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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
1 Peter 3

 

 

Verse 1

1 Peter 3:1. In like manner, ye wives, submit yourselves. Literally, it is ‘submitting yourselves,’ this conjugal duty being represented as on the same plane with the former, and simply another application of the general law stated in 1 Peter 2:18.

to your own husbands. Here, as also in at least two other passages where the same charge is given, viz. Ephesians 5:22, Titus 2:5 (in Ephesians 5:24, and Colossians 3:18, the reading of the Received Text is insufficiently supported), the strong pronominal adjective which usually means ‘own’ or ‘proper’ is inserted before ‘husbands.’ There is, however, no such contrast intended, as some interpreters (Steiger, etc.) imagine, between those to whom these women were united in marriage and others. The fact that in the decadence of the language the adjective lost much of its original force, makes it doubtful how much emphasis can be allowed it here. It may point, however, to the nature of the marriage relation, the legal claims, the peculiar and exclusive union which it involved, as furnishing a reason for submission (see Ellicott on Ephesians 5:22).

in order that even if any are disobedient to the word. By the word is meant, as at 1 Peter 2:8, the sum of Revelation, or the Gospel. The verb rendered ‘are disobedient’ denotes, as at 1 Peter 2:7-8, the disposition that stands out positively against the truth. The case supposed is expressed as an exceptional and trying one.

they shall without word be gained by the behaviour of the wives. It would be natural to take the ‘word’ to mean here exactly what it meant in the prior clause, namely, the Gospel. In that case, however, we should have to put upon the term ‘gained’ the restricted sense (adopted by Schott) of won over to conjugal affection, to adherence to the wedded relation; whereas what Peter seems to have in view is the possibility of Christian wives winning over their heathen husbands to the Christian faith, and that under unfavourable circumstances. As it would be strange indeed (in view of Romans 10:14-17) to find an apostle contemplating the possibility of a conversion to Christ without the instrumentality of the Gospel, it is necessary to suppose that there is a kind of play upon the words here, the same term being used (by a figure of speech known to grammarians as antanaclasis) with different meanings. So Bengel briefly explains the term word as meaning ‘in the first instance the Gospel, in the second, talk.’ The Syriac Version here renders it ‘without trouble.’ Wycliffe rightly gives ‘without word.’ Tyndale, Cranmer, the Genevan, and the Rhemish all have ‘without the word.’ Notice, also, how the old English sense of ‘conversation’ (as = conduct) appears in the A. V. here, and how the verb which our old English versions agree in translating ‘won’ here is the one which is used by our Lord in Matthew 18:15 (‘thou hast gained thy brother ‘), and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 (‘that I might gain the more,’ etc.). Leighton speaks of a soul thus gained to Jesus Christ as ‘added to His treasury, who thought not His own precious blood too dear to lay out for this gain. ‘The idea, therefore, is that, even in those most unpromising cases where the heathen husband steeled himself against the power of God’s own Word, the Christian wife might haply win him over to Christianity by the silent persuasion of a blameless life, without word of hers. Where the preached Word failed, the voiceless eloquence of pure and consistent wifely behaviour might prevail, without labour of spoken argument or appeal. And the possibility of such victories of patience should encourage the wife to a wifely submission which might be hard to natural inclination. Compare Shakespeare’s

‘The silence often of pure innocence

Persuades, when speaking fails.’

Winter’s Tale, 1 Peter 2:2.


Verses 1-7

When Paul defines the duties of bond-servants, he balances his statement by a corresponding exposition of the duties of masters (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). Peter, dealing here specially with the application of the general Christian law of order and submission, passes at once to the position of the wife as one of subordination in the household. We are not to infer from this difference between Peter’s mode of handling the relative duties and Paul’s, that there were; few Christian husbands in the territories addressed by the former. Peter’s counsels, while applying to wives generally, seem to be particularly directed to those married to heathen husbands. In 1 Corinthians 7:13-15, Paul states the general principle that a believing wife was not to leave an unbelieving husband, although, if the bond was broken by the husband, she might ‘let him depart,’ and need not refuse the separation. Peter here sets forth the wife’s duty under the larger aspect of such a meek adjustment of herself to her position as might form the best persuasive with the husband. There was much to provoke the Christian wife to throw off the heathen husband’s yoke. To the Greek the wife was something more than the slave, but much less than the husband’s help-meet—his dependant. In the social system of Rome, as it originally stood, the husband’s power over the wife was, like the father’s power over the child, unlimited, irresponsible, checked by no legal restrictions, and so inherent that neither age nor free act nor insanity could dissolve it. ‘In a legal point of view, the family was absolutely guided and governed by the single, all-powerful will of the “father of the household” (pater-familias). In relation to him all in the household were destitute of legal rights—the wife and the child no less than the bullock or the slave’ (Mommsen’s History of Rome, Book i. chap. 5). At least two centuries before the Christian era the Roman wife had begun to scheme for her emancipation, and a quarrel of the sexes set in which produced bitter fruit in the days of the Empire. ‘The latter centuries of the Roman commonwealth,’ says Dean Merivale, ‘are filled with the domestic struggles occasioned by the obstinacy with which political restrictions were maintained upon the most sensitive of the social relations’ (The Romans under the Empire, 4 p. 84). Among such outlying populations, too, as are now addressed by Peter, the wife’s lot might contain elements of bitterness peculiarly apt to provoke her, when the Christian doctrines of equality and purity took possession of her mind, to rebel against her position of abject subserviency, against the harshness of the heathen husband’s rule, against much in the relation itself which heathenism allowed, but Christian feeling revolted against. In view of the social disaster and the danger to the Christian name which repudiation of the ties of family life would entail, Peter enjoins on wives patient regard to the duties of their station, and submission for Christ’s sake to its inconveniences.


Verse 2

1 Peter 3:2. having beheld your chaste behaviour coupled with fear. On the force of the ‘beheld,’ as implying close observation, see on 1 Peter 2:12, where the same term occurs. The behaviour is styled chaste, not in the limited sense of the English adjective, but as covering purity, modesty, and whatever makes wifely conduct not only correct but winsome. It is further defined by a couple of words which mean literally ‘in fear,’ but are happily paraphrased by our A. V., ‘coupled with fear,’ after Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Genevan. What is meant is not exactly ‘the fear of God,’ but rather a sensitive respect for the husband and the married relation, the chastity or purity of behaviour is exhibited as associated necessarily with the dutiful spirit that recoils from everything inconsistent with the woman’s and the wife’s position. Nothing could better express what is meant by this ‘fear,’ therefore, than Leighton’s well-known description of it as ‘a delicate and timorous grace, afraid of the least air or shadow of anything that hath but a resemblance of wronging it, in courage, or speech, or apparel.’


Verse 3

1 Peter 3:3. whose adorning let it be not the outward adorning of plaiting of the hair and of wearing of ornaments of gold, or of putting on of apparel. The sentence opens with the relative ‘whose’ without any noun. It admits, therefore, of being construed in more than one way. The ‘whose’ may be taken in the possessive sense, and so = whose be not the outward adorning, etc.; or = whose distinction let it be not, etc.; or = whose business let it be not, etc. (Huther, etc.). Or the relative may have supplied to it the subsequent noun, and so = whose adorning let it be not, etc. (so both A. V. and R. V. with Wiesinger, Schott, Hofmann, etc.). As the ‘adorning’ means properly not the act of adorning but the adornment or ornament itself, the latter construction is preferable. The statement, then, is that the adornment which wives are to value is not that which is effected by the particular acts of plaiting or braiding the hair, wearing of gold (i.e, as the form of the noun implies, pieces or ornaments of gold; see on 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18), putting on of apparel (literally, dresses). The terms expressing these acts, ‘plaiting,’ ‘wearing’ (literally, putting round one), and ‘putting on,’ occur nowhere else in the New Testament. They denote two distinct kinds of female adornment, namely, what the person itself presents, and what is put upon it. Hence we have first the plaiting of the natural ornament of the hair, and then other two modes which are given as branches (so the ‘or’ indicates) of one species of artificial ornamentation. The arts themselves had gone to unheard of excess, as we learn from literature, coins, and sculpture, among the heathen ladies of the Empire Pliny the elder speaks of having seen Nero’s mother dressed in a robe of gold tissue, and Lollia Paulina in apparel covered with pearls and emeralds costing fifty millions of sesterces, which would be something like £432,000 (Hist. Nat. xxxiii. 19, ix. 35, 36). From other writers, such as Ovid (de Art. Am. iii. 136), Juvenal (Satir. vi. 502), and Suetonius (Claud. 40), we learn what extravagance of time, pains, and expense was lavished upon the dressing of the hair, how great ladies had slaves carefully instructed for that one service and specially assigned to it, how by rows of false curls, curious braidings, and strings of jewels, the hair was built up high above the head. (See Smith’s Diet, of Antiq. under Coma, and Farrar’s Early Years of Christianity, 5.) How much reason Peter had to dread the infection of Christian women with the same disease of luxury, we may gather from what appears later in the writings of such leaders of the Church as Cyprian, Jerome, and Clement of Alexandria. The last named, in his Padagogue or Instructor, devotes much space to the detailed discussion of what is permissible and the censure of what is wrong in regard to dress, ear-rings, finger-rings, the binding of the hair, etc. It may be inferred, perhaps, from Peter’s statement (and the inference is borne out by what we know from other sources) not only that many of the first Christian converts were women, but that not a few were women of means and position. He does not, however, speak of ornaments and tasteful attire as things unfit for a Christian woman, but condemns excess of attention to such things as if they made the wife’s real attractions. In this, as in other things, the Gospel is a law of liberty, which declines to be bound to one rigid line of application in all circumstances. Compare the important parallel in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.


