David M. Shaw

Department: Theology and Religion
Discipline: Theology and Religion
Research Centre/Unit: Biblical Studies (New Testament)

Project Summary

Though neglected by many New Testament scholars until recently, the letter of 1 Peter is critical in understanding the development and living out of what one might call a “Christian identity.” In light of this emphasis found in 1 Peter, the question my thesis seeks to answer is: "How is Christian identity developed in 1 Peter and what is its relationship to the mission of the church?" While debate continues to rage around these two issues separately, few it seems have taken the time to bring them together into a coherent whole. So while at heart this is a New Testament project, it will also touch on other significant issues in the fields of missiology and practical theology.

As such this project may be of benefit not just for academia but also for the church. A survey of the nature of Christian identity in 1 Peter shows that the author uses numerous metaphors to define and to build a sense of “Christian identity” among the diaspora congregations to whom he writes. Many of these metaphors display a sense of paradox (e.g., elect exiles, resident aliens), yet few scholars seem to discuss this phenomenon. Rather, the disagreement tends to focus on what 1 Peter’s author may have considered to be the defining metaphor around which the church’s identity is built, and around which the letter is centred. Clarifying this issue is vital for a fuller understanding of 1 Peter. The lack of consensus concerning 1 Peter’s central identity metaphor, as well as a lack of consideration concerning the paradoxical nature of the identities used within 1 Peter suggests the need for further investigation.

Given these issues, social identity theory may provide a useful framework by helping us to understand how groups (in this case, the early Petrine churches) go about constructing a positive sense of their own identity; how they relate to outsiders; what strategies they use to build up in-group identity, and which strategies might make groups more or less open to outsiders. In this respect, the work of Henri Tajfel and his followers may shed new light on how Peter’s churches saw themselves in their world and how their sense of Christian identity impacted the way in which they were called to go about their God-given mission.

This leads to the second and inseparable aspect of my proposal which concerns the nature of the church’s mission in 1 Peter. While the first half of 1 Peter 2:9 clearly speaks of the believer’s Christian identity, the second half of the verse speaks to what end; i.e., the mission to proclaim the excellencies of God in Christ. One could argue further that 2:9-12 is the hinge of the entire letter. From 2:13 onwards, the nature of the church’s mission is unpacked and here too there is much disagreement, with much of the debate swirling around whether the author of Peter encourages a more active or passive model of mission. Once again, the lack of consensus shows the need for a fresh consideration of what mission looks like in 1 Peter. Is it more active/vocal or is it more subtle/quiet? Is it a combination of both or something else entirely? In light of ongoing discussions concerning mission today, these questions are particularly pertinent.

Supervisory Team

Primary Supervisor, Prof David Horrell; Secondary Supervisor, Dr. Louise Lawrence

Wider Research Interests

Beyond my current research on 1 Peter, other areas of interest include pastoral/practical theology, ecclesiology, leadership, and discipleship, particularly as presented in the Corinthian correspondence and the Pastoral Epistles.