Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (January-March 1995) 72-91.
Copyright © 1995 by
OF LITERARY ARGUMENT
FOR UNDERSTANDING 1 PETER
James R. Slaughter
A survey of the literature dealing with Peter's epistles,
including New Testament introductions, commentaries, Bible
encyclopedias and handbooks, and even journal articles reveals
a serious lack of consideration for the argument that flows
through each letter. Much attention, has been given to identifying
Peter's sources and the original form of 1 Peter, and to exegeting
and expounding the text. But scholars have expended little energy
on thoroughly articulating Peter's comprehensive message and
demonstrating the immense influence this message has on the
various sections of 1 Peter. Studies in 1 Peter often identify the
themes of persecution and suffering, usually in a summary
statement regarding the letter's purpose, but those studies seldom
demonstrate how these themes are recapitulated throughout the
different segments of the work. Some commentators do not ad-
dress Peter's purpose, theme, or argument in any way.l
The neglect of Peter's argument and its influence on his
words and their interpretation in individual passages is typical
of many expositions of 1 Peter.2 Instead, the apostle's instructions
James R. Slaughter is Professor of Christian Education, Dallas Theological Sem-
1 Two well-recognized and often consulted commentaries on 1 Peter that do not
address these issues are those by Robert Leighton, Commentary on First Peter
(London: S. Keble and J. Taylor, 1701; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972), and C.
E. B. Cranfield, The First Epistle of Peter (London: SCM, 1950).
2 However, three recent commentators who have given consideration to Peter's
argument and its influences are Peter Davids, First Epistle of Peter (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), and to a lesser degree Wayne A. Grudem, The First Epis-
tle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), and J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on
the Epistles of Peter and Jude (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988).
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 73
are usually presented as a kind of teaching catechism without
consideration for the basis on which the instruction builds. But
the argument of the epistle, particularly the element of the be-
liever's lifestyle in the face of unfair circumstances, is crucial
for understanding the full range of Peter's injunctions.
THE FUNCTION OF ARGUMENT IN A LITERARY WORK
Because 1 Peter constitutes a literary work, it should be stud-
ied as literature having purpose, themes, and a message that in-
fluence the meaning and impact of its various parts. Such fea-
tures as allusion to and citing of Old Testament Scripture, the use
of metaphor and simile, and the elements of rhetoric and style,
characterize the New Testament epistles as literature.3 Deiss-
mann argues that as an epistle 1 Peter "is an artistic literary
form, a species of literature, just like the dialogue, the oration or
the drama."4 He distinguishes between a true epistle and a letter,
suggesting the letter is simply a personal "piece of life," not liter-
ary at all, while the epistle is a "product of literary art."5 Longe-
necker denies this difference between letters and epistles but does
affirm that both are literary in nature.6 He agrees with Deiss-
mann that 1 Peter is genuinely epistolary and therefore literary.7
"When the Bible employs a [particular] literary method, it asks to
be approached as literature and not as something else."8
No principle of literary study is more important than that of
grasping the overall message of a literary piece as a single
work.9 Though the idea of the whole must arise from an encounter
with parts, the entire work controls, connects, and unifies one's
understanding of the parts.10 As Ryken suggests, the most basic
of all artistic principles is unity, and the literary approach to the
3 Leland Ryken, How to Read
the Bible as Literature (
4 Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient Near East: The New Testament Il-
lustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World, trans. Lionel
R. M. Strachan (London: Hodder, 1910), 229, 242.
5 Ibid., 230.
6 Richard N. Longenecker, "On the Form, Function, and Authority of the New
Testament Letters," in Scripture and Truth, ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Wood-
bridge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 101.
7 Ibid., 106.
8 Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, 11-12.
9 Richard G. Moulton, The Modern Reader's Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1895),
10 E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (
Press, 1967), 76.
74 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
Bible accordingly looks for literary patterns and wholeness of ef-
fect.11 By way of contrast the form-critical approach studies the
small constituent parts of a work. But in reading literature the
pattern of the whole should be noted first. "One thing all of these
[New Testament letters] do have in common is that they will yield
most if they are read as literary wholes."12
Considering the whole in relation to the parts of a literary
work is essentially noting the author's argument, that is, the flow
of his thought or how his controlling message is developed.
Therefore reading a piece of literature, including a New Testa-
ment epistle, as a literary whole means reading to understand the
author's argument. It means tracing the author's train of thought
and seeking to understand why he includes a particular section
at a particular place within the manuscript. It means trying to
understand what he is saying and why he is saying it where he
does. Portions of a text have meaning only as they relate to what
precedes and what follows, for this reveals how the individual
parts relate to the argument (the whole) that controls them. Rollin
Chafer calls the argument of a biblical book its scope or design,
and he contends that attention to a book's design helps in inter-
preting its individual parts.13 Fountain calls a New Testament
author's argument his plan for the book: "The reader should al-
ways recognize that each writer had some specific purpose in
mind for writing; and followed some predetermined plan. . . .
The plan is the literary form used by the writer in carrying out
his purpose."14 Inch and Bullock, in their discussion of Petrine
literature, earnestly defend the importance of understanding the
argument of 1 Peter in order to understand its component parts.
This approach is crucial and effective because of "the cohesive
flow of argument" through each section.15
One must not mistakenly identify the passages in 1 Peter as
independent sections. Only as the argument of the book is devel-
oped, and each individual section is studied in relation to the
whole, can a fully accurate interpretation of individual passages
be obtained. And only as each passage is interpreted accurately
11 Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, 29.
12 Ibid., 156.
13 Rollin T. Chafer, The Science of Biblical Hermeneutics: An Outline Study of
Its Laws (Dallas, TX: Bibliotheca Sacra, 1939), 77.
14 Thomas E. Fountain, Keys to Understanding and Teaching Your Bible
(Nashville: Nelson, 1983), 75.
15 Morris A. Inch and C. Hassell Bullock, ed., The Literature and Meaning of
Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 249.
