Lecture 14: 1 Peter
Lecture: 1 Peter
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Petro greeted the visiting team of American seminary professors cordially but cautiously. None of them had ever been to his country before but several of them spoke as though they considered themselves expects on how Christians in his land should relate to their society and government. On the one hand, there were those who were suspicious of any cooperation with the State because it had a history of repressing evangelical witness. These professors inclined toward the church to stick to preaching the Gospel, by which they meant the message of calling individual sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus. It was also important for Christians to love one another and take care of their own, so to speak, in a society where irrespective of government policies, only a handful of people were Protestants of any kind while another group of professors stressed a quite different kind of message. The reason the government is suspicious of you and at worst persecuting you is they don’t see you caring for the physical and social needs of hurting people all around, they would argue. Tell them that Jesus in the Scriptures tell Christians to be concerned for the poor, to do their best to get alone with the governing authorities and get involves with programs of social concern; then you will have an open door to share more about your faith in Christ.
Both perspectives made sense to Petro, at least, in part. His country had been under a notorious dictator for some time, but it had been a decade since there had been any overt persecution. The pastor of his own Baptist congregation, Reverend Fernandez who years ago spent time in jail for his faith, but now preached openly in a downtown church of the capital city. Every now and then a government representative would come incognito to check up on things but in the past few years, more often than not, they simply got converted. But for the most part, the only messages Pastor Fernandez preached were about personal spiritual piety. He stayed well clear about any statements on social or political issues. In fact from one point of view, the future might turn out to be a rosy one, religiously speaking; at least, for mainline protestant churches were given freedoms and endorsements in this historically Roman Catholic country. An interdenominational seminary had been allowed to open and was flourishing. In the evangelical world, house churches were being planted at an unprecedented rate and charismatic groups had begun to begin worship and social action to an extent previously unknown in this part of the world.
On the other hand, on a political and economic front, the future seemed bleak. Foreign aid from the wealthier countries of the world that had historically supported Petro’s nation was increasingly shrinking and austere government rationing of such basics as electricity, gas and oil and various food stuffs had begun. From time to time, talks of coup attempts swept local neighborhoods, but the president of the country seemed so firmly in power that the most that ever happened was a round up and imprisonment of their various alleged dissidents. Non-Christians were jittery that if anybody, Christians included, started to cause trouble in social political arena, innocent people would suffer as well. In such a folk culture, one might be described as being more concerned with fiesta than with serious morality. Religion was okay, indeed, it was officially pervasive throughout society as long as it was primarily a matter of ritual and ceremony rather than social and personal transformation.
The stakes suddenly heightened in the conversation; Doctor Nordstrom, from the Kansas senate of the Lutheran Church announced that in negotiations between his denominational executives and government representatives, he had received permission for his church to buy a prized ocean front piece of property for church work. The major function of the land would be a retreat center for Christian young of all denominations. Americans in partnership with local Latin Christian leaders would have complete freedom to teach and preach whatever they wanted with two stipulations: one, part of their work had to include material aid to impoverished and homeless children of the nearby capital and second, they were not allowed to criticize the social or political policies of the government. So Petro was asked, would he be willing to head up the national wing of this joint venture? Petro thought and wished he knew how to answer.
What you have just heard, unlike the introduction to the Epistle to the Hebrews in the previous lecture, is something that the lecture wrote, never published as a case study where all the names and various minor details have been changed to preclude identification of any of the participants but otherwise the details are based on a composite of two experiences in which the lecturer was involved during the decade of the 90’s. The student who is listening to this serious of lectures might wish to pause and reflect some on how he or she would begin to address the situation, particularly in light of 1st Peter. If there are any students working together as they take this course, this would be an ideal time for some joint conversation and discussion.
