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More on 1 Peter

May 2009
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Dunn on 1 Peter
In his magisterial volume No ” on Christianity in the Making, titled ‘Beginning From Jerusalem’,(Eerdmans, 2009) JDG Dunn also have a section on 1 Peter. Here he makes some statements of opinion that might be surprising to some as they differ somewhat from what most scholars think and say about 1 Peter. But as often before, Dunn does not always adhere to the most general accepted viewpoints or the via media at every crossroads, and his viewpoints should not take you by too great a surprise. But they are nevertheless interesting.

Let my only point out two aspects:
Concerning authorship, Dunn seems most reluctant to not accept that it might – in some ways- stem from Peter, the apostle.The possibility that Silvanus acted as Peter’s secretary should be given due weight (p. 1149), he says. And to the issue pinpointed by many, that 1 Peter seems too Pauline to have been written by Peter, is met by Dunn suggesting that “the occasional glimpses we have of Peter in Paul’s letters are sufficient to reveal a Peter who was the primary source for much of Paul’s own knowledge of the Jesus tradition (Gal 1.18).” Hence this argument of a too great similarity to Paul looses much of its weight.

Furthermore, the argument that the letter reflects a later time than one could assume Peter lived in, is not taken as convincing, as we know very little about the Christians in the areas of Pontus etc (1 Pet 1,1). Hence Dunn’s cautious conclusion concerning the question of authoship is that ” All in all, then, the issue of authorship is a good deal more intangible, and the possibility that Peter was himself the author of 1 Peter a good deal more open than has often ben thought to be the case “(p. 1153, see also p. 1157).

The next surprise, to me at last, is his view of the readers: “The letter is probably written primarily for Jewish believers (p. 1158).” This, he says is suggested by two repeated motifs in the texts:
a) it is addressed to an Israel scattered from the land; they are residents 1,1: soujourners/exiles 1,17:2.11;
b) The recipients are described in distinctively Jewish terms; elect, holy etc, and cf. Exod 19,6 as used in 2.9. Furthermore, still according to Dunn: “At no point does the letter seem to envisage Gentiles as believers.” (p.1159). Gentiles are rather the population within which the believers live as aliens (2.12.4.3), and the other descriptions usually taken as evidence for Gentile readers (1.14.18; 2.9; 2.25), are considered as consistent with the in-house character of prophetic exhortations and rebukes.
Thus JDG Dunn.

Hence he adds his voice to the few arguing both for a close connection of Peter to this letter, and for a Jewish readership. The only one I have seen in recent times arguing for the same viewpoints is Ben Witherington in his own recent commentary on 1 Peter.

Another recent volume that I thought would had suggested the readers to have been Jewish, surprisingly comes down very firm on the side of a Gentile readership. I am thinking of O. Skarsaune, Jewish Believers in Jesus (Hendrickson, 2007). But the relevant section (pp.203-205) written by the Norwegian scholar R. Hvalvik, comes very quickly to the conclusion that “the letter was written to Gentiles” (p. 205).
Other scholars, e.g., JH Elliott, now considers the readers to have been composed of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, cf. his great commentary on 1 Peter.


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