowledge of History

For Peter history was not the static stale details of the past; it had great significance for the present and future. The changing fortunes of the ancient Near East was well known to Israel since they were subjugated to, made treaties with, and interfaced with almost every major power from Mesopotamia in the 2nd millennium down to the first century Romans by God’s directive. Peter’s view of history was seen through the scope of “time {eschatos, from which we get the concept eschatology} or ages” (1:5, 20). So, while modern historians look at epochs of man’s kingdoms, Peter and NT saw their time as the Messianic age. Remember when the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6.

Reading Peter ennobles us but also enables us to have a broader understanding and appreciation for how Jesus really is sufficient in any and all circumstances. The question for us is are our circumstances any more daunting than Peter’s? Well, we’ll have to read well to find out.

Click the link to read the Sabbath School Lesson for this week, “An Inheritance Incorruptible.”

Click here to read more commentaries on this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School lesson.



[1] As a literary document, the book expresses a message using a certain style (structure & style). The historical setting of the book relays a message in connection with events in time and through circumstances. As a theological book, the Bible conveys the meaning/implications/perspectives of the gospel for God’s people.


[2] A quotation is the strongest, most explicit mode of reference, a direct citation of an OT passage that is clearly recognizable by its clear and unique verbal parallelism. An allusion is a brief expression, an indirect reference consciously intended by an author to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance, where the writer expects the reader to possess enough knowledge to spot the allusion and grasp its importance in a text. A citation shows the way readers are told that certain material in a work came from another source. Finally, an echo is an attempt to derive meaning from one specific text, event, tradition, person, or thing used for another purpose than the original sense

[3] Think about how Peter presents a Christian view of a society. Is it different from the way we think about it today, why?

[4] Evidence for a Gentile audience (1:14, 18; 2:10, 25; 3:6; 4:3-4).

[5] For a picture of this area see J.H., Elliot, 1 Peter: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible 37B, New York: Doubleday, 2000).

[6] See Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds to Christianity (2nd ed., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,1993, 137–371.

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About the author


Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.