In 1 Peter 1:5-7, the writer has described a virtuous life. But the one who lacks these qualities has forgotten they are cleansed of sin (v.9).  Two metaphors are used to describe someone that lacks the virtues listed in verses 5-7.OK

First, they are like people who have poor vision. They are not blind, but so nearsighted that they might as well be blind. Perhaps we might call that “legally blind” in contemporary Mr-magooculture. If you really cannot see well, you find yourself in difficult, embarrassing, or potentially dangerous situations. It is one thing to not be able to read a menu in a restaurant, for example, and quite another to not be able to tell one person from another. Worse yet, if you cannot see well enough to read street signs, driving a car becomes very dangerous.

In the same way, someone that is not developing godliness does not have the spiritual vision to recognize dangers around them and may find themselves not just in an embarrassing situation, but a spiritually dangerous place. A Christian who lacks self-control may say something that is harsh or judgmental when they ought to have controlled their tongue (this is something I have done many times!) They might even be too blind to know that their harsh speech is doing more harm than good.

The second metaphor is forgetfulness. A person who is not perusing godliness has simply forgotten what they are, a forgiven sinner. Most people have had a moment when they forgot something important. Usually it is a name, or something that you RememberAllsaid you would do, etc. Like blindness, forgetfulness can lead to embarrassment (who are you again?) but also to potential danger. Think of people who have serious problems remembering who they are, such as an amnesiac or a person suffering from Alzheimer syndrome. It might be dangerous for a person to be on their own because they have forgotten critically important information that will keep them out of danger.

The person who is not pursuing godliness in Peter 1:9 has forgotten the most important thing imaginable, they have forgotten that they have already been cleansed from sin. Imagine a very dirty child who takes a bath so that they are ready for bed, and then wants to go out and play in the mud again. The believer has already been cleansed of sin, why would they “forget” and go back to their past sins?

This too might be a hint at the problem Peter needs to address in the letter. The opponents claim to have superior godly knowledge of God, and that knowledge allows them (or so they claim) to behave in any way they choose. They are “sinning that grace may abound,” to use the Pauline phrase, since later in the letter Peter will say that the opponents are twisting Paul’s letters in order to support their sin.

Once again I think Peter’s letter is applicable to the current state of the Western church. In our pursuit of some good things, we have lost sight of the most important elements of the Gospel. What is the Church blind to? What are we not seeing (or worse, closing our eyes to?) What have we forgotten in the Gospel?

Is it possible by forgetting what is really important we have become like a child who wants to go play in the mud again?


Like several other places in the New Testament, Peter offers a list of virtues to describe what a “godly life” might look like. The structure of the list is like a staircase (a and b, b and c, etc.) This is a Hellenistic Greek style known as sorites, and is rare in the New Testament (Rom 5:3-5 is the only other example), but appears in Wisdom 6:17-20 and m.Sota 9:15. It is therefore a style known and used by Jewish Christian writers.

Open BiblePursuit of virtue must be a strenuous effort on the part of the believer. “Make every effort” implies deliberate action. Someone might claim to be growing in godliness, but if there is no deliberate activity then the claim is empty. Imagine someone who claims to be trying to lose some weight, but they are not dieting or exercising.  They are not really making “every effort” to lose weight! This is a bit like a “good faith effort” in modern English, but perhaps stronger. It means that the person really does make an honest effort to pursue virtue and godliness.

The believer is making an effort to supplement their faith with various virtues. The participle (παρεισφέρω) is a word only appearing here in the New Testament. In Koine Greek the word refers to benefactors who do good for a community. What they add to is a gift, and the main verb in the clause (ἐπιχορηγέω) is also used for “generous support of the community” (BDAG). Together, the image Peter has in mind here is of a wealthy patron who gives a generous gift to some public building.

Peter includes some virtues from other New Testament lists, but there are also a handful of unique items to this list.

Faith with virtue. Despite being common in modern discussions of ethical living, virtue (ἀρετή) is not often mentioned in the New Testament of godly living. The word is often associated with civic virtue, a wealthy patron who does good deeds for his community. This may be why Peter began with this in his list, since he has already used a metaphor of a benefactor in the previous verse.

