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Monthly Archives: January 2018

“Born Again” in 1 Peter

The theme of becoming like a child is (independently?) multiply attested in the Jesus tradition (Mark 10:13-16/Matthew 19:13-15/Luke 18:15-17; Matthew 18:4; John 3:3, 5; Gospel of Thomas 22), though the saying may have been open to different interpretations such as the lowly social status of the child, the unconditional faith of the child, or the metaphor of rebirth is applied to personal transformation or a return to a primordial state. It is interesting to note that the language for being “born again” (anagennao) appears in 1 Peter 1:3 and 1:23, though there is no strong evidence for a literary relationship with any Gospel texts. In these verses, Christians have been initiated by divine mercy and born into a living hope that has its basis in the resurrection of Jesus, in the promised inheritance currently being preserved in heaven, and in the certainty of their divine protection as they keep their faith(fullness) until their future salvation is unveiled. If you are interested in the later reception of the “born again” saying in the Patristic period, see James Barker, “Written Gospel or Oral Tradition? Patristic Parallels to John 3:3, 5” Early Christianity 6.4 (2015): 543-558.


The Label “Christian” in 1 Peter

According to Acts 11:26, it was in Antioch where followers of Christ were first called “Christians.” This could be the case, but it is important to note the rarity of the term in the New Testament as it occurs only three times and not in the earliest texts (cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). A far more common insider designation was “congregation” (ekklēsia) or “holy ones” (hagioi). Second, in all three examples, it is a term bestowed on them from outside of the Jesus movement, probably used by governing officials to identify the supporters of Christ as a potential public menace. Indeed, it is a label for which they suffer in 1 Peter 4:16, though the writer of the letter encourages them to not to feel shame as they would if they had been prosecuted for other criminal activity. It was an act of transvaluation to co-opt the title “Christian,” which was once an outsider term of opprobrium, and turn it into a positive self-identifier. A good study of the origins and implications of the term “Christian” is David G. Horrell, “The Label Χριστιανός: 1 Peter 4:16 and the Formation of Christian Identity” JBL 126.2 (2007): 361–381.

Suffering in 1 Peter

In the last post I alluded to 1 Peter 4:3-4, where it seems like the kind of abuse Christians would have received would include social ostracism, slander, threats, or potential mob retaliation. Indeed, it has become the general consensus that Christians experienced sporadic and local hostility rather than official state suppression.

The reason for this consensus is that, although there were Christian martyrs in the first few centuries, the evidence for an empire-wide persecution campaign comes in the reigns of Decius (ca. 249-251 CE) and Diocletian (ca. 284-305 CE) when participation in the Roman public cult was legislated. Nero may have scapegoated Christians for the fire in Rome, but his torture and execution of Christians was confined to Rome (Tacitus, Annals 15.44). There are some anecdotes about how Domitian exiled John to the island of Patmos (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.30.3) or put the grandsons of Jesus’s brother Jude on trial (Hegessipus, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.20.1-7). Trajan confirms to Pliny that the stubborn refusal of Christians to observe the imperial cult is a punishable offense, but does not encourage seeking them out or accepting anonymous accusations (Pliny, Letters 10.96-97).

However, there is a middle ground approach that has challenged some of my own earlier thinking in this area. Check out the article by Travis B. Williams “Suffering from a Critical Oversight: The Persecutions of 1 Peter within Modern Scholarship” CBR 10.2 (2012): 271-288. There was always the ever-present fear that hostilities could escalate into public accusations that could be heard in a court of law. I will one day get to reading his PhD dissertation “Contextualizing Conflict: The Persecutions of 1 Peter in their Anatolian Setting” that was revised in Persecution in 1 Peter. Differentiating and Contextualizing Early Christians Suffering (Supp NovT 145; Brill; Leiden, 2012).

