Wives and Husbands, 1-7

3:1 In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands. Then, even if some are disobedient to the word, they will be won over without a word by the way you live, 3:2 when they see your pure and reverent conduct.

Joel Green urges us to read this passage in the light of its background in Roman society.  He notes that the role of women was not monochrome in that society, and that the early decades of the era saw some expansion of that role, particularly in the public sphere.  Nevertheless, in their increased liberation they were not as liberated as men.  Their expanding roles were tied to the fortunes of men.  Accordingly,

‘Peter’s counsel regarding women and men in 3:1–7 can be regarded as a cultural product of the Roman Mediterranean which both reflects (or broadcasts) Roman “family values” and reflects on (or engages critically with) those values; in doing so, however, Peter was not so much blazing an altogether new trail for women or men, but participating, albeit for his own theological reasons, in an ongoing process of painting and repainting the mural of expectations of wives and husbands.’

Green adds that, in matters of religion, the beliefs and practices of the husband were predominant.  He quotes Plutarch:

‘A woman ought not to make friends of her own, but to enjoy her husband’s friends in common with him. The gods are the first and most important friends. Hence, it is becoming for a wife to worship and to know only the gods that her husband believes in, and to shut the door tight upon all strange rituals and outlandish superstitions. For with no god do stealthy and secret rites performed by a woman find any favor.’

In the present passage, then, Peter is taking a ‘non-conformist’ position, viewing the believing wife as an evangelist to her unbelieving husband.  (See Lk 8:19–21; 12:51–53)

In context, much of the teaching of vv1-6 is especially relevant to believing wives of unbelieving husbands.  They had either become Christians after marriage, or had been forced to enter into an arranged marriage.  It is interesting that it is even conceivable that a woman could adopt the Christian faith under such circumstances.  Given the low social status of women, they would have been in a vulnerable position.  They needed both tact and wisdom if they were to safely resist any pressure to adopt the pagan practices of their husbands, and to commend their own faith to their partners.

In the same way – This may refer back to the passage on slaves, 1 Pet 2:18-25, or, even further back, to the instruction to ‘accept the authority of every human institution’, 1 Pet 2:13.

Hillyer points out that the same expression occurs in v7, with reference to husbands.  Since there is no mention of husbands being submissive to their wives, we should not make too much of this phrase.  We should certainly not suppose that Peter is teaching that wives should be submissive to their husbands ‘in the same way’ that slaves are submissive to their masters.

Be submissive to your husbands – ‘Submissiveness’ would normally entail a wife adopting her husband’s religion.  Where a woman has become a Christian, Peter urges her to seek to please her husband in other respects as much as possible.

Hillyer remarks that Peter does not say, “Women be submissive to men,” but rather (lit.) “Women be submissive to your own husbands.”  Hillyer thinks that this has particular reference to sexual relationships (“Women, be faithful in conjugal relations to your own husbands”).  This is supported (says the same commentator) by the reference to Sarah in v6: she was to bear Abraham a son even in their old age.

Submission of wives to husbands was the norm of the day.  For Jews, it was rooted in the stories of Creation and Fall (Gen 2:20; 3:16).  In Christ, all are one (Gal 3:28), and husbands and wives have an essential equality before God, 1 Cor 7:3f, expressed in inter-dependence, 1 Cor 11:11f.  Thus the effects of the Fall are undone in the New Creation that God has brought about in Christ.  But Christians needed to exercise care in expressing this new freedom in an unbelieving culture, lest they bring the gospel into disrepute and place themselves in an unduly vulnerable position.  For Christian women in mixed marriages to claim her freedom unilaterally might have dire consequences for her.  At the very least, it could render her husband indisposed to receive the gospel.  In our own day, a Christian woman married to a Muslim man would have to restrain her freedom in Christ in similar ways. (See Marshall’s discussion).

Marshall goes on to suggest that in marriages where both partners are Christians, it should be possible for this command to be transcended, as the husband and wife together seek God’s will for their lives in an attitude of love and mutual dependence.  It would be analogous to those OT commands that have now been transcended, such as the law about keeping oaths being unnecessary when people can be trusted to keep to their word when they say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Hillyer comments of the position of women in the ancient world:

‘The position of women in the ancient world was never an easy one. In Roman, Greek, and Jewish cultures women were subject to the authority of their husbands. If a husband were converted to Christ, it automatically followed that he brought his wife into the church as well. But the other way around posed a very different situation. For a wife to become a Christian, while an unsympathetic husband remained a pagan, threatened the stability of the marriage relationship as understood in the ancient world, permeated as it was with pagan religious practices in which a Christian could not engage.’

Without words – That is, without aggressive verbal evangelism from their wives, for this might seem disrespectful (cf vv1,5).  This does not mean that the husbands will be won without any word at all: Peter has already declared that it is the word that brings about the new birth.  But as a general rule this must come from someone else, not the wife.  (See Adam, Hearing God’s Words, IVP, p106)

‘Note might be taken here of the mother of Augustine, who eventually led her husband to accept Christ.’ (EBC)

Witnessing without words?

It is fashionable these days for people to ‘big up’ this text in order to excuse themselves and others from the responsibility to witness verbally to the Lord Jesus Christ.

For example, we are advised that we can ‘witness without appearing to witness’ by:

  1. Keeping our word
  2. Avoiding hypocrisy
  3. Treating everyone equally well
  4. Remembering that we are sinners

These are, no doubt, commendable virtues.  But they are among the essential accompaniments of witnessing: they do not constitute witnessing itself.

That Peter highly valued the verbal communication of the gospel is clear:

  • The prophets ‘spoke of the things that have now been told to you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven’ (1 Pet 1:12).
  • We are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Pet 2:9).
  • We are to ‘always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope [we] have.’  And, of course, we are to do this ‘with gentleness and respect’ (1 Pet 3:15).

See this by Paul Akin.

Purity refers to sexual morality (Marshall).

3:3 Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes—3:4 but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.

Marshall says that this could well be rendered: ‘your beauty should not so much come from outward adornment…but rather, it should be…’  He adds that Peter’s words would be relevant today to those who spend all their money on keeping up with fashion, and neglecting the needs of those who do not even have enough to eat.

‘Many have taken Peter’s words to be an absolute prohibition of any outward adornment. But Peter’s emphasis is not on prohibition but on a proper sense of values.’ (EBC)

Adornment – Gk. cosmos, which has as its root meaning ‘orderly arrangement’.

Braiding of hair – lit. ‘gold-braided hair’.  Fashionable women would cover their hair with gold spangles.  This was very time-consuming and, according to Peter, nothing more than outward show.  They had better things to do with their time.

‘But he who is both the head of the man and the beauty of the woman, the husband of the church, Christ Jesus, what sort of crown did he put on, for both male and female? A crown of thorns!’ (Tertullian, ACCS)

We demonstrate a perverted sense of value not only when we pay too much attention outward beauty, but also when we pay too little to beauty of character.  Such beauty is available to all, whatever their physical attributes or material wealth.

To be cultural transposed

‘When enthusiasts cite this passage to control women’s fashions, they render Christianity trivial and offensive. The apostles taught the principle of modesty through counsel which was pertinent to the culture of that day. In another culture a woman might prove her modesty by braided hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes.’ (E.J. Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology, 61)

Unfading – ‘There is nothing superficial about it, since it is the fruit of a spiritual life that is ageless, “a beauty that the years cannot wither” (Barclay). Neither is it transient, like all that belongs to the world and its fleeting fashions and fads.’ (Hillyer)

3:5 For in the same way the holy women who hoped in God long ago adorned themselves by being subject to their husbands, 3:6 like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You become her children when you do what is good and have no fear in doing so.

Sarah…obeyed Abraham

Should the wife promise to ‘obey’?

‘In my view the 1662 Prayer Book marriage service was wrong to include this verb in the bride’s vows. The concept of a husband who issues commands and of a wife who gives him obedience is simply not found in the New Testament. The nearest approximation to it is the cited example of Sarah who ‘obeyed Abraham, calling him lord’. But even in that passage the apostle Peter’s actual instruction to wives is the same as Paul’s, namely, ‘Be submissive to your husbands.’ And…a wife’s submission is something quite different from obedience. It is a voluntary self-giving to a lover whose responsibility is defined in terms of constructive care; it is love’s response to love.’ (Stott, on Eph 6:1-3)

Do not give way to fear – ‘Although philosophers’ household codes often stressed that the wife should “fear” her husband as well as submit to him, Peter disagrees (v. 6; cf. 3:13–14). Husbands could legally “throw out” babies, resort to prostitutes and make life miserable for their wives, although sleeping with other women of the aristocratic class or beating their wives was prohibited. (In a mid-second-century account, a Christian divorced her husband for his repeated infidelity, so he betrayed her to the authorities as a Christian.) Christian wives were limited in their options, but Peter wants them to pursue peace without being intimidated.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

‘Fear him, ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear’.

Six things submission is not

  1. It does not mean agreeing with everything her husband says or does (otherwise, this passage would make no sense, since the women is a believer, and the husband and unbeliever)
  2. It does not mean leaving her brain at the altar.  It may be that he should most often take the initiative, and have the casting vote if they can’t agree.  But there is every reason for him to consult her, listen carefully to her, yield to her often, and hear himself to say, “You were right, and I was wrong”.
  3. It does not mean that she does not try to influence her husband.  No-one should try to say to her, ‘Don’t try to change your husband.  The whole point of the text here is, ‘Win him for Christ’.
  4. It does not mean putting the will of the husband before the will of Christ.  She submit’s to her husband ‘for the Lord’s sake’.  So, if it comes to a choice between what he wants and what Jesus wants, Jesus wins.  She will follow her husband’s wishes as far as possible, but no further than that.
  5. It does not mean living in fear.  If she is God-fearing then she need not fear any man.

Based on this article by John Piper

Submission does not imply inferiority

‘Did Peter commend unrighteousness in directing wives to submit to their husbands? It may sound that way to modern ears, but submission to another does not signal inequality. The Scriptures clearly teach that women and men are both made in the image of God (Gn 1:26–27); they have equal access to salvation (Gl 3:28); and they share an equal destiny in heaven (1Pt 3:7). Having a different role from men does not mean that women are inferior to men. Christ, after all, submitted to the Father (1Co 15:28), but he is equal to the Father in dignity, worth, and essence. Similarly, the submission of wives to husbands does not suggest they are second-rate.’

(Apologetics Study Bible for Students)

3:7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.

Having considered the position of wives who were married to unbelieving husbands (vv1-6) Peter now addresses those marriages where both parties were Christians.