Virtue with knowledge. To virtue is added knowledge (γνωσις).This noun is usually associated with intellectual knowledge, and it might seem strange for Peter to begin a Christian virtue list with two common Greco-Roman virtues.

Knowledge with self-control. Knowledge without self-control is arrogant. The noun (ἐγκράτεια) appears as the last item in Paul’s fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) and was a respected virtue in the Greco-Roman world. It refers to having a proper restraint on one’s emotions and passions.

Self-control with steadfastness. The noun (ὑπομονή) is often translated as patience, but may also refer to endurance or “personal fortitude.” The person who is in control of their passions will be patient with others and “suffer long” before reacting in a controlled manner.

Steadfastness with godliness. That patience is tempered with godliness (εὐσέβεια). The noun refers to loyalty to a god, so sometimes piety is a good translation. Sometimes the word refers only to external acts of worship, so that a pagan might be described as “godly” if they are pious in their worship of their god.

Godliness with brotherly affection. This noun (φιλαδελφία) refers to the sort of affection family members have for one another. It is common in the New Testament for Christians to think of themselves as brothers and sisters.

Brotherly affection with love. Christian love is more than a brotherhood, there is real and genuine love for others at the heart of Christian ethics. How we behave and how we relate to the world ought to be laced with genuine love.

It is significant that this “virtue list” begins with faith (v. 4) and ends with love (v. 7). Christian virtue lists are often introduced with faith and love. Love begins the fruit of the Spirit list, and faith, hope and love are the three most important virtues in 1 Corinthians 13, for example.

It is remarkable to me that these virtues are relational and non-confrontational. There is nothing in this list demanding believers protest the pagan meat-markets or fight back against their persecutors. Like 1 Peter, this virtue list describes a “good citizen” of Rome! A Stoic or Epicurean may have applauded this list as admirable, and not pagan would fault Christians for having genuine brotherly love or self control.

How does this particular list differ from how Christian virtues are described today? What is the reason for this quite striking difference?

Discussions of 2 Peter tend to focus on the authenticity of the book and the possibility the book is pseudonymous. As interesting as these issues are, they distract readers from the rich theology of this often ignored letter of the New Testament.

First, the believer has all that is needed to live a life of godliness (v. 3). The two words translated by the ESV as “life and godliness” can be understood as a single idea, a “godly life” (NIV2011). If God has called us to be for his own glory and excellence, then it is important to realize that he has already granted to the one he has called everything he needs to succeed in that godly life.

MathIn some basic math classes a student is allowed to make a 3×5 card of information they might need to pass the test (basic formulas or methods for solving problems). Image a crafty student who prints out the entire math book in micro print and then brings a magnifying glass to class. He would be very prepared. Another student might just being a 3×5 card with nothing on it. But the most prepared student would be the one who had a card prepared by the professor with all the answers already on it.

By way of analogy, that is what God has done for us. He called us to live a holy life, but he also granted us all we need to actually be holy. He does not expect us to develop our own methods and rely on our own strength, but to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit which he has already given us at salvation.

The word “granted” is used several times in this passage and is a word usually associated with a royal or divine gift (Esther 8:1, for example). The highest authority in the universe has called us (at salvation) and given to us a task (godliness), and then he has given us a royal grant to enable us to complete that task.

The reason we have all we need is that God has granted to us all the knowledge of him we need. This may hint at what Peter’s opponents have taught to his audience, that the “real Christian” must be introduced to the deep things of God, the secret mysteries or advanced doctrines held back only for the ones who are deeply spiritual.

Second, God has granted to the believer precious and great promises (v. 4). What are these promises? The result of the promises that the believer has become a partaker in the divine nature. The believer can participate in this divine nature because they have already escaped the corruption of this world.

Is this true? Has God provided all we need to live a godly life? What might be included in this “grant” according to 2 Peter?


Second Peter is something of a textbook case for Pseudepigraphy. Outside of conservative circles, few accept this historical Peter as the author of the book. As J. N. D. Kelly said in 1969, “scarcely anyone nowadays doubts that 2 Peter is pseudonymous.” Despite several excellent commentaries in recent years (Neyrey, Bauckham), there has been little change in this consensus.  Bart Erhman dealt  with this issue in his popular level book Forged, drawing attention in the media to the possibility that the traditional authors of many of the books in the New Testament are not likely the real authors.

