1 Peter 3:13-22 – The Exegesis (1)

In making this exegesis, I have used every resource possible, from lexicons to theological dictionaries, to Greek grammar books. There is a use for commentaries, but as I have said we have to be wary of the opinions they express. Our method is to examine every possible evidence, and strive to have a balance of everything. We may be slaves of the Word, but let us not be slaves of human opinions.

1 Peter 3:10-12, the verses that come before verse 13, is an almost exact quotation of LXX Psalm 34:12-16, except that the Petrine quotation uses the singular 3rd person while the Psalmist uses the 2nd person. After that quote from LXX, Peter now brings the message of the inspired Scripture to bear on the situation of his Christian audience. He asks them:

VERSE 13. “And who is the one harming you if you become zealots for what is good?” In the Greek: “kai tis ho kakoson humas ean tou agathou zelotai genesthe”? The Greek kai, translated “and,” is a copulative conjunction that connects single words,” “clauses and sentences,” or introduces “an abrupt question which may often express wonder” (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich & Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 391, 392). The Greek tis is an interrogative pronoun (“who”) and with ho kakoson humas may also be translated: “And who is going to harm you?” That is the question, to which the answer should be: “No one.” The idea behind the question also shows the conclusion to be drawn from verse 10-12 as quoted from the Psalmist. If you are a follower of what is good, nobody shall harm you.

ho kakoson. The word is from the infinitive kakou, “to harm, to mistreat, to maltrate, to cause injury” (BAGD, 398). In the LXX, the word is often applied to the fate of the Israelites (Num. 20:15) and of the Messiah (Isa. 53:7). The phrase ho kakoson is future active participle used as substantive (it comes with an article), for which reason it is translated as a noun phrase: “The one who will do you harm,” or “the one who will harm you.” Since the caring Lord always keeps watch over the righteous and His ears are ever open to their prayers, who then can harm them (3:12)?

ean tou agathou zelotai genesthe. Literally, “If you become zealots for what is good.” With the conditional ean, the writer, using the 2nd person plural aorist middle subjunctive genesthe, “if you become,” views the possibility that “no one will harm you” if the conditions of being zealous for good are met (Rogers & Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, 575) because we have a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and faithful, and has laid down a law to make sure everything works according to His plan and that everything resonates in response to His moral integrity. That is the law of sowing and reaping—by this law the good could reap benefits and the bad could be disciplined. Hence, do good.

ean with subjunctive “denotes what is expected to occur, under certain circumstances, from a given standpoint in the present” (BAGD, 211). The subjunctive deponent genesthe in this passage means “having become at a point in past time, with the present result that they are still eager,” a sense which is hard to put into smooth English. This tells us however that their zeal for good has begun in the past, with the present result that they have not lost their zeal for good yet. That is a continuing zeal. The promise does not apply to those who in their lives have been partly zealots for good. Consistency is the idea.

agathou as an adjective is generally used for “whatever that is good and useful, especially moral goodness in relation to God who is perfect” (Colin Brown, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 2:98). tou agathou with article is a substantive, but whether it is neuter or masculine is not clear (the singular genitive case endings in both genders are alike, cf. Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners, 61). In this study, we assume it to be neuter, hence our translation “of, for, what is good.” Matthew Henry thinks it is masculine, and translates the phrase thus: “If you are imitators of the Good One,” that is, “God” (Matthew Henry, Bethany Parallel Commentary of the New Testament, 1379). As an interpretation, this is harmless. This is an area where you have to hold your horses. Dogmatism won’t help.

zelotai, translated “zealots,” is favored by the best and ancient of manuscripts. “Zealots for what is good” is a remarkable expression, says Reicke, “in contrast to the evil zealots of the Jewish revolts” (J. R. Michaels, 1 Peter: Word Biblical Commentary, 185). Adam Clarke says this is the very probable reading (Adam Clarke, Bethany Parallel Commentary of the New Testament, 1379). Robertson says it is a correct translation, since the objective genitive tou agathou comes after zelotai which is a noun (A.T. Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures, Computer Bible Software Co).

VERSE 14. In the Greek: “all’ ei kai paschoite dia dikaiosunen, makarioi. Ton de phobon auton me phobete mede tarachthete.” Translation: “But if you indeed should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear their fear, nor be troubled.”

Alla, elided to all’ in this text, meaning “but,” “nevertheless.” To clarify the meaning of that assurance of “no harm” in verse 13, to strengthen that assurance, and to guard the readers against erroneously concluding that no difficulties of any kind will happen to them, the writer uses the connective alla, “but,” “nevertheless.” The word is used to introduce a contrast, or to indicate a transition from one clause to another (BAGD, 38).

