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B. Respect for Others 2:13-3:12
This section of the letter clarifies what it means to function obediently as God’s people in a hostile world. It contains one of the tables of household duties in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:13 to 1 Peter 3:7; cf. Ephesians 5:21 to Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:18 to Colossians 4:1). Luther referred to these sections as Haustafeln, and some scholars still use this technical term when referring to these lists. However, this one begins with instructions regarding the Christian’s relationship to the state, which is similar to Romans 13:1-7. It is particularly our duties in view of suffering for our faith that concerned Peter, as is clear from his choice of material.
"In the same way" refers to the spirit of deference that Peter had already advocated regarding our dealings with government authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17) and people in direct authority over us (1 Peter 2:18-25). Primarily he meant as Christ submitted to the Father (1 Peter 2:21-24).
"The opening words ["in the same way"] are not intended to equate the submissiveness due from wives with that expected from slaves. Rather, as in [verse] 7, the Greek adverb (homoios) harks back to 1 Peter 2:13, implying that the patriarchal principle of the subordination of the wife to her husband is not a matter of human convention but the order which the Creator has established . . ." [Note: Kelly, p. 127. Cf. 1 Timothy 2:13.]
Clearly Peter was speaking of the relationship of wives to their husbands, not the relationship of women to men generically. Neither was he addressing only wives with unsaved husbands, as is clear from the clause "even if any are disobedient." He said "your own men" (i.e., your husbands). A wife has a special relationship to her husband in that she "belongs" to him, which is not true of the relationship of all women to all men generally. Even more specifically, Peter was referring to wives whose husbands were "disobedient to the word" (i.e., unbelievers, cf. 1 Peter 2:8).
Today many Christians believe wives are equal in authority with their husbands under God (the egalitarian position). Note that other admonitions to be submissive surround this section in which Peter called on wives to submit to their husbands (1 Peter 2:13; 1 Peter 2:18; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:8). Wives are not the only people Peter commanded to be submissive. Submission should characterize every Christian. The Greek word hypotasso ("to submit") has in view the maintenance of God’s willed order, not personal inferiority of any kind. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "hypotasso," by Gerhard Delling, 8 (1972):44.] This word may denote either voluntary or forced behavior, but not any sense of inferiority. [Note: Gordon Dutile, "A Concept of Submission in the Husband-Wife Relationship in Selected New Testament Passages" (Ph.D. dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1980), pp. 81-82.]
Peter did not state the reason wives should submit to their own husbands in this passage, nor did he give the reason we should submit to rulers or masters, other than that this is God’s will (cf. Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:9-15; Titus 2:4-5). God gave another reason elsewhere in Scripture, however (Genesis 2:18-23; Genesis 3:16; cf. 1 Timothy 2:13-14). This reason is that God has so ordered the human race that we must all observe His structure of authority so that peace and order may prevail.
As all employees should submit to their masters, even the unreasonable, so all wives should submit to their husbands, even the unbelieving. In view of his terminology "be won" (1 Peter 3:1), it seems clear that Peter had in mind the spiritual conversion of an unsaved husband. Peter did not promise that unbelieving husbands would inevitably become Christians as a result of the behavior he prescribed. That decision lies with the husband. Nevertheless the wife can have confidence that she has been faithful to God if she relates to her husband submissively. For a classic example of a Christian woman leading her husband to faith in Christ through her virtuous example, see The Confessions of St. Augustine. [Note: Aurelius Augustinus, The Confessions of St. Augustine, book 9.] The woman was Monica, Augustine’s mother, and her husband was Patricius.
Should a Christian wife submit to her husband even if he directs her to sin? Some evangelicals answer yes and appeal to Ephesians 5:24 for support. [Note: E.g., Mrs. Glenn R. Siefker, "God’s Plans for Wives," Good News Broadcaster, February 1975, p. 24.] Others say no but argue that submission should extend to everything except sin. [Note: E.g., Marilyn Vaughn, "When Should a Wife Not Submit?" Moody Monthly, October 1977, p. 107; James R. Slaughter, "Submission of Wives (1 Peter 3:1a) in the Context of 1 Peter," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):73-74; idem, "Winning Unbelieving Husbands to Christ (1 Peter 3:1b-4)," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:610 (April-June 1996):203; Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, p. 139; and Paul E. Steele and Charles C. Ryrie, Meant to Last, pp. 32-33.] The examples of suffering that Peter cited as good models for Christians in 1 Peter 2:13-25 did not involve sinning. He said wives should submit "in the same way" (1 Peter 3:1). Furthermore the wife’s behavior is to be "chaste" (1 Peter 3:2) or morally pure (Gr. agnos). Peter held up Sarah as an example (1 Peter 3:6) not because she submitted to Abraham by even sinning in Genesis 12, 20, but because she submitted to him. She called him her lord in Genesis 18:12. Ephesians 5:24, which calls on wives to submit to their husbands in "everything" (Gr. pas), does not mean in every thing including sin (cf. Colossians 3:25). Frequently pas does not mean every individual thing (cf. Matthew 8:33; Romans 8:32; Romans 14:2; 1 Corinthians 1:5; 1 Corinthians 3:21-22; 1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 14:40; 2 Corinthians 5:18; Philippians 4:13, et al.). Nevertheless short of sinning Peter urged Christian wives to obey their husbands. A primary responsibility of every Christian is to obey God.
