Archive for the ‘1 Peter’ Category

1 Peter 3:18-22 is one of the most confusing passages in the entire Bible.  Check that, it’s probably the most confusing.  I wrote a paper on it in my undergrad days and I’m still confused.  While I believe it’s good to research difficult passages in the Bible and try your best to come to a conclusion (even if very tentative), it’s a passage like this that reminds me of the need for humility in proposing our answers.

One influential (in some circles) treatment of this passage is Wayne Grudem’s, proposed in an article that was reprinted in his Tyndale commentary on 1 Peter.  In it, he takes on the prevalent view that Peter is recalling a story from the Enoch tradition within Judaism.  Basically, to summarize as best I can, in 1 Enoch (a pseudepigraphal writing) there is a story of Enoch being transported to a place where the fallen angels of Genesis 6:1-5 were being held.  These fallen angels were held in a prison while their progeny (called “spirits” in 1 Enoch) corrupt the earth during the days of Noah (and continue to do so).  God pronounces a judgment on these fallen angels and the spirits.  There is more to it, and there are all sorts of questions (including whether or not the Genesis account is actually talking about fallen angels), but that’s enough to show that there are points of similarity between the Enoch story and 1 Peter 3.  The story is found in 1 Enoch 12-16, you can click here to read Charles’ translation online.

Grudem objects to seeing the Enoch story in the background of 1 Peter 3 (you’ll have to forgive me for not citing page references, I’m working from memory since I don’t have it in front of me).  Basically, he questions whether or not Peter’s readers, who were probably Gentiles, would be aware of a relatively obscure Jewish text (if indeed it was written before 1 Peter) that was most popular in areas and cultures removed from Peter’s readers in Asia Minor.  It is, to be sure, a fair question.  Many counter this by noting that the story from 1 Enoch and Peter’s word in chapter 3 may reflect the same tradition, even if Peter is not directly refer to 1 Enoch 12-16.  That’s always a possibility (though I have to wonder if we have a case of an “independent traditions of the gaps” argument here), but the case would still need to be made that Peter’s readers could have known this story.  In other words, one would have to show that Peter’s Gentile readers in Asia Minor had some connection to the story of the fallen angels in Noah’s time and the rebellion of the “spirits.”

I’m working through Karen Jobes’ commentary on 1 Peter and she offers up some information that somehow I’ve either never read or never noticed until now.  She notes (on pages 245-247 for those following along at home) that the Noah story was actually a favorite in Asia Minor (presumably because his ark was said to land there).  She notes that there were 4 flood stories that stemmed from Asia Minor, though they aren’t about Noah himself.  But, Jobes states, “Noah was… the most prominently known biblical figure in Asia Minor even among the Gentiles” (245).  It would make sense that Noah would become popular, since strong flood traditions already existed in Asia Minor.  He was so popular, that in the 2nd & 3rd centuries AD, Noah and his wife were featured on coins minted in Asia Minor.

Jobes also points out that the Sibylline Oracles also feature Noah and his pronouncement of judgment on his wicked generation.  The Sibylline Oracles date from around the time of the Jesus, and could have been written in Asia Minor.  Again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Peter’s readers were familiar with the Sibylline Oracles themselves, but possibly possessed shared stories and traditions regarding Noah.

Of the existing Noahic traditions in Peter’s time, we see Noah proclaiming judgment on his wicked generation and the spirits who brought about wickedness in his day being judged by God.  Noah himself was a popular figure in Asia Minor, so it wouldn’t be surprising if these stories (and many others) circulated throughout the area.  In fact, it’s probably likely.

If this is true, Peter is using this story because it’s familiar to his readers, whether or not they know of the texts in 1 Enoch or the Sibylline Oracles.  Regarding Peter’s pastoral goal, Jobes writes (247),

Therefore, despite their small numbers the Christians of Asia Minor are not lost to God’s concern in the mass of pagan humanity, and God saves the righteous in spite of their small number (cf. Gen. 18:22-32).  Moreover, though the pagans of Noah’s time spurned his warning to repent, God’s patience did not imply God’s indifference.  Just as the rain eventually began to fall for forty days and forty nights, the final judgment of God will also overtake scoffing unbelievers in the future.  These points were meant to be words of encouragement to the Christians of Asia Minor who, like Noah, were being derided and maligned by their society because of their faith.

