Lecture 48: 1 Peter Content
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Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.
III. 1 Peter (part 2)
LESSON BEGINS HERE
1. The atonement of Jesus Christ
2. Chapter 1
a. "Born anew" (1:3)
b. Continuity of Old and New (1:10)
c. Hope in the grace to be revealed (1:13)
3. Chapter 2
a. Christ the living stone (2:4-8)
i. Old Testament references
ii. New Testament quotations
b. Household rules (2:18-3:7)
4. Chapter 3
a. Atonement teaching (3:18)
b. Preaching to the spirits (3:19-20)
c. Baptism saves you (3:21)
5. Chapter 4 and 5
Lecture: 1 Peter - Content
This is an interesting book, and it’s a very strong and pregnant theological work. God is constantly being referred to time and time again. Isn’t God always referred to in the Bible? Yes, but the name isn’t given as often as in this book, where, in every 43 words, it comes up again. There’s also a strong emphasis on what we would call the Doctrine of the Atonement, the sacrificial nature. As early as the second verse, in the salutation “… we are chosen and destined by God the Father, and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood ….” We see the sacrificial nature of Jesus being referred to there. We have reference to the sufferings of Christ in v. 18, and I want point out a word used, “… you have been ransomed … not with corruptible things such as silver or gold ….” Here, we see the idea of a metaphor which we’ve seen in earlier texts of being purchased out of slavery. We once were slaves to sin, and we were ransomed through the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus paid it all, in other words.
The interesting thing, though, is that the New Testament never pushes that metaphor of ransom any further. When you use a metaphor, you use it to express one basic point. You liken something to something else. If you ask, “What is God like?” You could respond that he’s like a loving father. That’s a perfectly good metaphor. And it conjures up in people’s minds the way a father loves his children and cares for his children, and this is the way God loves his people and cares for them. You never go the next step, and say, “OK, well, who’s his wife?” You never go the next step in the New Testament when it talks about being ransomed, by asking to whom the ransom was paid. The early church, especially Origen, wrestled with the metaphor and pressed it further than it should be. The idea of being purchased through the death of Jesus Christ from our slavery is a wonderful metaphor. But that’s all the New Testament says. Later on, theologians began to speculate over the recipient of the ransom. Was it paid to Satan? Is it such that Satan had bound all of us, and Jesus gave his life to Satan to pay him off for us, and then he escaped his clutches by rising from the dead? The New Testament doesn’t do this. It recognizes that a metaphor is good to get a basic point across, but don’t press it further than that. So the ransom idea is a wonderful idea – the notion of our being slaves to our sin, and being freed and liberated by Jesus’s death, who is our ransom. But it doesn’t go on to the next step.
We have reference as we continue (1:19) to the precious blood of Jesus Christ as the Lamb without spot or blemish. In 3:13, he suffered for you once, for all. In 2:24, he bore our sins on the tree, and we’re healed with his wounds. In 3:14 he died for the just and the unjust, etc. There are lots of references in 1 Peter to the death of Jesus on our behalf.
In other terminology, in 1:3 we have something that looks almost like he’s reading John 3:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again [or born anew] to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” So we have that “born again” terminology that we usually associate with John coming up here in the Book of 1 Peter.
In 1:4, the looked-for hope, “our imperishable inheritance, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven.” In 1:10 we have this emphasis on the continuity between the old and the new, “The prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation.” So you have tie-ins with the Old Testament. Again, this is not a new religion. This is the fulfillment; the prophets looked forward to this. Now the time has come. So you have that emphasis. In 1:13, you have essentially the exhortation, “Therefore gird up your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” I get very frustrated with some of the ads that we have on television. The Nike ad says, “Just do it,” but I want to add, “Think!” We’re the ‘now generation’; nothing is to be put off – just do it. Perish the thought that you should put it off, because you may come up with reasons not to do it. But here, Peter says if you focus on the future, it will affect the way you live in the present. He says to be sober, to gird up your minds for action, and set your hope on the grace that will be brought in the future; not the immediate, not the now, not the transitory.
