Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

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1 Peter: Ideological texture

The General Epistles

John H. Elliott has raised the issue of ideological analysis of New Testament texts with special force in his study of 1 Peter (1990a). Setting aside more specialized Marxian and Mannheimian concepts, he adopted a definition of ideology as 'an integrated system of beliefs, assumptions and values, not necessarily true or false, which reflects the needs and interests of a group or class at a particular time in history' (p. 268, quoting Davis 1975: 14). The ideological implications of a text, then, are more than its ideational or theological content or the constellation of its religious ideas. Rather, the task is to explore the manner in which the discourse of a text presents comprehensive patterns of cognitive and moral beliefs about humans, society and the universe that are intended to function in the social order. The investigation especially seeks to identify the intersection of ideas, ideals and social action and to detect the collective needs and interests the patterns represent (Elliott 1990a: 267).

For Elliott, the ideology of 1 Peter is manifested especially in its promotion of a view of Christianity as a Christian household throughout the world in which 'the stranger is no longer an isolated alien but a brother or sister' (p. 288). The ideological implications of this view, he suggests, are embedded in the special interests of a Petrine group that desired 'to stabilize and enhance its position in Rome as well as its influence and authority within the Christian movement abroad' (p. 280). The household ideology linked 'the symbols of the communal dimension of faith (brotherhood, family of God) with the experience of alienated (paroikoi, paroikia in society) and collective (household communities) social existence' (p. 283). This ideology provided the resources for distinctiveness, explaining the readiness of Christians to suffer, a radical sense of Christian community open to all and an emphasis on a community of care (pp. 284-5).


From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge: 193-194.

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