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The implied opponents in 2 Peter denied the return of Jesus (1:16, 2:1-3, 14, 18). There are several reasons for this, but primarily it was because the first generation of believers were old or dead. Peter himself is about to die, Paul will die about the same time. Yet Jesus has not returned – why is this?

It is possible that the opponents charged the older generation with creating the return of Jesus, it is a “cleverly devised myth (1:16). Bauckham suggests that the opponents might have claimed the apostles made up the return of Jesus in order to control the early church (Jude, 2 Peter, 154).” I am not sure how that would work, it almost sounds like the first generation knew they were creating a cult and they came up with a story and brainwashed their converts.

I think that it is more like that the phrase “cleverly devised myth” implies that they opponents claimed that the (Jewish) apostles over-interpreted the words of Jesus because of there apocalyptic world view. As the church became increasingly Gentile, it became more rational. The second and third generation Gentile believers were not reading Daniel and 1 Enoch, they were reading Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. As a result the “apocalyptic” aspect of early Christianity was muted. These false-teachers deny the return of Jesus because they do not share the apocalyptic assumptions of Paul and Peter!  (This suggestion has the advantage of explaining the missing text from Jude, especially the citation of 1 Enoch which concerns the apocalyptic return of the Lord. Peter avoided them since they would cause more trouble from his opponents.)

The opponents also denied a future judgment as well as the return of Jesus. The coming of Messiah is bound up with the idea of a judgment on the nations in Jewish apocalyptic. When Messiah comes, he will judge the nations and punish those who are not considered “righteous.” In Matt 25: 31-46, for example, when Jesus returns he will punish the nations that mistreated his children. If the Messiah is not coming back, then he is also not going to judge people for their present behavior (2:19).

Peter’s strategy for countering his opponents is interesting especially since we now live some 2000 years after Jesus.  It is fairly easy to mock the  idea of a “return of Jesus” given that he has been away for quite some time, and some of his followers keep failing at predictions of the day and hour.   Rather than point to so-called fulfilled prophecies or trends in society which “prove” Jesus is coming very soon, Peter argues first that God keeps his promises, even if there is a long time between promise and fulfillment.  Second, if there is a delay, that delay is a reflection of God’s mercy and his hope that those facing judgment will repent.  I think this is  the point of 3:8 (“a day is like a thousand years”) is to point out that God often gives a long time for repentance.

Does this sort of “strategy” work today?  How does a Christian firmly hold to the return of Jesus while separating from the more embarrassing examples of recent years?

In response to the claim the apostolic teaching concerning the return of Jesus is a cleverly devised myth, Peter claims to be an eyewitness of “his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16b-18). Peter is referring to the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matt 17:1-8, Mark 9:1-8, Luke 9:28-36).  In this well-known story, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountain where the glory of God comes upon Jesus. God’s voice speaks, declaring Jesus to be his son and then Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah.

In the Gospels the transfiguration calls attention to who Jesus really is: he is the Son of God and the fulfillment of both the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). God’s voice sounding from a bright Transfiguration Raphaelcloud declaring Jesus to be his son evokes both the theophany at Mount Sinai and Psalm 2, an important messianic Psalms.

In 2 Peter, the writer claims to be an “eyewitness of his majesty.” The noun Peter chooses for “eyewitness”(ἐπόπτης) only appears here in the New Testament, but has the connotation of someone that makes very careful observations. For example, God sees everything (2 Macc 3:39; 7:35; 3 Macc 2:21; 1 Clem 59:3) or the Emperor (IPerg 381).

What Peter witnessed was “his majesty” (μεγαλειότης, v. 16). This noun is also rare in the New Testament, but it is used in Acts 19:27 when the pagan Demetrius the Silversmith described the “great goddess Atremis,” she might lose some of her “majesty” if Paul’s gospel is left to grow unchecked. The word therefore refers to something ultimately impressive or awe-inspiring even in the pagan world. A similar word appears in v. 17 (μεγαλοπρεπής), although this word appears in the LXX to describe God himself (Deut 33:26; Sirach 17:3, “the glory of his voice”).