Verse 4

1 Peter 3:4. but the hidden man of the heart. This phrase is taken by some to be practically equivalent to what is elsewhere called the ‘new man’ (Colossians 3:10), or the ‘new creature’ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), i.e the regenerate life itself on its inward side, the new nature that is formed by the Spirit of God ‘in the secret workshop of the heart,’ ‘the new way of thinking, willing, and feeling’ (Fronmüller, so also Alford, Wiesinger, Beza, etc.). It is analogous, however, rather to the other Pauline expressions, the ‘inner man’ (Ephesians 3:16), or the ‘inward man’ (Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:16). Of itself it denotes not the regenerate life specifically, but simply the inner life, the true self within, the contrast here being between those external accessories of ornamentation on which it is vain to depend for power of attraction or persuasion, and those inner qualities of character which are the secret of all permanent, personal influence (so substantially Calvin, Bengel, Huther, Hofmann, Schott, Weiss, etc.). The term ‘man’ is used much as we use the I, the self, the personality. It is described as ‘hidden,’ in antithesis to those exterior, material adornments which are meant to catch the eye. And it is defined as ‘of the heart,’ as found in the heart, or identified with it. Clement, in the treatise already referred to (Pad. 1 Peter 3:1), defines the ‘inner man’ as the ‘rational nature which rules the outer man.’

in the imperishableness of the meek and quiet spirit. The inner personality of moral beauty which makes the wife’s true adorning, which belongs to the heart and cannot be seen by the outer eye, is further defined in respect of what it consists in. That is, as the phrase literally runs, ‘in the imperishable of the meek and quiet spirit;’ the adjective meaning not ‘without stain,’ or ‘uncorrupted,’ as Grotius, Luther, Erasmus, take it, but in accordance with 1 Peter 1:7, simply ‘permanent’ in opposition to the transitory and decaying. This is construed, therefore, in several ways; either as = in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit (so A. V., but with a certain strain upon the Greek); or = in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit (so R. V., with Hofmann, Alford, etc.); or = in the imperishableness of a meek and quiet spirit,—i.e in what cannot perish, namely, a meek and quiet spirit. This last is most in harmony with the previous contrast (in 1 Peter 1:7) between proved faith which is to be found unto praise at Christ’s coming, and gold that perisheth. So the Rhemish gives ‘in the incorruptibility of a quiet and a modest spirit.’ The other old English Versions are in confusion, e.g. Wycliffe’s ‘in incorruption and of mild spirit,’ Tyndale’s ‘incorrupt with a meek and a quiet spirit’ (so also the Genevan), and Cranmer’s ‘without all corruption, so that the spirit be at rest and quiet.’ The quality of meekness implies more than gentleness. In the old Greek ethics it amounts only to mildness, in the sense of the opposite of roughness and violence (Plato, Rep. 558A, etc.), or in that of the subsidence of anger (Herod, 1 Peter 2:18). It is defined by Aristotle as the mean between passionate temper and the neutral disposition which is incapable of heated feeling, and as inclining to the weakness of the latter (Nic. Eth. iv. 5). In the New Testament it is not mere equanimity, but the grace of a positive denial of self which holds disputings alien to it, and curbs the tendency of nature to passion, resistance, and resentment (cf. also Matthew 5:5; Matthew 21:5, and, above all, Christ’s application of it to Himself, Matthew 11:29). The quality of quietness expresses a tranquility or peaceableness (the adjective is the same as the ‘peaceable’ of 1 Timothy 2:2, its only other New Testament occurrence) which has its deep source within. Together, therefore, the two epithets may describe the beauty of the spirit which, as Bengel suggests, at once shrinks from giving trouble by the assertion of one’s rights, and bears in calmness the grievances which come from others.

which is in the sight of God of great price. The estimate which is put upon such a spirit by Him who has said of Himself that He ‘seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7), should be a further recommendation of it to these women. The same epithet is used to describe the array as costly (1 Timothy 2:9), and the spikenard as very precious (Mark 14:3). It is another, with a similar sense, which occurs in 1 Peter 1:7, and is used to describe the pearl (Matthew 13:46) as one ‘of great price,’ and Mary’s spikenard as ‘very costly’ (John 12:3; cf. Matthew 26:7). With Peter’s statement of the wife’s true adorning, compare above all the picture of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 (specially Proverbs 31:25); and such classical parallels as this from Plutarch’s Nuptial Precepts—‘that adorns a woman which makes her more becoming; and this is not done either by gold, or emerald, or purple, but by those things which give her the appearance of dignity, orderliness, modesty.’


Verse 5

1 Peter 3:5. For thus in old time also did the holy women who hoped in God adorn themselves, submitting themselves to their own husbands. The example of the women whose lives are recorded in the ancient history of God’s people furnishes another incentive to the cultivation of the kind of attraction just explained. They were accustomed to seek in the beauty of wifely character their best adornment, and one chief evidence of their being women of this spirit was the respect and subordination which they exhibited in relation to their husbands. These women are called ‘holy’ here (as the prophets are also designated, 2 Peter 1:21; Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; Ephesians 3:5) not merely in regard to their personal character, but in a semi-official sense as ‘women of blessed memory’ (Fronmuller), occupying a distinct position among the people whom God had separated for Himself. The personal character is then more definitely described when it is added that ‘they hoped in (or, literally, toward) God.’ Their eye turned Godward, not earthward; their life drew its inspiration not from the present, but from the future; their expectation looked to the performance of God’s promises, not to what things as they were could yield. Hence those material adornments which had such transient worth as they did possess only in men’s sight, not in God’s, were not to them what the contagion of custom and fashion threatened to make them to the godly women of Peter’s own time.


Verse 6

1 Peter 3:6. as Sarah obeyed Abraham. Why is Sarah introduced in this connection? Possibly as the standard by which the holy women of old measured their wifely submission. Taking ‘as’ in the sense of ‘according as’ (with Schott), we should have in this sentence a new stroke added to the preceding description; and the point would be, that not only did these holy women of olden time submit themselves to their own husbands, but they regulated the measure of their wifely obedience by no lower standard than the noble example of Sarah. Most interpreters (Huther, Alford, Bengel, Schott, etc.) retain for the ‘as’ the sense of ‘as for instance,’ and take Sarah to be introduced here simply as an eminent example of what characterized the holy women of the sacred history generally. It is plain, however, that she is named here not merely as one instance out of many, however brilliant an instance, but as the ancestress of the Israel of God. As Abraham is the father of all the faithful, so Sarah is the mother of all believing women, and the fact that their common mother made herself so obedient to her own husband is argument enough with her daughters in the kingdom of God new, as it was with her daughters in the kingdom of God then. The completeness and constancy of Sarah’s obedience are implied whether we read the ‘obeyed’ as an imperfect or as the historical past; for the authorities differ. The latter reading (see similar instances in John 17:4; Galatians 4:8) indeed gives even greater force to the idea of completeness designating the whole course of Sarah’s wifely conduct by the quality which belonged to it as a finished whole.

calling him lord. The terms in which she spoke of Abraham in relation to herself are instanced as the natural expression of the spirit of meek subordination which animated her. One important historical occasion on which she recognised him as her lord (the same title is given by Hannah to Elkanah in the Septuagint Version of 1 Samuel 1:8) is recorded in Genesis 18:12. It has been observed that in the Old Testament Sarah is ‘the mother even more than the wife,’ the picture of a motherly affliction, full of tenderness to her own child, and of a zealous regard for his interest, which made her cruel to others. It is not less true, however, that she is emphatically the wife, sinking her own independence in her husband. The only occasions on which she asserts that independence are the two expulsions of Hagar. In the New Testament she appears but seldom, once as an example of faith (Hebrews 11:11), twice where she is entirely secondary to Abraham (Romans 5:19; Romans 9:9), and here in the character which Tennyson depicts in his Isabel:

‘A courage to endure and to obey

A hate of gossip, parlance, and of sway,

Crowned Isabel, through all her placid life.

The queen of marriage,—a most perfect wife.’

whose children ye became. The statement is not that these women are (as the R. V., the Vulgate, etc., render it) Sarah’s children, far less that they shall be such, as some paraphrase it, but that they became or were made such. The phrase points not to a change from being Sarah’s children after the flesh to being her children after the spirit, but rather to a change which made those who were in no sense descendants of Sarah children of hers in the truest sense. It applies quite naturally to Gentile readers, Gentile women now christianized being styled children of Sarah, just as Gentile believers generally are called children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7, etc.).

doing well. Does this qualify the ‘ye’ in the previous ‘ye became,’ and so express either a condition or an evidence of the spiritual kinship in which the women whom Peter addresses stood to Sarah? Or does it qualify the ‘holy women’ of old, and so express certain characteristics of their wifely example? The difficulty of establishing a very clear connection between these participles and the past verb ‘ye became,’ has induced some to prefer the former view, and to treat the first part of 1 Peter 3:6 as a parenthesis. Thus, according to Bengel (Westcott and Hort appear also to recognise it as possible), the construction would run—‘obeying their own husbands (as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose children ye became), doing good, and not fearing,’ etc. The latter connection, however, approves itself as the more natural to the vast majority of interpreters. There remains, at the same time, much division of opinion as to the precise effect to which this participle and the following qualify the Christian women whom Peter has in view. Some take them to express the requirement on which their spiritual relation to Sarah is suspended. So the A. V. renders ‘as long as ye do well,’ the R. V. ‘if ye do well,’ and Beza, Alford, and many others agree with this. Others (Harless, Wiesinger, etc.) think they denote rather the sign of the spiritual kinship, as if = whose children ye became, as is proved by the fact that ye do well, etc. Others (Hofmann, etc.) regard them as expressing the way in which the kinship was established, as if = whose children ye became, and that just as (or, in such wise that) ye did good. There is the further question as to what is specially referred to in the clause. The ‘doing well’ does not refer here to a life of beneficence, but either to the good act of turning to Christ, the act of conversion (for which very definite sense appeal is made to the use of the verb in 1 Peter 2:20), or, as is most probable, to the good doing exhibited in the loyal discharge of all wifely duty,—the good which Milton thus commends:

‘Nothing lovelier can be found

In woman, than to study household good,

And good works in her husband to promote.’

Paradise Lost, lx. 232.

and not fearing any terror (or, scare). The noun used here for fear is one which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, although the cognate verb is found twice, with the sense of terrify according to our A. V. (Luke 21:9; Luke 24:37). It means any passionate emotion, any scare or nervous excitement, and may have either a subjective sense or an objective. The former is favoured by Luther, our own A. V., etc. The latter, however, is undoubtedly the sense here, as is shown both by the grammar of the clause and by the fact that Proverbs 3:25 (where the objective use is evident) appears to be in Peter’s mind. So the older English Versions take it, e.g. Wycliffe gives ‘not dreading any perturbation;’ Tyndale, ‘not afraid of every shadow;’ Cranmer, ‘not afraid for any terror;’ the Genevan, ‘not being afraid of any terror;’ the Rhemish, ‘not fearing any perturbation.’ The idea expressed by the clause, therefore, is not merely that they were to do all this willingly, and not out of fear (Hottinger, etc.); nor that in doing all this they were yet not to allow their submission to carry them the length of being afraid to act on the principle of obeying God rather than man, when driven to a choice between the two; but that they were to do good, specially in the realm of wifely duty, in spite of what they might have to fear from hostile surroundings and heathen husbands. In this superiority to the weakness of timidity, in this courageous adherence to all that is dutiful, even under distressing circumstances, they were also to show themselves true daughters of their great ancestress in the kingdom of faith.


