McKnight: Insightful Reading of 1 Peter

McKnight_commentary_reviewed_08092014Scott McKnight. 1996. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Peter. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The NIV Application Commentary has been my default commentary over the past several years because the series takes the narrative of scripture seriously. Once I am acquainted with an orthodox interpretation, I can judge a book from other dimensions. I have taught from the series the Books of Romans, Luke, Genesis, Revelations, John, Matthew, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians (I may have forgotten some books). The series takes seriously John Stott’s division of the homiletical task into 3 things: the author’s context (original meaning), the reader’s context (contemporary significance), and the need to bridge the two (bridging contexts) [1].  This background in the series led me to consider Scott McKnight’s commentary on 1 Peter.

McKnight sets out the goal of “to study 1 Peter in such a way as to highlight Peter’s proposals for Christian life in a modern society” (22). In his overview, he breaks Peter’s message into three points: salvation, the church, and Christian life. Peter describes salvation through Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 2:24). The church is pictured as the family of God. In the Christian life, Peter exhorts his readers to practice hope, holiness, fear before God, love, and growth (32). What caught my eye was McKnight’s observation that 1 Peter is the most popular NT book among Christians living with social marginalization and suffering outside the Western context (35). That would include many Hispanic and Middle Eastern people that I know.

Suffering. It is my own observation that the suffering in my own life–a wife with cancer, a child on dialysis, and a younger sister who died suddenly–has enabled me to witness more effectively to those around me. In like manner, we are drawn to the cross of Christ. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). McKnight’s rendering of 1 Peter and his focus on the role of suffering convinced me that I need to spend more time with this book.

McKnight spends a fair amount of time trying to unpack the social position of Peter’s audience. He views 1 Peter 2:11-12 as a pivotal passage. Are his readers “aliens and strangers”? Is the pursuit of holiness especially important because of their low social standing? If they were literally aliens and strangers—the illegal immigrants of their day—how do we, who are not, read this book? Interesting questions.  In the new, downwardly-mobile, post-Christian context in which most Americans live today, 1 Peter becomes more relevant with each passing day.

Among the NIV commentaries in this series, the McKnight commentary on 1 Peter is a gem. He struggles with interesting questions. His reading of 1 Peter is both balanced and insightful. After reading about Peter’s response to suffering, McKnight convinced me to look also at Paul’s treatment of suffering in 2 Corinthians—a study that I have taken up this summer.

[1] See:  John Stott. 1982.  Between Two Worlds:  The Challenge of Preaching Today.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

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