Commentary on 1 Peter 3:13-17

Notes (NET Translation)

3:13 For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good?

Recall v. 12 (NET): “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil.” Verse 13 continues this message. The future tense in “who is going to harm you” indicates that this is a reference to judgment day (Schreiner 170). Verse 14 makes it clear that evil-doers can cause godly believers to suffer in this life. Thus, v. 13 is stating that no one can ultimately and finally triumph over believers.

3:14 But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken.

Verse 14 clarifies v. 13. The first sentence of this verse is similar to Jesus’ statement in Matt. 5:10-12 (NET): “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.” This suggests that the blessing (makarios) in view is eternal life. “Translations often render makarios as ‘blessed’ or ‘happy,’ but since makarisms are actually acknowledgements or conferrals of honor, makarios is best rendered ‘how honorable’ or ‘how esteemed’ (you are)” (Elliott 624).

Peter alluded in this verse and the next to Isa 8:12-13. The text is reshaped slightly to fit Petrine themes, though we again do not know if the text was carefully altered or if it is cited from memory. Apparently the Isaiah text was important for Peter, for we saw in 1 Pet 2:8 that he appealed to Isa 8:14, in the texts collected on the stone. The context of Isaiah 7-8 is important. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was threatened by the Northern Kingdoms of Isarel and Aram (approximately modern day Syria). These two countries were threatening to remove Ahaz as king of Judah and to install a certain Tabeel as king in his stead. The threat filled Ahaz and Judah with terror (Isa 7:2), but Isaiah promised that the Lord would preserve Judah, that Israel and Aram would be vanquished by Syria [sic: should be Assyria], and that the Lord would provide a sign to demonstrate the faithfulness of his word. Judah and Ahaz were to respond by trusting in the Lord’s promise. In Isa 8:11-15 the Lord commands his people not to fear the plot hatched by Israel and Aram. They should only fear Yahweh, the God of Israel, and put their trust in him alone. Those who trust in him will find him to be a sanctuary, but those who fail to trust will stumble, fall, and be broken. We can see from this short synopsis of Isaiah that Peter appropriately applied the prophecy to his situation. Just as Judah had enemies in the days of Ahaz, so the Petrine readers faced opponents in their day. Just as Judah was tempted to fear their foes, so the Petrine readers were liable to fear what their persecutors might do to them. Hence, the words of Isaiah still spoke to Peter’s day. Believers are not to fear the suffering unbelievers might administer to them. They are to trust in the Lord, believing that he will vindicate his own. (Schreiner 172-173)

3:15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.

It’s debatable whether the Greek translated “set Christ apart as Lord” should be interpreted as predicative (revere Christ as Lord) or appoistional (revere the Lord, namely, Christ) (Jobes loc. 3560-3563). “The meaning in either case, however, is virtually the same: the one whom Christians must regard as holy is Christ” (Achtemeier 232). In NT times the heart was thought of as the origin of human behavior. Therefore, v. 15 is not speaking of merely a private inner reality but a reality that will be evident to others through action (e.g., suffering for one’s faith). Believers are to be ready to give an “answer/reply/response” (apologia) for their hope.

The exhortation here is instructive, for Peter assumed that believers have solid intellectual grounds for believing the gospel. The truth of the gospel is a public truth that can be defended in the public arena. This does not mean, of course, that every Christian is to be a highly skilled apologist for the faith. It does mean that every believer should grasp the essentials of the faith and should have the ability to explain to others why they think the Christian faith is true. (Schreiner 174-175)

This command to be ready with an account of one’s Christian life for anyone who might ask at any time is counter to the kind of attitude held by many esoteric groups in the Greco-Roman world at that time, for whom such divulgence would have been tantamount to betrayal of the community and their god(s). Such open explanation of the Christian “hope,” far from something to avoid, is here added to the requirements expressed by our author such as to do good, not to recompense evil or defamation in kind, and to suffer if necessary for one’s faith. In this context, not even fear of further persecution is to deter the Christians from giving a full account of their “hope.” Cultural isolation is not to be the route taken by the Christian community. It is to live its life openly in the midst of the unbelieving world, and just as openly to be prepared to explain the reasons for it. (Achtemeier 234)

Peter uses the term “hope” instead of “faith” perhaps because unbelievers would see that the reason believers suffer persecution for their faith is because of their hope of eternal life (1:3, 13). “You” is plural and therefore indicates that this hope is common to all Christians.

3:16 Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.

“Keeping a good conscience” refers to a right relationship with God (Schreiner 176). The phrase “in Christ” indicates the “good conduct” is distinctively Christian behavior. In 2:12 Peter states that good behavior will lead some unbelievers to salvation while in this verse he states that some unbelievers will be put to shame on the last day because they refused to acknowledge the goodness of the lives of the believers.

In modern society, shame most often refers to the emotion that is akin to embarrassment or guilt. But the Christian’s testimony is not intended to embarrass those to whom it is offered. In the OT and Jewish writings, shame connotes a social status, often in reference to utter defeat and disgrace in battle. Shame means “to be overthrown and left at the mercy of one’s enemies” (Michaels 1988: 190-91). Scripture often promises that those who are faithful to God will not in the end be shamed, but their opponents will be. This does not refer to emotion but to standing. (Jobes loc. 3590-3593)

3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.

There are two possible meanings of this verse: (1) it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil or (2) it is better to suffer now for doing good than to suffer on the day of judgment for doing evil. “The point is not that God wills suffering but that God wills doing what is right rather than doing what is wrong (see 2:15-16, 19-20; 3:11-12; 4:2, 19), even if and when this results in suffering” (Elliott 635).

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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