Be Holy! – 1 Peter 1:15-21

In his first chapter, Peter has described the salvation his readers experienced as unimaginably great. If the readers have such a great salvation as this, they ought to be holy (1:15-16). Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44: “You shall be holy because I am holy.” This section alludes to many texts and ideas drawn from the Old Testament. In fact, the more one is aware of the overall plot of the Old Testament, the clearer this passage is. Peter is assuming the “salvation history” of the Jewish people in these verses. He is not just quoting the Hebrew Bible; he is alluding to the whole plot of sin and redemption from Genesis through the Prophets.

Passover Lamb

The first reason Peter gives for this is that the believers have been “ransomed from their futile ways” (v.18). For a Jewish or Gentile reader, the “ransom” language Peter used would evoke the practice setting a slave free. The verb (λυτρόω) refers to paying a price to set a slave free. A price would be deposited at a temple, and the slave was then considered to be purchased by the god. For the Jewish reader, the idea of “ransom” is far more theologically rich. The Jewish people as a whole were redeemed out of their slavery in Egypt and therefore became the people of God in the Exodus.

Since Israel they broke the covenant and went into exile. The prophet (Isaiah especially) described the return from exile as a New Exodus. When Israel is called out of the nations they will once again be “redeemed” by their God. It is for this reason that the coming messianic age could be called the “redemption of Israel” (Luke 2:25 Simeon).

Peter makes a connection between the Passover Lamb and Jesus, who is the ultimate price to pay. The price paid was not with perishable things, gold or silver, but with a life. The sacrificial system from the Hebrew Bible required a life as a substitute for sin. When the first Passover happened, the blood of the lamb was placed on the doorposts so that the family in the home would be saved from the final plague and redeemed out of Egypt. The people did not give gold or silver to a temple, but they gave up a precious life.

Isaiah 55:1 may be a parallel here since the people are called out of the exile to eat and drink with the Lord, food provided without money. That section ends with a reference to the Word of God “not returning void” as the new eschatological age dawns. The blood of Christ’s sacrifice is even more “precious” (τίμιος) than the Passover Lamb. This word is often used for precious stones, jewels, etc. Something that is precious is held in highest honor. Since the contrast is with gold and silver, the value of the blood of the sacrifice of the Messiah is as high as imaginable.

A “lamb without blemish or spot” is an allusion to the Passover Lamb. Any sacrificed animal is to be pure and spotless (the same idea appears in Heb 9:14). But the word (ἄμωμος) is often used for moral purity as well. Since the lamb of a sacrifice was offered to God, it was to be as perfect as possible. In fact, Peter’s description of the death of Jesus as a ransom may be drawn from the teaching of Jesus himself. In Mark 10:45 Jesus describes the giving up of his life as a “ransom for many.”

Peter therefore connects the salvation experience of the believer to the Passover (the salvation experience of the Hebrew Bible) and draws the same ethical implications that the Torah did. Since believers in Christ has been “bought with a price” they ought to live a holy life. Based on 1 Peter 1-2, what does this holiness “look like”?

2 thoughts on “Be Holy! – 1 Peter 1:15-21

  1. It seems as if Peter emphasizes that the life a follower of Christ should live is in contrast to the life of those who don’t. He encourages: “…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17), “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (2:1), and “submit yourselves…to every human authority” (2:13). Furthermore, he wants them to “abstain from sinful desires” (2:11), “Love one another deeply” (1:22), and grow up spiritually (see 2:2). Conclusively, living the life Peter advocates will not only gain pagan attention, but will also make believers out to be a kind of foreigner to this world. Believers’ worldview is so different than that of this world that they seem to belong elsewhere.

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  2. Karen Jobes states in the book that Peter made the connection between the Lamb and Jesus (Jobes, 317). Comparing two is quite interesting needless to say, The Lamb and Jesus represent holiness that we need to strive to live by. If you live the life that Peter describes in 1 Peter 1 & 2 then you show the people around you as an example to be holy and live a holy life. Jobes also discusses in Chapter 9 about 1 Peter 2:21 is an example and foundation of Christian living. “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21). The discussion continues with Mark 8:34 about Jesus stating people would need to reject themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. By rejecting yourself, you can mainly focus on Christ rather than on yourself (Jobes, 277).

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