Building on the promise that “no one shall hurt you” the writer continues, “But and if indeed you should suffer for the sake of righteousness” (ei kai paschoite dia dikaiosunen), then he concludes, “you are blessed” (makarioi). The conditional particle ei used with optative means “if it should be possible,” a phrase which denotes the uncertain fulfillment of the condition (BAGD, 219; Rogers & Rogers, 575). The optative active is very rare in the New Testament, and this is one instance of Peter’s use of it. This mood expresses a wish or a more remote possibility (Machen, 550). So Peter is telling them, “There is a remote possibility that you will suffer, but if you should suffer—for righteousness’ sake— then you are blessed.” The optative is one rhetorical device often used by prophets, preachers, and writers to encourage and to strengthen. Suffering, even to the point that your life is taken away from you, does not take away your blessedness but even promotes it. I also say that the suffering of martyrdom for the cause of Jesus will hasten your blessedness, for in death suffering ceases, no more pain is there, and the Christian is hastened to his reward. Suffering does not make you a martyr, but the cause for which you die does.

dia dikaiosunen, “for the sake of righteousness.” Its adjective means the quality of a man who is righteous according to law; it is also the standard which a judge is required to uphold, and to restore it must constantly be his aim; in its absolute sense, it takes its character from God himself (cf.1 Peter 2:25; Revelation 16:5). The Christian faith and conduct in life is called the way of righteousness (2 Peter 2:11), and the goal of life can be described in terms of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). So, to suffer for the sake of righteousness is to suffer on account of righteousness, or to suffer for a goal. But to suffer while one conducts his life in a righteous way must also be one meaning of this phrase. Righteousness as a goal is different from righteousness as a way of life. Let righteousness be our goal, and let that be our life.

The word paschoite. It means “to suffer, to endure, to undergo sufferings,” but in the absolute sense it also means “to suffer death, to be killed, to have to die” (BAGD, 634). First century people understood this. That seems to be the reason for Peter’s use of the optative.

Now the imports of “harm” (verse 13) and “suffer” (verse 14). Do they mean the same? From “harm” they are safeguarded by God, but by “suffering” they are blessed. I consider this a divine parallelism, a device that is very common in the Old Testament prophecies (Isaiah, for example). By his use of this device, Peter shows himself as a true Israelite, a true Jew.

Readers need this exhortation to prepare them for suffering, which is possible if not inevitable. But “for righteousness’ sake” must be the only reason why Christians should suffer. There is no promise of blessedness that await those who suffer for their unrighteousness (cf. 4:15), for the faithful who endure sufferings for the sake of righteousness are the ones who are truly blessed (makarioi). The Greek makarioi is an adjective that means “fortunate, happy, usually in the sense of being a privileged recipient of a divine favor” (BAGD, 486). That blessedness is sure and certain, it is derived from the promise equally sure and certain, and they will inherit that (1:4) at the coming of the revelation of their glorified Lord (1:7, 13).

The final clause in this verse, ton de phobon auton me phobete mede tarachthete, translated, “Do not fear their fear, nor be troubled,” is a quote from Isaiah (8:12), which, again, Peter modified by focusing on an object of fear that differs from that of the LXX Isaiah text. Phobon is defined as “terror, alarm, fright, reverence, respect, and awe (Colin Brown, 1:622; BAGD, 863). Fear provides both the motive and manner of Christian conduct (Acts 9:31; 1 Peter 2:17; Rev. 11:18). The only object of real fear, as far as Christians are concerned, is God (Heb. 10:31); He should be the object of fear of all men. me phobete is aorist passive subjunctive, and for the sake of simplifying things, we translate it thusly: “Do not be afraid, you must no longer be afraid, stop being afraid, do not be frightened.” The fear of persecution is what Peter probably has in mind in verse 14. Also, the aorist passive subjunctive mede tarachthete expresses prohibition: “Neither be troubled, agitated, or dismayed.” In a way, Peter is telling them: “Do not fear the kind of fear these pagans are afraid of, nor be agitated or troubled by it!” Persecutors too are afraid of being persecuted! If our understanding of what Peter has in mind as he writes this passage is correct, this passage then is an advice for a Christian to be completely composed as he faces his accusers. Suffering for Christ carries a blessing. Face it without fear. Do not impair your blessings by fearing man’s terror in your times of adversity.