In 1:17, we have the idea of our living at a time of exile, of our being essentially pilgrims in this present life. And then he goes on in chapter 2 and talks about Christ as a stone (2:4-8),
“Come to that living stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
We have here three Old Testament quotations: one from Isaiah 28:16; one from Psalms 118:22 [in the Septuagint, this is in Psalms 117]; and Isaiah 8:14 – all of which refer to a stone. You have these same references in Matthew 21:42 (where the Psalm quotation is referred to); and Luke 20:17 and Acts 4:11 also refer to the Psalms quotation. Romans 9:32-33 refers to the two Isaiah quotations. So, interestingly enough, you have not only the same quotation, but Paul in Romans 9:32-33 puts two of them together (two of the three that Peter has). What it looks like is this: As the early church studied the Old Testament, they began to see in it passages that uniquely referred to the coming of Jesus and the kind of savior he would be. And these may very well have been written down and recorded in a kind of collection of what they called “The Testimonia”. This would be a listing of prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. And the fact that various writers have the same “rock” passages, indicates that it’s not just Peter who’s thinking this way, but Paul also placed two of them right next to each other. Does this indicate a possibility that the early church began to group some of these testimonies, or prophecies that were fulfilled by Christ together? It’s quite possible that there was a “testimony book” (not a printed book that was circulated in volumes), and that early church leaders, as they brought these together, associated them, and they became part of a collection of prophecies. And these “stone” prophecies would be listed together because of the common word, “stone”, just as we have here these three associated because they all have a reference to “stone” in them.
Beginning at 2:18, he then has a set of household rules. We’ve seen that earlier in Ephesians and Colossians – rules together in various ways as to how servants should submit to one another, and wives, etc. In v. 21, that text became the basis for one of the most famous books of the Christian church, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you as an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Charles Monroe Sheldon in the latter part of the nineteenth century wrote a book entitled In His Steps, in which Christians came and decided that they would seek to follow and walk in the steps that Jesus would walk if he lived today. And years ago, I remember reading that some 30 million of them had been translated and sold. Going on to 4:1, we have that same kind of teaching, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking ….” Follow Jesus; walk in his steps. It’s a very popular saying today, “What would Jesus do?” I’ve always been a little troubled by that. There are some times when it’s not really appropriate, because we can’t follow in his steps. He died once as a sacrifice for all the world, as much more than any of us can aspire. But the uniqueness of Jesus’s ministry makes that somewhat difficult. I think you might want to say, “What would Jesus have me do?” That would be fine, but if you simply say, “What would Jesus do”, that becomes difficult. You who are married, when the pastor said, “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” (or “… this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”), did you ask yourself what Jesus would do? It was not part of his ministry to be married. That’s not a fitting question at that point. In general, in terms of meekness, humility, etc., that’s fine. But I think it’s a little too simplistic to just say “what would Jesus do”, because there might be a unique aspect of his life that just doesn’t fit our particular life and what we’re planning.
We looked at 3:13-14 already. When we get to 3:18, ff. we have this very strong atonement teaching, “Christ also died for sins once for all….” In Hebrews we had that same term, “once, for all” in 7:27, 9:12, 9:26, 10:10, etc. He died for sins – that is strong sacramental terminology .You can find that also in Hebrews 5:3 and 10:26, “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” This phrase “for sins” is very strong sacrificial terminology. Jesus’s death is being viewed as a sacrifice – a strong emphasis in the New Testament, a strong emphasis here in 1 Peter, and in Hebrews especially. Continuing in 1 Peter 3:18, “… the just for the unjust …” or “… the righteous for the unrighteous…” in some translations. Here, this is even more pointedly referred to in the sense of the just in the place of the unjust, like in Mark 10:45. And we have the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement as well.