II. Similarities that 1 Peter has with Hebrews and James
We’ve entitled 1st Peter, ‘perseverance’, despite the persecution; and as we unfold the contents of this letter, we will see that it seemingly attempts to walk a fine line between the extremes of inadequately emphasizing personal piety and holiness in faith in Jesus for the sake of social outreach. And there is an inadequacy of being sensitive to the needs of society in the name of preaching the Gospel. It is a fine line that many in the church have not attempted to walk, preferring simply one’s side or the other of the equation. And for those who have made the attempt, by their own admission, it is incredible easy to fall off the tightrope in one direction or the other. But before we come back to those juxtaposed themes and possible applications to this case study. Now that we are arriving at our third non-Pauline epistle of the remaining letters of the New Testament, it’s interesting to reflect on the similarities and differences that we’ve seen thus far. For example, if we compare 1st Peter with Hebrews we will discover that the best we can reconstruct is the daily circumstances of the composition and the delivery of this letter, both suggest they were written almost at the same time and that was before Nero’s persecution had become particularly intense. But where things loomed on the horizon suggesting that they might get worse before they got better; in 1st Peter, perhaps the most significant text, typically brought into this conversation is in chapter 3:13 reads, ‘who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?’ If we stop there, in the 21st century, people could recite a litany of the tyrants and dictators of world history, but we know that we must consider every Scripture and context.
We continue to read in verse 14, ‘but even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.’ Note that this sentence structure was very rare at least by 1st century koine Greek standards. (The lecturer speaks and explains linguistically of the rarity and specifics of this ‘if statement/condition’ in Greek. There are four types or conditions of such a sentence in English also, each having their own meaning.) And the closest thing one finds anywhere in the New Testament to a fourth class condition. That is to say, a sentence, if it were complete, would be a full fourth class condition in the Greek, in which a grammarian sometimes speaks of the future less probable. Less probable than the third class condition that employs the subjunctive mood for the verbs that introduces some measure of doubt into an ‘if’ clause. Here the fourth class condition introduces even more doubt. If the persecution had begun in Rome, it’s unlikely that Peter could have written and introduced this kind of doubt. Even if you should suffer for doing what is right and yet at the same time, he recognizes what he calls a fiery ordeal, more literal than some translations read.
In 5:12, ‘it has come on you to test you as if something strange were happening to you, but rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ.’ In verse 13 it continues, ‘so that you may be over joyed when his glory is revealed.’ We have no evidence of Peter in Rome, despite a long standing Catholic tradition to the contrary. Prior to the 60’s and the reference to Babylon in 5:13, this is almost certainly a code word for Rome as unambiguously in the Book of Revelation at the end of the 1st century. Because Babylon of the Old Testament lay in ruins and only a small village nearby populated that part of Peter’s world. The indication is that he or the Christian message arrived there anytime soon after the formation after the Christian movement.
A difference between 1st Peter and Hebrews, however, has to do with how Rome figures into the background circumstances. With Hebrews, it seems most likely that the churches to which the writer addresses his letter were in Rome, but he was someplace else, maybe in Jerusalem. Here, it is Peter who is in Rome and he is writing explicitly in chapter 1:1 to believers scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, all of which form part of western and northern Tuckey today. What then if we compare James and 1st Peter? Now we are struck by the similarities of the introduction of these two letters. If we recall in James 1:1, he identifies himself and then greets the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. Peter also in 1:1 speaks of God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout and then lists the given provinces just mentioned. God’s elect, of course had been in the Jewish people and the scattering here refers to the same dispersion in the diaspora that James addresses at the beginning of his letter. But despite those very similar introductions, was everything in the letter of James could be accounted for within the constraints of a Hellenistic Jewish audience in the 1st century. The statements in 1st Peter that make it likely that at least a majority of his audiences, not least because of comparative pockets of Jews in the areas mentioned were gentile.
