Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Appealing to the Historical Jesus and his paradigm?

1 Peter 2:21

Indeed, into this you have been called, because the Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you a paradigm, so that you should follow in his footsteps.
I haven’t consulted the commentaries just yet as I’m away from home at the moment. But the issues in this verse seem to haunt me, so I must offer brief comments. Firstly we may question what is the this that Peter now refers to? And who specifically is Peter addressing? The household-slaves of 2:18-20, or does the apply to all followers of the Messiah? Given the placement of this section, it appears to be the climax of the household codes, and thus it applies to all of Peter’s audience. The “this” to which they have now been called, appears trickier to delineate. The direct context suggests that it is “doing right” or “doing good” to which these followers have been called (v. 20). It seems unlikely that they are specifically called to suffer, although suffering would be the natural result expected from the type of “good” they have been called to perform. But Peter once again, leaves open what this “good” consists of or amounts to.

Then we have the phrase, “Because the Messiah also suffering for you”. In light of the Messiah’s suffering, they are called to live lives that are good, or do what is right. There is an ethical response to the cross that Peter appeals to here. And this is precisely what Peter spells out in the next section of this sentence, “leaving you a paradigm/pattern/example” [The Greek word *hupogrammon* appears to be a hapax legomenon].
For Peter, Jesus embodies the quintessential life of faithfulness to God. As such, this life provides followers of Jesus with a paradigm to be imitated and implemented. Having seen Jesus’ intentional and missional life, the early followers are now expected to “improvise” their own lives of faithfulness towards God based on his life.[1]

But my question relates specifically to the final clause: “so that you should follow in his footsteps”. Is this a call to imitate the historical Jesus? Besides the fact that the next verses would seem to suggest as much, there is the old question of traditional material found in Peter. For the arguments see the works of Gundry and Best.[2] I’m interested to see if anyone knows whether or not this is some ancient idiom. Was this common among the moralist philosophers? Anyone know of any ancient Jewish sources that use this specific phrasing, or something like it? What exactly does “walking in his footsteps” entail?

Furthermore, are there other examples in early Christian literature [not Paul] that appeal to the historical Jesus as a paradigm for life/ethics.

These thoughts occupy my mind…

[1] Green, 1 Peter, pg. 84. On the notion of improvisation see N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (SPCK, 1992), pg. 140-142 and more specifically Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Brazos, 2004).

[2] Robert H. Gundry, "'Verba Christi' in 1 Peter: Their Implications Concerning the Authorship of 1 Peter and the Authenticity of the Gospel Tradition," NTS 13 (1966, 67), 336-50. and R. H. Gundry, “Further Verba on Verba Christi in First Peter”, Biblica 55 [ 1974], 211-232; E. Best “I Peter and the Gospel Tradition” NTS 16 (1969-70) 95-113.

1 comment:

Dino said...

Hi Sean

Interested to know which version of the bible you took this verse from? The use of a term like 'paradigm' is problematic for me especially when most versions use 'example' (this could be dismissed as semantics but I don't think it is). Christ set man examples for us and arguably left a clear example for us in Mt 11:29 "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..."
I'm not au-fait with the traditional material question in relation to Peter but I would guess that if we try to follow the 'historical' Jesus than as Christians we're not going to go too far wrong.
PS. We're really enjoying church again. After nearly 5 years of mediocrity it feels great to be back within an authentic expression of Christ's church. Glory! Hope you're both well.