In fact, questions about 2 Peter appear very early in church history, Eusebius said that “Peter has left behind one acknowledged epistle, and perhaps a second; for it is questioned” (Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11). Despite this reservation, Eusebius reports that the church did in fact accept 2 Peter as an authentic letter and therefore included it in the canon.

Michael Kruger makes an excellent point in his 1999 article on the authenticity of 2 Peter. He points out that in the second and third centuries a great deal of pseudegraphic literature appear which centered on Peter. Both the Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter appeared and were rejected by the church because the were not authentic. If there was a possibility that Peter was not authentic, it should have been treated the same as these other spurious documents.

Is the case against an authentic 2 Peter as strong as Kelly (and others) state it? It is true that the second letter of Peter is quite a bit different than the first, although these differences can be accounted for in ways other than different authorship. Remember, “authorship” in the Greco-Roman world did not have to mean that the author literally wrote – an different amanuensis might account for the differences, especially if that person was given a more free had in one letter than the other. And as Kruger points out, there enough similarities to make the case that the two letters are related. Frankly, statistical analysis on two short samples is a serious problem for either side in this argument.

There are several personal references in the letter that seem to come from a “historical Peter.” In 1:17-18 there is an allusion to the transfiguration, an event that Peter witnessed. Again, Kruger does an excellent job pointing out the verbal similarities between this verse and Matthew 17:5 and Luke 9:31. And again, this evidence cuts both ways. Peter might have referred to the transfiguration in his writing (I certainly would have!) But if I were creating a letter which “sounds like” Peter, I would include this sort of thing to give the letter the “ring” of truth. (In fact, it is odd that the words are the same as the gospels which Peter is not associated with, Mark.) The same observation is true for Peter’s reference to the letters of Paul. This one sounds a bit too suspicious, as if someone was creating more unity between Peter and Paul than we might have guessed. Still, it is evidence for either side of the discussion.

Theology, on the other hand, is a more serious problem for the traditional view. As Käsemann, observed, the Cross is not a particularly prominent theme in the letter, although 1 Peter mentions the crucifixion and resurrection several times. This is a serious charge, but I think Kruger is correct to point out that the purpose of the letter is not soteriology, but dealing with a threat from false teachers. The problem with these particular teachers is not the Cross, but ethical and moral concerns.

Would a pseudepigrapic 2 Peter make it less authoritative? Suppose that someone did in fact create a letter in Peter’s name at the end of the first century which reflected Peter’s response to declining morals in the church. Perhaps a writer was simply using Peter as a literary device to deal with important issues in the late first century. Does this make it less worthy of the canon? J. D. Charles (Faithful to the End, 129f) would say that it does indeed matter. If we now know for sure that Peter is not really the author of the letter, then it has no more claim to authority than 1 Clement, which would have been written about the same time for approximately the same reasons. What is more, we are confident that there was a historical Clement who write the letter, so it is at least authentic. Why not treat the teachings of Clement as authoritative?


Michael J. Kruger, “The Authenticity Of 2 Peter,” JETS 42 (1999): 645-71.
Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1971) 183-184.

Peter lists a series of vices that were acceptable in the Greco-Roman world. Some of these are associated with entertainment (theater, the games), others may be associated with banquets in the temples. While some of these might be family celebrations and fairly innocent, a meal at a temple would be an opportunity for drunkenness, gluttony, sexual excess.


Sensuality (ἀσέλγεια) refers to a “lack of self-constraint” that goes beyond what is socially acceptable. Traditionally this is translated as “licentiousness” and turns up in sin lists along with fornication. It is the kind of insolence that makes a mockery of what is considered acceptable in polite society.

Passions (ἐπιθυμία) is the typical word used for lust, although that is not always a sexual lust; gluttony, for example, is an inordinate craving for food, etc.) The word can refer to any sort of desire that goes beyond what is necessary.