Verse 7

1 Peter 3:7. Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives. The brief counsels to husbands which are now appended to the ample exposition of the duties of wives are neither a mere parenthesis in the Epistle (Canon Cook), nor simply a corollary to the foregoing exhortation (Canon Mason). Far less can they be said to be out of place, as not in harmony with the general idea of subjection (so Weiss). Both the formula ‘in like manner’ and the participial turn of the sentence (literally = dwelling together) show that what is now said is given still as an integral portion of the general injunction of 1 Peter 2:13, and that it deals with another type of submission. There is a submission which husbands, notwithstanding that the man is the head of the woman, have to yield, not less than wives, to the idea and object of the married state as one form of the ‘every ordinance of man.’ This implies on the side of the husbands that they are to dwell with their wives. Should a Christian husband be wedded to a heathen wife, he is not to consider himself freed on that account from the claims of family and conjugal life. Their association in the home life is to be according to knowledge. This does not mean according to their knowledge of the Gospel (Grotius, etc.); neither is it exactly = according to the Christian recognition of the wife’s relation to the husband (Scott, etc.). It means reasonably, intelligently, i.e with a just recognition and wise consideration of what the ordinance itself is, and what the relative positions of husband and wife are. ‘One cannot now prescribe rules,’ says Luther; ‘God brings it home to every man himself that he must act toward his wife agreeably to reason, according as may be best adapted to each wife’ (see also Steiger). So the poet Thomson describes the husband, ‘Who, with superior dignity, with reason, And manly tenderness, will ever love her; Not first a kneeling slave, and then a tyrant.’

giving honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, as also heirs together of the grace of life. ‘The whole of chivalry is in these words,’ says Canon Mason. The construction of the passage, however, is somewhat uncertain. The word rendered ‘the woman’ is properly speaking an adjective, ‘the female’ qualifying the noun ‘vessel.’ The ‘dwell with’ may have its object either in the term ‘your wives,’ which then must be supplied from the context, or it may be connected immediately with the noun ‘vessel.’ The phrase ‘giving honour’ also may go either with the ‘woman,’ etc., or with the ‘heirs together.’ Hence the whole sentence may be rendered as above, which is the construction adopted (with some minor differences) by the A. V., the R. V., the old English Versions, etc. Or it may run thus—‘dwell according to knowledge with the female vessel as the weaker vessel, giving honour to them as heirs together,’ etc. In either case it is shown that if the home life is to be regulated so as to be ‘according to knowledge,’ there must be a considerate recognition of the natural weakness of the woman, and a readiness to give her (the verb means to apportion or assign; this is its only occurrence in the New Testament) the honourable regard which is due to her as the husband’s associate in life and in grace. The term vessel is used here in the figurative sense, in which it is elsewhere applied to men as objects made by God, and used as the instruments of His purpose (cf. Acts 9:15; Romans 9:21-23; 2 Timothy 2:21; cf. also 2 Corinthians 4:7). This usage has its basis in the language of the Old Testament prophets, e.g. Jeremiah 18:6; Jeremiah 19:11; Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 48:36; Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8; Hosea 8:8; Psalms 2:9; cf. Revelation 2:27. It is used in the solemn sense of vessels of God’s wrath or mercy, and vessels chosen for His service; but also, as here and in 1 Thessalonians 4:4 (in which last it seems to designate the wife), in reference to the Divine intention in the natural relations. Husband and wife, too, are both regarded here as equally the vessels or instruments by which God’s purpose is made good in this particular province of life, the only difference between them being that the one is the weaker vessel, and the other the stronger. This natural difference establishes the wife’s claim on the considerate regard of the husband. The same claim upon his respect and honour is made yet stronger by the fact that all natural differences disappear in the spiritual relation which makes them joint-heirs (cf. Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:6; Hebrews 11:9) of the grace of life. The exact force of this latter statement will vary slightly according to the choice which is made between two somewhat equally balanced readings, one of which puts the ‘heirs together’ in apposition to the ‘husbands,’ the other in apposition to the wives. In the former case, the point is that the husband’s consciousness of being on the same platform with the wife in the inheritance of grace should enlist his honour and regard for her; in the other, it will be that honour is due to the wife not only because she is the wife, and naturally weaker than the husband, but also because she has all the dignity of having in point of fact an equal interest in grace. What they inherit together is called ‘the grace of life; by which is to be understood neither the ‘gift or dower of natural life’ which is committed to husband and wife (Canon Mason), nor the life of Divine favour and blessing which the married estate is designed to be (Hofmann). As the immediate mention of prayer suggests, it means rather the grace which consists in eternal life, or which brings that life to us; or, as Alford and others take it, ‘the gracious gift of eternal life’—that new life as a whole, of which the woman is participant equally with the man. It is not necessary to suppose that only Christian wives are in view. The clause deals simply with the fact that God makes no distinction between husband and wife in regard to this gift of a life which is at once a glorious present possession and an object of elevating anticipation. The idea is not merely that ‘the hope of eternal glory makes men generous and mild,’ as Bengel interprets it, but that the recognition of another as having the same place as ourselves in God’s offer of grace, above all if that other has the sacred name of wife, should teach us to yield the honour which has been enjoined.

to the end that your prayers be not hindered. The reading varies here between two forms of the verb, one which means to be cut off, i.e in the sense of being destroyed, or in that of being debarred from communication with the throne of grace; and another (and this is the better attested) which means to be impeded or obstructed. The prayers are taken by many interpreters (Calvin, Alford, Weiss, etc.) to be the conjugal prayers of husband and wife, social prayers, or family prayers; in which case the idea is that, where the wife is not recognised by the husband for what she is in God’s sight, the two cannot pray in concert as married people. There will be nothing to call forth their common prayers, and the blessing attached (Matthew 18:19) to united supplication cannot visit their home. As the husbands, however, are directly dealt with in the verse, it is better to take the prayers to be their prayers; and the idea will be that the Christian husband’s own prayers will be arrested on their way to the throne. The injustice done to the wife will burden their pinions, and check their rise to the Divine Ear. The possibility of so disastrous a result is another reason for giving honour to the wife.


Verse 8

1 Peter 3:8. Finally, be ye all; or, to retain the immediate dependence which the previous counsels had upon the general exhortations of 1 Peter 2:11-12, or 1 Peter 2:13, finally being all. It is, says an old Greek interpreter, as if the apostle had written, ‘Why should I give particular directions? I say simply to all.’

like-minded. What Peter sets in the forefront of this summary of universal Christian duties is that oneness of judgment and inclination on which Paul so often touches (Romans 12:16; Romans 15:5; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 3:15; Ephesians 4:3). It is expressed by an adjective, which occurs nowhere else in the N. T. It denotes the agreement of those whose mind and will are set upon the same objects (Schott), or unity in sentiment, and, therefore, in faith (Steiger, Bengel). It is not to be limited to agreement in doctrinal opinion. It is the harmony of many minds which ‘springs from the sense of a common origin, from common relations, and interests, and aims, and hopes’ (Lillie).

compassionate, or, better, sympathetic. This is the solitary occurrence of the adjective in the N. T., although the cognate verb is found twice (Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 10:34). It denotes oneness in feeling, and covers Paul’s ‘rejoice with them that do rejoice,’ as well as his ‘weep with them that weep’ (Romans 12:15). The unity of mind and the unity of feeling are associated again in Romans 12:15-16, and Philippians 2:1-2.

loving as brethren, or, loving the brethren; another adjective found nowhere else in the N. T. See on 1 Peter 1:22, where the noun is used, as it is also in 2 Peter 1:7; Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1.

compassionate, or, as it is rendered in its only other N. T. occurrence (Ephesians 4:32), tender-hearted. In classical Greek the adjective and the cognate noun (the former being rare) have either a purely physical sense or denote stout-heartedness. They owe to Christianity their delicate ethical tone, and the sense of the kinship of man with man which softens and enriches them.

humble-minded. So we must read instead of the very poorly-attested term of the Textus Receptus, which our A. V. rather unhappily renders ‘courteous,’ as if it referred to manners, or external demeanour. Lowliness of mind in the classical Ethics ranked not as a virtue, but as a fault or infirmity,—that of meanness of spirit or faint-heartedness. The adjective which Peter uses (which occurs only here and in Proverbs 29:23) has even in Plutarch’s writings an unfavourable sense. The noun for ‘humble-mindedness’ occurs in no Greek writer prior to the Christian era. In Christianity it becomes a grace, contrasted with the heathen virtue of ‘high-mindedness,’ and born of the sense of un-worthiness. It is the thinking ourselves little because we are little. So Bernard defines it as the virtue which teaches a man out of the truest knowledge of himself to esteem himself lightly. In the N. T. it denotes humility toward God (Acts 15:19) and toward our fellow-men (1 Peter 5:5; Philippians 2:3). Primarily it is the former. Hence it is opposed both to the mock-humility of morbid feeling which has so often shown itself in the history of Christ’s Church, and to ‘slavish deference to men’ (see specially Neander, Planting of Christianity, i. pp. 483-5, Bohn).—The connection between these precepts is variously understood. Some (e.g. Hofmann, Huther) take the first three to be notes of what Christians should be among themselves, and the others to be notes of what they should be towards all without distinction of Christian and non-Christian. Their relations are probably of a less external kind than that. The primary duty of like-mindedness or unity in sentiment naturally carries with it the unity of feeling which makes us enter into the joys and sorrows of others as if they were our own; and this oneness in mind and feeling, when it is exhibited toward our fellow-Christians, means nothing less than brotherly affection which takes a living interest in all that concerns others, expressing itself in all tenderness of regard for them, and inspiring us with that disposition to think others better than ourselves without which love remains less than it should be. There is a notice-able analogy between this train of precepts and the briefer series given by Paul in Colossians 3:12. In the one, as in the other, humility crowns the list. And justly so. For it is the safeguard of all the social graces, the virtue which makes all other virtues, lovely in themselves, proof against assault, and safe from exaggeration.


Verses 8-16

The injunctions on the subject of the blamelessness of conduct by which Christians should be distinguished in their political, civil, and domestic relations, are now succeeded by a train of exhortations of a wider kind. These are given in as rich detail as the former. They are addressed to all believers without distinction, and without special reference to the particular orders of life which are indicated by the terms subjects, slaves, wives, husbands. They are given, nevertheless, in connection with the same general inculcation of seemliness of conduct (chap. 1 Peter 2:11-12), of which those other counsels were applications; and they express, therefore, various broad and general elements in the kind of life by which gainsayers are to be silenced. Heathen eyes would be keen and jealous scrutineers of what Christians were, not only in their attitude to magistracies, their ideas on the rights of property, their mode of life within the sacred circle of the home, but also in the whole compass of their relations to each other and to the world outside. So we have here in the first place a bird’s-eye view of what they ought to be among themselves, and then, in larger outline, a picture of what they ought to be in face of the hostility of surrounding heathenism. The former subject is briefly dealt with. The latter is unfolded at length, and is enforced by appeal both to general principles and to Christ’s example.


