Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-12

Notes (ESV translation)

1:3a Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In the Greek, these verses [1:3-12] constitute one very long sentence that is composed of a series of subordinate clauses modifying the main clause “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Doxology provides the context for Christians’ new life in Christ (1:3-5) because both their experience of suffering grief in trials (1:6-7) and their present and ultimate salvation is the goal not only of their faith but also of the plan of God as revealed to the prophets (1:8-12). (Jobes 1332)

1:3b According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again

The verb anagennao (“cause to be born again,” “beget again”) occurs only here and in 1:23 in the NT; cf. also the related artigenneta (“newborn” [babies]) in 2:2. It serves as a dramatic metaphor for the decisive transformation of life that believers have experienced through God’s mercy. God has honored the readers by “rebirthing” them (see also 1:23) as his “children” (1:14) and “newborn babies” (2:2) and incorporating them into his family (2:4-10). This radical transformation from a dead-end existence to new life (cf. 2:5, 24bc), enacted in baptism (3:21), involves entry into a new kinship-like relation with God, Christ, and one another. Thus baptism is logically likened to rebirth, since one can only become kin through birth. Subsequent references to the believers’ passage from “darkness to light” (2:9), and to their former and present phases of existence (2:10, 25; 4:2-4; cf. 1:18-19), further emphasize this transition. Such transition and transformation also entails deliberate severance from previous futile modes of living and deadly social alliances (1:14-16, 18; 2:1, 11; 4:2-4). (Elliott 331-332)

Thus, for the author of 1 Peter, God is not Father by virtue of his role as Creator but rather because of his distinctive role in the new birth of those whom he has chosen to be set apart for the new covenant in Christ. (Jobes 1399)

The most immediate source for the new-birth concept is found in the first-century Christian tradition that originated in the teachings of Jesus himself. Gundry argues persuasively that 1 Peter includes many allusions to sayings of Jesus, along with a few allusions to the Lord’s actions, that according to the Gospels occur in episodes where Peter was either present or had a strong personal interest. In this case, Gundry observes that 1 Pet. 1:3, 23, and 2:2 all involve the concept of the rebirth found in John 3:3, 7, where Jesus declares, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again” (TNIV). Give the ample evidence Gundry cites for other allusions, the teachings of Jesus were most likely one of Peter’s sources. Schutter reaches the conclusion that 1 Peter is more dependent on oral Christian sources than written, which is consistent with Gundry’s observation. (Jobes 1392)

1:3c to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

Here in v 3 hope as a lively (living) confidence in the power of God is cited as the first benefit of divine rebirth. Similarly, as the first exhortation of the following section of the letter (1:13-21), the readers are urged to “set your hope upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13). A stress on trust and hope in God likewise concludes this section (1:21). In 3:5 the holy matriarchs “who hoped in God” are held up as a model for Christian wives and all the readers. And where the vexing issue of suffering for righteousness’ sake is addressed (3:13-17), again the readers are encouraged to “always be prepared to offer a defense for the hope that fills you” (3:15). Hope was a rare commodity in an age suffering “a failure of nerve” (G. Murray) in the face of the collapse of old institutions and the emergence of new, uncertain alignments of political power. Hope clearly differentiated adherents of the Jesus movement from Gentile outsiders who were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). It is especially their hope in the face of abuse and suffering and opposition that made the Christians stand out from their anxious contemporaries (3:15). Moreover, the hope and holiness (1:13-21; 3:1-6) that distinguished their conduct represented unusual and superior qualities that could even move detractors and unbelievers to join the Christian cause (2:12; 3:2). (Elliott 334)

The redemptive act by which God has brought about new birth for a new people is finally made explicit as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . . The main point is not that the hope is a living one because Jesus has been raised, but that God has made believers his children by raising Jesus from the dead. (Michaels 19)

1:4a to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,

As reborn children of God, Christians have a right of inheritance.

In the OT, the land of Canaan was regarded as an “inheritance” (kleronomia) bequeathed by God, who owned the land (Lev 25:23; Josh 22:19; Isa 14:2), to the patriarchs and their progeny (Gen 12:7; 50:24; Deut 34:4). In Israel’s undulating history, that inheritance, however, was often defiled and lost-gained-lost as the result of its domestic idolatries, foreign invasions, and deportations (Deut 30:1-10; Jer 2:7). For the vast majority of Israelites, those resident in the Diaspora, that territorial inheritance was a distant memory and a future hope rather than a present reality (Lam 5:2; Jdt 8:22; 2 Macc 1:27-29 and 2:18). . . .

This nonterritorial concept of inheritance (cf. also 3:7) distinguishes the Christian sect from Israel, its parent body, in at least four important ways:

(1) The Christian focus on hope is no longer on the reacquisition of the land of Israel from its colonial overlords and the restoration of its political autonomy.

