WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO CHRISTIANS A STUDY OF 1 PETER 4:12-19
SUBMITTED TO DR. MARK BLACKWELDER IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF BIB 518 1,2 PETER AND JUDE
BY NEAL MATHIS APRIL 25, 2011
WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO CHRISTIANS A STUDY OF 1 PETER 4:12-19
Suffering is universal and something that all men must face. However, the very thought of suffering is repulsive. At the core of humanity lies a desire to avoid suffering. How then is a Christian to respond to the following statement, “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings?” (1 Pet 4:12, ESV). Suffering due to faith in God was seen throughout the text of the OT. Consider the examples of Job and Jeremiah who struggled with the issue of suffering. Job could not understand why he suffered. Jeremiah wanted to leave his suffering behind and move on. Many more heroes of faith struggled to grasp the importance of suffering and the role in played in their spiritual lives. Hebrews 11:35-37 encompasses the suffering of those who followed God in the OT when it says, “some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated” (ESV). It should come then, as no surprise, that the followers of Christ in the NT would encounter similar suffering. However, the suffering the readers of First Peter encountered was surprising. They were not prepared for it. Peter recognized that the situation could have spiraled out of hand if not managed properly. In our present-day society, it would be difficult to imagine the impact of such persecution and suffering. After all, we live in a fairly accepting society. For the most part, modern day Christians do not understand what genuine persecution really is. 1
There are some negative stigmas attached to Christianity and its lifestyle in our world, but most of the persecution is aimed at extreme radicals. For the original recipients, any form of acceptance was unheard of. Their world had been turned upside-down due to their faith in Christ. The society they lived in was one-hundred and eighty degrees in the opposite direction of their faith. The differences in lifestyle and acceptance or rejection of certain actions were not simply swept under the rug. Those differences played a huge factor in the persecution and suffering they were to face. Those differences represented a source of suffering that must be handled properly. In the text of 1 Pet 4:12-19, the apostle goes about addressing suffering and the place it should have in the lives of Christians. The passage was surely meant to ease concerns about the ordeals they were facing. Nowhere in the text does the apostle ever consider that suffering is something they can avoid or should even want to avoid. On the contrary, he takes the fact of persecution and suffering and puts a positive spin on it. He used something that was generally perceived as a disadvantage to Christians and put it in its proper place. That place was an opportunity to connect with Christ. While no one likes the idea of persecution or suffering, it is something that is beneficial to the good of Christianity. It proves that faith in Christ is motivated by so much more than what you get out of it. It proves that faith in Christ is deeper than most man-made religions. It proves that through persecution, a Christian can grow closer to God and connect with Christ on a deeper level than ever before. For the lack of a better word, suffering is good for the Christian. It connects our souls to Christ in a way reserved only for the most faithful.
As we begin our study of the text some observations should be made. First, it seems obvious that the passage can be easily divided into two distinct sections that emphasize two unique points. One commentator believes that verses twelve through sixteen describe suffering as grace found in the outcome of joy, blessedness, or the glorification of God and verses seventeen through nineteen present suffering as the anticipation of judgment.1 While this division seems unnecessary, it does divide the passage into sections that explain what righteous suffering is and then what the outcome of that righteous suffering will be. Secondly, there is found in the text a connection to previous passages from the OT and First Peter. It has been suggested that this passage stands in a long Jewish tradition at least as old as Jeremiah in which suffering is viewed primarily as a transaction between God and His own people.2 As was mentioned above, the connection between following God and suffering is undeniable. It should also be pointed out that the passage seems to reemphasize themes previously made in the letter. Consider the following comparisons: a “fiery temptation” in 4:12-13 and 1:6-7, “being a Christian means you will suffer” in 4:15 and 2:20-21 and 3:17, and “you are to entrust your life to God” in 4:19 and 2:23b.3 When we consider the unity of the epistle those comparisons seem to make a great deal of sense. However, some scholars have been led to believe that Peter heard about the persecution and suffering of the original recipients during the composition of the letter and then wrote verses twelve to nineteen to deal with it.4
1. Earl J. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon, Geo., Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 187. 2. J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary; Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1988), 275. 3. Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 304. 4. Edward Gordon Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1969), 55.