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 75
can the full implications of Peter's words be comprehended by
church leaders who teach the apostle's instructions to modern lis-
teners who need to hear and heed them every bit as much as the
author's ancient audience.
THE MOTIFS AND MESSAGE OF 1 PETER
Peter constructed the message of this epistle by weaving to-
gether five primary motifs: the believer's behavior, the believer's
unfair treatment, the believer's deference, the believer's motiva-
tion by Christ's example, and the believer's anticipation of future
glory. The apostle emphasized these themes by using a number of
words that occur throughout the document. Taken together the five
motifs form the underlying message Peter communicated.
THE MOTIFS OF 1 PETER
The believer's behavior. As Senior and others have noted, a
concern for good conduct is typical of the epistle.16 Most of the let-
ter's sections emphasize the expectation of excellent behavior on
the part of the believers Peter addressed. The stress on behavior
begins with a call to holiness in 2:1-10, and continues with an ex-
planation of how to behave in a holy way toward Gentile neigh-
bors (2:11-12) and in all other relationships including associa-
tions in legal-political affairs, in domestic affairs, and in civil
and church affairs (2:13-5:5). The word a]nastro<fh ("behavior,"
"conduct," "manner of life," "walk," "action") most commonly
communicates this theme. Moulton and Milligan note that in-
scriptional use often associates the term with pa<roikoi and
parepidh?moi, which is similar to 1 Peter.17 He wrote to his audi-
ence, "But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves
also in all your behavior" (1:15); "you were not redeemed with
perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life"
(1:18); "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles" (2:12);
"wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that . . . they may
be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they ob-
serve your chaste and respectful behavior" (3:1-2); and "Keep a
good conscience so that . . . those who revile your good behavior in
Christ may be put to shame" (3:16).
16 Donald Senior, "The Conduct of Christians in the World (1 Peter 2:11-3:12),"
Review and Expositor 79 (1982): 427-38; J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epis-
tles of Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 26; and Grudem, The First
Epistle of Peter, 43.
17 James H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Tes-
tament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Sources (
1930), s.v. "a]nastro<fh," 38.
76 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
The aorist infinitive biw?sai ("to live") in 4:2 likely carries
the nuance of "to walk," or "to conduct one's life," thus reinforc-
ing the emphasis on behavior in the epistle. The noun biw?sij often
means "manner of life" (Acts 26:4).
In 1 Peter 4:3 katerga<zomai restates the motif of the believer's
behavior, "For the time already past is sufficient for you to have
carried out the desire of the Gentiles." In other versions the word
is translated "to have wrought" (KJV),
"to do" (
live the sort of life" (JB). Its lexical meaning is "to achieve, ac-
complish, do something." The word therefore appropriately ex-
presses the author's concern for and primary theme of the be-
liever's behavior. Another term Peter used in expounding this
theme is suntre<xw: "They are surprised that you do not run with
them into the same excess" (4:4). This figure of close association
emphasizes again the aspect of doing or behavior.
The believer's unfair circumstances. The unfair treatment
Peter's readers suffered comprises the second motif of his letter.
Their "troubles are the ever-felt background of every para-
graph."18 Davids calls suffering the central concern of 1 Peter,19
though the believer's behavior in suffering might be a more accu-
rate identification of that central issue.
In the broad sense of trial, tribulation, hardship, and suffer-
ing the apostle frequently used the following words: pa<sxw ("to
suffer, endure," 2:19-21, 23; 3:14, 17; 4:1, 15, 19; 5:10),20 pa<qhma
("suffering, misfortune," 1:11; 4:13; 5:1, 9), peirasmo<j ("test, trial,
temptation, enticement," 1:6; 4:12), and pu<rwsij ("fiery test, fiery
ordeal," 4:12). The presence of suffering is expressed in 4:12
("Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you"),
and 5:10 ("After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all
grace . . . will perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you").
The problem of suffering is demonstrated further by the readers'
responses of fear (fobe<omai, 3:6, 14) and anxiety (me<rimna, 5:7) to
their situation. The atmosphere created by suffering evoked these
emotions in the hearts and minds of Peter's audience and he
sought throughout the letter to exhort and encourage them in view
of their sentiments.
Of greater importance to Peter's argument, however, is his
consistent emphasis on the more restricted sense in which the
readers suffered as victims of unjust hostility and malice. They
suffered deprivation, effrontery, and indignity under the rule of
a government that demeaned them by assigning them to an infe-
19 Davids, First Epistle of Peter, 23.
20 Only twice is the word used for an experience other than suffering.
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 77
rior class of citizenry without rank or privilege. They were resi-
dent aliens (pa<roikoi) and visiting strangers (parepidh?moi) who
received only limited protection under the law and grudging ac-
ceptance by the citizens of the region.21 In many respects their
persecution took on a local and private character, originating in
the hostility of the surrounding population toward this Christian
minority.22 Much of the persecution they suffered was verbal in
nature as verified by Peter's use of katalale<w ("to slander," 2:12;
3:16), blasfhme<w ("to injure the reputation, defame," 4:4), o]neidi<zw
("to insult, reproach, denounce," 4:14), loidore<w ("to abuse ver-
bally, insult, speak evil of," 2:23) and e]perea<zw ("to mistreat, in-
sult, threaten, abuse," 3:16). Such abuse was undeserved, a fact
represented by the meanings of the words themselves, but more
directly through Peter's descriptions of his readers as bearing up
"under sorrows when suffering unjustly" (2:19), "suffering for
the sake of righteousness" (3:14) and "for doing what is right"
(3:17), and suffering "according to the will of God" (4:19).
The New Testament especially develops the concept of inno-
cent suffering. The early church experienced great amounts of
unfair treatment, and entire books such as 1 Peter are devoted to
the issue.23 Peter addressed this situation, making it one of his
points of emphasis. But his message involves more than innocent
suffering. It is a matter of suffering while doing good, an issue
Peter dealt with in discussing the believer's deference.
