Biblical scholars love to read commentaries. That is just true. We love to buy the one’s by our favorite authors. We like to have them lining our shelves. We pride ourselves in getting them cheap when we can.
But…sometimes we get bored of commentaries. Nothing new under the sun kinda thing. Same old issues rehashed. Same format and style. Same conclusions.
Well, be prepared for a breath of fresh air with Joel Green’s work on 1 Peter. It is a whole different kind of commentary. In the first place, it is not aiming at in-depth exegesis. I will send you to Elliott and Achtemeier for that. No, this is about theological reflection, and Green is the perfect man for the job (though I am looking forward to Scott Hafemann’s contribution).
The ‘commentary’ section of the book is quite short – only about 186 pages – which leaves another 100 pages for theological engagement.
On the basic preliminary issues, Green does not wish to dwell. On audience, he observes (correctly I think) that we simply cannot say with any real amount of confidence exactly what the makeup of the audiences was. But, as you progress through the book, it appears he pushes for a mostly-Gentile audience presuming that the few Jews among them would help them with Scriptural allusions and the deliverers of the letter would ‘perform’ it in such a way as to communicate it effectively (see R. Richards on letter-writing).
On authorship, he offers a stunning approach – why could not Peter have really been involved? This is a tide-turning sort of move, because he disarms the traditional arguments. DO we know enough about Peter’s ‘theological’ interests to create a profile stable enough to compare 1 Peter to? We can’t use 2 Peter because of its dubious authorship. We can’t use the Gospels (like Mark). What is really stopping us from treating 1 Peter as ‘authentic’? He does not want to die on the hill of Petrine authorship, but he does not feel like he is forsaking all historical reasonability by presuming it. I think this is a worthwhile approach.
But, Green is not as interested in these issues. He wants to plumb the depths of 1 Peter, not in order to discover the ‘theology of 1 Peter’, but to catch a glimpse of how 1 Peter ‘does theology’. He wants to look at the mechanics of the letter – its literary-theological strategy. This is a dynamic approach to theology, not a static one.
In particular, he is interested in how Peter perceives the problems among his readers and attempts to shape their identity through a re-narration of their past, a re-situating of their present and a theo-centric vision of their future in Christ. Many scholars talk about identity, but Green does us the service of actually research what identity is and how it is shaped and influenced. This methodology and theoretical discourse takes place especially in the last 100 pages where he notes the significance of stories/narratives for how we perceive ourselves and how we form and remember memories.
He deals with a host of important themes in 1 Peter that are also found in Paul and throughout the NT epistles – honor and shame, suffering and glory, judgment, holiness, hope, faithfulness, elect/chosen. He makes a point of noting the significance of metaphors in 1 Peter. Whereas scholars in the past have spent much time discussing what metaphors say and what they mean, there is a new interest in what metaphors do in discourse – how they shape and support an argument, they are contribution to the transformation of identity.
This is a worthwhile book the read (cover-to-cover) even if you have no specific interest in 1 Peter, because Green discusses a new agenda among scholars called ‘theological hermeneutics’. As Green is at the forefront of this clan of biblical scholars (such as Fowl, Gaventa, Hays, Moberly), it is helpful to get an idea of this approach is and why it is helpful for NT studies.
I highly recommend this commentary, especially as a seminary-level textbook to gain a grasp of 1 Peter and its theological import.