Some believe this viewpoint is found in a change in the type of suffering. They believe the letter has moved beyond principles of Christian suffering in a non-Christian environment and is now focused on a crisis and the terror of a persecution in progress.5 This viewpoint seems to present a problem when you, once again, consider the unity of the epistle. Suffering is a theme present throughout the entirety of the letter, especially when you consider how similar the text of 4:12-19 is to 1:6-7 as both passages seem to describe the overall situation of innocent suffering.6 While they address that suffering differently, implying the aforementioned thought would seem to discredit the work of the Holy Spirit in the composition and inspiration of the letter. For the lack of a better word, it implies Peter had to go back and edit the work to make it relevant. That seems strange when you consider that throughout First Peter suffering is described as a necessary and inevitable part of Christian life.7 (Donelson, 140) This suffering is, for all intensive purposes a test for all Christians. Whatever the experience, the response of one’s attitudes and actions during a pressure (i.e. persecution, suffering) situation is an indication of the level of their spiritual maturity.8 If Christians truly want to grow closer to God and stronger in faith, then suffering is necessary. Not just to prove their faithfulness, but to aide in their growth. Righteous suffering is a key theme throughout First Peter and should be used to validate its unity and the power behind the composition of the letter.
5. Leonhard Goppelt, A Commentary on 1 Peter (trans. John E. Alsup; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 310. 6. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, 187. 7. Lewis R. Donelson, I & II Peter and Jude: A Commentary (New Testament Library; Louisville, Ky., Westminster John Knox, 2010), 140. 8. Gordon E. Kirk, “Endurance Suffering in 1 Peter,” BSac 138 (1981): 46-56.
Thirdly, the suffering mentioned in 4:12-19 seems to be present due to the original withdrawal from the pagan society of the area. It is prudent to believe that the Christians’ failure to observe the pagan social practices and traditions and lifestyle was highly offensive and considered treacherous.9 It also seems likely that social ostracism came from their neighbors in the community, not necessarily the Roman or local government. Because they were unable or unwilling to participate in the normal social events of their respective communities (consider 4:4) then they were marked for reproach.10 It also may be due to the general situation that Christians faced at this time, no matter where they lived. There was a complete lack of security across the ancient world which exposed Christians to slander, defamation of character, or even violence. They were hated and excluded for being different.11 As F.V. Filson stated, “wherever the Christian Church took root, it criticized the prevailing religions and forms of worship, rebuked popular moral standards, hurt the business of all those who profited by idolatry and pagan shrines, and so constituted in the eyes of numerous pagans a public nuisance.”12 The suffering and persecution mentioned seems to fall into the category of aggressive bullying. The local residents (for the most part) did not like the ways of the Christians and felt that social and eventually physical oppression might force them to comply to the lifestyle that seemed to better fit the world they inhabited. Now that a background is established, let’s move on to a verse-byverse exegesis of the text.
9. Steven Tracy, “Domestic Violence in the Church and Redemptive Suffering in 1 Peter,” CTJ 41 (2006): 10. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 314. 11. Selwyn, First Epistle, 54-55. 12. Floyd V. Filson, “Partakers with Christ,” Int 9 (1955): 400-412.
First Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal when it comes upon you to test you, as though something were happening to you” (ESV). We find similar greetings used in 1 Pet 2:11, 2 Pet 3:1,8,14. This greeting, “beloved,” echoes the author’s frequent reference to the mutual love that was to characterize the life of a Christian community.13 This greeting seems especially appropriate considering the discussion that will soon take place. The phrase “do not be surprised” seems to establish certain principles as well. Filson reminds us that “individual Christians may escape suffering at a specific time by good life and a clear witness, but it is too universal and continual an experience to be considered unnatural. Every Christian must be ready to face it.”14 This wording seems to echo the same phrase used in 4:4 which says, “with respect to this, they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (ESV). The simple message is do not be surprised like those around you when you act different and they treat you different. The fact that unbelievers are “surprised” at this behavior does not mean the early Christians should have been surprised as well.15 The very use of the phrase suggests a high level of anxiety and resentment on the part of some within the community.16 After all, this reaction should have been expected. However, we must consider that this persecution and suffering would have been new to the Gentile converts. These Gentile converts had no experience of being a cultural minority or outcast, but now they were experiencing isolation and personal hostility, not what they might have expected as a
13. Donald P. Senior, 1 Peter (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2003), 127. 14. Filson, “Partakers with Christ,” 314. 15. Michaels, 1 Peter, 260. 16. Richard, Reading 1 Peter,188.
blessing from God.17 To them, this suffering may have presented a deep theological problem. In most Greco-Roman religions, suffering was a sign that something was broken in a person’s relationship with the gods.18 You can begin to see based upon these ideas that an unexpected outcome from conversion to Christianity had the potential to shake the faith of the Gentile converts among the original audience. That unforeseen element led to a reaction that was not what Peter had in mind for the Christians of that area. The phrase at the end of text, “as though something strange were happening to you” reinforces the idea that this persecution and suffering came out of nowhere, but should have been seen a mile away. The phrase “fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” used to describe the persecution is worth notice as well. It can be connected back to Prov 27:21 in the LXX. That verse mentions the proving of silver and gold.19 It can also be mentioned in connection with 1 Pet 1:7 which addresses the “testing of gold,” using the same metaphor as 4:12.20 The idea presented here is faith that is shaped, formed, and tested by the fire of suffering. Just like gold can be tested and proven to be genuine, so can your faith be tested and proven genuine by this “fiery trial.” First Peter 4:13 says, “but rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (ESV). After the first verse of the passage and the admonition “do not be surprised,” the author now goes about explaining how to properly deal with this surprising nature of persecution and suffering. The verse seems to be
17. Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (New International Commentary on the NT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990), 164. 18. Donelson, I & II Peter, 134. 19. Michaels, 1 Peter, 260. 20. Achtemeier, 1 Peter,306.
broken up into two parts. The first half that connects current suffering with an exhortation to rejoice in the present and the second half which links eschatological glory to greater joy at the day of judgment.21 As the conjunction “but” indicates, this verse shows the proper reaction on the part of Christians to the “fire” that has come to test them. They are not to regard it as strange, but rather, to rejoice because of it.22 A connection between this verse and 1 Pet 2:21 can be made, which says, “for to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.” (ESV) The idea that we follow Christ’s example in suffering is surely the theme of this verse. The real question is how do Christians do that? The language here seems to stress a sense of repeating Christ’s sufferings.23 Not that we will go to the cross over and over again. Simply put, Christians should “bear their cross daily.” (Luke 9:23 ESV) The logic is simple, Christ left us a pattern to follow. His actions, words, and even suffering showed us how serve God to the best of our abilities. It seems that there is a simple way to understand this suffering. As a Christian following in the footsteps of Christ, one must accept the reality of unavoidable suffering.24 The idea of rejoicing seems strange, however the reason for this present joy is important. This suffering is evidence that they belong to Christ and can anticipate the upcoming eternal joy.25 The time of that future joy is set by the phrase, “when His glory is revealed.” This expression corresponds to 1 Pet 1:7 which
21. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, 189. 22. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 306. 23. Donelson, I & II Peter, 135. 24. Richard, Reading 1 Peter,190. 25. Davids, The First Epistle, 167.
