1 Peter 1:17-23
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1 Peter 1:17-23 Biblical Commentary
• Verses 1-2 open by identifying the author as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ”—and the recipients as “the chosen ones who are living as foreigners (exiles) in the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (all located in Asia Minor—known today as Turkey).
• Verses 3-5 offer a blessing to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” for God’s mercy as expressed through the gift of “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (v. 3). Peter goes on to outline some of the blessings that the recipients of this letter have received from God—which he summarizes as “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (v. 5).
• Verses 6-9 acknowledge trials that these people are experiencing, but affirms their faith, “which is more precious than gold” (v. 7). He likens their adversities to the fire that tests gold, and says that “the result of your faith (will be) the salvation of your souls” (v. 9).
• Verses 10-12 speak of the prophets, “who prophesied of the grace that would come to you” (v. 10)—grace which the recipients of this letter have been privileged to receive (v. 12).
• Verses 13-16 start with the word “Therefore.” Given the blessings that God has given them—and their prospect of salvation—they must “prepare (their) minds for action, be sober and set (their) hope fully on the grace that will be brought to (them) at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 13).
Peter calls these Christians to live “as children of obedience” (v. 14)—living holy lives, “because it is written, ‘You shall be holy; for I am holy'” (v. 16; see Leviticus 11:44; 19:2).
Holiness is always derivative—derived from a relationship to God. To be holy is to be called out from the sinful world into a deep and abiding relationship with God so that the person becomes more God-like—more upright—less like the sinful world-at-large.
This idea of holiness is important to the lectionary reading (vv. 17-23), because the God whom these Christians call Father will also serve as their judge (v. 17).
1 PETER 1:17-21. REDEEMED BY PRECIOUS BLOOD
17 If you call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judges according to each man’s work, pass the time of your living as foreigners here in reverent fear: 18 knowing that you were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from the useless way of life handed down from your fathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a faultless and pure lamb, the blood of Christ; 20 who was foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of times for your sake, 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead, and gave him glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God.
“If you call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judges according to each man’s work” (v. 17a). The idea of God as Father is found both in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 63:16; Jeremiah 3:19; 31:9; Malachi 1:6; 2:10) and the New Testament (Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 4, 6, 8-9, 14, etc.). In some cases today, Christians have trivialized this to the point that they address God as dad or daddy. However, references to God as Father have at their root the idea of God’s creative powers and authority. While the word Father suggests familiarity, it also suggests power and authority. We would do well to maintain a sense of awe when coming into God’s presence.
In this verse, Peter reminds these Christians that the God whom they address as Father is also their judge—a judge “who without respect of persons judges according to each man’s work.” Therefore, they can be sure that the holiness to which Peter calls them in verses 14-16 will prove important in the end.
Jesus told his disciples, “For the Son of man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels” (Matthew 16:27). He “will render to everyone according to his deeds” (ten praxin autou—his or her work singular—not works plural). We learn elsewhere that we are saved by grace through faith, but Jesus makes it clear in these two passages that our faith must manifest itself in good work. Our salvation depends on it. This idea is found repeatedly in the New Testament (Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 11:15; 2 Timothy 4:14; James 1:19-27; 2:14-26; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; 18:6; 20:11-15; 22:12).
“pass the time of your living as foreigners (paroikias) here in reverent fear” (v. 17b). The word paroikias combines two Greek words—para (near) and oikos (to dwell). It means a sojourner—someone who is just passing through a place—someone who doesn’t enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship. This word recalls the experience of the Israelites in Egypt, where they were sojourners (and ultimately slaves) rather than citizens.
An old Gospel song captured the meaning of paroikias as Peter uses it here.
“This world is not my home. I’m just a-passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door.
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
The poetry might be unsophisticated, but the song expresses clearly the idea that Peter introduces in this verse—that Christians are sojourners in this world—that our true citizenship is elsewhere, in the kingdom of God.
“in reverent fear” (v. 17b). Sometimes people fear God because they have done something wrong and fear retribution, but fearing God can mean something entirely different—reverence and faith that lead to obedience. Fear of the Lord is serving the Lord and the Lord only (Deuteronomy 6:13). It is observing God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 28:58). Fear of the Lord is “the beginning of knowledge,” in the sense that the person who fears God will be open to instruction by God (Proverbs 1:7). Fear is “the beginning of wisdom”—wisdom being the kind of understanding that enables a person to make good decisions and to avoid bad consequences (Proverbs 9:10). It is often the result of seeing God’s power in action (Exodus 14:31). Fear of the Lord engenders righteousness (Acts 10:22), faithful service to God, and rejection of false gods (Joshua 24:14). Fear of the Lord insures God’s mercy (Luke 1:50), and results in spiritual prosperity (Acts 9:31). “Behold, Yahweh’s eye is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his loving kindness” (Psalm 33:18).