In the same way – Hillyer says that this expression is virtually equivalent to ‘next on the list’.  Peter is not giving another example of submission, which would not be appropriate for husbands.  Schreiner is of the same view.

Peter Davids, however, thinks that the implied verb is ‘be submissive to’, and that the reference is back to 1 Pet 2:13, which is about submission to human authorities (in the present case, marriage).  (Discovering Biblical Equality)

Your wives – According to Green, ‘Peter does not repeat the term referring to “wife” in v. 1 (γυνή, gynē), but rather a more general term for “female” (γυναικεῖος, gynaikeios), thus addressing the husband with regard to the various women comprising his extended family.’

Be considerate – The implication is that the husband will know and seek to understand his wife.

How well do you know your wife?

‘Somebody asked Mrs. Albert Einstein if she understood Dr. Einstein’s theory of relativity, and she replied, “No, but I understand the Doctor.” In my premarital counseling as a pastor, I often gave the couple pads of paper and asked them to write down the three things each one thinks the other enjoys doing the most. Usually, the prospective bride made her list immediately; the man would sit and ponder. And usually the girl was right but the man wrong! What a beginning for a marriage!

‘It is amazing that two married people can live together and not really know each other! Ignorance is dangerous in any area of life, but it is especially dangerous in marriage. A Christian husband needs to know his wife’s moods, feelings, needs, fears, and hopes. He needs to “listen with his heart” and share meaningful communication with her. There must be in the home such a protective atmosphere of love and submission that the husband and wife can disagree and still be happy together.

‘”Speaking the truth in love” is the solution to the communications problem (Eph. 4:15). It has well been said that love without truth is hypocrisy, and truth without love is brutality. We need both truth and love if we are to grow in our understanding of one another. How can a husband show consideration for his wife if he does not understand her needs or problems? To say, “I never knew you felt that way!” is to confess that, at some point, one mate excommunicated the other. When either mate is afraid to be open and honest about a matter, then he or she is building walls and not bridges.’ (Wiersbe)

As you live with – What does this ‘living with’ mean?  Wiersbe writes?

‘This implies much more than sharing the same address. Marriage is fundamentally a physical relationship: “They two shall be one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). Of course, Christian mates enjoy a deeper spiritual relationship, but the two go together (1 Cor. 7:1–5). A truly spiritual husband will fulfill his marital duties and love his wife.  The husband must make time to be home with his wife. Christian workers and church officers who get too busy running around solving other people’s problems, may end up creating problems of their own at home. One survey revealed that the average husband and wife had thirty-seven minutes a week together in actual communication! Is it any wonder that marriages fall apart after the children grow up and leave home? The husband and wife are left alone—to live with strangers!’

Hillyer thinks that this expression (and therefore the wider context) has particular reference to sexual intercourse.

Grudem says that the expression ‘be considerate as you live with your wives’ is lit. “living according to knowledge”, and therefore should be understood as living “in an understanding way”.  This knowledge

‘may include any knowledge that would be beneficial to the husband-wife relationship: knowledge of God’s purposes and principles for marriage; knowledge of the wife’s desires, goals, and frustrations; knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms; etc.’

Schreiner, on the other hand, thinks that ‘according to knowledge’ is akin to expressions such as ‘in the fear of God’, and means that the husband should treat his wife according to his knowledge of God’s will.

This ‘living according to knowledge’ contrasts with ‘the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’ (1 Pet 1:14).

Treat them with respect – Grudem say that this translation is too weak, for ‘respect’ can often be formal and impersonal.  ‘Bestowing honour’ would be better.

This teaching was quite revolutionary in its day.  Barclay and Hillyer both comment that even today it is not unusual, in the east, to see a man riding on a donkey while his wife trudges alongside.

This applies throughout the married life

‘When a young couple starts dating, the boy is courteous and thoughtful. After they get engaged, he shows even more courtesy and always acts like a gentleman. Sad to say, soon after they get married, many a husband forgets to be kind and gentlemanly and starts taking his wife for granted. He forgets that happiness in a home is made up of many little things, including the small courtesies of life.’ (Wiersbe)

The weaker partners

'The weakers partners'
1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.

This expression tends to raise eyebrows nowadays.  According to Hillyer, this does not refer to ‘physical strength, not to intellectual powers, moral courage, or spiritual standards.’

So what does it refer to?

Several older commentators (including, Calvin, Leighton, JFB) do not discuss it: presumably, they thought that its meaning was self-evident and indisputable.

Joel Green appears to assume that Peter is acknowledging the accepted status of women in the Roman society of his day:

‘Following conventional wisdom in Rome, an assessment of women as weak and light-minded would relegate women to the margins in relation to men…In the topsy-turvy world projected by Peter’s christology, however, what is dishonored is to be honored (see above on 1 Pet 2:4–10).’

Most modern commentators that it refers to physical strength (so, according to LRC, Achtemeier, McKnight, Mounce, Jobes, Keely, and Beare).  Schreiner agrees that this is ‘the most obvious meaning’.

Bott, noting the apparent allusions to Sarah’s barrenness in this chapter, thinks that the reference is to ‘reproduction; specifically, the inherent limits of female fertility due to the loss of fertility with age.’

But it may be right to add a social aspect to this ‘weakness’.  Keating (cited by LRC) speaks for many when he writes:

‘While it was common in Greco-Roman culture to treat women as inferior to men in terms of physical strength, intellectual ability, and moral firmness, there is no hint here that Peter considers women to be inferior in either intellectual or moral qualities. Given the overall context of the letter, by “weaker” he probably means weaker in physical strength, and therefore subject to intimidation and abuse by husbands, and also weaker in social standing and influence in society, and so in need of being established and honored by husbands. In these ways wives were vulnerable, and so Peter counsels husbands to show special honor to them.’

Further, we might note a certain emotional vulnerability that is more characteristic in women than in men.  Grudem comments that ‘wives are often more likely to be hurt deeply by conflict within a marriage, or by inconsiderate behavior.’  We should not ascribe this entirely a process of socialisation (which may or may not pertain in different ages and cultures): the effects on the emotions of sex hormones such as oestrogen and oxytocin are now well known.

In the marriage relationship the wife are more likely to be abused or exploited than her husband.  Accordingly, some, including Wayne Grudem and Susan Foh, see part of the meaning in the wife’s acceptance of her position in marriage as ‘vulnerable, open to exploitation.’

This is not moral, spiritual, or intellectual inferiority.  Generally, men are stronger than women in the physical sense.  But Peter may also have in his mind the lower social status that women had at that time.  He may be thinking specifically of sexual relationships: the husband must be considerate towards his wife, and not forcefully impose his needs upon her.  He must also remember that she is particularly vulnerable during pregnancy and childbirth, and when her children are young.

Grudem suggests that several kinds of ‘weakness’ may be implied: physical weakness, the vulnerability that derives from authority in marriage, and emotional sensitivity (which, although it is often a great asset, also renders women more open to being hurt).

What is clear (as Green and others observes) is that it is the woman, as the ‘weaker vessel’ who is to receive the ‘greater honour’.  This thought is reminiscent of Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 1.

Stott (Issues facing Christians today, 4th ed., p344f) notes that ‘power’ has become over-admired in modern thinking, perhaps via the power philosophy of Nietzsche.  Accordingly, weakness is despised.  But, in biblical thinking, weakness is to be honoured:

‘Although women have many different personality traits, the characteristics of femininity have always focused on words such as “gentle”, “sensitive”, “tender” and “patient”.  In a world obsessed with power, such virtues deserve respect and promotion, for they can easily be disregarded or abused.’

This giving of honour to the weaker person, or to the one who is less honoured in society, is a frequent them in the NT: Mt 5:3–12; 1 Cor 1:26–30; 12:22–25; Jas 2:5; 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5.

Abigail Dodds notes that physical weakness is not a defect.  We do not value a sturdy wooden chandelier more highly than a fragile glass one.

Women, writes Dodds, are indeed weaker than men

‘Not less intelligent. Not less human. Not incapable of reason or achievement. Not emotionally broken. Not more sinful. And not even without great strength, as the Scriptures testify. But, as relates to our physical bodies, comparatively weaker.’

Of course, Dodds adds, women are weaker than men only in certain respects.  They can be fearless (see v6), and it may be that their relative weakness leads to rely on their all-powerful heavenly Father.

Dodds concludes: a woman who is pregnant, who is in childbirth, who is raising young children, needs great strength, even though it is in each case a vulnerable kind of strength.  Let her husband give her respect and protection, and she will thrive and fulfil her God-given role in life.

Heirs with you of the gracious gift of life – Although she may be physically weaker, she is just as much an object of God’s grace.

This enshrines a revolutionary principle, according to Barclay:

‘Women did not share in the worship of the Greeks and the Romans. Even in the Jewish synagogue, they had no share in the service, and in orthodox synagogues this is still the case. When they were admitted to the synagogue at all, they were segregated from the men and hidden behind a screen. Here in Christianity emerged the revolutionary principle that women had equal spiritual rights.’

Clowney, along with some other commentators, think that sexual relations are quite prominent in Peter’s thought here, and that ‘the gracious gift of life’ may not in this instance refer to eternal life, but to the gift of children.

So that nothing will hinder your prayers – If the husband and the wife cannot be effective partners in their emotional, social, and domestic affairs, how can they expect to be effective partners in their spiritual life together?  See Mt 5:24; 18:15, and also v12 of the present chapter.

‘Nothing hinders the work of God like trouble in the home.’ (Severus of Antioch, ACCS)

‘A brawling family cannot be a praying family’

‘Contentions in a family both hinder the spirit of prayer, and also the answer to prayer. First, They hinder the spirit of prayer. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of peace and love, and therefore delights not to breathe in a troubled air; the ready way to send him going, is to brawl and chide. ‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God,’ saith the apostle, Eph. 4:30; and that we may not, hear what his counsel is,—‘Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice,’ ver. 31: when these are gone, then, and not before, look for his sweet company. You may as well dwell comfortably together with your house on fire, as pray so together, when you in the house are on fire. Secondly, Contentions hinder the answer to our prayers: if we pray in anger, God cannot be pleased. ‘The wrath of man fulfils not the righteousness of God.’ A loud wind beats down the smoke. Our prayers are compared to incense, but they will never ascend to heaven till this storm be laid; go to pray in this plight, and God will bid you come when you are better agreed. The Spirit will not help in such prayers; and if the Spirit hath no hand in the inditing, Christ will have no hand in presenting the prayer; and if Christ present it not, be sure the Father will not receive it, for ‘through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father,’ Eph. 2:18.’

(Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)

We can tease out from vv1-7, then, guidelines both for Christians in mixed marriages and those in which both partners are believers.  Let marriage be characterised by mutual love and respect.  Adornment of the gospel is more important than physical adornment.  Resist the temptations of luxury, and develop habits of modesty and generosity.  for women and men to be equal does not mean that have to be identical.  Even in today’s world, where men and women enjoy an equality undreamed-of in Peter’s day, let men be masculine and women feminine.

What shall we tell the children?

Kevin DeYoung finds the ideas feminine beauty and masculine strength prominent in this passage: ‘Peter enjoins women to be respectful, pure, and gentle, while he enjoins men to show honor, understanding, and caring leadership. From this passage, we might suggest that the crowning characteristic of a woman is true beauty and the crowning characteristic of the man is true strength.’

‘What do we say then to our sons and daughters who ask, “Daddy and Mommy, what does it mean to be a man or a woman?” Tell them they are made in the image of God and for union with Christ. And then tell your daughters that they should strive to be beautiful in the way God wants them to be beautiful. And tell your sons to strive to be strong in all the ways God wants them to be strong.’

Questions for married couples

Wiersbe invites married couples to ask the following questions:-

  1. Are we partners or competitors?
  2. Are we helping each other become more spiritual?
  3. Are we depending on the externals or the externals? The artificial or the real?
  4. Do we understand each other better?
  5. Are we sensitive to each other’s feelings and ideas, or taking each other for granted?
  6. Are we seeing God answer our prayers?
  7. Are we enriched because of our marriage, or robbing each other of God’s blessing?

Suffering for Doing Good, 8-22

3:8 Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble.

This section deals with Christians’ relationships with others, firstly those who are our friends in the faith, v8, and then those who are hostile. The example of Christ is very apparent behind Peter’s instructions.

Peter still has very much in mind the privileges, opportunities and challenges of living as followers of Jesus Christ in a sometimes hostile pagan environment (cf 1 Pet 1:6; 2:12, 19-24).

The teaching in verses 8-9 closely resembles that found in Rom 12:9-21. Similar lists are found in Eph 4:1-3,31-32; Col 3:12-15; 1 Thess 5:13-22, suggesting an underlying pattern of instruction in the early church.

Peter will outline five Christian virtues that bring blessing: like-mindedness, sympathy, brotherly love, compassion, and humility. It will not be difficult to find a general support for these principles: the real test will be how we apply them in particular situations.

Clowney likens these five virtues to the five fingers of the hand, radiating from a single centre and related to one another in nature and function.  They reflect the teaching and example of Jesus.

Live in harmony is ὁμόφρονες, lit. ‘be like-minded’. It means having harmony of thought and attitude. How rare, or how common, is this in our churches today? It will happen when we all have ‘the mind of Christ’, Php 2:5; Col 3:2; when the various members of the body places themselves under the guidance and authority of the head.

Peter will go on (1 Pet 4:7) to describe the clarity of mind which Christians should have in common: it begins with a sense of the transience of this life, and a prayerful anticipation of the coming of the Lord.  It continues with a thoughtful commitment to serve one another in love.

‘Peter, as the head of the church, calls everyone to unite in harmony, whether they are secular rulers and peasants, princes of the church and monks, or husbands and wives. The same basic principles apply to them all.’ (Hilary of Arles, ACCS)

This is, says Leighton, ‘a harmony and agreement of minds, and affections, and carriage in Christians, as making up one body, and a serious study of preserving and increasing that agreement in all things.’

This harmony of mind is not mere indifference. A pile of corpses has no disputes or disagreements, but cannot be said to be ‘living in harmony’, for it is not living at all. Nor should ignorance be mistaken for harmony of mind: there are those who agree to believe nothing, or to believe anything and everything (always learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth), yet this is not what the apostle speaks of here. Again, this harmony of mind does not mean that Christians will agree in all particulars of the faith (although even this should be aimed for), but rather in all the essentials.

In music, notes in harmony are much richer than those in unison.  So it is in Christian community.  We are not called to think exactly the same thoughts, say exactly the same words, have exactly the same interests, exercise exactly the same gifts.  But our thoughts, words and deeds should harmonise, so that (moving now to Paul’s analogy of a body) each part plays its role and contributes to the effectiveness of the whole.

Marshall explains that this

‘means that Christians should have the same basic aim of serving God and loving one another, instead of being guided by individual, selfish interests. This is important advice in a world where individualism holds sway and everybody is encouraged to do his own thing…Christians, therefore, will work together and not act in isolation. Rather than competing with each other’s interests they will help one another to achieve what is God’s will for their lives. In other words, if I believe that God is calling me to do something particular in my life, then it must harmonize with my duties toward other Christians in helping them to do what God calls them to do. I must resist the temptation to think that my specific calling from God is so important that I must not allow concern for other people’s needs to deter me from pursuing it.’

‘All through the New Testament rings this plea for Christian unity. It is more than a plea; it is an announcement that no man can live the Christian life unless in his personal relationships he is at unity with his fellow-men; and that the Church cannot be truly Christian if there are divisions within it. It is tragic to realize how far men are from realizing this unity in their personal lives and how far the Church is from realizing it within herself…”The New Testament never treats this agreeing in Christ as an unnecessary though highly desirable spiritual luxury, but as something essential to the true being of the Church. Divisions, whether disagreements between individual members or the existence of factions and parties and-how much more!-our present-day denominations, constitute a calling in question of the Gospel itself and a sign that those who are involved are carnal. The more seriously we take the New Testament, the more urgent and painful becomes our sense of the sinfulness of the divisions, and the more earnest our prayers and strivings after the peace and unity of the Church on earth. That does not mean that the like-mindedness we are to strive for is to be a drab uniformity of the sort beloved of bureaucrats. Rather is it to be a unity in which powerful tensions are held together by an over-mastering loyalty, and strong antipathies of race and colour, temperament and taste, social position and economic interest, are overcome in common worship and common obedience. Such unity will only come when Christians are humble and bold enough to lay hold on the unity already given in Christ and to take it more seriously than their own self-importance and sin, and to make of these deep differences of doctrine, which originate in our imperfect understanding of the Gospel and which we dare not belittle, not an excuse for letting go of one another or staying apart, but rather an incentive for a more earnest seeking in fellowship together to hear and obey the voice of Christ.” There speaks the prophetic voice to our modern condition.’ (DSB, quoting C.E.B. Cranfield))

To be sympathetic is to not only seek the good of others, but enter into the feelings of others, making their joys and sadnesses, needs and concerns, our own. It begins with the affections, but soon manifests itself in actions.  It is another aspect of being of one mind with one another, just mentioned. See 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8.  The modern distinction between ‘sympathy’ and ’empathy’ is not very relevant here: if ‘sympathy’ means merely ‘feeling sorry for someone’, then Peter would have agreed that it is an inadequate response, and would, no doubt, have been happy with what we mean by ’empathy’.

As with all of these attributes, Jesus is our supreme example.  As our High Priest, he is able to sympathise with our weakness, Heb 4:15.

Peter has just referred to the sympathetic attitude husbands should have towards their wives.

Peter knew well what it meant to fail to sympathise – to suffer with – his Lord.

As Clowney remarks, we are reminded of Paul’s teaching about the church as body – when one part suffers, the whole body suffers.

‘The secret of sympathizing surely lies in relating so closely to others that we feel what happens to them as something that is happening to us. And that means willingness to surrender our independence.’ Clearly, the danger here is that we become interfering busybodies.  (Marshall)

‘We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. (Rom 12:15) When one member of the body suffers all the other members suffer with it; and when one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it, (1 Cor 12:26) and it must be so with Christians, who are the body of Christ. One thing is clear, sympathy and selfishness cannot coexist. So long as the self is the most important thing in the world, there can be no such thing as sympathy; sympathy depends on the willingness to forget self and to identify oneself with the pains and sorrows of others. Sympathy comes to the heart when Christ reigns there.’ (DSB)

‘Every one of the children of the Lord ought to be so affected with the condition of another as it it were their own, mourning with and for one another in affliction, as if they were afflicted with them, Heb 13:3, rejoicing in and praising for their welfare as if they were in their case, Rom 12:15; considering that they are all members of one body, 1 Cor 12:26, and that this sympathising frame of spirit is a special part of our conformity to Jesus Christ, Heb 4:15.’ (Nisbet)

Love as brothers – i.e. ‘love the brethren’ – one’s fellow Christians. Love for Christ and love for those who belong to Christ go hand in hand. See Jn 13:34f; Heb 2:11-14; 1 Jn 3:14-15; 4:20; 1 Pet 1:22; 2:17.

This, says Clowney, is not merely comradeship.  It is that family love that comes from knowing that we are children of the same heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ.

‘The ideal Christian community is one which produces between people who have no blood ties the same bonds of affection as are expected between brothers (Ps 133:1).’ (Marshall)

Be compassionate – εὔσπλαγχνοι refers literally to the inner organs, just as we might have a ‘gut feeling’.  It means ‘showing loving consideration to people who are in need instead of ignoring them (Eph 4:32).’ (Marshall)

Again, this a God-like, Christ-like, attribute, as Paul explains in Eph 4:32.  Jesus had ‘compassion’ on the crowds, and on those in any kind of need, Mt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; Lk. 7:13.  He urges compassion in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Lk 10:33.

The emphasis here is on the emotional, rather than the practical, side of compassion – ‘a tender heart’ (Grudem). The same word is used in Eph 4:32. Compassion is in danger of becoming a lost virtue in our age. We hear of hundreds who are being killed in accidents, of thousands who perish in warfare, of millions who suffer because of famine and drought. Access to mass media can so overwhelm us with the scale of tragedies that are occuring on a daily basic, that we simply switch channels. But God had such compassion on the world that he sent his Son to be its Saviour, and the people of God should share that same compassion.

Marshall points out that this emotion-laden quality of compassion is not entirely beyond our control.  Just as we can harden our hearts to the needs of others, so it is possible for us to learn compassion.

To be humble is to adopt an attitude with regard to one’s own worth and that of others that makes possible the more practical qualities mentioned in this passage. Humility is exemplified in Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet, Jn 13:4ff.  See also Mt 11:29.

The truly humble person is neither a shrinking violet nor a doormat.  True humility does not, as Marshall says, consist in adopting a negative evaluation of our skills and abilities (saying that someone else is better at mathematics, say, or music, when objective tests would tell a different story).  Rather, it is an attitude of not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom 12:3) and of putting the persons and needs of others before our own.

Humility is not a universally admired virtue.  The word Peter uses here was often used in a negative way by the ancient Greeks – ‘low-mindedness’.  Nietzsche despised the idea of humility, and ridiculed the Scriptural way of honouring the weak and lowly in contrast to the rich and powerful.  Clowney says: ‘our world has seen the outworking of Nietzsche’s ‘master-race’ in Nazi Germany. Does it yet recognize the power of what Nietzsche scorned?’

