Elect Pilgrims (To the Text)
“…to the elect of the dispersion sojourning in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” (1 Peter 1b; from the Greek)
Having considered the author of 1 Peter and his office within the early church, let us now consider his audience. Unlike most of Paul’s letters, Peter does not address his letter to one particular congregation or one individual. Rather, this letter is more akin to that of James, a circular letter by intent. Peter writes to the saints in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
Peter uses three words to describe these saints, in order by the Greek: elect, sojourning, and dispersion. There is some controversy, however, as to just who it is that we ought to take this group to be. Many have argued that, because the term διασπορά (dispersion) is used to describe these Christians, Peter’s primary if not sole audience are Jewish Christians scattered throughout these provinces. To the contrary, Peter is unconcerned with earthly bloodlines (1:18), or with any pre-established ethnic group (2:10). His audience is further described as those who previously had no Shepherd (2:25) and, in fact, had been in every way indistinguishable from the nations prior to coming to Christ (4:3-4). It is most proper, then, to read Peter’s first epistle as having been written to the church of God as a whole.
As the church of God, he addresses them as elect, or chosen of God. These are those who, having been plucked from the nations, are now being engrafted into the one tree of spiritual Israel (Romans 11:17-24). As we shall see in the weeks to come, they are chosen of no merit of their own, nor as a result of any particular parentage or bloodline, but solely on the basis of God’s good pleasure and on the merit of Christ’s blood alone.
The final two descriptors, sojourning and of the dispersion, will be instructive moving forward. They will help Peter’s audience, both Jews and Gentiles, to understand a vital component of their relationship to this world. As Christians, our kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), but neither is it isolated from this world. Rather, we are a mobile kingdom, a kingdom that has been dispersed into the world as were the saints of Daniel’s day. As Jeremiah prophesied, so it has surely come to pass:
The elect of Israel are being gathered from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12), not as a result of a mandate on the part of the League of Nations in 1917, but as a result of the crucifixion of Christ in ca. ad30 (John 12:32; cf. John 3:14-15). All Christians, then, are as the Jewish dispersion in the time of Daniel. We live in the world, we sojourn among them, but we have no inheritance among them. Let us then, like Daniel, ever look toward Zion and be mindful that we have a home and the land in which we sojourn is not it.