Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen1 Peter 1:1(NASB)
Much incorrect interpretation of New Testament epistles could be prevented if it was read in context. We should take note of the author of the letter, the people to whom it was written, and the reason it was originally sent.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, was writing this epistle to Christians. He called them 'brethren' who were chosen of God, and living as aliens in foreign places. He was writing to persecuted believers who were likely to be Jewish Christians who had been scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. He was writing to Christians who were sojourners in a foreign land, with a heavenly citizenship.
Much of the epistle deals with suffering in the Christian life. It appears, from the content of this letter, that the recipients of his communication were Jewish refugees - believers who had undergone slander and ridicule, Christians who had fled for their lives, people whose property had been confiscated, those who faced prison sentences, or were threatened with death for the sake of Christ.
He is not writing to unbelievers, but to Christians who had been scattered abroad - uprooted from their home and dispersed across the world. It is also interesting that he addressed them as 'aliens' which implies that they were Jewish believers, rather than Gentile Christians, who had probably fled their homeland because of increasing persecution.
Early in Acts, we read of the shocking victimisation of the early Christian Church in Jerusalem, which was predominantly made up of Jewish converts. We read how they scattered throughout the known world to escape the severe oppression and victimisation that took place in the Holy City. We read how persecution grew and intensified in chapters 4, 5, and 6 until the slaughter of Stephen, in chapters 7, 8, and beyond.
Paul tells us in Galatians 3, that Peter's apostleship was to the circumcised while he was commissioned to go to the Gentiles. Peter's mission was mainly to the Jews while Paul was Christ's chosen apostle to the uncircumcised. Indeed, in the very early days of the Church, before the conversion of Paul, the gospel was only taught to Jews and when persecution arrived, many fled to Gentile regions where they would be labelled as aliens or foreigners.
Although the epistles of Peter are for all Christians and contain a wealth of information that is relevant and important to all born-again believers of every generation, both Jew and Gentile alike, it is important to recognise that Peter, the apostle to the Jews, was the author. His target audience were Jewish believers and his ministry contained a Jewish flavour.
Peter made many references to Old Testament prophecies, characters, cities, and other incidents to clarify his teaching and support his doctrine. However, whether his audience were predominantly Jewish or mainly Gentiles - he was writing to believers and his aim was to immerse us in the whole council of God.
As we read each book of the New Testament and every apostolic epistle, let us read it literally and take note of the author of the book, the wider historic context, the target audience it seeks to reach, and its particular focus, as well as applying the lessons it teaches in our own life.
Let us be careful not to fall into the traps of biased interpretation or learned prejudice which may distort the truth of the glorious gospel of God, and let us rejoice that He graciously used those early apostles and prophets to pen the Scriptures for our learning.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the life and ministry of Peter and all your apostles and prophets who penned the Scriptures for our learning. As I read and study Your Word, I pray that You would give me a teachable spirit and a desire to learn the truth of the gospel of Christ and not to read it with any unscriptural bias or learned prejudice. Guide me into all truth, equip me with discernment, prevent me from accepting any unbiblical interpretation, and I pray that I may grow in grace and in a knowledge of my Lord and Saviour. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.
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