“knowing that you were redeemed” (Greek: lytroo) (v. 18a). Redemption involves bringing liberty to a captive, usually through the payment of a price. Levitical law required Israelites to buy back (redeem) a family member who had been forced to sell himself into slavery (Leviticus 25:47-49). It also required them to buy back (redeem) family land that had fallen into other hands due to poverty (Leviticus 25:25, 33).
The New Testament presents Jesus’ death on the cross as a redemptive act for humanity—as a“ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The idea is that we have sinned, and our sin condemns us—but Jesus has paid the ransom-price for our redemption by his death on the cross. Paul speaks of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). He tells us that “we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7)—and that Jesus Christ is the one “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
“not with corruptible things (Greek: phthartos), with silver or gold” (v. 18b). This alludes to Isaiah 52:3, where God promised Israel that she would “be redeemed (from her exile) without money.”
Paul uses the word phthartos (corruptible) and its opposite, aphthartos (incorruptible) in his letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:52-54). In that passage, he contrasts the corruptible body that we now possess with the incorruptible body that we shall possess. In other words, our current bodies are subject to wear and tear and decay. None of that will be true of our resurrected bodies. Those bodies will last for an eternity with no decay. So when Peter uses the word phthartos here, he is talking about something perishable or subject to decay.
“with silver or gold” (v. 18b). The most common currency used to redeem people (i.e., slaves) in Peter’s day would have been silver or gold. But our redemption was purchased, not by silver or gold, but by the precious blood of the Son of God.
Someone with scientific training might protest that, gold is not subject to corruption. It doesn’t tarnish or slowly evaporate. However, it is certainly subject to loss. How many tons of gold are lying at the bottom of the ocean, having been part of the cargo on ships that failed to weather a storm! How many tons of gold are buried in “safe” places—secreted there by people who died long ago, taking with them the secret of their gold’s burial place! How many tons of gold have been stolen from their proper owner! How many tons of gold have been squandered at gaming tables! Silver and gold might be as durable as anything we can imagine, but they are certainly not immune from loss.
“from the useless way of life handed down (Greek: patroparadotos) from your fathers” (v. 18c). The word patroparadotos combines the word pater (father) and paradidomi (to deliver). In this context, Peter is describing the traditions and values handed down by their parents—their spiritual inheritance.
Whether or not we received a monetary inheritance from our parents, they did deliver something important to us, for good or ill. We inherited their genes—their physical and mental strengths and weaknesses—their propensity to certain diseases. If they were present to parent us as we were growing up, we learned their values and beliefs.
As adults, we must sort through this heritage to assess what was good and what wasn’t. No parent is perfect, so most of us would do well to let go of some of the habits, values, and beliefs that we inherited. Peter is telling these people that Christ has delivered them from some of the unhelpful heritage that their parents delivered to them.
This verse is one of the clues that the intended recipients of this letter are Gentiles rather than Jews (see also 4:1-4). Peter would never have told a group of Jews that the heritage that they received from their fathers was useless.
“but with precious blood, as of a faultless and pure lamb, the blood of Christ” (v. 19). The New Testament uses two related words—redeem and ransom—to describe the process by which God has brought us from the realm of darkness to the realm of light. When describing the process of setting a person free, it uses the word “redeem.” When describing the price paid to effect the redemption, it uses the word “ransom.” In other words, a ransom was the price paid to redeem someone.
In this verse, Peter makes it clear that the ransom paid for the redemption of Christians was the precious blood of Christ, “a faultless and pure lamb.” This hearkens back to the Jewish sacrificial system prescribed by Torah law. The Israelites sacrificed lambs for various purposes, but especially as a means of atonement. They were sinners, which condemned them to death—but they were allowed to substitute the life of a lamb for their own life. The law specified that lambs used for sacrificial purposes were to be perfect—free from imperfections such as blemishes or diseases or injuries.
The New Testament applies this sacrificial language to Jesus:
• Jesus said of himself, “the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
• The Gospel of John depicts Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
• In the book of Acts, an Ethiopian eunuch was reading a passage from Isaiah 53:7-8 that said, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. As a lamb before his shearer is silent, so he doesn’t open his mouth. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away. Who will declare His generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:32-33). The eunuch asked Philip to explain this passage to him, and Philip, “beginning from this Scripture, preached to him Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
• Paul says that “Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
• The book of Revelation speaks frequently of Christ as the Lamb (5:6, 8, 12-13; 6:1, 16; 7:9-10, 14, 17; 8:1; 12:11; 13:8, 11; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23; 22:1, 3).