It is specifically the wife’s behavior in contrast to her speech that Peter said may be effective in winning an unsaved husband. "A word" includes preaching as well as the Word of God. Peter was not forbidding speaking to unsaved husbands about the Lord or sharing Scripture verses if the husband would be receptive to those. His point was simply that a godly wife’s conduct is going to be more influential than anything she may say. "Chaste" is a general term describing her purity while "respectful" reflects her attitude toward her husband that rises out of her attitude toward God’s will.
Submission involves at least four things. First, it begins with an attitude of entrusting oneself to God (cf. 1 Peter 2:23-25). The focus of our life must be on Jesus Christ. Second, submission requires respectful behavior (1 Peter 3:1-2). Nagging is not respectful behavior. Third, submission involves the development of a godly character (1 Peter 3:3-5). Fourth, submission includes doing what is right (1 Peter 3:6). It does not include violating other Scriptural principles. Submission is imperative for oneness in marriage. [Note: Family Life Conference, pp. 105-6.]
3. Wives’ respect for their husbands 3:1-6
Having explained before how Christians should conduct themselves in the world, Peter next gave directions about how Christian wives and husbands should behave. He did this to help his readers identify appropriate conduct in family life during times of suffering as well as at other times.
". . . he [Peter] discusses husbands and wives, and unlike the Pauline Haustafeln, he omits references to children. The reason for this omission is simple: He probably did not consider children who had one believing parent outside the true people of God (i.e., the nations), whereas the husbands of some Christian women certainly were. Peter’s concern at this point is not life within the Christian community, but life at those points where the Christian community interfaces with the world around it. . . .
"But what was probably surprising to the original readers is that here in a seemingly traditional ethical section wives are addressed at all. In that society women were expected to follow the religion of their husbands; they might have their own cult on the side, but the family religion was that of the husband. Peter clearly focuses his address on women whose husbands are not Christians (not that he would give different advice to women whose husbands were Christians), and he addresses them as independent moral agents whose decision to turn to Christ he supports and whose goal to win their husbands he encourages. This is quite a revolutionary attitude for that culture." [Note: Davids, pp. 115-16.]
This section, like the preceding one addressed to slaves, has three parts: an exhortation to defer (1 Peter 3:1-2; cf. 1 Peter 2:18), an admonition about pleasing God (1 Peter 3:3-4; cf. 1 Peter 2:18-20), and a precedent for the advocated attitude or action (1 Peter 3:5-6; cf. 1 Peter 2:21-25). The section on respect for everyone (1 Peter 2:13-17) contains the first two of these parts (1 Peter 2:13-17) but not the third. [Note: Michaels, p. 155.]
Peter was not telling wives to refrain from giving attention to their physical appearances (specifically, coiffure, jewelry, and dress), as the NASB makes clear. His point was that this should not be their total or primary concern. He urged the cultivation of the inner person as well. Beauty is more than skin deep. He contrasted what human society values and what God values. A gentle disposition and a tranquil spirit can make even a plain woman very attractive not only to God but to men (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Timothy 2:9-10). The Greek word for "adornment" (kosmos) is the one from which we get our word "cosmetics."
"His [Peter’s] concern is that the church not be known for its production of rebellious wives who have an attitude of superiority, but of women who, because they know God will reward them and set everything right, demonstrate the virtue of gentle submission where Christianly possible." [Note: Davids, p. 120.]
Sarah is a good example of such a woman. We see her attitude of respect in the way she spoke to Abraham (1 Peter 3:2). "Lord" sounds servile to us, but an equally acceptable translation of the Greek word is "sir." The point is that she verbally expressed her submission to him in a way that was appropriate in her culture. [Note: See James R. Slaughter, "Sarah as a Model for Christian Wives (1 Peter 3:5-6)," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:611 (July-September 1996):357-65.] Women who behave as Sarah did show that they are her daughters in spirit. Such behavior demonstrates trust in God and holiness, separation from sin to God’s will.
"His [Peter’s] argument is from the greater to the lesser: if Sarah ’obeyed’ Abraham and called him ’Lord,’ the Christian wives in Asia should at least treat their husbands with deference and respect." [Note: Michaels, p. 165.]
