Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (January-March 1995) 72-91.

          Copyright © 1995 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




                         THE IMPORTANCE

                 OF LITERARY ARGUMENT





                                            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-

inary, Dallas, Texas.

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.




            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 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1984), 157.

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 (New Haven, CT: Yale University

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.




            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 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 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

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" (NEB), "to behave or

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-


18 D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Chicago: Moody, 1984), 20.

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<del-

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 Pierre," Supplement 131

(1979): 457-82.

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

God, He nevertheless was rejected by the nation Israel. Since the

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.



            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



            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

Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and

Bithynia. They were displaced persons, foreigners in the broad


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.

33 Ibid.

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

New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974]) and Grudem (The

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"

(v. 2c).




            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.

39 Kendall suggests that 1:3-12 reflects the major emphasis of the following para-

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-

12). Kendall argues that 1:3-12 serves as the foundation for the exhortations which

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 [Macon:

GA: Mercer University Press, 1986], 103-20).

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 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

Christian response.

            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).





            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 "Babylon," greetings from Mark, and an

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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