In 1 Peter 2:13-3:12, Peter argues that believers fulfill God’s desire for order when they take on the posture of service and submission. Namely, submission to others who have been given roles to fulfill in God’s appointment. Orderly behavior within the world is a way to express our trust in God.
In other words, the Christian is to live such a life in such a way that the watching world knows that we serve a higher ruler, God. This whole section describes a posture that is in direct contrast to the spirit of our world, where every individual demands rights and recognition.
First, this means that we show honor to the people are placed in office since government is a good and God ordained. We are God’s servants first, submitting to His will. It is a higher allegiance to God that motivates our submission to governing authorities. As Paul states in Romans 13, their authority comes from God, and their very existence has been instituted by God. In general, they are established for the good of society, namely, to punish what is evil and praise what is good.
Second, this also has implications on our vocation. Peter speaks directly to slaves in this passage, but let us be careful not to impose our United States historical experience on this text. Some slaves did live miserably, other slaves, however, served as doctors, teachers, managers, musicians, and artisans. Now, it was possible for slaves to suffer mistreatment at the hands of their masters for doing good. The primary focus of this text is concentrated on eliciting a godly response to that mistreatment, especially if they suffer unjustly for the sake of righteousness. By not retaliating or giving into resentment, repaying evil for evil, the Christian shows confidence in God’s justice and not giving into the desire to avenge himself.
Third, Peter directs his attention to marriage – and specifically – to wives. Order in the household has long been viewed as the foundation of the state and the orderly structure of society. Based on verse 1, I think we can make the argument that Peter primarily has wives of unbelieving husbands in view, those who “do not obey the word”. Peter is arguing that godly behavior can become a means by which unbelieving husbands come to see the beauty of the Christian faith. In this sense, submission is commended for the sake of the mission of God. A wife submits to the husband in reflection of God’s order for marriage. For the wives of unbelieving husbands, a godly life is a mighty weapon for winning him to the faith.
In all things, do not repay evil with evil, but respond to others when they do evil to you by blessing them. In this way, our submission to God is demonstrated in our service of others.
Our lives are shaped by an eternal perspective that allows us to submit to this world’s order, knowing that in the world to come everyone will answer for how they used their position and power. Jesus endured the cross, despising shame, and now sits down at the right hand of God. With that in mind, let us do the same – endure what comes our way – and do good, knowing that one day we will reign with him in eternity.
I recently polled my Facebook friends on their interpretation of 1 Peter 3:19-20. There was much discussion, and differing views, which led me to write this blog post.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” – 1 Peter 3:18-20
There is much theological debate concerning verses 19-20. Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on First Peter, “…a wonderful text is this, and a more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament, so I do not know for certain just what Peter means.” As Ed Clowney notes, this confession by Luther should warn us of overconfidence. However, I believe there is enough biblical evidence to make an educated interpretation of this passage.
Much of the debate hinges on the identity of the “spirits” in verse 19. Depending on the context, the word translated “spirits” can either be used in reference of human spirits or angelic spirits (Num. 16:22; 27:16; Acts 7:59; Heb. 12:23). But the word itself in the immediate context is not enough to understand this passage. The references Peter uses here must also be examined in the context of the entire Bible. WIth that said, here are the three major views on the interpretation of this passage.
Option 1: The preincarnate Jesus preached through Noah to people in Noah’s day (Augustine).
The first interpretation understands “spirits” in reference to the unsaved human spirits of Noah’s day. In this sense, Christ (in the Spirit) proclaimed the gospel through Noah (1 Pet. 3:18,20). Therefore, the unbelievers who heard Christ’s preaching through Noah, and did not obey, are now suffering judgment as “spirits in prison” (3:19). In other words, because of their unbelief they are in prison spiritually.
There are several reasons why Biblical interpreters have adopted this view. First, Peter calls Noah a herald of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), and the designation “herald” corresponds to the idea of Noah being a preacher (1 Pet. 3:19). Second, Peter says the “Spirit of Christ” was speaking through the OT prophets (1:11). In this sense, Christ could have been speaking through Noah as an OT prophet.
Option 2: Jesus proclaims spiritual triumph over the principalities and powers of evil.
The second interpretation argues that Jesus proclaimed victory over the fallen angelic spirits who were awaiting the declaration of their final judgment even since the days of Noah. In this sense, in Jesus’ victory over death their condemnation is sealed. Simply put, the resurrection of Jesus is a proclamation of his spiritual triumph over the principalities and powers of evil.
One argument against the first view, and a merit of this second view, is that throughout the New Testament the plural word “spirits” most often refers to supernatural beings rather than humans (Matt. 8:16; 10:1; Mark 1:27; 5:13; 6:7; Luke 4:36; 6:18; 7:21; 8:2; 10:20; 11:26; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 19:12, 13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1; Rev. 16:13–14; Heb. 1:7). Moreover, the word “prison” is not used elsewhere in Scripture as a place of punishment after death for people, while it is used for Satan (Rev. 20:7) and other fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).
Option 3: Jesus descended into hell and preached to unbelievers or fallen angels, offering them a second chance (Origen).