Like I said above, one has to approach this passage with a large amount of humility.  While there are enough connections between the Noahic traditions and Asia Minor to convince me to see their importance here in 1 Peter 3, I’ll admit it isn’t a knockout argument.  I still think the main point is discernible despite the confusion: the salvation of the few righteous (Noah & his family) corresponds to the salvation of Peter’s readers.  Though that correspondence is worthy of its own post.

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Outlining 1 Peter

This post is a practice run at giving a descriptive outline for 1 Peter.  This isn’t an analysis of the grammatical structure or a Semantic Structure Analysis, though I hope I’m not ignoring them.  It’s a simple attempt to understand the flow of 1 Peter and how the parts interrelate.  I stress this is a “practice run” because I’m not entirely convinced of every detail, and as you can see, I’m not making an attempt at outlining every sentence.  Anyway, I’m also giving my rationale so you can understand why I opted for the choices I did.


Greeting (1:1-2)

Called out of Darkness to be the People of God (1:3-2:10)

Praise God for His salvation (1:3-12)

Live a holy life as one redeemed (1:13-21)

Having been born of God’s eternal word, love one another (1:22-2:3)

God has called you, making you His people (2:4-10)

Living as the People of God in a Hostile World (2:11-4:11)

Submission to others in suffering (2:11-3:12)

Lead others to praise God because of your good deeds (2:11-3:7)

Submit to governing authorities (2:13-17)

Slaves, follow Christ’s example in suffering (2:18-25)

Wives, submit to your husbands (3:1-6)

Husbands, honor your wives (3:7)

Summary: bless others rather than repay evil (3:8-12)

Be blameless in suffering, just as Christ was (3:13-4:11)

You will suffer undeservedly (3:13-17)

Suffer as Christ did, who was victorious (3:18-22)

Suffering is a sign that you are done with your old ways (4:1-6)

Love one another in light of the end of all things (4:7-11)

Suffering in This Life, in Light of the Time to Come (4:12-5:11)

Expect to suffer as Christ did, entrusting your souls to God (4:12-19)

Elders & young men are to live properly, in light of the coming glory (5:1-7)

Stand strong in suffering, for God will uphold you until the end (5:8-11)

Closing (5:12-14)


So let me make some comments.  The greeting and closing are easy enough to set apart.  That, of course, isn’t to say that they’re unimportant.  One of the difficulties with 1 Peter is that it basically deals with one subject (suffering) throughout the letter, so differentiating sections isn’t always easy.  Basically, you’re dealing with how Peter talks about suffering, not a new topic altogether.  Some letters are relatively easy to outline; 1 Corinthians is a piece of cake.  Others are more difficult; 1 John and James are notoriously tricky (seriously, try to do it sometime).

One thing to note is that you see “dear friends” (TNIV) occur twice in the text, at 2:11 and 4:12.  I’m taking this as a marker of Peter moving on to a slightly different way of handling the topic.  That leaves us with 1:3-2:10 after the greeting and before the first “dear friends.”  I feel good about these 3 main sections in the body of the letter, though how they break down is not as easy to tell.

In my “titles” I tried to be descriptive, summarizing the main point of that section.  I’m not entirely sure I got them all right, or worded them well, but it’s a place to start.  In 1:3-2:10, I broke it down into 4 subsections.  You’ll notice that I indented 1:13-21 and 1:22-2:3 because I wanted to make a point structurally.  I see 1:3-12 and 2:4-10 as “bookending” (or an inclusio) the middle sections.  That is, the bookends focus on what God has done, whereas the middle sections focus on our response.  I don’t think this structure is an accident.

