Wednesday, August 06, 2014

1 Peter 4:1-6 Exegetical Notes

Text


4.1 Χριστοῦ οὖν παθόντος σαρκὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς τὴν αὐτὴν ἔννοιαν ὁπλίσασθε, ὅτι παθὼν σαρκὶ πέπαυται ἁμαρτίας, 2 εἰς τὸ μηκέτι ἀνθρώπων ἐπιθυμίαις ἀλλὰ θελήματι θεοῦ τὸν ἐπίλοιπον ἐν σαρκὶ βιῶσαι χρόνον. 3 ἀρκετὸς γὰρ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι, πεπορευμένους ἐν ἀσελγείαις, ἐπιθυμίαις, οἰνοφλυγίαις, κώμοις, πότοις, καὶ ἀθεμίτοις εἰδωλολατρίαις. 4 ἐν ξενίζονται μὴ συντρεχόντων ὑμῶν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τῆς ἀσωτίας ἀνάχυσιν, βλασφημοῦντες· 5 οἳ ἀποδώσουσιν λόγον τῷ ἑτοίμως ἔχοντι κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς· 6 εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη ἵνα κριθῶσι μὲν κατὰ ἀνθρώπους σαρκὶ ζῶσι δὲ κατὰ θεὸν πνεύματι.

Critical


v1 παθόντος / παθόντος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν / παθόντος ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν / ἀποθανόντος ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν
All other readings are best explained by the shorter reading, παθόντος

Translation


Since Christ, therefore, suffered in the flesh, you also equip the same disposition: that the one suffering in the flesh ceases from sin, for the living of the remaining time in the flesh no longer for the passions of human beings but for the will of God. For the time past was sufficient for fulfilling the gentile desire, going on in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking-parties and wanton idolatries, in which fact they are astonished at you not running with them into the same flood of dissipation, [they] maligning [you]: [they] who will give an account to the one that is ready to judge the living and the dead; for to this purpose even to the dead is the good news preached, so that they though they might be judged in the mortal realm in relation to men, they might live in the realm of the Spirit in relation to God.

Commentary


Although it may seem that Peter returns from theological discourse to resume ethical instruction, we must remember that 3:18 provided theological grounding for 3:17, and that all 3:18-22 has not only a purpose of theological instruction but ethical motivation. For this reason, 4:1 is indeed resumptive, but of the same theme, not merely the general topic.

The particle οὖν functions resumptively in this context to logically connect this section with the thought of 3:18, while the genitive absolute phrase provides a reason for the imperative that follows it. Again, for Peter, Christ’s death functions paradigmatically for ethical reasoning.

There are numerous exegetical questions that the Greek text raises, and the first of these is whether to take ὅτι as causal or clausal (epexegetical, giving the content of the disposition they are to adopt). It seemed natural to me to take it as epexegetical, explaining the content of that disposition, and Achtemeier handily agrees on the basis of extra-biblical Greek use of ἔννοια.

Secondly, is “the one who suffers in the flesh” a reference to Christ, or to the believer? Objections to the former include (a) it seems to repeat the sense of the first clause, (b) it could imply Christ was once a sinner, (c) it is surrounded by 2nd person references. Jobes notes that the Christological grounding for this section has already been provided, in 3:18-22, so from a discourse perspective it seems redundant to return to Christ.

In light of how the following clauses contrast past life and present life, it seems to me that this is correct, the believer is in view. Then we must ask what the reference to suffering means, and how to handle the perfect of ‘cease’. In light of the way Peter uses suffering and ‘in the flesh’ in 3:18, the sense here is of ‘suffering, experienced in this life, for the sake of righteousness’. What then of ‘ceased’ or ‘done with’ sin? In light of the pattern of Christ, and the understanding of baptism as pledge in 3:21, the connection is that the one who suffers for righteousness has thus demonstrated their resolve to hold firm their allegiance to God/Christ, or negatively to turn away from sin, so that they prefer to suffer than to sin. This, of course, goes back to 3:17 and Peter’s teaching that it is better to suffer righteously than unrighteously. As Christ chose faithful obedience with consequent suffering, so too the believer who chooses faithful obedience demonstrates, through patient enduring, that same fidelity.

v2 neatly divides the believer’s life into pre-conversion and post-conversion existences. Believers are no longer to live lives dedicated, devoted, or driven by ‘human passions’, but rather by God’s will. That former way of life is characterised by doing what ‘the nations’ (i.e. the Gentiles) ‘want to do’, and there was plenty of time for that kind of ungodly living. Of course, some believers have not always felt that way! Verse 3 further specifies the kinds of human passions or desires that Peter particularly has in mind. Jobes notes that the first 5 are “unrestrained desires for sex, food, and drink”, while the last specifically relates to pagan worship. ‘licentiousness’ stands in for behaviour lacking restraint, particularly sexual, but not only sexual. ‘Passions’ can refer more generally to desires or impulses, but in this list again probably has sexual desires in view, or other self-indulgences. ‘Drunkenness’ is fairly straightforward. I translate κώμοις as ‘orgies’, as also in Galatians 5:21; it is in the first a reference to wild-out-of-control drinking parties, but sexual indulgence is not far behind. Last of the five is ‘drinking parties’.