VERSES 15-16. “But venerate the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always for defense to everyone asking you a reason about the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect, maintaining a good conscience, in order that while you are spoken against, the ones mistreating you will be put to shame by your good behaviour.” After the injunction not to fear the kind of fear these pagans are afraid of, Peter now quotes Isaiah 8:13, but makes some substitution as he sees fit. Where the LXX has “Sanctify the Lord himself,” he has “Sanctify the Lord Christ,” kurion de ton Christon hagiasate. Peter understands Jesus firstly as Lord (2:3) and that is how he interprets Isaiah’s kurion. Is ton kurion appositional to Christon, or is it the other way around? In other words, should it be translated as “Christ the Lord” or “the Lord Christ”? Many of the present-day translators make ton Christonhagiasate and kurion the predicate accusative, thus they translate: “Christ as Lord.” the object of the verb

The verb hagiasate is aorist active imperative, hence it has the force of a command: “Venerate him, sanctify him.” To sanctify is “to consecrate, to dedicate, to reverence, to treat as holy, to venerate, to adore” (BAGD, 8, 9; Rogers & Rogers, 575). The command is explicit, the focus of it is rather upon the inward acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship, and the place of it is in the hearts, “in the hearts of you.”

The Greek aei, “always,” is an adverb modifying hetoimoi, “ready.” I am of the opinion that since this is a part of the imperative clause that commands Christians to sanctify Jesus, then aei hetoimoi should be translated “be ready always,” giving it the force of a command also. In a grammatical structure, an adverb can modify another adverb, and both adverbs can modify a verb. “always” is an adverb that modifies “ready,” another adverb, and both modify the verb “sanctify.” It is no wonder that some translations may read: “Be ready always to sanctify Jesus as Lord,” or “Being always ready, sanctify Jesus as Lord.” This will give brethren an idea why some translations differ in their renditions of the passage. An area too where the purists among us should not venture to tread.

It does seem logical however that the closest phrase aei could be associated with is pros apologian, “for defense,” in which hetoimoi also functions as a modifier of it, hence the translation, “being ready for defense always.”

Continuing on: To whom? panti to aitounti humas logon, literally “To everyone asking you a word” or a rational account of your inward hope. to aitounti is present active participle, and with its tense being present, it gives the clause an iterative sense, thus the translation: “Every time someone asks you a word.”

Concerning what? peri tes en humin elpidos, “Concerning the hope [that is] in you.” One point that distinguishes pagans from Christians is hope. The Christians, now free from the errors of their former ways, have been born again to a living hope (1:3; cf. Ephesians 2:12). It is this hope that separates them from their pagan neighbors; it is also this hope that invites confrontation with their pagan neighbors! I am of the opinion however that anyone who asks me a question, not for the purpose of knowing the reason for my inward hope, but for the purpose of finding fault in me, does not deserve an answer. I think what they are looking for is a debate. Gently, I say, you may give it to them.

How? alla meta prautetos kai phobou, “Yet [do so] with gentleness and respect.” Peter cites the qualifying phrase that recommends certain attitudes as one makes a defense for the rational account of his inward hope. Even in debates one can maintain proper Christian decorum. I have proven that many times. Do it with meekness and with fear. Not with arrogance and pride. prautetos can also mean “meekness” or “humility” (Rogers & Rogers, 575; Colin Brown, 2:256). phobou means “fear or respect” (Colin Brown, 1:621). One commentator thus asks: “Is this qualifying phrase (and the next) intended to recommend certain attitudes toward God, or toward the human questioners?” (v. 15) (Michaels, 189). If it is toward the human questioners, the text certainly recommends a Christ-like deportment toward outsiders—humility toward them, and respect for them— a deportment that certainly may redound to God’s glory on visitation day (2:12). There is nothing in the passage that could directly link phobou with the “fear” of God (unless one insists on the single definition of it). Furthermore, vv. 13 to 17 talks about how Christian disciples are to respond to their accusers when faced with queries about their heavenly hope. The verses flow smoothly if understood in this sense. But it is also possible that Peter is urging reverence or fear toward God and, on the other hand, humility and respect toward one’s accusers.

suneidesin echontes agathen, “Maintaining a good conscience.” The participle echontes is in the present and has an iterative sense, thus the translation: “Keep on having, keep on maintaining, a good conscience.” Both Peter and Paul lay great emphasis on good conscience (v. 16; 1 Timothy 1:19). “A good clear conscience” is the characteristic of a believer in Christ; a “corrupted conscience” of one who is not (cf. Titus 1:15).