It is perhaps unexpected that Peter would answer the objection concerning the second coming of Jesus with a reference back to the Transfiguration. But as Thomas Schreiner points out, the transfiguration follows a statement about seeing “the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt 16:28–17:13; Mark 9:1–13; Luke 9:27–36).

In Matthew 16:21-23 Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection for the first time, immediately after Peter has confessed his belief in Jesus as the Messiah. In response to the surprising prediction that God’s Messiah was going to be killed when he went to Jerusalem, Peter rebukes Jesus (v. 22), and Jesus’ rebukes Satan and calls Peter a hindrance!

Jesus then declares to his disciples they must be ready to “take up their cross and follow him” (Matt 16:24-28). To a first century Jew, “taking up one’s cross” meant to be crucified by the Romans! Jesus warns his disciples that he will he be executed in Jerusalem, but also they must be ready for the same treatment. The assumed context of 2 Peter is just before Peter literally “takes up his cross” and die on account of his faith in Jesus.

Peter is therefore presenting himself as a prophetic witness to a foretaste of the glory of the Son of Man and his kingdom. Having raised the issue of prophecy, he goes on to argue that the prophets are reliable because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

This paragraph is like a “last testament” for Peter. He knows he will be executed soon and he wants to encourage the readers to keep what he has said in mind even after he is gone. Some of the language here is “stock language” used in last testaments, both in the Bible and I the literature of the Second Temple period.

The prediction of Peter’s martyrdom at the end of John’s gospel generated a number of extra-biblical legends about
the kind of death Peter would experience, including a legend that Peter met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Rome and Jesus told him he was about to be Caravaggio - Crucifixion of Petercrucified (Acts of Peter). There is nothing historical in these stories since the point of Jesus’ prediction was only to tell Peter that his faith was not weak and that he would persevere all the way to the end.

In 2 Peter, he uses a vivid metaphor for death, he will soon be putting off the “tent of his body.” This phrase is usually associated with Bedouin who pack up their tent when they are ready to move on to a new location.  Peter knows the time is near for him to leave be body and move on to what is next.

Since he knows he is about to die, Peter wants his readers to remember his personal testimony about Jesus. This would include his ethical teaching in the previous chapter he also is looking ahead to the personal testimony in the next few verses, that he was a witness to the transfiguration. For many of his readers, Peter will be a last connection to the life of Jesus. An eyewitness was respected more than a written source by many in the ancient world, so Peter wants his readers to remember what he is about to tell them in the next paragraph.

He wants to “stir up” his readers “by way of a reminder” (ESV). To “stir up” (διεγείρω) is a word used for rousing someone from sleep, to “awaken” a thought in the mind of the readers. The noun (ὑπόμνησις) is a reminder, so the meaning here is to awaken a particular thought. Think of this as a trigger for a flood of memories. Peter’s goal is to provide a trigger in the minds of his readers so they recall what he has taught them about Jesus and living an exemplary life. Alluding to the story of the transfiguration is part of that trigger.

Likewise, the phrase “make remembrance” (μνήμη, v. 15) refers to a memorial, a marker set up to remember someone or a special event.  Some of my students create elaborate mnemonic devices to recall things for quizzes. I know this because they write random letters in the margins to help remember things, although sometimes remember the crazy word or sentence, but forget the thing they were supposed to remember in the first place! Peter’s words are to be like a memorial stone set up to remind people of the ethical teaching in the previous paragraph and the glorious revelation of Jesus in the following.

This “last testament” of Peter is a way of introducing the main goals of the rest of the letter. Peter wants his readers to recall his testimony about Jesus and his return in the face of opponents of the apostolic teaching about the return of Jesus.

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.

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?

 

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.

Bacchus

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?

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Christian Theology

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