"Without being frightened by any fear" (1 Peter 3:6) is not a condition for becoming a true daughter of Sarah in addition to doing what is right. It is rather the consequence of adopting the behavior that Peter advocated. If a Christian wife was suffering for her faith because of her conduct, she could gain great confidence by doing what Peter counseled and what Sarah practiced. She could understand that any suffering that came her way was not a result of her sinful behavior but in spite of her godly behavior (cf. 1 Peter 2:20; Proverbs 3:25).
"The sense is that these Christian women are to let nothing terrifying frighten them from their course. Pagan women may disdain and insult them because they have adopted a nobler wifehood, they yet remain unafraid. Pagan husbands may resent their Christianity; this, too, does not frighten them." [Note: Lenski, p. 136.]
4. Husbands’ respect for their wives 3:7
Why did Peter write more about the conduct of women (1 Peter 3:1-6) than of men (1 Peter 3:7)? He evidently did so because his concern was for Christian wives who were married to pagan husbands. A Christian wife married to a pagan husband was in a more vulnerable position than a Christian husband who was married to a pagan wife in that culture. Normally pagan women married to Christian husbands would adopt their husbands’ faith. In Roman society a wife would normally adopt her husband’s religion. [Note: D. L. Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in I Peter, p. 99; idem, "’Let Wives Be Submissive . . .’: The Origin, Form, and Apolegetic Function of the Household Duty Code (Haustafel) in I Peter" (Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1974), pp. 240-46.]
"His emphasis throughout is on those points at which the Christian community faces outward to confront Roman society. Probably for this reason he omits children and parents altogether; the parent-child relationship (at least in regard to younger children) is not normally one in which belief and unbelief confront each other . . ." [Note: Michaels, p. 122.]
The Roman author Cato wrote, "If you were to catch your wife in an act of infidelity, you can kill her with impunity without a trial; but, if she were to catch you, she would not venture to touch you with her finger, and, indeed, she has no right." [Note: Cited by William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter, p. 264.]
The Christian wife’s new freedom in Christ created new problems and challenges for her. Perhaps Peter also wanted to communicate more encouragement (1 Peter 3:5-6) and tenderness to the women, not because he believed they were greater sinners than their husbands. What follows in 1 Peter 3:7 is just as challenging as what we have read in 1 Peter 3:1-6.
"It is clear that Peter does not think about the possibility of a husband with a non-Christian wife, for if a family head in that culture changed his religion it would be normal that his wife, servants, and children also changed." [Note: Davids, p. 122.]
"In 1 Peter 3:1-6 Christian wives are instructed to behave with deference as they encounter the difficulties of living with an unbelieving husband. Similarly in 1 Peter 3:7 Christian husbands are told to honor their wives in unfair circumstances brought about by the wife’s being the weaker vessel." [Note: James R. Slaughter, "Peter’s Instructions to Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p. 183.]
Another possibility is that these husbands were suffering for their faith.
As with his instructions to wives, Peter began his counsel to the husbands with a command to think right first (cf. 1 Peter 3:1-2). He said men should cultivate understanding. This brief charge carries profound implications. It requires active listening to the wife as well as study of her temperament, emotions, personality, and thought patterns. It is a tall order to know one’s wife, to understand her, even to be understanding with her. However the knowledge in view is probably primarily knowledge of God’s Word concerning the proper treatment of one’s wife. [Note: Ibid., pp. 178-80.]
By comparing a wife to a weaker vessel Peter was not implying that wives or women are inferior to husbands or males or that they are weaker in every way or most ways. Obviously, in many marriages the wife is the stronger person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, morally, socially, and or physically. Nevertheless physically the wife is usually weaker than her husband. Men tend to choose as their wives women who are not as strong or muscular as they are. Furthermore generally men are stronger than women physically. In view of this, husbands need to treat their wives with special consideration. Both the husband and the wife are vessels, but husbands are more typically similar to iron skillets whereas wives resemble china vases, being more delicate. They are equally important but different.
Peter banished any implication of essential inferiority with his reminder that the wife is a fellow-heir of God’s grace just as much as the husband. God deals with both types of people the same when it comes to bestowing grace on them. He shows no favoritism or partiality because of their genders. Wives may normally be more delicate in some respects than their husbands, but spiritually they are equal. "Life" probably refers to both physical life and spiritual life since husbands and wives share both equally.
The husband who does not treat his wife with honor will not get answers to his prayers the way he could if he did treat her with honor (cf. Matthew 6:14-15). In other words, disobedience to the will of God regarding how a man treats his wife hinders the husband’s fellowship with God.
"Egkoptesthai [’be hindered’], to have an obstacle thrown in the way, does not restrict the thought to preventing the prayers from reaching their destination at God’s throne of grace. The thought includes all manner of hindering. A husband who treats his wife in the wrong way will himself be unfit to pray, will scarcely pray at all. There will be no family altar, no life of prayer. His worship in the congregation will be affected." [Note: Lenski, p. 141.]
