“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” (1 Peter 1:1, ESV)
Yesterday we looked at 1 Peter 1:1 in the New American Standard translation of the Bible. Today we are looking at the English Standard Version. It is not that they say different things, but that the translators chose to use different words. In fact, in the ESV they chose to translate one particular word with a capital letter in order to indicate it as a particular event in history and not a statement of where the believers might be located. The word is “the Dispersion” as opposed to “scattered,” and the Greek word which was translated in these two ways is “diasporia.”
The idea here is that rather than a gradual spreading of the faith as people heard the good news of salvation in Christ, there was a forced movement of those believers as they fled persecution because of that same faith. In the simplest form my mind is drawn back to the early days of Robin and me being married and living in an apartment in Reseda, California. No matter how hard we tried to fight the problem, we were regularly infested with roaches. They just wouldn’t go away. The property owner might spray our apartment and kill a great number, but they would just come back again from the apartment next door. The only way we had of ridding ourselves of them ultimately as to move away from where they were. That is one side of the picture. But there is another, more dramatic side, as well. Whenever we would come into the kitchen (or any room) at night and turn on the light we would instantly see them fleeing in all directions into whatever safe from being seen hiding place they could find. The light signaled a danger, and they fled its presence. I must admit that this is one thing that I really enjoy not having to experience any more. There is a simple principle here, and that is persecution leads to the responses of either fight or flight, and fight in some instances is the best answer.
For a significant period of time the people of God—the Jews—did not have a home. They had disobeyed God’s ordinances and God brought judgment upon them, and the most common form of this judgment was allowing them to be invaded and/or taken captive by other nations who represented outside forces of evil. Even though the people would again come together and have a nation as was true in the time of Christ, we also know from Scripture that many Jews either did not or were not able to return. We see this in passages such as John 7:35 and James 1:1 where we read,
“The Jews therefore said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He?” (John 7:35, NASB)
“James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.” (James 1:1, NASB)
These two passages clearly refer to Jew who were outside of their homeland. In both of these passages we read “the Dispersion” which is found as “ho diaspora” in the Greek. Notice that the word “ho” precedes the word “diaspora.” “Ho” is a definite article which is commonly translated as “the” indicating a specific event as opposed to a general pattern. This seems to indicate that John is referring to a historical event that moved the Jews from where they once lived, and in this case it is a series of event which over time moved the Jews away, not to return. There were many who were living abroad or outside their homeland.
Moving back to 1 Peter we find that the article “ho” is not present, and reading through the letter, we find that these people who are scattered are not specifically they Jews, but those who have believed in Jesus Christ and were saved being both Jew and Gentile. The point of question here is whether these believers were scattered broadly because the word had spread to their land or they were scattered because they had fled persecution. The best answer is probably both.
Beginning at Pentecost we know that large numbers of Jews had traveled to Jerusalem for this annual celebration, and when the Spirit came we read that all of those present heard the words in their own tongue. “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and marveled, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born?“ Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.”” (Acts 2:5–11, NASB)
We then go on to read that after Peter spoke to them that they were cut to their hearts, resulting in what we read in verse 41. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41, NASB) Eventually many who were saved would return home, and the word would spread. But beyond that we also know that the apostles, including Paul and others were sent out specifically to spread this Good News and to help these new believers grow. The book of Acts and the various letters of Paul give us much of this record.
These events speak to that positive form of spreading. But we also know from Scripture and from history that there was another form of spreading of these early believers, and that was persecution. Early on this was largely among the Jews as the Jewish leadership was seeking to drag believers out of their homes and bring them to trial. Saul (Paul) was one of those engaged in this practice until Jesus stopped him in his tracks and opened his eyes to the truth. But over time this animosity increased as these believers also became the enemy of the Roman government leading to them even being blamed for the burning of Rome and many suffering as martyrs as a result.
The reality of the issue is that regardless of the reason that believers have become scattered, the incredible truth is that with them the news of salvation in Jesus Christ has spread as well. Every single person who has or who ever will trust in Jesus Christ for salvation is chosen by God and knit together as one into His eternal family. We are one body in Christ. We are His church, His glorious bride, and He chose us. Knowing this we have the incredible privilege and responsibility to spread this great truth about this most incredible relationship with all who will hear regardless of where God may have us scattered or placed.
Jesus, Himself, said, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, NASB) Then in Acts He added, “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8, NASB)