Chapter 4:3-4 read, ‘for you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do;’ gentiles, heathens, and nations living in lust, debauchery, drunkenness, orgies and detestable idolatry. Whatever else one wanted to say about Jewish failings at key junctures throughout their history, in that sense could 1st century Judaism in any identifiable location in which we were aware be described in general with these very pagan practices. And only slightly less conclusive is the language of 2:10, ‘once you were not a people but you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy.’ Language which is applied to rebellious disobedient Israel in its worst moments in the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Isaiah and Hosea, but not what one would expect Peter, a Jewish believer himself to be writing to former non-Christian Jews in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. If those premises are correct, then we have a striking example already in chapter 1:1 of applying language exclusively reserved for God’s people, the nation of Israel, the chosen race, the elect country, applied to gentile Christian churches that may have had a small amount of Jewish believers among them.
This does not prove that Israel has become the church without remainder, spiritually speaking, but it certainly gives the lie to any who would make a sharp dichotomy between Israel and the church. At the very least, it shows a substantial overlapping of the church in Israel in a very striking fashion with which Jewish and gentile believers of any age must come to grips. We have spoken already of the locations in the country of northern Tuckey and one can look on the map to see the provinces of Bithynia and Pontus, Galatia, and Cappadocia. It’s not difficult to think that Peter sent a copy of his letter from Rome to be delivered to each of these provincial locations.
III. 1 Peter Outline (Simplest Version)
What does Peter have to say and how should we outline it? Perhaps the simplest version is to see the opening twelve verses which return to the form of a conventional Hellenistic letter with greetings and thanksgivings, though in a form of praise or sobraraka in Greek as we first discussed in 2nd Corinthians. Chapter 1:1-12 in the context of that praise presents a problem for which the rest of Peter’s letter is a response to the growing suffering that believers are having to experience. Verse 6 reinforces what we saw earlier though, namely the suffering is growing. Though Peter believes it is a comparative short period of time they will have to endure. He writes, ‘in all of this you greatly rejoice,’ that is their salvation, ‘though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.’ This is also what chapter 4 suggests; as we continue to read on, these trials go beyond anything officially coming out of Rome to the more sporadic but also more widespread local harassments and hostility from local officials just from fellow town’s people and kinfolk and family and friends. In 4:4, Peter says that they’re surprised that you do not join them in their reckless wild living and they heap abuse on you. In 21st century local English, they would say, ‘what’s wrong with you? You’re not partying with us anymore.’ The abuse is perhaps largely verbal. Even here in this introductory 12 verse section in this praise, we get a key hint at the purposes of God in allowing this suffering. We saw several when we introduced 2nd Corinthians but another one, though not unrelated to those we saw before, is that which is introduced in verse 7, ‘they are come so that your faith which is a greater worth than gold, perishes, even though refined by fire may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.’ That is to say, they have a purifying value for the individual, for the Christian community when they throw themselves and their independence on God’s mercy in such difficult times.
The body of the letter begins in 1:13 and almost all commentators recognize that 1:13 – 2:10 hang together as a section, dealing on holiness. As a section on maintaining that purity that suffering can accomplish in every aspect of Christian living as a Christian community, as one looks internally, focuses within to keep their own house in order. And again, we see that in an even more striking fashion than we did in the opening verse, the language of Israel further applied to the church, particularly in chapter 2:5. They are living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And again, we see a remarkable cluster of such terms in verse 9, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special procession. His particular people, older translations sometimes put it; particular in the sense of distinctive. But then, beginning in 2:11 and here commentators don’t agree as to where the section ends, we have a domestic code of a certain literary form such as in Colossians and further examination of such a code in Ephesians. This is not holy living in the literal or metaphorical monastic community, largely out of sight of an otherwise would be watching world. This is right living in society that demonstrates painfully, in times of persecution, submission to the Emperor as well as too many other categories to authority as we saw was the content that characterize this literary form. This is much like we discussed with Titus, it interesting to see how repeatedly Peter refers to the apologetic value of such submission. 2:12 says, ‘live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he comes.’ This is suggesting that they may well become saved or in 2:15, ‘for it is God’s will that by doing good, you should silence the ignorant talk of the foolish.’ Here they may necessarily convert but at least the malicious false claims ‘that Christians spread social disorder,’ can be put to rest.