speaks of the “revelation of Jesus Christ.”26 It also seems to imply the return of Christ when you consider the imagery of judgment in 1 Pet 4:18-19. Because of that, this revelation is most likely eschatological.27 It seems that, in the end, the joy found in suffering discussed here is unrelated to anything inherently found useful in suffering, such as the growth of character.28 On the contrary, this verse seems to focus the purpose of suffering and the joy found in that suffering. In righteous suffering, the Christian grows closer to Christ. They connect with Christ on a whole new level. They share with Him in the sufferings of this world and look beyond those sufferings to see a greater day of joy. It should be noted that Christians should find joy in those present sufferings because they present tangible evidence that their lives are on the right path. First Pet 4:14 reads, “if you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (ESV). A different translation may render the verse better when it says, “If you are reproached in the name of Christ, you are blessed because the spirit of glory and the Spirit of God rests upon you.”29 This verse begins with the phrase “if you are insulted for the name of Christ.” The idea of insulted here represents verbal abuse. In fact, the verb used here is also used in other passages throughout the LXX and NT that describe reproach directed at God and Christ.30 However, to be insulted is more than just a simple rebuke (see 1 Pet 2:12, 3:16), it is in reality a rejection by their society. Consider the context where this idea appears elsewhere and you will see a pattern of communal rejection and ostracism (see Matt
26. Michaels, 1 Peter, 263. 27. Donelson, I & II Peter, 135. 28. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 307. 29. Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament (Chicago: Hinds & Noble, 1897), 29. 30. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 307.
27:44, Heb 13:13).31 In the end, these Christians were simply persecuted for what they were not. 32
The original audience were persecuted because of their association with Christianity due to
their change in lifestyle or their direct confession of faith.33 Either way, the name of Christ is present in the lives of these Christians. They wore the name or the allegiance proudly. Several scholars believe the phrase “you are blessed” seems to recall the Beatitudes of Christ, especially Matt 5:10-11 which read, “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil againts you falsely on my account” (ESV).34 It seems redundant to say, once again, that suffering has a place of great importance to the original recipients. Peter is once again trying to keep their present situation in its proper perspective. The final phrase in this passage introduces a new point to consider in the importance of this suffering. It says, “because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (ESV). Some scholars conclude that suffering in the name of Christ is a sign or token of the constant presence of the divine Spirit of God.35 Others believe that the Spirit of God and the spirit of glory represent the same thing, the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.36 That seems difficult to conclude when one considers that the word here means “to rest,” which does not imply an enduring condition, but a coming of the Spirit to
31. Davids, The First Epistle, 167. 32. Donelson, I & II Peter, 135. 33. Davids, The First Epistle, 167. 34. See Donelson, 1 & II Peter, 135 and Michaels, 1 Peter, 258. 35. Dennis E. Johnson, “Fire in God’s House: Imagery from Malachi 3 in Peter’s Theology of Suffering (1 Pet 4:12-19),” JETS 29 (1986): 285-294. 36. Guy N. Woods, Peter, John, Jude (NT Commentaries: Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1970), 117.
the one suffering in the of persecution.37 It is my contention that Peter is speaking of two distinct things here. The “spirit of glory” is the glorification of God found in the willingness of Christians to suffer. Similar to what we read in 1 Pet 4:16 which says, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” It seems prudent to believe that Christians glorify God by right living and by the proper handling of difficult (i.e. persecution, suffering) situations. The second mention, “the Spirit of God,” does then refer to the Holy Spirit. In a way described in Isa 11:2, the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon those who are Christians. This allows a similar connection to be made during suffering with the Holy Spirit as there is with Christ. Christians share in their suffering a connection to Christ through the example He set and a connection with the Holy Spirit who shares the moment with them. This verse seems especially poignant in light of the intended audience which was assuredly made up of many Gentile converts. As was mentioned above, in pagan cultures, suffering meant withdrawal from the gods. Here Peter is assuring them that the Spirit of God does not abandon them during suffering, but is literally drawn to them during these difficult times. As we move along to 1 Pet 4:15, it says, “but let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (ESV). First and foremost, we must understand that this verse draws a fine line between the reasons why a Christian is to suffer. The author is saying, “you can not expect to connect with Christ if you suffer in this way” and then he lists the evil deeds that bring about the wrong type of suffering. This verse enhances the idea that the divine Spirit rests upon Christians provided they do not suffer as something other than Christians, that