A man’s selfishness and egotism in his marriage will hurt his relationship with God as well as his relationship with his wife.
"As the closest human relationship, the relationship to one’s spouse must be most carefully cherished if one wishes a close relationship with God." [Note: Davids, p. 123.]
One of a husband’s primary responsibilities in a marriage is caring for his wife. Caring requires understanding. If you are married, what are your wife’s greatest needs? Ask her. What are her greatest concerns? Ask her. What are her hopes and dreams? Ask her. What new vistas would she like to explore? Ask her, and keep on asking her over the years! Her answers will enable you to understand and care for her more effectively.
"In order to be able to love deeply, we must know each other profoundly. If we are to lovingly respond to the needs of another, we must know what they are." [Note: Cedar, p. 158.]
"In my premarital counseling as a pastor, I often gave the couple pads of paper and asked them to write down the three things each one thinks the other enjoys doing the most. Usually, the prospective bride made her list immediately; the man would sit and ponder. And usually the girl was right but the man wrong! . . .
"To say, ’I never knew you felt that way!’ is to confess that, at some point, one mate excommunicated the other." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:410. McGee, 5:696-99, made excellent and sometimes hilarious comments on 1 Peter 3:1-7 that are too numerous to quote here.]
"To sum up" concludes the section on respect for others (1 Peter 2:13 to 1 Peter 3:12). This verse deals with attitudes. Again we note that Peter regarded attitudes as foundational to actions (cf. 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Peter 3:7; James 3).
"Harmonious" implies cooperation when there are individual differences. These differences can have a pleasing rather than an irritating effect. We do not all need to sing exactly the same tune, but our tune should harmonize with those of our brethren. We should be able to work together as the different parts of an athlete’s body work together to reach our common goal victoriously.
"Sympathetic" means suffering with another by entering into and sharing the feelings of others rather than by having compassion on another person from a distance. It implies bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
"Brotherly" looks at the special love that unites believers (cf. 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 2:17).
"Kind-hearted" means feeling affectionately, compassionately, and deeply for someone else.
The person who is "humble in spirit" is willing to put someone else’s interests and needs before his or her own (cf. Philippians 2:3-4). This would apply to God’s purposes as well as the needs of other people.
"Christians are to be emotionally involved with each other." [Note: Davids, p. 125.]
These five qualities are vital to effective interpersonal relationships. They are also indispensable for maintaining oneness in marriage.
5. The importance of loving enemies 3:8-12
Peter concluded this section of instructions concerning respect for others with a discussion of the importance of loving our enemies.
Like Jesus and Paul, Peter urged his readers not to take revenge. We should return positive good deeds for evil ones (1 Peter 2:23; cf. Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:9-18; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).
"As Christians we can live on one of three levels. We can return evil for good, which is the satanic level. We can return good for good and evil for evil, which is the human level. Or, we can return good for evil, which is the divine level. Jesus is the perfect example of this latter approach (1 Peter 2:21-23)." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:412.]
The ground for the Christian’s good will to others, even our enemies, is the mercy we receive from God. God blessed us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:10). Our blessing (Gr. eulogein, lit. to speak well) may be verbal or tangible. Peter’s reference to inheriting a blessing reminds us of the inheritance he spoke of earlier and urged us to keep in view (1 Peter 1:4). However, God will give us this part of our inheritance only if we faithfully do His will (cf. Hebrews 12:17).
The type of relationship in which we return insult for insult is one that intends to hurt the other person with remarks or actions. This approach springs from an unforgiving and hardened heart attitude. We can insult another person by hiding (the quiet method) or by hurling verbal or physical abuse (the noisy method). An insult can lead another person to clam up or to blow up. Both claming up and blowing up produce bitterness and isolation. The insult for insult response often occurs when two people develop habits of reacting in certain ways in certain similar situations. Therefore it is often helpful to analyze the circumstances that seem to produce this response inevitably.
The blessing for insult response, however, is one in which we react kindly when we suffer ill treatment. It springs from an attitude of forgiveness. It has its focus on God and the promises of His Word. Instead of reacting in anger, we respond with forgiveness. The consequences of taking this approach in interpersonal relationships are getting a blessing, having a full life, and walking with God (1 Peter 3:9-12).
How does one give a blessing instead of an insult? We refrain from speaking evil, walk away from it, do positive good, and seek to make peace rather than trouble (1 Peter 3:10-12). Our attitude is crucial. What kind of relationship will you seek to develop and maintain with your mate? The insult for insult type results in isolation, but the blessing for insult type results in oneness in marriage. [Note: Family Life . . ., pp. 145-48.]