From “Not a People” to “God’s People” in 1 Peter

The major reason for the social alienation of the addressees of 1 Peter is stated in 4:3-4. That is, their non-participation in the local municipal or civil cults was perceived as courting disaster if it offended the local divinities and could hurt the economy when people no longer attended temples, purchased sacrificial animals, or celebrated in religious festivals. Of course, diaspora Jews could be exempted from these cultic practices because they at least were following their own ancestral deity and way of life, but the mainly non-Jewish audience of 1 Peter were viewed as abandoning their native customs for a foreign superstition.

In light of the loss of their social status, the author of 1 Peter confers on the audience a new communal identity. In 2:9-10, they are called an elect genos (kin, race, kind), a holy ethnos (nation), and a laos (people) of God’s own possession. There is also language of the Christians’ new birth (1:2, 23), descent from the matriarch Sarah (3:6, unless this just refers to those who follow her example), future inheritance (1:4), and collective name (4:16). This may sound surprising, but this all conforms to how ethnicity has been defined by some anthropologists as a socially-constructed category based on the belief in shared descent, kinship, land, customs, religion, and so on.

A helpful study on this is David Horrell, “‘Race’, ‘Nation’, ‘People’: Ethnic Identity-Construction in 1 Peter 2.9NTS 58 (2012): 123-143. Horrell joins a number of other scholars working on how to understand the use of ethnic language in early Christian discourse including Denise Kimber Buell, Judith Lieu, Caroline Johnson Hodge, Love Sechrest, Gay Byron, John M. G. Barclay, and myself. One contribution of this approach is it does not position Judaism as a negative “ethnocentric” foil to a “universalistic” Christianity, but acknowledges that in both traditions there is particularity and universalism in that there is a specific group characterized by particular beliefs and practices yet membership is always open to others. A potential danger of describing all who accept the lordship of Jesus as a single elect people is that it can be used to demand conformity rather than value the diversity of all the Christ-followers around the world and can de-humanize those outside the borders.

The Language of Exile in 1 Peter

1 Peter describes the audience with terms that evoke exilic imagery. They are parepidēmoi and paroikoi, aliens or strangers who were only visiting or permanently residing in an area. They were among the diaspora in the provinces on the Anatolian peninsula. They were suffering trials in “Babylon,” which is either a cipher for Rome as the new imperial oppressors as most commentators think or, at the very least, conjures up the traumatic experience of the exile in the Hebrew Scriptures. How do we account for this language?

  • The traditional view is that Christians are temporary sojourners on earth as their real homeland is in heaven.
  • John H. Elliott’s famous monograph A Home for the Homeless: A Social-Scientific Criticism of 1 Peter, Its Situation and Strategy (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005; originally Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) argued that the terms should be understood in the literal sense of non-citizen, disenfranchised foreigners who faced xenophobic discrimination for not assimilating to local cultural norms.
  • The language could communicate the audiences’ experience of social alienation after they became proselytes to the Christ movement and no longer participated in the cultic practices of their neighbours.

For some articles that are freely available online, check out:

The Catholic Epistles

I have hit a very busy season at the moment as I prepare for the upcoming semester. However, one of the units that I will be teaching is on the Catholic Epistles, with a specific focus on exegeting the epistles of 1 Peter and 1 John. Thus, I may post on issues that arise as I re-read these two texts.

If you are interested in the formation of the Catholic Epistles as a canonical collection, I found some articles that are freely accessible online:

Why You Should Study with Me in Perth, Australia!

If you are interested in studying the Bible and Theology, why not join me here at Vose Seminary (20 Hayman Road, Bentley, WA 6102)!

It is a great city with plenty to do for tourists and beautiful weather. Believe me, I left almost -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) winter back in Alberta, Canada!

You may be training for some form of ministry, desiring to acquire more knowledge about the Bible or your own theological worldview, or studying ancient Jewish and Christian beliefs/practices/writings due to their historical, literary, political, or cultural influence. My own teaching incorporates what I learned in both Religious Studies and Theology degree programs.