Drunkenness (οἰνοφλυγία) is not the typical word used in the New Testament for one who gets drunk, but implies that the person is gluttonous for wine. Philo of Alexandria uses this word in his discussion of coveting:

Philo, Spec. Laws, 4.91 When it [coveting] affects the parts about the belly it makes men gluttonous, insatiable, intemperate, debauched, admirers of a profligate life, delighting in drunkenness, and epicurism, slaves to strong wine, and fish, and meat, pursuers of feasts and tables, wallowing like greedy dogs; owing to all which things their lives are rendered miserable and accursed, and they are reduced to an existence more grievous than any death.

The word translated orgies (κωμος) refers to a festive meal usually in honor of Dionysus/Bacchus, the god of wine. The word appears twice in the LXX, in 2 Macc 6:4 it describes the revelries of the Gentiles in the Temple courts before the Maccabean revolt, and in Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 it appears in a detailed sin list (translated as “frenzied revels.”

2 Maccabees 6:4 (NRSV)  For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.

Wisdom of Solomon 14:23 (NRSV)  For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs

Similarly, “drinking parties” (πότος) refers to carousing, although this is not always with the connotation of drinking in a sleazy bar. The elite often held banquets to discuss literature or philosophy (a symposium) while drinking heavily. BDAG suggests that Peter “has less sophisticated participants in mind.”

Lawless idolatry (ἀθέμιτος εἰδωλολατρία). This final item is scathing in its condemnation of the religious practices of the Roman world.  The word Peter uses here is used for wanton, unseemly behavior, things that even the Roman world would consider too disgusting. In addition, Peter calls these gods idols, something that would not be considered politically correct in the Roman world. You might not worship someone else’s god, but you did not call it a disgusting idol! Not only do these people commit acts that are unseemly, they do so in the service of a worthless idol.

Imagine contemporary celebrations like Mardi Gras, New Year’s Eve, or Super Bowl parties. There are all excuses for indulging in behavior that would be inappropriate at other times. But this goes beyond the pale: imagine someone behaving so badly at Mardi Gras that people thought they were crossing the line.

Peter implies that his readers have participated in some of these things. This is usually taken as a “proof” that the congregation is made up of Gentile converts, since Jews would not have participated in these kinds of debaucheries. But as Karen Jobes points out, this may be an overly idealized view of diaspora Jews living in a pagan culture. That some of them at some point did attend the theater or the gladiatorial games is entirely possible.

Christians developed the reputation for being different because they chose not to participate in such behaviors. In the ancient world, different was always bad. If a Christian choose to not participate in some civic event because it is an excuse for debauchery, they are likely going to be view with suspicion. If the event was dedicated to the gods of the city, perhaps the Christians were endangering the prosperity of the city. If the event was a family celebration, then refusing to participate would have created tension within the most basic unit of Roman culture.

This goes beyond modern Christians abstaining from the drunken festivals of our time. To use the analogy of Mardi Gras, if someone refused to participate in the festivities, they might be considered a kill-joy, or holier-than-thou, or judgmental. But few would consider them traitors to the city of New Orleans, and no one really thinks that the gods are going to bless the city since everyone participates in the revels. This radical call to holiness opened many early Christians to accusations of disloyalty.


Persecution is therefore not a cause for fear, but rather an opportunity to honor Christ and revere him as Lord (as opposed to Caesar!) Peter is not commanding a completely passive acceptance of suffering. Rather, he tells the readers to be ready to give an answer when asked about their hope in Christ (v. 15b). Typically this verse is used to encourage people to know what they believe and why they believe it.

This is a good application (and it is true that you ought to know why you believe what you do), but Peter has in mind believers who are being unfairly harassed because of their faith in Jesus. Although it may not be the case than anyone has Suffering Churchbeen tried before a court on account of their faith in Jesus, the word Peter uses here is typically used for a legal defense (ἀπολογία, Acts 22:1, 25:16; 1 Cor 9:3). The believer is not to revile his opponent or repay insults with insults, but he is ready to give an honest answer when asked why he suffers for his faith.

The command is to be prepared, meaning that the believer has already knows why they are willing to put up with harassment for their faith.  To prepare something is to do the work ahead of time. The word “always” or “constantly” also implies that the reasons for one’s faith are prepared and always available. Peter does not envision a sudden rush of the Holy Spirit inspiring someone to give a good defense, rather the believer has ready an explanation for why they are humbly suffering for their faith.