The believer's deference. First, Peter makes abundantly
clear how believers should behave when they suffer, even when
they suffer unjustly. Unfair treatment at the hands of unreason-
able, often unbelieving people never justifies an offensive spirit
or an attempt at retribution. Peter called believers to a different
spirit, a spirit of deference—even while experiencing undeserved
persecution. The word "deference" conveys the idea of thoughtful
consideration of another individual's desires or feelings or the
courteous, respectful, or ingratiating regard for another's
wishes.24 "Respect" or "honor" are close synonyms. Deference
does not necessarily connote acquiescence, agreement, or pas-
sivity, though it does rule out retaliation. Senior rightly observes,
"1 Peter is encouraging neither suffering for suffering's sake
nor an opium-like religious passivity."25
21 Senior, "The Conduct of Christians in the World," 427.
22 J. L. DeVilliers, "Joy in Suffering in 1 Peter," Neotestamentica 9 (1975): 64-86.
23 Davids, First Epistle of Peter, 36.
24 Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Webster, 1972),
25 Senior, "The Conduct of Christians in the World," 433.
78 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
"Deference" refers to a proper attitude that results in behavior
characterized by respect. It is not the same as submission to au-
thority, though submission may represent an expression of defer-
ence. Deference may be shown in other ways such as treating peo-
ple respectfully and honorably, which Peter urged Christians to
do in all their relationships (2:17). For wives the expression of
deference toward their husbands means submitting to them (3:1);
for husbands the expression of deference toward their wives in-
volves honoring them (3:7).
As with the first two motifs the apostle's vocabulary demon-
strates the importance of this theme. Peter's readers, though
pressed, stressed, and beleaguered unfairly were, depending on
the relationship involved, to obey (u[pakou<w, 3:6), to honor and re-
spect (tima<w, 2:17), or to subordinate themselves (u[pota<ssw, 2:13,
18; 3:1, 5; 5:5) even to those who treated them wrongly. They were
to submit not because of coercion but by intention. Their submis-
sion was to be freely assumed, conscious, and with the Lord as its
only criterion.26 Peter wrote in 3:8 that they were to be harmo-
nious (o[mo<fronej), sympathetic (sumpaqei?j), brotherly (fila<
foi), tender-hearted (eu@splagxnoi) and humble toward each other
in spirit (tapeino<fronej). They were to be hospitable and without
complaint (filoce<noi, a@neu goggusmou?, 4:9). These words typify the
true Christian response to unfair treatment. They were not to re-
turn "evil for evil or insult for insult" but were to give "a blessing
instead" (3:9). Even church leaders were to minister "not out of
compulsion, but voluntarily" (5:2), and not "lording it over" those
under their care, but "proving to be examples" (5:3).
The believer's motivation by Christ's example. A fourth motif
is the recurring emphasis on Christ's example. Jesus' excellent
behavior during His undeserved ill treatment in His trial and
crucifixion becomes a strong motivation for His followers. Every
chapter of 1 Peter includes some reference to the motivational
model provided by Christ in His sufferings. Reflecting on the
Lord's sufferings helped Peter's audience better anticipate, un-
derstand, and endure their own trials. "The example of Christ
made the sufferings of Christians plausible, predictable and even
tolerable."27 The apostle admonished, "Like the Holy One who
called you, be holy yourselves" (1:15). "Coming to Him as to a liv-
ing stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of
God, you also, as living stones, are being built up" (2:4-5); "Christ
26 F. Refoule,
"Bible et ethique sociale
lire aujourd'hui 1
27 Norbert Brox, "Situation and Sprache der Minderheit in ersten Petrusbrief,"
Kairos 19 (1977): 1-13.
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 79
also suffered for you, leaving you an example [u[pogrammo<j] for you
to follow [e]pakolouqe<w] in His steps" (2:21). "It is better . . . that you
suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
For Christ also died for sins . . . the just for the unjust" (3:17-18).
"Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with
the same purpose" (th>n au]th>n e@nnoian, 4:1). "Share the sufferings
of Christ" (4:13). "Be examples [tu<poi] to the flock," as Christ has
been an example to believers (5:3).
Peter's exposition of the example of Christ is seen most
clearly in 2:21-25. Here an extended and impassioned exposition
of Christ's innocence in unjust suffering appears as a foundation
for the believers' deference when they were treated unfairly. Pe-
ter said that Christians had been called to suffer unjustly (refer-
ring to vv. 19-20), which agrees with other New Testament teach-
ing (e.g., John 15:18-20; Acts 14:22; 1 Thess. 3:3). But why were
they to suffer? Because such suffering was part of the life of
Christ, which they had been called to imitate: "Since Christ also
suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his
steps" (v. 21).28 As the Master was called to suffer unjustly, so the
followers also were called, and His attitude was to be theirs.
"While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffer-
ing, He uttered no threats" (v. 23).
Peter set the stage for Christ's example in 2:21-25 with the
stone testimonia of 2:4-8. While Jesus is precious in the sight of
He nevertheless was rejected by the nation
believers' experience was similar, remembering Christ's exam-
ple would spur them to righteous deference in the face of injustice.
The believer's anticipation of future glory. Peter's fifth motif
serves as a second motivational factor in the believers' quest for
holy living when they are treated unfairly.29 In addition to being
motivated by Christ's example, they were to be motivated by the
promise of reward when Christ returns.
The letter has a vibrant and optimistic eschatological viewpoint.
The final day will be one of triumph when God's salvation will be
revealed (1:5), a day of "glory" (4:13) that will reward the faithful
and purge the sinful (4:5). . . . Confidence in this day of victory
does not lead to vindictiveness but to a positive hope.30
Simply put, "Christians are exhorted to rejoice wherever they
share in Christ's sufferings, for in this way they shall also par-
28 Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter, 128.