“who was foreknown (Greek: proginosko) indeed before the foundation of the world” (v. 20a). The Greek word proginosko combines pro (before) and ginosko (to know), so it means “to know before”—”to know in advance.”
It was Jesus Christ who was known in advance. Known by whom? Known by God the Father! Known by the one who had a plan from the beginning—from before the beginning. The plan was to send Jesus into the world so “that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“but was revealed (Greek: phaneroo) at the end of times (Greek: eschatos chronos) for your sake”(v. 20b). The word phaneroo (to reveal or make manifest) is similar in meaning to apocalypsis (revelation or unveiling). It was God who did the revealing (apocalypsis) in verse 5. Now it is God who does the revealing (phaneroo) here.
“at the end of times” (Greek: eschatos chronos) (v. 20b). There are two Greek words for time—chronos and kairos. Chronos has to do with chronological time—clock time—the time by which we keep daily appointments. Kairos has to do with special time—special moments in time—the forks in the road that make all the difference—moments with the potential to determine destinies. The fact that Peter uses chronos here instead of the weightier kairos suggests that he is talking about a recent period of time instead of the eschatological end of time.
“for your sake” (v. 20b). Now Peter personalizes this passage. God’s plan, established “before the foundation of the world”—which required the precious blood of Christ—was set in motion for the sake of these fledgling Christians—and for Christians through the ages.
“who through him are believers in God” (v. 21a). “Him” in this verse refers back to “Christ” in verse 19. It is through Christ that these Gentiles have become believers in God. Jews had the advantage of their faith heritage to introduce them to God, but these Gentiles had received from their fathers only a “useless way of life” (v. 18).
“who raised him from the dead, and gave him glory” (v. 21b). Glory is characteristic of God, and refers to God’s awe-inspiring majesty. God shared this glory with Jesus. Jesus’ glory was revealed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26).
At the parousia (the Second Coming), Jesus will return “in a cloud with power and great glory”(Luke 21:27). At that time, “at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
“so that your faith and hope might be in God” (v. 21c). Just as God vindicated Jesus in the end, so also God will vindicate the faith of these believers in the end. If their present lives are difficult, they can look forward to the time of their vindication. If God was faithful to Jesus (and he was), he will also be faithful to these believers. Jesus’ resurrection was the “first fruits”—just the beginning (1 Corinthians 15:20 ff.). His resurrection signaled the abundance of resurrections yet to come—the resurrection of all those who have placed their faith in Christ.
1 PETER 1:22-23. LOVE ONE ANOTHER FROM THE HEART FERVENTLY
22 Seeing you have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth through the Spirit in sincere brotherly affection, love one another from the heart fervently: 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which lives and remains forever.
“Seeing you have purified (Greek: hagnizo) your souls in your obedience to the truth (Greek:aletheia) through the Spirit” (v. 22a). Peter was Jewish, and purification was an important part of Jewish faith and practice. The basic premise was that God is holy, so his people need to be holy (sinless, upright, devoted or set apart for God’s purposes). Peter established that principle for Christians earlier in this chapter, saying, “just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy; for I am holy'” (1:15-16, quoting Leviticus 19:2; 11:44-45; 20:7; see also Matthew 5:48; 1 John 3:3).
But, while people could submit to purification rites, purification ultimately depends on God’s action—so the Psalmist cries, “Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:7, 10)—and God promises, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18)—and “I will save you from all your uncleanness” (Ezekiel 36:29).
Jesus emphasized that true purity is a matter of the heart—the thoughts that lead to sin—“All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:15-23).
Paul called the Corinthian Christians to purity, saying, “Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
In this verse, Peter isn’t telling these Christians to purify their hearts, but is instead acknowledging that they have already done so “in (their) obedience to the truth (Greek: aletheia) through the Spirit.”
Aletheia (truth) is that which is real, untainted by falsehood. The truth to which these Christians have been obedient was made known to them by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is truth personified—“the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus promised, “If you remain in my word, then you…will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).