(2) Christians are not defined by their belonging to this land or for that matter to any particular locality. Christianity is a worldwide phenomenon (5:9) with a worldwide mission (as the book of Acts affirms).

(3) The notion of a holy land is superseded by that of a holy community (2:4-10). The Christian brotherhood, wherever it exists (2:17; 5:9), provides a new place of identity and belonging for the reborn children of God.

(4) The inheritance of Christians, in contrast to the inheritance of the Holy Land, is one that cannot perish, be defiled, or fade, as the following words explain. (Elliott 335-336)

Verse 4 recalls the following words of Jesus:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)

1:4b kept in heaven for you,

The passive word “kept” (teteremenen) is a divine passive, referring to God as the one who reserves the inheritance for believers. Peter emphasized in the strongest possible terms the security and certainty of the reward awaiting believers. (Schreiner 63)

Christians are heirs of “the grace of life” (3:7).

At this point the focus shifts from the inclusive “our” (3a), “us” (3b) to the addressees as the specific recipients of and responders to God’s saving action, and this focus dominates throughout the remainder of the letter (you; to, for you [obj.]: 29x; you [subj.]: 2x; your: 21x; 2d-person pl. verbs and participles: 91x). This consistent stress upon the “for-you-ness” of the letter’s good news is one of the most typical and noteworthy features of its encouragement and exhortation. (Elliott 336)

1:5a who by God’s power are being guarded through faith

How does God protect believers? We know from the following verses that he does not exempt them from persecution or suffering. Believers may suffer agonizing pain, both physical and psychological, because of their faith. Peter must have meant that God preserves believers so that they will receive their final inheritance and experience the joy of eschatological salvation. The text does not merely say, however, that believers are protected “through faith” (dia pisteos). Obtaining the final inheritance therefore does not bypass human beings, as if we are mere automatons in the process. Believers must exercise faith to receive final salvation. Faith here is “continuing trust or faithfulness.” Peter did not conceive of faith as a single isolated act; genuine faith persists until the day of redemption. But if receiving the inheritance is dependent upon human faith, is it possible that some will fall short and be judged rather than saved?

There is no final salvation apart from continued faith, and thus faith is a condition for obtaining the eschatological inheritance. It is imperative to understand that God’s protection cannot be kept in a separate compartment from our believing. We can get at the issue by asking, “How are we protected through God’s power?” All of 1 Peter clarifies that we are not exempted from suffering or even death because of the power of God since the church experiences persecution. God’s power does not shield believers from trials and sufferings, but it does protect us from that which would cause us to fall away. What would prevent us from maintaining our allegiance to Christ until the end? Surely the answer is sin, and we know that sin stems from unbelief — in failing to hope in God during our earthly sojourn. God’s power, to be effective at all, must guard us from sin and unbelief. If his power plays no role in our faith, then it seems that his power accomplishes nothing in our making it to the end — since it is precisely unbelief and failure to hope in God that causes us to fall away from God. If God’s power does not protect us from unbelief, it is hard to see what it does. How is God protecting us until the end if his guarding plays no role in our continuing faith? We are suggesting that 1 Pet 1:5 contains a glorious promise. God’s power protects us because his power is the means by which our faith is sustained. E. Best rightly discerns that the ultimate reason for our preservation must be God’s gift rather than our faith since otherwise “the reference to God’s power” is “unnecessary and provides no assurance to the believer since what he doubts is his own power to cling to God in trial.” We should not use this verse to deny that believers must maintain their faith until the end. Its function is to encourage believers with the truth that God will preserve their faith through sufferings and the vicissitudes of life. Faith and hope are ultimately gifts of God, and he fortifies believers so that they persist in faith and hope until the day that they obtain the eschatological inheritance. (Schreiner 64-65)

1:5b for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Peter believed that the end times had come (1:20; 4:7) but that the final salvation of Christians still lies in the future. “This salvation is ‘about to be revealed at the last day.’ Peter is not speaking of the ‘times’ or the ‘ages’ in a generalized sense (as, e.g., in v 20), but of one decisive moment when God will bring to an end the world as it has always been (cf. 4:7), and make a new beginning” (Michaels 23).