29 L. M. Antoniotti, "Structure litteraire et Sens de la premiere Epitre de Pierre,"
Revue Thomiste 85 (1985): 533-60.
30 Senior, "The Conduct of Christians in the World," 429.
80 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
take in the revelation of eternal glory."31
Peter's broad vocabulary depicts this glory to come. His read-
ers could anticipate with assurance an "inheritance" (klhronomi<a)
which is "imperishable and undefiled" (a@fqarton kai> a]mi<anton),
according to 1:4. It would certainly come, for it is reserved in
heaven for them. Demonstrating their genuine faith throughout
their unjust trials would result in their receiving "praise"
(e@p[ainoj), "glory" (do<ca) and "honor" (timh<) when Jesus returns
(1:7). Peter also referred to their future glory as the "salvation"
(swthri<a) of their souls (1:9), "glories" (do<cai) that would follow
(1:11), and "grace" (xa<rij) to be given to them (1:13). He said they
would inherit a "blessing" (eu]logi<a, 3:9), and affirmed that they
were blessed because the spirit of "glory" (do<ca) rested on them
(4:14). They would share in the "glory" (do<ca) to be revealed (5:1),
and in the future they would receive the "crown of glory" (th?j
do<chj ste<fanon, 5:4). God would "exalt them" (u[yo<w, 5:6) at the
proper time, and would then "perfect" (katarti<zw), "confirm"
(sthri<zw), "strengthen" (sqena<w) and "establish" (qemelio<w) them
in Christ (5:10). The assurance of future glory brought by such
promises served to motivate believers to carry out good behavior.
THE MESSAGE OF 1 PETER
When taken together the motifs of 1 Peter embody a message
that may be expressed as follows: "The behavior of believers when
they encounter unfair circumstances reflects a spirit of deference
in all relationships as they follow Christ's example and antici-
pate future glory."
THE ARGUMENT OF 1 PETER
PETER EXTENDED GREETINGS TO BELIEVERS ENCOUNTERING
The epistle opens with greetings to believers being treated un-
fairly (1:1-2). The author revealed his name, Peter, and his au-
thoritative ministry, apostle of Jesus Christ (v. la), in character-
istic literary fashion, thereby establishing his spiritual and ec-
clesiastical credibility for those who would receive this message.
He addressed the letter's recipients by identifying their status, lo-
cation, and position (v. lb-2a). On the earth they resided as visit-
ing strangers (parepidh?moi) who were scattered throughout the
31 T. Kayalaparampil, "Christian Suffering in 1 Peter," Biblebashyam 3 (1977): 7-
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 81
sense, but in the technical sense belonging to a category of people
specifically identified, acknowledged, and cataloged by Roman
authorities as "resident aliens."32 Resident alien status brought
few privileges but many burdens and much affliction. The gov-
ernment considered them second-class citizens, and while they
may have worked the land they were not permitted to own land, to
vote, or to hold public office, but were subject to military conscrip-
tion and the payment of taxes and tribute.33
Public hostility and resentment were directed to Peter's audi-
ence by the pagan communities in which they lived. Such hostil-
ity found its roots not only in the inferior political status of the ad-
dressees but also in their religious beliefs, which their neighbors
failed to understand or accept. The Christians were viewed with
suspicion and contempt, verbally abused and ostracized by their
non-Christian counterparts. Thus the apostle early identified his
readers as believers who were being treated unfairly, in a foreign
environment, surrounded by neighbors who abused them, and
governed by a system that took advantage of them. The persecu-
tion they experienced was undeserved and the apostle consis-
tently exhorted his readers to excellent behavior so that when they
suffered it would be because of their commitment to Christ, not be-
cause of legal offense. The fact that Peter's readers were believers
being treated unfairly is fundamental to his argument and finds
a place in his document almost immediately.
Just as crucial to his argument is Peter's conviction that
while his readers lived as strangers and aliens on the earth, in-
timidated and abused by their adversaries, in the Lord they were
people of inestimable value, chosen according to God's eternal
knowledge and predetermined plan (1:2a). By the Holy Spirit's
sanctifying work they were selected for a twofold divine purpose:
to obey Jesus Christ, and to be cleansed by sprinkling with His
blood (v. 2b).34 To God they were not strangers; they were well
32 John H. Elliott, A Home for the Homeless: A Social-Scientific Criticism of 1
Peter (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), chaps. 1-2.
34 Hiebert (1 Peter, 39-40), and Davids (First Epistle of Peter, 48-49), say obedience
in 1:2 is obedience to the gospel, that is, faith in Christ, the "human side of salva-
tion." Sprinkling with Christ's blood thus refers to the sealing of the New
Covenant by the sacrifice of Christ, and the believer's entrance into that covenant.
On the other hand Alan M. Stibbs (The First Epistle General of Peter, Tyndale
Testament Commentaries [
First Epistle of Peter, 51-54), view obedience and sprinkling here as the believers'
life of obedience, the failings of which are cleansed by the blood of Christ.
The latter view may fit Peter's argument better, introducing the balance be-
tween the truth of his readers' salvation ("chosen," v. 1), and the expectation of holy
living ("obey, sprinkled with His blood," v. 2). Peter maintained this balance in 1:3-
12 and 1:13-5:11, respectively.
82 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
known personally and were a unique part of His divine plan. Be-
ing aware of this plan would allow them to suffer unjustly at that
time, but their suffering would not diminish the fullness of their
sanctification by the Holy Spirit. The author thus introduced the
tension between the believers' vexation at being treated unfairly
and their assurance that God was working in their lives because
they belonged to Him.
