…To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
1 Peter 1:1b
Some of the first readers of 1 Peter were likely in Jerusalem years earlier on Pentecost. Jews from Pontus and Asia had heard the apostles speaking miraculously in their own native language on that day (Acts 2:8-11). Some of them were likely among the 3,000 who had obeyed the gospel that day (Acts 2:36-41). Thus, some of the original recipients of 1 Peter might have been there with Peter on the day the church began. Additionally, some of them were likely the same Christians who had first read Paul’s letter to the Galatians (Gal. 1:2), as well as some within the seven churches in Asia who would later be the original recipients of Revelation (Rev. 1:4). William Barclay observes, “We do not know why these particular districts are picked out; but this much is certain – they embraced a large area, and an area with a very large population; and the fact that they are all mentioned is one of the greatest proofs of the immense missionary activity of the early Church, apart altogether from the missionary activities of Paul.”
This was within an area which Bible students call “Asia Minor” (Turkey). Most of these locations were Roman provinces, but long before they all had originally been individual kingdoms. Pontus, originally the kingdom of Mithradates, was not its own province but was part of both Bithynia and Galatia. Galatia had originally been the kingdom of the Gauls and had been smaller in size, but Rome had expanded it into a much larger province. Cappodocia had been transformed from its own kingdom into a Roman province seventeen years before Christ. Asia – not the “Asia” we know (the continent), but the Roman province found within the center of Asia Minor – had originally been an independent kingdom whose last king, Attalus the Third, had given as a gift to Rome. Bithynia had been its own kingdom which had started around the time the Jews returned to Judah from Babylonian captivity, only to end up being given to Rome 74 years before Christ.
Peter addresses the letter to “exiles” (ESV), “those who reside as aliens” (NASB), “strangers” (KJV), “pilgrims” (NKJV), or “sojourners” (ASV). As mentioned above, some of them were likely Jews who lived far away from their native land, thus making them “exiles,” “aliens,” “strangers,” travelers who were “sojourners” and “pilgrims” in that sense. His use of diaspora (“…of the dispersion”) means “to scatter”, a term also used elsewhere to refer to Jews who were scattered among the Greeks (John 7:35). However, it should be pointed out that 1 Peter does not mention the law of Moses at all like other New Testament writers tend to do when addressing Jews. Peter does, however, refer to sins more likely to be committed by Gentile pagans than God-believing Jews (4:3-4) as “passions of your former ignorance” (1:14). He also uses his Greek name Peter (Cephas) to identify himself in 1 Peter instead of Simon (Simeon), the name his fellow Jews used for him (cf. Acts 15:14) and the name with which Peter identified himself in his second letter (2 Pet. 1:1). Thus, most of 1 Peter’s original recipients were probably Gentiles who likely weren’t exiled or sojourning far from their homeland like the Jews. So why refer to them as such?
Notice that Peter also calls his readers “elect” (ESV, KJV, NKJV, ASV) or “those…who are chosen” (NASB), indicating that they are chosen of God and thus Christians (cf. Rom. 8:33; 11:7; 2 Tim. 2:10; Tit. 1:1). This is why Peter calls his Jewish and Gentile readers “exiles.” Those faithful to God amid a sin-filled world are called “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13) because God calls us to be “in the world, but “not of the world” (John 17:15-16, 18-19; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 1 Pet. 2:11-12; 4:3-4). Our true and ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20-21), and we are “not of the world” – i.e., different, separate in the sense that we do not partake of the world’s sinful ways – because we are waiting eagerly to go there (cf. 2 Pet. 3:13-14).
Brethren, does this describe us?