Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another similarity between 1 Peter and the letters from Paul

The letter 1 Peter contains something we consider unsurprising in a letter from an apostle: advice on how following Christ applies for our station in life. For example, there is instruction on how to be good citizens, regardless of the country of citizenship. Peter covers the following general areas for our stations in life:
  • Citizens (1 Peter 2:13-17)
  • Servants (1 Peter 2:18-25)
  • Wives (1 Peter 3:1-6)
  • Husbands (1 Peter 3:7)
  • Together, being a good congregation and followers of Christ (1 Peter 3:8-18)

The letter contains other instruction in various places, but here we have a passage where consecutive sets of advice are intended to systematically go through different stations in life and give instruction for each.

We are used to seeing the "station in life" instructions from Paul, as some of his material is repeated in more than one letter. But what many scholars believe to be Paul's earliest letter, that to the Galatians, does not have the list of Paul's instructions for each station in life. The letters that contain it are those to the Ephesians and the Colossians, along with the first letter to Timothy. These are all reckoned to be among the later letters that he wrote, possibly dating to the 60's A.D. towards the end of Paul's life, according to those who have studied them with an eye to working out the timeline of his life and writings.

Ephesians has a specific "station in life" list (5:22 - 6:9), as does Colossians (3:18 - 4:1), both covering the same stations in life in the same order with instructions for:
  • Wives
  • Husbands
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Servants
  • Masters

The advice from 1 Peter on government is not included as a standard matter in Paul's lists, but Paul does give instruction to those in Rome (Romans 13:1-7).

At some point, "station in life" instruction was intended by Paul to become standard teaching in the church. We see Paul telling Timothy -- a man in the next generation of church leaders -- that he should make some of these things a part of not only how he leads a congregation, but also how he chooses future leaders.

These similarities are not meant as proof that Peter or Paul had seen each others' letters. What they do show is that the early church had developed some standard teachings about how people should deal with different roles they might hold in life, and that they had made a conscious effort in developing teachings on how best to fulfill each role. The lists seen in Paul's letters are more developed than the list seen in 1 Peter. That suggests the possibility that 1 Peter may have been written earlier.

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