Peter's greeting ends with an appropriate blessing for his be-
leaguered hearers: "grace and peace be yours in fullest measure"
PETER ASSURED BELIEVERS OF FUTURE GLORY TO ENCOURAGE
THEM DURING THEIR ENCOUNTER WITH UNFAIR CIRCUMSTANCES
In the first major section of his letter Peter discussed the as-
surance of future glory for believers who encounter unfair cir-
cumstances (1:3-2:10). The certainty of their future glorification
serves as one of two motivational factors to encourage readers in
their struggles and to spur them on to godly behavior. His reason-
ing begins with the assurance of future glory based on their new
birth in Christ (1:3-5). Born again in Christ, Peter's readers en-
joyed a living hope for future glory, the eager, confident expecta-
tion of life to come, which grows and increases in strength year
by year.35 In addition to this sustaining hope, the new birth
brought them three promises which assured their future glory (vv.
4-5). Their conversion promised, first, the glory of an inheri-
tance reserved for them in heaven, an inheritance that is imper-
ishable, undefiled, and never fading (klhronomi<an a@fqarton kai>
a]mi<anton kai> a]ma<ranto<).
A second promise accompanying the new birth was that of
God's sustaining power for obtaining future glory (v. 5a). God
was their fortress to arrest any forces bent on depriving them of
glory in the time to come.36 The third promise given with the new
birth was eschatological salvation itself (v. 5b), the focal point of
the believer's future glory. Stibbs comments on this focus:
This eschatological emphasis means that, however truly salvation
may have already begun . . . and however much it may be a daily
experience . . . its full character and wonder will be disclosed only
in the crowning day that is coming. What Christ's people then en-
joy will be "salvation" indeed.37
However, the weight of severe trials no doubt dimmed the
hopes of glory for Peter's readers. Persecution seemed their eter-
35 Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter, 55.
36 Davids, First Epistle of Peter, 53.
37 Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter, 67-77.
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 83
nal lot in life, hobbling them in their spiritual journey. So the
apostle continued to assure them that the new birth would secure
their future glory in spite of present trials (vv. 6-12). These trials
were real and varied (1:6), but necessary in order to demonstrate
the genuineness of their faith (vv. 7-12). Peter revealed the pre-
cious nature of this true faith (vv. 7a-8) when he described it as
tested by fire and found pure (v. 7a), and as loving Christ (v. 8a),
believing in Him (v. 8b), and rejoicing (v. 8c) while not yet see-
ing Him. The present trials of these abused believers created an
environment in which the true nature of their genuine faith
might be demonstrated to all. And so instead of acting as an
agent of condemnation, casting doubt on their receiving future
glory, these various testings were to be considered elements of en-
couragement, revealing faith through which future glory was
certain to come. God would use this genuine faith to produce a
bountiful harvest of blessing and glory for them when Christ re-
turned. They were guaranteed praise, glory, and honor at the rev-
elation of Jesus (v. 7b), and again, salvation on that day (v. 9-12).
This salvation was a certainty (v. 9), having already been
predicted by the prophets of old (v. 10). Those early predictions
foresaw the exemplary sufferings of Christ and His subsequent
glories (v. 11). These predictions were given primarily to serve
believers in and after Peter's day. The content of the gospel his
readers heard was the declaration of these prophecies and the an-
nouncement that they had found their fulfillment in Christ (v
12).38 Just as surely as Jesus suffered and was glorified, they who
suffered would receive glory. His example of suffering was a
second factor motivating these believers in their walk through
unjust persecution39 (the first factor being the assurance of future
38 Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter, 71-72.
netic section (1:13–5:11) and therefore constitutes a summary of Peter's message in
microcosm. The Christian life involves both affliction and hope as seen in Christ's
sufferings and subsequent glories, which are the basis of the Christian life (1:10-
comprise the bulk of the epistle to follow. First Peter 1:13–2:10 constitutes general
implications of Christian existence—being true to their calling as God's people.
These general implications are specified in 2:11–4:11. Negatively Christians must
repudiate fleshly desires; positively they must maintain good conduct among the
pagans. This good conduct is expressed primarily through submission and humil-
ity, characteristics preeminently illustrated in the sufferings of Jesus who serves
as a model for appropriate Christian response to all forms of conflict. Peter's main
concerns are summarized in 4:12–5:11, as his readers face a hostile world, as they
relate to one another in the community of believers, and as they battle in their cos-
mic conflict with the devil (David W. Kendall, "The Literary and Theological Func-
tion of 1 Peter
1:3-12," Perspectives on First Peter,
ed. Charles H. Talbert [
84 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA/ January—March 1995
glory). Should not the servant be willing to follow the Master? In
chapter 2 Peter developed more fully this concept of Jesus' exam-
ple as a motivational factor for believers.
Having assured his readers of future glory through their new
birth in Christ in spite of their present trials, Peter then intro-
duced a new theme. Their assurance of future glory created the
expectation of holy living regardless of their trials (1:13-2:10).
Thus the author inserted into his argument the element of the be-
lievers' righteous behavior, the primary theme of the epistle.
Peter's readers were to fix their hope completely on the grace
to come, girding their minds for action and keeping sober (1:13).
Verse 13 serves as a hinge to connect 1:1-12 (assurance of future
glory through new birth in Christ) with 1:14-5:11 (expectation of
righteous behavior in spite of unfair circumstances). Grudem of-
fers a helpful summary of the relationship of these passages:
Such hope in great blessings when Christ returns not only en-
courages downcast Christians; it also prompts a reordering of pri-
orities to God's agenda (Mt. 6:19-21, 24) and inevitably leads to
ethical changes in one's life (cf. 1 Jn. 3:3). Since Peter is about to
launch into an extended section of moral commands (beginning at
v. 14 and continuing with only a few interruptions through the
rest of the letter), this exhortation to hope appropriately forms
the transition point to the rest of the letter. If Peter's readers
will first know the great truths about their salvation (vv. 1-12;)
and then begin a habit of visualizing themselves personally on a
path of life leading without fail to unimaginable heavenly reward
(v. 13), they will be mentally and emotionally ready to strive for a
life of holiness before God (vv. 14-16, etc.),40
Encouraged by the assurance of the hope to come, they were to be
holy in all their behavior, not being conformed to their former
lusts (1:14-16). They were to conduct themselves with reverent
fear during their stay on earth (vv. 17-21). They were to long for
the pure milk of the Word, putting aside all malice, guile,
hypocrisy, envy, and slander (2:1-10).