To strengthen his case Peter again cited an Old Testament passage that supported what he said (Psalms 34:12-16). However the primary purpose for this quotation seems to be more clarification than proof. Really 1 Peter 3:8-9 are Peter’s exposition of the psalm passage that he now quoted. Evil (1 Peter 3:10) hurts, and guile misleads. God will judge those who do any kind of evil (1 Peter 3:12).
This quotation (1 Peter 3:10-12) appropriately summarizes all Peter’s instructions concerning proper Christian conduct during persecution (1 Peter 2:11 to 1 Peter 3:12).
C. Eventual Vindication 3:13-4:6
Peter previously explained how a Christian can rejoice in his sufferings, having set forth his responsibilities and outlined specific conduct in times of suffering. He next emphasized the inner confidence a Christian can have when experiencing persecution for his or her faith to equip his readers to overcome their sufferings effectively.
This statement carries on what the psalmist said in the quotation just cited. If God will punish those who do evil (1 Peter 3:12), who will harm those who do good? God will not, and under normal circumstances no other person will either.
". . . Christians have an incredible contribution to make to the society in which they live by breaking the cycle of people returning evil for evil. As we begin to do good, most people will return that good by doing good. What a marvelous ministry-with very immediate and measurable results. Just as people tend to return evil for evil, they usually return good for good. Indeed, when you do good, blessing comes to everyone involved." [Note: Cedar, p. 164.]
1. Suffering for doing good 3:13-17
Nevertheless people are perverse and we do experience suffering for doing good sometimes. In such cases we need to focus our attention on the blessing that will come to us for enduring persecution when we do good (cf. Matthew 5:10; Luke 1:48). Peter quoted the Lord’s exhortation to Isaiah when the prophet learned that the people of Judah and Jerusalem would not respond to his ministry positively (Isaiah 8:12-13). God promised to take care of Isaiah, and He did. Though Isaiah eventually died a martyr’s death, he persevered in his calling because God sustained him. This is what God will do for the Christian, and it gives us the courage we need to continue serving him faithfully in spite of persecution.
Rather than being fearful we should commit ourselves afresh to Christ our Lord (Yahweh of armies, Isaiah 8:13) by purposing to continue to live for Him. We should also have the reason we are living as we do on the tip of our tongues so whenever an opportunity arises we can explain why we behave as we do (cf. Acts 22:1; Acts 25:16). Our inquisitive questioner may not ask about our hope per se. Nevertheless our hope is the root cause of our behavior and should be the subject of our answer. We should give this answer with a gentle spirit to those asking and in a reverent spirit toward God.
A good conscience is possible when we know our suffering is in spite of good behavior, not because of bad behavior (cf. 1 Peter 2:19; 1 Peter 3:4; 1 Peter 3:6). A simple explanation of our good conduct may take the wind out of the sails of our critics.
"Conscience may be compared to a window that lets in the light of God’s truth. If we persist in disobeying, the window gets dirtier and dirtier, until the light cannot enter. This leads to a ’defiled conscience’ (Titus 1:15). A ’seared conscience’ is one that has been so sinned against that it no longer is sensitive to what is right and wrong (1 Timothy 4:2). It is even possible for the conscience to be so poisoned that it approves things that are bad and accuses when the person does good! This the Bible calls ’an evil conscience’ (Hebrews 10:22). . . .
"A ’good conscience’ is one that accuses when we think or do wrong and approves when we do right." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:414. See Roy B. Zuck, "The Doctrine of Conscience," Bibliotheca Sacra 126:504 (October-December 1969):329-340.]
If it is God’s will for us to suffer misunderstanding, abuse, or bullying, it is better that that suffering be for good conduct than for bad (cf. Romans 8:28). Peter probably meant these words as assurance rather than as admonition. He meant that we are much better off when we suffer than the evildoers who oppress us. [Note: Michaels, p. 192.]
"For" connects 1 Peter 3:18-22 with 13-17, but "Christ also" recalls and resumes the example of Jesus Christ that Peter cited in 1 Peter 2:21-25. Peter used the same phrase to introduce Jesus Christ as an example of suffering there. Suffering for doing good is the point of comparison in both passages.
"Once for all" emphasizes the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. It does not need repeating (as in the Roman Catholic mass) or adding to (by any human works, cf. Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10). The emphasis is on the finality of His sacrifice ("once for all," Gr. hapax) rather than on the extent of the atonement ("for all").
His was also a vicarious sacrifice: the just One died for the unjust ones (1 Peter 1:19; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 Peter 4:1; cf. Isaiah 53:11; Matthew 27:19; Luke 23:47; Romans 5:6-10; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:7). The purpose of Jesus Christ’s death was to bring us into fellowship with God.
". . . no other NT writer has this active picture of Jesus leading the Christian to God. But it fits with Peter’s usual conception of the Christian life as an active close following of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 4:13)." [Note: Davids, p. 136.]
The phrase "having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" has received several different interpretations.