As Clowney reminds us, Peter had learned humility the hard way.

‘Christian humility comes from two things. It comes, first, from the sense of creatureliness. The Christian is humble because he is constantly aware of his utter dependence on God and that of himself he can do nothing. It comes, second, from the fact that the Christian has a new standard of comparison. It may well be that when he compares himself with his fellow-men, he has nothing to fear from the comparison. But the Christian’s standard of comparison is Christ, and, compared with his sinless perfection, he is ever in default. When the Christian remembers his dependence on God and keeps before him the standard of Christ, he must remain humble.’ (DSB)

3:9 Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing.

There is evidently a shift here from a Christian’s relationship with fellow-believers, to his relationship with non-believers.  There is an assumption, of course, that the believer will have relationships with non-believers, and not seek refuge in some kind of religious ghetto.  The are, of course, special challenges and opportunities involved maintaining consistently Christian behaviour in the face of apathy or even hostility.  Marshall comments: ‘[Peter] implicitly reverts to the relation of the Christian to other people in general, as he considers how Christians should respond to hostility. Clearly Peter does not draw hard and fast distinctions between attitudes toward Christians and non-Christians. There is no double standard.’

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult – the vice that Peter is addressing here is that of revenge.  In an ancient culture where detailed control of law and order was not possible, private revenge was often the order of the day.  But, in a wisely-ordered society, revenge would not be greater than the original offence: hence the injunction, ‘an eye for an eye’.  More advanced societies would replace personal revenge with community justice, with the administration of a legally-defined punishment.  As Marshall explains, Jesus forbade the taking of personal revenge, and provides the supreme example of forbearance and forgiveness, 1 Pet 2:23, and the Christian knows that is it especially important to refrain from retaliation in the face of persecution for one’s faith.  We witness faithfully when, in the face of personal wrong, we bless rather than curse,  Lk 6:28; Rom 12:14, 17; 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 5:15).  OT wisdom held it to be folly to repay good with evil; Jesus went further by teaching that we should repay evil with good.  But Jesus did not merely teach that we should bless those who hate us; he practised it, Lk 23:34; cf. Acts 7:60.

This injunction would have been highly relevant in Peter’s day, when many were turning against Christians and treating them with terrible hostility.  We in our own day need to recognise that it is so for many believers around the world, and may become so for those of us used to the relative ‘safety’ of our Western culture.

Small children will hit back at one another.  As adults, we have more sophisticated, but no less harmful, ways of ‘getting our own back’.

Blessing – How often do even Christians mutter something amounting to a curse when hurt or threatened by others?  But the attitude of Christians towards others, even those who do evil and insult them, is summarised in the one word ‘blessing’. This is the loving, prayerful attitude that calls down God’s grace and love on the other person. Indeed, it may take the form of prayer, Mt 5:44. See also 1 Cor 4:12 1 Thess 5:15.

To ‘bless’ means that ‘we pray for our enemies, be kind to them in word and deed, and seek to promote their well-being.’ (Kistemaker)

The teaching (Lk 6:27f) and example of Christ cannot be far from Peter’s mind here.

‘The gospel allows thee no liberty to use their weapons, and return them quid pro quo-stroke for stroke. ‘Be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing,’ 1 Pet 3:8-9. Thou hast here a girdle and breastplate to defend thee from their bullets-the comfort of thy own sincerity and holy walking, with which thou mayest wipe off the dirt thrown upon thy own face-but no weapon for selfrevenge. A shield is put into thy hand, which thou mayest lift up to quench their fiery darts, but no darts of bitter words to retort upon them. Thou art ‘shod with peace,’ that thou mayest walk safely upon the injuries they do thee, without any prick or pain to thy spirit, but not with pride to trample upon the persons that wrong thee.’ (Gurnall)

This clear instruction not to take personal revenge is balanced somewhat by Peter’s insistence that the civil government must deal firmly with evil in its various forms, 1 Pet 2:14; see also Rom 12:14-21 with Rom 13:1-5.

‘As Christians, we can live on one of three levels. We can return evil for good, which is the satanic level. We can return good for good and evil for evil, which is the human level. Or, we can return good for evil, which is the divine level. Jesus is the perfect example of this latter approach. (1 Pet 2:21-23) As Gods loving children, we must do more than give “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” (Mt 5:38-48) which is the basis for justice. We must operate on the basis of mercy, for that is the way God deals with us.

This admonition must have meant much to Peter himself, because he once tried to fight Christs enemies with a sword. (Lk 22:47-53) When he was an unconverted rabbi, Paul used every means possible to oppose the church; but when he became a Christian, Paul never used human weapons to fight Gods battles. (Rom 12:17-21 2 Cor 10:1-6) When Peter and the Apostles were persecuted, they depended on prayer and Gods power, not on their own wisdom or strength.’ (see Acts 4:23ff) (Wiersbe)

To this you were called may either refer back to what has just been said about righteous behaviour, or forward to ‘inheriting a blessing’. The former is the most likely, esp. bearing in mind the parallel expression in 1 Pet 2:21 and the promise of blessing to the righteous in Ps 34:12-16, which Peter is about to quote.

Are these blessings this-worldly or other-wordly? Grudem states that although Peter mentions heavenly rewards, 1 Pet 1:4-7; 4:13 1 Pet 5:4, he also emphasises on a number of occasions blessings that can occur here and now as a result of righteous living, 1 Pet 1:8; 1:9; 1:17; 2:2; 2:19-20; 3:1-2; 3:7; 4:14; 5:7; 5:9-10. Ps 34, which Peter is about to quote, also stresses God’s blessing in this life, although that is consistent with a general OT focus on physical and material rewards that is given less weight in the NT.

‘The persecutions we experience on earth today only add to our blessed inheritance of glory in heaven someday. (Mt 5:10-12) But we also inherit a blessing today when we treat our enemies with love and mercy. By sharing a blessing with them, we receive a blessing ourselves! Persecution can be a time of spiritual enrichment for a believer. The saints and martyrs in church history all bear witness to this fact.’ (Wiersbe)

3:10 For
the one who wants to love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from uttering deceit.
3:11 And he must turn away from evil and do good;
he must seek peace and pursue it.
3:12 For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil.

Peter introduces a quotation, with some variations, from Psa 34:12-16.

‘For’ in the Psalms God promises a blessing to the righteous. ‘It is lawful to consider temporal advantages as motives and encouragements to religion.’ (MHC)

Whoever would love life – It is natural for us to cling tightly to life.

Life is a blessing

Life is a blessing; a precious gift of God. We are taught so to regard it by the instinctive feelings of our nature; for we are so made as to love it, and to dread its extinction. Though we should be prepared to resign it when God commands, yet there are important reasons why we should desire to live. Among them are the following:
(1) Because, as already intimated, life, as such, is to be regarded as a blessing. We instinctively shrink back from death, as one of the greatest evils; we shudder at the thought of annihilation. It is not wrong to love that, in proper degree, which, by our very nature, we are prompted to love; and we are but acting out one of the universal laws which our Creator has impressed on us, when, with proper submission to his will, we seek “to lengthen out our days as far as possible.
(2) That we may see the works of God, and survey the wonders of his hand on earth. The world is full of wonders, evincing the wisdom and goodness of the Deity; and the longest life, nay, many such lives as are allotted to us here, could be well employed in studying his works and ways.
(3) That we may make preparation for eternity. Man may, indeed, make preparation in a very brief period; but the longest life is not too much to examine and settle the question whether we have a well-founded hope of heaven. If man had nothing else to do, the longest life could be well employed in inquiries that grow out of the question whether we are suited for the world to come. In the possibility, too, of being deceived, and in view of the awful consequences that will result from deception, it is desirable that length of days should be given us that we may bring the subject to the severest test, and so determine it, that we may go sure to the changeless world.
(4) That we may do good to others. We may, indeed, do good in another world; but there are ways of doing good which are probably confined to this. What good we may do hereafter to the inhabitants of distant worlds, or what ministrations, in company with angels, or without them, we may exercise toward the friends of God on earth after we leave it, we do not know; but there are certain things which we are morally certain we shall not be permitted to do in the future world. We shall not:
(a) Personally labor for the salvation of sinners, by conversation and other direct efforts;
(b) We shall not illustrate the influence of religion by example in sustaining us in trials, subduing and controlling our passions, and making us dead to the world;
(c) We shall not be permitted to pray for our impenitent friends and kindred, as we may now;
(d) We shall not have the opportunity of contributing of our substance for the spread of the gospel, or of going personally to preach the gospel to the perishing;
(e) We shall not be employed in instructing the ignorant, in advocating the cause of the oppressed and the wronged, in seeking to remove the fetters from the slave, in dispensing mercy to the insane, or in visiting the prisoner in his lonely cell;
(f) We shall not have it in our power to address a kind word to an impenitent child, or seek to guide him in paths of truth, purity, and salvation.
What we can do personally and directly for the salvation of others is to be done in this world; and, considering how much there is to be done, and how useful life may be on the earth, it is an object which we should desire, that our days may be lengthened out, and should use all proper means that it may be done. While we should ever be ready and willing to depart when God calls us to go; while we should not wish to linger on these mortal shores beyond the time when we may be useful to others, yet, as long as he permits us to live, we should regard life as a blessing, and should pray that, if it be his will, we may not be cut down in the midst of our way.


And see good days – a long and happy life; ‘prosperous days; happy days; days of usefulness; days in which we may be respected and loved.’ (Barnes)

We cannot, of course, expect a trouble-free life: Peter has just referred to the expectation of ‘evil’ and ‘insult’, and Ps 34:19 acknowledges that ‘many are the afflictions of the righteous. But we may be content whatever the outward circumstances, Eph 5:20; Php 4:4-11; 1 Thess 5:16-18.

What is your idea of a ‘good day’?  Clowney writes: ‘A “good day” in a television beer commercial pictures friends imbibing in the sunset at a fishing-lodge. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” they say. A “good day” in the book of Acts (Acts 16:25) shows Paul and Silas in a Greek prison, their backs bleeding and their feet in stocks. They are singing psalms at midnight—perhaps Psalm 34! Silas, now sitting beside Peter, would remember with him the word of Jesus, ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it’ (Mk 8:35).

‘Good days’

The general sentiment in these verses (1 Pet 3:10-12) is, that while length of days is desirable, it is to be secured by virtue and religion, or that virtue and religion will contribute to it. This is not to be understood as affirming that all who are righteous will enjoy long life, for we know that the righteous are often cut down in the midst of their way; and that in, fire, and flood, and war, and the pestilence, the righteous and the wicked often perish together. But still there is a sense in which it is true that a life of virtue and religion will contribute to length of days, and that the law is so general as to be a basis of a calculation in reference to the future.