In a third view, Jesus supposedly descended into hell on the Saturday between his crucifixion and resurrection – when his body was dead, but spirit was alive. Some have advocated the idea that Christ offered a second chance of salvation to those in hell. This interpretation, however, is in direct contradiction with other Scripture (Luke 16:26, 23:43; Heb. 9:27) and therefore must be rejected on biblical grounds, leaving either of the first two views as the most likely interpretation.
Among the three most common interpretations, the first two fit best with the rest of Scripture and with historic orthodox Christian doctrine. However, because of the reasons stated above (and below), I lean towards the second view. Namely, that 1 Peter 3:18-22 references Jesus resurrection as a proclamation of victory over the principalities and powers of evil. In this sense, the message that Christ proclaimed is one of triumph, after having been “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18).
On The Proposed Connection Between 1 Peter 3:19-20 and Genesis 6:1-4
Some scholars, including Schreiner, corroborate the “spirits in prison” in 1 Peter 3 with Genesis 6:1-4, but the context of Genesis 6 suggests that God’s anger is directed toward man, not fallen angels having offspring with humans. Moreover, I do not believe the connection between “the spirits in prison” and the Nephilim passage of Genesis 6 is necessary, nor is it congruent with the trajectory of the biblical narrative.
I believe the reference to God’s patience as Noah built the ark as an analogy of His long suffering in general, even at the climax of evil in the Genesis 6 world. During that time period, humanity had plenty of opportunity to repent (Rom. 2:4, 3:25; Acts 14:16, 17:30), and eight did. Moreover, verse 18 of 1 Peter 3, seems to be contrasting the current age and the age to come (Heb. 5:7).
As for Genesis 6, it is often argued that “the sons of God” are angels, but that does not seem to align with the whole of Scripture (Matt. 22:30). In Genesis 6 the “sons of God” begin to marry the daughters of men, bringing about the judgment of God. This judgment could either be taken as limiting man’s life to 120 years, or it could refer to the time left before the destruction of society by flood.
I understand the “sons of God” in Genesis as a reference to the Sethites (those in Seth’s line). So men in the Godly line of Seth began to marry women from the ungodly line of Cain. Therefore, these marriages increased the evil Cainite-types in the earth at the expense of the godly Sethites. For more on this understanding of Genesis 6, see Daniel Fuller’s The Unity of the Bible, Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan, Meredith Kline’s Divine Kingship and Genesis6:14; and Walter Kaiser’s The Promise-Plan of God.
We have been called and cleansed to reflect Christ. The apostle Peter calls the church in 1 Peter 2 to “…put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
From the outset of this paragraph Peter lists all of the evils from which the Christians have been cleansed – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander. In doing so, Peter is indirectly warning them against falling back into the sins from which they have been delivered.
The language “put away” has the visual picture of removing filthy garments. It is similar to Paul’s usage of the term “putting on Christ”. Put away sin, put on Christ.
The language of “put off” indicates that this must be done on a daily basis. These sins tear the social fabric of the church, ripping away at the mutual love that we have been called to. In fact, the evils listen in verse 1 are contrary to the love we are called to.
How can you claim to love someone and deceive them at the same time? Consider envy, which turns others into enemies, because they have what you want. Slander destroys others with our words, what love is in that? Now, as broken people, we are all going to struggle with these things. At the same time, we have been called and cleansed to reflect Christ.
The medicine for the sick heart that practices these things is found in the Word. This is why Peter argues that we should long for the Word, like newborn babies crave milk. For babies, milk sustains bodily growth. For believers, the word sustains spiritual growth.
As Ed Clowney has said, in the word of the Lord you spend time with the Lord of the Word. The Word gives us a taste, shows us that, the Lord is good. If you have tasted that the Lord is good, you will want more of the Word, and less of the bitter taste of the sin that arises from your own heart.
That is why Peter wrote the conditional clause “if you indeed have tasted”. Among other things, we read the Bible to stir our affections. You only grow as the Word is poured into you. Through the Word and by the Spirit, God who gives the growth. But you have to be active in this process.
Therefore, we need to keep going back to the Word. Keep believing the Word. Keep nurturing our hearts with the Word. Keep tasting the goodness of God in the Word. Keep prayerfully reading and reflecting until you cry out: The Lord is good!
This is an excerpt from the second sermon in my 1 Peter series at Fairview Baptist Church. To listen or watch the whole thing, visit our website.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16
In this passage, Peter calls believers to live a holy life based on what God had already done for them in Christ. In other words, the indicatives (what God has done for us in Christ) are the basis for the imperatives (how we should live our lives in response). So, what God has done for us precedes what we are called to do with Him.
Because we have been given a great hope, we are called to proclaim and reflect that hope as we live our lives. Our new identity inevitably shapes how we interact and engage with those around us.
The call “To prepare your minds for action” (gird up the loins) was a common expression of that time and related to a man gathering up his long garments in order to work or run unhindered. In our day, it means to roll your sleeves up and be on mission.
But we must do so with a sober-mind. In other words, Christians must learn to reflectively think about what it means to be on mission with God in everyday life. This does not happen automatically.