In 2:11-4:11, the beginning is relatively easy to follow.  I think 2:11-12 serves as a “thesis statement” for what is to follow, specifically in 2:13-3:7.  Peter focuses on those under authority and how they should act.  It seems to me that his statement to husbands in 3:7 is not a major focus, evidenced by the short statement to them.  3:8-12 summarizes what comes before, but also provides a transition to what follows.  Instead of focusing on different categories of people (slaves, wives, etc), Peter broadens his focus back to all his readers.  This section includes some of the more confusing portions of the New Testament.  This section ends with an eschatological focus.

This switch back to an eschatological focus provides another transition to our next “dear friends” section beginning in 4:12.  In the first chapter, Peter has a strong emphasis on the coming glory to be revealed, and he returns to this theme again here (4:13; 5:1, 4, 10).  This section is bookended by some quasi-comforting words: some suffering is God’s will (4:19) and Satan is looking to devour you (5:8), but God is the “God of all grace” (5:10) in the midst of all of it.  In the middle of these are Peter’s commands to the elder readers and the younger ones.

So, of the 3 main sections of the body, the 1st and 3rd deal more with an eschatological outlook and with God’s work of salvation (which has both a past and future element that Peter stresses).  The middle section deals a bit more with following Christ as an example of righteous suffering in a hostile world.  As I noted earlier, since there is one main topic of the letter (suffering) there is significant overlap throughout these sections.  But with that said, I think there is a discernable structure.

I’ll stop there.  I’ll give my caveat again- this is a practice run.  I’m not entirely convinced of all of this, and I haven’t checked it with any scholars.  My point in posting this is to show how one can make an attempt to understand the flow of an NT epistle.  Hopefully, in so doing, we can better understand both how Peter encourages his readers in a time of suffering and how we can be encouraged in our own time.

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We’ve begun a new unit in our training school, moving on to the NT Epistles, focusing on 1 Peter.  In the class we use Fee & Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth as our base text (along with its companion volume, How to Read the Bible Book by Book), which has 2 chapters dedicated to studying epistles, one on exegesis and one on hermeneutics.  One of these days I hope to get around to writing more about HTRTBFAIW (yes, I can type that out rather quickly), but for now it’ll suffice to say that I think it’s the most helpful entry level book for teaching the basics of studying the Bible.

But there are other resources I’ve been using in my teaching prep for 1 Peter, and I thought I’d recommend a few for our readers.  Note well: if I were focusing on a more academic study of the book, I’d use far more resources than what I’m putting here.  Since this is a part-time job for me, and I no longer have access to a wealth of commentaries and books like I did at seminary, I can only use what I have at home.  It just so happens that I have some good resources on 1 Peter.

As far as commentaries go, the two I’m using the most are Karen Jobes’ 1 Peter in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament and Thomas Schreiner’s New American Commentary on 1 Peter (this volume also covers 2 Peter and Jude).  This is the first time I’ve really used Jobes’ work, and I have been very pleased thus far.  She’s a very clear writer, which helps sort through the technical issues she deals with.  Schreiner’s commentary is not as technical, and he’s more limited in his space, which keeps him from diving into issues like one might want.  For instance, in dealing with the term “exiles” (or “foreigners”, etc), Schreiner simply dismisses Elliot’s view (see below) as “not compelling,” whereas Jobes gives a more nuanced treatment of the issue.  Like I said, it’s hard to knock Schreiner on this, since he has less space to work with.  Also, for those who have read Schreiner’s works before, it’s not surprising that he takes a strong Reformed reading of the letters (which tends to show up more in 2 Peter than 1 Peter).

Two other commentares I own, but aren’t using as much, as John Elliot’s 1 Peter in the Anchor Bible series and Paul Achtemeier’s commentary in the Hermeneia series.  Elliot’s is interesting, but honestly not all that helpful.  Or, better said, the benefits of his commentary are found in others, and it’s less helpful for someone teaching a 4-week class at church.  He does offer up an interesting argument for Peter’s readers actually being literal exiles (or people displaced from Rome to the provinces mentioned in 1 Peter), rather than seeing the term metaphorically as most have done.  Achtemeier’s still is the best technical commentary, in my opinion.  I’m using it less than Jobes and Schreiner mainly because I don’t have the time to dig as deeply as I’d like.  But in the past, I’ve really enjoyed his commentary, even when I disagree with him rather strongly (such as on the authorship issue).