I. Religion and virtue contribute to those things which are favourable to length of days, which are conducive to health and to a vigorous constitution. Among those things are the following,

(a.) a calm, peaceful, and contented mind-avoiding the wear and tear of the raging passions of lusts, avarice, and ambition;

(b.) temperance in eating and drinking-always favourable to length of days;

(c.) industry- one of the essential means, as a general rule, of promoting long life;

(d.) prudence and economy-avoiding the extravagances by which many shorten their days; and

(e.) a conscientious and careful regard of life itself. Religion makes men feel that life is a blessing, and that it should not be thrown away. Just in proportion as a man is under the influence of religion, does he regard life as of importance, and does he become careful in preserving it. Strange and paradoxical as it may seem, the want of religion often makes men reckless of life, and ready to throw it away for any trifling cause. Religion shows a man what great issues depend on life, and makes him, therefore, desirous of living to secure his own salvation and the salvation of all others.

Ii. Multitudes lose their lives who would have preserved them if they had been under the influence of religion. To see this, we have only to reflect

(a.) on the millions who are cut off in war as the result of ambition, and the want of religion;

(b.) on the countless hosts cut down in middle life, or in youth, by intemperance, who would have been saved by religion;

(c.) on the numbers who are the victims of raging passions, and who are cut off by the diseases which gluttony and licentiousness engender;

(d.) on the multitude who fall in duels, all of whom would have been saved by religion;

(e.) on the numbers who, as the result of disappointment in business or in love, close their own lives, who would have been enabled to bear up under their troubles if they had had religion; and

(f.) on the numbers who are cut off from the earth as the punishment of their crimes, all of whom would have continued to live if they had had true religion.

Iii. God protects the righteous. He does it by saving them from those vices by which the lives of so many are shortened; and often, we have no reason to doubt, in answer to their prayers, when, but for those prayers, they would have fallen into crimes that would have consigned them to an early grave, or encountered dangers from which they would have had no means of escape. No one can doubt that in fact those who are truly religious are saved from the sins which consign millions to the tomb; nor is there any less reason to doubt that a protecting shield is often thrown before the children of God when in danger. Comp. Ps 91. (Barnes)

Keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech – As James says, people who do not control their tongues can do untold damage, James 3:3-12.

‘Guile elicits falsehood, deception, hypocrisy, and slanders which are untrue. It is the friend of the enemy of truth, that is, Satan, the father of lies. Believers are advised to avoid his influence and to prefer the things of God, who is truth.’ (Chrysostom, ACCS)

‘The practice of religion, particularly the right government of the tongue, is the best way to make this life comfortable and prosperous; a sincere, inoffensive, discreet tongue, is a singular means to pass us peaceably and comfortably through the world.’ (MHC)

This verse encapsulates a general, rather than an absolute, truth.  A contented, peaceable and well-balanced attitude will tend to lead to a long and healthy life.

He must seek peace and pursue it – It is not enough to welcome peace when it is offered to us; it must be actively pursued. And we should pursue peace at a societal level as well as at the individual level.

Peace is not only passive, but also active.  Let us be not only peaceable people, but also peace-makers.  It is to be suspected that many Christians have a superficial approach to peace.  We do not want to ‘rock the boat’.  We adopt the attitude, ‘anything for a quiet life’.  We uphold being inoffensive and ‘nice’ as the pinnacles of virtue.  In seeking to avoid conflict, we store up festering resentments.  We engage in avoidance activities such as complaining about a person (to others), rather than to that person.Let us work to build good relationships.  Let us anticipate problems, and deal with them before they turn into chronic festering sores.  Let us manage conflict with candour, fairness, and without a self-seeking or party spirit.

A peaceful spirit will contribute to a long and happy life (‘good days’): a calm and equitable temper is conducive to good health, and helps to avoid the conflicts that not only threaten our health but sometimes threaten life itself.

‘The citation of Psalm 34:13–17 in 1 Peter 3:10–12 outlines the blessing believers are to give: to do good and to seek peace and pursue it. So the blessing is bestowed not so much through effective speech as through actions. It is not a pronouncement of blessing as much as it is being an instrument of blessing.’ (DLNTD)

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous – not merely to look at them (for God sees all people, whether righteous or evil) but to look after them. A life that pursues justice and peace may well make for us friends in this world, but even it it does not, it will bring something far more precious – the approbation of God.

‘Here Peter is referring to the many different ways in which the Holy Spirit observes us.’ (Clement of Alexandria, ACCS)

His ears are attentive to their prayer – Not, of course, that God cannot hear the prayers of the unrighteous, but that he will not.

The face of the Lord is against those who do evil – ‘to cut off the memory of them from the earth’, as the verse continues, Ps 34:16.

Consider the richness of the anthropomorphism here: God’s eyes regarding the righteous; and his ears attentive to their prayers; but his face set against evil-doers.

3:13 For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good? 3:14 But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken.

Who is going to harm you…? – This is a relative, rather than an absolute, truth, as the following verse will make clear. Peter is speaking of what will ordinarily be true. It is certainly true that we are less likely to be ill-treated if our behaviour is kind and loving. It is yet more true that no-one has the power the harm us spiritually. We are ‘immortal till our work is done’. See Ps 56:4 Lk 12:4-5.

‘Peter is speaking here of things like abuse, damage and bodily injury which come to us from our enemies. These and similar things are the common lot of believers, both because they are good imitators of Christ and because they know that such things, far from doing them any harm, actually bring glory to those who endure them with patience. At the same time, harm does in fact come to those who do such things, because they are storing up eternal punishment for themselves.’ (Bede, ACCS)

Eager to do good – The word translated ‘eager’ is zelotes, zealous. ‘The Zealots were the fanatical patriots, who were pledged to liberate their native land by every possible means. They were prepared to take their lives in their hands, to sacrifice ease and comfort, home and loved ones, in their passionate love for their country. What Peter is saying is: “Love goodness with that passionate intensity with which the most fanatical patriot loves his country.” Sir John Seeley said, “No heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue safe which is not enthusiastic.” It is only when a man falls in love with goodness that the wrong things lose their fascination and their power.’ (DSB)

‘If you love the good, you will suffer no loss, because whatever you may be deprived of in this world, you will never lose God, who is the true Good.’ (Augustine, ACCS)

But even if you should suffer for what is right – Peter immediately goes on to qualify his statement, v13, that no-one will harm us if we are zealous for doing what is right.  After all, Christ himself did only what was right, and yet was persecuted and finally killed.

It has been suggested that there are two kinds of suffering: that which comes from our humanity (such as illness, weariness, death, and so on), and that which comes from our Christianity (such as unpopularity, persecution, etc.). It is the latter which Peter has in view here.

It is easy for religious persons to make themselves disliked because of their arrogance, insensitivity, or hypocrisy. But this is not suffering ‘for what is right’.

You are blessed – ‘The Christian is the man to whom God and Jesus Christ are the supremacies in life; his relationship to God in Christ is life’s greatest value. If a man’s heart is set on earthly things, possessions, happiness, pleasure, ease and comfort, he is of all men most vulnerable. For, in the nature of things, he may lose these things at any moment. Such a man is desperately easily hurt. On the other hand, if he gives to Jesus Christ the unique place in his life, the most precious thing for him is his relationship to God and nothing can take that from him. Therefore, he is completely secure.’ (DSB)

‘Not only does Peter say that believers will not suffer any harm for being persecuted, but they will even be blessed. Here he repeats what Jesus said: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” [Mt 5:10]’ (Bede, ACCS)

“Do not fear what they fear…” – An approximate quotation from Isa 8:12-13, which in its original context is a warning not to fear what the faithless fear. Thus the NIV translation here. Peter says, rather, “Have no fear of them.” Grudem says, ‘Though it is generally better to understand New Testament citations of the Old Testament as carrying the same sense in both places, where the New Testament context strongly favours a slight change of sense or referent we must adopt an interpretation which is faithful to its new context (especially when, as in this case, there is no formal citation but simply a duplication of several expressions). Peter is apparently borrowing a familiar phrase from the Old Testament but using it in a different context and with different application.’

‘The positive antidote to fear is to be found in giving Christ the special place that is his due at the centre of our lives. There he is to reign as Lord. Such true fear of the Lord, expressing itself both in upright behaviour and with a well-thought-out statement of faith, will drive out all lesser fears and eventually shame the detractors.’ (NBD)

‘Peter had heard Jesus say, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell.’ Jesus had followed that solemn warning with words of supreme assurance to his disciples. Their Father in heaven has numbered every hair in their heads; nothing can happen to them outside of his care.’ (Clowney)

3:15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. 3:16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.

Here Peter takes up and develops (as a composer of a symphony might do [Harper’s Bible Commentary]) themes that have been mentioned earlier, 1 Pet 1:6; 2:12, 15, 19-20; 3:9.

Calvin points out the connection with what has gone before: ‘he requires constancy in the faithful, so that they can boldly give a reason for their faith to their adversaries.  This is a part of that sanctification which he has just mentioned, because we really honour God when neither fear nor shame hinders us from making a true profession of our faith.’

If, says Calvin, we are not ready to give an answer to the detractors, then we risk by our silence bringing the gospel into disrepute.

Tim Chester, too, draws attention to the context of the well-known verse.  It is the culmination of a passage that is addressed to ‘all of you’ (v8).  It assumes that the enquirer has observed the life of the Christian community:

‘Here people will not only hear the gospel word, but see it being loved and lived. They will see the power of the gospel to united disparate people and make them family. They will also see us failing and falling out, but then see grace in action. They will hear our message with a variety of voices and from a variety of experiences. The different gifts God has given us work together to create a compelling testimony to gospel. By exposure to the Christian community we mean of course more than attending a weekly meeting. We mean being introduced to the network of relationships that make up the church. We mean sharing in the life of the community in the context of ordinary life. Often people dismiss our intellectual arguments, but they find it much harder to dismiss the compelling witness of the Christian community.’

We guard against the fear of man (v14) by cultivating the fear of the Lord.

Set apart Christ as Lord – The word hagiazo means ‘sanctify’, ‘treat as holy’, ‘regard reverently’, as in Mt 6:9 “Hallowed be your name.” Peter has just (v14) cited the Septuagint version, urging the churches not to fear what others fear but to set apart the Lord as holy. But where the Septuagint text of Isa 8:13-14 says, “Set apart the Lord himself,” Peter writes, “Set apart Christ as Lord.” Peter would give the adoring fear due to the Almighty to Jesus of Nazareth, his Master and Lord.

