Commentary on 1 Peter 1:13-21

Notes (ESV translation)

1:13a Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded,

The word “therefore” (dio) reaches back to all of vv. 1-12. In the following verses the readers are exhorted to live a godly life. But all these exhortations are grounded in God’s saving work as explained in vv. 1-12. Believers are to obey because they are God’s chosen pilgrims, because they have been begotten by the Father, because they have an untouchable inheritance, and because of the greatness of their salvation. God’s commands are always rooted in his grace. Another way of putting this is to say that the indicative (what God has done for us in Christ) is always the basis of the imperative (how we should live our lives). To confuse the order here would be disastrous, and the result would be works righteousness instead of seeing holiness as the result of God’s grace and power, as a response to the love of God in Christ. (Schreiner 77)

The Greek translated by the ESV as “preparing your minds for action” reads literally “having girded up the loins of your mind.” In the past, when persons wore long robes they needed to hike them up and secure them to prepare for strenuous activity. An idiomatic English equivalent would be “Having rolled up the sleeves of your mind.” The readers are to be mentally prepared for the final revelation of Christ (1:13) and their moral responsibility in the meantime (1:14-16) (Elliott 355-356).

Peter’s point is that one sets one’s hope on future grace, not by idle wishfulness or unfounded optimism, but by a mental resolve to live in such a way as to manifest the “living hope” of the Christian believer. The Christian hope is a reality to be recognized and acted upon now.

But how does one “bind up the loins of one’s mind”? The second participle, nephontes, gives the mode by which the idiom is realized: by being self-controlled. (Note the present tense of the participle, suggesting an ongoing action.) Although the verb can refer to sobriety as the opposite of alcoholic drunkenness, when used in the context of thinking, it refers to “a broader range of soberness or sobriety, namely, restraint and moderation which avoids excess in passion, rashness, or confusion” (GELNT domain 88.86), hence self-control. The mind is not to be understood narrowly as denoting only the intellectual life but as that which determines conduct. The avoidance of intoxication is certainly included, especially in any society where those who have no hope often take refuge in drunkenness. Peter wishes his readers to avoid any form of mental or spiritual intoxication that would confuse the reality that Christ has revealed and deflect them from a life steadfastly fixed on the grace of Christ. Self-control of the mood facilitates prayer (1 Pet. 4:7) and an awareness of the devil’s ways (5:8).

In other words, Peter instructs his readers to set their hope on the grace that will be theirs when Jesus returns by being fully able to think and act on the basis of their true nature in Christ, despite whatever hostility such a lifestyle might provoke from their society. Peter’s readers cannot resolve to make the hard ethical choices he will enjoin on them if they do not have their minds fixed on the final outcome of their resolve. (Jobes loc. 1789)

1:13b set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Greek verb elpizo (“hope”) does not merely mean a wish for the future. It carries the idea of assurance that what is hoped for will certainly come to pass (Jobes loc. 1761). “The implication is not that they presently have no grace, but that their hope is to be grounded in that fulfilled grace which comes with Christ’s return, when hope will become visible reality” (Achtemeier 119).

The Greek behind the phrase translated “on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” could refer either to Christ’s initial appearance in human history or to his final appearance at the end of time. “In either case, the original manifestation of Jesus as Messiah and his final revelation in glory mark the boundaries of the endtime and of the period of lively hope” (Elliott 357).

1:14a As obedient children,

1:14b do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,

The Greek word translated “passions” refers to all kinds of self-seeking, whether directed toward wealth, power, or pleasure (Michaels 57). The mention of “former ignorance” initially suggests that the letter’s recipients were Gentiles. But we must note that from the Christian vantage point ignorance could be attributed to anyone who lacked knowledge in God as revealed in Christ (Acts 3:17;Phil 3:4-9).

