Last fall, I started a series on the motif of “exile” in 1 Peter, but neglected to finish it. Hence, this post.
The motif is used three times in the letter, though the Greek term is not the same in each instance. In the first (1 Peter 1:1), the term used is παρεπιδήμοις; we saw that it seems to refer specifically to the Jewish diaspora. In the second occurrence (1 Peter 1:17), the term is παροικίας, which refers not to persons but to a particular period of time. There, Christians are instructed to live as “exiles” in the sense that they have been ransomed and renewed, and are therefore no longer to be “at home” with sin, even as they live in the midst of a world still bound over (temporarily) to ignorant passions. Peter’s words serve as a call to holiness in the wise use of the freedom for which Christ has set them free.
In the final appearance of the motif, we find words related to both of these Greek terms.
11 Ἀγαπητοί, παρακαλῶ ὡς παροίκους καὶ παρεπιδήμους ἀπέχεσθαι τῶν σαρκικῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, αἵτινες στρατεύονται κατὰ τῆς ψυχῆς· 12 τὴν ἀναστροφὴν ὑμῶνἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ἔχοντες καλήν, ἵνα, ἐν ᾧ καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν, ἐκ τῶν καλῶν ἔργων ἐποπτεύοντες δοξάσωσι τὸν θεὸν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἐπισκοπῆς.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (ESV)
Again, from what are Christians in exile? From sin–from the passions of the flesh that would have marked the world around them. There is a sense in which they are seen as a “nation”(ἔθνος ἅγιον, v. 9), in contrast to the “nations” (ἔθνεσιν, v. 11) among whom they live; but these are the nations, or Gentiles, precisely as defined by sin, viewed from the angle of their continued enslavement to the Fall. It is to be the testifying holiness of Christians that sets them apart and becomes cause for comment, so that the Gentiles too may give glory to God “on the day of visitation,” such that they would no longer be “Gentiles” in the sense in which the term is used here. Compare Calvin on v. 11: “As strangers, or sojourners. There are two parts to this exhortation, — that their souls were to be free within from wicked and vicious lusts; and also, that they were to live honestly among men, and by the example of a good life not only to confirm the godly, but also to gain over the unbelieving to God.” 1
Christians, then, are part of the eschatological people of God, whose role at present is to testify to God’s mercy (“that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”) and “disciple the nations” (Matt. 28:19) with a view to their inclusion on the Last Day–perhaps; though in saying so I demur from Calvin, who believes the “day of visitation” is actually now:
He intimates that we ought thus to strive, not for our own sake, that men may think and speak well of us; but that we may glorify God, as Christ also teaches us. And Peter shews how this would be effected, even that the unbelieving, led by our good works, would become obedient to God, and thus by their own conversion give glory to him; for this he intimates by the words, in the day of visitation. I know that some refer this to the last coming of Christ; but I take it otherwise, even that God employs the holy and honest life of his people, as a preparation, to bring back the wandering to the right way. For it is the beginning of our conversion, when God is pleased to look on us with a paternal eye; but when his face is turned away from us, we perish. Hence the day of visitation may justly be said to be the time when he invites us to himself.
But in any case, none of this makes Christians a people without a polity in the here and now: they are to be subject to human institutions of all kinds (vv. 13-17). Again, note the evangelical purpose: “that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (v. 15). They are to live in subjection in keeping with the condition of the times, although they are actually free already. Because they are free and know themselves to be free in Christ, they can be subject to public order, but they will not invest this order with ultimacy.
For Peter, Christians instead act in free submission for the sake of bearing witness to their Redeemer; 2 and their true freedom will become manifest and consummated on the “day of visitation,” when Christ’s kingship will be revealed and every knee will bow, and all of God’s people will serve him according to the law of perfect freedom. Christians indeed partake of this even now, in the times between: Peter’s addressees were not previously a “people” in the sense that finally matters (that of being reconciled to God and owning him as their King), but they are now and should wish for others to be so too. What are the results if this evangelization is successful? Peter does not say; but the question is suggestive.
What we can say, however, is that “exile” seems to have its primary import in dialectical relationship with sin, the “passions of…former ignorance” and the “passions of the flesh.” It is this that causes alienation. But it is accidental rather than essential to the creation and to man’s life together; and it has been, is being, and will be swallowed up in victory. As Calvin says on v. 10, “It is then God’s gratuitous goodness, which makes of no people a people to God, and reconciles the alienated.” Through their alienation from sin, Christians can live non-alienated and reconciling lives in their earthly homes.