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Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

“Exile” in 1 Peter (2)

Last time we looked at the first use of the “exile” or “sojourner” motif in 1 Peter, where it seems to be used specifically of the Jews of the Diaspora, who were sojourning away from their earthly and ancestral homeland.

The second occurrence of the motif is quite different, and is much more to the point for sketching the ways in which the Christian life in general is a life of pilgrimage or sojourning.

1 Peter 1:17

13 Διὸ ἀναζωσάμενοι τὰς ὀσφύας τῆς διανοίας ὑμῶν, νήφοντες τελείως, ἐλπίσατε ἐπὶ τὴν φερομένην ὑμῖν χάριν ἐν ἀποκαλύψει Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. 14 ὡς τέκνα ὑπακοῆς, μὴ συσχηματιζόμενοι ταῖς πρότερον ἐν τῇ ἀγνοίᾳ ὑμῶν ἐπιθυμίαις, 15 ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν καλέσαντα ὑμᾶς ἅγιον καὶ αὐτοὶ ἅγιοι ἐν πάσῃ ἀναστροφῇ γενήθητε, 16 διότι γέγραπται ὅτι Ἅγιοι ἔσεσθε, ὅτι ἐγὼ ἅγιος.

17 Καὶ εἰ πατέρα ἐπικαλεῖσθε τὸν ἀπροσωπολήμπτως κρίνοντα κατὰ τὸ ἑκάστου ἔργον, ἐν φόβῳ τὸν τῆς παροικίας ὑμῶν χρόνον ἀναστράφητε· 18 εἰδότες ὅτι οὐ φθαρτοῖς, ἀργυρίῳ ἢ χρυσίῳ, ἐλυτρώθητε ἐκ τῆς ματαίας ὑμῶν ἀναστροφῆς πατροπαραδότου, 19 ἀλλὰ τιμίῳ αἵματι ὡς ἀμνοῦ ἀμώμου καὶ ἀσπίλου Χριστοῦ, 20 προεγνωσμένου μὲν πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, φανερωθέντος δὲ ἐπ’ ἐσχάτου τῶν χρόνων δι’ ὑμᾶς 21 τοὺς δι’ αὐτοῦ πιστοὺς εἰς θεὸν τὸν ἐγείραντα αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ δόξαν αὐτῷ δόντα, ὥστε τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν καὶ ἐλπίδα εἶναι εἰς θεόν.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

The Greek term used here is different from that used in 1:1. In 1:17, Peter refers to the παροικία of believers. To be a πάροικος is in the first instance to be one who “dwells beside” or “dwells near.” In biblical Greek, it often refers to a foreigner or alien, to one who sojourns away from home and “dwells beside” those who are not from his country of origin: so, for example, the LXX version of Genesis 15:13 (“The the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years'”), where it refers to the time the Hebrews will spend as slaves in Egypt.

In 1 Peter 1:17, the “exile” or “sojourning” referred to seems to have to do with the Christian’s existence in between the two comings of Christ. The Christian is to set his hope “fully on the grace that will be brought…at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” and this is contrasted with being “conformed to the passions of…former ignorance.” The Christian has been redeemed and is no longer a slave to sin, but his redemption and glorification have not yet been fully consummated and made manifest. In the time between, he is to pursue holiness in conformity to his God, who is holy.

During this time, the Christian partakes of immortality already in a world that is still subject to corruption and decay. Thus Peter goes on to tell the believer that he has been born of imperishable seed, the “living and abiding word of God,” which he contrasts with the temporariness of the grass and the flower. There is a sense in which the Christian is one untimely born, for “the passions of former ignorance” are precisely former for him, yet he dwells in a world in which that is not yet universally the case.

The “time of sojourning,” then, has a referent that is not directly political or cultural, as if the Christian is by definition exiled from his own cultural environment as such–though he may be so accidentally because of sin in contrast to his own pursuit of holiness. The “exile” has to do rather with living between the First and Second Comings, in the time of the preaching of the good news into a world still in “bondage to decay” and “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” It has to do with being born again unto freedom as part of the new humanity in Christ, yet living in a world that still awaits its own liberation, its “obtain[ing of] the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Calvin’s own comments on this part of the verse are brief. He writes:

The fear that is mentioned, stands opposed to heedless security, such as is wont to creep in, when there is a hope of deceiving with impunity. For, as God’s eyes are such that they penetrate into the hidden recesses of the heart, we ought to walk with him carefully and not negligently. He calls the present life a sojourning, not in the sense in which he called the Jews to whom he was writing sojourners, at the beginning of the Epistle, but because all the godly are in this world pilgrims. (Hebrews 11:13,38.)

Calvin connects what Peter says here to Hebrews 11, where the point again is that the consummation of God’s promises has not yet occurred, but will in the eschaton: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (11:38).

When he comments on Heb. 11:18, Calvin makes it clear that such “exile” occurs even in one’s own land–it occurred for Jacob even in the land of promise: not because it couldn’t really be Jacob’s (earthly) homeland in any sense, but because he had his mind set on things above, the celestial homeland that abides forever, unlike any earthly kingdom:

And confessed that they were strangers, etc. This confession was made by Jacob, when he answered Pharaoh, that the time of his pilgrimage was short compared with that of his fathers, and full of many sorrows. (Genesis 47:9.) Since Jacob confessed himself a pilgrim in the land, which had been promised to him as a perpetual inheritance, it is quite evident that his mind was by no means fixed on this world, but that he raised it up above the heavens. Hence the Apostle concludes, that the fathers, by speaking thus, openly showed that they had a better country in heaven; for as they were pilgrims here, they had a country and an abiding habitation elsewhere.

But if they in spirit amid dark clouds, took a flight into the celestial country, what ought we to do at this day? For Christ stretches forth his hand to us, as it were openly, from heaven, to raise us up to himself. If the land of Canaan did not engross their attention, how much more weaned from things below ought we to be, who have no promised habitation in this world?

Next time, we will plan to look at the third instance of the motif of “exile”/”sojourning” in 1 Peter.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.