Some interpreters believe that "flesh" refers to the material part of Jesus Christ’s person and "spirit" to the immaterial part. [Note: E.g., Lenski, p. 159; John Albert Bengel, New Testament Word Studies, 2:746; B. C. Caffin, "I Peter," in The Pulpit Commentary, p. 133; A. J. Mason, "The First Epistle General of Peter," in Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 8:420; J. W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, p. 100; and Robertson, 6:116.] Supporters of this view argue that we should regard "flesh" and "spirit" as two parts of the Lord’s human nature (cf. Matthew 26:41; Romans 1:3-4; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 5:5). The contrast then would be that Jesus’ body ("flesh") died, but His immaterial part ("spirit") experienced resurrection. The problem with this view is that an article precedes neither "flesh" nor "spirit" in the Greek text. The absence of the article usually stresses the quality of the noun. This would not be normal if Peter meant to contrast Jesus’ body and His spirit. He would have included an article before each noun. The absence of the articles suggests a special meaning of "flesh" and "spirit." Furthermore Jesus’ resurrection involved both the material and immaterial parts of His person, not just His spirit.
Another view is that we should take the Greek nouns (sarki and pneumati, translated "in the flesh" and "in the spirit") as instrumental ("by the flesh" and "by the spirit") rather than as dative. The contrast, according to this interpretation, is between wicked men, who put Jesus to death by fleshly means, and the Holy Spirit, who raised Him. However, the Greek dative case ("in the flesh") is probably what Peter intended here rather than the instrumental case ("by the flesh"). This is probably a dative of respect. [Note: F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, § 197.] It is not who was responsible for Jesus’ death and resurrection that is the issue but how Jesus suffered death and experienced resurrection. Moreover if "spirit" means the Holy Spirit, its meaning is not parallel with "flesh."
A third view is that "flesh" refers to Jesus’ death and "spirit" refers to His resurrection. The weakness of this view is that it is redundant. Peter said, according to this view, that Jesus was put to death in death and that He was made alive in resurrection.
A fourth view sees "flesh" as describing Jesus’ pre-resurrection condition (following the Incarnation) and "spirit" as referring to His post-resurrection condition. Peter used the same terminology in 1 Peter 4:6 where he referred to Christians who had died but were now alive. I prefer this view.
"As in Rom. i.3f.; 1 Tim. iii.16, flesh and spirit do not here designate complimentary parts of Christ, but the whole of Christ regarded from different standpoints. By flesh is meant Christ in His human sphere of existence, considered as a man among men. By spirit is meant Christ in His heavenly spiritual sphere of existence, considered as divine spirit (see on 1. 11); and this does not exclude His bodily nature, since as risen from the dead it is glorified." [Note: Kelly, p. 151. Cf. Davids, p. 137-38.]
"’Flesh’ and ’spirit’ do not refer to two ’parts’ of Christ, i.e., his body and his soul; nor does the ’spirit’ refer to the Holy Spirit or Christ’s human spirit. Rather, ’flesh; refers to Christ in his human sphere of life and ’spirit’ refers to Christ in his resurrected sphere of life (cf. [William J.] Dalton, [Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits,] pp. 124-24; TDNT, 6:417, 447; 7:143)." [Note: Blum, p. 242. Cf. Fanning, p. 444.]
"If ’flesh’ is the sphere of human limitations, of suffering, and of death (cf. 1 Peter 4:1), ’Spirit’ is the sphere of power, vindication, and a new life (cf. [F. W.] Beare, [The First Epistle of Peter: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, p.] 169). Both spheres affect Christ’s (or anyone else’s) whole person; one cannot be assigned to the body and the other to the soul . . .
"The statement that Christ was ’made alive in the Spirit,’ therefore, means simply that he was raised from the dead, not as a spirit, but bodily (as resurrection always is in the NT), and in a sphere in which the Spirit and power of God are displayed without hindrance or human limitation (cf. 1 Peter 1:21)." [Note: Michaels, p. 205. Cf. Selwyn, p. 197.]
Jesus Christ became the Victor rather than a victim. All who trust Him share that victory (cf. 1 Peter 3:13-17). This verse is an encouragement to Peter’s readers that even though Jesus died because He remained committed to God’s will, He experienced resurrection. Therefore we should remain faithful with the confident hope that God will also vindicate us.
This verse is "one of the shortest and simplest [?!], and yet one of the richest summaries given in the New Testament of the meaning of the Cross of Jesus." [Note: J. M. E. Ross, The First Epistle of Peter, pp. 151-52.]
2. The vindication of Christ 3:18-22
Peter now reminded his readers of the consequences of Jesus’ response to unjustified persecution. He did so to strengthen their resolve to rededicate themselves to follow God’s will wholeheartedly and confidently. He also wanted to assure them of their ultimate triumph in Christ.
