Tuesday, May 05, 2009

and yet . . . Carter on 1 Peter

In a previous post I mentioned, with some approval but more with interest, Warren Carter's brief reading of Revelation as aimed at a church too comfortable with the Roman Empire rather than fiercely opposed by it.

In the very next section, however, Carter turns his eye towards another New Testament text addressed to Christians in Asia Minor: 1 Peter. I would not claim to be a Petrine expert by any means, but I have done some research into 1 Peter. And I'm quite sure that Carter has flattened the interactive dynamics pulling at accommodation and separation in 1 Peter. In fact, precisely these dynamics sustain the rhetoric throughout this brief epistle, in which the author forges a social space for his readers (former gentiles now aligned with Israel's story). In that space suffering may continue, but it will be suffering "as a Christian" (4.16) rather than as evildoers (e.g., 2.19–20).

Carter, then, unhelpfully suggests a "strategy of public compliance and participation, yet private devotion to Christ" (42), primarily on the basis of 1 Pet. 3.15, which he thinks suggests a schizophrenic (my term, not Carter's) perspective in which Asian Christians participated in the cultic civic life of their society while internally professing faith in Jesus as Lord. If Carter's is not a very convincing reading of 1 Pet. 3.15, he neglects altogether other aspects of 1 Peter, including the language of identity as a παρεπίδημος [parepidēmos; "stranger"] and of παροικία [paroikia; "sojourn"], as well as the striking language of identification at 2.9–10, the strong exhortation in 4.1–6, and so on.

In actual fact, the tensive balance between accommodation and isolation in 1 Peter has been the subject of some discussion, especially between John Elliott and David Balch. For what it's worth (very little indeed), in my view this balance is what sustains the letter through its five brief chapters. Unfortunately, unless I've misread him, Carter has cut the connection between fitting in and standing out and so disrupted the epistle itself.

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