Verse 9

1 Peter 3:9. not rendering evil for evil. The transition from the duties of Christians toward each other to their duties in relation to their adversaries is made easily through the last-named grace. An undue esteem of ourselves is inconsistent either with the oneness of mind and feeling which makes genuine brotherliness, or with the Christian law of overcoming evil with good. Humble-mindedness is ‘essential both to true gentleness of love and to true patience under injuries’(Alford).

or railing for railing; rather, reviling for reviling, as in 1 Peter 2:23; but contrariwise blessing, i.e nay rather, on the contrary, blessing them; for the word is a participle, not a noun. Peter seems to have in mind here his Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:44). It is not necessary, therefore, to go beyond what is meant there, or to assert for the term ‘blessing’ here the sense of expressing kindness in the form of deed as well as word. The ‘blessing’ denoted by this verb is usually contrasted with cursing or the like (Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Corinthians 4:12; James 3:9; as well as Matthew 5:44). The return which we are to render for injury done us, whether in the form of the evil deed or the reviling word, is to desire and pray for the good of the injurers.

because hereunto were ye called. On the ground of the best ancient authorities we must drop the ‘knowing’ which is inserted in the A. V., and read as above, with the Revised Version, only that ‘because’ represents the original more fairly than the ‘for’ of that Version. The man who once was quick enough to take the law of retaliation into his own hand, meeting deed of violence with deed of violence, and taunts and accusations with cursing and swearing, as in the case of the high priest’s servant and that of the bystanders in the court (Matthew 26:51; Matthew 26:73-74), now preaches a revenge which consists not only in patient endurance of wrong, but in endeavouring to win God’s favour for the wrong-doers. And this he does on the high ground that anything short of this is inconsistent with our Christian vocation itself. The duty which was formerly enjoined on slaves by an appeal to Christ’s example (chap. 1 Peter 2:23), is now repeated as a duty applicable to all Christians, and as involved in the Divine call which first makes us Christians. That call, too, is again expressed as a definite event of the past, carrying with it once for all, and from the very beginning of the Christian life, all that Peter would now pledge us to.

in order that ye might inherit a blessing; or better, simply, inherit blessing. How does this final clause stand related to the others? The point will be somewhat different according as we take the ‘hereunto’ to refer to what precedes it or to what follows it. Some suppose the ‘hereunto’ to refer to the ‘contrariwise blessing them;’ in which case the sense will be that, when they were called to be Christians, they were called also to the duty of blessing those who did them wrong, and they were called to this with the view of obtaining blessing for themselves. In favour of this construction (which is supported by such exegetes as Calvin, de Wette, Hofmann, etc.) we have the analogous use of ‘hereunto’ in chap. 1 Peter 2:21. Others take it to refer to the con-tents of the final clause itself; in which case the idea is that Christians were called hereunto, namely, to an inheritance of blessing for themselves. In favour of this view (which is supported by Alford, Huther, Luther, Bengel, Schott, etc.) it is argued that it is more biblical, and more in harmony in particular with Paul’s reasoning in Ephesians 4:32, to say that we ought to bless others because we ourselves have blessing, than to say that we are to bless others in order that we may ourselves get blessing. Peter’s use of the formula ‘hereunto,’ and the consideration that the inheritance of blessing which is spoken of here is more naturally taken, as is the case with so many of Peter’s phrases, to point mainly to the final, future inheritance of which the present is but a foretaste, give the advantage to the former construction. On either view we have an idea thoroughly pertinent to the subject. On the second the point of the exhortation is that the blessing of which Christians are heirs is one not of merit but only of God’s grace, and this surely should make it natural for them to exhibit a corresponding attitude to those who deserve nothing at their hands, but on the contrary wrong them. On the first the point is a still deeper one—namely, that it is God’s purpose, indeed, that Christians should have good, but in order to have good, they must be good; hence He called them to be good (in this way, as well as others, of laying aside the evil impulses of nature) in order that the heritage which is designed for them might come to be theirs actually, and theirs as a heritage of blessing. This is in harmony, too, with the Old Testament conceptions of life and good which are next introduced.


Verse 10

1 Peter 3:10. For he that desires to love life and see good days. The kind of behaviour which has been urged in 1 Peter 3:8-9 is now further recommended by considerations drawn from the dependence of happiness on character, and from God’s regardfulness of men’s lives, as these are expressed in Psalms 34:13-17. Whether that psalm is taken to deal (e.g. with Delitzsch and its inscription) with the crisis when David saved his life among the Philistines by acting the part of a madman, and had to take refuge in the cave of Adullam, or (with Hitzig, Hupfeid, Olshausen, etc.) is referred to other times, it records the testimony borne to the true secret of a secure and gladsome life by one who had learnt that secret in the school of adversity. It describes what makes the good of life according to the Old Testament standard. In taking up its words, Peter follows the Greek Version (which is a literal rather than an adequate rendering of the Hebrew), but introduces certain changes which, while in themselves true to the spirit of the original, adapt it better to his immediate object and to the higher standard of the New Testament. The opening words, which in the original are in the form of a question, are given as a direct statement. Instead of ‘what man is he that desireth life and loveth many days,’ according to our A. V., or, as the Greek Version renders it, ‘who is the man who desires life, loving good days,’ Peter puts it thus: ‘he who desires to love life, and to see good days.’ The transposition of the word ‘love,’ along with the adoption of the ‘good’ for the ‘many,’ gives a new turn to the statement, the effect of which is to make the prominent thing not the number of the days or the length of life, but the kind of life. The phrase ‘love life’ means more than ‘to be fain to have life,’ or ‘to show love for life’ (de Wette), or even ‘to be in earnest as to the love of life’ (Wiesinger). It is to be taken in the simple sense of loving life for its good as opposed to hating it for its emptiness and vexations (Lillie), in the slightly modified sense of cherishing life, or in the secondary sense (which the verb has also in the Classics) of being pleased with life. So Bengel makes it=he who wishes so to live as not to be weary of life. Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Genevan (not Wycliffe and the Rhemish, however) go astray here, rendering it, ‘if any man (or, he that doth) long after life and, loveth to see good days.’ The term ‘see’ has also the intensive force of experiencing or knowing personally what a thing is, which it often has in the Old Testament. e.g. Psalms 16:10; Psalms 27:13, etc.

let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Turning the second persons of the Hebrew and the Septuagint into third persons, Peter adopts the conditions on which the Psalmist suspends the boon of a life of such good and glad-ness. There is a climax in these conditions. They rise from the negative idea of making an end of all evil-speaking, to the stronger but still negative idea of turning away from evil-doing, thence to the positive idea of doing good, and finally to the sedulous pursuit of peace. The sins of speech are comprehensively indicated by the two distinct terms evil (which need not be limited to mere terms of reproach or the like) and guile; on which latter see 1 Peter 2:1; 1 Peter 2:22. ‘He first notices what vices are to be guarded against, to wit, that we are not to be abusive and insolent, then that we are not to be fraudulent and double. And then he goes on to deeds, (Calvin).’ With this compare James on the bridling and taming of the tongue (James 1:36, James 3:1-12).


Verse 11

1 Peter 3:11. And let him turn from evil and do good. The best authorities introduce the connecting ‘and,’ or ‘further,’ which the A. V. omits. The ‘eschew’ of the A. V. (comp. Shakespeare’s ‘What cannot be eschewed, must be embraced,’ Mer. Wives, v. 5, 251), connected with the old French eschever, German scheuen, English shy, means to shun, and sufficiently ex-presses the idea, which is that of turning away from something which comes in one’s way. See specially Proverbs 4:15. To this avoidance of evil is added the duty of active goodness, as these two things are coupled elsewhere in the Psalms (Psalms 37:27), in the burden of prophetic exhortation (Isaiah 1:16-17), and in Paul (Romans 12:9).

Let him seek peace and pursue it. This blamelessness and kindliness of life, at once in word and in deed, should take the still more definite form of a determination to secure peace. This indicates that the irreproachable goodness in view is still that of those who are under peculiar temptation to the opposite. Those who suffer from slander or other kinds of wrong are not to imagine themselves exempt from these great laws of Christian duty. All the more are they called to guard against every form of evil, to resist the inclination to take their case into their own hand. They are to meet evil by doing positive good, and cultivating all that makes for peace. This last is represented as something worth straining every effort for. It is to be sought, nay, it is to be pursued, with the expenditure of strenuous and unflagging endeavour which the hunter devotes to the chase. The old English ‘ensue,’ which the A. V. adopts only in this one instance (comp. Shakespeare’s ‘I know repentant tears ensue the deed,’ Lucrece, 502), comes from the French ensuivre, and has now almost lost this transitive force. With the view of the good of life, which Psalmist and Apostle thus proceed upon in their ethical counsels, may be compared such parallels, although they are but partial, as this from Young—

‘That life is long which answers life’s great end;’

and Bailey’s familiar lines—

‘We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives

Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.’


Verse 12

1 Peter 3:12. Because the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication. This blameless, patient, beneficent, and peaceable manner of life, which has been recommended as containing the secret of all gladness in one’s life, and all goodness in one’s days, is further urged on the ground of God’s observant interest in our life. He keeps the righteous ever within the loving vision of His eye and gracious hearing of His ear. It cannot, therefore, but go well with them, however they be tried by slander or persecution. The word rendered ‘prayers’ in the A. V. is singular in the original, and is always given as a singular by the A. V. except in this one passage. It means also rather prayer for particular benefits than prayer in general.

but the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. Peter fails to add what the Psalmist appends here, ‘to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.’ The preposition, also, is the same here as in the former clause, and should be translated simply ‘upon,’ not ‘against.’ It is doubtful, too, whether any difference between the anthropomorphic terms ‘eyes’ and ‘face’ can be made good, such as is supposed, e.g., by Schott, who takes the former to be a figure of favourable regard, and the latter of hostile. The different meaning which God’s sleepless observance must have to the evil is left as self-understood, and obtains thereby an intenser force. It is enough for the righteous to know that God’s eye is upon the evil, and the knowledge of this adds to their own sense of security in the midst of enemies.


Verse 13

1 Peter 3:13. And who is he that will do you evil, if ye be zealous of that which is good? The counsels of 1 Peter 3:8-9 are yet again enforced by a still more pointed statement of the security of the righteous. This statement is attached to the immediately preceding thoughts, God’s supervision of the evil as well as of the good being the guarantee that no real harm can be inflicted by the former on the latter. Its interrogative form adds also to its confidence. Compare not only the great succession of interrogatives in Romans 8:31-35, but such prophetic parallels as Isaiah 1:9, which latter may perhaps be in Peter’s mind here. The verb rendered ‘harm’ is interpreted by some (e.g. Schott) in the more specific sense of making one out to be an evil-doer. The point then would be that, however calumniated among men, they could not be made evil-doers in God’s sight. The verb, however, usually means to do evil to one (Acts 7:6; Acts 7:19; Acts 12:1; Acts 18:10), and that with the strong sense of harsh, injurious treatment; and the idea, therefore, is that, however ungenerously dealt with, they shall yet sustain no real hurt; they shall still be in God’s safe keeping, and the blessedness of the new life within them will make them superior to the malice and enmity of men. Instead of the ‘followers’ (or, as it should rather be, ‘imitators’) of the A. V., the best authorities read ‘zealots,’ i.e ‘zealous,’ or ‘emulous.’ Some render it ‘followers of Him who is good,’ but this is less likely.