I remember on sabbatical in Germany I talked to the leader of a doctoral seminar who was doing something that was very courageous and unusual for a professor in a German university when he referred to the death of Jesus in the New Testament as a sacrifice. That was just looked down upon by most of the German theologians. They didn’t want anything to do with sacrifice – it’s primitive, it’s certainly uncultural, etc. And he was arguing, and several others at Tubingen were also arguing that it wasn’t sacrifice. The question then came up, “Was it a sacrifice as a substitute?” And he replied, “No, I never said that.” It was a sacrificial death, yes, but not substitutionary. And he had the hardest time with that, and at the end of the doctoral seminar that day, he ended in a way that it was hanging in the air. The next time we met was two weeks later, and he spent the whole hour trying to argue for sacrifice – yes; substitutionary – no. And another colleague who was there and I both agreed that the more he was trying to argue against substitutionary, the more it became apparent that it was substitutionary. It was very difficult for him, and Peter here I think says that it’s not only sacrificial, but the “just for the unjust” looks very substitutionary: the righteous for the unrighteous, or in the place of them, “… that he might bring us to God ….”
The purpose of all of this is in order that he might bring us to God. He doesn’t develop that. In other words, somehow, through the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, he brings us to God. That’s part of the raw material that you use in developing a theology of the atonement. But he doesn’t go further than that. He doesn’t explain specifically how this sacrifice brings us to God. And what systematic theology does now is to take this raw material and bring other raw materials together and bring a systemized understanding of the New Testament with regard to that. And it takes other ideas into consideration, such as the idea of a “ransom”, the idea of “reconciliation”, of “propitiation”, and you have all of these various metaphors used to describe Jesus’s death, and now you systematize that into a system of theology. That’s what systematic theology does.
At this point, I think all we could say is that Peter tells us that through Jesus’s sacrificial death, he brings about our being accepted by God. Other materials, when you add to that, enable us to go further and become more specific in that respect. And I think I believe in a substitutionary atonement. I don’t think I would be able to say that that’s what he’s specifically trying to say here – I think that goes a little further than what Peter is saying in that regard.
Then he goes on in saying that he was “put to death in the flesh and made alive in the Spirit”, and then in v. 19 “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” And then we see also in 4:6, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit like God.” These passages (3:19-20 and 4:6) have been interpreted in two ways. One interpretation is seen in the last statement that became part of the Apostles’ Creed.
The Apostles’ Creed is an early church creed. It was not developed by “the apostles”. It was called the Apostles’ Creed because it encapsulated in the mind of the early church the basic teachings of the apostles. But the last statement of the creed to be agreed upon as part of it was, “He descended into hell.” That is based on a particular understanding that, when Jesus died, he went and “preached to the spirits in prison” immediately after his death, and these who were there from Noah’s day, and so forth. And in 4:6, “preaching to the dead”, right after his death he descended to hell and preached that way. I think it’s a more popular way of interpreting it to understand that 1 Peter 3:19-20 refer not after the resurrection but that the spirit and Jesus worked through Noah, and in Noah’s day preached to those who at that time did not obey, and who now are dead. And that, instead of saying that right after the resurrection he descended to hell and did these things, it was rather that, in the time of Noah, the Spirit of Christ working through Noah and others preached to people to repent back then, to those who today, now, are dead. That’s why it was preached to those who now are dead, but were alive when they heard that preaching back then. As I say, I think that is the weakest part of the Apostles’ Creed, and I don’t think it’s based on good exegesis of this.
Then he draws an analogy to baptism which corresponds to their having been saved through water that “now saves you”. If you accept what I’ve argued earlier in the semester, that baptism is part of the conversion process, intimately associated with repentance, faith, confession, and being born again, that verse is not a major problem. If we separate baptism from the conversion experience, and make it something subsequent, an act of obedience after conversion, which corresponds to our experience but not the early church’s, then somehow baptism saving you has to be translated as something other than baptism as such. It has to be some sort of other experience, or to say “baptism symbolizes this”, but it doesn’t’ carry it out specifically.
One other comment that I should have made earlier: When we talked about the possibility that 3:19-20 and 4:6 refer to Jesus after his resurrection preaching to those in prison, that too has been interpreted by those who hold this in one of two ways. One is that it was a victorious proclamation vindicating him and also bringing a message of condemnation upon them, or the other is that it was a redemptive message, giving a second chance to those at that time. It gets more confusing as you get into this preaching to the dead, if you interpret it in that way, but those are the possibilities there.
Verse 5:12, once again, as it comes to the end, brings a concluding exhortation summary, “By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” Hang in there, in Jesus Christ. We have now our really very brief overview of 1 Peter.
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