As I prepare for an upcoming sermon series on 1 Peter I have been studying who the recipients of Peter’s first letter were. The answer is not as easy as one would think. Yet understanding the recipients colors how one considers the arguments in the text. Most scholars think that the Dispersion (Diaspora) mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1 refers to Gentile Christians who are living as aliens in this world. Essentially, the Diaspora is a symbolic reference of Gentile Christians who are separated from God while on the earth, living as strangers until they can be united with God. I can see the reason for this line of argument, particularly from 1 Peter 1:14, 18 which sounds like Gentile language.
But there are a number of strong reasons to consider that the recipients of Peter’s first letter were Jewish Christians.
(1) The word “Diaspora” is used only two other times in the New Testament (John 7:35; James 1:1) and in those cases refers to literal Jews and Jewish Christians.
(2) The Baker Exegetical Commentary states that “Diaspora” was a technical term only found in Jewish literature of the Hellenistic period referring to the Jewish population living outside of Palestine after the Babylonian exile. The weight of this argument becomes greater when we note that Peter ends the letter by speaking about “She who is in Babylon….”
(3) Peter was an apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2). While this does not mean that Peter could not teach Gentiles, we should not forget that Paul primarily went to the Gentiles while Peter primarily went to the Jews.
(4) There are at least 18 quotations to the Hebrew scriptures in 1 Peter. This is a significant portion of the letter considering the smaller size of Peter’s first letter. This is the weightiest argument for me in favor of Jewish Christians. It would not make much sense to argue from the Hebrew scriptures to people who were not familiar with the Hebrew scriptures like the Gentiles.
I am still researching for other arguments, but right now the weight of the evidence goes for Jewish Christians as the intended audience of 1 Peter, not Gentile Christians. We must remember that this letter was not written to churches, but to individual Christians in these regions in Asia Minor. Therefore, copping out with the letter being written to “a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians” will not work.