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Archive Authors Civic Polity E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Explorations in Exile (2)

It is by this point no secret that I have some disagreements with the way certain terms are rendered in the ESV’s translation of 1 Peter, viz., its threefold reference to “exiles.”1 I am not certain that any of them should be so rendered: the first is a possible exception, though I have doubts there as well.2

Why do I say this? If Peter had wished to evoke in his readers’ minds the image of “exile,” he would presumably have used the web of Old Testament terms familiar from the LXX to do so. The terms Peter uses are παρεπιδήμοι (1.1), παροικία (1.17, παροίκοι, and παρεπιδήμοι again (2.11). But these are not LXX terms normally rendered as “exile” or “exiles”: those are ἀποικία, μετοικία, and related words (those terms do not have to mean “exile” strictu sensu, but if one checks passages in the LXX where one finds the word “exile” in English Bibles, those are the terms he will frequently find).

We can get some sense of the subtle texture of the difference by looking at the penultimate verse of Psalm 39 (LXX 38):

εἰσάκουσον τῆς προσευχῆς μου, κύριε,

καὶ τῆς δεήσεώς μου ἐνώτισαι·

τῶν δακρύων μου μὴ παρασιωπήσῃς,

ὅτι πάροικος ἐγώ εἰμι παρὰ σοὶ

καὶ παρεπίδημος καθὼς πάντες οἱ πατέρες μου.

Hear my prayer, O Lord,

and hearken to my entreaty;

do not pass over my tears in silence,

since I am a stranger with you

and a sojourner like all of my fathers.

Note that both of Peter’s terms mentioned above are used in this Psalm. It would not make sense to render them as “exile,” for how could David be an exile? He was the anointed king–the Lord’s christos–of God’s chosen people. And yet there was something “alien” to him about his life–and it pointed to a condition that he shared with all of his fathers, both those who had wandered before entry into the Promised Land and those who lived in the Promised Land.

What was the reason for this sense of estrangement? If one looks at the rest of the Psalm, it is clear that the causes were two: death and sin. Perhaps not coincidentally, this seems to be precisely Peter’s point as well (see the latter two of the three posts linked above). What caused David in this Psalm to feel estranged, to feel alienated, had nothing to do with politics (again, he was king) or “culture” (he was one of the most important writers and musicians of his time, after all!) in se; it was rather the Fall and its effects, which yielded, in the time before the eschaton and the renewal of the cosmos, a consciousness of “not-at-homeness,” of being a sojourner and pilgrim. It was not an impression of having been driven from home–and this is the crucial difference–but of not having arrived there yet. When do we arrive? When we stay where we are, but see it cleansed (2 Peter 3):

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

The earth “perished” in the Flood, and yet the earth remained. Just so, the heavens and the earth “are stored up for fire,” not for absolute annihilation, but for the exposure of wickedness and its cleansing. What will we see afterwards? “[N]ew heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” The exhortation, then, is to war against the passions of the flesh–that is, those things that cause the sense of alienation and are responsible for death, their wages–and lead “lives of holiness and godliness” as we await the purified new creation. This was true for David. It was true for his fathers. It is true for us.

Next time: vocabulary in the Vulgate.

 

 

  1. I have discussed these here, here, and here.
  2. In this letter as elsewhere, the NASB seems to me more accurate.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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