The motif of “exile” or “sojourning” is perhaps most prominent in Peter’s first letter, where it occurs three times. 1
As it turns out, not every use of this concept in 1 Peter is the same. In a series of three brief posts, we will look at each instance, and also use John Calvin’s commentary to shed some light on the letter.
The first occurrence comes in Peter’s salutation:
Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας, καὶ Βιθυνίας, 2 κατὰ πρόγνωσιν θεοῦ πατρός, ἐν ἁγιασμῷ πνεύματος, εἰς ὑπακοὴν καὶ ῥαντισμὸν αἵματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ· χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη πληθυνθείη.
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you. (ESV)
The Greek term translated here as “exiles,” παρεπιδήμοις, comes from the noun παρεπίδημος, described in the LSJ as an adjective that is usually used substantively and meaning “sojourning in a strange place.” It refers to someone who is not at home. The term also occurs, as LSJ notes, in the LXX of Genesis 23:4, where Abraham says to the Hittites, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you.” In the opening verse of 1 Peter, these “exiles” or “sojourners” (and one wonders whether we should use these terms interchangeably: a sojourner is a temporary resident of a particular place, while “exile” might imply the punitive removal of a person from his home to another place) are ἐκλεκτοί, “chosen.”
In my haste in reading these opening verses, I long had assumed, I think, that the term here was a general one applicable to all Christians as addressees of the letter. Calvin reads more closely than I do and notices a difference between this use of the “sojourner” concept and later uses in this letter. In the greeting, it is applicable to Jews of the Diaspora only, who actually were sojourners and exiles physically, politically, culturally (in certain respects), and so on, and who were the letter’s addressees in the first instance. He writes:
To the sojourners 4 They who think that all the godly are thus called, because they are strangers in the world, and are advancing towards the celestial country, are much mistaken, and this mistake is evident from the word dispersion which immediately follows; for this can apply only to the Jews, not only because they were banished from their own country and scattered here and there, but also because they had been driven out of that land which had been promised to them by the Lord as a perpetual inheritance. He indeed afterwards calls all the faithful sojourners, because they are pilgrims on the earth; but the reason here is different. They were sojourners, because they had been dispersed, some in Pontus, some in Galatia, and some in Bithynia. It is nothing strange that he designed this Epistle more especially for the Jews, for he knew that he was appointed in a particular manner their apostle, as Paul teaches us in Galatians 2:8. In the countries he enumerates, he includes the whole of Asia Minor, from the Euxine to Cappadocia. 5
He notes that all believers will later be called sojourners, but for a different reason–that is, not because they are dispersed throughout the world in physical, political, and cultural exile from their earthly homelands. In future installments we will plan to look at these later passages in 1 Peter to which Calvin refers above.