1 Peter 3:13-22 – A Backgrounder

INTRODUCTION. First Peter is just one of the two letters attributed to that Galilean apostle, whose name figures prominently in the Four Gospels, the Book of Acts, and in two of Paul’s epistles (Galatians and 1 Corinthians), which mention him in approving, and disapproving ways (see Galatians 1:18; 2:7-9, 11, 14; 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5).

Early church traditions had attributed to Peter the authorship of both epistles that now bears his name. Lately however, a number of modern scholars have questioned Peter’s authorship of the first epistle, their objections based mainly on their so-called “internal evidence.” It is not within the scope of this treatise to argue on the matter of Petrine authorship of 1 Peter; I assume that everyone who reads this article doesn’t have this problem.

The place of composition is “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). Catholic writers believe this to be the apocalyptic name for Rome. If this is true then the “Babylon” of the Book of Revelation must also be Rome (see Revelation 14:8). Accepting both creates a dilemma for these people. We’ll not go further into that except to say that here we already have a “scholars’ swamp,” breeding ground of a lot of interpretations, scholarly and unscholarly, private and otherwise: Catholics with their purgatory; the Baptists with their baptism-does-not-save doctrine; the Mormons with their proxy salvation—-the list keeps growing. These unwarranted interpretations, like pestilent mosquitoes from the murky swampland, infest the minds of the unprepared and the unlearned. Be warned.

The Epistle of 1 Peter was addressed to the scattered strangers, Christians dispersed over a wide area of the Roman Empire, such as Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia (1:1). The Christian disciples were being persecuted, and so the key word “suffers” (or “suffering”) predominates in the epistle. These disciples, whom Peter styled as “strangers” (Gr. parepide’mois, 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) and “pilgrims” (Gr. paroikous, 2:11) were undergoing a fiery trial (4:12); they were fair game to their abusive neighbors (3:16). Peter thus exhorts these believers to endure the trials of their faith, and rejoice in the hope that they have received from God through their Lord. The epistle gives practical guidance on how these Christians should deal with the pagans in the community, in the government, and at home.

At the time of writing of this epistle, the event of Jesus’ suffering and death was still fresh in the minds of these people. The truly sensible among them knew that even that suffering and that death were beyond comparison: Its cause was unjust, and its purpose was incomprehensible. But here we see Peter, an apostle who saw Christ and a sharer in the sufferings of Christ, seeing through the incomprehensibility of it all: The death of the Lord has its meaning, and the passion of the Lord has its own virtues. Jesus’ death is the answer to the problem of fear of what lies beyond the grave; his passion the answer to the problem of fear of what lies before the grave. The over-all idea is encouragement to Christians under trials, a faith-testing in which martyrdom becomes a possibility. This section, 1 Peter 3:13-22, contributes to the development of that over-all idea.

HOW THE PASSAGE IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD. 1 Peter 3:13-22 teaches that JESUS is the solution to the baffling problem of, and the pattern of patiently enduring the pains of, suffering. My rendition of the passage (see below) has been based on the rules of how the Greek words are to be understood, tense-wise, gender-wise, number-wise. After this rendition, the exegesis will follow. Consider these then.

VERSE 13. No one can harm and no one will harm the righteous if he consistently, continually, and zealously does what is good.

VERSES 14-16. But if you suffer, and that is for righteousness’ sake, here are the things to consider and to do:

(a) Your thoughts of harm must be replaced by the thought of the blessedness of suffering for the sake of righteousness (v. 14a), like Jesus (v. 18).

(b) Your fear of man and your dismay of what they can do to you (v. 14b) must be replaced by your reverential awe of Jesus (v. 15a), for he keeps watch over the good and punishes the bad (cf. v. 12).

(c) Your constant readiness for defense every time you are asked concerning your inward hope in Christ (v. 15b) must be accompanied with gentleness and courtesy (v. 15c) even toward those who are skeptical, abusive, and derisive (v. 16b), as your way of reverencing Jesus (v. 15a).

(d) Your boldness in defense of your faith (v. 15b) must be truly supported by a pure conscience that you have kept on maintaining before God (v. 16a) and by a right conduct that will put your detractors to shame (v. 16b).

VERSES 17-22. But and if you suffer, here is the pattern to emulate: Christ.

(a) Know that it is better to suffer (v. 17a), if it is the will of God (v. 17b), and if it is for well-doing than for evil-doing (v. 17c), since Christ too suffered according to God’s will, for well-doing.

(b) Consider that it is better to endure suffering (v. 17a), taking Jesus as the pattern. (i) He suffered once for sins not His own (v. 18a); (ii) He suffered, a righteous man for unrighteous men (v. 18b); (iii) He suffered that he might bring us to God (v. 18c).

(c) Think that it is better to patiently suffer (v. 17a), because of the hope of life that Christ brings, remembering him who, after having suffered and died (that is, put to death in the flesh), was made alive in the spirit (v. 18e).

(d) Understand that it is better to patiently suffer (v. 17a), because of the prospect of not spending your state with the unsaved, remembering Christ in spirit state who went and preached to the spirits in prison (v. 19), which spirits were those of men who then had kept on disobeying God while His patience waited in the days of Noah (v. 20a).

(e) Know that it is better to endure suffering (v. 17a), because of the prospect of spending one’s lot with the privileged few, remembering the eight who cast their lot with God and were saved in the ark (v. 20), whose salvation through water then corresponds to the baptism that saves us now, which is understood not as a manner of putting away the filth of the body but as an answer of a good conscience toward God, by virtue of Christ’s resurrection (v. 21).

(f) Consider that it is better to endure sufferings because of the glory that follows it, remembering Christ, who after having suffered in patience, now sits at the right hand of God and reigns in glory over all (v. 22).

Next: The Exegesis

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