By way of analogy, if someone is called into court on some charge, a lawyer “prepares a case.” this means there is some investigation of the evidence so that the lawyer can anticipate questions and give a good answer. A lawyer who comes into court without ever looking at the case ahead of time will fail and the person under arrest will be convicted.

This defense is to be “with gentleness and respect.” Since the Roman world was used to verbal abuse between philosophical schools, it would be very easy for the Christian to give his defense of his faith with the same sort of abuse the orator heaps on his opponents.

This is a very convicting verse since there are many Christians who have no idea what they believe, or if they do know what they believe, they are unable to give much of a reason for that belief. (The old hymn, I need no other argument, I need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me – that is a nice sentiment, but perhaps knowing a little bit of the “device or creed” will help confirm one’s faith when suffering does occur!)

The “hope we have” should be taken as eschatological. In the midst of suffering, the believer can know than Jesus is going to return at some point at render justice. For the believer, that means vindication (they were suffering unjustly) and reward, but for the persecutor, it means punishment.

The point of all of this is that the Christian ought to maintain a clear conscience so the outsider will be ashamed to slander the Christian faith (v. 16). This seems to me to be opposite of Christianity in recent years, or perhaps it only seems so because the media is able to broadcast a few particularly shameful examples of Christian hypocrisy. Think for a moment about presidential candidates claiming to be Christian yet giving hate-filled and vulgar speeches.

Rather than dwell on people who are shameful yet claim to be believers, what are some positive examples of Christians who are living out this “patient suffering” and have given outsiders no reason to slander them?

1 Peter 3:13 makes the simple point that no one usually attacks people for doing good things. As he stated in 2:13-14, people generally do not suffer insults and persecution for doing good things (although there are always exceptions). It is better to suffer for doing good even if it is unjust, than suffer justly for doing wrong things.

The verb “zealous” may have been chosen because at this point in Judea the Zealots were beginning to coalesce into an armed resistance against Rome. Even if the “zealous Jews” were rebellion against Rome Sufferingin Judea, Peter tells his readers to channel their zeal into a quiet life that is worthy of respect.

But Peter knows that “strangers and aliens” are not always fairly treated, and it is likely that they will be attacked unjustly (v. 14-15a). The syntax of verse 14 is very difficult, the ESV’s “even if you are persecuted” expresses the optative verb well. It is not that the readers are already facing regular persecution, but the sorts of slander that outsiders usually face when they live in another culture.  The verb is a present active optative from πάσχω, the verb Jesus used to describe his suffering in Luke 22:15, for example, but it also appears frequently for Christian suffering (1 Peter 2:21, Phil 1:29). Peter may allude to the teaching of Jesus when he says that the believer will be blessed when people persecute them. In Matthew 5:10 Jesus says much the same thing (in the form of a beatitude).

The one that suffers for Christ’s sake has no reason for fear or trouble, probably an allusion to Isa 8:12-13. This is a significant because the original line in Isaiah referred to a time in Judah’s history when Jerusalem was threatened by the politics of the larger world. Isaiah is warned in 8:11 not to walk in the ways of the people of Jerusalem, who are afraid of the nations that threaten the city. In contrast, Isaiah is to not fear the things that the people fear, but rather to honor and fear the Lord alone.

The readers are living as strangers and aliens, among people that suspect them and will eventually begin to hate them and physically persecute them. The quote functions as an encouragement for the readers to fear what really needs to be feared, the Lord and him alone.  Fearing persecution is not necessary since the Romans cannot really harm the believers (Matt 10:28). Peter has just said this specifically to the wives in 3:6, now he repeats the command to the whole congregation.

Since Peter’s audience is about to face persecution, he tells them how they are to respond to attacks on their faith. Most scholars think that the kind of persecution that Christians faced in Asia Minor in the middle first century was the sort of insult and malicious character attacks that typically occurred in the Roman world (Jobes, 1 Peter 216; Elliott, 1 Peter, 607).

In order to build one’s own honor, it was sometimes necessary to attack an opponent in order to reduce their honor (i.e., to shame them). This is not unlike modern politics, where an opponent is often attacked publicly in order to “hurt them politically,” but it went far beyond that. In modern political cartoons some characteristic of the politician is over-emphasized (think of cartoons featuring political figures).

