Peter addresses believers who make up several Christian communities scattered throughout Asia Minor. That these believers were predominantly Gentile in background seems clear from his description of their former lifestyle (1:14, 18; 4:3).
He uses several special terms to describe his readers. In the opening greeting he addresses them as “strangers” (1:1, parepidemoi), and throughout the letter he uses similar terms (e.g., 1:17, “live your lives as strangers here,” paroikoi kai parepidemoi). In modern parlance, the readers are addressed as “exiles and refugees.”
These terms illumine Peter's understanding of the Christian life. Within the Roman Empire, these terms indicated sociopolitical status. “Resident aliens” designated persons who had been transplanted from their native land to a foreign locality where they did not belong and could not enjoy the privileges of citizenship. “Visiting strangers” designated persons who moved from place to place without ever establishing permanent ties with any of the communities they visited. The first-century world was full of such resident aliens and visiting strangers. Peter's use of this terminology implies that Christians do not “belong” in the world.
To call Christians aliens and strangers, however, is to imply more than “This world is not my home; I'm just apassin' through.” The concrete sociopolitical realities implied describe well what it means to be a Christian in the world. In short, aliens and strangers suffer by the very nature of their existence, and so do Christians. Thus Peter's description of his readers as exiles and refugees underscores a fundamental theme of his letter. The impact of grace upon the readers' lives has brought them into situations of conflict with the expectations and norms of their society. (For further reading on the exile terminology, see Elliott.)
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