‘The setting of the Isaiah quotation is significant. Ahaz, King of Judah, faced a crisis because of an impending invasion by the Assyrian army. The kings of Israel and Syria wanted Ahaz to join them in an alliance, but Ahaz refused; so Israel and Syria threatened to invade Judah! Behind the scenes, Ahaz confederated himself with Assyria! The Prophet Isaiah warned him against ungodly alliances and urged him to trust God for deliverance. “Sanctify the Lord of hosts armies himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread”.’ (Isa 8:13) (Wiersbe)

‘He does not hesitate to identify the Lord of hosts with Jesus Christ. More than that, he does so in a passage that calls for our total devotion to the Lord in his transcendent deity. Peter is not making a merely verbal connection between two meanings of ‘Lord’, as applied to God and men. He is explicitly identifying the One who slept in the stern of his fishing-boat with the almighty Creator of heaven and earth.’ (Clowney)

In your hearts enthrone Him,
There let Him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true.

(Carolyn M. Noel)

If we reverence Christ as Lord, we will not be intimidated by those who threaten to harm us, for if such an all-powerful Saviour is for us, who can be against us?

‘The positive antidote to fear is to be found in giving Christ the special place that is his due at the centre of our lives. There he is to reign as Lord. Such true fear of the Lord, expressing itself both in upright behaviour and with a well-thought-out statement of faith, will drive out all lesser fears and eventually shame the detractors.’ (NBC)

And this is to be done in your hearts – in truth and sincerity, not with mere outward show.

‘We sanctify the Lord God in our hearts when we with sincerity and fervency adore him, when our thoughts of him are awful and reverend, when we rely upon his power, trust to his faithfulness, submit to his wisdom, imitate his holiness, and give him the glory due to his most illustrious perfections.’ (MHC)

Clowney points out that Peter does not start a new sentence as he turns from setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts to always being prepared to give an answer: ‘Set apart the Lord, the Christ, ready always for answer.’

‘We sanctify the Lord Christ in our hearts; there is the end of fear. We sanctify Christ in our words; there is the start of witness.’ (Clowney)

Always be prepared – A state of readiness, rather than formal preparation, is probably meant here. And yet the latter is not excluded. ‘The text probably implies no more than that Christians should always seize such opportunities when they arise, but it is fair to add that they will be unable to capitalize on the opportunities if they are not already prepared with a coherent understanding of faith and some practice in rehearsing it. Jesus’ saying in Mt 10:19 is meant to rule out worry, not preparation!’ (Marshall)

And yet Christian witness, while prompt and timely, should not be indiscriminate: see Mt 7:6.  Nor should it be indiscreet, Mt 10:16.

What kinds of preparation will help us in the task of effectively explaining the reason for our hope as Christians?  The assumption here is that Christians will not only be willing, but able, to speak up on behalf of Christ.  They need to know enough biblical teaching to be able to communicate the faith and to answer enquirers.

To give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason – ‘Answer’ (apologia) is perhaps too weak: ‘defence’ is better. Faith and reason are allies. Such a response may be required to questions that are abusive or insulting, either to ourselves or our Saviour. At other times, the enquiry might be friendly, rather than hostile.  Either way, are we prepared to answer? Can we give a simple”] personal testimony to our Christian hope? Can we explain in outline form the basic elements of the Christian faith?

‘The term apologia signifies that they should be prepared to give an account of the objective foundation of their Christian faith and identity.’ (Eckhard Schnabel)

Calvin says that such a ‘defence’ was necessary at the time, because Christians were frequently despised, and many thought them guilty of many wicked things.  ‘It would have been the highest betrayal of God, if, when asked, they had neglected to give testimony to their religion.’

The questioning might come either from official interrogation, Acts 25:16; 26:2; 2 Tim 4:16, or from more informal conversation.

The basis of the Christian’s hope is defensible against all the arguments and opposition of the world. We have nothing to be ashamed of. The Christian faith is the truest, and the most rational belief system.

The thrust of this instruction, in context, is that Christians are called not merely to endure persecution, but to use it as an opportunity for witnessing.

‘Christian prudence goes a long way in the regulating of this; for holy things are not to be cast to dogs.  Some are not capable of receiving rational answers, especially in divine things; they are not only lost upon them, but religion dishonoured by the contest.’ (Leighton)

‘The apostle tells us to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us for an explanation of our faith, because if an unbeliever asks me a reason for my faith and hope and I perceive that he cannot accept it unless he believes, I give him that very reason, so that he may see how absurd it is for him to ask a reason for things which he cannot grasp until he believes.’ (Augustine, ACCS)

The reason for the hope that you have -In the great triad of graces – faith, hope and love – hope is often neglected.  But Peter stresses the importance of Christian hope:  1 Pet 1:3, 13, 21; 3:5, 15.

Calvin asks us to note that Peter is not urging us to be ready to give an answer to any and every question that might be raised, but simply and clearly to explain the reason for our hope.  ‘From this we learn how all those who understand nothing for certain about their faith, and have nothing to give as an answer for it, misuse the name of Christian.’

‘Hope’, for Peter, is a near-synonym for ‘faith’ (Calvin, Marshall and others).  However, it looks particularly to our future expectation.

Christian hope is to be distinguished from mere optimism and, in fact, from all worldly hopes, whether well-founded or not.  It is ‘the hope of salvation’ (deliverance from evil in all its forms), 1 Thess 5:8; ‘the hope of eternal life’ (an overflowingly abundant life), Tit 3:7; ‘the hope of the glory of God’ (the approbation of God’, Rom 5:2; ‘the hope of righteousness’ (the fruit of justification), Gal 5:5.

Faith and reason

The use of reason is not, or course, opposed to the exercise of faith.  God does not call us to blind faith, or to make a leap in the dark.  ‘The Bible is filled with exhortations to use our reason. Jesus commanded, “You shall love the Lord … with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, emphasis added in all quotes here). Paul added, “whatsoever things are true … think on these things” (Phil. 4:8, KJV). Paul also “reasoned” with the Jews (Acts 17:17) and with the philosophers on Mars Hill (v. 22ff) winning many to Christ (v. 34). Bishops were instructed to be able “to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9, NASB). Paul declares that he was “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17). Jude urged us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). And Peter commanded, “be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).’ (Howe & Geisler, When Critics Ask).  We believe that God is true, and on the basis of that we believe in God.

Leighton explains: ‘Faith is the root of all graces, of all obedience and holiness; and hope is so near in nature to it, that the one is commonly named for the other: for the things that faith apprehends and lays hold on as present, in the truth of divine promises, hope looks out for as to come, in their certain performance.  to believe a promise to be true before it be performed, is no other than to believe that it will be performed; and hope expects that.’

‘Hope is the form that faith takes under the threat of death. Stephen’s hope lifted his eyes to Christ in glory as he finished his defence before his accusers. They viewed his hope as blasphemy, and stoned him in their fury, Acts 7:55-60.’ (Clowney)

‘Hope’, writes Donald Macleod, ‘is central to Christian discipleship. We often present our faith in very pessimistic colours, emphasising the more sombre aspects of our religion, but, in essence, Christianity is good news…We live in a world that is marked by despondency, often conscious of its own futility and vanity and often terrified by the course of history. The church stands in the midst of this darkness as the sole bearer of light and hope. All our witness to God’s holiness, to God’s judgment and to the solemnity of human existence is but preparatory to the proclamation of this hope.’ (A Faith to Live by)

According to Graham Tomlin,

‘the primary evangelistic calling set out to Christians in the New Testament is to lead distinctive lives that ‘set apart Christ as Lord’ and are then ‘prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). This passage from 1 Peter assumes that if Christians are living under the lordship of Jesus Christ, they will, sooner or later, have to answer questions from others about this. Tomlin’s explanation of this is that when people experience holiness in Christians, particularly self-giving love, it will always provoke the questions that then work to make personal witness appropriate and unforced.’ (Kuhrt, Tom Wright for Everyone)

‘Alas! how can they give an answer to others, that have not any to give to their own consciences to this question, ‘Why dost thou hope to be saved, O my soul?’ There is no Christian, be he never so weak in grace, but hath some reason bottomed on the Scripture-for other I mean not-for the hope he professeth. Do you think, yea, can you be so absurd as to think, your own bold presumption, without any word of promise to build upon, can entitle your souls to the inheritance in God’s kingdom? Should one come and say your house and land were his, and show you no writing under your hand by which you did ever grant him a right thereunto, but all he can say is, he dreamed the last night your house and land were his, and therefore now he demands it; would you not think the man mad, and had more to the bedlam than to your estate? And yet there are many hope to be saved, that can give no better reason than this comes to for the same, and such are all grossly ignorant and profane sinners. As it is enough for a saint to end the trouble which his fears put him into, to ask his soul why it is disquieted within him, would he but observe how little reason his heart can give for the same; so would it be enough to dis-mount the bold sinner from his prancing hopes, if he might be prevailed with to call himself to an account, and thus to accost his soul sometimes, and resolve not to stir without a satisfactory answer. ‘In sober sadness tell me, O my soul! what reason findest thou in the whole Bible, for thee to hope for salvation, what livest in ignorance of God, or a trade of sin against God?’ Certainly he should find his soul as mute and speechless as the man without the wedding garment was at Christ’s question. This is the reason why men are such strangers to themselves, and dare not enter into any discourse upon this subject with their own hearts, because they know they should soon make an uproar in their consciences that would not be stilled in haste. They cocker their false hearts as much as David did his Adonijah, who in all his life never displeased him so much as to ask him, ‘Why dost thou so?’ Nor they their souls to the day of their death by asking them, ‘Soul, why hopest thou so?’ Or if they have, it hath been as Pilate, who asked Christ what was truth, Jn 18:38, but had no mind to stay for an answer.’ (Gurnall)

Gentleness – The object is not to win points, but to win souls. See the example of Paul in Acts 26:25-32. This instruction is consistent with the whole tenor of Peter’s letter: gentleness in evangelism is the close relative of patience under persecution.  It comes from trusting God to do the work of changing attitudes (EBC).  See 2 Tim 2:24–25; also Prov 15:1.

How we need to hear v15 today! There are those who want to be ‘silent witnesses’. There are others who are only interested in ‘the world’. The sequence of thought here is that in a world full of lies, aimlessness and depair Christians are living lives characterised by honesty, purpose, and hopefulness. Such lives are bound to stimulate a response. We need to be in a state of readiness, of responsiveness, of reasonableness, and of respect.