1:6a In this you rejoice,

Verse 6 begins with the words “in this” (en ho). Identifying a particular antecedent is difficult. The words “God” or “Christ” (v. 3) are too far removed to be likely candidates. “The last time” (kario eschato) fits better, and it would require that the word “rejoice” (agalliasthe) be understood as a present tense with a future meaning. It is preferable, though, to retain the normal sense of the verb tense, so that Peter referred to rejoicing now, not in the last day. This is the natural way to take the same verb in v. 8 as well. The strongest argument favoring this view is that the present tense verb “you love” (agapate) is clearly a present indicative and not a future. Therefore the words “in this” should be understood as a general antecedent and can be translated “in which circumstances,” or “for that reason.” The phrase reaches back to the entire content of vv. 3-5, focusing on the eschatological hope of believers. They rejoice now because of the inheritance that most certainly awaits them. (Schreiner 66-67)

1:6b though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,

Three qualifications of Christian suffering and grief serve to cast a potentially demoralizing experience in a positive light. Suffering affliction for the faith from hostile outsiders, first of all, is a potentiality of Christian experience, since believers share the experience of their suffering Lord (2:21; 3:18; 4:1, 13). But suffering is not a necessity, as the qualifier “if it must be” (ei deon [estin]) makes clear. Elsewhere in the NT, dei, deon (“must”) are used frequently in reference to God’s will concerning the sufferings of Jesus (Mark 8:31 par.; Luke 17:25; 24:7, 26; John 3:14; 12:34; Acts 3:21; 17:3) and his followers (Acts 14:22) or of events that “must” take place (Mark 13:7; Rev 1:1; 4:1; 22:6; see Fascher 1954). The conditional formulation here (“if”), similar in sense and usage to the analogous conditional qualification of suffering in 3:17 (ei theloi to thelema theou, “if this should be God’s will”), indicates the possibility of innocent suffering (cf. also 3:14) rather than its necessity. As is later indicated, Christians are “called” by God not to suffer as such but primarily to be obedient to God’s will even in the face of innocent suffering (2:21 following 2:19-20; 4:19; cf. 1:14; 2:15; 4:2), to “inherit a blessing” for doing good (3:9), and, following a brief period of suffering, to share in God’s glory (5:10).

Second, the suffering of affliction (caused by hostile nonbelievers, 2:12, 19-20; 3:14; 4:14) is not a permanent but only a temporary situation. It is only for a brief time, a little while (oligon), a point reiterated in the parallel formulation of 5:10c; compare oligon . . . lypethentes and oligon pathontas.

Third, affliction and suffering should be regarded as “various testings” from God (poikilois peirasmois forming another alliteration; cf. the singular peirasmos in 4:12), the purpose of which is the testing of your faith and its praise-worthy outcome (hina clause, v 7). The positive value of innocent suffering is stressed again in 4:1 and esp. 4:12-19. . . . (Elliott 339-340)

Their suffering is coming “by all kinds of trials,” suggesting that there was no one pressing trial or persecution in view. The adjective translated “all kinds” (poikilos, 1:6) in some contexts means “many-colored.” The same adjective is found in 4:10, where it refers to the many kinds of expressions of the grace of God. (Jobes 1544)

1:7a so that the tested genuineness of your faith—

In 1 Peter, “faith” involves maintaining trust, loyalty and commitment to Jesus Christ (1:8; 5:9) and God (1:5, 21; 5:9). A Christian’s response to suffering reveals whether his faith is genuine or not.

1:7b more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—

The . . . idea that the purity of a person’s trust in God was tested by adversity as precious metal was tested by fire was a commonplace of Jewish thought, and the notion of faith tested by (fiery) adversity appears in the NT as well. The comparison in this verse, with its emphasis on the perishable nature of gold, implies an argument from the lesser to the greater: if perishable, and hence less valuable, gold must be so tested, how much more faith, which is imperishable and hence of greater value. The emphasis here is not on faith itself so much as on the nature of the faith that results from such trials. It is that tested and proved character of faith which is more precious than gold and which brings approval from God at the last judgment. (Achtemeier 102)

1:7c may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

At this final revelation, notes the Petrine author, the assessed probity of the believers’ loyalty will be the basis of their share (2:7; 4:13; 5:1) in the “praise” (epainon), “glory” (doxan), and “honor” (timen) already ascribed to God (4:11; 5:11; cf. 2:12) and Jesus Christ (1:11, 21; 2:4, 6; 5:1). (Elliott 342)

1:8a Though you have not seen him, you love him.

The author is not explicitly including himself in this statement nor is he explicitly excluding himself from the statement (Michaels 32).

1:8b Though you do not now see him, you believe in him

1:8c and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,

1:9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The participle “receiving” (komizomenoi) in v. 9 could be understood as attendant circumstances, and the phrase could be translated, “And you receive the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Alternatively, it could be translated as temporal, “when you receive the outcome of your faith, your final salvation.” But the interpretation proposed by the NIV is most satisfying, understanding the principle as providing a reason, “For you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Peter was explaining why believers are filled with love and joy for Jesus Christ (the two main verbs from v. 8). They have love and joy because of the prospect of future salvation. The idea that the participle is temporal should be rejected because that requires that the verb “rejoice” in v. 8 be understood as a future. The present tense of the verb “rejoice” and the parallelism with the verb “love” in v. 8 indicates that “rejoice” describes the experience of believers now. Salvation, as we have seen in v. 5, is eschatological, consummated only on the last day. The present participle (komizomenoi) does not necessarily indicate that the salvation in view here is present. Indeed, the word “outcome” (telos) suggests that a future gift is in view. It is possible that we have here the “now” and “not yet” tension that is so common in the New Testament. Believers now enjoy salvation and yet will experience it fully at the revelation of Jesus Christ. In any case, believers are full of love and joy even now because of the hope of salvation. (Schreiner 70-71)