1:15a but as he who called you is holy,

“Calling” refers to God’s effectual call in which he infallibly brings people to himself (1 Pet 2:9, 21; 3:9; 5:10). This definition is borne out by 2:9, where God calls people “out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Calling does not merely mean “invite” but conveys the idea of God’s power in bringing people from darkness to light. Just as God’s call creates light when there was darkness, so he creates life when there was death. The reference to “calling” is important, for again grace precedes demand. Otherwise the Petrine paraenesis could be confused with the idea that human beings attain their own righteousness or that they live morally noble lives in their own strength. All holiness stems from the God who called them into the sphere of the holy. (Schreiner 80)

1:15b you also be holy in all your conduct,

“Holy” connotes both consecration to God and separation from all that is unclean.

This holiness of believers is a result of their election by God (1:1; 2:4-10; 5:13), their sanctification by the Holy Spirit (1:2), their call by God, the Holy One (1:15), and their redemption through the blood of Christ, the holy lamb (1:18-19; 1:2c).

As 1:14-16 indicates, a holy identity requires holy conduct: conduct in conformity with God’s holiness and obedience to his will (1:14-16, 17); love of brothers and sisters with pure hearts (1:22; 3:2); and sanctifying the Christ as Lord amidst suffering (3:14-15). It likewise entails a holy nonconformity to Gentile values and to all forms of behavior contrary to the will of God (1:14; 2:11, 16; 4:2-3). (Elliott 362)

1:16a since it is written,

Peter quotes Leviticus 19:2 LXX exactly (Michaels 59).

1:16b “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

This command underlies the legislation of Leviticus 17-26 (the Holiness Code). Israel was sanctified by God and separated from the pollution of the Gentiles.

Interestingly, Peter does not mandate that his first-century readers in Greco-Roman Asia Minor follow the particular instructions of the Holiness Code. His application of the OT law is direct but differentiated. He quotes Lev. 19:2 to establish the principle that, as Christians, his readers must be set apart from their surrounding culture in a way that is consistent with God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Just as ancient Israel observed customs and morals that set them apart from the ancient Mesopotamian cultures, Peter instructs his readers that they, too, must be set apart from the customs, rituals, and values of their culture in which they once so freely participated. It is this principle of holiness unto God — of being set apart in a relationship with God — that truly defines them as foreigners and resident aliens with respect to their society. Peter presses their new status as holy in 1 Pet. 2:9, where he describes them collectively as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” for the purpose that they may declare the praises of God who redeems.

Peter’s differentiated application of Leviticus is interesting in that it preserves the authority of God’s word in ancient Israel as binding on Christians, but it does not prescribe the specifics of the Levitical code as the way of life to be followed by his Christian readers. The apostle recognizes continuity with authority and principle between the OT and Christians but also differences in the particulars because his readers live after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, as well as in a different time and place than ancient Israel. Christians are no less God’s people than was ancient Israel, and no less accountable to God than Israel was, but their holiness is expressed in ways that are appropriate to their own historical moment. Peter’s example is instructive for hermeneutics today as Christians seek to submit to the authority of the OT, yet without seeking a priest to examine mildew in the basement (cf Lev. 14:33-57). (Jobes loc. 1837)

1:17a And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds,

The use of the word “if” (ei) is not intended to cast doubt into the minds of the readers. Peter expects his readers to affirm that God is their Father. Rather, it is intended to motivate the readers to align their conduct with their beliefs (Schreiner 82-83).

1:17b conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

To conduct yourself with fear does not mean to live in abject terror, for Christians are to live in joy and confidence, but rather to have a healthy respect for God’s judgment of sinners. A confident driver respects the dangers of the road so that he doesn’t do anything foolish. Likewise, a Christian can be confident in God’s grace while respecting God’s wrath so that he avoids libertinism (Schreiner 81).

1:18a knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers,

The verb translated “redeemed” ["ransomed"] (lytroo) and its cognate noun lytron were used in Greco-Roman culture to refer to the manumission of a slave. The slave would receive his or her freedom after depositing money in the temple of a god or goddess, money which would then be paid via the temple’s treasury (minus a commission) to the slave’s owner with the thought that the god or goddess was buying the slave. The former slave would then be free in the eyes of his former owner and society but would be considered a slave of the god or goddess. The sum of money paid for the redemption was referred to as the time (price), and the slave was considered to have been redeemed by the deity.