hina en ho katalaleisthe, “In order that, while you are slandered, maligned, verbally abused.” A humble and respectful deportment toward accusers and a clear conscience not longer bothered by the problem of unwashed sins constitute a good response to maligners and slanderers.

hoi epereadzontes, present active participle used as substantive, “The ones mistreating, threatening, abusing, insulting” you. Four variations have been noted in the text, representing probably the efforts of some copyists to modify 1 Peter 3:16. Are you troubled by this “modification”? Not me.

kataischunthosin, aorist passive subjunctive, translated, “May be put to shame.” By what? humon ten agathen en Christo anastrophen, “By your good conduct, your good behaviour in Christ.” This appears to be the sum total of what a Christian should be, of which “humility/meekness/gentleness” and “fear/respect” are just a part of his spiritual make-up. Observing the Christians’ “good works/good lives/good conduct/good lifestyle,” how will the accusers react? The accusers of 2:12 will glorify God on the day of visitation (Does this mean these accusers become repentant? That is a good question but Peter says nothing further). The accusers of 3:16 instead are put to shame; nothing is said about their change of heart. Perhaps these accusers persist in their slander and verbal abuse of Christians (the present passive indicative sense of katalaleisthe, see above, has the sense of continuing action), instead of turning to God (2:12). As a result, they will be put to shame.

VERSE 17. “For it is better to suffer while doing good, if the will of God wills, than [to suffer] while doing evil.” Since suffering is now a reality these disciples must face, Peter sets forth two alternatives: To suffer for well-doing, paschein agathopoiountas; or to suffer for evil-doing, paschein kakopoiountas. “Well-doing” refers to “social or civic righteousness, the performance of good deeds in conformity to the laws of the state”; on the other hand, “evil-doing” refers to “criminal activities justly punishable by the authorities” (Michaels, 191; cf. 1 Peter 2:14-15; 4:15). If one is to suffer, Peter suggests the first, saying it is better (Gr. kreitton). Patiently enduring in silence without any complaint while maintaining proper Christian decorum is better, since that will put your enemies to silence and shame (v. 16). Your silence makes them silent, for they have nothing to say against you. Also, to suffer in this life at the hands of your persecutors for the sake of righteousness is better than to fall into the hands of the living God on visitation day. To suffer if the will of God be so, ei theloi to thelema tou theou, “if the will of God wills,” furthermore is better, since God’s knows what’s best for us. Jamieson says, “Those who honor God’s will as their highest law (2:15) have the comfort to know that suffering is God’s appointment (4:19)” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, from Bible Explorer 4).

We may look forward to the next verse as the other reason: To suffer in patience is better because of the example of One who did once, who was glorified after having suffered. The idea of “first the suffering, then the glory” of 1:11 is resumed here and discussed in detail.

VERSE 18. “Because indeed Christ once suffered concerning sins, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous ones, in order that He might bring you to God; on one hand, being put to death in the flesh, on the other hand, being made alive in spirit.”

Many scholars are said to have found in various parts of 1 Peter “traces of early Christian hymns and creedal formulae” (Jamieson, et al. Commentary on the Whole Bible, 508). This is purely hypothetical, and whether such is true or not does not matter much. The text of this verse and the next verses that follow have many uncertainties, but these have no significant effect on the exegesis. The opening statement of verse 18, hoti kai Christos, signifies that 3:18-22 functions in the same way as 2:21-25. I am inclined to believe that the purpose of both passages is the same: To set forth Jesus, firstly, as the supreme example which the readers could emulate in their lives; and, secondly, as the one who by His redemptive act on the cross made possible such lives that they now enjoy.

Hoti kai Christos hapax peri hamartion apethanen, “Because indeed Christ concerning sins died” (Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament).

There is a textual issue here as to whether apethanen, “died,” or epathen, “suffered,” is the correct reading. Both have strong manuscript support (see footnote, The Greek New Testament, 4th Revised Edition, 1998. Edited by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, & Bruce M. Metzger). Metzger, while acknowledging the difficulty of ascertaining the original text, says that the majority of the Editorial Committee preferred the reading peri hamartion epathen, “concerning sins he suffered,” for three valid reasons. Those who want to do a deeper study on this matter are advised to read Bruce M. Metzger’s A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament. The variants might be more significant to some, but R. T. France believes they do not affect exegesis significantly (Endnote no. 27, New Testament Interpretation, 279).

