Yesterday we looked at 1 Peter’s readers: “aliens and strangers.” We laid out the two major options, and in this post I want to provide an argument for why I think these two terms describe the social location of Peter’s readers. In other words, that they are “resident aliens” (socially speaking) and “temporary residents” (socially speaking). How to prove such?
We begin with this: why should we think these terms are not anything but descriptions of their social location? This question is a little bigger than some think. For some it is assumed that these are wonderful terms for our lives as a journey, as a pilgrimage. The problem is that it is hard to prove such a view, no matter how much you and I might like John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Second, there is no doubt what these terms mean at the literal level: aliens (as in resident aliens) and strangers (a class of workers, as in temporary residents).
So, this means this: Is there evidence these terms are metaphorical in this text? Words are taken literally unless there is evidence for them not being metaphorical. If you’ve ever spent any time with Philo of Alexandria, you will know what I mean: what you thought was just normal description (Abraham came to the Land) becomes a whole different world for Philo (the journey into wisdom and mind and the like).
So, let’s list the rules given by G.B. Caird in his book, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, on how to detect a metaphor:
1. Explicit indicator that a term is a metaphor: Does Peter use “like” or “this is an allegory”? No, he doesn’t do this with our terms in 1:1 or 2:11-12.
2. Impossible to interpret literally: Are Peter’s terms “resident aliens and temporary residents” impossible to be literal? No, in fact, they aren’t. There is nothing that rules that meaning out of bounds.
3. Correpondence between term and reality: Yes, in fact, there is correspondence here. The terms “resident aliens and temporary residents” makes sense.
4. High development of image: No, in fact, Peter does not develop the image of a pilgrimage and does not explain their condition as one of a pilgrimage in any other way. Now, let’s admit that Peter sees “salvation” as something that happens in the future, and he is clearly taken with a hope for God’s redemptive future. So, he could have a pilgrimage theme at work; does he? Show me, is the proper response.
So, I conclude this: the meaning of Peter’s terms are clear in any other context; there is no evidence in 1 Peter that he understands these terms as metaphors; and there is every reason to think these terms are literal descriptions of his readers’ social location.
I rest my case with this observation: until there is evidence indicating that Peter understands “resident aliens and temporary residents” as metaphors for a pilgrimage theme, we are bound to understand them as descriptions of his readers’ social location.
Peter’s readers were resident aliens and temporary residents (as migrant workers) in NW Asia Minor. This conclusion makes a difference.
And the question they are asking him is this: Peter, how should we live? Should we revolt? bolt? work? or what?
Peter’s answer, as the letter unfolds, is “be followers of Jesus, live as a community in such a way that the powerful will take notice, transform secular space into ecclesial space that forms an alternative, but be good citizens, contribute to the community, etc..” The solution of Peter is the emerging one: create an alternative to the powerful, to the oppressors, and to the mighty. And do this as a community of faith. Answer back with a community apologetic that is unimpeachable.