1 Peter 3:18-22 contain some very difficult exegetical problems. Who are the spirits who received a proclamation (1 Peter 3:19)? When did Jesus make this proclamation? What was its content? Why did Peter mention Noah? In what sense does baptism save us?
One group of interpreters believes Jesus went to the realm of the dead and preached to Noah’s contemporaries between His crucifixion and His resurrection. [Note: E.g., Bigg, p. 162.] Some of these say He extended an offer of salvation to them. Others feel He announced condemnation to the unbelievers. Still others hold that He announced good news to the saved among them.
A second group believes Jesus preached to Noah’s sinful generation while Noah was living on the earth. They see Him doing so through Noah.
A third group holds that Jesus proclaimed His victory on the cross to fallen angels. Some advocates of this view say this took place in hell between His crucifixion and His resurrection. Others believe it happened during His ascension to heaven.
I shall discuss these views in the exposition to follow.
In 1 Peter 2:21-25 Peter mentioned Jesus’ behavior during His passion (1 Peter 2:21-23), His death on the cross (1 Peter 2:24 a), and His present ministry as the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Peter 2:24-25). In 1 Peter 3:18-22 he cited Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into glory, the "missing links" in the previous record of Jesus’ experiences. Peter proceeded to explain the significance of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation not only for believers but also for the whole universe. Whereas the previous example of Jesus stressed the way He suffered while doing good, this one emphasizes the theme of Jesus’ vindication, which is major in 1 Peter following the quotation of Psalms 34 in 1 Peter 3:10-12.
Peter here introduced more information about Jesus’ activity in His spirit (i.e., His post-resurrection sphere of life), in addition to what he said about His resurrection from the dead (1 Peter 3:18), to encourage his readers.
"In which" refers back to the spiritual sphere of life in which Jesus Christ now lives (1 Peter 3:18). The identity of the "spirits in prison" is problematic. The plural "spirits" describes human beings only one other place in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:23), but it describes evil spirit beings frequently (Matthew 10:1; Mark 1:27; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:13; Mark 6:7: Luke 4:36; Luke 6:18; Acts 5:16; Revelation 16:13; et al.). Thus we would expect that evil angels are in view, but does what Peter said about them confirm this identification? He said they are in prison (cf. 2 Peter 2:4) and that they were disobedient in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20).
Some interpreters believe that the incident involving the sons of God and the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1-4) is what Peter had in view here. [Note: E.g., Michaels, pp. 206-13.] But there are some problems with this theory. First, this incident evidently did not take place during the construction of the ark but before construction began. Second, it is improbable that the "sons of God" were angels. [Note: See Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing, pp. 181-83.] Compare also Jesus’ implication that angels do not procreate in Matthew 22:30. Nevertheless these "spirits" could still be angels. If they are fallen angels, Peter may have meant that after Jesus Christ arose He announced to them that their doom was now sure. He may have done this either by His resurrection itself or by some special announcement to them.
A more probable explanation is that these "spirits" were the unbelievers who disobeyed God in Noah’s day by rejecting his preaching. [Note: Fanning, pp. 449-50; Raymer, pp. 851-52; Selwyn, p. 199; John S. Feinberg, "1 Peter 3:18-20, Ancient Mythology, and the Intermediate State," Westminster Theological Journal 48:2 (Fall 1986):303-36; and Wayne Grudem, "Christ Preaching through Noah: 1 Peter 3:19-20 in the Light of Dominant Themes in Jewish Literature," Trinity Journal 7NS:2 (Fall 1986):3-31.] They are now "spirits" since they died long ago and their bodies have not yet experienced resurrection. He said the spirits of these unbelievers are in prison now (i.e., Sheol) awaiting resurrection and judgment by God (cf. Revelation 20:11-15). One could say that Jesus proclaimed a message to Noah’s unbelieving contemporaries in His spirit (i.e., His spiritual state of life before the Incarnation) through Noah. Noah was preaching a message that God had given him, and in this sense Jesus Christ spoke through him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20). Just so, Jesus Christ was speaking through Peter’s readers to their unbelieving persecutors as they bore witness for Him in a hostile world. Noah faced the same type of opposition in his day that Peter’s original readers did in theirs and we do in ours.
Another view is that the people to whom Jesus preached were those alive after Pentecost and in bondage to Satan and sin. Jesus preached to them through the apostles. The obvious problem with this view is that Peter linked these people with Noah. [Note: For fuller discussion of these views, see D. Edmond Hiebert, "The Suffering and Triumphant Christ: An Exposition of 1 Peter 3:18-22," Bibliotheca Sacra 139:554 (April-June 1982):151-52.]
God would bring Peter’s readers safely through their trials just as He had brought Noah safely through his trials into a whole new world. God had done this for Noah even though he and his family were a small minority in their day. Furthermore as God judged the mockers in Noah’s day, so will He judge those who persecuted Peter’s readers.