In chapter 3:1, in the context of wives submitting to their husbands; when those husbands are unbelievers and when the wives submit without word, when they have given their testimony and continue to speak and perhaps berate their husbands for not converting, would be to nag them and even alienate them from the Gospel, at worst. Nevertheless, it is Peter’s hope that they may win over without words by the behavior of their wives. As they explain in verse 2 when they see the purity and reverence of those lives, and finally in 3:16, ‘keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ, may be ashamed of their slander. Like 2:15, this may or may not lead to conversion but it at least leads to a change of heart. Those two contrasting motives or purposes or responses or all of the above in suffering, depending on whether one looks at it from God perspective or human perspective or both, then are joined together and summed up in 4:1-19 with the reiterated promise that the end is near, that God will judge and all the wrongs of the world will one day be righted. If the judgement of God begins with the household of God, if even his people do not escape through God’s permissive will, the hardships that persecution is causing, what will happen when God more directly, judges those who have unleashed that persecution on his people? And with Wayne Gruderment, his Tindale Bible Commentary on 1st Peter, it is very plausible to see 4:19 as summarizing everything in the letter thus far and perhaps representing a thesis or summary statement for the letter.
IV. The "Domestic Code" (Haustafel) in the Epistles
So then for those who suffer, according to God’s will as opposed to suffering for being criminals or being tactless or idiots. There’s the problem that chapter 1 put forward, ‘should commit themselves to their faithful creator.’ There is the faithfulness, holiness, the piety as the first main response to the situation of suffering, ‘and continue to do good.’ Interestingly Bruce Winters points out that more often than not, the expression, ‘do good’ in New Testament epistles and in somewhat similar writings elsewhere, from that day, had the good of benefaction, of stewardship, of doing good with one’s money and material possessions. There is the second response to the problem, as it is all tied together, which would then leave chapter 5 as not the first time exhortation material appears in this letter. Though it begins and ends like a letter, the body intersperses exhortation and theology more like Hebrews did than like Paul’s letter did. But unlike Hebrews, it is the imperative that leads to the indicative, it’s the command that leads to the theological rational; where in Hebrews, it was the theological superiority of Christ that led to warnings. But to the extent that we can speak of an uninterrupted exhortation section toward the end of the letter body and 5:1 and following fits into that category. Intriguingly another element, a domestic code of sorts, like we’ve seen before but with the previously unparalleled content, except for that one stray verse in Hebrews 13:7 about the submission of the church to their elders.
The next PowerPoint slide reminds us of the similarities and differences between these various categories of authority and subordinate relationships. Both Peter and Paul in Colossians and Ephesians speak about husbands and wives and masters and slaves. But Peter says nothing about parents and children, substituting instead government and citizens and those three form a back to back trio of relationships in chapters 2 and 3. But then here, separated spatially in the originally scroll that Peter penned, hence the dashed lines in the chart to set this fourth category off from the other three is the relationship of elders to the rest of the church as well. Are these relationships for Peter that are purely for the sake of evangelism so that in a very different culture and very different era of human history, Peter were to have been confronted with people who saw equal relationships between categories paired in Peter’s domestic household. Would his advice have been to forget headship, to forget submission, which would be counter-productive to the Gospel in an egalitarian culture such as abandoning them would have been counter-productive in his world. One could read a lot of Peter, a higher percentage than of Titus and perhaps begin to formulate this hypothesis but then it is striking that when Peter finishes it, he speaks about continuing to do good, the good that Hellenistic philosophers talked so much about, that referred to that which was inherently virtuous in a more timeless or normative fashion and so the tension and polarization, the debate between egalitarian and complementarian, this time more in terms of gender roles in the home and family than in the church remains still unresolved.