Verse 14

1 Peter 3:14. But even if ye should have to suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye. The old formula ‘but and if,’ which the A. V. took over here from the Vulgate and the Rhemish Version (it is not found here in Wycliffe, Tyndale, Cranmer, or the Genevan), is needlessly retained by the Revised Version in this passage, and in 1 Corinthians 7:28, although it is dropped in Matthew 24:48. In Shakespeare we find both the phrases ‘an if’ and ‘and if.’ The word ‘and’ or ‘an’ seems to have been used in middle English, both as the copulative conjunction and as the conditional if. A distinction then was made between them by the limitation of ‘an’ to the latter sense, and when this ‘an’ ceased to carry its meaning on its face, the word ‘if’ was added for the sake of clearness. Thus arose the double form ‘an if’ or ‘and if,’ which is really equivalent to ‘if-if.’ Here it may be rendered even if, or, if notwithstanding. It introduces a case which is supposed to be possible, but which at the same time is represented as of small moment in comparison with what has been just stated. The case supposed is also differently expressed. It is not that of having evil done to one, but simply that of having to suffer; and, therefore, it is nothing inconsistent with the fact asserted so confidently in the previous interrogation. They may have their afflictions, but they will be safe against real hurt or evil. Their blessedness will not be affected by the former, but will make them contribute to that sanctified life within, where blessedness finds its shrine. Matthew 5:10 is probably in Peter’s mind.

but fear not their fear. These words and the following are taken freely from Isaiah 8:12-13. They may mean, ‘be not afraid of the fear which they cause,’ which might be equivalent either to ‘be not afraid of them,’ or to ‘be not afraid of what they threaten or inflict’ (comp. Psalms 91:5). Most interpreters prefer this sense, and so it is understood by various of the Versions. Tyndale and the Genevan, e.g., give ‘fear not though they seem terrible unto;’ Cranmer, ‘be not afraid for any terror of them.’ This implies, indeed, a departure from Isaiah’s meaning, but it fits in excellently with Peter’s present subject. In the prophet, however, the words are intended to check the godly from being carried away by the terrors which troubled their unbelieving fellow-countrymen. If their original sense, therefore, is to be retained, they must be taken here, too, to mean ‘fear not what they fear,’ ‘give way to no such terrors as agitate them.’ The contrast then will be between the alarms and disquietudes which the ills of life excite in those who have no faith in God, and the perfect peace in which those should be kept ‘whose mind is stayed on God.’

neither be troubled: the strong term expressive of agitation is used here, which describes Herod’s trouble, Matthew 2:3; the trouble of the disciples on the sea, Matthew 14:26; the trouble of Christ’s own spirit at the grave of Lazarus, John 11:33, etc. At times the fear of man had been Peter’s deadliest snare and bitterest misery. It is not strange that he should bear this witness to the inconsistency of such fear with the life of gladness and goodness.


Verse 15

1 Peter 3:15. but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. The A. V., following Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Genevan, adopts the reading of the Textus Receptus, viz. ‘the Lord God.’ The Vulgate, Wycliffe, and the Rhemish have ‘the Lord Christ,’ and this reading must be accepted as having by far the weightiest evidence on its side. The Revised Version rightly accepts it, giving it at the same time greater point by making the term ‘Lord’ not a mere name of Christ, but a predicate. The Greek, though not absolutely conclusive, is on the whole in favour of this rendering. Isaiah’s words, therefore, are continued, but with two significant modifications. Christ takes the place of the Jehovah of hosts, who is presented in the prophecy as the object of sanctification, and the words ‘in your hearts’ are added in order to express the fact that this sanctification is not to be of a formal or external order, but to rest in the deepest seat of feeling. The term ‘sanctify’ here means to regard and honour as holy; and, as appears from the explanatory terms, ‘let Him be your fear’ and ‘let Him be your dread’ (Isaiah 8:13), it amounts to much the same as ‘fear.’ The fear of man is to be displaced by the fear of Christ, and of Him as our true Lord (comp. Luke 12:4-5). Thus ‘the Apostle places before us Christ to be our Lord, and to be set up in our hearts as the object of reverence and godly fear, in words which the prophet of the Old Testament uses with regard to the Lord Jehovah’ (Humphrey, Comm. on the Revised Version, p. 442).

ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you. The ‘and’ with which the A. V. introduces this sentence is not found in the best manuscripts. This makes it more probable that what now follows is not to be taken as a distinct counsel, ‘be ready,’ etc., but as in intimate connection with the preceding statement. One way in which this sanctifying of Christ as Lord will express itself is in meeting fairly and frankly the difficulties and questionings of others. The inward homage to Him does not absolve from responsibility to others, or justify disregard of their inquiries. What it implies is neither on the one hand the reticence which fear or indifference may prompt, nor on the other the propensity to dispute about our hope, but a readiness to give an account of it, wherever it may be necessary or helpful to do so. The phrase means literally ‘ready for an apology,’ the noun being that which is variously rendered in our A. V. as ‘answer’ (Acts 25:16; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Timothy 4:16 and here), ‘defence’ (Acts 22:1; Philippians 1:7; Philippians 1:16) and ‘clearing of oneself’ (2 Corinthians 7:11). It has been supposed to refer here to official examination, or to legal processes such as Christians were subjected to under the Emperor Trajan. The general terms, however, in which the inquirers are described make it clear that what is in view is not readiness to face judicial investigation, but readiness to give at all fit times to all fit persons a reasonable defence or explanation of the Christian hope. The term ‘apology’ is used not in the popular sense of an excuse, but in that of an apologetical vindication. It was afterwards applied to the early treatises written in defence of the Christian faith by the so-called Apologists, Tatian, Theophilus, Athenagoras, etc. The times are defined by the ‘always,’ which covers all fit occasions, small or great, pleasant or the reverse. The fit persons are defined as embracing not indeed all and sundry, but all who ask ‘an account’ (a phrase occurring only here) of this hope, all who demand to know what can be said on the subject of a hope in One risen from the dead, which so manifestly makes new men of those whom it inspires. These are to be considerately met, and, if possible, satisfied.

but (or, yet) with meekness and fear. A qualification of the kind of satisfaction that is to be attempted,

a caution against an over-readiness, which, instead of conciliating, prejudices and hurts. The spirit of truth, says Leighton, is itself the ‘spirit of meekness—the dove that rested on that great champion of truth, who is truth itself.’ This ‘meekness’ (on which see also 1 Peter 3:4) is another of those virtues which have been so elevated and enriched by the Gospel as to be made practically new things. In the old Greek system of morals it had, indeed, a better place assigned it than was allowed to the quality of humility (on which see 1 Peter 3:8). In the ethical teaching of men like Plato, Aristotle, and Plutarch, it is commended as the virtue by which a man retains his equanimity, as the mean between the extremes of passionateness and insensibility, and as the opposite of rudeness, severity, harshness. So far, therefore, it had a good sense, where humility had the reverse. It remained, nevertheless, on a comparatively low platform, and with a value essentially superficial. Christianity carried it far beyond this, giving it a deeper seat than natural disposition, a loftier sphere of action than our relation to other men, a happier connection with humble-mindedness (comp. Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 2:12), at once a more inward and a more Godward aspect. Having its roots in the Christian consciousness of sin, it is first of all a grace with a Godward aspect (comp. Matthew 11:29; James 1:21), ‘the temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting’ (Trench). It is, in the second place, the disposition to meet whatever demand is made upon us by the oppositions and sins of our fellow-men in the spirit which is born of the sense of our own ill-desert in God’s sight. So it is set over against a contentious spirit (Titus 3:2), want of consideration for offenders (Galatians 6:1), and harshness toward opponents (2 Timothy 2:24), etc. The ‘fear’ which is to be coupled with it is best understood neither as the fear of God exclusively, nor as the fear of man specifically, but more generally as the dread of doing or saying anything out of harmony with the solemnity of the interests involved—‘that reverential fear,’ as Bishop Butler expresses it, ‘which the nature of religion requires, and which is so far from being inconsistent with, that it will inspire, proper courage towards men.’ While we are to be ready with our answer, it is not to be given in a forward, irreverent, or arrogant spirit. Reference is appropriately made (by Alford, etc.) to the interpretation put upon this counsel by one who had the best title to speak, the hero of Augsburg and Worms: ‘Then must ye not answer with proud words, and state your cause with defiance and with violence, as if you would tear up trees, but with such fear and humility as if ye stood before the judgment-seat of God; so shouldest thou stand in fear, and not rely on thy own strength, but on the word and promise of Christ.’


Verse 16

1 Peter 3:16. having a good conscience, or, having your conscience unimpaired. The term conscience seems to make a nearer approach in this passage than in the previous (see on chap, 1 Peter 2:19) to the modern philosophical definitions of it as the ‘principle of reflection in men by which they distinguish between, approve and disapprove, their own actions’ (Bishop Butler, Sermon 1.), and as at once exponent of moral law, judge, and sentiment (comp. M’Cosh, Div. Govern. p. 291, etc.). Even here, however, nothing is said about its abstract nature, or its psychology. It is a purely practical statement of how the moral consciousness works. The moral quality of a man’s actions is attested to him, according to the Old Testament, by the heart, specially as that is aided and enlightened by the revelation of God’s law, or quickened by the application which the prophets (‘the conscience of Israel,’ as they are called) make of the facts of redemption. In the New Testament it is by a light within the man (Matthew 6:33; Luke 11:34-36), or by this inner witness, termed conscience in the Epistles, by which is meant primarily a ‘consciousness which the man has of himself in his relation to God, manifesting itself in the form of a self-testimony, the result of the action of the Spirit in the heart’ (Cremer). It may be weak (1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 8:12), evil (Hebrews 10:22), defiled (Titus 1:15), seared (1 Timothy 4:2). But on the other hand it may be pure (2 Timothy 1:3), void of offence (Acts 24:16), or good (here and at 1 Peter 3:21; as also Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19; Hebrews 13:18). In the last-named passage its goodness is expressed by an epithet meaning honourable or fair to see. Here it is described by an epithet which refers to intrinsic moral quality. As there is an awkwardness, however, in attributing moral qualities to the conscience itself (we can scarcely speak, e.g., of a holy conscience), in this connection the adjective may perhaps have the sense of unimpaired, uninjured (see Cremer’s Biblicotheol. Lex. to the N. T.). The readiness to ‘give an answer’ receives thus another important qualification. It is essential that it be given not only in meekness and fear, but in the calm, clear strength of a mind conscious of nothing in the walk to give the lie to the apology. In vindicating to others the hope that is in ourselves, we must be able to point to the witness of the life in confirmation of the words:

‘Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,

Our fatal shadows that walk by us still,’

Fletcher.

in order that in the matter wherein ye are spoken against they may be put to shame who abuse your good behaviour (or, manner of life) in Christ. The construction and the sense are similar to what we have had already in 1 Peter 2:12, which see. The words ‘as evil-doers,’ which are inserted here by the A. V., and some weighty manuscripts and Versions, are omitted by the Revised Version and some of the best critics. There is a similar division of opinion among textual experts as to whether we should read in the first clause, ‘ye are spoken against’ (which is preferred by the Revised Version), or ‘they speak evil of you,’ as in the A. V. The verb, which the A. V. translates ‘falsely accuse,’ occurs only twice again in the Received Text of the N. T., viz. in Matthew 5:44 (where, however, it is rejected by the best critics as insufficiently attested), and Luke 6:28, where it is rendered ‘despitefully use.’ As in classical Greek it has the sense of insulting, acting insolently to one, abusively threatening one, it is best rendered here ‘abuse,’ or (with R. V.) ‘revile,’ and the reference will therefore be to coarse and insolent misrepresentation of the way in which Christians live in the face of heathenism, rather than to ‘accusations’ in the stricter sense. ‘Thus, without stirring,’ says Leigh ton, ‘the integrity of a Christian conquers: as a rock, unremoved, breaks the waters that are dashing against it. . . . And without this good conscience and conversation we cut ourselves short of other apologies for religion, whatever we may say for it. One unchristian action will disgrace it more than we can repair by the largest and best framed speeches on its behalf.’

