Imperishable, Undefiled, and Unfading – 1 Peter 1:4

In order to comfort those who might think their suffering implies a loss of salvation, Peter describes the nature of salvation as an expectation that cannot be lost. It is not possible to lose our inheritance of salvation because it is by its very nature not “lose-able.”

inheritanceA Jewish reader might hear the word “inheritance” as an allusion to the Promised Land, and these Jews are living outside that inheritance in the Diaspora. Peter therefore uses three words to describe our salvation in terms in order to highlight the fact that by nature this inheritance cannot be lost. On the other hand, virtually the entire ancient world would understand the importance of preserving an inheritance for their descendants. There was a great deal of social status and honor tied to the size and quality of an inheritance, and most people would have known a situation where an inheritance was far smaller than expected!

Imperishable (ἄφθαρτος) obviously refers to something that does not die. It is rarely used in the New Testament (8x including variants). It is likely that the next two words are expansions on the idea of an imperishable salvation.  How is our inheritance safe? It pure and unfading. In the LXX it appears only in Wisdom 12:1 for the immortality of the soul and 18:4 for the “imperishable light of the law” in contrast to those imprisoned in darkness. Paul used this word for the immortal God (Rom 1:23, 1 Tim 1:17), our reward (1 Cor 9:25) and our resurrection body (1 Cor 15:52).  Peter uses the word here and in 1:23 for the quality of our salvation. Later he uses the word for “genuine beauty” (3:4).

The word refers to something that cannot get old, rot away or die. The opposite is something that does rot. By analogy, people do not buy bananas as a long term investment. After a few days they turn brown and are not very appetizing. Imagine keeping a banana for a few months!  By contrast,

Undefiled (ἀμίαντος) can be translated “pure” in a moral sense. Hebrews 13:4 uses it for the marriage relationship and in 7:26 the word refers to Jesus as the pure high priest. 2 Maccabees 14:36, 15:34 uses the word for the temple, and it appears three times in Wisdom (3:13, 4:2, 8:20). The opposite (μιαίνω) refers to the stain of dye, but in most New Testament contexts it refers to the “stain” of immorality (Titus 1:15, Heb 12:15, Jude 8), although it may also refer to any uncleanliness (John 18:28).

Unfading (ἀμάραντος) only appears here in the New Testament, and in the LXX only in Wisdom 6:12 (unfading wisdom). Some time ago we moved our couch and found that the curtains on the front picture window were very faded when we saw the lower parts that do not hang in the sun. Eventually the drapes will have to be replaced since the sunlight would eventually ruin them completely. Is Peter’s used of “unfading” an allusion to Matthew 6:19-21 / Luke 12:33? There are some similarities, although the emphasis there is on external attacks on treasure, rather than the inviolability of our salvation. Gundry thought there was an allusion, Jobes reports this without comment, (1 Peter, 86).

Peter’s point is the salvation we have in Christ Jesus is an inheritance so perfect it cannot be lost, as was Israel’s inheritance of the land in the Hebrew Bible. If this is the case, is there any reason to worry about any harassment or persecution on account of our faith?

What are some other ways the nature of our salvation ought to change the way we live out our lives in a non-Christian world?



11 thoughts on “Imperishable, Undefiled, and Unfading – 1 Peter 1:4

  1. The word inheritance used within 1 Peter 1:4 is a powerful representation of God’s desire to reward us with eternal life. This eternal life is one that cannot be lost under any circumstances and one which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfaded. With all of this in mind, we as the church can take hope in Christ, for He has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33) and has promised us an unwavering inheritance in eternal life. This powerful promise should, in turn, cause us to live our lives completely different in comparison the secular world. Since we are indeed promised riches and inheritance greater than anything we could every dream of, than why put our identity in all of the other riches of this world? Although it’s not bad to have money, a house, vehicles, and other items necessary to living (and some not), it’s important that we continue to be aware of the bigger picture of everything. It’s easy to be led astray by all the problems and delights that this world has to offer. Jobes states it well when she says Peter’s “exhortation to live for Christ faithfully – even when it hurts – is a challenging but necessary message for Christians today who want to be bearers of the gospel in this generation” (Jobes 268).

  2. I would like to make a point about the question regarding persecution in regards to our faith. There is no need to worry about our faith should we be suffering persecution for it, indeed those of us who suffer for our faith should rejoice (James 1:2-4). I would instead argue that those who are not suffering for our faith need to examine why we are not because it could show that we are not living out our faith in the way that we should. Indeed I would say that those of us who should worry are those who do not suffer for our faith and not those who do suffer for our faith. Since our salvation is imperishable, pure, and unfading it should be recognized that no matter what happens we will not lose it. With this in mind some people would think that it does not matter whether we sin or not, and in response to this I bring to attention Paul’s point in Romans 6:1-2 that we are dead to sin so why go back and indulge in it? We know that our inheritance will never go away and so we should not worry about the small problems on earth but rather seek to serve as God’s emissary to this world and bring light to the darkness that engulfs this earth. If we worry about how we might lose our salvation and seek to do everything perfectly than we lose the bigger picture of grace and mercy that God wants to give us. We should live our lives the best that we can with the knowledge that whatever happens in this world we have a secure treasure in heaven.