The opposite is also true. Living according to untrue principles can rob people of their freedom. Therefore, we in the church need to be sure that we are teaching the truth. The truth that we are tasked to teach is that which Christ taught us to observe. To learn what Christ taught, we need to look first to scripture, especially the New Testament, and not to pop psychology or politically correct thought—or even to pronouncements of denominational authorities. The reformers said “sola scriptura”—scripture only. Practiced rightly, this means that all other authorities are subordinate to scripture—must be measured by their adherence to scriptural teachings. It also means that our teaching will often be unpopular—out of synch with the popular culture.
“in sincere brotherly affection (Greek: philadelphia), love (Greek: agapao) one another from the heart fervently” (v. 22b). Here, side by side, we have the two Greek words for love that are used in the New Testament—philadelphia (brotherly love) and (agapao—the verb form of the noun agape).
Philadelphia combines philos (friend or love) and adelphos (brother). In the New Testament adelphos is often used metaphorically to mean a spiritual sibling—a brother or sister by virtue of being children of the same Heavenly Father. Christians in the first century referred to each other as brothers or sisters (Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 6:23; 1 Timothy 6:2; Revelation 1:9; 12:10). Some Christians today still use that sort of language. The rest of us would do well to recover it.
Agape love is more a “doing” than a “feeling” word. It doesn’t require that we approve of the actions of the person whom we love—or even that we enjoy their company. It does require us to act in behalf of that person—to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion.
Peter’s call that these Christians should love one another mirrors Christ’s “new commandment… that you love one another” (John 13:34).
Agape love provides us with our most powerful tool for witnessing to Christ. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a second-century Roman civic leader, noted, “They (the Christians) know one another by secret marks and signs, and they love one another almost before they know one another.” William Barclay says, “More people have been brought into the church by the kindness of real Christian love than by all the theological arguments in the world, and more people have been driven from the church by the hardness and ugliness of so-called Christianity than by all the doubts in the world.”
In my comments on the earlier part of verse 22, I said that Peter wasn’t calling these Christians to become pure, but was simply acknowledging that they had already done so. But now Peter shifts gears and tells them what to do. Given that they have purified their souls, he calls them to “love (agapao) one another from the heart fervently”—intently, earnestly. Bound together by their common faith, they will need to stand together—stand united as brothers and sisters in their witness to the wider kosmosworld—the world that is opposed to God.
“having been born again” (Greek: anagennao) (v. 23a). The word anagennao combines ana (again) and gennao (to beget). There are different words in the Greek for giving birth (by the mother) and begetting (by the father). Gennao is the word for begetting by the father. Peter is acknowledging that these Christians are enjoying a new life—a new status—by virtue of the begetting action of the Heavenly Father.
The best-known reference to rebirth is Jesus’ comment to Nicodemus, “Most certainly, I tell you, unless one is born anew, he can’t see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The idea of rebirth is that we must leave behind our old life of sin and enter into a new life with Christ. The idea of rebirth occurs frequently in the New Testament (Romans 6:1-11; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:22-24; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 1:3, 22-23). We experience rebirth at our baptism by being buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and being raised to a new life (Romans 6:4-11; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-3).
“not of corruptible (Greek: phthartes) seed, but of incorruptible” (Greek: aphthartos) (v. 23b). See the comments on verse 18b above for an understanding of aphthartos (corruptible) and aphthartos (incorruptible).
Peter’s point here is that the sperm of our earthly fathers is perishable, as are the children whom it produces. The sperm is active only very briefly, and the children will eventually die. But by the grace of God’s gift of anagennao (being begotten again by the Heavenly Father), we enjoy a kind of life that is imperishable—eternal.
“through the word of God, which lives and remains forever” (Greek: menontos—from meno) (v. 23c). Christians enjoy a kind of life that is imperishable and eternal (v. 23b), because we live by “the word of God, which lives and remains forever.”
Jesus’ uses the Greek word meno frequently in the Gospel of John, where it means to remain or abide or dwell. Jesus says “Remain in my love” (John 15:9). This is a call to immerse ourselves in Jesus’ love—a love which will sustain us in this life and will go with us into resurrection life.
So much in life is perishable. When we build buildings, we would like to imagine that we are building for the ages. However, I have lived long enough to have seen great building projects, built during my lifetime, destroyed during my lifetime.
Most of us will die and quickly be forgotten—along with the work to which we devoted a substantial portion of our lives. But the word of God “lives and remains forever”—and so will we who have built our lives on the word of God.
Furthermore, the work that we did in God’s service will continue to live through many generations. When our witness brings someone to Christ, that person’s life will affect everyone whom he/she knows. The ripple effects are incalculable. God, however, knows the full effects of our Christian witness. I like to believe that God will one day say to us, “Let me show you all the good things that resulted from your life of faith.”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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