V. 1 Peter Outline
To continue from lecture 29 on 1st Peter part 1, there is however, a slightly fuller outline that recognizes the role of three other passages, superimposed onto the simpler structure we’ve already identified. Each of which forms a tightly knit paragraph of densely packed Christological doctrine in ways reminiscent of Colossians 1 and Philippians 2 and 1st Timothy 3, suggesting that these may, like those texts that had been early Christian hymns or creeds or confessions that predated Peter in the early 60’s and are once again, a window into the high and very developed Christology in the church, very early within its first generation. Unlike those liberal revolutionary hypothesis that are claimed only by the very end of the first century or later, was anybody speaking of Jesus as a simple Jewish rabbi in such exalted terminology.
The first of these Christological confessions punctuates the call to holy living and comes at the end of chapter 1:18-21. ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handled down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ; a lamp without blemish or defect, he was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. To him, you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, so your faith and hope are in God.’ There are references to redemption, references to Christ’s lack of sin, to his veracious sacrificial atonement, to his election as part of God’s plan before the creation of the world to play the role that he did; to the fact that the end times now have begun since he was revealed to the world. A reference to the manner of appropriating that salvation by belief, faith and hope; a reference to the central features of the climax of Christ’s earthly ministries that make that faith properly placed. The resurrection, the ascension and return to the right hand of the Father.
Then comes the domestic code or way of life which in 3:7 where the three explicit pairs of subordination and authority relationships are finished though there is no natural fanatic break and grammatical suture at the same time from this theme until chapter 3. Tucked into this segment at the very end of the chapter 2, we read in verse 21-25, ‘to this you were called enduring suffering at times for doing good (verse 20) because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth. Then Peter continues when they heralded their insults at him, he did not retaliate. When he suffered he didn’t make any threats, instead he entrusted himself to him to judge justly. ‘He bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness’, quoting from the suffering servant passage of Isaiah; ‘by his wounds you have been healed, for you were like sheep going astray’, and Peter closes in his own words, ‘but now you have returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls. Still, primarily focusing on Christ’s death but now going beyond the atoning purposes which are foundational and preeminent to the extemporary purposes; a model for believers to follow, non-retaliation, not committing any sins, even verbal sin when mistreated or abused or sinned against, trusting God as a just judge who will punish the unrepentant persecutor beyond anything we could ever hope to meet out on them. Meaning that it is no role of ours to make life anymore miserable for them; to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute them as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. Preeminent so that if there might be any means by which they might come to faith in Christ and avoid an eternity of suffering for their sins, that that might take place. This is a beautiful metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep, of the true bishop or pastor, the overseer of our souls, who heals our wounds, our sins that we might live to righteousness.
And then the third Christological confession, tucked into the later part of chapter 3 which is clearly transitional in everyone’s outline. It’s just harder to know whether it goes more with what comes before or more with what comes later. But even this outline for the sake of presenting a different approach makes the break with 3:7 and begins a new section in 3:8 to the end of chapter 4, but still can be entitled, ‘suffering’ for being a Christian. This is the most lengthy and complex and puzzling and hence controversial of the Christological confessions anywhere in the New Testament. Christ also suffered once for our sins as 3:18 says, ‘the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit. In that state, he went and made proclamations to the imprisoned spirits to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah when the Ark was being built, which only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water and this symbolizes baptism that now saves you also, not the removable of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscious toward God that saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ who has gone into heaven and is now God’s right hand with angels authority and powers in submission to him.
