The biblical book of 1 Peter is a letter for our time. I. Howard Marshall conveys that with astute observation in 1 Peter, his commentary.
He believes the readers were “people who were discriminated against rather than being actually persecuted. The discrimination arose out of the unwillingness of Christians to take part in societal life associated with idolatry. The theme of the letter is not persecution as such but rather the situation of Christians in society and their consequent responsibilities. This accents the good behavior that they should practice and maintain despite malicious attacks.”
Written in 1991 when the book came out in hardback, but now published for the first time in this paperback edition, these words have striking relevance for our own time, as Christians face increasing discrimination and pressure to conform to today’s societal norms.
This book received the Christianity Today 1992 Critics’ Choice Award, and it’s not hard to understand why. Marshall’s succinct writing and levelheaded exposition remind me of reading John Stott’s classic, Basic Christianity. Precise, with no wasted words and a minimum of personal illustrations, he continually uncovers the original meaning with the intent of discerning what it means for Christians today.
What helps him and the reader in this pursuit, is Marshall’s wide reading of past scholarship, which he frequently references, pointing out where others may be right or wrong. Several pages of bibliography are included in the back.
Practical applications abound: “Christian conduct is an important ingredient in evangelism … alongside the actual preaching of the gospel to non-Christians, which Peter assumes to be taking place as a matter of course.”
The author wonders if Christians today have become short-sighted: “Have we lost the future dimension from the life of the individual Christian and of the church? Have we grown used to a situation in which the coming of Christ and the revelation of salvation do not fall within our expectations? True, we believe in the future hope in principle, but has it lost its importance as a factor in our daily living? And as a result, do we lay too much stress on salvation now, both in our lives and in the life of the world, and too little on what Christ has yet to bring?”
A cause for concern is Marshall’s references to the Church replacing Israel. In the “Notes” section on page 35 he writes, “Peter’s use of inheritance further exemplifies the typology that occurs so often in this letter, which draws a parallel between the experiences of the people of God in the Old Testament and the new people of God. This implies that the church replaces Israel as the recipient of God’s promises—that the promises of a ‘spiritual land’ are the real promises.” He does not explain this position as that is not the focus of his analysis. But it can leave the impression that God is finished with Israel, an idea that cannot be justified from Scripture. It would be unwise to spiritualize all the promises made to Israel.
Aside from the few references to this subject, 1 Peter by I. Howard Marshall reads like a classic. If I could only have one commentary on 1 Peter, I would be well-served by this one. Its brevity is more of an asset than a problem for those who want to quickly get at the heart of a message that is as needed today as when it was first written.
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