HIllary TrumpThe typical response to an attack on one’s character in the Roman world would be an equally spiteful attack in revenge. This sort of verbal “eye for an eye” was common and accepted as a part of society. One did not suffer insults quietly!

Peter’s command to not reply to insults with insults is therefore socially disruptive. The Christian community does not retaliate with the sort of verbal assaults common in the society.  Just as Jesus was silent, Peter said in 2:23, so too ought the Christian is not to pay back evil for evil.

Rather than reviling opponents, Peter tells his readers they are to bless those who attack them. Followers of Jesus are to be like Jesus and do good toward those who attack them, rather than follow the culture and seek revenge.  This non-retaliation is exactly what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:27-26, Matt 5:43-47, “love your enemies,” Matt 5:38-42, “turn the other cheek,” etc.). Paul teaches virtually the same thing in Romans 12:14, 17-21.

The real challenge is actually doing what Jesus, Peter and Paul all say that we ought not do. Not retaliating when we are attacked is difficult, but to actually do something that blesses our accusers is culturally shocking.

Christians sometimes reduce this “blessing” to prayer.  When we face persecution we pray for our enemy so that we can “heap burning coals on their head.” If you are praying to harm your enemy, you are not at all catching the spirit of this command, and are engaging in some sort of curse-prayer that seems inappropriate to Christians.

War On Christmas“Blessings” are tangible in this context, not simply prayers for the salvation of the bad people who are hurting you. If you are suffering abuse from someone. Peter says that it is not only inappropriate for the Christian to attack, but they ought to do some real, tangible action that brings some blessing on the attacker.  Imagine a politician who did not respond to some slander, but rather offered his attacker an opportunity to make his claim on national TV, tells people to buy the guy’s book, etc. That would be a shocking response!

But Peter is not talking to political candidates, but the church. How should Christians respond to someone who is attacking their faith? In America, the some Christians immediately go on the offensive against their alleged persecutors, claiming a a “war of Christmas” or using the Martin Luther Insult Generator to vilify them. Setting aside the question of whether this is real persecution or not, is this a proper response?

How can we “bless those who persecute” in a tangible way?

Peter concludes the ethical section of the letter with a description of what the Christian community ought to look like (v. 8).  All five of these phrases are single words in Greek, and are rare outside of this passage. (The only exception is tender hearted, although it appears in medical texts to describe a physical condition.) The first and the last words refer to the mind (φρήν, φρονέω), and the middle three refer to some aspect of emotions. This implies that there is a conscious choice to have unity or humility, to control one’s passions so that they are sympathetic and loving. Peter is not commanding the Christians to be servile, trembling before their betters. Rather, they are making a choice to have unity and humility.

1 Peter BibleUnity of mind (ὁμόφρων). This word means something like “thinking the same things.” The Greco-Roman world appreciated traditions that held communities together, especially in families. It is shameful for families to disagree among themselves, or for brothers to fight among themselves. While the modern world commonly has families with several religions or political associations, that simply did not happen in the Roman world. Families were defined by their common beliefs that everyone held. For Peter, the Christian community has a set of beliefs and values that define it as a “family” so that outsiders can see that there is no discord within the family.

Sympathy (συμπαθής). This word does not mean “pity,” as it does in modern English. If “unity of mind” means thinking the same things, sympathy refers to “feeling the same things.” The passions of the Christian community are unified in the same way their beliefs are. Again, on the analogy of a family, the Christian community ought to respond to situations with a similar emotion (compassion on those who need it, encouragement to those who need it, etc.)

Brotherly love (φιλάδελφος). This virtue is found in descriptions of families, where the “brother” is literal (it appears on gravestones, for example, praising the person for being a good brother).  It is shameful in the Roman world for siblings to fight and feud among themselves.

A tender heart (εὔσπλαγχνος). Like sympathy, a “tender heart” sounds like “soft heart,” or even pity. A hard-hearted person never forgives or hears another person’s views, but a “tender heart” is open and teachable.  Quite literally the word refers to “good compassion. (It actually means “good bowels” and appears in medical texts referring to regularity).  Like brotherly love, the tender heart is a characteristic of a family in the Roman world (see f0or example, Pilch and Malina, Biblical Social Values and their Meaning).