VI. 1 Peter 3:18-22 Unpacked
An emerging consensus certainly within the last half century of commentary writing on 1st Peter and other forms of scholarly investigation. This is well unpacked in meticulous detail along with the full history of the investigation of this passage and of its treatment throughout the church history and a book, now in its second edition, by William Dothan called ‘Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits’. Dothan, in keeping with our senses formulates an understanding in this passage in what is being described here, after Christ’s atoning death. In verse 18a, Christ is announcing victory over the demonic realm as part of return to heaven to the right hand of God, the Father in what has become known as his ascension. Though that last piece as part of his return to heaven is the least agreed upon; some would agree that this is Christ announcing victory over the demonic realm but would want to place it as church tradition has historically, far more often than not, placed it between the death of Jesus’ body and that body’s resurrection and reuniting with his spirit. We will come back to that passage and see how such interpretation has arrived at, but before we get lost in the forest and the lose sight of it for the sake of looking at individual trees. Notice the function of this confession, as for it immediately goes on to disclose with its transitional therefore, ‘since Christ suffered in his body,’ in the crucifixion in some subsequent time led to the announcement of his victory over the demonic realm. Arm yourselves also with the same attitude, being willing to be martyred if it should come to that extreme, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. And that is certainly true for the Christian martyr; it’s by no means true in any absolute sense but those who suffer short of death, at least not in this life.
But Peter is probably linking this back to the point he made already in 1:7 and following, about the purifying value of at least a significant quantity of the dross of our souls. And then in verse 6 of chapter 4, a verse that has often been taken as referring to the same thing as 3:18-22, whatever that is; this is the reason the Gospel was preached even to those who are now dead. What reason verse 5 tells all people, good and evil, alive and dead, Christian and non-Christian, will have to give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. And because that judgement is a fearful thing for the unbeliever, the Gospel is preach even to those who now have died, with the suppressed understood clause that those who became believers as a result. Though they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, they die like everyone else, perhaps even under persecution. So that they might live according to God in regards to the spirit; in the intermediate state, they would be alive with Jesus in heaven and that spirit would one day be reunited with its resurrection body in the eternal state, rather than judged and thrown into hell.
The interpretation of 4:6 is controversial, not only because of its somewhat opaque nature, but because the NIV and certain other modern translations introduce the word, ‘now or into’ the clause. The Gospel is preached even to those who are dead. This is the closest that one finds anything in the New Testament to the contradiction to Hebrews 9:27 which we discussed in our previous lecture. It is appointed for humans to die once and then comes judgement, but in the flow of thought, it makes perfect sense for Peter to mean that the dead to be those who are now dead and that the preaching of the Gospel occurred earlier when they were still alive. This is by the logic we’ve attempted to rephrase. And then once again, there comes exhortation and closing. Can we defend it in more detail, this quasi-consensual approach to 1st Peter 3:18-22? Or are we to see this as also second chance at salvation? Or perhaps a first chance for those who have never heard in this life, or is it with certain wings of church history that this is Christ taking those who were Old Testament saints or believers and leaving captivity captive as the Psalmist puts it. As Paul quoted in Ephesian 4 and taking his people as it were now to a new place, heaven, distinct from the general underworld shadowy place called sheol or the place of the grave where good and wicked alike seemingly co-existed in a rather nebulous or rather not too positive or negative existence in pre-Christian times. This last approach is probably the second most likely approach and is the most well-known and the majority view throughout church history. So we would like to suggest that the more modern consensus would otherwise be the second most common approach throughout church history and this is perhaps the most probable.