As exiles in a foreign land, you would want to reflect the characteristics, expectations, and qualities of your Father God. Therefore, you would not want to conform to the passions of the broken culture around you like those who live in ignorance of the truth.
But note, being holy does not mean that you isolate yourself from culture or those around you. Being holy means to reflect the Father in the culture, and to those around you. All throughout the Bible, while God is set apart from the world, He is also involved in the world – pursuing the lost and rebellious. We are called out of the darkness to the light, but we are then called to go back into the darkness to reflect that light.
Imagine you woke up one day to discover that you were a missionary in a foreign land? In that context, the first thing you are going to do is try and understand and connect with people around you. Preparing your minds for action means that we need to rethink how we engage those around us on a day-to-day basis with the good news of Christ.
When it comes to sharing the good news, think of it in the context of a relationship, a long-term investment. How can you do ordinary, everyday things, with gospel intentionality? Informal sharing of the gospel most powerfully happens as the church is scattered in the world among other people.
Simply put, we need to think like missionaries. Our hope in Christ motivates our mission to the world. The hope of the church shapes the life of the church.
I recently began a sermon series on 1st Peter at Fairview Baptist Church. This is an excerpt from the first sermon in the series. To listen or watch the whole thing, visit our website.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:1-2)
At first glance, this seems to be a customary greeting for a New Testament letter. However, there is beautiful theological depth in every sentence of these first two verses.
Peter categorizes the recipients of this letter as God’s chosen people, spiritual exiles who are scattered throughout the world. Notice that Peter starts this letter by immediately celebrating the work of God in their salvation. They are elect exiles according to God’s foreknowledge.
Peter is not using these words to stir up a theological controversy. These words have the affectionate action of God wrapped in them. God’s has decidedly shown his favor and affection towards them in salvation.
To a church facing struggles and persecution, this greeting is a powerful reminder of reassurance. You are God’s people according to His foreknowledge!
Moreover, He has sanctified them according to His Spirit. Set apart by the Spirit, namely, for obedience to Jesus Christ no matter what circumstance life may bring. Therefore, God has not only called them out, but has also separated them out for His purposes.
Christians who are troubled by their circumstances might be tempted to doubt God’s love and care. In the midst of an uncertain and hostile world – we can rest in the certainty of the love of a sovereign God.
Don’t ever lose the wonder of your salvation. Salvation is a miraculous work of our Trinitarian God. The Father foreknows. The Spirit sanctifies. The Son cleanses. This is the ultimate foundation for our hope and encouragement.
It is no wonder that Peter then says (v.2), “Grace and peace be multiplied” to you.
What a greeting! Do not worry about the uncertainty of your circumstances, but rest in the certainty that God has called you. Moreover, God has sanctified you for a purpose.
I recently had the opportunity to contribute to a video series at For The Church titled One Thing. The question I answered was “what is the one thing a church needs from it’s pastor?” I responded that a local church needs a shepherd.
My response to this question is influenced by Timothy Laniak at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, whose two books Shepherds After My Own Heart (academic) and While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks (devotional) are an excellent resource for understanding shepherding as a metaphor for pastoral leadership. You can also read my post The Pastor as Shepherd at For The Church.
If anyone ever told you that the Christian life was easy, they were mistaken. The Christian life is not easy, in fact – it is impossible to live in our own power.
However, do not hang your head in despair. Though your fruitfulness in the Christian life will waver, Jesus’ faithfulness has not – and will not ever waver. When we struggle with fruitfulness, we can rest assured that He remains faithful. Remember the words of Jesus in John 15:5.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
The Old Testament frequently uses the metaphor of the vine as a symbol for Israel, God’s covenant people (Psalm 80; Isaiah 5 and 27; Hosea 10). And it is usually not good imagery. It’s used of Israel’s rebellion and sinfulness rather than her fruitfulness. In other words, corporate Israel could not produce fruit consistent with their calling.
The fruitlessness of Israel should be held up in comparison to the fruitfulness of Christ. Jesus is the only Israelite that lived a perfect life – producing the fruit that God desired of the His people. Where corporate Israel failed, Jesus “the true vine” succeeded. And as Jesus’ followers abide in him they will produce fruit.
This is a simple agricultural analogy: one of the obvious realities about pruning is that a branch cannot bear fruit unless it is connected to the vine. No branch has life in itself, it is utterly dependent on the vine.
For Jesus, the call to abide in Him means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Him, characterized by prayerful trust, dependence, and reliance. The good news is that He has not left us alone. While we are called to abide in Him, He also abides in us. Moreover, He is faithful to produce fruit in and through us.
As Christians we must recognize their dependence on Jesus Christ. We are not perfect – and we will fail. This is why Jesus says that God the Father is the vinedresser (John 15:1). Left to itself, a grape vine will produce large quantities of foliage. So the vine dresser will do a great deal of pruning to ensure maximum fruitfulness. The pruning may hurt, but it is for our good.
We must remember, that where Israel failed, where we have failed, Christ has prevailed. He is our only hope! The process of sanctification involves pruning, and recognizes that He who began a good work in you will complete it.
Our fruitfulness is tied to Jesus’ faithfulness. And God will be glorified when you bear fruit.