A humble mind (ταπεινόφρων). Of the five virtues listed here, humility was the least likely to be considered a virtue in the Greco-Roman world.  The competition for honor in the Roman world made humility and humble service of others a liability. Imagine an athlete who humbly allows others to succeed without thinking about his own success, a rare thing indeed! But in a family, the other members of the family do what they can to help their brothers and sisters succeed because any success brings honor to the family.

These virtues are particularly applicable to the family, especially brotherly love and tender hearts (Jobes, 1 Peter, 214). The reason for this is that Peter sees the Church as a “real family” that deserves the kind of loyalty one finds in biological families.

The Church is supposed to be a place where the believer is free from the sort of hostile attacks that they face when they are in the world.  When the believers gather, they are coming from situations where they are the subject of malicious gossip or abuse on account of their faith in Jesus (the unsaved husband or the unsaved master in the previous passage).  Peter wants his churches to be like the proper family that the individual Christians have lost when they accepted Christ as savior.

After lengthy instructions to slaves and wives, Peter simply tells husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

1 Peter 3_7Unlike the slaves and the wives, the husband is told to live with their wives in an “understanding way.” The way this is stated makes is sound as though the husband is to have a kind and tender heart toward his wife, and that is certainly part of the point. But Peter is saying that the husband must live with his wife fully aware of who she is and with full awareness of his responsibility toward her.

If the context throughout this passage has been living in a way that attracts an unbelieving spouse or master to Christ, then perhaps that is the case here as well. If a Christian husband is married to a wife who is not a believer, the culture would dictate that she ought to convert as well. But this might not be a willing submission to her husband’s new religion, the Christian husband has to be aware that his wife might not be fully in agreement with his religious choice!

The instructions are given to believing husbands, and it is at least possible “women” refers to all the women living within a household. If a man converted to Christianity, the whole household would be effected. Women typically “converted” with their husbands and slaves would now be working in a Christian household. But it is unlikely all members of a household were actually now Christians. A Christian husband must live his new life in a way which draws his wife and all others in his household to Christ.

Calling women the “weaker vessel” is troublesome to many modern readers, and sometimes Peter is dismissed as a pre-modern he-man woman hater. But Peter’s words here are in keeping with the Greco-Roman belief that woman are weaker than men, both physically and sometimes emotionally. Tacitus called women “a sex naturally weak” and if left to themselves will be “at the mercy of its own voluptuousness and the passions of others” and a marriage is preserved only by a “husband’s personal vigilance” (Annals, 3.34).

Wife Working Lazy HusbandPeter’s words cannot be taken as an endorsement of misogyny, however. In fact, Peter tells the husbands to honor (τιμή) their wives, the same word he used for “honor the emperor” (τιμάω) in 2:17. Imagine that a husband gave his wife the same honor demanded of the Roman emperors!

As Karen Jobes concludes on this section, Peter’s purpose in the whole household code is evangelistic and apologetic (1 Peter, 210). Peter recognizes the common problem of one member of a household becoming a Christian. If they are slaves or wives, then submission to a non-Christian master or husband is required in order to draw them to Christ. But if the head of the household has become a Christian, then he must live even more carefully in order to bring those who were part of a Christian household unwillingly to Christ.

Jobes also points out this is a different strategy than Paul, who rooted his similar teaching in the order of creation (see Eph 5:21-33, and my comments on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 here). Peter is thinking of the practical ramifications of the conversion of members of a household, Paul’s teaching is rooted Jewish wisdom thinking that bases behavior in the orderliness of creation. This is why Paul is far more difficult than for modern readers than Peter!

The problem is how this teaching is applied in a modern context. Modern Christians look to these kinds of passages for guidance for modern marriages between spiritual equals in the Body of Christ. Our marriages are made because of love not arranged for social or economic reasons. Peter is not thinking of a couples retreat in a modern mega-church! Imagine how a Muslin woman who converted to Christianity might read 1 Peter, or a Buddhist husband, or a child in a Hindu family?

1 Peter is far more applicable in those situations, but how can 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 be used in a Western Christian context?

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Christian Theology

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