Psyche occurs frequently in 1 Peter (1:22; 2:11, 25; 3:20; 4:19) and elsewhere as a Semitism standing for a reflexive pronoun. Here, and in the Bible generally, it denotes not an entity within or distinguishable from the human body but human beings in their entirety as living beings animated by the breath of God (Gen 2:7; cf. Betram et al. 1974). For our author, the total persons, personal selves as living beings and not their “spiritual souls” alone, are the object of divine salvation. (Elliott 344)

1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,

“Searched” and “inquired” have the same basic meaning in Greek and therefore function here to emphasize the persistence and thoroughness of the prophets’ search (Acthemeier 108).

1:11a inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating

As Michaels points out, the prophets of the OT times, judging from their writings, were in fact more prone to inquire about when their prophetic visions would occur than who the Messiah would be. For instance, in Dan. 9:2, Daniel is seeking to understand the times previously prophesied by Jeremiah. In 12:6-13, the prophet asks a heavenly messenger: “How long shall it be till the end of these wonders?” (NRSV). He receives the answer “Go your way . . . because the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end” (NIV). Similarly, Ezra asks the Lord, “How long? When will these things be [coming to pass]?” (2 Esd. [4 Ezra] 4:33 NRSV). And later he wonders (4:51): “Do you think that I shall live until these days?” (NRSV). In Hab. 2:1-4, the prophet inquires of the Lord and is told that “the vision awaits its time. . . . If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come. . . . The righteous shall live by faith.” (Jobes 1660)

Christou could refer to either the “Messiah” or “(Jesus) Christ” specifically. In the former case the reference would be to “the spirit of the Messiah,” the spirit within the prophets that witnessed to the future sufferings and glories of the Messiah. In the latter case, it would refer to the preexistent spirit of Jesus Christ, which within the prophets witnessed to Jesus Christ’s future sufferings and glory. Both ideas are without exact precedent or parallel and either would fit the manner in which our author speaks of “the Messiah/the Christ” (3:15; 4:13; 5:1). It is however conceivable that the two ideas are complementary since, from the author’s perspective, Jesus Christ is in fact the long-expected Messiah. The Messiah whose spirit spoke through prophets earlier has now been revealed as Jesus, the Messiah/Christ (1:19-20) who himself was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1:20). (Elliott 346)

1:11b when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.

The “sufferings of Christ” refers to his passion and death while the “subsequent glories” refers to his resurrection and glorious return (Achtemeier 111).

1:12a It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things

1:12b that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,

1:12c things into which angels long to look.

This is a second qualifying phrase referring, like v 12b, back to things in v 12a. “To gain a glimpse” translates parakypto (“to bend over” to see something better; colloquially, “steal a peek”; cf. John 20:11 and Michaelis 1967b). The Epistle to the Apostles contains a later adaptation of this thought: “Truly I say to you, such and so great a joy has my Father prepared (for you) that angels and powers desired and will desire to view and to see it, but they will not be allowed to see the greatness of my Father” (Ep. Apos. 19). Here in 1 Peter the thought heightens the exclusive privilege granted to the addressees: not the ancient prophets, not even angels in heaven — despite their efforts or desires — have seen or heard the things proclaimed only to you! (Elliott 350)

The point is that angels reflect with delight on God’s saving actions. More specifically, angels do not experience the gospel in the same way as human beings since they are not the recipients of redemption. Again, the privilege of enjoying and anticipating salvation comes to the forefront. Old Testament prophets saw it from afar, and angels also marvel when gazing upon what God has done in Christ, while the Petrine readers actually experience it. (Schreiner 75-76)

The import of the verse as a whole serves to reinforce the idea of the unity of the origin and content of the witness of the OT and the Christian gospel: as the Spirit of Christ informed the message of the prophets, the Holy Spirit impels the proclamation of the gospel. That unity centers in Jesus Christ, the announcement of whose appearance is the fulfillment of the prophets’ message and is itself the beginning of the eschatological fulfillment they foresaw. That that new reality can already shape the lives of those who live within it is the thrust of the ethical admonitions that commence in the next section of the letter. (Achtemeier 112-113)

Bibliography

Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996.

Elliott, John Hall. 1 Peter. Yale University Press, 2007.

Jobes, Karen. 1 Peter. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2005.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Thomas Nelson, 1988.

Schreiner, Thomas R. 1, 2 Peter, Jude. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003.

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