Respect – lit. ‘phobos‘, ‘fear’.  In the light of what precedes (‘set apart Christ as Lord’; ‘do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened’) and what follows (‘keeping a clear conscience’) we should probably understand this to be a reference to ‘the fear of the Lord’, rather than ‘respect for the other person’ (although the ‘gentleness’ just mentioned precludes a disrespectful answer).  See 1 Pet 1:17; 2:17; 3:2.

‘Fear him, ye saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear.’

A sincere confession must be supported by a clear conscience and good behaviour.  ‘What we say has little weight without a corresponding life’ (Calvin).

Conscience – ‘the part of you that embraces what is good and rejects evil, like a doorkeeper—open to friends, closed to enemies.’ (Hilary of Arles, ACCS).  When Paul defended himself before the Sanhedrin, he claimed that he had fulfilled his duty to God with a clear conscience, Acts 23:1.

‘The “clear conscience” relates to the liberty and boldness that come from living before God in purity (cf. Acts 24:16; 1 Tim 1:19).’ (EBC)

Those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour – If we are faithful Christians, we may not be able to avoid being unpopular with unbelievers.

Ashamed -‘Peter says that the demeanor of Christians on trial for their faith should make those who formerly jeered at them think again as they are confronted by their gracious attitudes. Possibly he is thinking of the way in which persecutors will be ashamed at the Last Judgment when they realize that the people whom they despised are honored by God. More likely he has in mind a change of heart by the persecutors here in this life.’ (Marshall)

‘For that judging or condemning of others with which they are so provoked, there is but one way whereby it may be done so as to give no just offense, and this is in our lives. The practice of holiness judges all unholy persons in their own breasts.’ (John Owen)

‘Act in such a way that those who revile you because they cannot see your faith and your hope for a heavenly reward may see your good works and be put to shame by them, because they cannot deny that what you are doing is good. For it is quite certain, my brothers, that those who despise your good behavior will be put to shame when the last judgment comes and they see you crowned along with Christ, while they are condemned along with the devil.’ (Bede, ACCS)

3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.

‘Act in such a way that those who revile you because they cannot see your faith and your hope for a heavenly reward may see your good works and be put to shame by them, because they cannot deny that what you are doing is good. For it is quite certain, my brothers, that those who despise your good behavior will be put to shame when the last judgment comes and they see you crowned along with Christ, while they are condemned along with the devil.’ (Andreas, ACCS)

‘As well-doing sometimes exposes a good man to suffering, so evil-doing will not exempt an evil man from it. The apostle supposes here that a man may suffer for both. If the sufferings of good people for well-doing be so severe, what will the sufferings of wicked people be for evil-doing? It is a sad condition which that person is in upon whom sin and suffering meet together at the same time; sin makes sufferings to be extreme, unprofitable, comfortless, and destructive.’ (MHC)

3:18  Because Christ also suffered once for sins,
the just for the unjust,
to bring you to God,
by being put to death in the flesh
but by being made alive in the spirit.

Three images of atonement

  1. Propitiation – ‘Christ died for sins’.
  2. Substitution – ‘The righteous for the unrighteous’.
  3. Reconciliation – ‘To bring you to God’.

For Christ died for sins once for all – Instead of ‘died’, many manuscripts have ‘suffered’. This makes little difference to the meaning. If Christ was not exempt from suffering, how can his followers expect to be exempt?

For sins – Christ paid the penalty for our sins.

The righteous for the unrighteous = ‘the righteous one for the unrighteous people.’

Once for all = ‘once for all time’. This, together with the tense of the verb ‘died’ shows that Christ’s sufferings and dying for sins is complete.

What sin has done

  1. Made man a transgressor, Rom 5:14.
  2. Made Satan a tyrant, Heb 2:14.
  3. Made Christ a sufferer, 1 Pet 3:18.
  4. Made earth a wilderness, Rom 8:22.
  5. Made punishment a necessity, Mt 25:46.
  6. Made hell a reality, Lk 16:23.

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students, adapted)

He was put to death in the body – lit. ‘in the flesh’ (Gk sarx). The Gk word has range of meanings in the NT, but here the contrast is between physical, visible things which belong to this world and invisible things which belong to heaven and the world to come. Cf. 4:6. ‘He was put to death bodily.’

Made alive by the Spirit – or, ‘made alive in the spirit’, that is, made alive in the spiritual realm, the eternal realm. ‘The contrast ‘put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit’ fits in with the whole letter’s emphasis on the relative unimportance of temporary suffering in this world compared to the enjoying of an eternal inheritance in the next (cf. 1 Pet 1:6-8,11,13,23; 2:11; 3:3-4,14; 4:1-2,6,13-14,14,16,19; 5:1,4,10). Our Lord willingly suffered physical harm, even death, for the sake of eternal, spiritual gain, ‘that he might bring us to God.’ Peter’s readers should not therefore be surprised to find themselves “following in his steps”.’ (Grudem)

Contra radical critics such as Price, who see a violent clash between those parts of the NT that teach a physical resurrection (especially the Gospels) and those that seem to teach an immaterial resurrection (including this verse) the contrast here is not between bodily death and immaterial resurrection.  Rather, ‘”flesh” refers to Christ in his human sphere of life and “spirit” refers to Christ in his resurrected sphere of life (cf. Rom 1:3–4; 1 Tim 3:16).’ (Expositor’s Bible Commentary)

‘It is only that strong and happy union between heaven and earth, God and man, in the person of Christ, that gives man any comfort, any strength or courage in his approaches to God.’ (Halyburton)

We have in this verse ‘one of the most succinct and yet profound statements in the NT on the doctrine of the atonement. Jesus is seen as dealing with the problem of humanity’s broken relationship with God in three ways.

  1. He made the perfect offering for sin (cf. Heb. 9:11–14; 10:1–10) and thereby fulfilled the requirements of the law.
  2. He endured the death due to unrighteousness as the penalty imposed by the law on sinners (cf. Rom. 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:21).
  3. He thereby removed the barrier caused by sin and opened the way back to God (Jn. 14:6).’ (NBC)
‘The righteous for the unrighteous’

‘What did Christ do? He died. To say this is not simply to state a fact, but to explain it, because human death in Scripture is never a meaningless phenomenon. On the contrary, death is always a fact of theological significance, the dreadful penalty for human sin. From the second chapter of Genesis (‘in the day that you eat of it you shall die’) to the penultimate chapter of Revelation (in which impenitent sinners die ‘the second death’) the same theme is consistently emphasised: ‘the wages of sin is death’. Since Jesus had no sin either in his nature or in his conduct, he need never have died, either physically or spiritually. He could have been ‘translated’ like Enoch and Elijah. He nearly was – at the transfiguration. But he deliberately stepped back into this world, in order voluntarily to lay down his life. Then why did he do it? What was the rationale of his death? There is only one possible, logical, biblical answer. It is that he died for our sins, not his own. The death he died was our death, the penalty which our sins had richly deserved. For these sins he died, not only in body but in soul, in the awful God-forsaken darkness. The evidence for this is not simply in isolated proof texts but in the whole scriptural witness to the relation between sin and death.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 53f)

3:19 In it he went and preached to the spirits in prison,
3:20 after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water. 3:21 And this prefigured baptism, which now saves you—not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience to God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3:22 who went into heaven and is at the right hand of God with angels and authorities and powers subject to him.
Christ and the spirits in prison

1 Peter 3:18-20 says, Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, to bring you to God, by being put to death in the flesh but by being made alive in the spirit.  In it he went and preached to the spirits in prison, after they were disobedient long ago when God patiently waited in the days of Noah as an ark was being constructed. In the ark a few, that is eight souls, were delivered through water.’

This difficult text raises a number of questions:

  • What does it mean when it says that ‘through the Spirit Christ went and preached to the spirits in prison’?
  • Who were the ‘spirits in prison’?
  • What did Christ preach to them?
  • What does it mean when it says that he went and preached to them ‘through the Spirit’?
  • When did this take place?

‘Could it be that Christ is giving a second chance to people who have died? What does it mean that these beings are in prison? Could there be some type of purgatory after death where people are given a second chance?’ (HSB)

This verse must, of course, be read in context. Moreover, we look to the RSV and NRSV for a clearer rending of the passage. Peter is urging his persecuted readers to follow the example of Christ, who was put to death in the body rather, in the flesh but made alive by rather in the Spirit, v18. Through whom in this verse should accordingly be translated in which. It is clear that two spheres of existence are being described. Christ’s death ‘in the flesh’ was the gateway to his exaltation ‘in the spirit’. Cf. the contrast in Heb 12:2: ‘who for the joy set before him endured the cross’.

‘This difficult verse probably is to be seen as parallel with 1 Pet 3:22: by his resurrection and ascension Christ manifested his victory over the principalities and powers of the present world order.’ (Eph 1:20-23 Col 2:15 1 Tim 3:16) (DLNT)

Who were these spirits in prison? The next verse connects them with the days of Noah. They may have been the spirits of wicked people from those days? (cf. Gen 6:3-6,11) More probably, they to be identified with the ‘sons of God’, Gen 6:2? These latter appear to have been fallen angels, cf. Jude 6 2 Pet 2:4. There was a long Jewish tradition (cf. 1 Enoch 10-16; 21) of these fallen angels as having been kept in a prison. The latter is the interpretation favoured by HSB.

But what did Jesus preach to these spirits? The word preached is not only used in the NT for the preaching of the gospel. It is also used for other kinds of announcement or proclamation. (cf. Lk 12:3 Rom 2:21 Rev 5:2) In 1 Enoch (known to the early church and quoted in Jude), Enoch announces to these spirits their doom. This accords with the present passage, which ends on the triumphant note of v22 with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Christ. This victory of Christ over the spirit world is attested elsewhere in the NT, e.g. 2 Cor 2:14; Eph 6:11-12; Col 2:15; Rev 12:7-11.

HSB, whose interpretation is closely followed above, concludes its discussion of this passage as follows:-

‘The Christians in Asia Minor were facing persecution and possible martyrdom. Peter calls them to look at the example of Jesus. He was, from the human point of view, killed. Yet, in fact, he rose, not simply to renewed natural life, but to transformed life in the spiritual world, and in that world he proclaimed his victory to the fallen angels who were disobedient in Noah’s day. This may have been during his ascension, for while this text does not tell us where this prison was, some Jews located it in the “second heaven” and thus on the way between earth and the heaven where God dwells. Whatever the case, in the end of this section in 1 Peter Christ is in heaven with all spiritual beings subject to him. Peter’s point is that Christians through baptism have identified with Christ and so will be saved in the final judgment and share his triumph. They too will live with Christ in exaltation, no matter how human beings persecute or condemn them. As for their persecutors, unless they repent, what hope do they have, living as they do in the purely human sphere? Christ triumphed over his foes and proclaimed his victory. The Christians in Asia Minor (and today) will do the same if they remain faithful to this Christ.’