37. Goppelt, 1 Peter, 324.
is, as murderers or thieves and other such things.38 It can be understood that suffering because of sinful activity only brings disgrace to the name of Christ.39 To that end, a Christian’s suffering must be distinguishable from the suffering imposed upon a criminal.40 Some of that difference can be found in how a Christian handles the suffering and persecution. Another way to differentiate is the reasons why a Christian suffers. That is truly the theme of this verse. Suffer righteously and innocently and you bring glory to God. Suffer due to your sinful deeds and you bring nothing but shame upon yourself and Christ. It’s interesting to note that the first three things mentioned in this list (murderer, thief, and evildoer) seem to reflect something criminal, while the fourth (meddler) seems to represent an attitude.41 Both murder (see Matt 19:18) and theft (see 1 Cor 6:10) are condemned in scripture as sinful and do not require much explanation. If you murder someone or steal from someone and suffer the deserved punishment, do not cry out to God because you deem the punishment unjust. The word evildoer is used by Peter in 1 Pet 2:12 and 2:14 in very ambiguous ways. That happens because the term signifies a general wrongdoing rather than a specific crime.42 (Richard, 192) It is meant to cover a multitude of unacceptable actions that can be simply categorized as evil deeds. However, the fourth term is a different issue all together. The word “meddler” is a hapax legomenon in the NT that does not occur anywhere else in ancient Greek writings before the fourth century. It is a combination of two words which mean “not one’s own” and “one who observes or watches over.” This 38. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 309. 39. Kirk, “Endurance Suffering,” 49. 40. Gerald L. Borchert, “The Conduct of Christians in the Face of the ‘Fiery Ordeal’ (4:12-5:11),” RevExp 79 (1982): 451-462. 41. Michaels, 1 Peter, 268. 42. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, 192.
combination seems to point to a person who concerns themselves in the affairs of another. This idea of meddling seems to refer to an action outside the realm of appropriate social boundaries, not legal boundaries.43 If that is truly the case, then the author was concerned with the business of others. He was concerned that the original readers were “sticking their nose in other people’s business.” It probably boils down to an attitude. Gentile persuasion away from idolatry is one thing; denouncing it in a temple courtyard is another, as might also be interfering in the affairs of another family, however well-intentioned it might be.44 In general, this verse was meant to provide direction away from the wrong sources of persecution and suffering. It is almost as if the apostle is trying to say, “don’t you have enough to worry about simply being a Christian. Why would you ever want to add to that ordeal the things that go along with foolish and wrong actions such as murder, theft, or meddling?” First Peter 4:16 reads, “yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (ESV). The text now moves into a verse that responds to the false reasons of suffering presented in 1 Pet 4:15 by giving a valid reason to suffer. A justifiable reason to suffer is because you are a Christian and wear that name. First of all, the word “Christian” needs to be discussed. It is interesting to point out that this is a title for those who follow Christ. It is also a title that stands in direct opposition to the titles found in the previous verse (i.e. murderer, thief, evildoer, meddler). This association could imply that there were penalties imposed on Christians by courts of law simply because they were Christians.45 It is true
43. Jeannine K. Brown, “Just a Busybody? A Look at the Greco-Roman Topos of Meddling in 1 Peter 4:15,” JBL 125 (2006): 549-568. 44. Davids, The First Epistle, 167, 45. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 313.