The Word they were to long for would enable them to grow
with respect to their salvation (2:1-2). The Word would nurture
their growth, with Christ as their Cornerstone, into a spiritual
house (vv. 3-4). The Word would teach that they who believe in
Christ the Cornerstone will not be disappointed v. 6). The Word
insured that those who rejected the Stone would stumble, but they
who believed were special to God and would receive mercy (vv. 7-
10). They were a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people for God's own possession, the people of God (vv. 7-10a).
They had received mercy from Him (v, 10b).
40 Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter, 76-77.
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 85
PETER EXPECTED BELIEVERS ENCOUNTERING UNFAIR CIRCUM-
STANCES TO BEHAVE WITH DEFERENCE IN ALL RELATIONSHIPS
Peter explained how believers' behavior should reflect a spirit
of deference when they encounter unfair circumstances (2:11-
5:11). Peter's emphasis regarding holy living in the midst of
harsh trials was the believers' responsibility for deference in all
relationships. They were to exhibit genuine respect and thought-
ful consideration of other's feelings and desires. They were al-
ways to be humble, courteous, respectful, and grateful in their re-
gard for each other. Peter's readers would be living in a holy way
when their behavior reflected this spirit of deference in all rela-
tionships, especially when they were treated unfairly. The moti-
vation for such holy deference was identified as their anticipa-
tion of future glory. Deferential behavior also is motivated by the
believer's desire to follow the example of Christ Himself, who suf-
fered unjustly. This holy deference on the part of suffering
Christians greatly pleases God because it represents the response
His Son made to unfair treatment. This should be the normal
Peter began this section by expounding broadly God's expec-
tation of righteous behavior before Gentile neighbors who treated
his readers unfairly (2:11-12). The pagans' abuse of Christians
was a crucial issue. How should believers behave in the midst of
trials? With excellence! They were expected to abstain frorn
fleshly lusts as they lived among Gentile agitators (v. 11). They
were expected to behave excellently among neighbors who slan-
dered them as evildoers (v. 12). Their excellent behavior (2:12a),
would cause these very neighbors to glorify God when Christ re-
turns (v. 12b).41 Excellent behavior excludes retribution on the
41 The meaning of h[mer% e]pi<skophj ("day of visitation") in this passage is ex-
plained by three major views: (1) any time in this life when God may deal with un-
believers to bring them to repentance and faith (Stibbs, The First Epistle General
of Peter, 108; Hiebert, 1 Peter, 248-49); (2) an unspecified time of visitation when be-
lievers will glorify God (Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter, 117-18), and (3) an es-
chatological day of judgment in which all people will give glory to God (Kelly, Epis-
tles of Peter and Jude, 106; Davids, First Epistle of Peter, 96-97). The third view
fits well with the statement in verse 12. The term e]pi<skophj may reflect either a
visitation of demonstrations of power in a good sense or in an unpleasant sense
(Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and
Other Early Christian Literature, 209), and in ancient, extrabiblical literature it
was used of penalties incurred for making false returns in connection with gov-
ernment inspections (Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New
Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Sources, 244). Kelly notes the es-
chatological tension presupposed in 1 Peter and believes the "visitation" of verse 12
refers to God's "final visitation." He sees it as a time of blessing for those who will
glorify God in that day (Kelly, Epistles of Peter and Jude, 106). Davids also believes
the visitation in verse 12 is eschatological, but he views it in the negative sense of
judgment. He comments: "The day of visitation is mentioned in the NT only in Luke
86 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
believers' part and requires constructive behavior. It is entirely
possible, though the text does not confirm it, that retribution may
be considered among the fleshly lusts the believers were to avoid.
Excellent, righteous behavior, with no spirit of corresponding
antagonism or retribution, would demonstrate to the unbelieving
community the supernatural work of God's grace in the believers'
lives. The pagans would praise Him for it in the coming day
when every knee will bow to Christ.
At this point Peter narrowed his concept of the righteous be-
havior Christians were to exhibit during periods of unjust perse-
cution. Absence of retribution became the dominant issue as the
apostle clarified the expectation of deference in all relationships
when Christians encounter unfair circumstances (2:13-5:5). For
example deference on the believers' part was expected in legal
and political affairs (2:13-17). They were to subordinate them-
selves to every human institution including kings and the gov-
ernors who represented them (vv. 13-15). Though they suffered
inordinate limitations of status, they were to act as people who
were free with respect to the state but slaves to God for performing
righteous service. They were not to use their status as freemen to
do evil in political affairs (v. 16) but were to treat all with honor,
love, and respect—that is, with deference (v. 17).
Peter's readers were to act with deference toward those who
took advantage of them not only in legal and political affairs, but
also in domestic matters (2:18-3:7). First was the issue of the def-
erence of believing household slaves to unfair masters (2:18-
25).42 Peter described the experience of the slaves (vv. 18-20), call-
ing them to place themselves willingly under their masters' au-
thority regardless of whether the masters were gentle or harsh (v.
18). Special favor from God rested on them when they endured
sorrows when suffering unjustly (vv. 19-20). God's favor accom-
panied such deference because through it they were following
Christ's example (vv. 21-25), which forms the basis for the believ-
19:44 (cf. Luke 1:68), but it appears in the Septuagint in Isa. 10:3 (cf. Gen. 50:24; Job
10:12; Jer. 11:23; Wisd. 3:7). While visitation by God can mean salvation, in the Isa-
iah passage, which is the only exact parallel, it indicates the day of judgment. All
people will have to confess God's powerful display in his people, that is, ‘give glory
to God,’ on that day, even if they have not previously acknowledged his (and their)
rightness (cf. Judg. 7:19, where ‘give glory to God’ is an exhortation to acknowledge
God's justice and righteousness by a full confession before execution)" (Davids,
First Epistle of Peter, 97). Either Kelly's positive view of the day of judgment in
verse 12, or Davids's more negative one is possible. The eschatological tone of 1 Pe-
ter and the use of "visitation," especially "day of visitation," seem to point to the re-.
turn of Christ in judgment as the meaning of the term in 2:12.
