Over years of Bible studies by Kay Arthur, I’ve had that phrase drummed into my brain. CONTEXT IS KING! And it’s true.
However, sometimes we have to dig deep to find that context. For example: the book of First Peter. 1 Peter 1:1 says, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen” (NASB) So we know four things:
#1 The letter is from Peter.
#2 Which Peter? The Peter who is an apostle of Jesus Christ.
#3 The letter is to those who reside as aliens in five different areas.
#4 They are chosen.
Of all those things we know about the letter called 1 Peter, I’d like to concentrate on who the letter is to: those who reside as aliens. According to the Strong’s Concordance, the word alien also could be translated sojourner or foreigner. That seems to indicate that Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia aren’t home towns. These people are from somewhere else. Where else? 1 Peter 2:11-12, gives us a clue. It says, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles…” There’s that word again aliens. And Peter even clarifies by calling them strangers.
But look carefully at verse 12. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles. Hmm…so Peter’s audience isn’t the Gentiles. By process of elimination, that leaves the Jews. Peter’s entire letter was to the Jews living outside the area of ancient Israel, their “hometown.” (Granted, it wasn’t the nation of Israel at the time, since the Romans occupied the area, but you get my drift.)
Was Peter’s entire audience Jewish? Probably not, given the fact that first century Gentile believers met in synagogues with the Jewish community. So, to be even more accurate, his audience was a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers–probably more Jew than Gentile, given the way the letter is addressed.
Okay, so that’s established. But why is it important? Because whatever Peter says to this group of Jewish believers applies to Jewish believers. Not that the Gentiles were excluded. They just weren’t singled out for these words, the way Paul’s letters were. (Most of Paul’s letters were to a primarily Gentile audience with a few Jews sprinkled in–exactly the opposite of Peter’s audience.)
I’m a Gentile. Does that mean I don’t need to read Peter’s epistles? Not at all. Since we’re grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel and into the covenants, his words apply to us too. But it’s so wise to read his words within the context of understanding who his primary audience was. That will help us understand what he’s truly saying and what he’s not saying.
Thoughts? Come. Let us reason together…in the comments.