Problems begin already with the later part of verse 18 and beginning of verse 19, Christ was put to death in the body but made alive in the spirit, or by the spirit. The older NIV additions are preferable to today’s NIV in this respect in giving such options. In that state or in which condition as being made alive in the spirit, he went and made proclamation. ‘For’ could also be translated by whom, capital S as for spirit or through whom. If this is Christ’s human spirit, then it is probably a reference to the portions of three days between the crucifixion and resurrection in which his spirit was temporarily separated from his body. If it’s by the spirit and through whom, it could be the same period of time but it also leaves the door open for it to be some later period of time. Verse 19 declares that Christ went and proclaimed or preached to the imprisoned spirits; the verb here for preached is the verb that comes from Greek Kerusso from which we get the cognate noun ceryx for a herald, one who announces a message. This is not necessarily a message of good news; that verb is euaggelizo, to evangelize. In the Greek New Testament, more often than not this referred to the author of the good news, of salvation in Jesus Christ. So too did Kerusso in various contexts but not as consistently, and its root meaning does not require the news to be good news of any kind as euaggelizo does. That would fit an announcement that at least for the audience for whom it was directed. It would not have been good news at all, the imprisoned spirits. And spirits in Greek is Konueta the plural of Konuma. When used in the New Testament eighteen or so times, without exception in other passages when not qualified, when not further modified by some word or expression making it clear that humans are in view, always refers to angelic or demonic and particular demonic spirits. Given that these are imprisoned, they must be demonic rather than angelic and there is nothing in the passage that would suggest that Peter is using the expression in any other way.
What is this about Noah then, if this has nothing to do with Old Testament saints? Who were those who were disobedient long ago in the days that Noah built the Ark if not the wicked human race of that day? And how then can we take this to be a reference to demonic spirits? At this point, we’ll probably have to reflect on texts like 2nd Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 and other intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic traditions that saw demonic powers behind that uniquely wicked race of humans that God had to judge at the time of the flood. That may be the best understanding of that enigmatic text at the beginning of Genesis 6, ‘When humankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose.’ In which the sons of God mingled with the daughters of men and apparently a race of giants more unambiguously, a race of particularly wicked people resulted. Sons of God was a terms that could be used for angels or demons; it could also be used for aristocratic and powerful chieftains in the ancient Middle East. We don’t need to suppose that Genesis here is talking about literal copulation between demons and humans and human women but that powerful godless human leaders took the daughters of ordinary uninfluential families and involved them and their off spring in their wicked practice in a way that could in the unseen spiritual realm be attributed only to demonic forces. Interesting that Peter goes on, not only to make this analogy between the imprisoned spirits of 1st century and representative sampling of them who disobeyed in Noah’s day. But it goes on to contrast analogically or even typologically as well with the physical salvation, the rescue of Noah and his extended family, eight people in all, with Christian salvation. And he thinks of the waters of baptism to which the Christian is immersed and then rescued as it were. The analogy is to the much greater waters that the Ark of Noah had to sail, sustaining and preserving that family from flood that otherwise judged the inhabitants of the earth.
And in making this analogy, he says, seemingly quite plainly in the beginning of verse 21 of 1st Peter 3, this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also. Not in some physical sense obviously but spiritual salvation, for those who endorsed what theologians called the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, this is often presented as the clearest text in support of that doctrine. Baptism now saved you, how clear could you want it? Well, maybe; let us at least read the whole verse, ‘baptism now saves us, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.’ Pledge could also be rendered ‘appeal’ and therefore the entire phrase could be translated as, ‘an appeal to God for a clear conscience.’ Either way, this text is crystal clear but not as one might have thought if one stopped mid-sentence. It saves us in that it is the outward sign, the pledge, the appeal, and a symbol of an inward reality, a clear conscience, born out of faith and not any works or outward ritual. And then let’s at least read on, that this salvation takes place by means of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If it weren’t for God’s finished work, our faith would be meaningless and if it weren’t for our faith, the symbolism of baptism would be meaningless.