that there were occasions when Roman officials (i.e. Nero, Pliny the Younger) did pass judgment on people for merely being Christians. Perhaps this was such an instance, or perhaps this is simply referring to a vulgar slang or nickname. In our society, it is not uncommon to refer to people of questionable (rightly or not) backgrounds or groups by vulgar names. That was surely the case at that time as well. The term “Christian” is only found two other times in the NT, both in Acts (11:26, 26:28). That small use may suggest that the phrase was created by non-believers to label these “Christ-followers.”46 It should be pointed out that neither one of those references suggests that the name was used in a derogatory way.47 However, when you consider the ridicule of 1 Pet 4:14, this term “Christian” seems to be presented as a term of contempt used by the nonbelievers.48 The phrase “let him not be ashamed” is also worthy of discussion. Shame, in the ancient Mediterranean world had more to do with disgrace and public dishonor than with bad feelings.49 We associate shame with feelings of guilt or remorse. That world associated shame with the loss of respect. The shame in this verse could even lead to actions that would drive someone from their faith. 50 The author here writes to encourage the readers to avoid this shame. He is focused on what his readers‘ attitude should be when they face verbal abuse and the threat of physical harm.51 The word “ashamed” is used elsewhere in the NT (see Mark 8:38 and Rom
46. Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2, & 3 John, Jude, Revelation (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 311. 47. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, 193. 48. Michaels, 1 Peter, 269. 49. Donelson, 1 & II Peter, 137. 50. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 314. 51. Michaels, 1 Peter, 269.
1:16) referring to a shame on the account of allegiance to Christ.52 That allegiance is demanded during these moments of suffering. In the end, it is necessary so that they will “glorify God in that name.” It seems that the author is trying to set up a contrast between “ashamed” and “glorify.” While the non-believers ridicule the Christians because of their faith in Christ, the ridicule can become an opportunity to glorify God because of the name the person bears.53 In the end, this verse presents a simple idea that must have been very relevant to the original audience. Christians give glory to God by acknowledging their identity as a “Christian” and by accepting the condemnation and bearing His name. A Christian’s suffering for wearing the name of Christ becomes his lesson to others. That lesson says, “I am not ashamed to wear His name. I will remain a Christian even if you ridicule me, persecute me, or even condemn me. My persecution will bring honor to Him.” First Peter 4:17 says, “for it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (ESV). What is this judgment? For many scholars this represents the eschatological end of time. However, the verse seems to present this judgment as one of purification, not annihilation. When we compare this passage to Ezek 9:6 and Jer 25:29 we see a similar, but not idenitical situation, a judgment of annihilation coming unto the household of God first and then to non-believers.54 However, it is a judgment of purification seems to correspond with the rest of the text in First Peter more than annihilation. The “fiery trial” mentioned in 1 Pet 4:12 and that analogy implies
52. Senior, 1 Peter, 131. 53. Senior, 1 Peter, 131. 54. Reinhard Feldmeier, The First Letter of Peter: A Commentary on the Greek Text (trans. Peter H. Davids; Waco, Tex.: Baylor Press, 2008), 228.
a purging of sin and eventual purification of the soul. Many scholars do believe this is addressing the final judgment by simply continuing the thoughts of 1 Pet 1:17, 2:23, and 4:5.55 However, do those verses only imply final judgment? To assume that seems shortsighted. Woods summarizes this section best when he says, “the judgment (as used here) represents severe trial. The house of God is the family of God. The time when severe trial would fall upon the church was at hand.”56 It is interesting here that the author presents the church as a “household.” This seems to connect back to 1 Pet 2:4 which described each Christian as a “living stone.” For all intensive purposes, the author is describing the church as a collection, a community of “living stones” bound together as a “household.” That imagery, conjures up illusions to the OT temple. One author even suggests that the OT temple finds its intended fulfillment within the church and this collection of “living stones.”57 While that seems logical, the phrase does nothing to endorse any eschatological conclusion. The final phrase in the verse, “what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God,” implies that an answer is needed. It is an expression that also inherently implies two ideas. First, you can disobey the Word of God. Second, you can oppose God’s plan (consider 1 Pet 3:20 also).58 In eschatological terms this would reference eternal punishment. However, could it simply be connected to those who fall from the faith during this persecution? Remember just a verse earlier in 1 Pet 4:16, the author warns these readers to avoid “shame,” shame that could eventually cause them to leave the faith and abandon their hope in Christ. Peter understood the difficulty inherent in 55. See Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 315 and Goppelt, 1 Peter, 330. 56. Woods, Peter, 117. 57. Johnson,”Fire in God’s House,” 293. 58. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, 197.