We are now brought face to face with one of the unsolved, if not insoluble, problems of New Testament interpretation. The remarkable paragraph about a preaching to the spirits in prison has been regarded by many eminent theologians as the primary proof text for the article of faith which is embodied in the creeds in the terms He descended into hell, on which so many different meanings have been put. It is one of three Petrine passages (Acts 2:25-31; 1 Peter 4:6), which seem to many to be closely related. It is also one of a larger class, including Matthew 12:40, Luke 23:43, Romans 10:6-8, Ephesians 4:8-10, Psalms 16:9-11, Acts 13:34-37, etc., which have been supposed to bear more or less directly upon a dogma for which an important place is claimed both in the system of Christian doctrine and in preaching—the dogma of a descent of Christ to Hell or Hades. It has been drawn into the service of a singular variety of theological ideas, such as those of a liberation and elevation of the saints of pre-Christian times, a purgatorial detention and purification, a penal endurance of the extremity of God’s wrath by man’s Surety, a judicial manifestation of the victorious Redeemer to the impenitent dead, renewed opportunities of repentance and a continuous ministry of grace in the other world. The interpretations put upon the passage have been too numerous to admit of detailed statement, not to speak of criticism, here. We shall notice only those of deepest interest. It should at once be allowed that no exposition has yet succeeded in removing all the difficulties. There are some writers (e.g. Steiger) who venture to speak of these difficulties as rather created by interpreters than inherent in the passage itself. But these are few indeed. Many of the greatest exegetes and theologians have held a very uncertain position on the subject, or have confessed themselves baffled by it. Luther, for example, felt it to be a ‘dark speech,’ and inclined to very different views of its meaning at different periods of his career. It is at best a question of the balance of probabilities. We shall, therefore, first examine the various terms separately. When the usage and application of each of the disputed terms are carefully determined, it should be possible to decide on what side the balance of probabilities lies. The great problems are these: Does the section refer to a ministry of grace, a ministry of judgment, or a mere manifestation of Christ? Is the ministry, if such is referred to, one that took place prior to the Incarnation, between the Death and the Resurrection, or after the Resurrection? Are the men of Noah’s generation introduced in their proper historical position, or only as examples of a general class? In considering these problems, two things are too often overlooked. It is forgotten how precarious it is to erect upon one or two of the obscurities of Scripture a great system of doctrine, which is not in evident harmony with the general view of grace which clearly pervades the Bible. It is forgotten, too, that the passage cannot fairly be dealt with as a doctrinal digression, but must be read in the light of the writer’s immediate object. That object is the Christian duty of enduring wrong for righteousness’ sake, and the advantage of suffering for well-doing rather than for ill-doing. It is with the view of confirming what he has said of this that Peter appeals to Christ’s own example. The question consequently is, what exposition is best sustained by the detailed exegesis of the several terms, does most justice to the plainer elements in the paragraph, such as the historical reference to Noah and the building of the ark, etc., and is in clearest harmony with the writer’s design, namely, to arm believers smarting under the sense of wrongful suffering with Christ-like endurance?


Verse 17

1 Peter 3:17. For it is better to suffer, if the will of God should will it, doing well than doing evil. This statement resembles that in chap. 1 Peter 2:20. It is also followed up, as was the case there, by an appeal to Christ’s own case. The two propositions, however, have distinct points of difference. The present is introduced in immediate connection not with the credit attaching to a particular kind of conduct, but with what is essential to the keeping of a good conscience under the sense of wrong, and to the possibility of giving a right account of the Christian hope to inquirers or revilers. There Christ’s own case is dealt with specially as an example of endurance which befits Christians. Here it is expounded mainly with a view to what His sufferings ultimately brought Him, in the form of a life quickened, exalted, and having now in its service angels and principalities and powers. The word rendered ‘better’ here is one which does not mean exactly what is of better moral quality, but rather what is of greater power or importance, and so what is preferable or of greater advantage. Thus, looking still at the pressing question of what Christian duty is under the burden of suffering for righteousness’ sake, and how a blameless behaviour should at all hazards be studied in such circumstances, Peter meets the feeling which rises against unmerited suffering by reminding the sufferers of two considerations. These are, first, that nothing can befall them but by God’s will; and secondly, that if it is God’s will that they be subjected to painful things, their sufferings, instead of being embittered, should be softened and relieved by the consciousness that they are undeserved, and by the assurance that they will work together for their good. This last idea, namely, the gain which such sufferings will bring to the sufferers, is what is specially taken up and illustrated at length in the following paragraph.


Verse 18

1 Peter 3:18. Because also Christ died once for sins, a righteous one for unrighteous ones, in order that he might bring us to God. There are two varieties of reading to notice here. Documentary evidence is pretty evenly balanced between the verb ‘suffered’ and the verb ‘died.’ Although the Revised Version retains the former, the latter is preferred by the majority of textual experts (Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, Gebhardt). Instead of ‘bring us to God’ (which is accepted by the Revised Version and most critics), ‘bring you to God’ is adopted by Westcott and Hort. Christ’s suffering or dying is represented to have taken place on account of sin, in the matter of sin, or in respect of sin; for the preposition used here has this general sense. It is said to have taken place also ‘once,’ once for all and no more (cp. Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:28). This may possibly embody the idea that this suffering or dying superseded the necessity of all further suffering or dying of the same kind, either on the part of Christ Himself or on that of Christians (so Schott). It is rather introduced, however, to suggest the difference between the suffering or death, however bitter that was, as finished shortly and once for all, and the continuous power and blessedness of the life which was its issue. Still greater force is given to this by the use of the simple historical tense ‘died,’ which throws all that was painful in Christ’s instance completely into the past. But Christ’s suffering or dying is also described as that of ‘a righteous One for unrighteous ones.’ A different preposition is now used for the ‘for,’—one meaning in behalf of or, to the advantage of. It is possible that in the present connection, where the righteous and the unrighteous are set so decisively over against each other, this idea of suffering in behalf of others may pass over into, or imply, that of suffering in the place of others. Weiss, e.g. (so also Huther), recognises the idea of substitution at the basis of the statement, in so far as ‘the contrast, which is made so prominent between the righteous and the unrighteous, necessarily produces the idea that the suffering which was endured in behalf of these, ought really to have been endured by the righteous themselves’ (Bib. Theol. of the New Testament, i. p. 232, Clark’s Trans.). The more general idea, however, is the one distinctly in view here, and thus there is warning mingled with the encouragement which is conveyed by Christ’s case as Peter here presents it. If it is right to speak, as Besser does, of the little word ‘once’ as letting ‘a beam of comforting light fall on the sufferings of Christians,’ this clause reminds them of the necessity of making sure that their sufferings be not of the kind which their own fault induces, but rather of the kind righteously borne with a view to the good of others. The particular good which Christ set before Him as the object of His suffering or dying was the bringing us to God; by which is meant introducing us to God, giving us admission, or the right of direct access, to God. This is the sense which the cognate noun has in the few passages in which it is found, viz. Romans 5:2, Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12; and here, too, the idea is neither that of presenting us an offering to God (so the Vulgate, Luther, etc.). nor that of simply reconciling us to God, but (as it is rightly understood by Huther, etc.) that of introducing us to actual fellowship with God. This verse, therefore, establishes a certain analogy between Christ and Christians, in so far as He was made subject to suffering not less than they, and was made so not for His own fault but for that of others. This analogy is used, however, in support of the previous statement as to its being a better thing to suffer for good than for evil. Hence, having immediately in view the advantage or good which suffering for righteousness’ sake brings with it, Peter goes at once (as formerly in chap. 1 Peter 2:22, etc.) beyond the elements of similarity which might present the suffering Christ as an example to suffering Christians. He touches on more than one thing which gave Christ’s sufferings a value all their own. They were of the unique order which (as the ‘once’ implies) neither required nor admitted repetition. And the gain which they secured, by which also they pre-eminently illustrate the good which suffering for righteousness’ sake yields, and how preferable it is to suffer, if suffer we must, for well-doing rather than ill-doing, was the otherwise unattainable boon of a direct approach for sinners to God, a free intercourse with God.

put to death indeed in flesh, but quickened in spirit. Two things are here affirmed to have taken effect on Christ, when He suffered or died in order to bring us into this fellowship with God. These, however, are so balanced that the one appears simply as the preliminary to the other, and the attention is concentrated on the latter. The one is rightly given as a ‘being put to death;’ for the term does not mean, as some suppose, merely being condemned to death (compare its use, e.g., in Matthew 26:59; Matthew 27:1; Romans 8:36; 2 Corinthians 6:9, etc.). The other is correctly interpreted not as a ‘being kept alive’ (which idea is expressed in the New Testament by different terms), but as a ‘being quickened’ or ‘made alive;’ the word being that which is elsewhere (John 5:21; Romans 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:22, etc.) applied to the raising of the dead to life. To the two things are added definitions of two distinct spheres in which they severally took effect. These are conveyed each by a single noun, which has almost an adverbial force here, viz., ‘in flesh,’ i.e fleshly-wise, or, as regards the natural, earthly order of life; and ‘in spirit,’ i.e spirit-wise, or, as regards the higher spiritual order of life. Those two terms are analogous to other antithetical phrases which are applied to Christ, such as ‘according to the flesh’ and ‘according to the spirit of holiness’ (Romans 1:3), manifest ‘in the flesh,’ and judged ‘in the spirit’ (1 Timothy 3:16). They point to two different forms of existence, a natural, mortal form of existence associated with flesh, and a supernatural, immortal form of existence associated with spirit,—in other words, a perishable, corporeal life, and an imperishable, spiritual or incorporeal life. As regards the one, He ceased to live it by being put to death. As regards the other, He continued to live it, and to live it with new power, by being quickened. The A. V., therefore, is entirely at fault in rendering the second clause ‘by the Spirit,’ as if the reference were to the Holy Spirit and to Him as the Agent in Christ’s resurrection. In this, too, it has deserted the versions of Wycliffe, Tyndale, Cranmer, Geneva, and Rheims, which all give ‘in spirit’ or ‘in the spirit.’


Verse 19

1 Peter 3:19. in which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison. Here, again, the A.V., following the Genevan alone among these earlier English Versions, wrongly renders ‘by which.’ The sense is, ‘in which,’ i.e in the spiritual form of life which has just been noticed. The verb ‘preached’ is used absolutely here. It is not to be taken, however, in the vague sense of making proclamation, showing Himself, or bearing witness to Himself (Schott, etc.), far less in the sense of preaching judgment, but in the sense which it elsewhere has in the New Testament, where it occurs, both with the object expressed (e.g. the gospel, the kingdom of God, Christ, etc.), and with the object unexpressed (e.g. Matthew 11:1; Mark 1:38, etc.), of Christ’s earthly ministry of preaching, which was a message of grace. The word ‘spirits’ is used here, as in Hebrews 12:23, in the sense of disembodied spirits. Elsewhere (e.g. Revelation 6:9; Revelation 20:4) the term ‘souls’ is used to designate the departed. On the ground of the statement in 2 Peter 2:4, and the application of the word ‘spirit’ in such passages as Luke 9:39, Acts 16:18, etc., some have strangely supposed a reference here to the angels who sinned,—which is entirely inconsistent with the historical notice which follows. The phrase ‘in prison’ has the definite force which it has in 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6, Revelation 20:7, and is not to be explained away as merely equivalent to ‘in safe-keeping,’ or ‘in the world of the dead’ generally.


