Apostle Peter wrote his letter to Jews

To whom did the apostle Peter write his letter? To the scattered people outside Israel, whom he also called strangers. 1Peter 1:1. The question is whether it are Jews or both Jews and Gentiles.

I think Peter wrote to the Jews. This would be normal since he is “the apostle of the circumcision.” That means that he dealt with the gospel for the Jews. As Jacob and John. Paul says this in Gal.2:7-9. (Jacob literally wrote to the 12 tribes, John is not clear and his 2th and 3rd letter is personal. Jude seems to write to the Jewish community.)

I base my conviction that he wrote to the Jews on the premise of his letter. And it is backed up by the way he use his words. Scattered (verse 1) points to the Jews who are scattered in exile. Non-jews are not scattered. They could be repented, but it is not likely that this claim was meant for them. Peter probably would use another word or statement. Strangers could be used for gentiles though. This rabbinical statement (Ger in Hebrew) is even particular used for gentiles. But in this context it can be that it is used for Jews outside the land of Israel. Combined with strangers it will fit to be meant for the Jews.

This Rabbinical statement comes another time to us in Peter’s letter. 1 Peter 2:11 states: strangers and pilgrims. In Hebrew: Ger weToshav. (Lev.25:35) Normally this will be used for gentiles. But it would not say that it won’t be apply to Jews anyway. David called himself with this very words: Ger weToshav (Ps.39:13). And according to this, hence Rabbies would call themselves so too, looking at their humbility in being righteous before God. In principle we all are strangers and passing byers on this earth, heading to a heavenly home.

Peter also wrote about what they know as their halacha, their way of life. Arguing about the holiness gained by Christ, he pointed to the earthly things of the way of life as commanded by the law. On this plane the law or halacha is futile. Although, of course, the law stands forever. But the holiness now has come from inside through the new covenant. Now he is going to say something that he can say only to Jews: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers.” (1Pe1:18 NAS) Way of life here means the Jewish Halacha. But in fact he means here the Torah.

Another reason that he is arguing to the Jewish people is this. Peter brings up a prophecy of Hosea what explicitly is about the Jewish people: “who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God (Hebrew: Ami): who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (Hebrew: Ruchamah)” (1Pe.1:10) This prophecy is about God leaving his people, but later on he will have grace and get them back. (Hos.1-2)

If Peter writes to the Jews, then it is very obvious that he writes to born-again Jews. “Hath begotten us again” (1Pe.1:3 KJV)

Furthermore he supposes a knowledge of Rabbinical tradition when he speaks about the principle of thousand years as one day. “But forget not this one thing” (2Pe.3:8 ASV)

I think it is very important to know that Peter is writing to Jewish audience. When not seeing this so, the demarcation line of Jew and Gentile fades away. And more than that, this letter then could be probably the best letter for a bold replacement theology.

I’m aware that I have another opinion as the writers of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and many others, but after time I changed and now I think he wrote to believing Jews only. Of course it is meant for gentles too, but we have to read it in the right manner.

I published this article a few weeks ago on my new Dutch blog. But since I read about this matter on the blog of James here, I have re-written it in English now.

[update 18apr.2017] James Dunn backs up my opinion as I read in a book review: “Dunn accepts the minority opinion that 1 Peter was addressed to Jewish Christians, but recognizes the Pauline influence on the letter.” (James Dunn, Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity, 2016. page 728)

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5 Responses to “Apostle Peter wrote his letter to Jews”

  1. James Says:

    As I recall, I originally thought Peter was writing to Gentiles, but after having a number of people point my error out to me, I re-read the epistle and decided he must have been writing to Jews. I think most people in the church believe he was addressing non-Jewish believers and that by virtue of their (our) being “grafted in,” we also are referred to in the language used for those who are a part of the Sinai covenant. However, that necessitates removing the uniquely chosen status from the Jewish people if the Gentiles include themselves/ourselves, in the mix.

    Thanks for the “shout out”.

  2. Jos Says:

    Thank you James. Yes it is just another step we need to take to clarify the unique status of the Jewish people. I think the “grafted in” analogy of Paul also caused errors in this framework.

  3. Zion Says:

    Thanks for sharing… I came across your link on Orthodox Messianic Judaism blog… I also pasted my response there, for discussion there as well.

    I read your points, and there are some good ones, but some are not convincing at all, some of these have already been dealt with before. I also see a good amount of stretching going on, and not enough evidence to sway me. In all technicality, these letters are written to mixed audiences, as at this time both Jews and Gentiles would have been in fellowship together, clearly there can be in these messages a more directed audience, which from your perspective is Jews, but both Jews and gentiles would have been learning and hearing these letters. I lean towards 1 Peter’s audience as Jews and Gentiles, and in some places specifically directed at Gentiles.

    I think Peter wrote to the Jews. This would be normal since he is “the apostle of the circumcision.” That means that he dealt with the gospel for the Jews. As Jacob and John. Paul says this in Gal.2:7-9. (Jacob literally wrote to the 12 tribes, John is not clear and his 2th and 3rd letter is personal. Jude seems to write to the Jewish community.)

    I don’t think it is that simple. Most of these letters were written to a mixed audience of believing Jews and Gentiles as I stated above, which was body of believers in these areas. Just because Peter was “the apostle of the circumcision”. Does not mean, he did not write to a gentile audience and more specifically a mixed audience, that being the fellowship of the body. We see Paul, who was the apostle to the uncircumcised, while in diaspora areas, always went to the Jews first. And Paul in his writings, clearly is writing to both in many places. So I don’t find your argument, adequate enough in this regard.

