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.
Pursuit 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?