Verse 20

1 Peter 3:20. aforetime disobedient. The ‘disobedient’ means here again, as in 1 Peter 2:7-8, 1 Peter 3:1 disbelieving, refusing belief and withstanding truth. The clause may describe the ‘spirits’ according to the conduct which made them spirits ‘in prison.’ So it is understood by most. It may, however, also indicate the date of the disobedience. The latter view is more in harmony with the specification of time which immediately follows, the ‘when’ giving a more exact definition of the’ aforetime. We should thus translate it: ‘when of old they were disobedient, to wit, at the time when the long-suffering of God,’ etc., rather than (with the R. V., etc.), ‘which aforetime were disobedient,’ etc.

when the long-suffering of God was waiting. The ‘once’ which is inserted by the A. V. has very little documentary evidence, and is supposed to have been due to a conjecture of Erasmus. The ‘waiting’ is given in the imperfect tense to bring out its lengthened continuance. It is expressed, too, by a verb for which Paul has a particular fondness, and which conveys the idea of the intenseness or patience of the waiting. It is applied to the ‘earnest expectation’ of the creation (Romans 8:19), the ‘waiting’ of those who have the first-fruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25), the waiting for ‘the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:7), or for ‘the hope of righteousness by faith’ (Galatians 5:5), the looking ‘for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:20). Outside Paul it occurs only here and in Hebrews 9:28.

in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. Both the date and the duration at once of the Divine waiting and of the men’s disobedience are thus more clearly defined, the date being identified with the times immediately prior to the flood, and the duration with the whole period of warning afforded by the construction of the Ark, which is indicated to have extended to 120 years (Genesis 6:3).—in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. Literally it is ‘into which,’ i.e =by entering into which, etc. By ‘souls’ are meant here individuals or persons. The word ‘soul,’ meaning life or the principle of life, comes to mean life embodied, or the living individual. Occasionally, however (see above on ‘spirits’), it designates the departed. The mention of the precise number saved serves to throw into still stronger light both the disobedience to which the long-suffering of God addressed itself, and the grace that failed not to separate the believing few. There is considerable difference of opinion as to what is meant by the ‘saved through water.’ The ‘through,’ which the A. V. renders ‘by,’ may have either a local sense or an instrumental. In the former case the idea will be either that those few were saved by passing through the water, or that they were brought safely through water into the ark. This latter seems favoured in the margin of the Revised Version, which gives ‘into which few, that is, eight souls, were brought safely through water.’ In favour of this local sense (which is preferred by Bengel, de Wette, etc.) we have the analogous phrase ‘saved, yet so as by (or, through) fire’(1 Corinthians 3:15). But we are left thus with no obvious connection between this mention of water and the following notice of a salvation by water. Most interpreters, therefore, accept the instrumental sense, taking the thought to be that water was the means by which these few were saved. As Huther rightly observes, however, there is nothing to suggest that Peter meant that the same water which was the means of destruction to the mass was the means of safety to the few. All that he has in view is (as the indefinite ‘water,’ not ‘the water,’ indicates) that it was by means of water that the few entering the ark which floated thereon were preserved. And this relation of water to the preservation of the righteous at the time of the Flood is introduced in view of what is to be said of the relation of water, namely that of Baptism, to the salvation of Christian believers now.


Verse 21

1 Peter 3:21. which also in the antitype now saves you, namely baptism. The rendering of the A. V., ‘the like figure whereunto,’ follows a reading which is now given up. The best authorities also substitute ‘you’ for ‘us.’ Some interpreters regard both the Ark and the ‘few’ as having a typical force here. Consequently they seek for an antitype to the Ark in the Christ into whose name we are baptized, and without whom baptism can as little save us as the water of the Flood could save without the Ark. They also find an antitype for the ‘few’ in the ‘you,’ as if the idea were that the ‘proportion of those saved by baptism to the unbelieving is but small’ (so even Huther). But the only things which Peter sets distinctly in the relation of type and antitype are water as preserving life in Noah’s generation, and water as saving souls in Peter’s own generation. The comparison, therefore, is not between the Flood and Baptism, but simply between water in one service and water in another. What antitypical water is intended, is at once made clear by the appended definition, ‘baptism.’ Thus, as further explained, the comparison comes to be not between the saving efficacy of the water in which the Ark floated and the saving efficacy of Baptismal water in the Church of Christ, but between the saving efficacy of water in the former instance and the saving efficacy of Baptism itself now. The latter, like the former, has in a certain sense an instrumental relation to a saved state.

not the putting away of the filth of the flesh. This is thrown in to guard against any mistake which the comparison might provoke as to the kind of relation intended. The saving efficacy is not of a material kind like that exerted by water in the case of the Ark and its eight. For the baptism meant is something different from any merely physical cleansing, or any of those ceremonial washings with which both Jew and Gentile were sufficiently familiar. These two terms ‘putting off’ and ‘filth’ are peculiar to Peter. The former occurs again in 2 Peter 1:14. What is meant is generally understood to be the putting off of the filth which belongs to the flesh. The peculiar order of the words in the original, however, gives not a little plausibility to another rendering which is adopted by Bengel, Huther, etc.,—the flesh’s putting off of uncleanness, i.e the laying aside of its own uncleanness by the flesh itself.

but the inquiry of a good conscience toward God. This sentence has greatly perplexed the commentators. The difficulty lies mainly in the use of the word rendered ‘answer’ by the Ai V. This term occurs nowhere else in the N. T. The A. V. stands alone among the old English Versions in translating it ‘answer.’ Wycliffe gives ‘the asking of a good conscience in God;’ Tyndale and Cranmer have ‘in that a good conscience consenteth to God;’ the Genevan has ‘in that a good conscience maketh request to God;’ the Rhemish renders it ‘the examination of a good conscience toward God.’ The only meanings of the word which can be verified are these two, viz. (1) an interrogation or question, which is the classical sense (e.g. Herod. vi. 67; Thucyd. iii. 53, 68), and (2) a petition, demand, or the thing asked by petition, in which sense it occurs once in one of the old Greek Versions of Daniel (1 Peter 4:14, i.e 1 Peter 4:17 of the English Bible). The question, therefore, is—What results from this for the sentence as a whole? Among other renderings which have been proposed are these: (l) the request (i.e for salvation or grace) addressed to God by a good conscience; (2) the questioning, or examination, to which a good conscience is subjected before God; (3) the request made to God for a good con-science; (4) the inquiry made by a good conscience after God, or, the act of a good conscience in seeking after God; (5) the promise, or pledge, to keep a rood conscience toward God; (6) the contract, or relation, entered into with God by a good conscience. The last two interpretations find favour with many of the best exegetes (Grotius, de Wette, Huther, Plumptre, etc.), and are supported more or less by some of the old versions. The Syriac, e.g., takes the sense to be = when ye confess God with a pure conscience. The form mentioned last of all has the undoubted advantage of giving a clear and pertinent idea, viz., that ‘the person baptized, by the reception of baptism, enters into a relation—as it were of contract—with God, in which he submits in faith to God’s promise of salvation’ (so Huther, who now prefers this view). It does not make the phrase a ‘good conscience’ a synonym here for a ‘reconciled conscience,’ but retains for it the simpler sense which is more in harmony with similar expressions in Hebrews 13:18; Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 1:19; 1 Timothy 3:9; 1 Peter 3:16, viz., that this is done with a pure intention. It also founds upon the primitive practice of addressing certain questions to the applicant for baptism and obtaining certain replies from him, such, e.g., as these: Dost thou renounce Satan?I do renounce him. Dost thou believe in Christ?I do believe in Him. So Neander (Ch. Hist., vol. i. pp. 424, 427, Bohn) regards this as the clearest trace within the New Testament itself of a confession of faith which had to be made from the first at baptism, and thinks that the passage according to the most natural interpretation ‘refers to the question proposed at baptism, the word “question” being used here by metonymy for the “pledge or answer to the question.”’ This interpretation, however, is open to an objection that is almost fatal, namely, that the use of the word which is rendered ‘answer’ in our A.V. in this sense of stipulation, contract, or covenant, is entirely foreign to the Bible, and indeed to early Ecclesiastical Greek, and belongs to the juristic terminology of a later period. More or less difficulty attaches to the other views. Thus (4), which is adopted by Alford, etc., and (3), which is preferred by Weiss, Hofmann, etc., are both sustained by the analogous use of the cognate verb in 2 Kings 11:7, where it is said that ‘David inquired after the peace of Joab.’ They also yield good meanings. But they both do so at the cost of departing somewhat from the known sense of the noun, while the former further identifies the phrase ‘good conscience’ with the more definite, theological idea of a ‘reconciled conscience.’ Perhaps the meaning is simply this: the interrogation which is addressed to God by a good conscience. This resembles the interpretation numbered (1), which is that of Bengel, Steiger, etc. It adheres, however, to the strict sense of the noun, where that is modified by Bengel. It also gives effect to the peculiar order of the original, instituting a comparison between the flesh with the putting off of uncleanness which is ascribed to it, and the conscience with the interrogation which it is said to direct to God. Further, it retains for the phrase ‘good conscience’ here the general sense which it has in the 16th verse of the same chapter. Hence what Peter intends seems to be to explain that, when he speaks of baptism as having a saving efficacy, he does not mean a mere ceremonial washing, but one which carries a moral value with it, a baptism which means that in all pureness of conscience and sincerity of desire the soul’s interrogation about salvation itself is submitted to God, and God’s response closed with.

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is connected by some (Fronmüller, etc.) with the ‘good conscience,’ as if the resurrection of Christ were the basis of the good conscience. By others it is attached to the ‘question,’ or to its clause as a whole, as if it were only on the ground of the resurrection of Christ that the soul’s question can be addressed to God. Most, however, unite it with the ‘doth now save you,’ regarding all that comes between as a parenthesis. In this case the sentence conveys an explanation of the saving efficacy which is ascribed to baptism, as the parenthesis gave an explanation of what the baptism itself was which Peter had in view. The relation in which baptism stands to salvation is, therefore, a relation which it has only in virtue of, or on the ground of (cf. ‘by the mercies of God’ in Romans 12:1), the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What has already been described as the ground or means of our regeneration (chap. 1 Peter 1:3), is now re-introduced as the ground of the spiritual value which belongs to the rite which is a sign and seal of that regeneration. Peter speaks of baptism here, only with more qualification in his terms, much in the same way as Paul does when he terms it the ‘washing (or, laver) of regeneration’ (Titus 3:5), or when he describes those who have been ‘baptized into Christ’ as having actually ‘put on Christ’ (Galatians 3:27). ‘As Paul, in speaking of the Church, presupposes that the outward Church is the visible community of the redeemed; so he speaks of baptism on the supposition that it corresponded to its idea, that all that was inward, whatever belonged to the holy rite and its complete observance, accompanied the outward; hence he could assert of outward baptism whatever was involved in a believing appropriation of the Divine facts which it symbolized; whatever was realized when baptism corresponded to its original design’ (Neander,. Planting of Christianity, vol i. pp. 495, 496, Bohn).