Hapax peri hamartion epathen, For Christ “once concerning sins suffered.” Peter now provides the suffering disciples the highest motive and example why it is better to suffer wrongfully: Because Christ too endured an unjust suffering for well-doing (vv. 17-18); He is our pattern (2:21); therefore he who suffers as He did more or less identifies with Him. Christ did suffer “once” (Greek: hapax) (“the tense of the verb reinforced by the adverb,” says Davids, p. 135); He suffered once for all (cf. Hebrews 9:24-28); He suffered “concerning sins” (Greek: peri hamartion), not his sins but ours; He suffered as a “righteous one in behalf of unrighteous ones” (Greek: dikaios huper adikon); He suffered “in order that He might bring you to God” (Greek: hina humas prosagage to theo). Prosagage introduces the reconciling aspect of the death of the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. Flagellants with their copy-cat humiliation and copy-cat crucifixion will find that their attempts to copy Jesus still fall short of what is real and genuine. The righteous Jesus suffered and died for the unrighteous that is us. If these people can’t claim they are as righteous as Jesus, then for whom are they being crucified for? Their “Good Friday” exercises, to my way of thinking, are nothing but a waste of time, of money, of blood, of energy. They can’t even save themselves; how can they save the world? They don’t even die there. I would find going to a movie on Good Friday more entertaining.

Thanatotheis men sarki, “On one hand, being put to death in [the] flesh” is Marshall’s rendition of the text. “On one hand” (Gr. men) contrasts this phrase with the one that follows. The perfect passive participle thanatotheis refers to the finished action of His death in AD 33 which has a continuing effect or consequence at the time the readers were reading Peter (AD 63), even at this time that we are reading Peter (AD 2008). The phrase could be translated as “having been put to death in [the] flesh” in order to really show the “finished-action aspect of the perfect tense, but the meaning does not stop there; the perfect also has the “abiding-result” aspect, which translators have a hard time trying to put into smooth English. Suffice it to say that the death of Christ on the cross still has abiding results and powerful effects at any time to anyone anywhere.

“Being put to death in [the] flesh” could also be translated “being put to death with respect to [the] flesh,” to emphasize the idea that it was indeed his flesh, his body, not His spirit or His soul, that died. “Flesh” is the translation of the Greek sarki, here in the dative case and does not have an article. The presence of an article gives the word another meaning; but without that article, sarki here would mean not “the flesh” but “human nature,” or “natural human sphere of existence” (BAGD, 743; Colin Brown, 1:671, 677; France, 267).

Again, examining it for its form and use in the sentence, I have come to the conclusion that sarki is not dative locative but dative instrumental. The dative instrumental has five uses (impersonal means, manner, cause, association, and direct object). sarki in this case maybe classified as dative instrumental of manner. The dative instrumental of manner expresses the way in which something is performed. Sarki, “in flesh,” in the dative case functions like an adverb, and may be translated as an adverb; “in flesh” may also mean “fleshly.”

Hence the manner of Christ’s death is fleshly, or in flesh. Only His body died. The wordings of verse 18 are also suggestive of the OT background, especially in the context of the sacrificial system, focusing on Jesus’ death as a vicarious, reconciliatory, and redeeming sacrifice. It can be viewed as the doctrine of the atonement in a capsule.

zoopoietheis de pneumati, literally rendered, “quickened in spirit,” or “made alive in spirit.” Here is one area where many interpreters also disagree. Some take sarki (above) as dative locative and translate it “in the flesh,” but they take pneumati as instrumental dative of means and translate it as “by the spirit.” The purpose of that translation is to make the Spirit as the instrument for quickening Him. If so, why not also make the flesh the instrument of his death? This is not consistent! It just shows to what extent shall some people go to prove a doctrine, they would even change the meaning of the passage to fortify their preconceived notions!

It must be noted too that both sarki and pneumati don’t have articles in the text. So why put one in the translation (“in the flesh,” “in the Spirit”)? Where is the rule for doing that? And why capitalize “Spirit”? What makes you think that the “spirit” here is the “Holy Spirit”? It is purely assumption, and we must be warned that there is nothing in 1 Peter 3 that identifies “spirit” with the “Holy Spirit.” The only way we can prove this is by doing the jumping jack, jumping from one verse to another. They call it proof-texting. The Mormons and the Iglesia ni Cristo and the “antis” are very good in that. To my way of thinking, we are not doing justice to the context when we jump from one text to another text.

“In flesh” and “in spirit” are translations that are faithful to the text. Both phrases are balanced grammatically in the text, and both are arranged in parallel. The phrase “put to death in flesh” is also analogous to the phrase “quickened in spirit.” They are both to be taken as dative instrumental of manner and not otherwise. That opinion, I believe, is consistent with the text, with grammar and with reason.

There is more to follow…


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