The pattern and the power : the example of Christ in 1 Peter.
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Barbarick, Clifford A.
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In 1 Peter, the example of Christ not only provides the pattern for Christian life; it also enables the moral transformation necessary to live that life. The author writes to audiences who are being maligned and ostracized for joining the Christian community in order to encourage them to continue “doing good” in the midst of their fiery ordeal. God was responsible for giving them new birth through his word, and that word remains with them in the form of the pattern of Christ, nourishing them into eschatological salvation. The authorial audience would have understood the example of Christ as both pattern and power because of widespread assumptions about the function of exempla in moral transformation. In paraenetic literature, exempla functioned as more than illustrations or embellishments; they served to compel and enable the student’s moral transformation. This robust understanding of the function of exempla depends on the concept of “transformation by vision,” a pervasive concept that could be expressed through various metaphors by thinkers from various philosophical schools and religious backgrounds. Philo, for example, imagines the exemplum imprinting its form on the soul of the student, like a seal in wax. Plutarch describes the exemplum implanting in the student’s soul a desire for imitation. Seneca encourages his student to picture before his eyes a model who will act as his witness, guardian, and protector. Among early Christian writings, 1 Clement evinces a similar understanding of exempla. The author encourages his audience to cling to examples of humble-mindedness, chief among whom is Christ himself, so that they might become like them. In 1 Peter, the author also calls attention to the pattern of Christ, though he uses a different metaphor to express its transforming power. He uses neonatal imagery to describe the pattern of Christ—the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection that precipitated his audience’s conversion—as nourishing milk that they should crave. Thus, with his example Christ provides both a pattern for Christian virtue and an enduring means of enabling the imitation of that pattern.