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New book digs deep in 1 Peter

Bishop Kelvin Wright finds an insightful map to the complex terrain of the New Testament’s First Epistle of Peter in an in-depth study from Otago University’s Rev Dr Katie Marcar.

Bishop Kelvin Wright  |  01 Mar 2023  |

Katie Marcar’s new book “Divine Regeneration and Ethnic Identity in 1 Peter: Mapping Metaphors of Family, Race and Nation” maps the complex language and ideas in the First Epistle of Peter. In this text she digs deep into the metaphors for spiritual rebirth that run through this first century letter to the persecuted Christian communities of Asia Minor. 

In contrast to the bulk of the New Testament, 1 Peter seems to have been authored by a scholar whose first language was Greek. Its vocabulary is sophisticated, the grammar and phrasing is crisp and well-ordered and there is a wealth of biblical and literary references, which makes it a challenging read if your Greek isn’t quite up to the mark.

The range and complexity of ideas in 1 Peter is even more daunting. The book is filled with metaphor and paradox. It begins referring to God the Father, then moves quickly to talk of rebirth, on to milk, then moves on to houses and stones and a living temple. 

It speaks of a stone, simultaneously chosen and rejected; a stone which is the foundation of a new temple but also something people trip over. It holds powerful metaphors of Christian exclusivity: the church are called a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Yet it also speaks of the need to maintain the social relationships we find ourselves in: with the government, our spouses, our masters.

The wealth of seemingly paradoxical metaphor, the intricacy of the ideas and the breadth of the book’s sources make it a daunting read.

Which is why Katie Marcar’s new book is so helpful.

Rev Dr Katie Marcar is an Anglican deacon in the Diocese of Dunedin and a senior teaching fellow in the Theology Programme at The University of Otago. 

Her book “Divine Regeneration and Ethnic Identity in 1 Peter: Mapping Metaphors of Family, Race and Nation” grew out of her doctoral studies at Durham University, and is published by Cambridge University Press in the prestigious Society for New Testament Studies Monograph series. 

It is an academic book, with the references, indexes and footnotes expected at this level of scholarship, but is surprisingly accessible and readable. Katie Marcar writes well.

Marcar’s primary concern in 1 Peter is a central concern of Christianity: spiritual rebirth.

Christian identity is foremost in 1 Peter, which clearly describes the church as a new ethnicity, a royal priesthood, the embodiment of the Jerusalem Temple and the family of God. 

Katie argues that the wide range of diverse and seemingly loosely related metaphors in 1 Peter in fact form the parts of a single all-encompassing metaphor of divine regeneration.

Marcar notes that birth and nurture as we encounter it naturally, is a lengthy and complex business. She identifies how the language in 1 Peter shows the steps of human birth are echoed in our spiritual rebirth: conception, birth, nurture at our mother’s breast, formation as members of a family, socialisation into a society, and finding our roles as members of the wider, global community of all humanity.

Katie notes too that the author of 1 Peter understands spiritual regeneration, our ‘being born again’ originates not in our own decisions, nor in our own experience, but in the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In this book she maps how a seemingly loosely related jumble of ideas, form the parts of a single process of spiritual regeneration that is consistent, dynamic and nuanced. In 1 Peter terms, being reborn in faith is not a single event, but rather a lifelong process. 

I found Dr Marcar’s analysis convincing and helpful, not only to understand the Epistle, but as I make sense of my own fifty year long walk with Christ.

Many aspects of her careful research into the aspects of spiritual growth are fascinating. For example I did not know about the role of breastfeeding in passing on ethnicity in the Ancient Near East. Formation in the Hebrew faith and identity happened not at birth, but at the breast, hence to remain a Hebrew while the child of an Egyptian household, Moses needed to be nursed by a Hebrew woman.

Dr Marcar’s book concludes by drawing the material together into a concise set of tables. Her map of metaphors in 1 Peter not only help negotiate the Epistle, but provide a guide to our own experiences of divine regeneration.  

I have found this book extraordinarily helpful. It deserves an audience far wider than the academic readership its title might suggest. 

“Divine Regeneration and Ethnic Identity in 1 Peter: Mapping Metaphors of Family, Race and Nation” by Katie Marcar, Cambridge University Press, 2022 is available for $75 on Kindle and in hardback between $78 - $154.

Rt Rev Kelvin Wright is a former Bishop of Dunedin.