maandag 11 februari 2013

Review of: Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter (Hermeneia), Fortress, 1996; in: JETS

Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter (Hermeneia), Fortress, 1996.

Review in: JETS 42/2
Review door: Barth L. Campbell

(Griekse woorden zijn niet goed overgekomen uit de conversie naar Word)

1 Peter.
By Paul J. Achtemeier.
Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996,
xxxvi + 423 pp., $50.00.

This Paul J. Achtemeier’s long-awaited magnum opus does not disappoint. It may soon prove to be the definitive work on that letter. The author fulfills the purpose of the Hermeneia series (to provide a grammatical-historical commentary for the serious student of the Bible) as well as his own purpose: To furnish the materials for informed exegetical decisions that respect the work of other interpreters as well as to provide “an encounter” with the letter (p. xv). Achtemeier’s commentary is a model of fair and balanced treatment of the primary and secondary literature. The audience of the commentary is scholars, graduate students and pastors (who have kept up on their Greek!). Little is to be found in the way of devotional or homiletical suggestions, but the exegesis builds a solid foundation for their development by the user. The format consists of an introduction to 1 Peter, a commentary that follows the outline of the ancient letter-form and bibliography (22 pp., doublecolumned), along with indexes.

According to Achtemeier, 1 Peter is a pseudonymous letter, written between 80 and 100 CE from Rome. The missive embodies traditions historically associated with Peter. Its recipients are mixed Jewish-Gentile congregations in Asia Minor whose members represent a broad spectrum of social and economic characteristics. Suffering is a prominent theme in the letter, and the purpose of the communication is to strengthen its recipients during their present suffering. The glorious future that awaits them has already begun to transform their oppressed state into one of victory (cf. 1 Pet 4:13). The nature of suffering in 1 Peter is not of an official and universal imperial persecution. Slanderous harassment that is local and unofficial is the kind of suffering that the readers undergo (although they may encounter occasional legal intervention). The readiness to present a defense (ajpologCa) in 1 Pet 3:15 is likely a preparation to give account to informal demands of inquirers during daily social intercourse.

The major strengths of the commentary are its interaction with all points of scholarly discussion of 1 Peter and the author’s own exegetical conclusions. I find particularly informative Achtemeier’s discussion of the social background of the audience for 1 Peter. His insights on slavery and the place of women in the ancient world make 1 Pet 2:18–25 and 3:1–6 more understandable respectively. Since John H. Elliott’s monumental A Home for the Homeless (1981), the meanings of pavroikoI (“resident alien,” 2:11) and parepCdhmoI (“visiting stranger,” 1:1, 2:11) have been debated. Contra Elliott, Achtemeier believes that these terms refer not to socio-political dispossession and estrangement of believers before and after conversion. Rather, the terms express the believers’ relationship with their own cultural environment which is hostile to their Christian stance. Neither should one understand “alien” and “stranger” to indicate a metaphorical exile of Christians from their heavenly home.

Among Achtemeier’s helpful exegetical insights is his suggestion of the meaning of ajllotriepCskopoI (“meddler,” NIV) in 1 Pet 4:15. To this word Achtemeier devotes an excursus as well as commentary proper. He translates the term “one who defrauds others,” that is, one who embezzles. His decision is based on careful analysis of comparable terms elsewhere (Aristides, Pliny the Younger, Tertullian, the NT itself ). The comment and translation of 5:5–7 are also enlightening. The verb tapein∫qhte in v. 6 means “accept your humble status,” and is accompanied by the phrase “casting all your cares upon him,” whose participle (ejpirCyanteI), may well have instrumental force: “casting one’s cares on God is the means by which one accepts one’s humble status” (p. 339). The casting is like that of casting cloaks upon a donkey (Luke 19:35), so that the cares may be borne away. Because God’s care is sure, the hope in vindication after present suffering is also sure.

Weaknesses of this commentary are few and practically negligible in light of its solid discussion on all critical matters, but the shortcomings may be mentioned brie˘y. Although Achtemeier is commendably correct to advise caution in identifying Petrine participles as imperatival, he seems to err in another matter of Greek verbs. In my opinion, he ascribes too much temporal significance to aorist and present imperatives (see his commentary on 1 Pet 1:13–16). Recent discussion of verbal aspect suggests that tense of imperatives indicates either undefined (aorist) or continuous (present) action, without regard to its temporal significance (cf. Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 1994).

The introduction of the commentary identifies rhetorical elements in 1 Peter, but Achtemeier bypasses further rhetorical investigation in the commentary itself for the most part. That omission frustrates the reader since he is led to believe that 1 Peter is amenable to such analysis. Lauri Thuren’s The Rhetorical Strategy of 1 Peter (1990) appears in the bibliography, but I did not find a citation of it by Achtemeier (Thuren’s name does not appear in the index).

On the whole, however, Achtemeier’s 1 Peter is presently the necessary commentary on that letter for the serious student. It is a bargain even for its price.

Barth L. Campbell
Simpson College,
Redding, CA

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