    I base my conviction that he wrote to the Jews on the premise of his letter. And it is backed up by the way he use his words. Scattered (verse 1) points to the Jews who are scattered in exile. Non-jews are not scattered. They could be repented, but it is not likely that this claim was meant for them. Peter probably would use another word or statement. Strangers could be used for gentiles though. This rabbinical statement (Ger in Hebrew) is even particular used for gentiles. But in this context it can be that it is used for Jews outside the land of Israel. Combined with strangers it will fit to be meant for the Jews.

    This is the best argument in the various arguments you offered, for your case. But I can see a different perspective, which is how it is applied to the followers of Messiah as a whole unit. We see this in Hebrews 11:13, These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

    Where “strangers” is a reference to those who are of faith. This would encompass then, both Jews and Gentiles.

    We also see this in 1 Peter 2:11: Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

    I think we could both agree, that Jews and Gentiles should abstain from fleshly lust, and that according to Hebrews, all who are of faith, are considered strangers and pilgrims. This then allows the audience to be both Jews and Gentiles.

    This Rabbinical statement comes another time to us in Peter’s letter. 1 Peter 2:11 states: strangers and pilgrims. In Hebrew: Ger weToshav. (Lev.25:35) Normally this will be used for gentiles. But it would not say that it won’t be apply to Jews anyway. David called himself with this very words: Ger weToshav (Ps.39:13). And according to this, hence Rabbies would call themselves so too, looking at their humbility in being righteous before God. In principle we all are strangers and passing byers on this earth, heading to a heavenly home.

    Then again, we could easily say, this is speaking to both Jews and gentiles as you acknowledged. So I don’t see this helping your argument.

    Peter also wrote about what they know as their halacha, their way of life. Arguing about the holiness gained by Christ, he pointed to the earthly things of the way of life as commanded by the law. On this plane the law or halacha is futile. Although, of course, the law stands forever. But the holiness now has come from inside through the new covenant. Now he is going to say something that he can say only to Jews: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers.” (1Pe1:18 NAS) Way of life here means the Jewish Halacha. But in fact he means here the Torah.

    I am not sure how you came to view this as Jewish Halacha or even the Law of Moses, I would say that would require a lot of information to make that conclusion, which simply is not given, I am not even sure most adherents of Messianic Judaism would agree with this statement. I see this in context of paganism/Hellenism, which could obviously apply to gentiles, but also Jews who were Hellenized.

    Another reason that he is arguing to the Jewish people is this. Peter brings up a prophecy of Hosea what explicitly is about the Jewish people: “who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God (Hebrew: Ami): who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (Hebrew: Ruchamah)” (1Pe.1:10) This prophecy is about God leaving his people, but later on he will have grace and get them back.(Hos.1-2)

    Paul in Romans 9, used these exact same verses, yet applies them to gentiles… Now, I don’t think Paul thought these gentiles were the Northern Kingdom who was written a bill of divorce (which is a Two House Theory), instead I believe he is using it as an example and serving a similar purpose in the case of gentiles. So this can easily be used for gentiles, just as Paul did.

    I think it is very important to know that Peter is writing to Jewish audience. When not seeing this so, the demarcation line of Jew and Gentile fades away. And more than that, this letter then could be probably the best letter for a bold replacement theology.

    Not much would change if this letter is actually written to only Jews. Because replacement theology is founded on (Dispensationalism), the Mosaic Covenant being done away with, thus so is the Law, the Promises, and the purpose of Israel, which is more of a problem concerning the Gospel’s and Paul’s letters, and ultimately a bad philosphy.

  4. Jos Says:

    @Zion: Thank you for your lengthy response. I appreciate it.

    First I have to say that it is not my intention to rule out other ideas than my current view on it. We both can go ahead with different meanings. But my arguments at least may be a starting point to accept that the letter could be written to Jews.

    Another point I will stress is that I think that the letter is useful for all people. Indeed, in that sense he is writing to a mixed audience. And in fact he probably wrote to a mixed audience because of the joined gentiles, whether converted or not (fully). But what I think is that he had in mind a Jewish audience when he wrote his letter. They, at first, would understand his letter easily. We afterwards would understand it by studying.

    Although my arguments may be weak, you’re not convincing me to think otherwise. You can’t proof against my arguments. You can set them in the midst to let one go left or right, but you’re not bold in proving that we must read it as written to a mixed audience, and thus see the addressed community as mixed Jewish and non-Jewish people. We see the difference in Jewish and non-Jewish in the NT, like in Acts 15 etc. Peter does not diminish that. But what he will do is to point to the real things that concerned him, not the earthly but the heavenly things. We can see that through his letter, and that is meant for both Jewish and non-Jewish people. So in a sense he had the Jewish people in mind but reached out to all people, through the Jewish people.

    You say: “Paul in Romans 9, used these exact same verses, yet applies them to gentiles”. He did not apply this to gentiles exclusively. What Paul would say in Rom. 9-11 is different than what Peter is saying here. I think it’s better not to compare this. Peter in 1Pe2 speaks about two different Jews. One without faith and one with a former life and a newborn life. The former “stumble at the word”, the latter “you who believe”. Of course this could be meant for gentiles too. But I think Peter would choose other words when he explicitly addresses non-Jews. He regarded believing newborn non-Jews as part of faithful Israel. There was room for gentiles, of course. But there remain some difference too.

    Jos

  5. Phillip J. Long Says:

    1 Peter addressed to Jewish Christians is still a minority position, but it is gaining traction. You should also check out Karen Jobes’s commentary on 1 Peter in the Baker Exegetical series, as well as:

    https://readingacts.com/2016/02/22/is-1-peter-addressed-to-jewish-or-gentile-christians/

    https://readingacts.com/2012/08/03/top-five-1-peter-commentaries/

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