abandoning the faith and returning to a pagan lifestyle. This “judgment” the “household of God” was to endure would surely encourage some of the Christians present in that region to leave the faith and return to idolatry. Here he is asking the question, what will happen to those who are ashamed and leave Christianity? While we can read some eschatological illusion into the text, only finding that conclusion seems to be a narrow way to view the verse. We can understand that enduring faithfully will one day provide reward and that abandoning God will one day bring punishment, but this verse addresses so much more than that singular idea. First Peter 4:18 reads, “and if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” This verse brings to mind the passage from Heb 10:31 which says, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (ESV). The point of this verse is to reinforce the idea presented in 17b, “what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (ESV) This verse is an almost exact replication of Prov 11:31 from the LXX. In its LXX form, the verse differs considerably from the HB, most notably with “scarcely” replacing ‘in the land.”59 The word “scarcely” or “hardly” implies something accomplished with great difficulty. It helps answer the question, if the just endure suffering and achieve salvation only with great effort and difficulty, where will this put the godless and the sinner?60 It also seems evident that this verse increases the notion that Peter was seriously thinking about the possibility of failure in regards to this ordeal and the pressure it brought into the lives of these Christians.61 The threat this suffering presented to the lives of the original readers was
59. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 317. 60. Senior, 1 Peter, 132. 61. Gopplet, 1 Peter, 333.
monumental. The author felt the need to assure them this persecution can be overcome, but then (4:17-18) reminded them of the outcome should they fall victim to the pressure. This must have been a difficult task for Peter. I am sure that he was reminded of the words of Jesus from Matt 7:14 which says, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (ESV) While he undoubtedly wanted each of the original recipients to overcome this pressure, he knew that was impossible. Once again, there are eschatological implications present in this verse. However, as I mentioned before, are they the only things to consider here? Christians are saved through the grace of God and through right living. Consider 1 Pet 4:13-15 which says, “therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” (ESV) That right living is evident in a denial of self, a denial of the world, and an acceptance of the path God puts before you. Succumbing to the pressure and persecution here in First Peter would have abandoned that right living and that proper hope. Peter seems to imply that an abandonment of right living, of following the path God places before you (even with its suffering), and a return to the pagan lifestyle would seriously put in question the ability of God’s grace in the lives of those Christians. That is genuinely the message of this verse and the final part of verse seventeen. The final verse in this passage is 1 Pet 4:19 which reads, “therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (ESV). As this passage comes to an end, Peter sums up the entire place and purpose of this suffering. Suffering is a part of God’s will for His followers so that they will learn to put their trust in Him and do
what is right. This verse also shows that this type of suffering is not haphazard or random but is in accord with God’s will, not because God likes the suffering, but because it is an inevitable result from following His ways rather than the ways of society.62 This notion of doing God’s will even at the cost of suffering has been fundamental throughout the epistle 63 and shows that their persecution does not mean the world is out of control, but that God is working out His plan in their lives.64 This important phrase does also suggest that the persecution they are facing has the power to bring into question the reliability of God.65 By putting the persecution in its proper place (i.e. within the will of God), this verse should seal the importance of this suffering. The word “entrust” is important to take note of in this verse. The word implies handing over a valuable object to a reliable person for safekeeping.66 In essence, Christians are to hand over their “souls” or “lives” to God’s will for proper direction. The description of God in this verse as the “faithful Creator” is unique. While the idea of God as Creator is found throughout the Bible, this is the only time in the NT where that word is used. It suggests in this passage that the same power used in the creation of the world is not at work in their lives.67 The verse ends with the phrase “while doing good.” Peter is closing this section by insisting on a proper attitude (trusting God) and requisite activity (while doing good).68 This phrase brings the entirety of the discussion
62. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 318. 63. Senior, 1 Peter, 133. 64. Davids, The First Epistle, 173. 65. Donelson, 1 & II Peter, 139. 66. Goppelt, 1 Peter, 335. 67. Achtemeier, 1 Peter, 318. 68. Michaels, 1 Peter, 199.
