Commentary on 1 Peter 2:11-12

Notes (NET translation)

2:11a Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles

“The translation ‘dear friends’ is unfortunate since what Peter emphasized in the term agapetoi is that they are ‘beloved by God’ and chosen to be his people” (Schreiner 119). However, this does not mean the term does not convey the author’s feelings for the readers as well (Achtemeier 173). The “you” (parakalo) in this verse is in the first-person singular (Elliott 457). Each reader is individually urged to abide by the teachings that follow. Once again, the readers are reminded of their status as “foreigners” and “exiles” in the larger society (cf. 1:1, 17). This is an allusion to Genesis 23:4 LXX, where Abraham describes himself in those terms. “With the allusion to Abraham, he reminds his readers that they stand in a long tradition of people who were chosen by God and called to be aliens and strangers in the places where they lived” (Jobes loc. 2646). Foreigners and exiles were viewed with suspicion in the Roman Empire (Achtemeier 173-174). This language provides an analogy for the treatment Christians could expect from the hostile culture in which they lived.

2:11b to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul,

In 1 Peter the “flesh” (sarx) represents the weakness of human beings in this age (cf., 1:24; 3:18; 4:1-2). The verse is instructive because it informs us that those who have the Spirit are not exempt from fleshly desires. Such desires cannot be confined to sexual sins or sins of the body like drunkenness. We have already seen in 2:1 that believers are warned against “social” sins like slander and envy. The depth of the struggle in which believers are engaged is explained by the words “which war against your soul.” Obviously the desires of the flesh that emerge in believers are quite strong if they are described in terms of warfare, as an enemy attempts to conquer believers. Such desires must be resisted and conquered, and the image used implies that this is no easy matter. The Christian life is certainly not depicted as passive in which believers simply “let go and let God.” The “soul” here does not refer to the immaterial part of human beings. The whole person is in view, showing that sinful desires, if they are allowed to triumph, ultimately destroy human beings. (Schreiner 121)

2:12a and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians,

The Greek word ethnesin (translated “non-Christians”) means “Gentiles” or “nations” (Schreiner 122; Jobes loc. 2673). This indicates that the terminology of Israel is now applied to the church.

2:12b so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers,

In 4:15 a “wrongdoer” (kakopoios) refers to someone deviating from conventional standards of morality. Therefore, in this verse, non-Christians are depicted as falsely accusing Christians of deviating from the ways of their neighbors.

Some scholars think that formal legal charges are in view when unbelievers allege that Christians practice evil. Hence, they include this verse in seeing an empirewide and formal persecution against Christians. It is more likely, however, that the language used here is more general. Peter reflected on the widespread cultural opposition to the Christian way of life, so that the charges here are not restricted to legal cases. Unbelievers viewed Christians with suspicion and hostility because the latter did not conform to their way of life (4:3-4). Since believers did not honor the typical gods of the community, they were naturally viewed as subversive and evil in that social context. (Schreiner 122)

In the second century, Christians were falsely charged with cannibalism, incest, and atheism (Achtemeier 177). We do not know what specific charges were leveled against the readers of 1 Peter and alluded to here.

2:12c they may see your good deeds

Peter alludes to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (NET). Peter assumes that the non-Christians share, at least to some extent, the same beliefs about what is good as his readers.

2:12d and glorify God when he appears.

The meaning of this part of verse 12 is debated. Is this appearance to occur at the final judgment or some other day? Will those who are presently unbelievers glorify God because they are saved or despite their condemnation? It may seem strange to us that someone condemned would glorify God but that is just what happens in 1 Enoch 62:9. However, in most cases God is glorified by believers (Acts 13:48; Rom 4:20; 15:7, 9; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:6, 12, 14; 1 Thess 3:1; Rev 5:12-13) and not by unbelievers (Acts 12:23; Rom 1:21). Peter is most likely referring to the salvation of those who are presently unbelievers. J. H. Elliott believes that this appearance occurs in the life of an unbeliever when he witnesses the good deeds of a Christian and converts to Christianity (471). J. R. Michaels finds such an interpretation unsatisfactory: “The motivation for the ‘good conduct’ or ‘good works’ that Peter urges on his readers is distinctly eschatological — salvation for the heathen and glory to God at the last day” (120). The appearance referred to in this verse probably refers to the eschatological judgment, which is commonly described as a time when believers will glorify God (Achtemeier 178; Jobes loc. 2712f.).

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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