13 Καὶ τίς ὁ κακώσων ὑμᾶς ἐὰν τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ζηλωταὶ γένησθε; 14 ἀλλʼ εἰ καὶ πάσχοιτε διὰ δικαιοσύνην, μακάριοι. τὸν δὲ φόβον αὐτῶν μὴ φοβηθῆτε μηδὲ ταραχθῆτε, 15 κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, 16 ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου, συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν, ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλεῖσθε καταισχυνθῶσιν οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν. 17 κρεῖττον γὰρ ἀγαθοποιοῦντας, εἰ θέλοι τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, πάσχειν ἢ κακοποιοῦντας.
v14 μηδὲ ταραχθῆτε / καὶ οὐ μὴ ταραχθῆτε / omit
The first reading has strong support. Omission can be explained as the eye moving from φοβηθητε to ταραχθητε.
v15 τὸν Χριστόν / τὸν θεόν
The former reading has widespread and early support.
v16 καταλαλεῖσθε / καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν / καταλαλοῦσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν / καταλαλῶσιν ὑμῶν ὡς κακοποιῶν
Again, the shorter reading is preferable, the later readings more likely explicable as accretions.
And who is the one who will harm you if you become zealots of what is good? But even if you should suffer on account of righteousness, you are blessed. “Do not fear their fear nor be troubled”, but consecrate the Lord Christ in your hearts, being always prepared to give a defense to all that inquire of you concerning the hope that is in you, but with humility and respect, having a good conscience, so that in that which they speak against you they may be ashamed, those that malign your good way of life in Christ. For it is better, doing good, if the will of God wills it, to suffer, than [because of] doing evil.
Verse 13 offers us a rhetorical question following from verse 12, possibly an allusion to Isa 50:9 LXX. The implied answer is “no one”, though that answer must be nuanced by the reality of the situation Peter is addressing. It is indeed possible that someone will bring harm against the believers. Peter, rather, is configuring the situation in light of God’s sovereign goodness. It is the Petrine parallel to a passage like Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
However, given the general tone of the passage, it is probably correct to understand the socio-historical setting as prior to the Neronic persecution, for otherwise the rhetorical power of the question is lost; if the setting were one of significant persecution or the possibility of the same, then the perceived answer would be that there were indeed those seeking to harm believers. We must, then, balance the reality of possible suffering, as Peter addresses repeatedly not only for believers who are slaves, but all believers, against the Christocentric expression of God’s goodness through unjust suffering. This is seen in the first part of v14, where the the real possibility of various forms of suffering is acknowledged, in the conditional + optative phrase. In light of this, believers are “blessed”; the only other reference to believers being blessed in this way comes in 4:14, in a similar context. We would do well to compare with Matthew 5:10 and I suggest that Peter’s understanding in this context derives from Jesus’ own teaching. Jobes puts it well, “for Peter the privilege of living rightly because of Christ and suffering for it is nothing less than a blessing, a sign of God’s favor and evidence of one’s salvation.”
Verse 14b offers the first half of a response, quoting from Isa 8:12 LXX. IN context, Isaiah is encouraging Judah not to feer the Israel-Aram alliance of Assyria, because ultimately (a) God is with them, and (b) God is to be feared. While the grammar of v14 is difficult in English translation, “do not fear their fear”, the sense is “the fear that they cause” rather than “the fear which they fear”. This is complicated by the fact that in the Isaiah context it is the latter sense that is intended. Peter modifies the quotation slightly replacing a singular 3rd person pronoun referring back to ‘this people’ with a plural, ‘their’, but this really only adjusts to the lack of a collective antecedent. It is the setting in Peter that transforms the meaning.
Verse 15 continues the quotation, and provides the counter-part to the negative command in 14b, “sanctify the Lord, Christ”. Again there is modification from Isa 8:13 LXX, and this time more significant. Peter takes κύριον αὐτὸν ἁγιάσατε (sanctify the Lord himself) and substitutes in τὸν Χριστόν for αὐτόν. Assuming that the grammatical construction remains similar, this yields to appositional phrase “sanctify the Lord, Christ”, giving a clear example of identifying the Christ with the Lord of the OT.
The setting is different, and so the exhortation is appropriately adjusted, but its basic thrust is the same. In the face of opposition and threat, believers are to put their trust in the Lord himself, as he is both with believers, and is to be feared. For NT believers, the Lord they know, the Lord who is with them, the Lord to be feared, is Christ himself. Theocentric faith is, post-incarnation, always Christocentric faith.
The second part of v15 has long been used as the springboard verse for Christian apologetics, and not without good reason. However it is unlikely that Peter has in mind either philosophical presentation or a strict legal setting for ‘defence’, but rather the readiness of believers to give an account of their belief in the face of inquiry, particularly pointed or hostile inquiry. “Hope that is in you” means something like “the eschatological expectation of salvation that is shared among the community of believers.” Such a presentation must be a meaningful communication with outsiders, not the mere re-patterning of insider language for self-affirmation.
Further, v16 consists of qualifications of the manner and purpose of such an account. Firstly, with fear and humility. Fear is probably better understood here as ‘reverence’ or ‘respect’, in keeping with Peter’s general usage through the letter. Achtemeier understands it as respect towards God, while Jobes prefers respect towards outsiders grounded in respect towards God (cf 2:17-18).
Secondly, having a good conscience, believers are to offer such an account with integrity, both of message and of conduct. Integrity of witness is dependent not only upon the content of the message, but the conduct of the speaker, both in the delivery of the account, and in the day-to-day life of the believer.
Thirdly, the purpose of such giving an answer is to evoke shame for those that malign believers’ way of life in Christ. Again, we must not directly read contemporary western notions of shame as embarrassment into the text, but recognise that shame has to do with social status in terms of loss of face and social defeat. Christians are not to engage in the same kind of honour-contest behaviour as unbelievers, i.e. using malignant language and insult, but rather by patient, honourable, upright discourse and lifestyle shaped by continual trust in the Lord and eventual vindication.
This ethical response is brought full circle in v17 with a “better than” proverbial statement, comparable to Jesus’ teaching, as well as OT Wisdom literature.