42 Though Peter's discussion involves house servants (oi@ketai) due to his focus on
household relationships, it does not preclude the responsibility of all slaves
(dou?loi) to behave with deference toward their masters.
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 87
ers' response to unjust treatment. Peter exhorted them to emulate
Christ's behavior during His suffering (v. 21). They were to re-
member the deference of Christ to unjust men, His humility be-
fore them, His submission to them, His lack of retribution toward
them, and His consideration of them. They were to realize that
through such behavior even in His crucifixion, Jesus bore their
sins,43 and He made it possible for them to follow His example as
sheep follow their shepherd (vv. 22-25). Peter viewed Christ's ex-
ample, along with the anticipation of future glory, as a primary
motivational factor for the believers' righteous, deferential be-
havior when encountering unfair circumstances.
From his instructions to slaves about deference toward harsh
masters the apostle moved to the matter of deference of believing
wives to their husbands, even unbelieving husbands (3:1-6). Peter
called Christian wives to subject themselves voluntarily to their
own husbands (v. la). This responsibility was not limited to rela-
tionships in which both partners were believers, but extended even
to marriages of believing wives to unbelieving husbands. The
likelihood existed that believing wives, through voluntary subjec-
tion, might win their unbelieving husbands to Christ (v. lb). The
wives' most powerful evangelistic tool would not be argumenta-
tion, but Christlike behavior (v. lc), again, the subject of Peter's
argument. What would impress unbelieving husbands would be
their wives' sincere and respectful behavior (v. 2) and their true,
inner beauty (vv. 3-4). Wives were not to waste their time trying
to manipulate their husbands through the wearing of ostentatious
and sensual apparel (v. 3), for this would oppose the spirit of def-
erence Peter stressed. Instead, wives were to allow their true
beauty to show to their husbands. Impressive to husbands antago-
nistic to Christ would be their wives' gentle and quiet spirit (even
in living with unbelieving, unfair husbands), which is precious
in God's eyes (v. 4).44
Such a spirit of deference exhibited by wives encountering
unfair circumstances in marriage was reasonable since godly
women of former times had exhibited the same spirit (vv. 5-6).
They "dressed themselves" in this same manner, hoping in God,
and subjecting themselves voluntarily to their husbands (v. 5).
43 For a discussion of "by his wounds you have been healed" see Davids, First
Epistle of Peter, 112-13; Hiebert, 1 Peter, 178-79; and Raymer, "1 Peter," in The Bible
Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck
(Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 848.
44 It is important to understand that deferential behavior, while prohibiting retal-
iation and returned abuse, does not necessarily rule out the use of legal channels
for change or efforts toward dialogue. Indeed Peter charged all believers to be ready
to give a reason for their hope (3:15). Deference does, however, rule out an argumen-
tative spirit (3:16).
88 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
Sarah, the chief example of this spirit of deference, subjected her-
self to her husband, Abraham (v. 6a). The wives in Peter's audi-
ence became her "daughters" in a figurative sense when they es-
poused her convictions and reflected them in their relationships
to their own husbands. They would be following Sarah's example
when they did what was right (obeyed their husbands), without
fearing what would happen (v. 6b).
Peter then turned his attention to the responsibility of Chris-
tian husbands to behave with deference in their marriages (v. 7).
He called husbands to live with their wives in the various aspects
of married life, in accord with knowledge (v. 7a). A husband's
knowledge of the principles of the Word of God (e.g., Ps. 34:12-16;
Isa. 53:9; 1 Pet. 2:22; 3:10-12) would require him to behave toward
his wife with a spirit of deference, even when she had caused un-
fair circumstances for him. These unfair circumstances may
have been the result of her being in certain ways the weaker part-
ner of the two (3:7b). But regardless of the wife's part in her hus-
band's hardships, he was not to belittle her nor intimidate her, but
to honor her as a Christian, an heir together with hire of the gra-
cious gift of life (v. 7c). Such honor toward one's wife reflected the
spirit of deference required by the Scriptures. If a husband failed
to render such honor to his wife, he might find his spiritual life
affected adversely in that his prayers would be hindered (v. 7d).
Peter's emphasis then shifted from the political and domestic
spheres of the readers' lives to the sphere of civil affairs and the
corresponding expectation of deference (3:8-4:19). He introduced
this section with a reminder of the expectation of the believer's
deference in all relationships, but especially in unfair circum-
stances (3:8-12), in which all were to be harmonious, sympathetic,
brotherly, kindhearted, and humble (v. 8). Similarly, they were
not to return evil for evil, or insult for insult, but to give a blessing
instead, because as a result of such deferential behavior they
would inherit a blessing (v. 9). Quoting Psalm 34:12-16, Peter
emphasized that when they encountered unfair, perhaps even des-
perate circumstances, God would bless them when they rendered
a blessing in return for insult, but God's disfavor would rest with
those who did evil (1 Pet. 3:10-12).
Following this section Peter then addressed a major, current
issue facing his readers—their unfair treatment by neighbors in
their communities (3:13-4:19). The apostle restated the assurance
of God's blessing when they proved zealous for what is good while
suffering unjustly, sometimes because of their own righteousness
(3:13-14). They were not to be fearful or troubled by their neigh-
bors' intimidation but were to be ready to give a defense of their
hope, in a spirit of deference demonstrated by gentleness and re-
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 89
spect (v. 15). Their obviously good behavior would become a
source of shame for those who continued to slander them (v. 16).