Peter’s thoughts resonate with this custom for he describes his Christian readers as having been redeemed (elytrothete), using the passive voice that implies God as the subject. They are free but nevertheless slaves of God (2:16), but not with a time of silver and gold but, in what seems to be a play on words, with the timio (precious, valuable) blood of Jesus Christ (1:19). Although Peter’s language might resonate with the Greco-Roman culture of manumission, the idea of redemption by the blood of a lamb is clearly rooted in the OT, most frequently found in Leviticus, Psalms, Exodus, and Isaiah — the very books from which Peter so often quotes.

Redemption is related to the OT context of deliverance from foreign exile, which fits well with Peter’s characterization of his readers as foreigners of the Diaspora of Asia Minor. In the LXX the Greek verb lytroo (redeem) most frequently translates the Hebrew verbs ga’al (redeem) and pada (ransom), which are both used to refer to the liberation of God’s people from foreign exile. For instance, in Deut. 7:8, the LORD “kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (NIV). In Isa. 52:3 the prophet speaks of the release of God’s people from Babylon: “For this is what the LORD says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and not with money you shall be redeemed’” (NETS). When Peter points out that his readers have not been redeemed with silver or gold, he is echoing Isaiah’s prophecy, in which he will quote extensively in chapter 2. Christ’s redemption has delivered them from the bondage of the sin that characterized their former way of life and that continues to be practiced all around them in pagan society.

The thought of manumission is not unique to Greco-Roman culture. It is also found in Ps. 34:22 (33:23 LXX), a psalm that Peter also subsequently alludes to (1 Pet. 2:3) and quotes (3:10-12). The psalmist writes, “The Lord will redeem the lives of his slaves; none of those who hope in him will go astray” (Ps. 33:23 LXX, emphasis added). These words of the psalm resonate with Peter’s emphasis on hope in the immediate context (1 Pet. 1:13, 21). Furthermore, Ps. 34 is a psalm of deliverance and, in its Greek form, specifically deliverance from the hardships of sojourning in exile (paroikion, Ps. 33:5 LXX). This psalm is explicitly appropriate for Peter’s readers and connects directly in the immediate context to Peter’s command in 1:17 that they live out the time of their sojourn in fear of God. Moreover, Peter alludes to Ps. 34:8 (33:9 LXX), “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” as in 1 Pet. 2:3 he writes, “Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Peter’s images of redemption here are apparently a conflation of Isa. 52:3 and Ps. 34 (33 LXX).

The concept of the exodus from the slavery of Egypt and the exile of Babylon, together with the manumission of a slave, imply a transition from a former way of life to a new state once one has been redeemed. Peter explicitly states this in 1:18: “You have been redeemed out of the useless way of life you inherited from your ancestors” (emphasis added). Interestingly, Peter does not connect redemption directly with freedom from sin and guilt, nor does he portray redemption in contrast to the society in which his readers live. Rather, redemption is defined in contrast to the way his readers lived before they came to faith in Christ, a heritage that, though culturally venerated, he describes as “useless” (mataias). (Jobes loc. 1874)

The Greek term anastrophe, translated as “ways,” refers to the behavior, values, norms, and commitments of the readers’ forefathers. It refers to their whole way of life that was left behind at their conversion (Elliott 370).

The word “handed down from the forefathers” (patroparadotou) in Greek literature does not convey that which is wearing out or declining. It signifies a vibrant tradition that is conveyed from generation to generation. Such tradition usually is described in a positive sense and is associated especially with religious traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. Here we have firm evidence that the readers were Gentiles (cf. 1 Pet 4:1-4), since the Jews were at least taught they should worship the one and only God. The verse also opens an interesting window on Peter’s view of other religions. He did not see them as saving or even as noble, although I am not arguing that he was implying that every element in other religions is ignoble. In the final analysis, however, these religions are vanity and futility. They do not lead to faith and trust in the true God. (Schreiner 84-85)

1:18b not with perishable things such as silver or gold,

In the context of verses 18-19 phthartois (“perishable”) refers to something defective in contrast to the unblemished lamb (Elliott 372).