And finally in verse 22, ‘who that is Christ has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities and powers being made subject to him.’ This reinforces our understanding of this is about announcing victory over the evil powers; it also provides a hint for those who do locate this action as part of the ascension because the word translated has gone in verse 22, is the Greek participle, peruface, which is the identical word that appears in verse 19, having gone. He preached and in verse 22, Jesus Christ who having gone is at God’s right hand; coincidence? And that particular form of that verb is not common in the New Testament and found nowhere else in 1st Peter. Or is this Peter’s subtle way of tipping off that, the going to the right hand of heaven, ascension and exhortation was also the time in which he went preached to the spirits in prison in case we are thrown right back to our model of multiple heavens and one of those heaven in-between the earth’s atmosphere and final throne room of God is the unseen world of spiritual warfare where angels and demons reside and at times do battle? If that’s not the correct interpretation then we probably are meant to imagine this as a descent to the underworld. But there is no other New Testament text that even is as potentially clearly as this one, teaches that doctrine. Ephesians 4:8 is the next closest, ‘Therefore it says, ‘when he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.’ So what is the meaning of ‘he ascended,’ except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth?’ This most likely refers to the incarnation and that the lower parts are the earth and Jesus’ words to the criminal on the Cross who repented, ‘truly, I say to you, today, you shall be with me in paradise.’ If he did go to the underworld first, it was a very quick trip because by 3 pm that day he died and the day ended by Jewish reckoning at 6 pm that very same afternoon. So perhaps the view that sees this is part of the ascension should be given more attention than it sometimes is.
VII. Responses to Persecution and Injustice in James and 1 Peter
There are many other things that we could talk about with respect to 1st Peter; I have chosen only one other and that corresponds to the last slide which reflects on the similarities and differences among the general and Catholic Epistles. It is the responses to persecution and injustice that we have seen but not systematically treated. In James it was the exploitation and withholding of wages, which could lead to poor migrant workers not eating on given days. In James 5:7-11, commended prayer, repeatedly; trust in God’s eschatological vengeance, his perfect justice, another added to his perfect time-table. But yet encouraged, speaking the way of the prophets in Job spoke in the name of the Lord; denunciatory prophetic rhetoric, preaching that includes themes of social injustice and presumably by implication peaceful non-retaliatory means of trying to implement those principles of justice. But never condoning or hinting at any setting in which God’s people as the church, what they may or may not decide to do as citizens. No actual justification for the church for individuals wearing their hats as Christians to take up violence. In 1st Peter, we have longer segments of the domestic code that keeps coming back to this issue, ‘do good to those who mistreat you,’ echoing the language of the Sermon on the Mount. Bear up unjust suffering as Christ did, appealing to his extemporary model, recognizing that at times when non-Christian authorities command things that go against God’s will and then God’s will must be followed and non-Christian authorities disobeyed. In 3:1-7 a couple in largely Greco-Roman land of the 1st century were with a Christian wife and non-Christian husband, unless that Christian wife violated the teaching not to marry a non-Christian husband was because she had converted in response to the Gospel message, but he had not yet converted.
And that very act of conversion was an act of disobedience because in the Greco-Roman world, it was incumbent upon a wife to take upon herself if she did not already have it and maintain the religion of her husband. But again, such civil disobedience has its limits as ultimately it is only God who will avenge and once again, no actual justification for violence. One can’t help but ask if the combination, both of those themes that are repeated as well as those that are distinctive to James and Peter is not reasonable indicative of a broader cross section of Biblical theology on the topic, certainly both relying on allusions to Jesus’ own teaching, who we saw when we discussed about James carrying on in the tradition of the prophets and the Torah before them. It does not solve the debate between pacifists and just war or mediating view of just peacemaking of Glen Stassen and David Gussy and others, not least in their recent book, Kingdom Ethics. But it suggest that the Christian has no place for a crusade mentality for going to war in Christ’s name, but what is called is perhaps the most counter-cultural statement of the Gospel, what Samuel Sand, back in the 1960’s said that the only statement out of the Sermon on the Mount that had no ambiguous parallel and subsequent Jewish or Rabbinic thought was to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That, at least, is what the Christian church is known for. Whatever individual church members as part of citizens feel conscience bound to do when their government calls them to war. How are we doing in the 21st century when tragically most of the world looks at America and at evangelical Christianity and sees nothing but a hand made for the Republican Party and wars in the Middle East? We’ve got a long way to go.