I am willing to work with graduate students in any area relating to the New Testament and early Christian literature (e.g., Patristics), but here have been some of my research focuses (for specific publications see the tab “about me“):

  • Gospels: my primary research specialization has been on canonical and non-canonical Gospel literature, particularly their literary interrelationships and the later ecclesial traditions attached to them (e.g. Mark as the interpreter of the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Matthew originally writing in the “Hebrew” language, the Apostle John publishing the Gospel and getting buried in Ephesus).
  • Christian identity formation: I have explored the belief in ethnic election (e.g. elect people or nation, descendants of Abraham, new Israel) in ancient Christian discourse, especially in polemical writings that tried to sharply distinguish Christians from the Jewish community. My publications in this area were influenced by Denise Kimber Buell, Caroline Johnson Hodge, Love Sechrest, David Horrell, and others, but you may wish to pursue other questions about how specific Christian groups identified themselves or defined their beliefs, practices, and social boundaries.
  • Christology: I am interested in the Christological categories that we use to categorize different thinkers and texts (e.g., incarnational, adoptionist, separationist, docetic, gnostic) and have been thinking about taking a closer look at certain teachers or groups who found themselves on the margins in the Patristic period (e.g., Ebionites, Cerinthus, Carpocrates).
  • Reception History: the Bible is a small collection of texts when compared with other fields of study (e.g. History, Classics, Literature, Sociology), so this opens the field to how biblical texts have been comprehended or lived out by interpretive communities over millennia. My focus has been on the reception of the Gospels, but your interests may range from applying effective history methodologies to classic source critical questions (e.g. determining an intertextual relationship and the direction of influence) to the use of a biblical text in a modern form of media. It is not about amassing lists of interesting readings over the centuries, but how a reading from a particular vantage point may enrich our understanding of the meanings of a text or of its contextually-bound interpreters.

Jim Davila on Papias and Other Lost Books

I just stumbled upon this, but I am pleased to see that Jim Davila shares my cautious conclusion on the Elder John in this post. I also agree that it would be amazing if someone else re-discovered Papias’s lost writings so that he or she could prove all of our scholarly speculations about the contents of his work to be wrong! 😀 Anyways, check out his other links about lost antique books that we wish we could consult today and blogs that have become defunct over time (my oldest biblioblog going back to 2009 became a “lost text” as well and James McGrath has reflections on the changing blogging phenomenon here).

Articles to Read in Novum Testamentum

Thanks to Ekaterini G. Tsalampouni, I learned of a few articles in the latest edition of the journal Novum Testamentum that I would like to get a hold of after reading the abstracts.

The first is the article “Does John 8:48 Imply that the Devil has a Father? Contesting the Pro-Gnostic Reading” by Stephen Robert Lleweln, Alexandra Robinson, and Blake Edward Wassell. The article contests April D. DeConick’s reading of John 8:44 outlined in the first two publications listed here. I am interested in this article because I have looked at the reception of John’s Gospel among “proto-Orthodox” (or “centrist”) and “Gnostic” (or “demiurgical”) theologians and the traditions about the “arch-heretic” Cerinthus, the latter who is depicted by some Patristic thinkers as either an opponent or a proponent of John’s Gospel.

The second article I want to read is “The Muratorian Fragment as Roman Fake” by Clare K. Rothschild. I accepted the second-century dating and Roman provenance of the fragment and looked at what it has to say about the circumstances that compelled the disciple John to write the Gospel as well as the general harmony of all the Gospels that were inspired by the same Spirit. I will have to check out the article in due course to see if I need to re-evaluate my thinking on the fragment.

December 2017 Biblical Studies Carnival

The Biblical Studies Carnival for December 2017 has been posted by Phillip J. Long at his blog Reading Acts. A few of my blog posts made the cut under the category of “Scholars Ruining Christmas for Everyone” :D. Enjoy the carnival.