"The phrase ’in the days of Noah’ may well be based on the Gospel tradition and on Jesus’ analogy between Noah’s time and the time immediately preceding the end of the age (cf. Matthew 24:37-39//Luke 17:26-27)." [Note: Michaels, p. 211.]
God is so patient that he waited for 120 years before sending the Flood in Noah’s day (Genesis 6:3). Today He also waits, so patiently that some people conclude that He will never judge (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-4). Relatively few will escape God’s coming judgment, just as only eight escaped His former judgment. The rest will die.
The antecedent of "that" seems to be "water" (1 Peter 3:20). Baptism saves Christians now as the water that floated Noah’s ark saved him and drowned his unbelieving antagonists. It does not save us by cleansing us from defilement, either physically or spiritually, but by announcing publicly that the person baptized has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism now delivers (saves) us from the consequences of siding with the world (cf. James 1:21; James 2:24; 2 Corinthians 6:17-18; Colossians 3:8-9; Hebrews 10:22). Baptism is the evidence that a person has made a break with his or her past life and is taking a stand with the Savior. It is a pledge (translated "appeal" in the NASB) springing from a good conscience (i.e., a conscience that is now right with God; cf. 1 Peter 3:16). [Note: Hiebert, "The Suffering . . .," pp. 154-56.]
". . . they have already experienced salvation in the same way Noah did, namely by passing through water to safety, the water of baptism (cf. the similar analogy in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2)." [Note: Davids, p. 143.]
"Corresponding to" (1 Peter 3:21) is a translation of the Greek word antitypon ("antitype"). This is one of the places in the New Testament where the writer identified something as a type (cf. also Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 9:24). The flood in Noah’s day is a type (i.e., a divinely intended foreshadowing) of baptism.
Peter’s point in his comments about baptism was this. In water baptism his readers had made a public profession of faith in Christ in their community. This had led to persecution. However by that act of baptism they had also testified to their ultimate victory over their persecutors. Because they had taken a stand for Jesus Christ they could be sure that He would stand with them (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).
Many people who hold to infant baptism appeal to this verse in support of their belief. Most Lutherans, for example, believe that infant baptism guarantees the salvation of the child until he or she becomes old enough to make the faith of his parents, expressed in having their baby baptized, his own (cf. Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16). In infant baptism the Lord bestows on the child "a good conscience toward God," which is the evidence of salvation. [Note: See Lenski, pp. 172-73.] At about 12 years of age, Lutheran children go through instruction to "confirm" them in the faith. Lutherans believe that infant baptism guarantees the salvation of children if they die before making their parents’ faith their own. They see a parallel with circumcision in the Old Testament. Roman Catholics and many Presbyterians also baptize infants for the same purpose.
The problem with this interpretation, from my viewpoint, is that Scripture nowhere else makes baptism a condition for salvation. In fact, it consistently warns against adding anything to faith for salvation. Circumcision did not save children under the Old Covenant any more than baptism does under the New Covenant. Circumcision expressed the faith of the parents. Abraham received the sign of circumcision to demonstrate his faith on the male members of his household (Genesis 17).
Salvation comes, not by baptism, but by faith in Jesus Christ whose resurrection and ascension testify to God’s acceptance of and satisfaction with His sacrifice (1 John 2:2). 1 Corinthians 1:17 clarifies that baptism is not required for justification, and Acts 10:47 shows that baptism is a step of obedience for Christians. God has subjected all things, even the powers behind our persecutors, to Jesus Christ because of His death and resurrection (cf. 1 Peter 3:18). The fact that Jesus Christ now rules over the church does not mean that He is ruling on the throne of David over the kingdom of David. [Note: See Cleon L. Rogers Jr., "The Davidic Covenant in Acts-Revelation," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:601 (January-March 1994):81-82.] "Through the resurrection" continues the thought that Peter began in 1 Peter 3:18 from which he digressed in 1 Peter 3:19-21 b.
Jesus Christ’s ultimate victory in spite of temporary persecution should be an encouragement to any suffering disciple of the Savior. 1 Peter 3:18 describes the saving work of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:19-20 refer to His ministry of proclaiming good news to those destined for judgment, which ministry we in our day must continue faithfully, as Noah did in his. 1 Peter 3:21 stresses the importance of confessing Christ publicly in baptism by reminding us of what baptism does and what it does not do. 1 Peter 3:22 reminds us of our ultimate vindication and destiny.
There is a difference between this reference to Jesus’ sufferings and the one in 1 Peter 2:21-24. In the former case Peter used Jesus as an example of how to respond to suffering. In this case he showed that as a result of Jesus’ sufferings we can be sure of ultimate triumph, and this gives us confidence as we suffer.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Peter 3". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26