The final term, ‘wanton idolatries’, is unique in contrast to Greek writers. It is a claim that can only arise in the context of monotheism, a claim that directly offends polytheistic practice, and characterises ‘running after the gods’ as one more form of unrestrained indulgence.

How do we account for the fact that Peter refers to these as the “desire of the Gentiles”? The simplest explanation, in my mind, is two-fold. Firstly, I do not think, based on the rest of the letter, that Peter divides his audience into Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, however it is reasonable to assume that it includes a sizeable or majority proportion of Gentile background believers. However, there is plenty of reason to suppose that some ethnic Jews, pre-conversion, participated in exactly this kind of indulgent sinful behaviour.

Furthermore, I think Peter is engaged in redefining terms; whereas ‘the nations’ previously marked of Israel/the Jews from the Gentiles, Peter now uses the term to contrast between what we might otherwise call ‘the church’ and ‘the world’. As God’s redeemed people, ‘Gentiles’ or ‘the nations’ is what they once were, now they are God’s people (see chapter 2, naturally).

Outsiders react with surprise at the believers’ way of life. This is the kind of surprise that fails to understand the why. As those who have experienced sharp breaks with their native culture/practices/religion will personally know, those who continue in that way of life often feel betrayed and judged by the believer’s choice not to participate. Furthermore, in a religious context where participation, rather than belief, was perceived as important, and public participation was a part of securing civic harmony and divine favour, Christian non-participation could be, and was, interpreted as deliberate anti-social behaviour and subversion. So the outsider reaction extends from surprise at their lack of participation in their ‘flood of debauchery’, to maligning speech. However, abuse and slander of Christians for their performance of the will of God is consequently also maligning speech against God, thus blasphemy proper.

Verse 5 for the unfamiliar can be tricky, just in the phrase τῷ ἑτοίμως ἔχοντι κρῖναι. ἔχω with an imperative would give us the sense of ‘having the power or means to X’, however we should read ἔχω with the preceding adverb ἑτοίμως to understand ‘being in such a state’, just as καλῶς ἔχει. In that case we understand it as ‘the one [who is in the state of being] ready’, and to judge provides the complement to the adverb. Then we have the merism ‘the living and the dead’, a phrase that recognises the universality of judgment. It seems likely that the referent of the phrase is God [the Father] as Judge, given 2:23 and the way Peter portrays Christ in the letter.

Verse 6 is more difficult. The grammar involves two balanced and contrasting phrases, “so that might be judged in the flesh in relation to human beings, but might be made alive in the spirit in relation to God.” These are preceded by “for, for this purpose, even to the dead was the gospel preached.” The key exegetical question is what does it mean by ‘the dead’ here – people dead when they heard the gospel, or people who heard the gospel previously but are now dead, or people who are spiritually ‘dead’ but physically ‘alive’. The first option runs into theological difficulties in light of the NT canon, but we should not rush to embrace the latter two simply to avoid theological difficulties. Rather, recognising that 3:19 probably does not in and of itself teach a post-mortem offer of repentance and salvation by Christ, 4:6 cannot connect with such an idea. Furthermore there are not truly strong enough verbal resonances between the two to overcome their immediate contexts. Only the erroneous understanding of the Descensus ad inferos accounts for the rise of such an interpretative possibility. The last option suffers from over-spiritualising the sense of ‘dead’ here, in a context that does not demand such a meaning; especially given that the meaning in verse 5 is plain, it is perverse to read it in a contrary sense simply to escape theological difficulty. Rather, it seems preferable to understand it in the second sense. Peter’s point is that, given the universality of judgment in v5, including post-mortem, the efficacy of the gospel, both its promises of life and its declaration of judgment that is bound up in the news of the death and resurrection of the Christ, applies even to those now dead, they are not beyond judgment. It is a warning for the unbeliever and a comfort to the believer.


The particular dead in view in v6 are the believing dead, this makes sense of the phrase “judged in relation to men in the flesh”. “for this reason” points back to verse 5, for the reason of reason of universal judgment by God. That is why there is the double “for” – γὰρ gives a ground, while εἰς gives a forward looking purpose, that forward looking purpose is the reality of future universal judgment by God. In light of that, those who have died in this life, regardless of how they were judged by human standards in their mortal life, might live in the realm of the Spirit, just as Christ also was put to death in the realm of mortal life, but made alive in the realm of the Spirit. Believers may take heart that death is not the final word, and that the victory of Christ secures life in the Spirit in light of the reality of universal judgment.

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