I’ve used other commentaries in the past, but no longer have access to them.  I Howard Marshall’s commentary in the IVPNT series is really good; I’m disappointed it’s not available on the Bible Gateway site, where some of the commentaries from this series are available for free.  This is the best of the non-technical commentaries, in my opinion.  In the “semi-technical” category, many really like Peter Davids’ commentary in the NICNT series.  To be honest, when I’ve used this commentary in the past, I’ve been disappointed.  But, other people love it, so maybe the problem is with me.  The same goes for J Ramsey Michaels’ commentary in the Word Biblical series.

For more thoughts on 1 Peter commentaries, check out Cousin Jeremy’s post on his own website from 12/06, where he deals with a few more than I do here.  You can also check out the list at Best Commentaries, including forthcoming volumes (I’m most excited about Hafemann’s).

While called a “commentary,” the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament is a commentary of a different sort, as the name indicates.  I haven’t used this a ton just yet, but will in the next week or two and have high hopes.  The 1 Peter section was written by D A Carson, who is one of the better evangelical scholars out there.

As far as dealing with background issues, besides the commentaries, I’m a big fan of Craig Keener’s Bible Background Commentary on the New Testament and David deSilva’s Introduction to the New Testament.  Both of these scholars are excellent at providing cultural information that most of us would never know.  Another interesting take on the culture of the early church is Bruce Longenecker’s Lost Letters of Pergamum, a fictional story that takes place during Domitian’s reign (in the 90’s AD).  Longenecker attempts to show the nature of life under persecution for the early church, which is appropriate for studying 1 Peter (though the nature of the persecution for Peter’s readers in the 60’s is a bit different).

For resources online, you can check out Dan Wallace’s First Peter: Introduction, Argument, and Outline.  It functions as an intro comparable to what you’d find in a commentary, only on a smaller scale but longer than what you’d find in a study Bible.  He’s done this for the whole NT, and I recommend them for those wanting to get a grasp on each of the NT books.  I also listened to the two-part lecture from Biblical Training by Craig Blomberg in his Introduction to the New Testament class.  Blomberg is one of my favorite writers and pretty much everything he does is helpful.  He is not, however, the most engaging speaker I’ve ever heard, but it’s hard to be engaging over an audio recording.  I didn’t listen to Robert Stein’s lecture on 1 Peter, so I can’t comment on it, but I figured I’d link to it so others could check it out if they’d like.

So, that’s about it.  I wonder if anyone reading has any thoughts on resources for studying 1 Peter, particularly non-commentaries (though thoughts on commentaries are welcome, too).  Has anyone heard any good sermons on 1 Peter?  Since I don’t use study Bibles I can’t comment on them, but if anyone has used one for 1 Peter, what did you think?

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Jobes on 1 Peter & Suffering

Even those Christians who do not suffer persecution for the faith are called to the suffering of self-denial.  Sin is often thought of as being motivated by the temptation for pleasure.  But perhaps the real power of sin lies in the avoidance of pain and suffering.  It is better to suffer unfulfilled needs and desires than to sin.  Is this not what self-denial means?  Jesus linked self-denial with following in his footsteps when he said, “Those who would be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 TNIV).  For instance, isn’t the temptation to lie often an attempt to save face rather than face the consequences of the truth?  Isn’t the temptation to cheat on an exam an unwillingness to suffer the loss of reputation or other consequences that failure might bring?  Isn’t sexual sin often the alternative to suffering by living with deep emotional and physical needs unmet?  According to Peter, the pain and suffering that self-denial brings is a godly suffering that is better than yielding to sin (1 Pet. 4:1-2).

Karen H Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p5.

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