    • I agree that the ones under persecution do not have to worry about their faith as much as those who do not go undergo persecution. The faith of the persecuted has to be strong in order to last through persecution. Those who do not undergo persecution cannot know how strong their faith really is. I agree that worrying takes your eyes off the bigger picture. If the inheritance is secured then there is no need to worry. Worrying means you doubt the security of one’s inheritance. I think that we should live our lives the best we can as you said, but on top of living with the knowledge that our treasure secured in heaven, we should strive to focus on that security especially during persecution instead of being engulfed in the worries.

  3. The concept of suffering is referenced often in the scriptures, and usually leads to positive results. For anyone who reads and believes the scriptures, suffering in our lives does not imply a loss of salvation. One the contrary, suffering results in restoration (1 Peter 5:10), glory (Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 4:17), and fulfillment of the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Suffering is also referred to as a way to know Christ more intimately in Philippians chapter 3. With these scriptures in mind, Christians should embrace suffering gladly, and view it as an essential part of the Christian life.

  4. To answer your question, I would argue that one major change that our salvation should effect is the heart in which we serve and love others. It’s my humble belief that if we love our God and love our neighbor (Matt 22:37, Luke10:27) everything else with fall into place. Love covers a multitude of sins and is at the cornerstone of everything. It was the love of Christ that gave us eternal salvation, and it is because of this great love that we extend that blessing to others in hopes of showing them the love of Christ. God uses us to show His love for others, we are simply tools and it is not on our own accord that we are capable of loving each other as we should. It is because of the love of God the Father that our salvation is set in stone and can not be removed. Because of his unconditional love and the provision of hope that He has extended to us through the death of Christ. I think it also means that we should be positive in every situations. I’ll be the first to admit that this is easier said than done, as I tend to be very negative. However, we are to think of things that are good, wholesome, and full of hope(Phil 4:8).

  5. The answer to your question can vary depending on how the individual views the aspects of our salvation. It is my humble opinion that the views of salvation vary among who is asked and their interpretation of it. It is seen in many verses located throughout Romans of the many other ways our salvation can be secured within us just by word of confession (Rom. 10:9-10). This is another way we can know that our salvation is safe in ourselves so that we can begin to serve others the way he did in his early ministry. If we stay true to ourselves and what the Bible is currently speaking to us in this manner than we no longer have to label ourselves as the outcasts of the nations because we are secure in the truths the Bible provides. If we are secure in ourselves in this way then we will be able to reach others in the secular world where they are and help them grow in the religion if they ever so choose to accept. It all just begins with us making disciples out of one another wherever we may find them and I think this is another way we can use our salvation to make the world better for everyone who inhabits it.

  6. 1 Peter 1:3-4 speaks of the new birth we have been given through Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We are born into an inheritance “that can never perish, spoil or fade.” As mentioned, Jews in the Diaspora might think of themselves as living outside of the inheritance of the Promised Land. This inheritance had been given and taken away many generations before them. It had perished long before. Knowing the stories of the Old Testament, the early Christians would remember Esau selling his birthright and losing a double portion of his inheritance (Genesis 25). The terms of his inheritance were violated; this story shows an inheritance that was spoiled or defiled. Jesus had warned in Luke 12:15, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Christians living in a Roman society had seen earthly belongings and money used up or taken; for most, any possible inheritance had faded. Because of this, Peter speaks of the spiritual inheritance and explains that it is better than any inheritance known on earth. We must continually be aware of the beautiful, pure, and constant salvation we have in Christ.

  7. Our unfading, never disappearing, always present salvation should impact our attitude, our actions, and how we interact with others.

    Because our salvation is eternal we should be using to better ourselves and go the extra mile for others. If we are eternally secured it does not make sense to go about, living a normal secure life. By knowing we are firm in salvation we should figure out ways to better interact with nonChristians. We have nothing to lose, give some extra grace.

    Also knowing this makes it easier to see the love God clearly has set aside for us. He has given us something that cannot be worn out, something truly unique. Through our salvation we should have a better understanding of Godly character and how to live it. We should not set it to the side and look at it, we should embrace it and give it to others.


  8. Previously in my other post I spoke about the status that one achieves this “unfading” inheritance and what that means to us today as believers. There is no reason today as Christians we should be worried about persecution. In some countries it is forbidden to read Bibles, to go to church or speak about God, yet in America we are free to do as we please. 1 Peter 1:4 speaks about our inheritance almost like this perfect piece of food that can never go bad. Something that is always there waiting for us to take it and eat it, but knowing that we can only have it if we meet the requirements. When God established the Mosaic covenant, Moses left the mountain and told the people, it is how they responded that this inheritance would have been received. “We will obey.” Jesus lived perfectly, and through him we receive the ability to claim a perfect gift through his death and resurrection. Our job is to obey just like Israel (Jobes, 302). The words of the author in 1 Peter do a great job at demonstrating just how encouraging remembering our inheritance in heaven can be, and what we should be doing in the meantime until we receive it.

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