We might tentatively propose the following paraphrase, itself based on that of Grudem: ‘Long ago, Christ went, in the realm of the spirit, and preached through Noah to those who had disobeyed. To these people, now imprisoned in hell, God in his patience was giving an opportunity for repentance even while the ark was being built.

Grudem says that this passage, in its context, functions,

  1. to encourage the readers to bear witness boldly in them midst of hostile unbelievers, just as Noah did;
  2. to assure them that though they are few, God will surely save them;
  3. to remind them of the certainty of final judgement and Christ’s ultimate triumph over all the forces of evil which oppose them.

‘Don’t be afraid; don’t be ashamed of suffering in a good cause. Those who persecute you may hurt you, but they can do you no lasting harm. Christ, in suffering, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, suffered for doing good. And, though his suffering ended in his dying in the physical realm, it ended also in his being made alive in the spiritual realm. It is in the spiritual realm that he has gone and preached the gospel via his messengers to the spiritual captives. Among such spiritual captives had been those disobedient people who long ago in Noah’s day exercised God’s patience while the ark was being built. If a few people – eight in all – could be delivered in those far-off days long before the coming of Christ, how much more is your own deliverance assured now that his saving work is finished and his reign is supreme?

What a description of those outside of Christ! They are ‘spiritual captives’. What a captivity: condemned, waiting for their sentence. Yet it is not a hopeless imprisonment. The key that will liberate the captives is at hand. What a description of our Deliverer. He has taken our place; he has paid the price; he has secured the way back to God. He only can unlock the dungeon. He only can give life to dead soul. He has give life to many, and will give it to many more, as long as this day of opportunity lasts. What a description of Christian ministry. The work of evangelism is the work of Christ. The word of salvation, faithfully proclaimed, is the word of Christ himself. We are Christ’s voice on earth.

Moffat’s translation of this verse attracted particular criticism in its day: “Enoch also went and preached to the imprisoned spirits.”

J.I. Packer (God’s Words, p210) deals with the question of whether this verse, taken with v18) gives any support for the notion of post-mortem evangelism.  In answering in the negative, he explains:-

  1. The spirits in prison are at least as likely to be fallen angels as fallen men (cf. Gen 6:1-4; Jude 6);
  2. The statement that Christ preached to spirits who disobeyed in Noah’s day more naturally implies that the preaching was not to others than that it was;
  3. ‘Preached’ (Greek kerusso, with the message unspecified, does not imply an offer of life any more naturally than it does a bare proclamation of Jesus’ triumph.

The water symbolizes – The word is antitupon, ‘antitype’.

It saves you… – See the remarkably parallel passage in Eph 1:19f.

Baptism now saves you – There is a such close connection between the symbol and the things symbolised that some, failing to distinguish at all between the two, have been ready to subscribe to baptismal regeneration. In this respect, recall the metaphor used by our Lord during the Last Supper “This is my body” – a saying which has similarly been twisted to make it mean something that it was never meant to mean, i.e., transubstantiation.

Richard Bewes illustrates by referring to a person who came to Christ after hearing a sermon on John 3:16.  “I was saved by that text,” the person might say, because of the close connection between the words of the text and the reality it expresses. (The Top 100 Questions, p274)

Seven aspects of salvation

  1. Saved by grace – its source, Eph 2:5
  2. Saved by faith – its reception, Acts 16:31
  3. Saved by baptism – its confession, 1 Peter 3:21
  4. Saved by works – its manifestation, James 2:14
  5. Saved by his life – its support, Rom 5:10
  6. Saved by fire – its proof, 1 Cor 3:15
  7. Saved by hope – its prospect, 1 Cor 3:15

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students, adapted)

What is spoken of here is ‘not the mere application of water, for that idea the apostle expressly disclaims, when he says that it involves not “putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God.” The sense is, that baptism, including all that is properly meant by baptism as a religious rite-that is, baptism administered in connexion with true repentance, and true faith in the Lord Jesus, and when it is properly a symbol of the putting away of sin, and of the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, and an act of unreserved dedication to God-now saves us.’ (Barnes)

Not the removal of dirt from the body – ‘This protest against mere outward washing was necessary in a society that was only gradually realizing that outward defilement was not spiritually significant-that is, outward removal of dirt or contamination due to contact with sinners is not the same thing as inward spiritual renewal. Still today, of course, people think that outward acts like coming to church and receiving communion somehow make them acceptable to God even if their hearts are guilty of evil. It is curious how people who rarely attend church still want baptism of their infants, church weddings and Christian funerals. Peter’s attitude rejects all such ideas in principle.’ (IVP)

By whom, and by what, are we saved?

To the question, by whom, and by what, are we saved, the New Testament gives a range of answers.

1. by God, 1 Tim 4:10
2. by Christ,
3. by Christ’s blood,
4. by Christ’s resurrection
5. by Christ’s life, Eph 1:7 Rom 5:10
6. by the Holy Spirit, Tit 3:5
7. by grace, Eph 2:4-5
8. by faith,
9. by confession of the truth, Rom 10:10
10. by believing and being baptised,
11. by baptism, 1 Pet 3:21

There is, of course, nothing contradictory here.  Each item foregrounds a different aspect of salvation, some stressing the Author of salvation, others, its instrumental means.

‘The strong declaration “baptism that now saves you” recalls Mk 16:16 as well as Peter’s “command” to baptize. (Ac 10:48) But the precise meaning needs care. It is as an appeal for a “clear conscience,” and through the triumphant resurrection and ascension of Christ above all “authorities,” that baptism achieves this “salvation.”

The readers’ situation is outlined in 1 Pet 3:13-17; 4:1-5, where again “a clear conscience” is urged and explained. The threat of persecution recurs in 4:12-19, and again is to be met by good social behavior. Against this background, baptism is no merely physical washing (as in Judaist, Essene, or pagan circles), but “the pledge of a good conscience towards God” and threatening civic authorities, ensuring innocent social conduct. This will not guarantee safety, as Christ’s suffering shows (3:18); Christians must still arm themselves to suffer unjustly. But as he triumphed so can they, in his power and protection.

This unexpected exhortation is not unsupported. At Pentecost Peter had urged his hearers to save themselves by baptism from “this crooked generation.” The Baptist had called his hearers to a baptism of repentance as the way of escape from a world under judgment. Now Peter cites Noah and his pitiful minority amid another evil generation; only eight souls saved by the flood from God’s judgment upon that sinful age. In such far-ranging thoughts Peter extends the meaning of baptism to include a promise of social responsibility, and assured support and protection, now, in face of evils that threaten new converts, and ultimate victory. The baptized have enlisted in the eternal warfare of good and evil, but their Lord has already overcome.’ (EDBT)

Just as Noah and his family were carried by the waters of the flood to safety, putting their old life behind them and their new life before them, so Christian believers are carried by the waters of baptism to safety, putting their old life behind them and their new life before them. Baptism is a symbol and seal of their new life in Christ, and an outward sign of their good conscience toward God.

The pledge of a good conscience toward God – ‘The outward act of baptism has an inner significance: the saving gift of God is there met by the resolve of faith.’ (DLNT)

‘The apostle, having mentioned the death and resurrection of Christ, proceeds to speak of his ascension, and sitting at the right hand of the Father, as a subject fit to be considered by these believers for their comfort in their suffering condition, 1 Pet 3:22. If the advancement of Christ was so glorious after his deep humiliation, let not his followers despair, but expect that after these short distresses they shall be advanced to transcendent joy and glory.’ (MHC)

Gone into heaven – ‘Though modern thinkers largely reject such a notion, the New Testament writers do not hesitate to talk about heaven in spatial terms.’

‘He went to heaven to receive his own acquired crown and glory, (Jn 17:5) to finish that part of his mediatorial work which could not be done on earth, and make intercession for his people, to demonstrate the fulness of his satisfaction, to take possession of heaven for his people, to prepare mansions for them, and to send down the Comforter, which was to be the first-fruits of his intercession, Jn 16:7.’ (MHC)

At God’s right hand – ‘This theme of Christ’s “session” (i.e. his sitting at God’s right hand) is oten mentioned in the New Testament (Mt 22:44; 26:64; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; 7:56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3,13; 10:12; 12:2; cf. Ps 110:1). It is used by the New Testament authors as an indication of Christ’s present universal authority, the finality of his completed work of redemption, and his immeasurable worthiness to receive our praise. (note Php 2:9 1 Tim 3:16 Rev 5:12) Moreover, Christ’s ascension foreshadows our future ascension and rule with him. (1 Thess 4:17 Rev 2:26-27 3:21)

With angels, authorities and powers in submission to him – ‘Angels, authorities, and powers, are all made subject to Christ Jesus: all power in heaven and earth, to command, to give law, issue orders, and pronounce a final sentence, is committed to Jesus, which his enemies will find to their everlasting sorrow and confusion, but his servants to their eternal joy and satisfaction.’ (MHC)

‘The picture here is ultimately derived from the messianic exaltation of Ps 110:1. Few verses in the Old Testament are alluded to so frequently in the New Testament. Peter emphasizes that Jesus has gone into heaven, thus speaking of his ascension, which is implicit in talk of his exaltation. It is, therefore, incorrect to suggest that the tradition of the ascension is peculiar to Luke and not found elsewhere in the New Testament. (see 1 Tim 3:16) The thought of the subordination of the hostile powers is also found in Ps 110:1. Peter refers to the hostile powers as (fallen) angels, authorities and powers; similar terms are used by Paul. (Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:16; 2:10,15; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12) The variety of terms strongly suggests that it would be wrong to try to identify different classes of powers in terms of this vocabulary or to create a consistent picture.’ (IVP)

‘Forty days after his resurrection, our Lord ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, the place of exaltation. (Ps 110:1; Acts 2:34-36; Php 2:5-11; Heb 12:1-3) Believers are seated with him in the heavenlies, (Eph 2:4-6) and through him we are able to “reign in life.” (Rom 5:17) he is ministering to the church as High Priest (Heb 4:14-16; 7:25) and Advocate. (1 Jn 1:9-2:2) he is preparing a place for his people (Jn 14:1-6) and will one day come to receive them to himself. But the main point Peter wanted to emphasize was Christ’s complete victory over all “angels and authorities and powers,” (1 Pet 3:22) referring to the evil hosts of Satan. (Eph 6:10-12 Col 2:15) The unfallen angels were always subject to him. As Christians, we do not fight for victory, but from victory- the mighty victory that our Lord Jesus Christ won for us in his death, resurrection, and ascension.’ (Wiersbe)