1:19a but with the precious blood of Christ,

1:19b like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

In the OT, sacrifices were required to be “without blemish” (amomos) (Ex 29:1, 38; Lev 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6, 9; 4:3, 14, 23, 28, 32; 5:15, 18; 12:6; Num 15:24; Ezek 43:22). This language indicates that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. As the fulfillment he exceeded the type. Whereas the OT sacrifices were without physical defect, Christ was sinless (2:22) (Schreiner 86). “Christ is not so much to be identified as a lamb, as his sacrifice is to be compared to that of the lamb who is sacrificed for the benefit of others, as was the case in the Hebrew cultic system” (Achtemeier 129-130).

1:20a He was foreknown before the foundation of the world

Why did Peter state here that Christ was foreknown? How does it fit into the argument? The main theme of the paragraph is that believers should conduct their lives in fear. They should do so because they have been ransomed with the precious blood of Christ (vv. 18-19). Now the readers are informed that this is no afterthought. God determined before history ever began (“before the foundation of the world,” NRSV; cf. Eph 1:4) that the Christ would appear at this particular juncture of history as redeemer. This interpretation is confirmed by the last part of the verse. Christ “was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.” (Schreiner 88)

Here, the term kosmos (“world”) refers to the inhabited world without any negative connotations. God’s salvific intention stretches back to before creation (Elliott 376).

1:20b but was made manifest in the last times

In this letter, the initial and final appearances of Christ represent the boundaries of the “last times.”

1:20c for the sake of you

The stunning privilege of believers is communicated once again because all these things occurred “for your sake” (cf. vv. 10-12). What a tragedy it would be to throw all these privileges away by ceasing to live in the fear of God. (Schreiner 88)

1:21a who through him are believers in God,

1:21b who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,

In this sub-verse, Peter is making it clear that Jesus’ resurrection was not simply the resumption of earthly life, but the beginning of a new and transcendent existence (3:18-22) (Michaels 69).

1:21c so that your faith and hope are in God.

“Although Christian existence centers on Jesus, God the Father is its ultimate source and its ultimate goal” (Michaels 70).

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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2 thoughts on “Commentary on 1 Peter 1:13-21”

  1. A question:

    If 1 Peter is a forgery, as many NT scholars believe, then how would this effect your reception of 1 Peter as ‘Word of God’? Would it necessitate its’ removal from the NT canon?

    It may be one of the greatest ironies of the Christian scriptures that some of them insist on truth, while telling a lie, or it justifiable to lie in order to tell the truth?

  2. Hi Paul:

    If 1 Peter is a forgery

    I don’t believe it is a forgery. After finishing the commentary on 1 Peter, I will write a post on the authorship of the epistle giving my reasons for this belief.

    as many NT scholars believe

    It is worth pointing out that even if a scholar does not believe the apostle Peter wrote the epistle directly he may still believe that the teachings of the apostle lie behind the writing.

    J. H. Elliott (see above bibliography) writes:

    The theory that the letter emerged from a Petrine group in Rome was first proposed in rudimentary form by Best and Senior and was developed more extensively by the present writer. Numerous scholars now consider the theory plausible, if not probable. [footnote mentions Blevins, Bauckham, R. E. Brown and Meier, J. L. Price, Michaels, Soards, Knoch, Mullins, Duling and Perrin, R. P. Martin, and D. L. Barr] (p. 127)

    As a letter from the Petrine group in Rome of which Silvanus and Mark were members, it was ascribed to Peter the Apostle because the group responsible for its composition knew that they were expressing not primarily their own ideas but rather the perspectives and teaching of their foremost leader, the Apostle Peter. The letter is then “Petrine” in the secondary sense that it embodies and transmits the theology and pastoral concerns of the chief figure of this Petrine circle. (p. 130)

    then how would this effect your reception of 1 Peter as ‘Word of God’?

    It would depend on my beliefs about the author. If I believed the author was a disciple of the apostle Peter then the text would still be very authoritative. If I believed the author had no connection to apostolic teachings at all then it would have little authority. Note: I am speaking of its authority (in my life) because I’m not sure in what sense you are using the term “Word of God”.

    Would it necessitate its’ removal from the NT canon?

    If you are speaking of my own personal NT canon then I it could be removed depending on the above factors.

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