Actually their unjust suffering was of great value to them
(vv. 17-22). Suffering for doing what is right is vastly superior to
suffering for having done wrong (v. 17). This fact was empha-
sized and exemplified through the death of Christ, the just one dy-
ing for unjust ones (vv. 18-20), whose passion brought salvation to
all who appeal to God through Him (vv. 21-22).
Peter confirmed the notion that his readers should expected to
experience suffering as had their Lord (4:1-6). He challenged
them to follow the example of Christ's behavior in suffering, the
ing not for lusts that had motivated them in the past, but for the
will of God (vv. 1-2). They were being abused by their neighbors
because they no longer participated with them in their sinful ac-
tivities (vv. 3-4), but their abusers would be judged by God. Any
retribution on the believer's part was not fitting with a spirit of
deference and was God's prerogative and responsibility not
theirs (vv. 5-6).
The suffering of Peter's readers was certain to continue (vv
7-19). During this time of trial it would be important for believers
to strengthen their bond with each other. They would need to be
alert to pray for one another, to love each other fervently, to be hos-
pitable to each other, and to serve each other with their spiritual
gifts (vv. 7-11).
It would also be important for believers to continue follow
Christ's example when He experienced unjust treatment (vv. 12-
19). They were not to be surprised at their serious time of testing
(v. 12) but were to respond to it with rejoicing, knowing that when
they were reviled for the name of Christ they were blessed (vv 13-
14). They were to be careful to avoid suffering that came because
of punishment for real crimes (v. 15), but they were not to be
ashamed to suffer because of their Christian faith (v. 16). Judg-
ment needed to begin with God's people and they were experienc-
ing that refining process through their trials. Sinners had no re-
course in judgment, but Christians can enjoy the comfort of en-
trusting their souls to a faithful Creator when they behave with
deference in their unfair circumstances (vv. 17-19).
Peter also instructed his readers to behave with deference
when they encounter unfair circumstances in church affairs
(5:1-10). Church elders were not to shepherd their flock from a
sense of duty or for financial gain, but voluntarily and eagerly
(vv. 1-2). They were not to dominate those under their authority
but were to serve as examples to them (v. 3). The Chief Shepherd
would give to these shepherds of the flock the unfading crown of
glory when He appears (v. 4).
90 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1995
Young people, who often face the temptations of impatience
and willfulness, were not to rebel against authorities in the
church but were to subject themselves to the elders God had placed
over them in positions of leadership (v. 5a).45
All in the church were to behave with humility toward others.
No one needed to exalt himself, because God would exalt him
when the time was right (vv. 5b-6). When they became anxious
about their harsh, unfair circumstances, they were to cast those
anxieties on Him because He cares for them (v. 7).
The unfair circumstances and suffering experienced by Pe-
ter's readers were due, in large measure, to the work of their ad-
versary, the devil, who sought to "devour them" (vv. 8-9). Peter
cautioned Christians to be serious about the devil, being on the
alert for him (v. 8), and resisting him with a firm faith, as did
other Christians around the world (v. 9). Peter listed many
sources of the believers' unfair circumstances as he developed the
argument of his letter, including political authorities, harsh
masters, husbands, wives, and neighbors. Believers were to re-
flect a spirit of deference in all these relationships, but the devil
was the only antagonist they were to resist.
Peter closed the major portion of his letter by encouraging his
readers about the outcome of their deference in unfair circum-
stances (vv. 10-11). They would not always be victims of such un-
fairness and suffering. Compared to eternity, these harsh experi-
ences would last only a little while, and then God Himself would
perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish them (v. 10). A final
benediction reminded Peter's audience that no matter who exer-
cised authority over them on earth at the present time, true domin-
ion belonged to God forever and ever (v. 11).
PETER WROTE HIS FINAL WORDS TO BELIEVERS ENCOUNTERING
The apostle's final words to these believers encountering un-
fair circumstances (vv. 12-14) began with a charge to those who
suffered (v. 12). Peter had written to them briefly through Sil-
vanus, exhorting and testifying that his message was the true
grace of God (v. 12a), in which they were to stand firm (v. 12b).
Peter added a personal touch to his epistle by including greet-
45 Hiebert (1 Peter, 290-91), Davids (First Epistle of Peter, 182-85), and Grudem
(The First Epistle of Peter, 192-93) believe "elder" in 5:5 refers to church leaders,
not all older people. "Younger" refers to young people in the church, who would
most need a reminder to be submissive to authority. Elliott takes the view that by
"younger" (new<teroi) Peter means "neophyte" believers, those ready for baptism
(John H. Elliott, "Ministry and Church Order in the NT: A Traditio-Historical
Analysis (1 Pet. 5:1-5 & Parallels)," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 32 [19701: 367-91).
The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter 91
ings from the church in
invitation to greet one another with a kiss of love (vv. 12-14a).
Peter ended his epistle with a simple blessing to these believ-
ers who were suffering unfairly: "peace to all" (v. 14b).
Commentators must identify and develop the literary argu-
ment of 1 Peter if they hope to interpret and expound the apostle's
instructions accurately. Teachers of 1 Peter must understand
how the author wove his argument throughout every segment of
his epistle. Each individual passage must be studied in light of
the author's argument which controls it, not interpreted sepa-
rately from the overall message of the epistle. Only then do Pe-
ter's words achieve their full impact and effectiveness.
When the motifs of 1 Peter are taken together, they produce a
message or argument that may be expressed in the following
way: "When believers encounter unfair circumstances, their be-
havior should reflect a spirit of deference in all relationships as
they follow Christ's example and anticipate future glory." This
controlling theme influences every passage in 1 Peter and pro-
vides greater understanding for people who want to apply Peter's
principles to their own relationships with the government, neigh-
bors, business colleagues, marriage partners, and Christians in
the church fellowship. Only by understanding a passage in light
of Peter's overall argument can one achieve the most productive
and authoritative application of the apostle's instructions.
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