Lectionary Year A
May 5, 2002
1 Peter 3:13-22

Broader Context


Long before Guttenburg's printing press, papyrus & writing instruments and time for scribes and copyists were at a premium. Ergo, several subjects needed to be written about in small spaces. Many an infant Christian needed to read and/or hear discussions of those several subject. Therefore, authors wrote in condensed styles. Epistles could serve as bare outlines of topics leaders could suggest warranted attention. After an epistle was read, the hearers could discuss for hours, days, weeks, months the topics raised in the letter circulated. Novice Christians throughout the then known world longed for such messages as epistles carried. They listened, heard, pondered, discussed and debated the contents and allusions these letters mentioned. This rather long paragraph cites upwards to 50 different identifiable topics early believers needed to consider.


Peter 3:14b through 15a quotes Isaiah 8:12f, which might be part of an early Christian hymn, according to Selwyn. In Isaiah 29;23, Ezekiel 20;41, Ecclesiasticus 36:4 and in the Lord's Prayer (Mt. 6:9) "hagiazo", means, "acknowledge as holy", Selwyn. Furthermore, Selwyn suggests that that 1 Peter's 3:15 might "recall to the minds of the Jewish Christians Ezekiel 11:16f".
Verses 18ff might be based on a hymn on the "harrowing of hell", comparable to Ode to Solomon, again, according to Selwyn.
Verse 19's "phulake pneumasin", according the Strack-Billerbeck, iv. ii. p. 1076, says that the Rabbis often speak of hell as a prison or dungeon; and Josephus (Ant. viii.1.3) says that it was part of Pharisaic doctrine that the souls of the wicked were to be detained in an everlasting prison.
Verse 20's mention of Noah recalls the popularity with which Jewish literature held the Noah of Genesis 7.


The sufferings in verses 14-17 seem milder than some alluded to in the Old & New Testaments. In fact, here, they appear more hypothetical than actual, or even mild if real at all. If the maligned and molested get so disrespectfully abused, the who does it question pales in comparison to the one that asks, "Do we get maligned, molested, abused and/or abused for appearing to be 'in Christ'?" Hellenistic progress needed disciplined perspective on such doctrines as Christ and Him crucified, which this passage centralizes in Christian dogma, as well as in this paragraph and several others in this epistle, as previously noted.
This passage might be addressing some of the Hellenists' disjunction between spirit and matter. In Christ, in this pericope, orthodox Christians can find spirit and matter uniting. The advice this passage offers is generally good and sound, especially when believers get challenged by believers from another culture, e.g., the Hellenists and first and/or second century Christians. Goppelt (Theology of the New Testament, volume 2) calls it "discrimination" rather than "persecution that the Christians faced in Asia Minor in the earliest days of its life.
The accusations referred to in verse 15, Goppelt does call "malicious", to be sure. However, a further and more careful reading of the text might more sensibly call them "mild challenges" at the worst. If the Hellenists challenged the orthodox Christians, wherever they had gone via the dispersion referred to in 1:1, their challenges were to be met civilly. This civility comes from the Christ who suffered and died and descended unto those predeceased to bring the Good News of salvation, even their salvation.

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