to an end with a challenge. In that way, the author is once again encouraging right living to be the answer to this persecution and suffering. The suffering found in 1 Pet 4:12-19 was a suffering that truly had the power to corrupt the faith of many Christians. It was a form of persecution that attacked the social status of the original readers. The persecutionâ€™s purpose was to drive them from their faith with social influence. Many of the first recipients were Gentile converts who felt the wrath of their society. That wrath come because of their choice to avoid the wrong lifestyles of idolatry and hedonism. That persecution was very similar to the persecution many Christians face in our society today. Christians are labeled as old-fashioned, closed-minded, busybodies who are more concerned with the lives of others than they are their own actions. Does that sound familiar? In the end, modern Christians can learn a lot from this section of scripture. The people were dealing with issues we deal with. The advice from Peter and the Holy Spirit stands as true today as it did then. Christians today should not be surprised when we are run down for being Christians. Christians today should know that we follow the pattern of Christ when we face social ostracism and persecution. Christians today should know that this suffering is a part of Godâ€™s plan for us. Christians today should know that our God will never abandon us during these times, He can be trusted. We can see (even in our sufferings) that He is in control of our lives. That truly is the message of 1 Pet 4:12-19, God is in control, even in those terrible moments and on those bad days.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Achtemeier, Paul J. 1 Peter. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996. Borchert, Gerald L. “The Conduct of Christians in the Face of the ‘Fiery Ordeal’ (4:12-5:11).” Review and Expositor 79 (1982): 451-62. Brown, Jeannine K. “Just a Busybody? A Look at the Greco-Roman Topos of Meddling in 1 Peter 4:15.” Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (2006): 549-68. Davids, Peter H. The First Epistle of Peter. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990. Donelson, Lewis R. I & II Peter and Jude: A Commentary. The New Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Feldmeier, Reinhard. The First Letter of Peter: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Translated by Peter H. Davids. Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008. Filson, Floyd V. “Partakers with Christ.” Interpretation 9 (1955): 400-12. Gopplet, Leonhard. A Commentary on 1 Peter. Translated by John E. Alsup. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993. Hebrews, james, 1 & 2 Peter, 1,2, & 3 John, Jude, Revelation. Volume 12. New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in 12 Volumes. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998. Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament. Chicago: Handy Book Company, 1897. Johnson, Dennis E. “Fire in God’s House: Imagery from Malachi 3 in Peter’s Theology of Suffering (1 Pet 4:12-19).” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 29 (1986): 285-94. Kirk, Gordon E. “Endurance in Suffering in 1 Peter.” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981): 46-56. Michaels, J. Ramsey. 1 Peter. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1988. 21
Richard, Earl J. Reading in 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Macon, Geo.: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2000. Selwyn, Edward Gordon. The First Epistle of Peter. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1969. Senior, Donald P. 1 Peter. Sacra Pagina Series. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2003. Tracy, Steven. “Domestic Violence in the Church and Redemptive Suffering in 1 Peter.” Calvin Theological Journal 41 (2006): 279-96. Woods, Guy N. Peter, John, Jude. New Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1970.
Published on May 24, 2011
This paper was submitted during the Spring of 2011 as the required research paper for 1 & 2 Peter, Jude at Freed-Hardeman University.