Verse 22

1 Peter 3:22. who is on the right hand of God. A familiar phrase expressing ‘the regal and judiciary power’ to which Christ is exalted. Compare such passages as Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 1:3; and the fundamental O. T. passage, Psalms 110:1.

having gone into heaven. The verb is the same as the ‘went’ in 1 Peter 3:19,—with the important difference, however, that here the going is not said to have been ‘in spirit’ or ‘spirit-wise.’ The phrase is important, as it presupposes, if it does not expressly state, Peter’s affirmation of Christ’s Ascension.

angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to him. These terms, and others of a similar kind, are often used, especially by Paul, as designations of the various powers of the heavenly world (cf. Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21-22; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:8). Whether they describe these simply according to their several relations to God and to the world, or according to their several ranks and orders, is not easy to determine. In favour of the latter view, however, appeal is made to Christ’s own words in Matthew 18:10, which are taken by many (e.g. Meyer) to assume differences of rank or class among the angels. The application of these two terms authorities and powers to the angels is peculiar to Paul, the present being the only non-Pauline instance. The three names are used here not with the view of expressing any particular relation in which they stand one to another, but simply as names covering generally all the heavenly powers over which Christ is supreme. It has been supposed that the various clauses of this verse came from some doxology, or from some form of faith professed by candidates for baptism. This, however, is uncertain. The point of the verse is to bring out the heightened power which resulted to Christ from His suffering and death, and thus to crown the train of statement by which the blessing of suffering for righteousness’ sake is enforced. The particular climax in the verse is lost to the English reader through the inversion of the order of the Greek in the A. V. The order is not, ‘who is gone into heaven and is on the right hand of God,’ etc., but, as in the R. V., ‘who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven,’ etc. That is to say, Peter first states the fact that He who died in the cause of others is now exalted to the highest place of honour next to God Himself, then explains that He came to this place by passing into heaven itself, and finally adds that being elevated to the place of the heavenly powers He now has all these powers subject to Him and in His service.—In the light of this examination of the train of thought and the usage of the disputable terms which occur in this verse, what verdict may now be ventured on the leading solutions of this enigma of the New Testament? Several of these are at once and entirely discredited by the plainest data of the exegesis. This is the case (1) with the idea, which has commended itself to interpreters like Grotius, Dr. John Brown, and (to some extent) Leigh ton, that the preaching affirmed is simply that addressed by the risen Christ through His apostles to men of their own time, who were in bondage to the law or in captivity to sin.—This overlooks the fact that Christ Himself, and not Christ through the Apostles, is represented as the preacher. It puts a gloss upon the phrase ‘spirits in prison.’ It also takes the disobedient of Noah’s time simply as types of the disobedient of apostolic times. The same holds good (2) of the view advocated by many distinguished Lutherans, that Christ went and proclaimed judgment, or made a judicial manifestation of Himself, to the impenitent in the world of the dead (of whom those of Noah’s time are mentioned as exemplary of all, or as the worst of all), and that this was done not by the soul of the dead Christ, but by the revivified Christ during the interval between His quickening and His actual resurrection. This interpretation, which was that of the old Lutheran theologians, is inconsistent with the usage of the word ‘preached,’ which denotes not a message of judgment or condemnation, but a message of grace. It is adhered to, in so far as regards the assertion of a descent and message to the world of the dead by Christ after His restoration to life and before His re-ascent to earth, by many exegetes who otherwise differ from each other as to the object of the Descent (e.g. Schott, de Wette, Wiesinger, Huther, etc.). But in all forms it substitutes the Restored Christ, or Christ in His spiritual body, for Christ in a spiritual mode of activity (which is what Peter affirms) as the Preacher who goes with the message. Not less inadmissible is (3) the Patristic view, that in the period between His death and His resurrection Christ went and preached to the righteous dead of Old Testament times in their place of intermediate detention, with the view of perfecting their salvation. This interpretation has been connected by Roman Catholic theologians both with their doctrine of a Limbus Pairurn, and with that of Purgatory. It has been adopted in part by some Protestants of note, including both Zwingli and Calvin; the latter of whom takes the ‘spirits in prison’ to mean the spirits ‘on the watch-tower, in expectation of Christ.’ But this view does violence to the sense of the word rightly rendered prison. A different position must be allowed (4) to another line of interpretation which has seldom wanted advocates, and which secures the adhesion of many of the best expositors of our own time, namely, that which discovers here a ministry of grace, in the proper sense of the word, on the part of the disembodied Christ in the world of the dead. This is held in a variety of forms. Some think the passage points to a second grade of probation open to all, righteous and unrighteous, in the intermediate state (Heard, Lange, etc.). Others regard it as meaning that after His death Christ descended to Hades as the herald of grace to the men of Noah’s generation, but only to those who had repented at the crisis of their death in the Deluge (Bengel, Birks, etc.). There are those again who see in it a more general reference to the men of the Flood, as men to whom some compensation was made through Christ in the other world for the shortening of their opportunities in the present Bishop Horsley, e.g., believes it to be one of several passages in which we may observe ‘an anxiety, if the expression may be allowed, of the sacred writers to convey distinct intimations that the antediluvian race is not uninterested in the redemption and final retribution.’ Yet another class of interpreters recognises in it a bona fide proclamation of the Gospel in Hades, either in the form of an offer of grace to those who had it not in this world, or in that of’ a renewed offer of grace with renewed opportunities of repentance to all. It is supposed, therefore, to furnish some warrant for cherishing the ‘larger hope.’ At present it is expounded by not a few eminent exegetes in the interest of ‘wider and happier thoughts as to the state of the dead,’ and in support of the belief that beyond the grave ‘the love which does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, proclaims evermore to the spirits in prison, as during the hours of the Descent into Hades, the glad tidings of reconciliation’ (Plumptre). There are serious difficulties, however, in the was of this interpretation. Besides the fact that it crosses the analogy of the faith, running athwart the clear and consistent doctrine of Scripture, that the present life is the theatre of human destinies and the scene of probation and grace, it is exegetically faulty at various points. It gives the passage little more than the value of a digression. It introduces into the important phrase ‘in which’ (1 Peter 3:19) a different meaning from its antecedent, making it equivalent not to ‘in which spirit,’ or ‘in which spiritual mode of being,’ but to ‘in which disembodied, or quickened, spirit,’ and thus representing the Preacher not as Christ in a particular form of life and activity (which is Peter’s statement), but as the disembodied or quickened Christ. It fails to give any adequate reason for the exact specification of the time of the disobedience, and for the mention of the men of Noah’s day only. It reduces to something like mere descriptive accessories the details about the building of the Ark, the Divine waiting, and the salvation of eight souls. The preaching which it affirms is one the results of which are in no way indicated, and the introduction of which at this point is in no obvious connection with Peter’s exhortation. What motive to a life of well-doing and of patience under injury in this world lies in the statement that, in the other world, the disobedient and injurious have the Gospel preached to them through Christ’s descent to Hades?

There is, however, (5) another method of interpretation, which has been followed more or less since Augustine gave it the sanction of his great name. It has secured the general assent of men like Aquinas, Hugo of St. Victor, Bede, Beza, Gerhard, Turretin, and, more recently, of Besser, Hofmann, Schweitzer, etc. It takes the preaching to have happened not in Hades but upon the earth, not during the period between Christ’s death and resurrection but in Noah’s time. In one point of importance, however, this interpretation required, and has recently received, a precision which it had not in the hands of its older advocates. The Preacher must be understood to be Christ Himself, not Noah or Christ speaking by Noah. What is affirmed, therefore, is a gracious activity on the part of the pre-incarnate Christ, a preaching in the form of the Divine warnings of the time, the spectacle of the building of the Ark, etc. This we believe to be the exposition which best satisfies the condition of the exegesis. The two main objections urged against it are, that the phrase ‘spirits in prison’ becomes equivalent to ‘spirits now in prison,’ and that the word ‘went,’ which implies local motion, is improperly used. But the answer to the latter lies in the Old Testament method of speaking of Jehovah as coming, going, ascending, and in the analogous use of the verb ‘came’ in Ephesians 2:17. And as to the former objection, if in this view there is a difference of time supposed between the preaching and the state of imprisonment, in the other views there is a difference of time supposed between the preaching and the disobedience. On the other hand, the arguments in favour of this interpretation are numerous and weighty. It retains the natural sense for all the capital terms—flesh, spirit, quickened, preached, prison, etc. It preserves the same Subject all through, namely Christ as the Subject put to death, Christ as the Subject quickened, Christ (not the quickened Christ or the disembodied Christ) as the Subject preaching, Christ as the Subject exalted. It accounts for the definite statement of the time of the disobedience. It starts not with what is obscure in the section, viz. the phrase ‘spirits in prison,’ but with what is clear and unambiguous, viz. the historical reference to the Flood, and lets that direct the exposition. It seeks the key to the problem of the passage in Peter’s own writings, particularly in what he says of an activity of the pre-incarnate Christ, or the Spirit of Christ, in the O. T. prophets (1 Peter 1:2). It gives an intelligible reason for the details about Noah’s time, the building of the Ark being instanced as one of the means by which Christ preached to the men of that generation. It helps us to understand why Peter goes on to notice Christ’s present position of power and honour at God’s right hand. It bears most directly on the injunction to a Christ-like behaviour under wrong, in relation to which the whole section is brought in. For it points the readers to the graciousness which has always been seen in the case of their Lord, and which He has never failed to exhibit towards even the worst of wrong-doers. The strain of the paragraph, therefore, amounts to this: Be content to suffer. It is a blessing to do so, provided ye suffer for well-doing, not for ill-doing. Look to Christ’s example—how He did good to the most unworthy and died for the unjust. Think, too, what the issue of suffering was to Him—how, if He suffered even unto death as regards the mortal side of existence, He was raised thereby as regards the spiritual to a life of heightened power. Look back, also, on the distant past; ere He had yet submitted to the limitations of the flesh, and when He had that supernatural order of being into which He has risen again. Reflect how then too He was true to this gracious character, how He went and preached to that guiltiest generation of the Flood, making known to those grossest of wrong-doers, by the spectacle of the Ark a-building, the agency of His servant Noah, and the varied warnings of the time, His will to save them. And consider that He has the same graciousness still, of which baptism is the figure—that He can still save oppressed righteous ones as He saved the believing souls of Noah’s house, that all the more indeed can He now save such, seeing that in His exalted life He has all the powers of heaven made subject to Him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Peter 3:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/1-peter-3.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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